The verb for spatial positioning: to be

My car is located in the car park. It is placed in the car park. It can be found in the car park. It is positioned in the car park. It stands in the car park. Nope.

Whereas Dutch tends to use a variety of verbs to specify where something is, English sticks largely with “to be”. Rather than having tall objects standing and long or flat objects lying, for instance.

  • When serving no purpose other than to specify a location, zitten, staan and liggen mostly just translate as “to be”. Certainly in everyday speech.
  • The same applies to wordier variants involving e.g. “the location of” or “the placement of” or “the positioning of”. Rewriting with the simple verb “to be” can make a simpler and more understandable sentence.

Exceptions are when you are trying to specifically show something unusual or when the action that created that situation matters. “He was lying in the living room” is quite different from “He was in the living room”, of course. “The key was positioned on the table” suggests a deliberate action.

Prevalence: endemic. Dutch people are mostly aware of this fairly elementary issue, yet they fall into the trap time and time again.
Frequency: high. Particularly when the author has got their formal hat on, the error may be repeated numerous times.
Native: no. Not unless some specific emphasis is intended.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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