Language At The Table


I’m trying a new interactive website to help with my Dutch lessons, and I’m starting from scratch to try to get a review of some basics as well as learn some basics I haven’t covered before. Today I’m working on prepositions, as well as the concept of stuff/people sitting at the table or being on the table (among other examples). I’m getting nit-picky and confused, though.

Question #1:
De bloemen staan op de tafel.

Het eten staat op tafel.

Why is de used in the first example (op de tafel), but not in the second (op tafel)? Is there a rule that explains this?

Question #2:
When do items stand on the table versus sit on the table (or any other surface)? E.g.,
De koffie staat op (de) tafel.
De koffie zit op de tafel.

Are both correct? Is one used more than the other? Do I use “de” at all?

I’m trying to look up the answer in some of my other sources, but sometimes it does help to have a person do some explaining, as well. Any explanation will be greatly appreciated.

9 thoughts on “Language At The Table

  1. “Het eten staat op tafel” is similar to “dinner is served”.
    You don’t ask where the diner is, it is just something people say, an expression. Bad example in the dutch lesson you were working on.

    “De bloemen staan op de tafel” is the same as in english, on the table.

    De koffie staat op tafel.
    Sitting is something people and animals do.
    Upright things stand somewhere, flat things lie somewhere
    (in general)

    So “de bloemen staan op de tafel”
    but “het brood ligt op tafel”

    Did that help?

    • OK, I understand the differentiation now between standing/sitting/lying, but I’m still confused as to when to use de and when not to. Why are some “op de tafel” and others just “op tafel”?

  2. I think that in general you skip “de” with “tafel” when you talk about food

    de koffie staat op tafel
    het eten staat op tafel

    With other things, you add “de”, as it’s about a location

    op de kast
    op de tafel
    op de stoel
    op de grond

    But, it’s only in cobination with tafel.
    To make it confusing again:

    het eten staat op de kast
    het eten staat op de stoel
    het eten staat op de grond

    I think we dutch are a bit lazy and skip the “de”

    • That fits in with what Eric went on to explain to me, that you skip the de when it’s pretty much understood which table something is on (or which bed or bath you’re lying in).

      Thanks! Every bit of explanation does help.

  3. This is an ongoing topic of discussion between my husband and me. He finds it hilarious that we Americans say the item was “sitting” there, because in German, I believe only people sit (or animals, I suppose).

    I take it that in Dutch, items can “sit” too?

    I think it’s cute how Germans say, “The car is standing in the driveway.”

    My most embarassing language mistake so far: at the bakery, I asked for my bread to be circumcized. AGH! (And it’s so close to “sliced” that I’ll probably make the mistake again.)

    • Suddenly I feel the need to check the Dutch word for circumcision and any similar words!

      I think mainly people and animals sit in Dutch, as well. Most other things stand or lie, with just enough exceptions to the rule to make it all so very confusing! These are the kinds of things that make a language interesting to know about, but difficult to learn and remember. I should probably start reading more children’s books so I can picture it all more clearly!

  4. Items never sit, apart from “vastzitten aan” (de hand zit vast aan de arm) meaning “being attached to” (the hand is attached to the arm). Only living things sit in Dutch. Objects lie, stand or lean against or hang, but never sit.

    De kat zit op het grass (the cat sits on the grass)
    De bal ligt op het gras (the ball lies on the grass)
    de stoel staat op het gras (the chair stands on the grass)

    and to circumsize = besnijden (circumcision = besnijdenis)

    but since this post is old, you’ve probably already figured all this out 😉

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