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Dutch Tenses: When and How to Use Them

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Grammar is often seen as one of the most intimidating parts of learning a new language. It’s the part of your study where you have to peer under the hood of your car and get a feel for how the engine works. Although it can be tempting to skip the study of Dutch tenses and verb conjugation, taking a little time to familiarize yourself with Dutch grammar rules is one of the fastest ways to improve your studies and improve your fluency.

The Basics of Dutch Tenses and Verb Conjugation

Before we can touch on Dutch tenses, we need to know a little bit about verb conjugation. In a nutshell, conjugation defines how a verb changes depending on its tense (referring to the past, present, or future) and the people it involves (I, you, they, etc.) When reading up on this topic, the two words you will inevitably encounter are:

  • Stem: Also referred to as a verb stem or a crude stem, this is the most basic form of a word. It is the foundation we build on to define the tense of the word and to conjugate.
  • Infinitive: This refers to the -en sound placed on the end of a stem to create the infinitive form.

Here are a few examples:









We will go into how these are used in sentences shortly, but for now, this is a fantastic rule to help you incorporate new vocabulary as you discover it. As an example, if you heard someone say, ‘zij dansen’, you would know to strip off the -en to create the stem verb ‘dans’.

Short and Long Vowel Verbs

As with most things, however, it’s never quite that simple. It’s important to note that the spelling of the stem verb can be slightly different depending on whether it’s a long or short vowel verb.

All three of the examples provided above are short vowel verbs. Finding the stem from a short vowel infinitive is as simple as stripping off the -en. Other than that, the spelling remains exactly the same. However, long vowel verbs are slightly different. Below are a few examples of long vowel verbs in their stem and infinitive forms:













As can be seen, the stem verb has a slightly altered spelling once the -en has been removed. To find the stem for ‘vuren’, we remove the -en, which gives us ‘vur’. We then double up the last vowel in the word to give us ‘vuur’.

If you’re in any doubt, I find that it helps to say the word in question out loud. For example, ‘vergeten’ becomes ‘verget’ when we strip off the infinitive. Say ‘verget’ out loud, using what you know about Dutch pronunciation, and you’ll find it sounds too short and clipped. From here, it’s easy enough to determine that ‘vergeten’ is a long vowel verb, and the spelling of the stem should be altered to ‘vergeet’.

Stem Verbs: Rules and Exceptions

In addition to the above, here are a few more things to keep in mind when working with verb conjugation:

  • Syllables in Dutch never end in two consonants that are the same. For example, ‘drukken’ becomes ‘druk’ instead of ‘drukk’.
  • Infinitive verbs ending in iën become stem verbs ending in ie. As an example, ‘ruziën’ becomes ‘ruzie’.

  • Stem words never end in v or z. Once the rules above have been applied, if the stem verb ends in v, it is changed to f, and if the stem ends in z, it changes to s.

Dutch Tenses – The Present

Now that we have a few rules under the belt, it’s time to start looking at tenses and verb conjugation in the context of a sentence.







Ik werk

I work



Jij/U werkt

You work



Hij/zij/het werkt

He/she/it works



Wij werken

We work



Jullie werken

You (plural) work



Zij werken

They work

One exception to the rules above is that if je/jij comes after the verb, then you do not add -t to the stem. For example:



Jij slaapt

You sleep.

Slaap je?

Do you sleep?

Present Tense in Practice

As in English, the present tense is used in Dutch to describe actions as they are occurring when the speaker is talking about them:



Ik sta voor je.

I stand before you.

Hij slaapt rustig.

He sleeps peacefully.

However, in addition to this, there are other applications for the present tense form in Dutch.

Referring to Future Events

One interesting way that the present tense can be used in Dutch is by referring to actions that are planned for the future. To do this, the speaker will add some indication of the time when the action is to take place. For example.



Ik fiets morgen naar huis.

Tomorrow I will cycle home.

Ik eet morgen pannenkoeken.

I will eat pancakes tomorrow morning.

A Continuous Action or State of Being

In addition to the above, the present tense is used in Dutch to refer to an ongoing action or state of being. It describes a present reality. As an example:



Ik woon in Rotterdam.

I live in Rotterdam.

Zij studeert al twee jaar medicine.

She has been studying medicine for two years.

Ik ben lang bezig met dit.

I have been working on this for a long time.

In a similar fashion, the present tense in Dutch can also be used to describe an action that is predictable or repetitive.



Hij vindt het altijd saai.

He always finds it boring.

Zij wacht nooit lang.

She never waits long.

Hypothetical Statements – If/Then Scenarios

Finally, the present tense is used for hypothetical statements that suggest a predicted outcome or consequence. This is done in the form of an if/then statement. For example:



Als ik eet, wordt ik ziek.

If I eat, I will be sick.

Als jij blijft, wordt ik boos.

If you stay, I will get angry.

Dutch Tenses – The Past

We will now move onto the basics for conjugating verbs to speak in the past tense. When speaking in the past tense in Dutch, there are two main categories. These are the perfect past tense and the simple past tense. For now we will just look at the perfect tense.

Perfect Tense

When using the perfect tense, it’s important to remember that there are two sets of rules depending on whether you are using regular or irregular verbs. Regular verbs follow a set pattern of conjugation, while the conjugated forms for irregular verbs will need to be memorized.

For now, we will look at how to use the perfect tense with regular verbs. The formula for this consists of a combination of ‘hebben’ or ‘zijn’ + the perfect tense participle. To create the perfect tense participle with a regular verb, the rule is:

ge- + stem + -d/t.

Below are a few examples of this:


Infinitive (Present)

Perfect Past













Verbs Ending in T or D

As can be seen above, when conjugating a verb in the perfect past tense using a regular verb, it will either end in -t or -d. If the crude stem ends in c, f, h, k, p, s, or t, then the perfect past tense will end in -t. Otherwise, it ends in -d.


Past Perfect





It’s important to reiterate that Dutch syllables never end in two consonants that are the same. With this in mind, if you are conjugating a crude stem that ends in -t, you do not need to add an additional –t. Examples of this can be seen below:


Past Perfect





Something to keep in mind is that when deciding how to end a perfect tense verb, you need to look at the crude stem, not the stem. A crude stem is the infinitive form with the -en stripped off. The stem is the final verb form after any alterations have been made in addition to just taking off the -en.

This becomes important when looking at verbs ending in v and z. As stem words can never end in v or z, we replace the v in a crude stem with an f, and the z with a s to create the stem verb.

Exceptions to the Rule

One exception to the rules outlined above is any stem verb that begins with be-, er-, her-, ver-, ge-, or ont-. In these instances, the conjugated verb will not begin with ge-. An example of this is ‘verwachten’.



Perfect Past




In the case of ‘verwachten’, it seems unusual in how it conjugates, but it follows all of the rules specified above perfectly. To find the crude stem of ‘verwachten’, remove the -en to create ‘verwacht’. To find the perfect past conjugation of this verb, we know not to add ge- to the beginning, as the crude stem begins with ver-. As the crude stem also ends in -t, we know the perfect past verb will end in -t and not -d. However, as Dutch syllables never end in identical consonants, we do not add an additional -t. Therefore, the perfect past conjugation of ‘verwachten’ is ‘verwacht’.

Irregular Verbs

Aside from conjugating regular verbs, we can also conjugate irregular verbs. While regular verbs follow a set of rules, irregular verbs don’t. There is unfortunately no other choice than to memorize all the different conjugated forms.

The six you will encounter most often are:

All of these are common in everyday conversation and with some practice, you will quickly come to terms with all of them.

Dutch Tenses – The Future

When speaking about the future, the rule is to use a variation of ‘zullen’ or ‘gaan’ + the infinitive. In practice, this looks like:



Ik zal dansen.

I will dance.

We zullen wachten.

We will wait.

Ze zullen slapen.

They will sleep.

Although ‘zullen’ is the form taught in school, it is quite a formal way of speaking and can sound stiff in everyday conversation. It’s more common to use a variation of ‘gaan’. The variations for this verb are as follows:















An example of how this might be used in a sentence is: ‘wij gaan vanavond pasta eten’.


Aside from discussing the future in a more formal tone, there are other instances where ‘zullen’ can be used:

  • Suggesting a proposal (Zullen wij stroopwafels eten?)
  • Describing a likelihood (Lucas zal vast winnen.)
  • Making a promise (Ik zal ontbijt maken.)

Dutch Tenses – Useful Resources

Although grammar can be a challenging part of learning any new language, the key is to practice. Consuming media will give you a flavor for how these rules work in practice. In addition to this, there are plenty of websites and apps that will help you strengthen your skills in this area. Here are some of my top recommendations:

  • Verbix – A fantastic tool for seeing the various conjugated forms of a verb. To use this, you will need to search using the infinitive form of the verb.
  • Woorden – A Dutch dictionary. One feature that makes this especially useful is seeing how words are used in a variety of sentence examples.
  • Clozemaster – To help gamify the learning experience, I recommend the Clozemaster app. It offers a variety of different grammar challenges, including the ‘All Verbs’ challenge in Dutch. In this game mode, you are shown a sentence with a missing verb. Based on the contextual clues, the challenge is to pick the correct conjugated form.

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Learning Dutch tenses might seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, it comes naturally with practice.

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with conjugated Dutch verbs.

Sign up here to save your progress and start getting fluent with thousands of Dutch sentences at Clozemaster.

Clozemaster has been designed to help you learn the language in context by filling in the gaps in authentic sentences. With features such as Grammar Challenges, Cloze-Listening, and Cloze-Reading, the app will let you emphasize all the competencies necessary to become fluent in Dutch.

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