Dutch Language Blog

Dutch Verb Boot Camp: The Simple Past Tense (Part 1) Posted by on Jul 5, 2012 in Dutch Grammar, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

We have already talked about the present tense in Dutch, so let’s move on to the past tense. Today we will investigate weak verbs.

In the past tense, we deal with verbs differently based on if they are a weak verb or a strong verb.

  • weak verbs have letters added to make the change
  • strong verb have an internal vowel change to make the change

Weak Verbs

To make a weak verb indicate the past tense, you add a –t or –d to the stem of the infinitive and then –e for singular and –en for plural. How do you know when to add a –t versus a –d? That’s a good question and there are several ways to remember which words get which.

Basically, crude verb stems that end in -t, -k, -p, -f, -s or –ch add –t (and then either –e or –en). All the other weak verbs add –d (and then either –e or –en). There are several different “words” to help you remember those consonants, like ‘t kofschip (an old ship model), ‘t fokschaap (the breeding sheep), pocket fish or even sexy ketchup (not counting the x and the y).

It sounds much more complicated than it actually is, so let’s break it down with a few examples.

kauwen (to chew) –> the crude stem is kauw (final stem is kauw) –> w is not in ‘t kofschip so we add –d (kauwd) and then –e for singular (ik kauwde) or –en for plural (zij kauwden)

maken (to make) –> the crude stem is mak (final stem is maak) –> k is in ‘t kofschip so we add –t (maakt) and then –e for singular (ik maakte) or –en for plural (zij maakten)

reizen (to travel) –> the crude stem is reiz (final stem is reis) –> z is not in ‘t kofschip so we add –d (reisd) and then –e for singular (ik reisde) or –en for plural (zij reisden)

N.B. Even though we use the crude stem for knowing whether to add –t or –d, you add the –t or –d to the final stem version. Also, don’t forget the other spelling rules when making all your changes.

N.B. 2 If adding –t or –d results in a double –t or –d (e.g. bloedde) the double letter is kept but the pronunciation is unchanged.

Want to practise? How would you create the past tense with the following verbs:

  • hopen (to hope)
  • eisen (to demand)
  • spelen (to play)
  • horen (to hear)
  • leven (to live)
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  1. Frits Oostendorp:

    Spleen? Bedoelde je spelen? Spellcheck hell!


  2. Alexandre:

    ‎”Basically, crude verb stems that end in -t, -k, -p, -f, -s or –ch add –t (and then either –e or –en).”

    The Francophones have a mnemotechnic sentence to remember this rule:

    Frank Kamer Prend Son Thé Chaud.

    Have the Anglophones a mnemotechnic sentence for this rule as well ?

    • heather:

      @Alexandre I’ve personally not heard of a sentence but of a phrase instead (actually two of them): “pocket fish” or “sexy ketchup”. Both excluding the vowels and excluding the x and y in the ketchup version. Would love to hear if anyone has a sentence that they use, though.

  3. Dimitris Psarrakis:

    Dat is ook veel makelijk!! Bedankt Heather!

  4. Ricardo Arruda:

    hopen hop hoop hoopte
    eisen eis eiste
    spelen spel speelde
    leven lev leef leefte
    horen hor hoor hoorde

  5. Joka:

    “Sexy ketchup” actually misses the f. Instead, “soft ketchup” works better: it has all consonants and you don’t have to exclude anything.
    Btw, verbs of which the stem ends in x also are ‘t-verbs’. When I learned this rule, they told use to use it for every verb that SOUNDS like ending in one of these consonants. Since x sounds as ks, and the s is in ‘t kofschip, no separate rule for x was necessary. Most verbs ending in x are recent borrowings from English (faxen, mixen), so probably in the time the mnemonic was invented, there was no reason bothering with x.

  6. Iana:

    Why not to remember “sexy soft ketchup”? Some letter will repeat but none of them will be omitted.

  7. Susan:

    Please can you tell me what to do when the stem word ends in a vowel?

  8. Chet:

    Recardo Arruda sent his answers to the exercise but leven is not correct. It should be leefde.
    The raw stem is a v, not an f.