Dutch Language Blog

To have forgotten times two. Posted by on Jan 10, 2009 in Dutch Language

You might think to yourself… What a strange title! To have forgotten times two? What could/ should you expect of a topic with that kind of title?

Well, this morning I remembered a fall out I once had with a former colleague of mine.

To explain, I will tell you something about the work I used to do.

A couple of years back, I was a receptionist at an accountancy office in Emmeloord. I took incoming calls, distributed mail and correspondence, called advisors for their visiting clients AND edited the outgoing correspondence.

Many of these letters were pretty common, fabricated with pre-written templates and just changed a bit to match their need.

But, of course, some of my former colleagues who thought themselves so clever and brilliant in the Dutch language, handed in concepts that really needed A LOT of editing!

And some of them really seemed to take the corrections as a personal attack … or a jab at their brilliancy.

So, one day one of the senior accountants who ran her own division, came to me all blazing and blistering why I had the nerve to make a correction in a perfectly good Dutch sentence.

“Ik moet helaas bekennen dat ik helemaal ben vergeten uw aangifte af te werken.”

“Unfortunately, I have to admit that I forgot to complete your tax report.”

Do you see the mistake? It’s very minor, but it’s there!

No? Don’t worry, neither did she… Yes? Well, good for you! I’m so proud! It’s something I had to learn as well!

For those who didn’t see. Let’s take a look at the verb ‘vergeten’ (to forget) in the sentence.

In Dutch, we say: Ik heb vergeten (I have forgotten)


Ik ben vergeten (I am forgotten, but usually it still means: I have forgotten, the only case ‘Ik ben vergeten’ literally means: “I am forgotten” is when someone else did in fact forget about you.)

Okay… so we have, ‘ik heb vergeten’ and ‘ik ben vergeten’… is there a difference?

Yes! A small one, but there is a difference!

In Dutch we say: “Ik heb vergeten…” when you forgot to DO something.

Examples: Ik heb vergeten de deur op slot te doen (I forgot to lock the door).

Ik heb vergeten het boek terug te brengen. (I forgot to return the book).

And we say: “Ik ben vergeten…” when something slipped your mind, when you forgot about a fact.

Examples: Ik ben je verjaardag vergeten! (I forgot about your birthday!)

Ik ben je telefoonnummer vergeten. (I forgot your phonenumber)

Let’s take a look at the sentence again.

Ik ben vergeten uw aangifte af te werken.(I forget to complete your tax report.)

It’s not like the tax report just slipped her mind… she forgot ‘to complete’ it, she forgot to DO something, she forgot an action in regard to the noun. So, obviously, it should have been:

Ik heb vergeten uw aangifte af werken.

When I pointed her out the subtle difference and even showed her the proof on a website about Dutch grammar, her jaw went rigid and she left in a huff. Me and my other colleague couldn’t help but smile.

Keep learning Dutch with us!

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