Proximity of verb and subject

Dutch sentence structures can sometimes leave a verb and its subject miles away from each other as some adverbial clause intervenes. A habit that’s best avoided in English.

It has a very long-winded and legalese feel to it, even when the actual sentence is no lengthier as a result. Probably best explained with a real-life example:

  • source:
    Hetzelfde geldt wanneer de minister (subject), op advies van XXX, om welke reden dan ook, besluit (verb) het contract te beƫindigen
  • Dunglish:
    The same applies if the minister, on the advice of XXX, for any reason whatsoever, decides to terminate the contract
  • natural English:
    The same applies if the minister decides, on the advice of XXX and for any reason whatsoever, to terminate the contract
  • or
    The same applies if the minister decides to terminate the contract on the advice of XXX for any reason whatsoever

Note that the rewritten forms need fewer commas. As a general rule of thumb, that’s a good sign. It means the flow is more natural.

Prevalence: high. Particularly in relatively formal letters and reports. Dutch authors tend to concentrate on single words and rarely bother to think about revising the whole sentence structure.
Frequency: medium. Yup, if it’s that kind of style, it’ll turn up several times in the same report or whatever.
Native: no. We’re perfectly capable of producing contorted sentences, but not usually like this

Published by Mike Wilkinson

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: