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Irregular verbs

Dutch has a number of verbs whose inflection is partly or completely irregular, especially in the formation of the past tense. Only very few verbs are irregular in the present tense. As in many languages, the forms of the verbs for to be (zijn) and to have (hebben) are among the most irregular. Then there are some other auxiliary verbs (e.g. kunnen can and willen want), and a few monosyllabic verbs (doen do, gaan go, slaan hitstaan stand, zien see).The largest group of irregular verbs consists of ca. 200 so-called "strong" verbs, a number of them highly frequent, with irregular formation of past tense and/or past participle, with certain subregularities that can be traced back to the Germanic ablaut system.


Remember that Dutch inflection is stem-based, suffixal. In regularly inflected verbs, there are three forms for the present tense (e.g. hopen hope has hoop stem: 1SG, 2SG (inv), imperative, hoopt stem+t: 2SG, 3SG and hopen stem+en: PL) and two for the past (hoopte SG and hoopten PL); the infinitive has the same form as the present plural (hopen), the present participle is formed by adding /d/ to the infinitive (hopend), and the past participle is derived from the past by means of the prefix ge- and the suffix -d/t (ge-hoop-t).

As in many languages across the world, the forms of the verbs for to be (zijn) and to havehebben are among the most irregular. Their conjugational paradigms are given below:

Table 1
function zijn hebben
Present tense
1SG ben heb
2SG bent hebt
2SG inv ben heb
3SG is heeft
PL zijn hebben
Past tense
SG was had
PL waren hadden
Past participle
geweest gehad
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Zijn be is the only Dutch verb that has an imperative form that is not identical to the verb stem, viz. wees (pl weest) rather than *ben. The present participle, on the other hand, is regular: infinitive plus d(e): zijnd(e) be-ing just like hebbend(e) have-ing. The (obsolete) subjunctive is irregular in the case of zijn as well: u zij de glorie thine be the glory. In the case of the polite 2SG pronoun u you, thou one finds both second and third person forms:

Example 1

u bent bang you are.2SG afraid you are afraid
bent u bang? are.2SG you afraid are you afraid
u is bang you are.3SG afraid you are afraid
is u bang? are.3SG you afraid are you afraid
u hebt honger you have.2SG hunger you are hungry
hebt u honger? have.2SG you hunger are you hungry
u heeft honger you have.3SG hunger you are hungry
heeft u honger? have.3SG you hunger are you hungry

The variants without /t/ (ben u bang ? are.2SG you afraid you are afraid, heb u honger? have.2SG you hunger are you hungry) feel very colloquial, whereas hij heb is considered vulgar. See Postma (1993) on why these forms may have developed in the first place.

[+]Auxiliary verbs

Four more simplex verbs show irregular inflection in the present tense, viz. the modal verbs mogen may, kunnen can, zullen shall and willen want. The following table gives an overview.

Table 2
function mogen kunnen zullen willen
Present tense
1SG mag kan zal wil
2SG mag kan/kunt zal/zult wil/wilt
2SG inv mag kan/kun zal/zul wil
3SG mag kan zal wil
PL mogen kunnen zullen willen
Past tense
SG mocht kon zou wou/wilde
PL mochten konden zouden wilde/wou(d)en
Past participle
gemogen gekund * gewild
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Theoretically, the past participle of the verb zullen is *gezuld, but for grammatical reasons (IPP) it is never used.

The subjunctive moge may survives in various fixed constructions, usually with an optative meaning, e.g. moge de beste winnen may the best win. Mocht(en) and moest(en) (the latter especially in Belgium) can also be used as heads of conditional constructions: Mocht u  nog vragen/ opmerkingen hebben aarzelt u dan niet contact met ons op te nemen Might you yet questions/remarks have hesitate you then not contact with us up to take If you have any questions or remarks, please do not hesitate to contact us and Moesten we niet zo'n super onthaalmoeder hebben, dan moest één van ons twee thuisblijven Must we not such-a super reception-mother have, then must one of us two home-stau If we hadn'd had such a fantastic nanny, one of us had to stay home.

The past tense of zullen is used in various modal constructions, for example wat zou jij doen what would you do (hypothetical), bij het verkeersongeluk zouden vier slachtoffers gevallen zijn at the traffic-accident would four victims fallen be (as far as we know now) the traffic accident caused four casualties (evidential) and jij zou toch voor de drank zorgen you would yet for the drink care we thought you had agreed to take care of the booze (counterfactual).

[+]Monosyllabic verbs

Apart from zijn be, which was dealt with above, Dutch has five monosyllabic verb stems ending in a vowel: ga go, sta stand, sla hit, doe do and zie see. Their inflections are given in the table below.

Table 3
function gaan staan slaan doen zien
Present tense
1SG ga sta sla doe zie
2SG gaat staat slaat doet ziet
2SG inv ga sta sla doe zie
3SG gaat staat slaat doet ziet
PL gaan staan slaan doen zien
Past tense
SG ging stond sloeg deed zag
PL gingen stonden sloegen deden zagen
Past participle
gegaan gestaan geslagen gedaan gezien

[+]Strong verbs

Dutch has a group of irregular verbs consisting of ca. 200 so-called "strong" verb stems, a number of them higly frequent, with irregular formation of past tense and/or past participle, with certain subregularities that can be traced back to the Germanic ablaut system.

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Booij (2002: 59) notes: "the terms 'regular' and irregular are not fully adequate [...], since these terms suggest that there is no regularity whatsoever involved in stem-alternating verbs. [...] One might therefore prefer the historical terms weak and strong verbs: weak verbs form their past tense by means of suffixation, strong (or ablauting) verbs form their past tense stems by means of vowel alternation. The problem for this latter classification is that there are also irregular verbs that do not fit into the historical class of ablauting verbs, because they have more complex stem alternations in which consonants also play a role. Therefore, the best distinction is that between suffixing verbs (the default class), and stem-alternation verbs.

Traditionally, a number of classes is distinguished (see Wikipedia):

  • Class one (most frequent): /ɛi/ - /eː/ - /eː/ - /eː/, for example  kijken  -  keek  -  keken  -  gekeken look.

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    Verb stems involved:

    Example 2

    benijden - beneed - beneden - beneden envy
    bezwijken - bezweek - bezweken - bezweken succumb, yield
    bijten - beet - beten - gebeten bite
    blijken - bleek - bleken - gebleken become clear
    blijven - bleef - bleven - gebleven stay
    drijven - dreef - dreven - gedreven float
    glijden - gleed -gleden - gegleden slide, glide
    grijpen - greep - grepen - gegrepen grab
    hijsen - hees - hesen - gehesen hoist
    kijken - keek - keken - gekeken look
    knijpen - kneep - knepen - geknepen pinch
    krijgen - kreeg - kregen - gekregen get
    krijsen - krees - kresen - gekresen cry
    krijten - kreet - kreten - gekreten cry
    kwijten - kweet - kweten - gekweten pay, discharge
    lijden - leed - leden - geleden suffer
    lijken - leek - leken - geleken seem
    mijden - meed - meden - gemeden avoid
    nijgen - neeg - negen - genegen bow
    prijzen - prees - prezen - geprezen praise
    rijden - reed - reden - gereden drive
    rijgen - reeg - regen - geregen string
    rijten - reet - reten - gereten tear
    rijzen - rees - rezen - gerezen rise
    schijnen - scheen - schenen - geschenen seem
    schijten - scheet - scheten - gescheten shit
    schrijden - schreed - schreden - geschreden stride
    schrijven - schreef - schreven - geschreven write
    slijpen - sleep - slepen - geslepen sharpen
    slijten - sleet - sleten - gesleten wear out, wear down
    smijten - smeet - smeten - gesmeten throw
    snijden - sneed - sneden - gesneden cut
    spijten - speet - speten - gespeten remorse
    splijten - spleet - spleten - gespleten split
    stijgen - steeg - stegen - gestegen rise
    strijden - streed - streden - gestreden fight
    strijken - streek - streken - gestreken iron, bow
    vrijen - vree - vreeën - gevreeën make love
    wijken - week - weken - geweken give way
    wijten - weet - weten - geweten blame
    wijzen - wees - wezen - gewezen point
    wrijven - wreef - wreven - gewreven rub
    zijgen - zeeg - zegen - gezegen strain
    zwijgen - zweeg - zwegen - gezwegen remain silent

    Note: krijsen krees gekresen cry, krijten kreet gekreten cry, zijgen zeeg gezegen are obsolete, krijsen can also get weak forms (krijste, gekrijst)), vrijen has a weak preterite (vrijde) as well.

  • Class two: /i/ - /oː/ - /oː/ - /oː/, for example bieden - bood - boden - geboden offer, bid, and /œy/ - /oː/ - /oː/ - /oː/, for example stuiven - stoof - stoven - gestoven be dusty.

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    Verb stems involved:

    Example 3

    bedriegen - bedroog - bedrogen - bedrogen deceive
    bieden - bood - boden - geboden offer, bid
    buigen - boog - bogen - gebogen bend
    druipen - droop - dropen - gedropen drip
    duiken - dook - doken - gedoken duck, dive
    fluiten - floot - floten - gefloten whistle
    genieten - genoot - genoten - genoten enjoy
    gieten - goot - goten - gegoten pour
    kiezen - koos - kozen - gekozen choose
    kluiven - kloof - kloven - gekloven gnaw
    kruipen - kroop - kropen - gekropen creep, crawl
    liegen - loog - logen - gelogen lie
    luiken - look - loken - geloken close
    pluizen - ploos - plozen - geplozen fluff
    schieten - schoot - schoten - geschoten shoot
    schuilen - school - scholen - gescholen shelter
    schuiven - schoof - schoven - geschoven shift
    sluipen - sloop - slopen - geslopen steal
    sluiten - sloot - sloten - gesloten lock, close
    snuiten - snoot - snoten - gesnoten snuff, blow
    snuiven - snoof - snoven - gesnoven sniff
    spruiten - sproot - sproten - gesproten sprout
    spuiten - spoot - spoten - gespoten squirt
    stuiven - stoof - stoven - gestoven be dusty
    verliezen - verloor - verloren - verloren loose
    vlieden - vlood - vloden - gevloden flee, fly
    vliegen - vloog - vlogen - gevlogen fly
    vlieten - vloot - vloten - gevloten flow
    vriezen - vroor - vroren - gevroren freeze
    wuiven - woof - woven - gewoven wave
    zieden - zood - gezoden boil
    zuigen - zoog - zogen - gezogen suck
    zuipen - zoop - zopen - gezopen booze
    zweren - zwoor - zworen - gezworen ulcerate, fester

    Notes: luiken look geloken close, zieden zood gezoden boil (also pret. ziedde) and vlieten vloot gevloten flow are obsolete.

  • Class three (second largest). There are two subclasses: /ɪ/ - /ɔ/ - /ɔ/ - /ɔ/, for example klimmen - klom - klommen - geklommen climb, and /ɛ/ - /ɔ/ - /ɔ/ - /ɔ/, for example zenden - zond - zonden - gezonden send.

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    Verb stems involved:

    Example 4

    beginnen - begon - begonnen - begonnen begin
    bergen - borg - borgen - geborgen store
    delven - dolf - dolven - gedolven dig
    dingen - dong - dongen - gedongen compete
    dringen - drong - drongen - gedrongen push, hustle
    dwingen - dwong - dwongen - gedwongen force
    klimmen - klom - klommen - geklommen climb
    schenken - schonk - schonken - geschonken pour, give
    springen - sprong - sprongen - gesprongen jump
    stinken - stonk - stonken - gestonken stink
    treffen - trof - troffen - getroffen hit
    trekken - trok - trokken - getrokken pull
    vechten - vocht - vochten - gevochten fight
    winnen - won -wonnen - gewonnen win
    zenden - zond - zonden - gezonden send
    zinken - zonk - zonken - gezonken sink
    zwellen - zwol - zwollen - gezwollen swell
    zwemmen - zwom - zwommen - gezwommen swim

    Notes: bergen salvage is mixed: bergde, geborgen.

  • Class four: /eː/ - /ɑ/ - /aː/ - /oː/, for example breken - brak - braken - gebroken break.

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    Verb stems involved:

    Example 5

    bevelen - beval - bevalen - bevolen command
    breken - brak - braken - gebroken break
    nemen - nam - namen - genomen take
    spreken - sprak - spraken - gesproken speak
    steken - stak - staken - gestoken stab

    Notes: one also finds beveelde(n) rather than beval, bevalen.

  • Class five: /eː/ - /ɑ/ - /aː/ - /eː/, for example: geven - gaf - gaven - gegeven give, and /ɪ/ - /ɑ/ - /aː/ - /eː/, for example: zitten - zat - zaten - gezeten sit.

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    Verb stems involved:

    Example 6

    bidden - bad - baden - gebeden pray
    eten - at - aten - gegeten eat
    genezen - genas - genazen - genezen heal
    geven - gaf -gaven - gegeven give
    lezen - las - lazen - gelezen read
    liggen - lag - lagen - gelegen lie
    meten - mat - maten - gemeten measure
    treden - trad - traden - getreden tread
    vreten - vrat - vraten - gevreten eat
    zitten - zat - zaten - gezeten sit

    Notes: vreten vrat gevroten eat is heard as well.

  • Class six: /aː/ - /u/ - /u/ - /aː/, for example: dragen - droeg - droegen - gedragen carry.

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    Verb stems involved:

    Example 7

    dragen - droeg - droegen - gedragen carry
    graven - groef - groeven - gegraven dig
    varen - voer - voeren - gevaren sail

  • Class seven: * - /i/ - /i/ - *, for example roepen - riep - riepen - geroepen cry, and * - /ɪ/ - /ɪ/ - *, for example vangen - ving - vingen - gevangen catch. In every verb, the vowel denoted * is the same in both cases.

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    The seventh class was originally a collection of verbs from the other six classes that exhibited reduplication. Consequently, the sound of the present tense can vary but it is always the same as that of the past participle. There are two variations: * - /i/ - /i/ - *, for example roepen - riep - riepen - geroepen cry, and * - /ɪ/ - /ɪ/ - *, for example vangen - ving - vingen - gevangen catch.

    In every verb, the vowel denoted * is the same in both cases.

    Verb stems involved:

    Example 8

    blazen - blies - bliezen - geblazen blow
    hangen - hing - hingen - gehangen hang
    houwen - hieuw - hieuwen - gehouwen hew
    laten - liet - lieten - gelaten let
    lopen - liep - liepen - gelopen walk
    raden - ried - rieden - geraden advise, guess
    roepen - riep - riepen - geroepen cry
    slapen - sliep - sliepen - geslapen sleep
    stoten - stiet - stieten - gestoten push
    vallen - viel - vielen - gevallen fall
    vangen - ving - vingen - gevangen catch
    wassen - wies - wiesen - gewassen grow

    Notes: wassen grow is obsolete, except for certain idiomatic expressions; wassen wash is mixed: waste, gewassen.

  • Rest class: This category is for Dutch strong verbs that do not fit into any of the 7 classes, yet are still purely strong (that is, they have a different vowel in the past tense and have a past participle in -en).

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    Verb stems involved:

    Example 9

    heffen - hief - hieven - geheven raise
    helpen - hielp - hielpen - geholpen help
    scheppen - schiep - schiepen - geschapen create
    scheren - schoor - schoren - geschoren shave
    sterven - stierf -stierven - gestorven die
    uitscheiden - scheed uit - scheden uit - uitgescheden stop
    verwerven - verwierf - verwierven - verworven obtain
    wegen - woog - wogen - gewogen weigh
    werpen (wierp - wierpen - geworpen) throw
    worden (werd - werden - geworden) become
    zeiken (zeek - zeken - gezeken) piss
    zweren (zwoer - zwoeren - gezworen) swear
    zwerven (zwierf - zwierven - gezworven) wander

    Notes: one finds ook regular scheerde, rather than schoor, and the past tense forms of uitscheiden are often avoided. uitscheiden secrete is regular (scheidde uit, uitgescheiden).

[+]Partially strong verbs

Partially strong verbs show a combination of weak and strong declension: either the preterite is weak (i.e. in -de/-te) and the participle is strong (i.e. in -en), e.g. bakken - bakte - bakten - gebakken bake or the preterite is strong (ablaut) and the participle is weak (i.e. in -d/-t), e.g. vragen - vroeg - vroegen - gevraagd ask.

  • strong participle (in -en) without ablaut, regular preterite (with -de or -te), e.g. bakken - bakte - gebakken bake.
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Verbs involved:

Example 10

bakken - bakte - gebakken bake
bannen - bande - gebannen put under a ban
barsten - barstte - gebarsten burst, crack
braden - braadde - gebraden roast, broil, fry
brouwen - brouwde - gebrouwen brew
heten - heette - geheten be called
hoeven - hoefde - gehoeven need
lachen - lachte - gelachen laugh
laden - laadde - geladen load
malen - maalde - gemalen grind
scheiden - scheidde - gescheiden split
spannen - spande - gespannen stretch, tighten
verbannen - verbande - verbannen exile, banish
vouwen - vouwde - gevouwen ply
wassen - waste - gewassen wash
weven - weefde geweven wave
zouten - zoutte gezouten salt

Notes: the compound verbs glimlachen smile, grijnslachen grim, and schaterlachen roar with laughter have weak participles in -lacht, e.g. geglimlacht smiled.

The preterite form loech with lachen laugh is obsolete.

  • strong participle (in -en) with ablaut, regular preterite (with -de or -te), e.g. strong participle (in -en) with ablaut, e.g wreken - wreekte - gewroken revenge.
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Verbs involved:

Example 11

wreken - wreekte - gewroken revenge
zieden - ziedde - gezoden boil

Notes: zieden (obsolete) is also found with a strong preterite zood.

  • with strong preterite (with ablaut) and weak participle (in -de or -te):
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Verbs involved:

Example 12

jagen - joeg - gejaagd hunt
klagen - kloeg - geklaagd complain
vragen - vroeg - gevraagd ask
waaien - woei - gewaaid blow

Notes: nowadays, regular klaagde is more popular than kloeg, and woei is threatened by regular waaide.

  • with irregular preterite with vowel change zeggen (zei - gezegd) say
  • with changes in vowels and consonants, e.g. eten - at - aten - gegeten eat
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Verbs involved:

Example 13

bezoeken - bezocht - bezocht visit
brengen - bracht - gebracht bring
denken - dacht - gedacht think
doen - deed - gedaan do
dunken - docht - gedocht think, seem
durven - durfde/dorst - gedurfd dare
eten - at - aten - gegeten eat
gaan - ging - gegaan go
heffen - hief - geheven lift
houden - hield - gehouden hold, keep
komen - kwam - kwamen - gekomen come
kopen - kocht - gekocht buy
moeten - moest - gemoeten must
plegen - placht use to
slaan - sloeg - geslagen hit
staan - stond - gestaan stand
verliezen - verloor - verloren lose
verstaan - verstond - verstaan understand
vriezen - vroor - gevroren freeze
wrocht, gewrocht work, bring about
weten - wist - geweten know
zien - zag - zagen - gezien see
zoeken - zocht - gezocht seek

Notes: plegen has no past participle (but it must have been geplogen, given the old-fashioned drived noun geplogenheden habits)

wrocht, gewrocht work, bring about have no current present tense forms

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Given the language's tendency towards systemisation, the "system" of strong verbs is under threat at least since it was first described by (Ten Kate in 1723. Certain verbs that were strong in Ten Kate's time have become weak, that is, more regular. However, frequent verbs tend to retain their irregularities (Van Haeringen 1940), whereas language users become more uncertain if the verbs involved are less frequent (Van Santen 1997). Moreover, other verbs that were weak historically have become strong, probably through analogy (Salverda 2006).

In all verbs but one (viz. irregular wees be! of zijn), the imperative is formally identical to the stem: ga go, werk hard work hard, vergeet je oude moeder niet don’t forget your old mother. The plural form of the imperative is obsolete, it is formed with the suffix –t: werkt hard! work hard. It is rather often found in writing, especially with stems ending in /d/, where one cannot hear the difference, as in the internet example Waardeer jezelf en wordt gelukkig in je relatie value yourself and become happy in your relationship: note that the writer uses the singular form in waardeer, where one does hear the difference with the plural form. The verb zijn be has a special imperative form, viz. wees (pl. weest). Certain verbs, such as the modals, do not have an imperative form, others only in certain usage patterns or meanings, e.g. heb have cannot be used imperatively in the meaning ‘possess’ (*heb een boek possess a book) but it can in more idiomatic uses and/or when heb is a light verb: heb meelij have pity. In the case of the modals the reason cannot be purely semantic, as French has an imperative of veuiller want in veuillez patienter want.2PL.IMP.PRS wait.INF please wait. Dutch has a past tense imperative (had me gebeld had me called you should have called me!(Duinhoven A.M. 2001: 163)), therefore, the “normal” imperative must be considered present tense.

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  • Duinhoven, A.M2001Analyse en synthese in het Nederlands Van Gorcum
  • Haeringen, Coenraad B. van1940De taaie levenskracht van het sterke werkwoordDe Nieuwe Taalgids34241-255
  • Kate Hz., Lambert ten1723Aenleiding tot de kennisse van het verhevene deel der Nederduitsche sprake. Eerste deelUitgeverij Canaletto / Repro-Holland BV, Alphen aan den Rijn 2001
  • Postma, Gertjan1993Jij kan en hij heb - over structuurbehoud van analogische taalveranderingen TABU23115-127
  • Salverda, Reinier2006Over de sterke werkwoorden in het Nederlands, Engels en DuitsNederlands tussen Duits en Engels: Handelingen van de workshop op 30 september en 1 oktober 2005 aan de Freie Universität BerlinLeiden163-182
  • Santen, Ariane van1997Hoe sterk zijn de sterke werkwoordenTaal in tijd en ruimteSNL45-56