In order to express whether something is happening right now, an event took place in the past, or is expected to happen in future, Dutch verbs have to be conjugated. This works similar to the conjugation in English. The infinitive (infinitief) is changed depending on tense and person. For most verbs, this happens according to a few simple rules. Nevertheless, like English and other (Germanic) languages (such as German), Dutch also contains verbs whose forms have to be learned by heart.
In addition to the infinitives you should memorize the forms of the following tenses:
- The present tense, in Dutch tegenwoordige tijd
- The simple past, in Dutch verleden tijd
- The present perfect, in Dutch voltooid tegenwoordige tijd
As in English, you can form further tenses by combining verb forms from these three basic tenses. For example the voltooid verleden tijd, the Dutch past perfect.
Weak verbs: The regular verbs
Verbs are called weak verbs (zwakke werkwoorden) if they are conjugated according to simple rules. Does the conjugation of a verb follow these rules in all tenses, it is a weak (or regular) verb. You can learn these rules quite easily. As the spelling of Dutch words tells the reader how to pronounce a word correctly, you will also have to mind the spelling rules while changing the infinitive. Where necessary, you will have to replace double vowels by just one vowel, double letters or replace certain consonants by another one.
Strong and irregular verbs
Irregular verbs (onregelmatige werkwoorden) are those verbs that do not follow the normal conjugation rules. Nevertheless, it is possible that a verb behaves irregularly just in certain tenses.
In the strict sense, the strong verbs (sterke werkwoorden) form another verb category. In contrast to really irregular verbs, the strong verbs actually follow rules. However, these rules are much more differentiated which makes them rather difficult to learn.
For this reason, strong and irregular verbs are often combined to one category whose verbs should simply be learned by heart. As the group of strong and irregular Dutch verbs is rather small this is no big deal. Gradually, you will also develop a feeling for the strong verbs’ rules which will help you to conjugate further strong verbs.
Learning Dutch verb forms
To understand, write or speak Dutch, it is important to know the verb forms. Fortunately, today no one needs to learn the verbs from long tables in boring text books. Today there are much better tools! The Werkwoordleraar, for example, will help you to learn many important Dutch verbs which will accelerate your language learning.