‘Er’ is a tiny word (Or: B2 Dutch course #15)

The last few classes we have talked about Er. It’s an adverb. In Dutch it has five different functions. It’s also a very, very annoying subject for buitenlanders to understand (myself included).

Function 1:

1. Er + telwoord (numeral, etc). Things to know with this form include:

a) it usually answers a question (if it is not you might be better off with function three)

b) some examples of telwoorden are: normal numbers (een, twee), but also words that describe an amount like weinig (not much), veel (a lot), geen (none), een paar (a few), een aantaal (a number).

c) er comes directly after the verb.

Heb je nog sigaretten? Do you still have cigarettes?

Ja, ik heb er nog twee. Yes, I have two.

Nee, ik heb er geen. No, I don’t have any.

Function 2:

Referring to a place. Er is the unstressed form of daar. Either might be used. Again, er/daar comes after the verb.

Ben je ooit naar Duitsland geweest? Have you ever been to Germany?

Ja, ik ben daar een paar keer geweest. Yes, I have been there a few times.

Function 3:

Er with an indefinite subject (There is a pen on the table, versus THE pen). Some things to know:

a) Er begins the sentence in a main clause. The indefinite subject comes after the verb.

b) You either use een (English = a) or nothing at all before the indefinite subject. Er loopt een man op straat. Er lopen mensen op straat. (A man walks in the street, people walk in the street – it is not always a clean translation)

Er staat een rode auto voor de deur. There is (literally: stands) a red car before the door.

Function 4 (B1-B2 level):

Here you have Er or the stressed form daar with a preposition. Sub function: Er pointing to a relative clause (i.e. a part of a sentence which cannot stand on its own like a main clause can).

a) For the first form, er usually combines with the preposition in some way. Usually as one word.

b) For the sub function, it’s harder to predict where er will be in this function. I think it is again right after the verb but I am not 100% sure.

Denk je aan de vakantie? (aandenken, to think of)

Ja, ik denk eraan(Yes, I think about it.)

Function 2 – sentence without Er first: Ik ben trots op mijn kinderen. (I am proud of my kids, trots op zijn). Sentence with Er: Ik ben er trots op dat mijn kinderen op school goede resultaten halen. Er refers to ‘that my kids get good grades at school’, a relative clause. It is not easy to master this function!

Function 5 (B1-B2 level):

The last use of Er is in a passive sentence. Usually (if not always), Er begins the sentence and is followed by a conjugated version of worden or zijn.

Normal, active sentence: Ze praten in Nederlands veel over het weer. They talk in Dutch a lot about the weather. Passive version: Er wordt in Nederlands veel gepraat over het weer. There is a lot of talk in Dutch about the weather.

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