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Lesson Transcript

Michael: How many grammatical cases are there in Dutch?
Atie: And how do they work?
Michael: At DutchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Sasha Lee is confused about Dutch grammar. She asks a befriended teacher, Didi Dekker,
"How many cases are there in Dutch?"
Sasha Lee: Hoeveel naamvallen zijn er in het Nederlands?
Sasha Lee: Hoeveel naamvallen zijn er in het Nederlands?
Didi Dekker: Nederlands had gewoonlijk 4 naamvallen.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sasha Lee: Hoeveel naamvallen zijn er in het Nederlands?
Michael: "How many cases are there in Dutch?"
Didi Dekker: Nederlands had gewoonlijk 4 naamvallen.
Michael: "Dutch used to have 4 cases."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we will be discussing the grammatical cases in Dutch. If you are wondering how many there are and how long it will take to learn them, have no fear—there are no longer any grammatical cases in Dutch. I say 'no longer' because, until the nineteen-forties, the cases were still in use.
There were four cases, much like the cases we still find in modern German. What remains of them today is very rudimentary. As in English, the remnants of cases in Dutch can mostly be found in the way personal pronouns are used. Let's quickly look at which cases there are. The first one
Atie: de eerste naamval
Michael: is the "nominative" -
Atie: nominatief
Michael: In modern English, this case is called the "subjective" -
Atie: subjectief
Michael: It marks the subject of a phrase. What remains of this case is evident in the inflections of personal pronouns when they are the subject of a sentence. Listen to how a Dutch person will say, "I went to the shop:"
Atie: Ik ging naar de winkel.
Michael: And then listen to how they will say, "He went to the shop:"
Atie: Hij ging naar de winkel.
Michael: The pronoun changes, depending on who the subject is and this is what remains of the nominative case. The second case
Atie: de tweede naamval
Michael: is called the "genitive"
Atie: genitief
Michael: In modern English, this is the case we refer to as the "possessive" -
Atie: bezittelijk
Michael: and it is used to show possession. The genitive case is where things get quite interesting. It is no longer in use and has been replaced with prepositions. Let's look at an example of this. Consider this unusual-sounding sentence:
Atie: Des mans auto.
Michael: This means "the man's car." If you know German, you might be confused and think this is a German sentence because the genitive case is still used in modern German. It is not German, of course. It's old Dutch. In English, we often use an apostrophe before an "s" to indicate the possessive form, this is not the same in Dutch. These days, Dutch people will say:
Atie: De auto van de man.
Michael: This translates as "The car of the man." As you can hear, the preposition -
Atie: van
Michael: is used to replace the genitive case. It means "of" in English. Let's look at another example of how the genitive has evolved. The genitive was also used to mark relationships. Consider this phrase:
Atie: het rijk der natuur
Michael: This means, "the realm of nature." In modern Dutch, they would not talk this way. Instead, they would say:
Atie: het rijk van de natuur
Michael: again, you heard the use of the preposition:
Atie: van
Michael: As mentioned before, this means "of." it also replaces the old, genitive case. The difference is that in this example it indicates a relationship between the words "realm" -
Atie: rijk
Michael: and "nature"
Atie: natuur
Michael: It doesn't indicate possession. Another way that possession can be marked in Dutch is to change the inflection of the pronoun. Consider this archaic genitive construction:
Atie: een prestatie mijner
Michael: A direct translation of this would be "an achievement mine," but, of course, in English we say, "An achievement of mine." It is the same in modern Dutch. These days a Dutch person would say:
Atie: een prestatie van mij
Michael: Again, I am sure you heard the word:
Atie: van
Michael: It is used instead of the old genitive, but there is still a form of the genitive that remains even in modern Dutch. It happens when Dutch people use proper names in the possessive. Listen to this example:
Atie: Jans auto
Michael: It means the same as "Jan's car" and is much easier to say than the alternative:
Atie: de auto van Jan
Michael: This directly translates to: "The car of Jan."
Michael: Now, the third case
Atie: de derde naamval
Michael: we will be looking at is the "dative" -
Atie: datief
Michael: This case marks the indirect object. For example:
Atie: Hij gaf hun het boek.
Michael: This means "He gave them the book." The indirect object in this case is "them:"
Atie: hun
Michael: That's because this is the object doing the receiving.
There is a preposition in Dutch which still requires the language user to use the dative case after it, but it has largely fallen out of use now. That preposition is:
Atie: te
Michael: It means "to," but is only used in fixed expressions these days. For example:
Atie: ten slotte
Michael: This means "finally." There is also the expression:
Atie: te allen tijde
Michael: which means "at all times." As I mentioned previously, these are fixed expressions and the preposition is not used very often anymore.
Michael: The last one we will be looking at is the fourth case
Atie: de vierde naamval
Michael: the "accusative"
Atie: accusatief
Michael: In modern English, it is called the "objective" -
Atie: objectief
Michael: This is because it marks the direct object of a verb. Let's look at an example in Dutch. This means, "She hit me:"
Atie: Ze sloeg mij.
Michael: And now let's listen to a sentence meaning, "She hit him."
Atie: Ze sloeg hem.
Michael: In each of the sentences, the last personal pronoun is in the objective case. If the pronoun had stayed in the subjective case, the first sentence would have been, "She hit I:"
Atie: Ze sloeg ik.
Michael: That sounds a little weird to a native speaker, even though the meaning is clear. This is an example of a remnant of the accusative case.
And those are the four cases that were in use until the nineteen-forties. As you can see, they have been significantly simplified in modern Dutch.
Michael: In this lesson, we discussed the grammatical cases in Dutch. They are not in use in modern Dutch and only remnants of the four cases remain. Dutch used the same four cases as are used in modern German. The first of these is the nominative:
Atie: nominatief
Michael: This is called the subjective case in modern English. The second case is the
Atie: genitief
Michael: It is called the possessive case in modern English. The third case is the dative:
Atie: datief
Michael: This case was used to mark the indirect object. Examples of these cases can mostly be found in fixed expressions in modern Dutch, such as in the expression:
Atie: op den duur
Michael: This means "eventually." Another example is the expression:
Atie: heden ten dage
Michael: and this means "nowadays." Prepositions and word order have replaced the cases in modern Dutch.
And the last case is the accusative:
Atie: accusatief
Michael: This is called the objective case in modern English.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: The Dutch grammatical cases were abolished in the forties because no one spoke that way anymore. In fact, they hadn't really been speaking that way since the eighteenth century. The cases were only used in formal, written texts. These days, certain dialects still use the nominative and accusative cases, but which one is being used depends on the dialect. In modern spoken and standard written northern Dutch, the masculine and feminine genders are merged because they make use of the nominative case. Gender is not distinguished in the nominative. However, in spoken southern Dutch, there is still gender distinction in the language because they use the accusative case which makes these distinctions.


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