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Lesson Transcript

Michael: How are questions made in Dutch?
Atie: And what about question tags?
Michael: At DutchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Jose Jansen is asking his neighbor whether they'll join their party. Mark Lee wants to join but seeks confirmation from his wife. "We are coming, aren't we?"
Mark Lee: We komen, toch?
José Jansen: Kom je naar ons feestje?
Mark Lee: We komen, toch?
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
José Jansen: Kom je naar ons feestje?
Michael: "Are you coming to our party?"
Mark Lee: We komen, toch?
Michael: "We are coming, aren't we?"

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, you will learn how to form questions in Dutch and we will also be discussing question tags. There are two basic types of questions in Dutch—closed and open. Closed questions are questions to which you can answer yes or no. Open questions are those that begin with what are commonly known as "question words." These include "what," "when," "where," "who," "why," and "which." Let's begin our lesson by talking about closed questions.
Closed questions always begin with a verb. In English, closed questions usually begin with the auxiliary verb "to do," but, in Dutch, this isn't always the case. What matters in Dutch is that one switches the verb and the subject when asking closed questions. In Dutch, the verb always falls into the second position in a sentence, after the subject. This is called the ‘finite form'. In closed questions, this form gets inverted. In other words, the verb comes first and is followed by the subject. Let's look at an example to illustrate how this works. We'll take a simple statement and then convert it into a question. The statement is "You usually go to bed late."
Atie: U gaat meestal laat naar bed.
Michael: As you can see, it follows the finite form of ‘subject followed by verb'. Now, in order to form the question, we must invert these and ask, "Do you usually go to bed late?"
Atie: Gaat u meestal laat naar bed?
Michael: The direct translation of this sentence would be "Go you usually late to bed?" In English, the sentence begins with the the auxiliary ‘to do' verb, but, as you have heard in the Dutch sentence begins with the verb
Atie: gaat
Michael: or "go." There is an exception to this rule of subject and verb inversion and that is when the word
Atie: er
Michael: is used at the beginning of the statement sentence. The English equivalent of this word is "there." And the same pattern applies in English. For instance, if the statement is, "There were no eggs at the store."
Atie: Er waren geen eieren in de winkel.
Michael: Then, to form the question, you switch the word "there" with the verb instead of switching it with the subject. The result is "Were there no eggs at the store?"
Atie: Waren er geen eieren in de winkel?
Michael: And that's really the most important information you need to know about forming closed or ‘yes' and ‘no' questions. Let's move on now and talk about open questions.
As I mentioned previously, open questions are those that begin with interrogative words, or what are commonly known as ‘question words.' These interrogative words are placed at the beginning of the sentence when forming questions. The same rule is observable in English. Let's consider an example, using the interrogative word "where," or
Atie: waar
Michael: The question we will form is, "Where do you live?"
Atie: Waar woon je?
Michael: You will have noticed that, in both the Dutch and the English sentences, the subject is in the third position. The rule here is that the sentence starts with the interrogative adverb, followed by the conjugated verb and then the subject.
In case you are wondering what I mean when I say that the verb must be conjugated, here is an example to illustrate the principle. Consider the sentence, "Where does he live?" The verb must agree with the subject and so it has been conjugated from "do" in the sentence "Where do you live?," to "does" in the sentence "Where does he live?."
In the first sentence, the subject pronoun was "you" and, in the second one, the pronoun was "he." Let's look at the same thing in Dutch. In Dutch, the sentence "Where does he live?" would be
Atie: Waar woont hij?
Michael: Here, the subject is
Atie: hij
Michael: meaning "he," whereas, in the previous sentence, it was
Atie: je
Michael: meaning "you." For this reason, the verb changed from
Atie: woon
Michael: to
Atie: woont
Michael: Just as with the English sentence, the verb has been conjugated to agree with the subject pronoun. We will talk more about the rule behind this particular conjugation later.
At this point, we have covered the basic principles behind forming closed and open questions, but we haven't yet talked about the third way to form questions—question tags. These are very common in English. For instance, one will often hear the words, "right?," "aren't you?," and "okay?" at the end of a statement. There are, of course, many more question tags in English. They are words or short phrases which can be placed at the end of a statement to convert that statement into a question. Dutch is no different in this regard. There are rules you can follow when it comes to question tags. One of these rules is that an affirmative statement is usually followed by a question tag which suggests that the reply be in the affirmative.
Atie: U spreekt toch Nederlands?
Michael: This means "You speak Dutch, don't you?" The question tag is
Atie: toch
Michael: and in this context the expected response is a "yes." It is quite a common tag and is sometimes placed within a sentence, instead of at the end, as most question tags are. Let's look at another example of an affirmative statement expecting an affirmative reply:
Atie: In jouw land spreken ze alleen Engels, nietwaar?
Michael: This means, "In your country they speak only English, don't they?" The question tag in this example is
Atie: nietwaar
Michael: meaning, "don't they?" and it also prompts an affirmative reply. Now, let's look at negative statements. These are usually followed by a question tag that prompts a negative reply. Here's an example:
Atie: Je houdt niet van kool, of wel?
Michael: This means, "You don't like cabbage, do you?" The tag is
Atie: of wel
Michael: and, as you will have guessed, it anticipates a negative reply. If you are not sure which question tag to use, there is a safe option. You can use this question tag for negative or positive statements, and it sounds like this:
Atie: hè
Michael: Here's an example of a positive statement followed by this tag:
Atie: Je houdt van spinazie, hè?
Michael: This means, "You like spinach, don't you?." Let's change this to a negative statement and say, "You don't like spinach, do you?"
Atie: Je houdt niet van spinazie, hè?
Michael: See? It is the most common question tag in Dutch and you would be well advised to use it until you feel confident using the other options.
Let's look at some more examples of question tags:
Atie: Je houdt van rode biet, of niet?
Michael: This means, "You like beetroot, don't you?" This is an affirmative statement followed by a tag that anticipates an affirmative response. The tag is
Atie: of niet.
Michael: An example of a tag that follows a negative statement is
Atie: wel
Michael: It can be used following a sentence like
Atie: Je houdt niet van rode biet, wel?
Michael: or "You don't like beetroot, do you?"
Michael: In this lesson, you learned how to form questions in Dutch. We looked at closed and open questions. Closed questions are ones that require a ‘yes' or ‘no' reply while open questions use interrogative words. The other method of forming questions that we discussed was question tags, which are short phrases or single words which are placed within or at the end of a sentence in order to turn a statement into a question.
Michael: In our lesson focus, we briefly touched on open questions using interrogative words. A few more examples of open questions will be useful. We'll discuss these in terms of the type of interrogative word in order to make it easier. The first kind of interrogative word we'll be looking at is the interrogative personal pronoun. An example of this is "who," or
Atie: wie
Michael: Remember, open questions begin with the interrogative word, as you can hear in the question, "Who is that?"
Atie: Wie is dat?
Michael: "What" is also an interrogative personal pronoun. Here's an example of its usage:
Atie: Wat is de naam van dat boek?
Michael: This means "What is the name of that book?" Another interrogative personal pronoun that you will hear often is "which" or
Atie: welk
Michael: This word takes two forms. When it precedes a
Atie: het
Michael: noun, it remains unchanged from the form we just heard. You can hear this in the sentence
Atie: Welk boek ben je aan het lezen?
Michael: which means, "Which book are you reading?" If it precedes a
Atie: de
Michael: noun, then you must use this form of the word:
Atie: welke
Michael: Here's an example, meaning "Which show are you watching?"
Atie: Welke show kijk je?
Michael: One also uses this form of the word when it precedes a plural noun. Consider this example:
Atie: Welke boeken lees je?
Michael: which means "Which books are you reading?" Now, let's look at some interrogative adverbs and how they are used to form open questions. The first one we'll discuss is the word
Atie: waar
Michael: which means "where." Let's use it in a sentence meaning, "Where is the library?"
Atie: Waar is de bibliotheek?
Michael: As expected, it was placed at the beginning of the sentence. Another interrogative adverb is the word meaning "when:"
Atie: wanneer
Michael: Here's an example meaning, "When is your flight?:"
Atie: Wanneer is je vlucht?
Michael: And as a last example of an interrogative adverb, let's look at the word meaning "how:"
Atie: hoe
Michael: It can be used to form a sentence like this:
Atie: Hoe smaakt het eten?
Michael: which means, "How does the food taste?" Of course, the word "how" is quite a versatile one and can be used in many ways. It can also be used as an interrogative number by asking "how much?:"
Atie: hoeveel?
Michael: Here, you can hear it in the context of a question meaning "How much are those shoes?"
Atie: Hoeveel zijn die schoenen?
Michael: These are just a few examples of interrogative words and how they can be used to form questions. As you progress with your study of the Dutch language, you will encounter many more of these.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: In our language focus, we discussed the questions
Atie: Waar woon je?
Michael: and
Atie: Waar woont hij?
Michael: You will have noticed that the verb was conjugated differently because of the pronoun that followed it. The rule here is that before
Atie: je
Michael: and
Atie: jij,
Michael: there is no "t" at the end of the verb. This is also the case when asking questions that begin with the Dutch equivalent of the word "can:"
Atie: kun
Michael: For instance, if we ask:
Atie: Kunt u Nederlands eten eten?
Michael: or "Can you eat Dutch food?," then the word
Atie: kun
Michael: ends with a "t." But, if we ask:
Atie: Kun je Nederlands eten eten?
Michael: then there is no need for the "t" at the end of the word.


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