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Dutch: Common Problems and Frequently Asked Questions

'Niet,' 'Geen' and 'Wel'
Translating Placeholder 'It,' 'That' and 'What'
'For' in Duration
'Of' in 'Units'
E-Ending of Adjectives
To Look and To See
'Laten' - 'Let'
Reflexive Verbs
Pronouncing Final N's
'Heel,' 'Veel' and 'Erg'
To Be: 'Zijn' and 'Worden'
This page explains some of the problems and mistakes that I often see and hear in students. There are also expanded explanations of a few questions that I originally answered at the reddit LearnDutch forum.
A special thank you to my Skype students Erik, Chris and Alessandra for the instructive mistakes I heard from them.
See also: Dutch Summary - the most important pronunciation, spelling and grammar on one (long) page
The page may be expanded in the future. For your convenience I'll try to put new paragraphs at the top of the page. Feel free to email me your questions.

'Niet,' 'Geen' and 'Wel'

'Niet' click to hear 2 is an adverb indicating a negative for a verb or for an adjective: a verb action did not happen or is not happening, or an adjective is not valid - usually 'not' or 'do not' in English.
'Geen' click to hear is an adjective meaning 'zero quantity' or 'it isn't there' - 'no' or 'not a, not any' in English. (The negative answer 'No' is Nee click to hear in Dutch.)
'Wel' click to hear is the emphasized opposite of 'not'/'niet,' - stressing that something did occur or is happening, or that an adjective is valid. English has no straight equivalent of 'wel' but can express that meaning with 'to do.'
't Regent niet click to hear
Ik heb 't niet gedaan click to hear
Ik ben niet ziek click to hear 2 3 4
Er zijn geen bergen in Nederland click to hear
Ik heb geen hoofdpijn click to hear
Heeft U bananen? - Nee click to hear
Er zijn wel sinaasappels click to hear
Ik heb het wel gedaan click to hear
It's not raining
I have not done it, I did not do it
I am not sick
There are no mountains in Holland
I do not have a headache
Do you have bananas? - No
(But) we do have oranges
I did do it
A further explanation and many more examples on the 'Niet,' 'Geen' and 'Wel' Page

Translating 'It,' 'That' and 'What' Placeholders

'Placeholders' are substitutes, short for something mentioned before or implied.
't eten - 't was lekker click to hear the food - it was enjoyable ('it' = the food)
The English 'placeholders:' 'It,' 'That' and 'What' can sometimes, but not always be translated into Dutch as respectively 'Het,' click to hear 2 3 or 't click to hear - 'Dat' click to hear and 'Wat' click to hear
Ik spreek geen Nederlands ... click to hear 2
... maar ik kan het wel verstaan click to hear 2 3
I don't speak Dutch ...
... but I do understand it (
'het'/'it' = Dutch)
Ik heb het met veel plezier gelezen click to hear 2 I read it with great pleasure (it - a book that was mentioned before)
Het is te duur click to hear It is too expensive (it - an item mentioned or looked at)
Ik zie het click to hear I see it ('it' - the thing mentioned before)
Is het het waard? click to hear Is it worth it?
Dat is een goed idee click to hear That's a good idea (commenting on something mentioned before)
Doe dat nou niet! click to hear 2 3 4 Don't do that! Stop doing that thing you're doing!
Wat ik nu pas begrijp click to hear 2 What I only now understand (something that eluded me before)
De agent vertelde de rechter wat hij gezien had click to hear The policeman told the judge what he'd seen
Find many more examples in the 'Disambiguation' pages: Het - Dat - Wat
But when the placeholders in Dutch are used with a preposition, they're often (but not always) translated as 'Er,' click to hear 'It,' - 'Daar' click to hear 'That' and 'Waar' click to hear 'What.'
Ik denk er vaak aan click to hear 2 3 I often think of it
Daar heb ik niet over nagedacht click to hear 2 I have not thought, I did not think of that
Ik weet ervan click to hear 2 I know about it
Daar moet je mee oppassen click to hear 2 3 4 You should be careful with that
Waarom? Daarom! click to hear [What for? For this!] Why? Because!
Hij weet waar-(d)ie het over heeft click to hear 2 He knows what he's talking about
Waar gaat 't om? click to hear 2 3 What is it about? What is the important thing?
Er / Het - Daar / Dat - Waar / Wat - Another Look

Unfortunately, there is a small exception to the rule about placeholders and prepositions - but don't worry too much about it, it's unusual, not something that's said very often.
You can say:
Kom er niet aan! click to hear 2 Don't touch it!
- but you can also say:
Raak het niet aan! click to hear 2 Don't touch it!
Looking at other examples, the difference seems to be that aanraken click to hear 2 'to touch' is a compound verb but that rule is not 100% valid, because 'aankomen' click to hear 2 (to touch) is also a compound verb. But you can safely assume that when the preposition is 'independent' 'het'  is replaced by 'er'  - but there are a few compound verbs that also take 'er'
aangeven click to hear 2 1. 'to hand, pass,' put something into someone else's hands
2. 'to indicate, signal, mark'
3. 'to register,' file an official report.
Geef 't aan click to hear 2 3 1. Hand it to me 2. Mark it, indicate it 3. Report it to the police
geven click to hear 2 3 aan click to hear to give (to)
Geef eraan! click to hear 2 3 Give, donate to it
Many Dutch verbs are compound verbs made up of a preposition and a basic verb, for instance achterlaten click to hear 2 ('to leave behind') and many of those compound verbs split up ‑>> in the simple tenses:
Ik liet hem achter in Babylon click to hear 2 3 I left him behind in Babylon
The 'placeholders' ''het,' 'dat' and 'wat' are used with prepositions that are part of compound words, prepositions that attach to basic verbs in the infinitive, but when a preposition is 'really loose,' never attached to the verb, then 'er,' 'daar' and 'waar' are the 'placeholders' used.
aanvoelen click to hear 2 3 'to sense,' to notice non-verbally, intuitively
Dat voel ik aan click to hear 2 I know that instinctively, it's something I sense (like one's native language)
Ik voel het aan click to hear 2 3 I have an intuitive understanding of it
optillen click to hear to lift
Til het niet op! click to hear 2 Don't lift it
Ik kan 't niet optillen click to hear 2 3 4 I can't lift it, I'm not able to lift it up
Find another explanation and many more examples in the 'Disambiguation' pages: Er / Het - Daar / Dat - Waar / Wat

'For' in Duration

In English, statements of duration usually have 'for,' but Dutch doesn't put a preposition in lines like that.
Ik zat een uur bij de tandarts click to hear 2 3
Ik was drie dagen ziek click to hear 2
Ze bleven een week in Delft click to
Ik heb een paar jaar pianoles gehad click to hear
I [sat] was at the dentist for an hour
I was sick for 3 days
They stayed in Delft for a week
I've had piano lessons for a few years
Only in the somewhat unusual statements when time is used as a measurement of physical quantity a preposition like 'for' is used:
Er is voor drie dagen eten click to hear 2 3 There is food for three days (three days' worth of food)
The correct use of prepositions is one of the most important parts of learning a foreign language. Have a look at the following 'voor' examples:
Een kado (cadeau) voor Els click to hear 2
Bloemen voor Elly click to hear
Een kuiltje voor de jus click to hear
Ben je voor of tegen? click to

Een boom voor het huis click to hear
Voor de oorlog click to hear
De stilte voor de storm click to hear
voor acht uur click to hear
Het begint voor acht uur click to hear

Kwart voor drie click to hear
aandacht voor details click to hear
Wees aardig voor dieren click to hear
A present for Alice
Flowers for Elisabeth
A [small] well for the gravy
Are you for or against?

A tree in front of the house
Before the war
The quiet before the storm
before eight
It starts before eight o'clock

A quarter to three (2:45)
attention to details
Be kind to animals
See also: Disambiguation: 'Voor'
More on Prepositions etc.: Pictorial - Systematic List - English to Dutch List - Dutch to English List

'Of' in 'Units'

English usually puts the preposition 'of' between a 'unit' and its contents, but there's not something like that in Dutch.
'n pond kaas click to hear 2
'n fles wijn click to hear
'n flesje water click to hear
'n kopje thee click to hear
a pound of cheese
a bottle of wine
a small bottle of water
a cup of tea
Sometimes you can't use a literal translation of the 'unit' word, for instance Dutch says 'een stuk zeep' click to hear 2 3 - 'a piece of soap.' - More 'Units' examples
see also: Measurements, Dimensions
When it's not about contents from an indefinite source like above, but about a part of a clearly defined whole, like Dutch uses van click to hear 2 like English 'of.'
de helft van de bevolking click to hear
twee jaar van m'n leven click to hear 2
'n rij van drie mensen click to hear 2
but: 'n rij bomen click to hear 2
half of the population
two years of my life

a line of 3 people
a line (row) of trees
In similar-looking phrases that state the material that an item is made of and not its contents, Dutch does use van click to hear 2 like 'of' in English - for instance in hoedje van papier click to hear ('hat of paper, paper hat.') It might actually be easier for you to use this somewhat old-fashioned van construction, because these material adjectives often get an -EN ending.
het ijzeren masker / het masker van ijzer click to hear the iron mask / the mask of iron
de gouden schaal / de schaal van goud click to hear the golden bowl / the bowl of gold
de wollen muts / de muts van wol click to hear the woollen cap / the cap of wool
het houten huis / het huis van hout click to hear the wooden house / the house of wood
de ivoren toren / de toren van ivoor click to hear the ivory tower / the tower of ivory
de glazen brug / de brug van glas click to hear the glass bridge / the bridge of glass
de stalen helm / de helm van staal / de man van staal click to hear the steel helmet / the helmet of steel / the man of steel
More on Materials
Of course, Dutch and English both often use 'of'/'van' to indicate ownership, belonging to, association, something specific or constituting elements.
In English, you often see apostrophe-S for a possesive - in Dutch that's much less common. But when it's used, Dutchmen often incorrectly write the S with an apostrophe like in English - in Dutch it should be without the apostrophe.
M'n vaders vrienden click to hear
De vrienden van m'n vader click to hear
De mok van Piet click to hear 2
Jacoba van Beieren click to hear 2
De maanden van het jaar click to hear
De dagen van de week click to hear
De burgemeester van Amsterdam click to  hear
Het huis is van haar click to hear 2
Het zinken van het schip click to hear
't Delft van Vermeer click to hear
De geur van dennennaalden click to hear
Vrijheid van meningsuiting click to hear
My father's friends
The friends of my father's
Piet's mug
Jacoba of Bavaria (Bayern)
The months of the year
The days of the week
The mayor of Amsterdam
The house is hers
The sinking of the ship
Vermeer's Delft
The smell of pine needles
Freedom of expression

See also: Disambiguation: 'Van'

Adjectives Almost Always End in E

In dictionaries and word lists you will find the adverb, which is also the root form of the adjective - but in almost all positions adjectives get an E-ending ('voiceless, unstressed E' click to hear) - only not for 'het'-words in the singular after 'een' ('a') = 'één' ('one') - 'geen' ('no, zero') or no article.
De appel is groen - de groene appel - een groene appel - het groene appeltje - een groen appeltje click to
(The apple is green - the green apple - a green apple - the small green apple - a small green apple)
De lange man - een lange man - het lange boek - een lang boek - de baby slaapt lang click to
(The tall guy - a tall guy - the long book - a long book - the baby sleeps for a long time)
When you start speaking Dutch, you could give all adjectives an E-ending. In most cases it will be correct. But try to say adverbs without the E-ending.
Please note that adding the E-ending may lead to spelling changes to maintain the 'length' of the root word's vowel:
al / alle click to hear all
snel / snelle click to hear quick, fast
slim / slimme click to hear 2 clever
vol / volle click to hear full
dun / dunne click to hear 2 skinny, thin
laag / lage click to hear low
breed / brede click to hear 2 wide (think of:'broad')
groot / grote click to hear 2 big, large, tall, great
duur / dure click to hear 2 expensive, dear
mager / magere click to hear 2 skinny, thin
(think of: 'meager')
enkel / enkele click to hear single; a few
vriendelijk / vriendelijke * click to hear kind, friendly
duidelijk / duidelijke click to hear clear, obvious
veilig / veilige * click to hear safe
blauw / blauwe click to hear 2 blue
koud / koude click to hear cold
klein / kleine click to hear 2 small, little
rijk / rijke click to hear rich
leuk / leuke click to hear 2 nice, enjoyable
groen / groene click to hear green
bruin / bruine click to hear brown
lang / lange click to hear long
bekend / bekende click to hear 2 well-known
licht / lichte click to hear light
kort / korte click to hear short
zulk / zulke click to hear such
Vlaams / Vlaamse click to hear Flemish
vreemd / vreemde click to hear 2 strange, unusual, foreign
beroemd / beroemde click to hear famous
Dutch 'Long' and 'Short' Vowels
Spelling Changes Explained
Spelling Explained, with More Examples

To See and To Look - Zien and Kijken

to see
- ik zie
I see
- wij zien
we see
- ik zag
I saw
- wij zagen
we saw
- ik heb gezien click to hear 2 - >>
I have seen
to look
- ik kijk
I look
- wij kijken
we look
- ik keek
I looked
- wij keken
we looked
- ik heb gekeken click to hear
I have looked
Like English, Dutch has zien click to hear 'to see' - something like 'observing with, using the eye' - and kijken click to hear 'to look' (often combined with naar click to hear 'at') - something like 'having the eyes pointed in a direction.' These verbs are generally not interchangeable. It's not a problem for English-speakers, but other languages may not have two verbs describing activities like these.
Ik zag de sterren click to hear
We zullen wel zien click to hear 2
Zie je het verschil? click to hear 2 3
Ik zie het verschil click to hear
Hier ziet men de gevolgen click to hear 2 3
Ik heb mezelf op TV gezien click to hear
Heb je haar gezien? click to hear 2
Ik heb die film niet gezien click to hear
Ik heb Jan laatst nog gezien click to hear 2
tot ziens! click to hear 2
Zie je wel? click to hear 2
Ziet U wel? click to hear
I saw the stars
We'll see
Do you see the difference?
I see the difference
Here you see (one sees) the results consequences?
I've seen myself on TV
Have you seen her?
Ik have not seen that movie
I have seen Jan not too long ago
See you! [Until we're seeing (each other) again]
"See? Told you so" (informal)
"See? Told you so" (polite)
Ze keken naar de wolken click to hear
Ik kijk wat rond click to hear 2 3
Als je goed kijkt click to hear 2
Waar je ook kijkt, overal water click to hear
Ze kijken op ons neer click to hear
Hij was te klein om over de schutting te kijken click to hear 2
Kijk vooruit, niet achteruit click to hear
Kijk even achterom voordat je afslaat click to hear 2
klok kijken click to hear 2
TV kijken click to hear 2
Kijk uit! click to hear 2
They were looking at the clouds
I'm just looking around, "just browsing" (in a store)
When you look [well] sharp
Wherever you look, water everywhere
They look down on us
He was too small to look over the fence (he was not tall enough to look over ...)
Look forward, not backward
Look backward for a moment before you make a turn (traffic)
[looking at the clock] telling time >>
watching television
Watch out! (be careful)
English 'to look' can also be used to comment on things you see. The Dutch verbs for that meaning is eruitzien click to hear 2
't Ziet er vies uit click to hear 2
Hij ziet er moe uit click to hear
Ze ziet er uit als een filmster click to hear
It looks unappetizing
He looks tired
She looks like a movie star

Laten - 'to allow' or 'to let' - and more

to allow, 'let'
- ik laat
I 'let'
- wij laten
we 'let'
- ik liet
I 'let'
- wij lieten
we 'let'
- ik heb gelaten click to hear
I have 'let'
complete conjugation
Dutch laten click to hear can sometimes be translated as 'to allow (to)' or 'to let'
Laat ik dat eerst even doen click to hear 2
Laat je thee niet koud worden click to hear 2 3
Laat 't twintig minuten koken click to hear 2 3
Laat me! click to hear 2
Let me do that first
Don't let your tea get cold
Let it boil for 20 minutes, boil it for 20 minutes
Let me be, let me do my own thing
Laat me niet lachen! click to hear 2 [Dont make me laugh] - That's ridiculous!
Laat maar zitten! click to hear 2 3 ['Let it stay'] - 'Keep the change' (when you give a tip) - or in another context: 'don't bother'
Laat de boel de boel click to hear
'Let things be, leave things as they are' - stop worrying, take a break
met rust laten click to hear
Laat hem met rust click to hear 2
['to leave in peace'] to leave alone, 'don't bother'
Leave him alone, don't bother him
Laat het aan de vakman over click to hear Leave it to the professionals (Dutch uses the singular 'professsional')
Leven en laten leven click to hear 2
Laten we aan 't werk gaan click to hear 2
Laten we niet te hard van stapel lopen click to hear 2
Live and let live
Let's start working, let's get started, let's get going
[Let's not launch too quickly] Let's not get ahead too fast
'Nalaten' click to hear 2 meaning 'failing to do, refraining from' is a bit old-fashioned - but it can also mean 'to leave behind, to bequeath' (when you die.) In the next two examples 'na' seems to have been dropped:
Laat maar click to
Als je dat maar laat! click to hear 2 3
Let it be, don't bother, no need for action
['Just leave that out!'] Don't do that!
Dutch also quite often uses laten click to hear in combinations with other verbs - combinations that are usually translated by one verb in English.
laten zien click to hear 2
laten vallen click to hear 2
laten schrikken click to hear 2
laten liggen click to hear 2 3
[to let/make see] - to show
[to let fall] - to drop
to startle, to scare, to frighten, to shock
[to let lie] - not clean up, not put back in its place, not deal with
Ik liet alles vallen click to hear 2
Hij liet ons een paar foto's zien click to hear 2
Hij liet ons een paar liedjes horen click to hear
Hij liet ons een uur wachten click to hear 2 3 4
I dropped everything (both literally and figuratively)
He [let us see] showed us a few pictures
He let us hear a few songs, he played a few songs for us
He [let us] made us wait for an hour
Lies is lastig en laat alles liggen click to hear Lies is troublesome and [lets everything lie around] doesn't put things back, doesn't clean up
Opgeruimd staat netjes click to hear 'Out of the way looks good' - things put in their place
In the perfect tenses, the regular past participle is gelaten click to hear 2
ik heb gelaten click to hear
Ik heb 't maar zo gelaten click to hear 2
Ze hebben ons met rust gelaten click to hear 2
I have let, I have allowed
I have left it like that, I didn't bother to make changes
They have left us alone, they didn't bother us
But in combinations with other verbs, the infinitive laten click to hear is used:
ik heb laten ... click to hear 2
Ik heb laten zien click to hear 2
Ik heb moeten laten zien click to hear
Ik heb de eieren laten schrikken click to hear
I have ...
I have shown
I had to show (I was forced to show)
I shocked the eggs (rinse just-boiled eggs with cold water for easy peeling)
Ik wil niks verloren laten gaan click to hear 2 [I want nothing go to get lost] I don't want anything to go to waste
niet toelaten click to hear 2
niet toestaan click to hear
to disallow, 'not allow,' to forbid

The Reflexive Verb

The reflexive verb (to defend oneself) is more common in Dutch than in English.
zich verdedigen to defend oneself zich herinneren to remember
ik verdedig me
jij verdedigt je
hij verdedigt zich
zij verdedigt zich
wij verdedigen ons
jullie verdedigen je
zij verdedigen zich
U verdedigt zich
click to hear
(I defend myself)
(you defend yourself)
(he defends himself)
(she defends herself)
(we defend ourselves)
(you defend yourselves)
(they defend themselves)
(you defend yourself)
ik herinner me
jij herinnert je
hij herinnert zich
zij herinnert zich
wij herinneren ons
jullie herinneren je
zij herinneren zich
U herinnert zich
click to hear
(I remember)
(you remember)
(he remembers)
(she remembers)
(we remember)
(you remember)
(they remember)
(you remember)
me click to hear
je click to hear
zich click to hear
zich click to hear
ons click to hear
je click to hear
zich click to hear
zich click to hear
zich vergissen to be mistaken zich vervelen to be bored
ik vergis me
jij vergist je
hij vergist zich
zij vergist zich
wij vergissen ons
jullie vergissen je
zij vergissen zich
U vergist zich
click to hear
(I am mistaken)
(you are mistaken)
(he is mistaken)
(she is mistaken)
(we are mistaken)
(you are mistaken)
(they are mistaken)
(you are mistaken)
ik verveel me
jij verveelt je
hij verveelt zich
zij verveelt zich
wij vervelen ons
jullie vervelen je
zij vervelen zich
U verveelt zich
click to hear
(I am bored)
(you are bored)
(he is bored)
(she is bored)
(we are bored)
(you are bored)
(they are bored)
(you are bored)
me click to hear
je click to hear
zich click to hear
zich click to hear
ons click to hear
je click to hear
zich click to hear
zich click to hear
zich ontspannen click to hear 2 3 to relax
zich zorgen maken click to hear 2 to worry
zich voorstellen click to hear 2 1. to introduce oneself
2. to imagine
zich afvragen click to hear to wonder
zich haasten click to hear to hurry
zich verbazen click to hear 2 to be surprised, amazed
Verveel je je? click to hear
Verveelt U zich? click to hear
Are you bored? (informal)
Are you bored? (polite)
Mag ik me even voorstellen? click to hear 2 Allow me to introduce myself.
Ik stelde me voor click to hear 2 1. I introduced myself 2. I imagined ...
Stel je voor dat er geen auto's waren! click to hear 2 Imagine that there were no cars.
Hij hoefde zichzelf niet te bewijzen. click to hear He didn't have to prove himself.
Ik kan 't me niet herinneren. click to hear I [can't] don't remember [it.]
Nou herinner ik 't me weer. click to hear 2 Now I remember [it] [again.]
Hoe voel je je? click to hear 2 How do you feel?
Ontspan je! click to hear 2
Je moet je ontspannen click to hear 2 3
'You should relax!'
't Verbaast me niks. click to hear 2 I am [nothing] not surprised.
Ik vraag me wel eens af ... click to hear 2
Ik vraag me af of ... click to hear 2
'Sometimes I wonder ...
I wonder if ...'
We hebben ons vergist. click to hear 2 We were mistaken, we were wrong.
Ik heb me niet verveeld. click to hear 2 I [have not been] was not bored.
More on Reflexive Verbs - Personal Pronouns

Should I pronounce The N at the end of verbs and plurals?

Many people in Holland, maybe a majority of the population, do not pronounce the N's at the end of verbs and plurals. But my recommendation to you, dear students, is not to drop those N's. It's certainly not wrong to pronounce those N's - the worst that can be said is that it sounds 'educated.' I consider it sloppy to drop those N's - but feel free to speak as you think best. It's a free country.
Nobody in Holland I talked with has ever criticized my way of speaking or said it sounds weird or unusual. The only person who ever criticized me in person for pronouncing the final N's in Dutch was an American professor. Donaldson (in his modestly titled book 'Dutch') also says "it's unnatural not to drop one's N's." It's a big thing for English-speaking linguists because dropping those final N's is supposed to show the Ingwaeonic (English and Frisian) influence on Dutch. Now would you be interested in my opinion on pronouncing English, Chinese or Swahili?
De mensen praten plat. click to hear De mense prate plat. click to hear People talk sloppily, substandard. *
Wil je blijven eten? click to hear 2 3 Wil je blijve ete? click to hear Would you like to stay for [food - usually:] dinner?
We hebben lopen demonstreren click to
    hear We hebbe lope demonstrere click to hear 2 3 We have been in a protest march

'Heel,' 'Veel' and 'Erg'

Foreign students of Dutch are often confused about 'heel' click to hear 2 3 and 'veel' click to hear 2 - and the word 'erg' click to hear that's often seen in the same context.
'Veel' - usually translated as 'much' / 'many' (Dutch doesn't have that difference like in English) - or 'a lot (of)' is an adjective or an adverb indicating a large quantity, a high number or frequency.
Er zijn veel mensen ziek click to hear [There are many people sick] Many people are sick
Hij weet veel van bijen click to hear 2 He knows a lot about bees
Er werd veel gesproken over vrijheid click to hear 2 [Much was talked ...] There was a lot of talking about freedom
We hebben veel regen click to hear 2 We're having a lot of rain
Te veel mensen met te veel geld click to hear 2 Too many people with too much money
- a lot more 'veel'
While 'erg' and 'heel' ('very') are adverbs that modify adjectives or other adverbs - indicating quality: a degree of
Heel goed, dank je click to hear 2 Very good, thank you (in answer to: 'how are you?')
Het houten huis is heel oud click to
   hear The wooden house is very old
Ik vind het heel raar click to hear 2 I think it's very strange
Hij zei heel zachtjes 'ja' click to hear 2 3 4 5 He very softly said 'yes'
Een heel klein beetje click to hear 2 A very small amount
heel even click to hear 2 a very short time
Hij is erg blij click to hear He's very happy
Ik ben erg moe click to hear 2 I'm very tired
Ze waren erg arm click to hear 2 They were very poor
Hij speelt heel goed gitaar click to hear 2 3 He plays the guitar very well
'Heel' in the sense of 'very' is a bit colloquial. In writing I mostly use 'erg.'
'Heel,' 'erg' and 'veel' can also be combined, but not in every possible way. You can say 'heel veel' click
to hear 2 -or- 'erg veel' click to hear 2 -or- 'heel erg' click to hear 2 -and- 'heel erg veel' click to hear but NOT 'veel erg' or 'erg heel veel' - 'heel' is always before 'erg.' See also the Disambiguation: 'Erg' page
Het is heel erg koud click to hear 2 It's really very cold, terribly cold
Ik ben heel erg moe click to hear 2 I'm terribly tired
Er is erg veel regen click to hear 2 There's [very much] really a lot of rain
'Cowboy Gerard' in 'Het Spel Kaarten:'
Wat heb je daarop te zeggen? click to hear 2 What have you got to say about that? (explain yourself)
Heel veel click to hear 2 Really a lot, very many things
More 'Heel' - 'Heel' as an adjective can also mean 'whole, complete'
de hele dag click to hear the whole day, all day
De hele dag door click to hear 2 'all through the day,' 'all day long'
De zon scheen de hele dag click to hear The sun was shining all day
de hele tijd click to hear 2 all the time
't Heeft de hele dag geregend click to hear 2 3 It has been raining all day
Ik ben de hele dag binnen gebleven click to hear 2 3 I've stayed inside all day
Hij heeft de hele middag zitten typen click to hear 2 3 'He's been typing all afternoon'
Ik heb de hele nacht wakker gelegen click to hear 2 I was lying awake all night
Ik heb de hele dag gelopen click to hear 2 3 I've been walking all day
Hij heeft de hele week lopen klagen click to hear 2 He's been complaining all week
de hele weg click to hear [the whole way] all the way
Beter ten halve gekeerd dan ten hele gedwaald click to hear 2 'It's better to turn around halfway than to be wrong all the way'
over de hele wereld click to hear 2 all over the world
We hebben de hele wereld afgezocht click to hear 2 3 4 We have searched the whole world over
volkoren click to hear 2 wholewheat
(het) volkorenmeel click to hear wholewheat flour
(het) volkorenbrood click to hear wholewheat bread
'Geheel' click to hear - 'fully, completely, entirely'
geheel in 't zwart click to hear entirely in black (clothes)
(de) geheelonthouder click to hear 2 [person entirely abstaining] - teetotaler
geheel onverwacht click to hear 2 3 completely unexpected
More 'Heel' 2 - Occasionally, 'heel' can mean 'quite, rather long or big'
't hele verhaal click to hear 2 the whole (full, complete) story
een heel verhaal click to hear 2 3 quite a long story
'n hele klus click to hear 2 3 quite a big job, a rather big undertaking
't Is een hele eer click to hear 2 3 4 It's quite an honor
More 'Heel' 3 - There's also a verb helen click to hear that can mean both 'to heal' ('make whole') and 'to deal in stolen goods.' The noun (de) heler click to hear can be both a 'healer' and a 'dealer in stolen goods.' heel click to hear 2 3 as an imperative can mean 'heal, make healthy.' In the sixties, Han Fortmann had a nice book about Eastern Mysticism with a title that plays on this double meaning:
Heel De Mens click to hear 2 Heal Mankind // The Complete Human Being
with the overarching meaning 'make man whole'
More 'Erg' - Next to 'very,' Dutch 'erg' can also mean something like 'very bad, awful, terrible' - but it's not combined, 'erg erg' is not good Dutch.
Ik vind het heel erg. click to hear I think it's really bad, I'm upset over it.
Ik hoop dat je het niet erg vindt. click to hear I hope you don't think it's bad, I hope you don't mind.
It must be difficult for foreign students. I hope you'll learn the subtleties from much listening and reading.

To Be: Zijn and Worden

'To Be' can often be translated as zijn click to hear
Ik ben niet ziek click to hear 2 3
Is het ver? click to hear 2
Hij is oud click to hear
't Was een koude dag click to hear
Ze waren jaloers click to hear 2 3
I'm not sick
Is it far?
He is old
It was a cold day
They were jealous
More 'Zijn'
In the perfect tense, English uses the auxiliary verb 'to have.' Dutch has the similar hebben click to hear but a small number of Dutch verbs take zijn as the auxiliary verb for the perfect tense.
ik heb gehad click to hear
ik heb gezien click to hear
ik heb gehoord click to hear
ik ben geweest click to hear
ik ben gegaan click to hear
I have had
I have seen
I have heard
I have been
I have gone
More 'Hebben' - More on The Perfect Tense
In Dutch, Worden click to hear 2 is the auxiliary verb for the passive voice:
Ik word geschopt door Jan click to hear
Het huis wordt geverfd click to hear
Ik werd afgeleid click to hear 2
I am kicked by Jan
The house is being painted
I was distracted
In English, 'to be' is the auxiliary verb for the passive voice, while (as we have seen above) Dutch zijn click to hear is the auxiliary verb for the perfect tense of some verbs. Adding to the confusion, Dutch drops the past participle of passive-voice worden in the perfect tense. Compare the use of verbs in the following Dutch and English sentences:
ik word gevraagd click to hear 2
ik werd gevraagd click to hear 2
ik ben gevraagd geworden click to hear 2
ik heb gevraagd click to hear 2
I am asked (for a job or to preform a task)
I was asked
I was asked, I have been asked
I have asked (a question)
Hij wordt door een wesp gestoken! click to hear
Hij is door een wesp gestoken geworden click to hear
he is being stung by a wasp! (right now)
he (has been) was stung by a wasp
Hij wordt gemarteld click to hear 2
Hij werd gemarteld click to hear
Hij is gemarteld geworden click to hear 2
(Ze hebben 'm gemarteld click to hear 2
He is tortured
He was tortured
He was tortured, he has been tortured
They have tortured him)
Er wordt al zoveel gezegd click to hear 2
Er is al zoveel gezegd geworden click to hear 2
So much is being said already
So much has been said already
More on The Passive Voice
'Worden' can also mean something like 'to become,' indicating change or development. In that meaning, the past participle is not dropped.
't Wordt donker click to hear
Ik had schrijver willen worden, maar ik ben spreker geworden click to hear
Wat is er van hem geworden? click to hear 2
It is getting dark
I wanted to be a writer, but I've become a speaker
Whatever became of him?

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Don't be a dief (thief) / dievegge (female thief) - diefstal (theft) - stelen (to steal) - heler (dealer in stolen goods) - hear Dutch - 2