Last modified on 13 March 2013, at 12:24

Dutch/Lesson 17

Les 17 ~ Lesson 17

Bijwoorden en Voorzetsels ~ Adverbs and Prepositions

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We have seen two major groups of words in the Dutch language: naamwoorden (nouns, adverbs, pronouns etc.) and werkwoorden (transitive verbs, intransitives, copula's, auxiliaries). The third group that comprises all the rest is known as bijwoorden (adverbs) and again they occur in a number of forms. Unfortunately it is not possible to classify them quite as thoroughly as the other two groups. In fact it is a bit of a miscellaneous rest group, a kind garbage can into which anything is flung that does not fit in the other two.

We have already seen a few groups of words that fall under the denominator bijwoord in the more extensive sense of the word and we will examine a few more

  1. prepositional adverbs, like in, voor, mee, toe, heen, af etc.
  2. prepositions like in, op, bij, over, met, tot
  3. conjunctions (including subjunctions)
  4. modal adverbs (particles) like wel, maar, eens, ...
  5. adverbs of place and time, like nu, toen, dan or daar, waar
  6. interjections, like oh, hoi, ach, dag, nou

Prepositions and prepositional adverbsEdit

Prepositions are often hard to translate exactly because which one is used in which case often differs between the languages.

Historically, prepositions developed from adverbs that were put before an object to clarify the meaning of a case ending. Later they supplanted the use of the case endings completely.

In Dutch many propositions have an—often identical—adverbial form, the prepositional adverb, that occurs either as the separable part of verbs or as the prepositional part of the pronominal adverb. As we have seen the latter plays a considerable role in Dutch grammar. Thus the separation between prepositions and adverbs is not as sharp in Dutch as it is in some other languages.

There is a number of forms that were formed by prefixing be- and often end in -(e)n, cf.

in - binnen
uit - buiten
over - boven
(neder) - beneden

English has a few comparable forms like before, between, beside, below and behind


In translates mostly as its cognate in

hij woont in dat huis - he lives in that house
hij gelooft in spoken - he believes in ghosts

Its identical adverb in often occurs pronominal replacement: erin, daarin (in it, in there) etc. as well as in separable verbs as will be shown below.

Notice that Dutch does not have an equivalent of into but uses in as prepositional adverb to express the concept of movement 'into' something.

An alternative is to use binnen which often translates into inside

hij is binnen - he is inside
e.g. Hij liep het huis binnen. ‘’He entered the house.’’
binnen twee minuten - within two minutes

To emphasize movement naar can be added:

hij liep naar binnen - he walked in
hij liep er naar binnen - he entered it

Notice that Dutch has no hangups about ending sentences in 'prepositions'. A word like binnen is not considered a preposition unless it actually precedes a noun. Otherwise it is an adverb and there is no law against ending a sentence in an adverb...

Separable verbsEdit

e.g. Ik adem in. I breathe in.
e.g. Hij loopt het huis in. He walks into the house.

Inseparable verbsEdit



door is a cognate of through and often corresponds to it:

Het licht valt door het raam. The light shines through the window.

In many cases the correct translation is by particularly when it is used with the passive voice:

Hij is door de wol geverfd. lit. He has been dyed by the wool. (He is a veteran, old hand.)

Together with heen the meaning is through and through or passage through:

Hij stak de naald door het vel heen. He stuck the needle (all the way) through the skin.

Separable verbsEdit

e.g. Hij hakte de knoop door. He cut the knot through.

Inseparable verbsEdit

e.g. Hij doorzag de list. He saw through the ruse.


Although the word is cognate of by it often is used rather differently. It indicates a location slightly to the side of something.

Schiphol ligt bij Amsterdam - Schiphol is near Amsterdam
bij de les blijven - stay with the lesson
bij slecht weer - in the case of bad weather
het is bij vijven - it is around five o'clock
hij bleef erbij - he stuck to it

Separable verbsEdit

e.g. Hij kwam eindelijk bij. He finally regained consciousness.
e.g. Ik heb het bijgewerkt. I have updated it.

Inseparable verbsEdit



Although cognate of up it usually translates as on or upon

hij is op vakantie - he is on vacation
het boek ligt op de tafel - the book lies on the table.
op je gezondheid - a toast to you health (not : up your .. etc.)

Separable verbsEdit

e.g. Hij nam op. He picked up, answered (the phone), he recorded, he absorbed.
Ach , hoepel toch op! Ow, get lost!, lit. to hoop up; to get lost

Inseparable verbsEdit



naast translates mostly into next to, beside

Jan en Elly wonen naast John en Heleen. Jan and Elly are the neighbors of John and Heleen.
Zij wonen ernaast.

Separable verbsEdit


Inseparable verbsEdit



over translates mostly as it identical cognate:

hij vloog over het koekoeksnest - he flew over the cuckoo's nest

(The latter is an unlikely occurrence given the fact that this bird does not build nests).

There are both separable and inseparable verbs (see below).

boven translates as its cognate above

hij zette er een punt boven: he put a dot above it.

Its identical adverb usually means up, upstairs

hij is boven : he is upstairs

To indicate movement Dutch uses naar

hij liep naar boven - he went upstairs, he went up the hill etc.

Separable verbsEdit

e.g. Het bad liep over. The bathtub overflowed.

Inseparable verbsEdit

e.g. Ik overzag het slagveld. I oversaw the battlefield.


tegen usually translates as against

hij was tegen dit wetsvoorstel - he opposed this proposition
de fiets stond tegen de muur - the bike stood against the wall


hij zei tegen haar - he said to her

Separable verbsEdit

tegenwerken: to thwart, to work against
e.g. Hij werkte me altijd tegen. He always blocked me.
tegenkomen - to encounter, to run into

Inseparable verbsEdit



zonder means without

hij drinkt koffie zonder suiker

It did not have an adverbial form but increasingly pronominal adverbs like waarzonder are used.

Separable verbsEdit


Inseparable verbsEdit



tegenover means on the opposite side of.

Het hotel staat tegenover het conferentiecentrum. The hotel is opposite the conference center.

Separable verbsEdit

tegenoverstellen - put against, balance, add an objection

Inseparable verbsEdit



Some dialects, e.g. in Zeeland and West Flanders have a form bachten in the meaning of behind but it is not considered part of standard Dutch.

Separable verbsEdit

achterstellen - to discriminate, to marginalize
e.g. Deze groep is eeuwen lang achtergesteld. This group has been marginalized for centuries.

Inseparable verbsEdit

e.g. Ik achterhaalde de waarheid. I retraced the truth.


achterin translate mostly into in the back of

achterin de auto liggen nog wat boodschappen - in the trunk of the car there a still a few groceries

It is often used as an adverb together with in:

Het lag achterin in de auto

Separable verbsEdit


Inseparable verbsEdit



achterop is mostly used to indicate the passenger seat of a bike and is used more as an adverb than as a preposition

met z'n meisie achterop - with his girl on the back

Separable verbsEdit

achteropraken: to run behind, to lose advantage

Inseparable verbsEdit



The form beneden can be used as preposition in the meaning of below, under underneath, south of

beneden de rivieren - south of the rivers (i.e. Rhine, Meuse etc.)
beneden de Iridiumlaag vind je dinosaurusbotten - below the Iridium layer you find dinosaur bones

With naar it indicates downward movement:

hij viel naar beneden - he fell down

The form neer (<neder) is not used as a preposition but occurs as an adverb with the meaning of down in separable verbs.

Separable verbsEdit

neerzien op:
e.g. Hij zag neer op die mensen. He looked down upon these people.
neerzitten bij:
e.g. Hij zat bij de pakken neer. He surrendered to resignation. (He gave up.)

Inseparable verbsEdit



uit is represented by out of or from

uit dit erts wordt goud gewonnen - out of this ore gold is produced
hij komt uit Utrecht - he is from Utrecht

buiten usually means outside

buiten de stad - outside the city
hij is buiten - he is outside
hij ging naar buiten - he went ouside'

Both uit and buiten have separable verbs. Uit often means off in these.

Separable verbsEdit

e.g. Hij draaide de radio uit. He turned the radio off.
e.g. Zij deed het licht uit. She switched off the light.
e.g. Zij deed haar jas uit. She took her coat off.

Buiten often means out in verbs:

buitensluiten - to lock out

Inseparable verbsEdit



bezijden is comparable to besides but occurs mostly in the expression.

bezijden de waarheid - aside of the truth (i.e. not true)

Separable verbsEdit


Inseparable verbsEdit



benevens is a rather formal alternative to naast (besides, next to).

benevens de aandelen is er het huizenbezit - besides the stocks is there the real estate

Separable verbsEdit


Inseparable verbsEdit



onder is the cognate of under and has similar applications:

de hond ligt onder de tafel - het dog lies under the table

It can also be used in the meaning of among:

onder professoren - in the circle of professors

Separable verbsEdit

e.g. De zon gaat onder. The sun sets.

Inseparable verbsEdit

e.g. Hij ondergaat een operatie. He undergoes surgery.


met usually means with.

hij gaat met zijn vrouw naar Canada - he goes to Canada with his wife

Its adverbial form is mee (from: mede).

Separable verbsEdit

e.g. Hij ging mee. He joined.
hij ging mee met haar. He accompanied her.

Inseparable verbsEdit



naar translates mostly as to or at:

hij kijkt naar het schilderij - he looks at the painting
hij kijkt ernaar - he looks at it.
hij gaat naar Kaapstad - he is going to Cape Town

In the sense of to rather than at naar is often reinforced by adding the adverb toe:

hij gaat naar Kaapstad toe

In pronominal replacement the addition is mandatory:

hij gaat ernaartoe

Alternatively, however, one can say:

hij gaat erheen - he is going there

heen is an adverb that indicates movement. It does not occur as preposition but there are separable verbs:

heengaan - to leave (usually permanently)
hij ging heen - he left

Its opposite is weer (from: we(d)er- that means back or again)

heen en weer - back and forth

It occurs in separables like:

hij keerde weer - he came back
de wederkomst - the second coming

It is related to with as in withstand and forms inseparable verbs as in English:

weerstaan - withstand

toe is the adverbial form of the preposition tot that mostly means until or to:

dit is geldig tot het eind van de maand - this is valid until the end of the month
dit dient tot versterking van de dijk - this serves to reinforce the dyke
dit is waartoe het dient - this is the purpose it serves

Another meaning of toe is closing, narrowing.

Somewhat archaic is:

doe dat eens toe - please would you close that
af en toe - occasionally, now and then

but it occurs in a separable verb like:

zich toespitsen - become more acute - coming to climax
e.g. Het geweld spitst zich toe. The violence is exacerbating.

A leftover of the old case system are expressions like

tot bloedens toe -- until blood was flowing
tot vervelens toe -- ad nauseam

Notice that the verb appears as a genitive case: bloedens, vervelens. Although uncommon this genitive is still somewhat productive.


tussen means mostly between

tussen Maryland en Noord-Carolina ligt Virginia

Separable verbsEdit

Tussenvoegen - to insert.

Inseparable verbsEdit



van translates mostly into of and from:

van verse tomaten is een heerlijke soep te bereiden - a delicious soup can be made of fresh tomatoes
het westen van het land - the west of the country
hij komt van ver - he comes from far
hij viel van zijn stoel - he fell off his chair

When a downwards motion or fall is implied as in the latter case, the adverb af (cognate of off) can be added:

hij viel van de trap - he fell off the stairs
hij viel eraf - he fell off
het water komt van die berg af - the water comes from that mountain
het komt er vanaf - it comes off of it

af does not occur as proposition, but is part of separable verbs:

afvallen - lose weight, fall off (sailing)

van does not occur in verbs.


aan has various translations such as to, at, on or is implied in an English verb. It typically implies a touching or reaching until contact is made.

zij gaven geld aan deze organisatie - they gave money to this organization
hier komt deze laag aan de oppervlakte - here this layer reaches the surface
aan deze feiten valt niet te twijfelen - these facts can not be doubted
er valt weinig aan te doen - there is little we can do about it
wat is er aan de hand? - what is at hand? what is happening?
hij zit aan het schilderij - he is touching the painting
hij zit eraan - he is touching it
nergens aan zitten! - hands off!

af is the opposite of aan in:

af en aan - off and on

But uit can also be the opposite:

Is het licht aan of uit? Is the light on or off?

Separable verbsEdit

aankomen - to arrive, gain weight
e.g. Hij is gisteren aangekomen. He arrived yesterday.
e.g. Hij is tien kilo aangekomen. He gained 10 kilos.

Inseparable verbsEdit

aanbidden - to worship
e.g. In het Oude Egypte werd de god Horus aanbeden. In Ancient Egypt the god Horus was worshipped.


om can mean around:

hij deed een nieuwe band om de velg - he put a new tire around the rim
om de burcht ligt een gracht - there is a moat around the castle

In this meaning it is often reinforced with heen:

er ligt een gracht om de stad heen
er ligt een gracht omheen

It can also have less literal meaning of about, because of, for:

dit werd om onduidelijke redenen afgelast - this was cancelled for unclear reasons

There are separable verbs:

omdoen - wrap around
e.g. Zij deed een sjaal om. She put a shawl around her neck.

Under German influence om can also imply change, inversion.

hij liet zich ompraten - he allowed himself to be persuaded to change his mind
wegomlegging - detour

Separable verbsEdit

omdoen -wrap around
omwentelen - to roll over, rool away

Inseparable verbsEdit

omhelzen - to embrace


langs evokes a parallel position or motion and is mostly translated by along.

langs de rivier loopt een weg - there is a road along the river
hij liep erlangs - he passed by it

Separable verbsEdit

langskomen - drop by

Inseparable verbsEdit



As in English this adverb conveys the meaning of 'wrong', 'flawed'. It is not used as a preposition.

Separable verbsEdit

misschieten - to shoot and miss

Inseparable verbsEdit

misleiden - to mislead
misvormen - to warp, to disfigure