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Hebben or zijn?
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In the perfect tense, most past participles are preceded by a conjugation of hebben. There are, however, a few verbs that also take zijn as an auxiliary verb.

Past participles that take zijn:

Most past participles that exclusively take zijn are either:

  • Verbs that indicate movement, a development or a change. E.g. komen (to come), beginnen (to begin), sterven (to die), and krimpen (to shrink).
  • Link verbs, e.g.: blijken and voorkomen (to appear), blijven (to stay), lijken and schijnen (to seem), raken (to get, to become), and worden (to become). See also link verbs.

Past participles that take both zijn and hebben

A number of past participles can take both hebben and zijn. This concerns verbs that:

  • Indicate movement: You have to use zijn if you are talking about moving from or into a certain direction. You use hebben if the direction is not mentioned or implied. I wrote 'implied', because there are verbs that implicitly mention a direction, e.g. uitvaren (to sail out), binnenspringen (to jump inside, to drop by), langslopen (to walk by, to pass by), and opklimmen (to climb up, to rise).
  • Can be both transitive (requiring a direct object) and intransitive. If the verb is used transitively, we use hebben; for intransitive verbs, we use zijn. For example:, in "De tijden zijn veranderd" ("Times have changed"), veranderen is intransitive, but in "Ze heeft het verhaal veranderd" ("She has changed the story"), veranderen is transitive.

Transitive and reflexive verbs always take hebben

Transitive and reflexive verbs always take hebben, even if they would otherwise fall under one of the 'zijn-categories'.

Examples of verbs of movement that can take both hebben and zijn

Wandelen: to walk, to stroll

NO DIRECTION Ik heb op straat gewandeld. I have walked in the street.
DIRECTION Ik ben naar huis gewandeld. I have walked home.

Lopen (strong verb): to walk

NO DIRECTION Ik heb op hoge hakken gelopen. I have walked on high heels.
DIRECTION Ik ben naar binnen gelopen. I have walked in.

Klimmen (strong verb): to climb

NO DIRECTION Ik heb in de Alpen geklommen. I have climbed in the Alps.
DIRECTION Ik ben naar de top geklommen. I have climbed to the top.
NO DIRECTION Ik heb veel geklommen. I have climbed a lot.
DIRECTION Ik ben op het dak geklommen. I have climed on the roof.

Springen (strong verb): to jump

NO DIRECTION Ik heb in de rivier gesprongen. I have jumped in the river (while I was already in it).
DIRECTION Ik ben in de rivier gesprongen. I have jumped into the river.
NO DIRECTION Ik heb op mijn fiets gesprongen. I have jumped on my bicycle (while I was already on it).
DIRECTION Ik ben op mijn fiets gesprongen. I got (jumped) on my bicycle.

Rijden (strong verb): to drive, to ride

NO DIRECTION Ik heb de hele dag in die auto gereden. I have driven in that car all day.
DIRECTION Ik ben met de auto naar Antwerpen gereden. I have driven to Antwerp by car.
NO DIRECTION Hij heeft nog nooit met een motor gereden. He has never ridden a motorbike.
DIRECTION Ze is met de motor naar Frankrijk gereden. She has ridden to France on a motorbike.

Verbs like vallen (to fall) and zinken (to sink) only take zijn. You may wonder what the difference is with, for example, klimmen (to climb), which can take both hebben and zijn.

You could argue that you can fall from a riverbank into the river (which clearly indicates a direction -> zijn), but you can also say that you simply fell (no direction specified -> hebben). Yet vallen never takes hebben. Indeed, a difficult case. The subtle distinction that I see is that vallen and zinken are not activities; they have no intended direction or destination. Instead, they are events that happen to the agent. Seeing it this way, you could say that a person's state changed from 'not-fallen' to 'fallen' or from 'not-sunk' to 'sunk'. As mentioned above, we also use zijn for past participles that indicate a certain change. Admittedly, the distinction between zijn and hebben past participles is sometimes a bit vague.

Past participles that can be both transitive and intransitive

For intransitive verbs, we use zijn, for transitive verbs, we use hebben.

Bederven (strong verb): to go bad (intransitive), to ruin (transitive)

INTRANSITIVE De melkis bedorven. The milk has gone bad.
TRANSITIVE Hij heeft het feestje bedorven. He had ruined the party.

Scheiden (strong verb): to divorce (intransitive), to separate (transitive)

INTRANSITIVE Ze zijn vorig jaar gescheiden. They got divorced last year.
TRANSITIVE We hebben de honden van de katten gescheiden. We have separated the dogs from the cats.

Genezen (strong verb): to heal (intransitive), to cure (transitive)

INTRANSITIVE De wond is snel genezen. The wound has healed fast.
TRANSITIVE De arts heeft haar genezen. The doctor has cured her.

Sluiten (strong verb): to close (intransitive and transitive)

INTRANSITIVE Het café is vorig jaar gesloten. The cafe closed down last year.
TRANSITIVE Heb je de deur gesloten? Have you closed the door?

Smelten (strong verb): to melt (intransitive and transitive)

INTRANSITIVE Het ijs is gesmolten. The ice has melted.
TRANSITIVE We hebben het zink met een soldeerbout gesmolten. We have melted the zinc with a soldering iron.

In the list of strong verbs, all past participles that take zijn are indicated.

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Last updated on March 08, 2010 ::