Dutch Language Blog

The Pain of Separable Verbs Posted by on Jan 27, 2016 in Dutch Grammar, Dutch Language

This morning I had a very “girly” problem related to Dutch. I was getting a manicure and I wanted to explain to the manicurist that I wasn’t able to completely remove the gel nail polish and needed her to help me. The problem was….which verb do you use for removing nail polish. In my head, I went over the options: aftrekken, afdoen, wegdoen…wait, am I making any of these up?

The kind lady understood what I meant even with my improvised explanation as to what had happened, but the question lingered….what is the proper way to say this? I got home and hit the books for this and embraced one of my most hated Dutch enemies…separable verbs.

Since I was first introduced to them, separable verbs and I just don’t like each other. They simply don’t pop up in my head when I need them, and I always forget to separate them. This has been our story from level A1 to level B2!

Regardless of my personal aversion to them, separable verbs are here to stay (no Dutch language authority is going to modify them to fit this language learner’s needs), and I simply just need to work on them. So, in an effort to conquer my enemies, here is a list of some of the separable verbs and what these loathed enemies mean.

  • afmaken- to finish

Ik maak mijn huiswerk af.

Ik heb gisteren de was afgemaakt.

  • inbreken- to break in

Wij hebben een sterk slot zodat niemand in kan breken.

Gisteren was er in de winkel ingebroken.

  • meenemen- to take along

Mijn moeder is op bezoek dus heb ik haar meegenomen.

Ik neem mijn hond mee want het restaurant is diervriendelijk.

  • opeten- to eat up/to finish eating

Ik eet de hele pizza op want ik heb veel honger.

Heb je de groenten opgegeten?

  • aankomen- to arrive

Mijn moeder is vanochtend op het vliegveld aangekomen.

Mijn man komt morgen aan.

  • voorstellen- to suggest or propose or to introduce

Ik heb een nieuw project aan mijn baas voorgesteld.

Ik stel mezelf even voor.

  • voorkomen- to prevent

De regering zegt dat zij een tragedie willen voorkomen.

Basisonderwijs voor iedereen voorkomt armoede.

  • weggaan- to go away

Als de kou weg gaat, dan kunnen wij van de tuin genieten.

Zij was gisteren weggegaan.

  • meegaan- to go along with

Ga je morgen met moeder mee?

Gisteren was ik met mijn zus naar Amsterdam meegegaan.

  • uitgaan- to go out

Ik ga morgen met mijn vriendinnen uit.

Mijn dochter was met haar vriendinnen naar de bioscoop uitgegaan.

Which are your Dutch language enemies? How do you deal with them?

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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!


  1. Erwin:

    You could ask the person: “Kunt u mij helpen mijn nagellak te verwijderen?” This is mainly because nail polish remover is called “nagellakverwijderaar”. You could also you the verb “afhalen” as in “Kunt u mij helpen de nagellak van mijn nagels af te halen?”

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Erwin Erwin, that was the funniest part about it. I spent an hour thinking of how I could have said it using a separable verb and I didn’t even need one!!! Thank you for your help 🙂

  2. Peter Simon:

    Hahaha, this is actually quite a simple system comprising of just a few basic rules. Nothing to complain about – with a few days’ practice it can be mastered. Compare it to Hungarian: you’ll be lost for ages – separation or lack of it happens differently with all kinds of derivative forms of the different kinds of verbs, even though gender doesn’t play any role in the language. Dutch is a stroll in the garden in comparison. So get a life, guys, you can do this. It’s just different.

    I think how those lovely prepositions go with the various types of ‘er’ are a bit more difficult. And when it comes to reasons about ‘die kant op’, my jaw drops – op should be a PREposition, but it’s used afterwards, and not only this.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Peter Simon Peter, er and some uses of prepositions are definitely another challenging aspect of Dutch! And…it sounds like I never want to learn Hungarian if their verbs are a lot more complicated!

  3. Chris:

    I would use the present tense for the auxiliary verb in “gisteren ben ik met mijn zus meegegaan”. If you use “was” it kind of changes the mood; it would suggest that you actually didn’t go. You coyld say “ik was met mijn zus meegegaan, als ik me niet had overslapen”.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Chris Chris, thank you for this observation. I see what you mean but I can’t quite grasp the mood you are talking about. I will ponder about this today 🙂