Positiewerkwoorden (staan, liggen, zitten, hangen)

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Senior Member
England/ English
Hi. "Als 'waarom' aan het begin van een zin staat ..." Does this mean "when 'waarom' is at the beginning of a sentence ..." ? What does "van een zin staat" mean?
  • Suehil

    British English
    In Dutch we very rarely say that someone or something 'is', we use other words instead. Unfortunately it is mostly a question of just having to learn which word to use.
    'Hij ligt in het ziekenhuis'
    'Hij zit in de gevangenis'
    'Zij staat te strijken'
    'Het boek ligt op tafel'


    Senior Member
    Belgian Dutch
    Yes, there's a fourth one, hangen, which use is more transparent.

    For people, it will be more or less clear which one to use when. For objects it's often hard and sometimes seemingly arbitrary. Basically, it has to do with how an object 'is' somewhere.

    For example, you could say de boeken staan in de kast, like the ones on the the upper left shelf here, or de boeken liggen in de kast, like the ones on the upper right shelf, or on the bottom shelves. So it depends on the uprightness of an object, in as far as it can be upright or not (op tafel ligt een appel altijd)

    Zitten is hard. Two important meanings that zitten can convey come to mind now. One is close attachment: als er vuil op de stoel ligt, you can simply wipe it off, als er vuil op de stoel zit, the dirt sticks to it and you will have to scratch it off, for example. This 'sticking sense' makes that zitten can be used for things being somewhere resisting gravity: een vlieg zit op het plafond whereas een lamp [like this one] hangt aan het plafond - mind the different preposition - it's a matter of orientation really. (The sticking sense extends even to things like de steel zit op de pan 'the handle is on the pan'.) Another one is confinement. Appelsienen liggen in een schaal als deze, liggen wellicht zelfs op een schaal als deze, maar wanneer je thuiskomt van de winkel zitten ze nog in je boodschappentas.

    To complicate matters, zitten, staan, etc. + te + <infinitief> is a common construction that is equivalent to aan het <infinitief> zijn (and thus to the English progressive) but which often has a nuance of irritation. For example:
    hij zit de hele tijd de zeuren 'he's whining all the time'
    (een teler die ziek is en niet kan oogsten: ) en ondertussen hangen mijn appels daar maar te rotten 'and meanwhile my apples are just hanging there, rotting'

    Returning to your original question :), words 'stand' in Dutch (because letters have an obvious top and bottom, and therefore can be upright (or not), I'd guess, extended to non written language as well). Similarly, if you see a sign and want to know what it says, you should ask wat staat er(op)? (not *wat zegt het or something).


    Senior Member
    Couldn't we say that staan is far more frequent in the figurative or abstract sense? Not only "een woord staat in het woordenboek" but also "achter een idee staan", "aan het hoofd staan", "op een lijst staan", "de tekst staat vol fouten"...

    This is my "vuistregel", anyway:
    - if it is concrete, if you can see the object in your mind, than think of its position (and then, zitten is perhaps the most frequent)
    - if it is not, then take staan (except in some idomatic expressions you might know)... and you have good chances to be right ! :)


    Senior Member
    Belgian Dutch
    Couldn't we say that staan is far more frequent in the figurative or abstract sense? Not only "een woord staat in het woordenboek" but also "achter een idee staan", "aan het hoofd staan", "op een lijst staan", "de tekst staat vol fouten"...
    Interesting idea, you've certainly got a point. Still, in the examples you gave I would say the verbs are just different (bold parts being the verbal structure, the ones in italics variable arguments):
    ergens achter staan
    aan het hoofd staan
    op een lijst staan = in het woordenboek staan =(?) vol fouten staan
    The first two are idiomatic, the other ones aren't really, I think the verb in all three cases mean the same thing and could be derived from staan for letters/words (note btw that vol fouten isn't truly an argument, which is why the sense is different).

    But I agree there could be more to it, as the second part of your rule of thumb suggests.


    Senior Member
    Hallo iedereen :)

    Here are some examples that I have heard repeatedly:

    het ligt aan het toestel (mobile phone does not work)
    ik zit met een probleem (mobile phone does not work)
    het staat op de factuur (explanation about an invoice)

    Other uses

    liggen for countries and cities: Waar ligt Polen?
    zitten if you are looking for someone: Waar zit Anne?
    zitten if an object is hidden somewhere: de sleutel zit in je zak

    It's also a good idea to check the different meanings of those words in a Dutch dictionary, in order to get some more examples.


    One has to be careful though, e.g.

    zitten 2 zich bevinden: waar zit hij toch?
    liggen 3 zich bevinden: waar ligt Ghana?

    Those two seem interchangeable but I don't think they are, because zitten is followed by a person and liggen is followed by a country.

    Veel geluk, he!

    Now I have a question for our Dutch friends. Do you understand us if we say "dat bedrag IS op de factuur" instead of "dat bedrag staat op de factuur"? if we say "de factuur IS op de tafel" instead of "ligt op de tafel", enz.?




    Senior Member
    An interesting contribution... but not all your examples are relevant for the question "when do we use zitten/liggen/staan... for a position instead of zijn?".

    F.i. "Het ligt aan het toestel" has nothing to do with the position of the thing, even in an abstract way. You wouldn't say, even in poor Dutch, "*het is aan het toestel". It is here the idiomatic expression "liggen aan".

    I think it is the same for "ik zit met een probleem": would you think of saying "*ik ben met een probleem"?

    I don't want to answer in the place of Dutch-speaking people, but perhaps "de factuur IS op de tafel" is for them like "la facture est couchée sur la table" for us: you understand the meaning, but you immediately know that the person who says this is not a native.


    Senior Member
    Hello again

    You are quite right :)

    I am sorry.

    I will refrain from sharing my knowledge in the future.

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