Dutch/Lesson 8

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Les 8 ~ Lesson 8

Er en de voornaamwoordelijke bijwoorden ~ Er and the pronominal adverbs

Is there coffee?
Grammar: Pronominal replacement
Use of the locative er

<< Les 7 | Les 8 | Les 9 >>

Gesprek 8[edit]

Ja, wat is er?
Is er al koffie?
Nee ik heb er nog geen gezet.
Nou, dan doe ik dat wel even. Zijn er zakjes?
Ja, in de kast. Zie je de broodtrommel? Ze liggen er vlak onder.
Heb je er ook nog een pak koekjes bij?
Ja, er zijn er zelfs twee.
Translation • Lesson 8 • gesprek 8



Ja, wat is er?

Yes, what is up?

Is er al koffie?

Is there coffee yet?

Nee ik heb er nog geen gezet.

No, I did not make any yet.

Nou, dan doe ik dat wel even. Zijn er zakjes?

OK, then I'll make some. Are there any bags?

Ja, in de kast. Zie je de broodtrommel? Ze liggen er vlak onder.

Yes, in the cupboard. You see the breadbox? They are right underneath.

Heb je er ook nog een pak koekjes bij?

Do you have cookies to go with it?

Ja, er zijn er zelfs twee.

Yes, there are even two packs.

Grammatica 8 ~ Er and the pronominal adverbs[edit]

Locative adverbs[edit]

The word er is one of the most ubiquitous words in the Dutch language and often rather hard to translate, because it does not have an exact counterpart in most other languages, French being an exception with the words y and en. Compare:

Dutch English
Type Pronoun Locative adverb Pronoun Locative adverb
Personal het er it ??
Demonstrative (close) dit hier this here
Demonstrative (far) dat daar that there
Rel./Interrogative wat waar what where
Indefinite iets ergens something somewhere
Negative indefinite niets nergens nothing nowhere
General alles overal everything everywhere

Er relates to more specific indications of place like here, there, where, or somewhere in a similar way as the word it does to the more specific this, that or what. The word is a kind of locative wildcard.

In computer terms you could say that er is *ere, with * being a wildcard for h-,th- or wh-.
Another way of putting it is that er is a clitic (weak) form of hier or daar. Indeed it never carries emphasis. Historically, however, the word only partly originated as a weakening of hier or daar. In part it also reflects an old genitive of the pronoun "het". The two sources have coalesced so strongly that they cannot be distinguished anymore.

In many cases where Dutch uses er, English will resort to a more specific there:

Is er koffie - Is there coffee?
Ken je Londen? Ja, ik ben er geweest. - Do you know London? Yes, I have been there

This is also true in the relatively few cases that English uses pronominal adverbs like thereof, therefore, thereafter etc. Dutch will distinguish a more general (clitic) ervan, ervoor, erna from a more specific (accentuated) daarvan, daarvoor and daarna.

Pronominal adverbs[edit]

In English pronominal adverbs like therein or hereby are a remnant from the past. They are quite old and occur in most Germanic languages, both of the Western and the Northern (Scandinavian) group. However, pronominal adverbs are much more prominent in Dutch than in English or the other Germanic languages. Their formation is still an active mechanism. If anything their use is increasing (due to the gender problem). They form an important part of the grammar and have to be mastered to speak the language properly.

Pronominal adverbs are commonly used in Dutch to replace the combination of preposition + pronoun, particularly if the latter is an inanimate it or them:

of it → thereof = ervan
for it → therefore = ervoor

Notice how the elements swap place: the prepositional part moves to the end. This is true in both languages.

While rare in English, in Dutch this replacement/swap is not just common, in many cases it is mandatory .

Pronominal replacement[edit]

Although in the spoken language even this is slowly changing, it is uncommon, even somewhat disrespectful to apply pronominal replacement to people (animate nouns):

after her = na haar (not erna)
for them = voor hen (not ervoor)

In all other cases pronominal replacement is frequent or even mandatory. It is a major way of avoiding m/f gender references for inanimate nouns, because er is genderless. This means that replacement can also be applied to common gender words that do not really have a personal pronoun to refer them by.

The most common pronominal replacements (from the table above) are:

van het huis → (van het)* → ervan
van dit huis → van dit,deze → hiervan
van dat huis → van dat,die → daarvan
van welk huis → (van wat)*, van welk(e) → waarvan
van iets → ergens van
van niets → nergens van
van alles → overal van
(...)*: In this case the replacement is so common that not using the replacement is simply bad Dutch.

Notice that if the replaced pronoun is personal (het), demonstrative (dit, dat) or interrogative/relative (wat) the resulting pronominal adverb is written as one word (ervan, hiervan, daarvaan, waarvan). In other cases an adverbial expression with two separate adverbs results.

Drill 8-1. Pronominal replacement[edit]

YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Lesson 8 • Pronominal replacement drill

Replacement drill. Replace the following expressions by the correct proniminal adverb. Run the audio to hear the results.

E.g.: "in welk huis?" would be replaced by "waarin?"

in het huis - in the house
op het dak - on the roof
tussen de planten - between the plants
naast een boom - beside a tree
tussen huizen - between houses
onder de deken - under the blanket
in een boom - in a tree
op dat dak - on that roof
in dit huis - in this house
naast deze boom - next to this tree
onder deze daken - under these roofs
voor deze planten - before these plants
achter de boom - behind the tree
achter deze huizen - behind these houses
op die boom - on that tree
naast deze garage - next to that garage
onder dat dak - under that roof
achter een huis - behind a house
achter die boom - behind that tree
in die boeken - in those books
tussen die dekens - between the blankets
in welk huis? - in which house?
naast welke boom? - beside which tree?
voor welke planten - for which plants?
in die garage - in that garage
onder welke dekens? - under which blankets?
naast dat huis - next to that house
op welk dak? - on which roof?
onder een boom - under a tree
SOLUTION • Dutch/Lesson 8 • Pronominal replacement drill

You can do this exercise a number of different ways. This is one:

  1. First work out on paper which pronominal adverb to expect
  2. Then run the audio to check your results
  3. Make sure you repeat in the pauses
  4. Repeat the drill without looking at the text

Some people may prefer to run the audio without the visual text first. Remember: learning by ear is superior to the visual way. The exercise also introduces/ reinforces some vocabulary. Make a list of the nouns used with their proper definite articles te ensure you memorize their gender.

Translating its by replacement[edit]

In English it is common to use the possessive pronoun its to refer to a noun that indicates a thing. In Dutch, a pronominal adverb like ervan is used instead, again representing a convenient way to avoid the gender issue:

This tale is nice. Its beginning is spectacular.
Deze vertelling is leuk. Het begin ervan is spectaculair. (Yes, please..)
Deze vertelling is leuk. Haar begin is spectaculair. (No, please..)

Yes, in principle the latter is correct. A word in -ing is feminine, but who remembers? Occasionally a writer will try to dazzle the reader with this kind of superior knowledge, often only to get it wrong... Please use the adverbial ervan, especially if the noun is inanimate. This is true for neuter nouns as well

Dit verhaal is leuk. Het begin ervan is spectaculair (Yes, please..)
Dit verhaal is leuk. Zijn begin is spectaculair. (No, please..)

The latter is strictly speaking correct Dutch, but a neuter (inanimate) possessive zijn is so uncommon that it is better avoided. Possessives like zijn and haar are more and more reserved for animate masculine and animate feminine nouns (person, pets) and indicate natural rather than grammatical gender, just like the personal pronouns hij and zij.


A pronominal adverb is formed from the locative adverb that corresponds to the replaced pronoun + the preposition in adverbial form. Usually this prepositional adverb is the same as the preposition itself

(van het)* → ervan
(tussen het)* → ertussen

But this is not always the case:

(met het)* → ermee (arch. ermede)
(tot het)* → ertoe

Pronominal adverbs can be formed from most prepositions. Words like ertussenin (lit. thereinbetween) or ergens achter (lit. somewhere behind) or even nergens onderuit (lit. nowhere from under out) do not raise any eyebrows.

A few adverbial forms do not have a corresponding prepositions:

eraf (off of it)
erheen (expresses a direction: to)

Conversely, some prepositions (like via, behalve, mits etc.) do not have a corresponding prepositional adverb. This makes it difficult to use them in relative clauses or in combination with it. Compare:

Dit is de weg waarlangs ik naar huis fiets.
Dit is de weg via dewelke ik naar huis fiets.
This is the road along which I ride my bike on the way home.

Because via does not have a prepositional adverb one is forced to use a relative pronoun like dewelke that is more and more experienced as awkward and archaic, because in most constructions it is replaced (langs dewelke → waarlangs).

YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Lesson 8 • Pronominal replacement

Replace—if possible—the following combinations of preposition + pronoun by the corresponding pronominal adverb. In some cases the stated combination is not acceptable and its replacement is mandatory

  1. van dit
  2. met dat
  3. in wat?
  4. om alles
  5. tot niets
  6. via dit
  7. buiten het*
  8. langs die
  9. over dewelke
  10. boven het uit*
  11. achter in hetwelk
  12. met niets anders
  13. onder deze
  14. tussen iets
  15. binnen dit
  16. het binnen* (movement)
  17. zonder het*
SOLUTION • Dutch/Lesson 8 • Pronominal replacement
  1. van dit
  2. met dat
  3. in wat?
  4. om alles
    overal om
  5. tot niets
    nergens toe
  6. via dit
    (not replaced, usually avoided)
  7. buiten het*
  8. langs die
  9. over dewelke
  10. boven het uit*
  11. achter in hetwelk
  12. met niets anders
    nergens anders mee
  13. onder deze
  14. tussen iets
    ergens tussen
  15. binnen dit
  16. het binnen* (movement)
  17. zonder het

The latter is quite common in the South, still avoided in the North but gaining acceptance: pronominal adverbs are productive in Dutch.


To further confuse the enemy, pronominal adverbs are usually split apart in the sentence. Compare:

He has a remedy for it.
Hij heeft een remedie *(voor het).
Hij heeft een remedie ervoor.
Hij heeft er een remedie voor'.

The first translation is unacceptable. The second one is awkward, the third one is what most people would say.

In the case of the preposition van (of), the van-part may be omitted, giving the word er a partitive flavor:

He has seven of them.
Hij heeft zeven *(van ze).
Hij heeft zeven ervan.
Hij heeft er zeven van.
Hij heeft er zeven.

The four translations are unacceptable, awkward, reasonable and most common respectively.

The partitive flavor extends to the negative:

Is er koffie - Is there coffee?
Ik heb er nog geen (van) gezet - I have there(of) yet none made - I haven't made any yet.

Sometimes the two parts of the pronominal adverb can end up quite far apart. Notice what happens to "by it" (door *het) => "erdoor":

Lance Armstrong heeft kanker gehad.
Lance Armstrong had cancer.
Hij heeft zich er echter, blijkens zijn zeven opeenvolgende overwinningen in de Tour de France, op geen enkele manier in zijn loopbaan als 's werelds sterkste wielrenner door laten weerhouden.
However, given his seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France, he did not in any way allow himself to be thwarted by it in his career as the world's strongest cyclist.

Getting used to understanding such sentences, let alone producing them in speech, takes a lot of practice. As an exercise: identify all the parts of this sentence to see how different the word order is.

Exercise 8.1[edit]

Replace the object by a pronominal adverb:

e.g. Het boek ligt in de kast → Het boek ligt erin.

YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Lesson 8 • use of er
  1. Deze wielrenner behaalt een overwinning in de Giro d'Italia
  2. Het is niet eenvoudig in deze wedstrijd een overwinning te behalen
  3. Van welke wedstrijd is hij ook kampioen?
  4. Zij doet in de keuken koffie in het zakje.
  5. Koekjes zijn onder kinderen altijd een groot succes.
  6. Het verschil tussen Amerikaanse en Nederlandse koekjes is niet groot.
  7. Achter geen enkel werkwoord moet je een uitgang -ing schrijven.
  8. Je schrijft altijd een punt boven een i.
  9. Hij ging met de trein naar London.
SOLUTION • Dutch/Lesson 8 • use of er
  1. Deze wielrenner behaalt een overwinning in de Giro d'Italia
    Deze wielrenner behaalt er een overwinning in.
  2. Het is niet eenvoudig in deze wedstrijd een overwinning te behalen.
    Het is niet eenvoudig hier een overwinning in te behalen.
  3. Van welke wedstrijd is hij ook kampioen?
    Waar is hij ook kampioen van?
  4. Zij doet in de keuken koffie in het zakje.
    Zij doet er in de keuken koffie in.
  5. Koekjes zijn onder kinderen altijd een groot succes.
    Koekjes zijn er altijd een groot succes onder.
  6. Het verschil tussen Amerikaanse en Nederlandse koekjes is niet groot.
    Het verschil ertussen is niet groot.
    Het verschil is niet groot ertussen.
    Het verschil is er niet groot tussen.
    Er is niet veel verschil tussen.
  7. Achter geen enkel werkwoord moet je een uitgang -ing schrijven.
    Nergens moet je een uitgang -ing achter schrijven.
  8. Je schrijft altijd een punt boven een i.
    Je schrijft er altijd een punt boven.
  9. Hij ging met de trein naar London.
    Hij ging ermee naar London.
    Hij ging er naar London mee.
Remark: Please do not worry too much about the word order at this point. As you can see it is quite irregular and sometimes there are various possibilities. It is one of the hardest aspects of West-Germanic languages (other than English). Unfortunately, for English speakers they lost that after 1066 or so. The preponderance of separable pronominal adverbs in Dutch only acerbates the situation. It is perhaps a consolation that even our German neighbors are baffled by this particular aspect of Dutch grammar-and-syntax.

If you must know: In general the locative part er tends to follow the persoonsvorm -the conjugated part of the verb- whereas the prepositional part (like mee) moves to the end of the sentence. This is true for 1,4,5,8,9. The prepositional part may have to compete with other parts of the verbal expression for a spot as in 2 or 7. In questions or emphatic expressions the locative may precede the persoonsvorm (see 3,7). In 6 the position can be influenced by the verbal noun verschil as ertussen refers to ..difference between..

Exercise 8.2[edit]

Translate the above sentences into English in both forms.

Drill 8.2[edit]

YOUR TURN - UW BEURT!! • Lesson 8 • Pronominal replacement with separation. Audio drill

Replace the prepositional expression by a pronominal adverb. Then make the sentence negative:

E.g.: Ik snij met het mes - ik snij ermee - ik snij er niet mee

(Notice that the adverb separates!)

  1. Ik kijk naar de eenden.
  2. Hij liep achter de wagen.
  3. Hij betaalde met euros.
  4. De kat ligt onder dat bed.
  5. Op welk bed ligt de hond?
  6. Je kunt het aan die lichten zien.
  7. Hij hield de paraplu boven zijn hoofd
  8. De mensen staan op deze brug
  9. De kinderen werken aan dat huiswerk
  10. Hij luistert naar deze opname
SOLUTION • Dutch/Lesson 8 • Pronominal replacement with separation. Audio drill
  1. I look at the ducks
  2. He walked behind the wagon
  3. He paid in euros
  4. The cat is under that bed
  5. On which bed is the dog?
  6. You can see it from those lights
  7. He kept the umbrella over his head
  8. The people are standing on this bridge
  9. The children are working on that homework
  10. He listens to this recording

Other uses of "er"[edit]

Impersonal passives[edit]

Many Dutch verbs can be used in the passive voice, which we'll discuss in lesson 12 in greater detail. In fact in Dutch the passive voice is more recognizable and more common than in English. It uses the verb worden.

Ik bak het brood - I bake the bread
Het brood wordt door mij gebakken - The bread is baked by me.

Here "het brood" is a definite noun and the passive centers around it as the object.

In more indefinite cases Dutch often uses an impersonal passive initiated with the adverb er.

Er wordt hier brood gebakken - (There is bread baking going on here)

Notice, the indefinite "brood" instead of the definite "het brood".

The active form of this sentence is not very common in Dutch. It involves the indefinite pronoun men (people, they, one)

Men bakt hier brood - (People bake bread here)

English will opt for the active form more readily in this case, but in Dutch the passive sounds much more natural.

Impersonal passives can even be formed from many verbs that do not have an object:

Er werd gelachen - (There was laughter)

Notice that in this sentence there is no subject if we continue to call er an adverb. Some grammars will therefore call it a dummy subject, but most do not.

English does not really have a direct equivalent of this type of sentence, which adds to the fact that the use or the word "er" is a considerable difficulty for people learning Dutch.

Woordenschat 8[edit]

van                of, from
met                with
door               by, through
voor               for, before
achter             after, behind
tussen             between
onder              under, beneath
over               over
boven              above
tot                to, until
na                 after
naar               to

de overwinning     victory
de loopbaan        career
het koekje         cookie (loanword of New York/Dutch origin)
de wielrenner      cyclist
het wiel           wheel
de zak             bag
het zakje          baggie
de koffie          coffee
de wereld          world

zetten             to put
koffie zetten      to make coffee
weerhouden         to keep from, to thwart
schrijven          to write
behalen            to score, to obtain
echter             though, however
even               quickly, with no effort, even
al                 already
nog niet           not yet
geen               no
geen enkel         not a single

eenvoudig          simple

See also nl:wikt:Categorie:Voornaamwoordelijk bijwoord in het Nederlands