Introduction to the Dutch language

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Learning Dutch - Brief introduction to the Dutch language

Alphabet and Pronunciation[edit]

The Dutch alphabet consists of the standard 26 Latin letters, A through Z. Especially the vowels are often pronounced very different from English.

Written form in Dutch Spoken form in Dutch Dutch example English approximation Actual pronunciation of the English approximation English example
A IPA: [ɑ] mat (pl: matten) A IPA: [ɑː] father
A, AA IPA: [a] maat (pl: maten) A IPA: [ɑː] father
E IPA: [ɛ] met E IPA: [ɛ] bed
E, EE IPA: [e] meten (1ps meet) A IPA: [eɪ] fate
E IPA: [ə] meten E IPA: [ə] about
I IPA: [ɪ] zitten (1ps zit) I IPA: [ɪ] sit
I, IE IPA: [i] zien EE IPA: [iː] seen
O IPA: [ɔ] mot (pl: motten) O IPA: [ɒ] moth ([dɔr] 'door' is a closer representation of Dutch [ɔ]
O, OO IPA: [o] moot (pl: moten) O IPA: [oʊ] rode
U IPA: [ʏ] mus (pl: mussen) - - -
U, UU IPA: [y] fuut (pl: futen) - - -


The Dutch language has several digraphs (sounds made by combining letters)

Written form in Dutch Spoken form in Dutch Dutch example English approximation Actual pronunciation of the English approximation English example
AU / OU IPA: [ʌʊ] mout OW IPA: [aʊ] now
OE IPA: [u] doen OO IPA: [uw] You
EU IPA: [ø] leuk - - -
IJ / EI IPA: [ɛɪ] ei I IPA: [aɪ] like
UI IPA: [œʏ] ui OW (more like Dutch ou) IPA: [aʊ] now

When using barbarisms or neologisms it is not uncommon to use foreign accents.

  • Überhaupt (German)
  • Prêt a porter (French)
  • Paté (French)
  • Trève (French)

Besides these foreign words the French accent aigu is also used to emphasise a sound or distinguish between two similar words. The accent aigu is primarily used on the e in the word een to distinguish between;
een = a / an
één = one

Dutch also uses the dieresis to indicate a syllable break. For example in the word knieën. In this case the dieresis indicates the syllable structure of this word is knie-en (pronounced IPA: ˈkniən), and not kni-een, a non-existing word that would have a different pronunciation (namely IPA: kniˈen).

Most consonants are pronounced like in English, although there will mostly be minor differences. Dutch does not, for example, aspirate unvoiced plosives. It is also important to realise that in Dutch plosives and fricatives are devoiced when in syllable final position. The more striking differences are listed below.

Written form in Dutch Spoken form in Dutch Dutch example English approximation Actual pronunciation of the English approximation English example
G, CH IPA: [ɣ] or [χ] gaan, macht KH - Scottish loch
J IPA: [j] jaar Y IPA: [j] year
R variable rood R IPA: [ɹ] red
W IPA: [ʋ] water W IPA: [w] water

Numbers[edit]

1 één, 2 twee, 3 drie, 4 vier, 5 vijf, 6 zes, 7 zeven, 8 acht, 9 negen, 10 tien, 11 elf, 12 twaalf, 13 dertien, 14 veertien, 15 vijftien, 16 zestien, 17 zeventien, 18 achttien, 19 negentien.

Starting from 20, counting always takes place by adding the numbers one through nine before the decimal and adding en.
20 twintig, 21 eenentwintig, 22 tweeëntwintig, 23 drieëntwintig, 24 vierentwintig, 25 vijfentwintig etc.
30 dertig, 40 veertig, 50 vijftig, 60 zestig, 70 zeventig, 80 tachtig, 90 negentig, 100 honderd, 200 tweehonderd, 300 driehonderd etc.

1000 duizend, 2000 tweeduizend, 3000 drieduizend etc. 10.000 tienduizend, 100.000 honderdduizend, 1.000.000 miljoen, 1.000.000.000 miljard, 1.000.000.000.000 biljoen.

eerste first zesde sixth
tweede second zevende seventh
derde third achtste eighth
vierde fourth negende ninth
vijfde fifth tiende tenth

Pronouns[edit]

ik I
jij/je you (singular)
hij he
zij she
het it
wij/we we
jullie you (plural)
zij they
mij/me me
jou/je you (singular)
hem/'m him
haar/d'r her
het it
ons us
jullie you (plural)
hen/hun them
mijn/m'n my
jouw/je your (singular)
zijn/z'n his
haar/d'r her
- its
ons, onze our
jullie your (plural)
hun their

Note: When the Dutch forms come in pairs the one to the left is the stressed and official form and the one to the right the unstressed and less official form. The forms 'm and d'r are spoken forms that shouldn't be used in written form outside chat rooms. The difference between the use of hen and hun is slowly fading, though the official use of hun is only as a possesive adjective instead of a personal pronoun.

Articles[edit]

De The (masculine / feminine)
Het The (neuter)
Een A / an (indefinite)

Regular verbs[edit]

Present continuous
Leren (= to learn) Lopen (= to walk)
Ik leer Ik loop
Jij leert Jij loopt
Hij / zij / het leert Hij / zij / het loopt
Wij leren Wij lopen
Zij leren Zij lopen
Jullie leren Jullie lopen

Irregular verbs[edit]

Present continuous
Zijn (= to be)
Ik ben I am
Jij bent You are (singular)
Hij / zij/ het is He / she / it is
Wij zijn We are
Jullie zijn You are (plural)
Zij zijn They are

Lessons[edit]

Learning Dutch