Engels: woordje ‘er’

The Dutch word er can be the source of confusion when you need to translate it into English.

The Dutch word er can be the source of confusion when you need to translate it into English.

  • For example, you can translate Er moeten een aantal zaken besproken worden asThere are several matters to be discussed. But how about: Er viel veel regen vanmiddag? There fell a lot of rain this afternoon is not good English. This should be: A lot of rain fell this afternoon.
  • When er is used as the subject of the sentence in Dutch, you need to take more care. There is/are… is a very common construction in English, of course – for example: There are several matters to be discussed or There are a number of options.
  • However, when the verb is not ‘zijn/to be’, there are many cases where you cannot translate a Dutch er construction with the equivalent there construction in English. For example: Er reed een auto voorbij. Not: There drove a car past. But: A car drove past.

Two rules of thumb

  • 1. You can always use there in combination with to be. Additionally, you can sometimes use it with verbs like to come, to remain, to follow.
  • 2. If the verb is not one of the above, try to use a ‘concrete’ subject in the sentence, rather than the word ‘there’.


  • There are a number of questions we would like to ask.
  • There has been a major change in the way we do business.
  • There were several calls for you while you were out.
  • There came a point when things just had to change.
  • There remains the question of the outstanding debt.
  • There now follows a short interval for tea and coffee.


  • Er komt nieuwe wetgeving. Not: There comes new legislation. But: New legislation is being introduced.
  • Er ontstond een aantal onverwachte problemen. Not: There arose a number of unforeseen problems. But: A number of unforeseen problems arose.
  • Er gebeurde iets raars. Not: There happened something unusual. But: Something unusual happened.
  • Na de brand is er een nieuwe school gebouwd. Not: There was built a new school after the fire. But: A new school was built after the fire.
  • Er kwam een aantal bezoekers aan. Not: There arrived a number of visitors. But: A number of visitors arrived.

  • Met dank aan Taalcentrum-VU voor het beschikbaar stellen van deze tips. Het Taalcentrum-VU is een zelfstandig taal- en trainingsbureau dat opereert vanuit de Vrije Universiteit en vertalingen, taal- en communicatietrainingen en tekstredactie verzorgt voor overheid en bedrijfsleven.


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