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Lesson Transcript

Michael: Is it common to omit the subject in Dutch sentences?
Atie: And why?
Michael: At DutchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Rinke Rover apologizes to her friend Sasha Lee by saying,
"I'm sorry."
Rinke Rover: Het spijt me.
Rinke Rover: Het spijt me.
Sasha Lee: Geeft niet.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Rinke Rover: Het spijt me.
Michael: "I'm sorry."
Sasha Lee: Geeft niet.
Michael: "No worries."

Lesson focus

Michael: It's common for the subject or pronoun to be omitted in a sentence in pro-drop languages. A pro-drop language is a language that allows the omitting of the subject or pronoun if it doesn't affect the message the sentence is trying to convey. Some of the common pro-drop languages include Japanese, Korean, and most Romance languages like Spanish and Italian. And while English is not considered a pro-drop language, subject pronouns are usually dropped in imperative sentences. Like English, Dutch is not necessarily a pro-drop language, but there are instances when it does not require an explicit subject in a sentence.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Rinke Rover says "I'm sorry?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Rinke Rover: Het spijt me,
Michael: literally meaning "It regrets me." Let's concentrate on the subject of this sentence which is "it" or
Atie: Het,
Michael: literally meaning "it" and, in this context, we call it a dummy subject. Dutch is a verb-second, or a Subject-Verb-Object language, which means that the verb has to always be in the second position in the main clause. If the subject is not specified, Dutch speakers would fill in the space before the verb with
Atie: het.
Michael: Another example would be "It's raining."
Atie: Het regent.
Michael: Typically, every Dutch sentence has a subject, and the verb will take the second position in the sentence.
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now, let's take a look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Sasha Lee says "No worries?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Sasha Lee: Geeft niet,
Michael: literally meaning "Matters not." Did you notice that something was missing? In Sasha's response, there is no subject at all.
There are just two exceptions to the Subject-Verb-Object rule in the Dutch language, where the subject can be dropped.
One exception is for spoken, or colloquial language, in very casual situations. This is the case in Sasha's response.
After dropping the subject, we have the verb in the first position, meaning that the subject is missing. Using your reverse engineering skills here, you can pretty much assume that you can use the dummy subject in the first position.
Atie: Het geeft niet.
Michael: Another example would be "I'll be right back."
Atie: Ben zo weer terug,
Michael: literally meaning "Be right back." Can you guess what the full sentence should sound like?
Atie: Ik ben zo weer terug.
Michael: In this lesson, we learned that omitting a subject in a sentence is not a common practice in the Dutch language. However, just like with the English language and most languages, the subject can be dropped in imperative sentences in Dutch.
Michael: While it's not encouraged to omit the subject in Dutch sentences, as we mentioned above, there are two particular instances when this is possible. We already discussed the first one; now, let's introduce the second one:
This is when you are giving an order or a command, in which case, you are forming an imperative sentence. Dutch imperatives are often addressed to someone you would normally address in neutral situations with "you," or
Atie: jij or jullie.
Michael: This is common in situations where simple commands are required, such as when you're giving directions or instructions. This imperative consists of the verb stem, or
Atie: stam,
Michael: with no subject present. For instance,
Atie: Neem de eerste straat rechts.
Michael: "Take the first street on your right."
Atie: Loop door,
Michael: meaning "Keep walking," or
Atie: Hou op.
Michael: "Stop it." When you want to address someone formally, your speech needs to be more polite. In such a scenario, a formal imperative is used. For instance,
Atie: Gaat u zitten.
Michael: "Have a seat." Here, we use the formal "you," which is
Atie: u
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: In the Dutch language, you can make an imperative sentence more polite or less direct by softening your tone, or
Atie: toon.
Michael: To achieve this, you will need the help of the modal participle
Atie: maar.
Michael: This is used in both formal and informal contexts and makes the imperative a bit friendlier.
Atie: Geeft u mij maar een drankje.
Michael: "I'll have a drink, please." The presence of the modal participle here is crucial. Without it, the imperative would sound rude or overly demanding


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Atie: Doei!
Michael: See you soon!