Last modified on 23 May 2015, at 17:21

Dutch/Lesson 12

Les 12 ~ Lesson 12

De telefoon ~ De telephone

Grammar: worden
Gammar: Transitives and passive voice
Grammar: the auxiliary zijn
Ergatives and inergatives

Voorwoord Les 1 Les 2 Les 3 Les 4 Les 5 Les 6 Les 7 Les 8 Les 9 Les 10 Les 11 Les 12 Les 13 Les 14 Les 15 Les 16 Les 17 Les 18 Les 19 Les 20 Les 21 Les 22
Practice Les 1A Les 2A Les 3A Les 4A Les 5A Les 6A Les 7A Les 8A Les 9A Les 10A Les 11A Les 12A Les 13A Les 14A Les 15A Les 16A Les 17A Les 18A Les 19A Les 20A Les 21A Les 22A
Examples Vb. 1 Vb. 2 Vb. 3 Vb. 4 Vb. 5 Vb. 6 Vb. 7 Vb. 8 Vb. 9 Vb. 10 Vb. 11 Vb. 12 Vb. 13 Vb. 14 Vb. 15 Vb. 16 Vb. 17 Vb. 18 Vb. 19 Vb. 20 Vb. 21 Vb. 22

Gesprek 12 De telefoonEdit

Mirjam: Jan, er wordt gebeld!
Jan: Ja, ik hoor het. Is het antwoordapparaat ingeschakeld?
Mirjan: Nee, het is uit. Neem even op, het zal ma zijn. Anders wordt ze weer kwaad.
Jan: Ach ja, je moeder. Wanneer zal ze eens door je vader tot de orde geroepen worden? Ik word naar van haar gezeur.
Mirjam: Ze bedoelt het goed, Jan. Maar ze is al vaak door mensen teleurgesteld.
Jan: Ja ik zal wel een grote teleurstelling geweest zijn. Je wordt bedankt.
Jan neemt de telefoon op.
Jan: U spreekt met Jan Snijders.
Jan: Ja, mam, ..
Jan: Ja, mam , ik hoor je wel, maar wat is er nou gebeurd? Is het..
Jan: Maar wie is er ..
Jan: Oh, de kat! Is de kat weggelopen?
Translation • Lesson 12 • Gesprek 12
Mirjam: Jan, the phone is ringing!
Jan: Yes, I hear. Has the answering machine been activated?
Mirjam: No, it's off. Do pick up, it's probably mom. Otherwise she'll get angry again
Jan: Oh yeah, that mother of yours. When is she ever going to be put in her place by your father? I'm getting sick of her nagging.
Mirjam: She means well, Jan. But she has often been disappointed by people.
Jan: Yes, I must have been quite a disappointment. Thanks a lot.
Jan picks up the phone.
Jan: Jan Snijders speaking
Jan: Yes, mom, ..
Jan: Yes, mom , I do hear you, but what exactly has happened? Is it..
Jan: But, who has ..
Jan: Oh, the cat! Has the cat run off?

Grammatica 12-1. Worden and the Passive VoiceEdit

In most languages transitive verbs can be put in the passive voice. In English for example:

Active: The cook prepares dinner.
Passive: Dinner is prepared by the cook.

The object dinner of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive one. It is this 'transition' that makes the verb to prepare a transitive one.

The passive voice is formed by means of its own auxiliary worden in Dutch. It is a regular strong verb:

worden – werd – geworden

Use as a copulaEdit

As we have seen the verb worden can also be used as a verb (copula) in its own right rather than as an auxiliary and then it translates into to become or to get. Compare:

to become
red beet
Ik word piloot
I (will) become a pilot
Hij werd zo rood als een kroot!
He became as red as a beet (He blushed for shame).
Je schilderij wordt erg mooi!
Your painting is turning out very well!
Niet kwaad worden!
Don't get mad!

The perfect of wordenEdit

As worden describes a process rather than an action, it is itself an ergative verb. (More about those below). In Dutch that means that it takes the verb zijn in the perfect and not to have as in English.

Hij is piloot geworden
He has become a pilot.

Use of worden as an auxiliaryEdit

to beat, defeat

As an auxiliary + past participle worden expresses the passive voice:

Hij verslaat me ==>Ik word door hem verslagen
He beats me ==> I am beaten by him

Notice the change in word order:

  1. As in the case of the perfect tenses the past participle moves to the very end of the sentence.
  2. As in English the subject (he) and the object (me) swap places.
  3. The old subject becomes an expression with door (English: by)
YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Lesson 12 • Use of worden

Translate, using "worden" and its forms:

He got very mad.
We have become merchants.
This is seen as something good
You are getting very red in the sun.
These apples are sold for one euro per pound

Translate into English

Het is al laat geworden.
Het wordt al donker
Word je niet bang?
Zij waren vrienden geworden.
Dat wordt hier niet gegeten.
SOLUTION • Dutch/Lesson 12 • Use of worden

He got very mad.
Hij werd erg kwaad
We have become merchants.
We zijn handelaars geworden
This is seen as something good
Dit wordt als iets goeds gezien
You are getting very red in the sun.
Je wordt erg rood in de zon
These apples are sold for one euro per pound
Deze appels worden voor een euro per pond verkocht.
Het is al laat geworden.
It has gotten late
Het wordt al donker
It is already getting dark
Word je niet bang?
Aren't you getting scared?
Zij waren vrienden geworden.
They had become friends
Dat wordt hier niet gegeten.
That is not eaten here.

The perfect tense of the passiveEdit

The perfect tense of the passive can cause some confusion because of the ergative conjugation with zijn and the fact that the participle geworden is usually omitted:

Ik ben door hem geslagen (geworden)
Ik ben door hem geslagen
I have been beaten by him.

Thus, in such cases ik ben does not translate into I am, but into I have been!.

Notice that this imparts to the verb zijn and its forms (ben, bent, is, was, waren etc.) three rather different roles:

  1. copula (the verbal equal sign =)
  2. active perfect auxiliary for ergative verbs, i.e. those of motion or those describing a process instead of an action.
  3. passive perfect auxiliary for transitive verbs.


Ik ben piloot. (copula)
Ik ben naar huis gelopen (ergative perfect of directed motion)
Dit ongeluk is gisteren gebeurd (ergative perfect of a process)
Ik ben door hem geslagen (passive perfect)

The latter sentense is a transipostion of:

Hij heeft mij geslagen (active perfect)

Notice that the agent of the action ("hij") reappears as a prepositional object with door: "door hem" in the passive. The ergative perfects do not have such an agent. They also generally take "to have" in English.


Particularly in the imperfect tenses, the passive voice is quite common in Dutch, probably more so than in English because the auxiliary worden makes it easily recognizable. It often occurs without a clear subject in conjunction with the adverb er (8) to describe circumstance.

Er wordt veel van je verwacht. (veel is subject)
Much is expected from you.
Er wordt van je verwacht dat je meedoet (dat je meedoet is subject)
It is expected of you that you partake.
Er wordt vaak om gelachen (no subject)
It is often laughed at.
Er is veel om die grap gelachen
That joke has been much laughed at.

The active version of such expressions requires the use of the indefinite personal pronoun men that translates into one or an impersonal they (analogous to the French on or the Spanish se).

men verwacht dat je meedoet
lit. one expects that you participate – they expect you to participate
men lacht erom / ze lachen erom
they laugh at it

Indirect objects and ditransitive verbsEdit

The transition to the passive construction normally involves the direct object. However for some verbs it is also possible to make the indirect object the new subject. Such verbs are usually called ditransitive.

In English the same auxiliary "be" or "have been" is used to construct the new sentence. In Dutch that is not the case: a different auxiliary is used krijgen instead of worden. Such a construction is usually called a pseudopassive construction. Compare the following sentence where "him" is the indirect and "house" the direct object:

construction English Dutch
active I give/donate a house to him Ik schenk hem een huis.
passive A house is given to him by me Een huis wordt door mij aan hem geschonken.
pseudopassive He is given a house by me Hij krijgt van mij een huis geschonken.
construction English Dutch
active perfect I have given him a house Ik heb hem een huis geschonken.
passive perfect A house has been given to him by me Een huis is door mij aan hem geschonken.
pseudopassive perfect He has been given a house by me Hij heeft van mij een huis geschonken gekregen.

The pseudopassive construction with krijgen is relatively rare in Dutch. Notice that the agent usually gets van rather than door in the pseudopassive.

Ergatives (+zijn) and inergatives (+hebben)Edit

A verb that carries a direct object is called a transitive verb. In Dutch these verbs can usually form passive voice constructions, much like in English:

De politieman ziet een inbreker ==> De inbreker wordt door de politieman gezien.
The cop sees a burglar ==> The burglar is seen by the cop.

Verbs that do not have a direct object are often called intransitive in English, but there are really two kinds in Dutch.

Ergative verbsEdit

to go
to come
to melt
to happen
to explode

There are the ergative verbs like gaan, komen, smelten, gebeuren, ontploffen and quite a few others. They take zijn as their auxiliary in the perfect and they have no passive voice at all.

Ik ben gisteren gekomen - I have come yesterday.
Dit is gisteren gebeurd - This has happened yesterday

Actually Shakespeare would have used is in English as well and fans of the books of J.R.R. Martin may still run into phrases like "it is come to this" etc. When Nancy Pelosi announced the passing of the Affordable Care Act she said "The bill is passed". In other words, English used to have the same and there are some faint echoes left.

Ergative verbs describe processes rather than actions.

Inergative verbsEdit

A different group is called inergative (or 'unaccusative'). These verbs do take hebben in the active perfect, as English does. Take smoking:

Hij rookt. - He smokes.
Hij heeft vele jaren gerookt - He has smoked for many years.

These sentences -indicating that someone is a smoker- do not have a direct object. However, the verb does express an action much like in the case of most transitive verbs.

Impersonal passive voice: another use of "er"Edit

In contrast to English intransitive verbs, Dutch inergatives such as "roken" can undergo the transition to a passive of sorts, but it is an impersonal passive usually initiated with er.

Hij rookt -> Er wordt door hem gerookt.

Unfortunately, there is not really much of an English equivalent for this. Something like "smoking is done by him" is a clumsy rendering of the meaning of the impersonal passive sentence. In Dutch however such constructions are very common. Actually, the most common usage is to leave the actor out altogether:

Er wordt hier gerookt -- People smoke here. ("smoking is being done here")
Er wordt gebeld! -- Someone is calling. ("ringing is happening")

Neither sentence possesses a subject in Dutch. Some grammarians might call "er" a dummy subject, but most maintain that it is simply an adverb. A real direct translation does not really exist. English typically resorts to an active sentence using someone or uses an entirely different construction like:

I hear the bell.

In Dutch, such impersonal passives are a very common way to indicate that it is not clear who the actor is or that the focus is not on the actor, but on the action. Impersonal passives emphasize that something is being done by parties unknown.

Impersonal passives are not limited to inergative verbs. Transitive verbs also form them:

Er werd door de politieagent een inbreker gezien. - ("There was sighted a burglar by the cop")

In this case een inbreker is the subject, but there still is an element of generality: the identity of the burglar is not known. Notice that this sentence has the indefinite article een rather than definite de in the sentence above. A sentence like:

Er werd door de politieagent de inbreker gezien.

is not possible, because the impersonal passive expresses the idea that the identity of the burglar is either not known or not of interest. English would often use a word like some to emphasize the indefinite nature.

Some burglar was seen by the cop.

In the definite case Dutch would use a personal passive:

De inbreker werd door de politieagent gezien. - The burglar was seen by the cop.

When is a verb ergative?Edit

Ergative verbs do not form passives at all, not even impersonal ones.

As we saw above ergatives take zijn (to be) in their perfect tense, where English takes to have:

ik ben gekomen - I have come.
het is gebeurd - it has happened.

The use of zijn presents a problem for native English speakers. (Germans have no problem, their language has a very similar situation.)

How do you know what to use? There are two main groups of verbs that are ergative:

  1. One is the verbs that express motion like coming, going, driving, floating etc.
  2. The other is verbs that express a process or event that happens autonomously (not: a deliberate action), without a clear party who is to blame for it like happening, melting, flowing, solidifying, sinking.

Obviously the examples floating and sinking show that the two groups overlap.

Verbs describing processesEdit

Such verbs often only occur as ergatives:

Stollen - to solidify
ergative present: Het vet stolt- The grease solidifies.
ergative perfect: Het vet is gestold - The grease has solidified.

Because this verb involves a process, not an action, Dutch uses "to be" to form the perfect, not "to have" as English does.

Sometimes however "process" verbs occur both in an ergative and in an active transitive form.

Smelten - to melt
active: Ik smelt het ijs - I melt the ice
ergative: Het ijs smelt - The ice melts

Notice that in this case English has the same active - ergative switch. The subject of the latter (ijs/ice) is the object of the former. Ergativity itself is not the problem: English has that too. The problem only arises when putting the verb in the perfect, because Dutch opts for a different auxiliary:

active: Ik heb het ijs gesmolten - I have melted the ice
ergative: Het ijs is gesmolten - The ice has melted

Notice that the active can also be switched into a passive using "worden"

passive: Het ijs wordt door mij gesmolten
passive perfect: Het ijs is door mij gesmolten geworden

As "geworden" is typically omitted in Dutch (in contrast to German "worden") the perfects of the ergative and the passive are very similar. The difference is the presence of an agent ("door mij").

Ergatives sometimes do have an expression that denotes the cause of the process (rather than agent). Such an expression often uses the preposition van, although door can also be used:

De chocola is van de hitte van de zon gesmolten. - The chocolate has melted from the heat of the sun.

Verbs of motionEdit

Verbs of motion are often more complicated, because can be used both as ergatives and as inergatives.

Lopen - to walk
ergative: Ik ben naar huis gelopen. - I walked home
inergative: Ik heb vandaag veel gelopen - I have walked a lot today
In general one can say that if the sentence focuses on a process of directional movement (e.g. "home") the verb of motion is ergative and takes zijn.
If the focus is on the action (exercising in the park or so) the verb is inergative and takes hebben.

Of course, walking is both and an action and a process of transportation, but in a sense Dutch views "walking home" as a process (that 'just happens'), but "walking a lot" as an action (that the agent chooses to 'do').

The ergative version does not possess a passive, but the inergative version can have an impersonal passive, usually with "er":

impersonal passive: Er wordt hier veel gelopen. - there is lot of walking here

Besides the ergative and inergative version there can also be a transitive variant as well for some verbs, in which case a personal passive can at times be formed:

Rijden - to drive has all three varieties:
ergative: Ik ben naar huis gereden - I drove home
inergative: Ik heb vandaag veel gereden - I have done a lot of driving today
transitive active: Ik heb hem naar huis gereden - I took him home in my car
transitive passive: Hij is door mij naar huis gereden - He was taken home by me (in my car)

Ergatives and "er"Edit

Ergative verbs can also be combined with "er" to convey an indefinite connotation:

Een trein ontspoorde in Rotterdam - A train derailed in Rotterdam.
Er is in Rotterdam een trein ontspoord. - There was a derailment in Rotterdam.


The use of the auxiliaries "hebben", "worden" and "zijn" can be summarized in the following table.

auxiliary transitive inergative ergative
type action action process/motion
perfect hebben hebben zijn
passive personal worden - -
impersonal worden worden
passive perfect personal zijn - -
impersonal zijn zijn

Notice that inergatives actually have more in common with transitives than with ergatives, even though in traditional grammars ergatives and inergatives are typically lumped together as 'intransitive verbs'. This obscures the fact that both transitive and inergative verbs are verbs of action, whereas ergatives are verbs of process or motion.

Notice also that all three groups can take the auxiliary "zijn". For ergatives it is mandatory.

A few small groups of verbs do exist in Dutch that cannot take "zijn", but only take "hebben".

  1. reflexive verbs (using "zich")
  2. impersonal verbs
  3. a few verbs that lack all passive forms either carrying a direct object or not

Exercise 12-1:Edit

For solution see: Dutch/Lesson 12/Key

YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Lesson 12 • Passive voice

Put into passive voice:

De regering heeft een nieuwe wet aangenomen.
De piloot vliegt de Concorde naar Parijs.
Hij voorkomt daarmee veel ellende.
De politie zag de dief bij de inbraak.
Zij namen hem gevangen en brachten hem naar de gevangenis.
U verkoopt die oplichter uw prachtige auto toch niet?
Jullie doorzien het probleem niet goed.
Hij zal morgen zonder twijfel met grote voldoening zijn grote huis in gebruik nemen.

Put into active voice:

Er is veel geleden in die oorlog.
De klok is door de wetgeving die onlangs aangenomen is, goeddeels een eeuw of meer teruggezet.
Er wordt vergeten dat hij door deze tegenslag diep geraakt is.
Hem wordt grove nalatigheid verweten.
De Tour de France wordt niet vaak zeven keer achter elkaar door dezelfde wielrenner gewonnen.
De winkel wordt met behulp van een gesloten TV-circuit door veiligheidspersoneel in de gaten gehouden.
SOLUTION • Dutch/Lesson 12 • Passive voice

De regering heeft een nieuwe wet aangenomen.
Er is door de regering een nieuwe wet aangenomen.
De piloot vliegt de Concorde naar Parijs.
De Concorde wordt door de piloot naar Parijs gevlogen.
Hij voorkomt daarmee veel ellende.
Daar wordt door hem veel ellende mee voorkomen.
De politie zag de dief bij de inbraak.
De dief werd door de politie bij de inbraak gezien.
Zij namen hem gevangen en brachten hem naar de gevangenis.
Hij werd door hen gevangen genomen en naar het gevang gebracht.
U verkoopt die oplichter uw prachtige auto toch niet?
Uw prachtige auto wordt toch niet door U aan die oplichter verkocht?
Jullie doorzien het probleem niet goed.
Het probleem wordt door jullie niet goed doorzien.
Hij zal morgen zonder twijfel met grote voldoening zijn grote huis in gebruik nemen.
Zijn grote huis zal morgen zonder twijfel met grote voldoening door hem in gebruik worden genomen.

Put into active voice:

Er is veel geleden in die oorlog.
Men heeft in die oorlog veel geleden.
De klok is door de wetgeving die onlangs aangenomen is, goeddeels een eeuw of meer teruggezet.
Men heeft de klok door de wetgeving die men onlangs aangenomen heeft, goeddeels een eeuw of meer teruggezet.
Er wordt vergeten dat hij door deze tegenslag diep geraakt is.
Men vergeet dat deze tegenslag hem diep geraakt heeft.
Hem wordt grove nalatigheid verweten.
Men verwijt hem grove nalatigheid.
De Tour de France wordt niet vaak zeven keer achter elkaar door dezelfde wielrenner gewonnen.
Dezelfde wielrenner wint niet vaak zeven keer achter elkaar de Tour de France.
De winkel wordt met behulp van een gesloten TV-circuit door veiligheidspersoneel in de gaten gehouden.
Veiligheidspersoneel houdt de winkel met behulp van een gesloten TV-circuit in de gaten.


de regering                     government
de wet                          law
de piloot                       pilot
de ellende                      misery
het gebruik                     usage, custom 
in gebruik nemen                take into use
de dief                         thief
de inbraak                      burglary
de oplichter                    fraud, conman
de twijfel                      doubt
de voldoening                   satisfaction
de oorlog                       war
de nalatigheid                  negligence
de tegenslag                    setback, misfortune, disappointment
het gat                         the hole
de eeuw                         century
gesloten                        closed
met behulp van                  by means of 
verwachten, -te                 to expect
raken, raakte                   to touch
terugzetten, zette terug        put back
in de gaten houden              to keep an eye on
onlangs                         recently
aannemen - nam aan - aangenomen to adopt
doorzien - doorzag - doorzien   to comprehend
winnen - won - gewonnen         to win
lijden - leed - geleden         to suffer
verwijten - verweet - verweten  to blame
vliegen - vloog - gevlogen      to fly
vergeten - vergat - vergeten    to forget