Yesterday’s class was interesting to say the least. The main grammatical thing discussed was “Er”, a small little word that usually doesn’t translate that well. In the simplest sense, however, it is translatable. Er is or Er zijn translates to There is or There are. It is used with subjects that are considered onbepaald/undetermined, that is, the subject of the sentence is something not that well known. While it isn’t something that you think a lot about in English, it has the same basic rules in both languages.
For instance – De vrouw stat voor de deur, or The woman stood before the door. In English and Dutch, the use of “The” and “De” implies that the woman is known, likely that she was referred to in a previous sentence.
But if the woman isn’t known yet, or is “undetermined”, than in Dutch you can use Er is. Example: Er is een vrouw voor de deur. There is a woman before the door.
Er loopt niemand op straat. (There walks no one in the street, or less awkwardly – No one walks in the street.)
Er ligt een boek op tafel. (There lies a book on the table, or less awkwardly – There is a book on the table.)
Of course, the above two examples provide translation frustration because they use the “positional” verbs to describe an object. liggen = to lie, zitten = to sit, staan = to stand, and lopen = to walk. There’s a fifth one that is less used hangen = to hang. These five verbs are used to describe the position of someone or something. It’s something that I don’t quite have the hang of yet and need to practice more. A lot more!
The fourth post in this link explains things a bit better than I could, although they don’t always translate the Dutch. If needed, open two copies of the url and translate one of them but not the other. Or use Google translate as needed. ;p