‘s Woensdags – How does the Dutch genitive work? Posted by Sten on Feb 25, 2019 in Culture, Dutch Grammar, Dutch Language, History
How do you say “On Wednesdays, we go shopping in Amsterdam” in Dutch? The answer may not be as straightforward as you’d think. And that is what this post is about!
‘s Woensdags winkelen we in Amsterdam.
What stands out in the sentence above?
Perhaps the apostrophe and lowercase s at the BEGINNING of a sentence. Woensdags is capitalized instead. What’s going on?
The ‘s comes from the Dutch genitief (genitiv). It is the possessive form, which is usually expressed in English with a “‘s” or with “of”: It is my father’s house/It is the house of my father.
In Dutch, it actually works quite similarly: Het is mijn vader’s huis/Het is het huis van mijn vader. Both forms are correct, but the second form is definitely more formal. The first is more colloquial.
The ‘s, also after vader in the example above, comes from des vaders huis, the old genitive form in Dutch. However, it is not used anymore – but there are some remnants, such as the s for modern possessive forms.
So back to ‘s Woensdags. With the logic of the genitief, you could also read it as des Woensdags. But because people found these forms too cumbersome, they started shortening them, and des Woensdags became ‘s Woensdags.
The des is used here because it is a tijdbepaling (definition of time). So it is also used for other terms:
‘s zomers (in summer)
‘s winters (in winter)
‘s avonds (in the evening)
‘s ochtends (in the morning).
Nowadays, you will increasingly see these forms even without the ‘s. And that is also rated as correct. So there is not that much to worry about. But ‘s is still definitely more common.
Strange enough, the exceptions to this rule only make things more confusing.
For example, ‘s maandags is a form, but you will barely ever hear ‘s dinsdags or ‘s vrijdags; ‘s lentes or ‘s herfsts. Why?
Those letters just clash! Try pronouncing those things. The combinations sd- and svr- at the beginning of a word, or the terrible ending –rfsts just hurt. So people leave the whole stuff with the ‘s, and just say Op dinsdagen (on Tuesdays) or in de lente (in spring).
So what rule can you digest from this? Does it sound halfway doable? Use ‘s to determine regular times. Otherwise just use any of the other forms.
What do you think of this rule? Do you use it yourself? Which one do you prefer, ‘s maandags, maandags or op maandagen? Let me know in the comments below!