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Dutch case

Morphological case is the name for the phenomenon that the form of nouns, adjectives and determiners depends on the element's function in the clause or the word or construction by which the element is governed. It is in these cases a form of inherent inflection. In present day Dutch, words are no longer marked for case, except for certain pronouns. However, there are a number of remnants of the case system, both in idiomatic expressions and in specific constructions.

For instance, in the prepositional phrases op de-n duur in the duration in the long run and van goed-en huiz-e lit. from good home, well-bred, we observe case endings in the words de-n, goed-en and huiz-e. Originating as a genitive, the ending -s is found in adverbial expressions like 's morgen-s (< de-s morgen-s) in the morning, 's middag-s (< de-s middag-s) in the afternoon, 's avond-s (< de-s avond-s) in the evening, and 's nacht-s (< de-s nacht-s) in the night. The old case marker -s is also used as marker of specific constructions such as the possessive construction, as in Jan-s boek John’s book’ and the partitive construction, as in iets mooi-s something nice.


In a number of Dutch constructions, the old genitive ending -s is used productively:

Example 1

Possessive construction
mijn vader-s boek
my father-s book
my father's book
Example 2

Partitive construction
iets heel mooi-s
something very beautiful-s
something very beautiful
Example 3

Characterization construction
Dat is niet de-s vrouw-s
That is not the-s woman-s
That is not characteristic for a woman
Example 4

Tot-INFINITIVE-s toe-construction
Tot sterv-en-s toe
to die-INF-s to
to such an extent that it might lead to dying

The ending -s was originally used for singular forms of non-feminine nouns, but is now also used for feminine nouns, as in the phrase des vrouws characteristic for a woman with the feminine noun vrouw woman.


The old case ending -en is used productively in collective constructions involving cardinal numbers:

Example 5

Appositive collective
wij / ons drie-en
we / us three-en
the three of us (SUBJ. / OBJ.)
Example 6

Collective adverbial I
met ons / jullie / hun drie-en
with our / your / their three-en
the three of us / you / them together
Example 7

Collective adverbial II
met zijn [zәn] drie-en
with his three-en
the three of us / you / them

The ending -en can also be added to numerals in quantifying constructions with specifications of time or quantity:

Example 8

a. Het is bij en-en
It is at one-en
It is almost one o'clock
b. Het is nu na zeven-en
It is now after seven-en
It is now past seven o'clock
c. Hij kocht het in en-en
He bought it in one-en
He bought it as one piece
d. Het schip brak in drie-en
The ship broke in three-en
The ship broke into three pieces

The genitive-inflected determiner der and the genitive-inflected quantifier all-er all-GEN are used productively in genitive NPs, as in:

Example 9

a. het middelpunt de-r aarde
the centre the-GEN.SG earth
the centre of the earth
b. in de loop der jar-en
in the course the-GEN.PL year.PL
in the course of the years
c. de moeder aller oorlogen
the mother all-GEN.PL wars
the mother of all wars
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Morphological case, i.e. a systematic correspondence between morphological form and syntactic function, is to be distinguished from abstract case (or Case) as it is used in various grammatical frameworks.

Read more on:

  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Hoeksema, Jack1998Een ondode kategorie: de genitiefTabu28162-167
  • Scott, Alan K2011The position of the genitive in present-day DutchWord Structure4104-35
  • Scott, Alan K2012A constructionist account of the modern Dutch adnominal genitive. F. Kiefer and M. Ladányi and P. Siptár (ed.)Current issues in morphological theory: (Ir)-regularity, analogy, and frequency. Amsterdam / PhiladelphiaJohn Benjamins83-103