How to not like things in Dutch (Part 2)

In the first blog about negation that was devoted to the negating word geen, the role of geen was assigned to the cynical slug. The superstar of the part 2 of the blog is the grumpy cat, or in the Dutch grammar system - the negating word niet. Why did I choose to compare Niet with the grumpy cat? They fit each other perfectly for a couple of reasons:

  1. I don't want to be stating the obvious, but niet is a negating word, thus the grumpy cat.

  2. Niet negates all other words than geen doesn't, and has therefore a much broader scope. Following this analogy, the grumpy cat is much bigger and more important than the slug. At least that’s what it thinks.

  3. The position of niet in the sentence defies logic and common sense sometimes - unless you already speak a very closely related language to Dutch, such as German. How does that compare with a cat? Well, you would expect to see niet at one place behaving in one way, while it is actually someplace else doing another thing. That’s cats 101 for people who never owned a cat.

In this part, we will look at the second and third point in more detail: which words niet negates and which position niet takes in the sentence, relative to those words. But first, let's reintroduce our main stars - the grumpy cat and the cynical slug.

The bad boys.

The bad boys.

Which words does niet negate then? Everything that geen doesn't, and that’s a whole bunch of words (marked bold in the examples below):

  • verbs: Jan rookt, maar ik rook niet.

  • adjectives: Bananen zijn geel, maar aardbeien zijn niet geel.

  • adverbs: Anneke woont hier, maar wij wonen hier niet.

  • pronouns: Nathalie ziet Peter, maar Peter ziet haar niet.

  • prepositions: Lisa zit op de bank, maar ik zit niet op de bank.

  • definite nouns: Jij ziet het koekje, maar ik zie het koekje niet.

Whoa. That's a lot to process there. For the moment, let's just have a look at the last example - the definite nouns. We will get back to the other examples later, as we take a closer look at the position of niet in the sentence.

Ik zie de bananen en ik zie het koekje. (I see the bananas and I see the cookie.)

Ik zie de bananen en ik zie het koekje.
(I see the bananas and I see the cookie.)

Ik zie de bananen  niet  en ik zie het koekje  niet . (I don't se the bananas and I don't see the cookie.)

Ik zie de bananen niet en ik zie het koekje niet.
(I don't se the bananas and I don't see the cookie.)

In the above examples, de bananen and het koekje are definite nouns. They are definite because we already know about the existence of these specific bananas and this specific cookie from the part 1 of this blog. This is reflected in the grammar as both bananen and koekje are preceded by the Dutch definite articles de and het. That being said, the noun doesn't have to be preceded by the definite article for it to be definite. It can be preceded by another determining word instead, like a demonstrative pronoun (deze, die, dit, dat) or a possessive pronoun (mijn, je/jouw, uw, zijn, haar, ons/onze, jullie, hun). Remember, though, that unless the noun is a proper name, it always needs to be preceded by one of these words to be definite. If not, then the noun is indefinite.

  • definite article: de bananen, het koekje

  • demonstrative pronoun: deze/die bananen, dit/dat koekje

  • possessive pronoun: onze bananen, ons koekje

As the example with the bananas and the cookie demonstrates, niet follows the definite noun. This is often surprising and illogical for people who learn Dutch. There is, however, a perfectly rational and pragmatic explanation for this. If we would put niet before the definite noun(s) in the above example, then our listener (or reader, for that matter) would expect us to add what we actually do see, instead of just finishing the sentence. This should become clearer in the examples:

Ik zie het koekje niet.
Ik zie niet het koekje maar... (what do you see then?) kat.

Finally, this brings us to our third point: the position of niet in the sentence. As we have seen, niet can come either before or after the word being negated, and generally speaking, this position depends on the word sort that we want to negate. We see two trends here:

  1. niet comes before adjectives, prepositions, and some adverbs.

  2. niet comes after verbs, some adverbs, pronouns and definite nouns.

Niet and prepositions
If there is a preposition before the noun, the pronoun, or the adverb, that preposition will always win and condition the position of niet. In other words, niet would then always come before the preposition.
Compare the following examples without the prepositions and with the prepositions op and met, respectively (there is no difference in meaning between the sentences on the left and on the right):

  • adverbs: Ik zie je maandag niet. Ik zie je niet op maandag.
  • nouns/pronouns: Ik spreek Jan/hem niet. VS Ik spreek niet met Jan/hem.

Niet and adverbs
So, niet can come before and after some adverbs. How do we know where to place it? A general rule of thumb (with some due exceptions) is that niet comes after adverbs for time and place, and before the adverbs for manner/intensity.

  • place/time: Ik woon hier niet. Ik zie je morgen niet.
  • manner/intensity: Ik kijk niet graag tv. Ik eet niet snel.

How to not like things in Dutch: the finale

To recap the things we learned so far (and to do justice to the title of this blog), we will look at three ways to say that we (don't) like to eat something in Dutch. For this, we will use three verbs that have a similar meaning, but require different additions in the context of liking to eat something. Those are: lekker vinden, houden van, lusten. And we will go again for bananas.

Ik vind bananen lekker.
I find bananas tasty.

In this example, we are combining the verb vinden with the adjective lekker. (You can read more about this topic in this blog post.) To make the sentence negative, we will need to negate the adjective, as in 'not tasty': Ik vind bananen niet lekker.

Ik houd van bananen.
Ik love bananas.

In the second example, the verb houden 'to hold' takes another meaning when it is combined with the preposition van, and turns in 'to love'. And since we are introducing a preposition, then that preposition will be negated: Ik houd niet van bananen.

Ik lust bananen.
I like to eat bananas.

The verb in the last example does not get any additions, as lusten already means 'to like to eat (something)'. Since the noun in this sentence - bananen - has no article or other determinators preceding it, then it is indefinite. And therefore, the correct way to negate it would be: Ik lust geen bananen.

The Dutch love to complain, so now that you know how to not like things in Dutch, be sure to complain as much as you can (it is a good exercise). Or learn the negation without complaining and join TaalBoost for the next intensive course, or a Level 1 / Level 2 evening or Saturday course.


Illustration: Francesco Mottola

Mirko CvetkovicComment