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Dutch spelling is rather phonetic: each letter and each letter
combination is usually pronounced the same way, and there is just one
way of writing for each sound - though you need to understand the spelling rules
for 'long' and 'short' vowels, and (of course!) there are some problems and
In most European languages, vowels and consonants are represented by the same letters. There are of course exceptions, and especially in English most vowels go by other letters - and when you listen closely there are almost always small differences in sound.
When you're learning Dutch words, you'll come across spelling and pronunciation that looks illogical or irregular - this page and the next (still in preparation) will help you understand those issues.
For a complete overview of Dutch Pronunciation go to: Pronunciation Reference
|'Long' and 'Short' Vowels||
||'Voiceless, Unstressed E'||
|Exceptions to Phonetic Spelling:|
||Unexpected 'Short A'||
||G and CH|
||H after T||
||the -IG ending|
||the -ISCH ending||
||the -LIJK ending|
|'voiceless, unstressed E' ('schwa')
| short I
long I (IE)
- al ('already') >> - star ('rigid, inflexible') - hart ('heart') - zak ('bag; pocket') - kat ('cat')
- ja ('yes') - daar ('there') - slaap 2 ('sleep') - taal 2 3 ('language')
- test ('test') - en 2 ('and') - ster ('star') - hek ('fence') - grens ('border')
- nee ('no') - veel 2 3 ('many, much') - meer 2 ('more; a lake') - zeep ('soap') - twee ('2')
- ik 2 3 (' I ') - wit ('white') - stil ('quiet, silent') - niks ('nothing') - fris 2 ('fresh; chilly')
long I, IE:
- hier 2 ('hier') - niet 2 ('not') ->> - ziek ('sick, ill') - drie ('3') - vriend 2 ('friend')
- of ('or') - hond ('dog') - wol ('wool') - krom 2 ('bent, crooked')
- boot 2 ('boat') - oog ('eye') - oor ('ear') - boom ('tree') - doos ('box')
- hut ('hut') - hulp ('help, assistance') - spul ("stuff") - rust ('rest, quiet')
- nu 2 ('now') - U ('you' - formal) - uur ('hour') - duur ('expensive') - vuur 2 ('fire')
A double vowel is always 'long' but a single vowel can be either 'long' or 'short' - but you can tell from the letters around it.
man (man, a male)
vlo 2 (flea)
vloten 2 (fleets)
vlot 2 3 (raft)
vlotten 2 3 (rafts)
'Long I' is often written as IE (there is
no 'II' for 'long I') - also when the rules say single I would be enough.
- dier 2 ('animal') - dieren 2 ('animals') - rivier ('river') - flexibel 2 ('flexible')
You'll also need to know about the shuffle of single and double vowels and consonants for adjectives, plurals and verbs.
Unfortunately, compound words keep the spelling and pronunciation of
the constituting parts and the rules for 'short' and 'long' vowels above may
not apply. For instance:
komen ('to come') - komma 2 ('comma')
- but: komaf 2 ('origin, descent')
Double consonants are pronounced as a single consonant, not 'longer' or with a pause in between. They usually indicate that a single vowel before them is 'short.'
dubbel (double) - dubbeldekker 2 (doubledecker bus; biplane)
bal / ballen (ball/balls)
vis / vissen (fish/fish(es))
grot / grotten (cave/ caves)
groot 2 / grote 2 (large, big, tall, great)
/ grootte (size)
Also, some verb forms differ in meaning and spelling but not in pronunciation:
'wij wachten' ('we are waiting') sounds exactly the same as
'wij wachtten' 2 ('we waited, we were waiting')
wij laden 2 (we load, we are loading)
/ wij laadden we loaded, we were loading)
wij praten 2 ('we are talking)
/ wij praatten 2 (we were talking') - more
In normal speech, double consonants in compound words are also pronounced as a single consonant. You would only hear them in deliberately slow speech.
handdoek 2 (towel) - griepprik (flu shot)
let-ter-gre-pen 2 (syllables) - compare: letter 2 ('letter, character')
The Dutch diphthongs:
|AU = OU||EI = IJ|
AU = OU
AU and OU represent the same sound, sound the same - blauwe houweel ("blue pickaxe")
nauw ('narrow, tight') - blauw ('blue') - au! ('ouch!') - dauw ('dew') - gauw ('quick, quickly') - rauw ('raw') - klauw 2 ('claw')
koud ('cold') - oud 2 3 ('old') - zout 2 ('salt') - nou ('now') - vrouw ('woman') - touw ('rope, string') - Gouda ('city in Holland, cheese type')
EI = IJ
EI and IJ represent the same sound, sound the same
- ei hei steil ('egg / moor, heath / steep')
- IJ hij stijl ('body of water near Amsterdam / he / style')
feit ('fact') - vijg 2 ('fig') - wijn 2 ('wine') - reis 2 ('journey, trip') - rijst ('rice')
EU: deur 2 ('door') - neus ('nose') - kleur 2 ('color') - breuk 2 ('crack, breach; fraction')
OE: hoe ('how') - koe ('cow') - goed ('good, well') - stoel ('chair')
UI: ui 2 ('onion') - duim 2 ('thumb') - huis 2 ('house') - bruin 2 3 ('brown')
The examples below are the only one-syllable words with
'voiceless E' ...
de ('the') ->> - te ('at; too') - me ('me') ->> - je ('you') - ge (Flemish 'you') - we ('we') - ze ('she; they')
(The city of Enschede is the only instance I know of where an unaccented single E at the end of a word is not a 'voiceless, unstressed E')
- 'n ('a') - 't ('the; it') ->> - m'n ('my') - z'n ('his') - 'r ('her; ~there') - d'r ('her; ~there')
... but many other one-syllable words start with or end in the letters of the 'voiceless E'-prefixes and suffixes mentioned above but have 'short E.' Prefixes and suffixes are only found in words of more than one syllable.
ik ben 2 ('I am') - bes ('berry') - gen ('gene') - tel ('count') - ver ('far') el ('ell' - ancient length measure) - en 2 ('and') - er ('~there') ->>
When there is one E and another vowel than E or a diphthong in a two-syllable word, it's usually the other vowel or the diphthong that has the stress in the word, and the E will be 'voiceless, unstressed.
- gave 2 ('gift') - geval ('case') - gevaar ('danger')
But also in words of two or more syllables be-, ge-, te- and ver- are not always prefixes and -e, -en, -er and -el are not always suffixes.
Words with several E's are hard for foreign students.
It may well be that single E's before a double vowel are always 'short.'
Look at the examples below to get an idea of the problem. With words like these you'll have to memorize the pattern in the pronunciation, where the stress in the word is.
bevel ('order') - beven 2 ('to tremble') - benen 2 ('legs') - gezel ('companion') - gesel ('whip, scourge') - tegen ('against') - vertel ('tell me') - verte 2 ('far off, ~distance') - verven 2 ('to paint')
spelregel 2 ('a game rule')
veldleger ('army in the field')
berenvel ('bear skin')
medemens ('a fellow human')
reservedeken ('a spare blanket')
B at the end of words pronounced as P
At the end of words and before T, B is pronounced as P
eb 2 ('ebbtide') - lab ('lab, laboratory') - ik heb ('I have') - jij hebt 2 ('you have')
- but as B in the middle of a word: wij hebben 2 ('we have')
Also in compound words: - labjas ('lab coat') - compare with: lapjes ('patches, pieces of fabric')
D at the end of words pronounced as T
ik had 2 ('I had') - brood 2 ('bread, a loaf of bread')
- but as D in the middle of a word: wij hadden 2 3 4 ('we had') - broden 2 ('loaves of bread, breads')
Compare: boot 2 ('boat') - boten 2 ('boats')
DT is pronounced as T
breedte ('width' - "breadth") - handtekening ('signature') - hij wordt 2 ("he becomes ..." - compare with: ik word ("I become ...") - see also: the passive voice)
G / CH
There is no sound in English like Dutch G/CH but a similar sound is found in European Spanish, and in Hebrew and Arabic.
nacht (night) - dag 2 (day; goodbye) - chaos ('chaos') - gast 2 (guest)
There may be a slight difference between how CH and G are pronounced by Dutch people, but students shouldn't worry about that.
H after T is not pronounced
theorie 2 ('theory') - apotheek 2 ('pharmacy') - thuis ('at home') - thema ('theme')
Compare: thee ('tea') / teen ('toe')
-IG ending: voiceless E - G
veilig ('safe') - vorig ('previous') - weinig 2 ('little, few') - grimmig 2 ('grisly, grim') - vermenigvuldigen 2 3 ('to multiply') - gezellig 2 3 4 5 (somewhat untranslatable: '~pleasant, ~nice, ~enjoyable, ~gregarious, ~cosy' ->>)
-ISCH ending: Dutch long I - S, no CH
chemisch ('chemical') - elektrisch ('electric') - medisch ('medical')
Dutch J is like English 'Consonant Y'
jakkes! ('yuck!') - jong ('young') - jongen ('boy') - jaar ('year')
-LIJK ending: 'IJ as voiceless, unstressed E'
rijkelijk ("richly," 'abundantly') - vrijelijk ('freely, liberally') - verrukkelijk ('delicious') - ijselijk ("ice-ly" 'dreadful, frightening') - lelijk 2 ('ugly')
CH in SCHR is not pronounced
- schroef ('a screw') - schram ('scratch') - schrijven 2 3 ('to write') ->> - verschrikkelijk ('horrible')
Some Dutchmen pronounce a faint G in SCHR, but I have great difficulty doing that. - schrapen SR 2 3 / SCHR 2 ('to scrape') (It is possible that I insert the 'faint G' subconsciously)
Single U in UW is always long
Uw ('your' - polite) - duw ('a push') - zenuw ('nerve') - zwaluw ('swallow' - a bird) - sluw ('sly, clever') - schuw ('very shy')
Keep lips relaxed, not rounded as if for a kiss like in English W; Dutch W starts with the front upper teeth touching the lower lip, but not clearly blowing out air like for a V or F. The sound is formed in the back of the mouth, and not in the front like English W.
ik was ('I was; I'm washing') - waar ('where; true') ->> - week 2 ('week') - woord ('word')
Compare: wet ('law') / vet ('grease, fat')
W before R is pronounced as V
wreed ('cruel') - wrijven ('to rub') - wrijving 2 ('friction') - wrak ('wrecked ship') - wraak ('revenge') - wrat 2 ('wart')
Compare: wrede ('cruel') / vrede ('peace')
- More Exceptions and Irregularities
More Good Dutch Smartphone Pages
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