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Categories of verbal inflection

Verbal inflection is the name for the phenomenon that verbs take different forms depending on the grammatical function they serve. Dutch verbs carry in formation for tense, number and person. Categories such as mood, aspect and evidentiality are not expressed systematically by morphological means in Dutch.


Tense is the grammatical category, expressed in forms of the verb, that locates a situation in time. In Dutch and Frisian, as well as in English, tense must be expressed in all finite verb phrases. It is marked by the choice of the first or only verb in the verb phrase: speelt plays versus heeft gespeeld has played; heeft gespeeld has played versus had gespeeld had played; zal spelen will play versus zou spelen would play; is aan het spelen is on the playing is playing versus was aan het spelen was on the playing was playing. Since contrasts in number and person, where they apply, are also marked on the first or only verb, these choices combine with tense: present ik speel I play, zij speelt she plays and wij spelen we play versus past ik/zij I/she played and wij speelden we played. We/They were.

Tense in Dutch
In terms of morphology, Dutch has only two tenses, the present or non-past (neem/neemt/nemen take) and the past (nam/namen took). The paradigm is extended by the use of the auxiliaries zijn be and hebben have: hebben or zijn followed by the past participle forms the perfect (heeft genomen has taken, is geslaagd has succeeded). Although these are traditionally known as tenses, recent terminology refers to them as aspects and (for the perfect) phase. All three features can be combined: had been taking is past, progressive, and perfect. The passive voice is formed within the same paradigm, by be followed by the past participle, but is not a tense. The sequence of the auxiliaries is fixed: have + be + present participle, be + past participle, with the full verb in final position and a modal verb preceding all other auxiliaries: may have been taken. By definition, non-finite verb phrases do not have tense marking. Given that Dutch appears to have an imperative for the past (als de meester een slecht humeur had, keek dan maar uit! if the teacher a bad temper had, watch then but out if the teacher had a bad temper, you'd better take care, the standard imperative kijk uit look uit take care must be assumed to be present tense. See Broekhuis for discussion of use and meaning of tenses.


Number is a grammatical category used in describing parts of speech that show contrasts of plural, singular, dual, etc. In Dutch and Frisian, the number system is basically a two-term contrast of singular and plural, shown in nouns, verbs and some pronouns and determiners. Even dual words, such as beide both, take singular or plural verb concord. Dutch and Frisian nouns, as far as number is concerned, can be divided into: singular only (singulare tantum), plural only (plurale tantum), and words that can be both. Dutch tensed verbs are systematically marked for number, the plural forms always ending in-en: ik loop jij loopt hij loopt wij/jullie/zij lopen I walk you walk he walks we/you/they walk,ik liep jij liep hij liep wij/jullie/zij liepen I walked you walked he walked we/you/they walked.


Person is a grammatical and semantic category applying to pronouns and verbs and used in describing the roles of people and things.

In Standard Dutch, the first-person pronouns are the speakers(s) or writer(s) together with any others included in the plural (ik, me/mij, we/wij, ons I, me, we, us). The second-person pronouns are the addressee(s) and possibly others in the plural, where je/jij you.SGjullie you.PL implies a greater degree of intimacy or informality than u. The third person pronouns are others being referred to (zij, haar, hij, hem, het, men, zij, hen/hun she, her, he, him, it, one, they, them). The distinctions of person are shown not only in personal pronouns but also in reflexive pronouns (mezelf, zich myself, himself) and possessive pronouns (mijn my).

In Dutch verbs, person is also indicated in the verb, to a certain extent: in the present tense, there are forms for 1SG and 2SG-INV, 2SG and 3SG, and PL: ik loop, jij loopt/loop jij, hij loopt, wij/jullie/zij lopen I walk, you walk/walk you, he walks, we/you/they walk.


Mood is a term for a form of the verb that affects the general meaning of the sentence and for the sentence or clause type in which it occurs. Three moods are customarily recognized for Dutch: the indicative (God helpt ons God helps us); the imperative (Help ons Help us); and the subjunctive (God helpe ons God help us). The Dutch subjunctive is obsolete and found in idioms and fixed expressions only: het zij zo it be so so be it, leve the koningin live the queen long live the queen, de Heer sta ons by the Lord stand us with may the Lord be with us.


Aspect is the grammatical category (expressed in verb forms) that refers to a way of looking at the time of a situation: for example, its duration, repetition, completion. Aspect contrasts with tense, the category that refers to the time of the situation with respect to some other time: for example, the moment of speaking or writing. There are two aspects in English: the progressive aspect ('We are eating lunch') and the perfect aspect (`We have eaten lunch') (Matthews). Although Dutch does not systematically mark aspect on verbs, the language has various ways to express aspectual issues, e.g. the perfective prefix or particle op (opeten eat vs. eten eat), progressive constructions (je zit te zeuren you sit to nag-INF you're nagging, je bent aan het zeuren you are on the nag-INF you're nagging), durative particle maar (het regent maar it rains but it keeps on raining), etc.


Voice is category that involves the relationship of subject and object in a sentence or clause. In Dutch, the contrast is between active voice and passive voice. In languages such as Latin, voice is a morphological category: next to amo, amamus I love, we love we have amor, amamur I am loved, we are loved, but in Dutch and Frisian, voice is an analytical category, affecting both the structure of the sentence and the form of the verb: Susan verplaatste het meubilair Susan moved the furniture is an active sentence whose corresponding passive is Het meubilair werd door Susan verplaatst The furniture was moved by Susan. The active object (het meubilair) is identical with the passive subject, while the active subject is incorporated in a door-phrase (door Susan). The two sentences have the same truth value, though there are differences in style and emphasis, in that passives are usually more formal than actives and the end of a sentence or clause tends to have the greatest emphasis. The door-phrase is often omitted from the passive sentence, especially in technical writing, producing an agentless passive.