Past tense

Weak verbs

Past tense of the weak verbs should be formed in the following way:
verb stem + te(n)/de(n)

The stems ending in p, t, k, s, f, ch add -te(n) (see the “pocket fish” rule),
all the rest add -de(n).

te(n): hopen:
ik hoopte
jij hoopte
u hoopte
hij hoopte
wij hoopten
jullie hoopten
u hoopte
zij hoopten

de(n): betalen:
ik betaalde
jij betaalde
u betaalde
hij betaalde
wij betaalden
jullie betaalden
u betaalde
zij betaalden

If a stem ends in -t or -d, it remains in the past tense form when -te/de is added:
1. pratenpraat(stem) – praatte(sing.) – praatten(pl.)
2. reddenred(stem) – redde(sing.) – redden(pl.)

Pronouncuation: though the spelling is different, these three are pronounced almost identically: praten, praatte, praatten

Infinitives with v and z which turn into -f and -s when stems are formed, have f and s in the past tense as well, however they should be still pronounced like v and z:

1. levenleef(stem) – leefde(sing.) – leefden(pl.)
2. verhuizenverhuis(stem) – verhuisde(sing.) – verhuisden(pl.)

Separable verbs behave in the same way in the past as in present.
Verb and prefix are separate in a main clause and joined in a subclause:
Hij belde gisteren op. – He called yesterday.
Hij zei dat zij gisteren opbelde. – He said that she called yesterday.

Strong verbs

1. In singular the strong verbs change a vowel in the stem and do not add any additional endings.
2. In plural -en is added and the consonant before -en is changed if needed
(f→v, s→z, etc).

zingen: zong, zongen
schrijven: schreef, schreven (f→v)
dragen: droeg, droegen
hangen: hing, hingen
slapen: sliep, sliepen
lezen: las, lazen (s→z)

The past tense form of the strong verbs should be learnt by heart as the change of the vowel cannot be predicted.

Irregular verbs

The past tense forms of the irregular verbs should be learnt by heart.
brengen: bracht, brachten
doen: deed, deden
kopen: kocht, kochten

Modal verbs

moeten: moest, moesten
kunnen: kon, konden
mogen: mocht, mochten
willen: wou/wilde, wilden

Here’s a list of some of the strong and irregular verbs and their past tense and part participle forms.

Hebben en zijn

ik had
jij had
u had
hij had
wij hadden
jullie hadden
u had
zij hadden

ik was
jij was
u was
hij was
wij waren
jullie waren
u was
zij waren

Usage of past tense

The past tense is not used as often in Dutch as in English.

1. It’s used when narrating a series of events:
Ik ging de stad in, kocht een cd, ging op een terrasje zitten, en daarna liep ik naar huis.
I went into town, bought a CD, went to seat on a terrace and after than I walked home.

2. It’s always used after subordinating conjunction toen:
Toen ik in Amsterdam woonde, ging ik vaak naar het theater.
When I lived in Amsterdam, I often went to the theater.

3. hebben and zijn are used more often in the past tense than in the perfect, however the perfect is not wrong in most cases:

Ik was in de stad. I was in the town.
Ik ben in de stad geweest. I was in the town.

4. The past tense must be used if hebben and zijn indicate a permanent state.

Hij is voor zijn examen geslaagd, maar hij was ook altijd knapper dan ik.
He passed his exam, but he always was cleverer than me.

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