Using ‘te’ in Dutch (Or: B2 Dutch course #30)

In today’s blog post we are going to learn about a small word called te in the present tense, sometimes part of a phrase  om … te. It usually gives the listener a bit more information about why you said something in your sentence – try making the first part a statement and then inserting a question word (why, what, when, etc)  in the middle of sentence and it will become a bit clearer that what follows after is more information and/or an answer.

It also sometimes be translated as “in order to” in English (old English had something similar which was dropped in modern English).

De kat ligt op de tafel om te slapen. The cat lies on the table to sleep.

De kat ligt op de tafel. Waarom? Om te slapen. The cat lies on the table. Why? To sleep.

De was hangt buiten om te drogen. The laundry hangs outside to dry.

De was hangt buiten. Waarom? Om te drogen. The laundry hangs outside. Why? To dry.

Note: Om and te are not always next to each other in the sentence. But the one rule you can follow is that om begins the phrase and te comes right before the last infinitive in the sentence (although we will not get into double infinitive construction here, which happens in the present perfect and past perfect).

Het is leuk om jou weer te zien. It is nice to see you again. (Literally: It is nice to you again see.)

There are a few lists of verbs which take te in the present tense. I will split them up into two groups because they have different rules in other tenses.

verb + te + infinitive (verb group 1)

1. staan to stand
2. zitten – to sit
3. liggen – to lie / lay
4. lopen – to walk – Ik loop de hele dag aan het examen te denken. I thought about the exam all day.
5. hangen – to hang
6. durven – to dare
7. hoeven – to need (usually used in negative sentences, i.e. Ik hoef geen jas. I don’t need a jacket.)

The astute student will realize that the first five in orange are part of a group in and of itself – these five verbs are frequently used to describe a more continuous action and the physical state of the subject while the action occurs.  Thus the example above about thinking about the exam all day – most people are still going about their normal business and walking around while doing so.

 verb + te + infinitive (verb group 2)

Again, these two groups are only split because the rule for other tenses, not covered here, are different. Thus it is better to learn them separately.

1. beginning – to begin Ik begin Nederlands te leren. I begin to learn Dutch.
2. beloven – to promise Ik beloof om eerder thuis te zijn. I promise to be home earlier. (see how ‘eerder thuis’ gets put in between om … te
3. besluiten – to decide
4. beweren – to claim
5. dreigen – to threaten
6. proberen – to try
7. hopen – to hope
8. weigeren – to refuse
9. vergeten – to forget

verbs that do not use te (in any tense)

There is also a special list of verbs that do not use te at all (at least within the same clause). These include some very common verbs.

The five auxiliary/helper verbs:  mogen, moeten, zullen, kunnen, willen

And other well known verbs: laten, gaan, komen, blijven, zien

Mag ik hier roken? May I smoke here?

Mijn buurman wil een nieuwe auto kopen. My neighbor wants to buy a new car.

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