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Alphabet and Pronunciation

In the first table of this chapter, the most common pronunciations of letters are shown. The sound of a Dutch letter is compared to the sound of an English letter. “Weak approximation” means that the sounds are not equal.
English words in the list are pronounced the British way. This means, for example, that your lips have a small circular shape when you say the English word dot or the Dutch word op. Sometimes, a Dutch sound is compared to a Spanish, French or German sound.

Vowels are letters that have more sound and clearness than the other letters. In the first column of the table, all vowels are in red font. The letters g, j and ch are interesting too. The sound files contain names of Dutch towns and villages.

letterused insounds likeinthis is in sound file
aavondaMadrid (Spanish)aApeldoorn (equal to aa)
cpreciessseacsee s
ezebraaymayeLelystad (equal to ee)
buch (German)
loch (Scottish)
Juan (Spanish)
gDen Haag
hhijhhearhDen Haag
idirecteestreetiBlaricum (equal to ie)
oopenoopenoEindhoven (equal to oo)
oopodoto Dordrecht
qaquariumqquestionqsounds like kw.
rterreinrtierra (Spanish)rBarneveld
uurenüMünchen (German)uUtrecht (equal to uu)
yyoghurtyyesysee j

aaaanaMadrid (Spanish)aaMaastricht
eizeiilike (weak approximation)eiLeiden
Köln (German)
jeune (French)
ijhijilike (weak approximation)ijIJsselstein
uiuitoyboys (weak approximation)uiSluis
uuuurüMünchen (German)uuWijk bij Duurstede

buch (German)
loch (Scottish)
Juan (Spanish)

Pronunciation in Words

Pronunciation of aa, ee, oo, and eu
The vowels aa, ee, oo, or eu are pronounced as shown in the list. When these vowels are followed by an r, the pronunciation is slightly different. See the Vowel Practice.

Pronunciation of e (like mess), e (like hurtle), and e (like may)
In this small example, syllables with a mess sound are in red font. Syllables with a hurtle sound are blue. Never stress them if possible. When an e is in black font, the sound of the vowel is like in may. That is also the common pronunciation of the Dutch ee.

het (the), en (and), hem (him), fles (bottle), met (with), werd (became), er (there, here)
verder (further), hebben (to have)
de (the), een (a, an, one), me (me), je (jou), ze (she), we (we), te (to)
deze (this, these), geven (to give), leven (to live)
thee (tea), zee (sea), mee (with), één (one), heeft (has)
over (over, above), onder (under), praatte (talked), ruilde (exchanged)
andere (other), Nederland (The Netherlands)

Pronunciation of ei and ij
ei and ij are pronounced the same. In the sound file IJsselstein the sound is heard two times, because ei and ij are both in it.
This is an approximation of the sound:

  • Say “light” and “late”.
  • Then say the vowels only: “i” and “a”. ei is somewhere in between.
  • Say “iaiaia” (English vowels) until the two sounds become one.
    This is a method to approximate ei (and ij).
    Note: It is better to produce an English i-sound than an English ay-sound, because the ay-sound is already occupied by another vowel. So, if you miss it, do it on the i side. If you use it in a (long) sentence, you will be more than likely understood.

    Pronunciation of ui
    The pronunciation of ui can be heard in this sound file: Sluis.
    The sound is difficult to describe. You need to hear it to be able to say it. To pronounce the Dutch word uit (out), you can try this approximation:

  • Say “oyt” (as in Lloyd, but the t is sharp).
  • Then open your mouth wide and say “oyt” again. Then you will approximate uit some more.
  • Then try to say that sound without opening your mouth that wide, as dull and soft as possible.
    It is not correct, but it is better to say “oyt” than “yout”. Listen to native speakers to get hold of the pronunciation.

    Pronunciation of uu
    If you want to pronounce uu you can listen to one of these sound files:
    Wijk bij Duurstede.
    Another approach is this:

  • Say the English word when
  • stretch the w. A long sound, almost like buzzing, is the result.
  • Open your mouth just a little more. Now you are approximating the uu sound.

    Less Frequent Pronunciations

    In the first table the most common pronunciations were shown. There are exceptions. Some of them are listed in the table below.

    letterused insounds like the Dutch soundRemark:
    bhebpWhen b is the last letter of a word.
    torganisatiets“tsie” is the normal pronunciation of
    words with a “tie”-ending
    ijmoeilijku“luk” is the normal pronunciation of
    words with a “lijk”-ending
    ijbijzonderie“bijzonder” is an exception
    aeMaesaa(Flemish) surnames, and geographical names

    Words from Foreign Languages

    letterused insounds like the Dutch soundRemark:
    aecollegaeeeThis is Latin. Collega’s is preferred.
    chchauffeursjThe word sounds like the French original.
    cracesThe word sounds like the English original.


    Every word has one or more syllables. Every syllable has one vowel. You can read more about this in the chapter about syllables.

    When a syllable ends with a vowel, we call it an open syllable. When the letters a, i, o, u are part of an open syllable, they are pronounced like: aa, ie, oo, uu. When e is part of an open syllable, it is often pronounced like ee.

    Pronunciation of a
    In avond (evening) the a is pronounced like aa. The a is at the end of a syllable, because the letter v is part of the second.
    The word dat (that) has one syllable. The a is not at the end of the syllable, and is pronounced dull.

    Pronunciation of o
    In open (open) the o is pronounced like oo. The o is at the end of the syllable, because the letter p joins the second syllable. The e is pronounced as “u” in “hurtle”.
    In op (on) the o is not at the end of the syllable. This means it is pronounced dull. In fact, it is not only pronounced dull, but also short, unless you are singing a song with long notes.

    The sound files on this site are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license version 2.5.

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