Dutch Courses » Beginner’s Course » Part 1

Dutch Beginner’s Course Part 1

Welcome to the Dutch beginner’s course for English speakers. Grammatical terms are introduced where they are needed, and explained. The first chapter about the alphabet is very detailed. You can skip it now or glance it through, and return to it when you need it.

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


    Nouns are very important words in Dutch. Names of persons and things are nouns. Names of vague things (like concepts and ideas) are nouns also.

    boek - book
    taart - cake

    When we talk about more than one book, we add en to the singular noun boek. The result is the plural noun boeken. Many plural nouns are made this way.

    boeken - books
    taarten - cakes
    woorden - words
    vliegtuigen - planes
    landen - countries

    Many other nouns are made plural by adding s to it.

    tafels - tables
    kamers - rooms
    hotels - hotels
    bakkers - bakers

    Spelling of plural nouns

    The plural of a noun is often adapted a little, mainly because of the pronunciation.

    The s is often changed to z.
    het huis, de huizen - the house, the houses
    het glas, de glazen - the glass, the drinking glasses
    The f is often changed to v. The pronunciation difference is small.
    de druif, de druiven - the grape, the grapes
    An extra letter is added, when just adding en causes a wrong pronunciation.
    de tak, de takken - the branch, the branches
    A letter is dropped when it is not needed to guarantee the right pronunciation.
    de taak, de taken - the task, the tasks
    A diaeresis can be placed on the first letter of a syllable. In this case it shows that ee (of the first syllable) and e (of the second) are not one sound. The letter ë is pronounced like a normal e.
    de slee, de sleeën - the sleigh, the sleighs

    Note: This kind of adaptations also occur when other words (like verbs) are involved.


    An article is a word that precedes a noun. There are three articles in Dutch: de, het and een.
    The e in het is pronounced as e in mess, when stressed. When it is not stressed, it is pronounced not that sharp.
    The e in de is pronounced as u in hurtle. The ee in een also. It is a soft and short vowel. If you would pronounce ee in een as ay, you would say a number: one (1).

    Definite articles

    The words de and het both mean the. They precede a noun when we are talking about a specific object or person. Therefore they are called definite articles.

    het boek - the book
    de taart - the cake
    Zij heeft het boek. - She has the book.
    Zet de taart op die tafel. - Put the cake on that table.

    Some words take de, and some take het. However, in the plural, all words take de.

    Plural examples:
    de boeken - the books
    de meisjes - the girls
    de stoelen - the chairs
    de tafels - the tables
    Ze heeft de boeken teruggegeven. - She has returned the books.

    The same subjects in the singular:
    het boek - the book
    het meisje - the girl
    de stoel - the chair
    de tafel - the table
    Ze heeft het boek teruggegeven. - She has returned the book.

    Indefinite article

    The word een means a or an. It is used when you talk about something that is not specified. Therefore een is called an indefinite article.

    een boek - a book
    een taart - a cake
    een technicus - a technician
    een appel - an apple
    een week - a week

    In the next example a book is mentioned, but we don’t know which one. Because the book is not specified, we use een.
    Ze leest een boek, maar ik weet niet welke. - She reads a book, but I don’t know which one.

    In the next example a coat is mentioned. The speaker does not mind at the moment which one. We use een.
    Ze heeft een jas meegenomen, maar niet haar eigen jas. - She took a coat with her, but not her own coat.

    We use een (which means a or an) to introduce a new person, thing, or animal.
    Ik zag een vogel. De vogel zat op een lantarenpaal. - I saw a bird. The bird sat on a lamppost.

    Normally the word een doesn’t precede a plural word.
    boeken - books
    taarten - cakes
    Ik lees graag boeken. - I like to read books.
    Ik bak taarten voor dat bedrijf. - I bake cakes for that company.


    An adjective tells something about a noun. In this example, the noun is boek. We use the adjective groen (green) to mention the color of a book. When de or het proceeds the noun, one letter must be added to the adjective. This letter (a suffix) is e. It is added to groen to make groene.

    het groene boek - the green book
    de groene tafel - the green table

    When a noun is preceded by een, there are two possibilities. If het can be placed before a certain noun, we don’t add e to the adjective. In this example the adjective is groen, because it precedes a het-noun.

    een groen boek - a green book

    If de can be placed before the noun, we add e to the adjective. In this example the adjective is groene, because it precedes a de-noun.

    een groene tafel - a green table

    When the noun is plural, we always add e to the adjective.

    groene boeken - green books
    groene tafels - green tables
    de groene boeken - the green books
    de groene tafels - the green tables

    Sometimes a word must loose a letter when the pronunciation is not affected by it. This happens to groot. When the e suffix is added, oo must be shorted to o. The word grote is the result. Compare groot with groen, which cannot be “abbreviated”.

    het grote schip - the big ship
    de grote auto - the big car
    een groot schip - a big ship
    een grote auto - a big car
    de grote schepen - the big ships
    de grote auto’s - the big cars

    Let’s translate “a blue bike” into Dutch.

  • a is found in the dictionary: een.
  • blue is found in the dictionary: blauw.
  • bike is found in the dictionary: de fiets.
  • We just read how to deal with an adjective, when it is preceded by een. In this case (fiets is a de-noun), we add an e to blauw. We get: blauwe.
  • Result: een blauwe fiets

    Let’s translate “a big car” into Dutch.

  • a is found in the dictionary: een.
  • big is found in the dictionary: groot.
  • car is found in the dictionary: de auto.
  • We read how to deal with an adjective, when it is preceded by een. In this case (auto is a de-noun), we add an e to groot.
  • Because the pronunciation will not be affected by it, we must drop one o and get: grote.
  • Result: een grote auto

    There are three other rules for adaptations to the spelling of adjectives. The four spelling rules apply also to plural nouns and verbs.

    If an adjective ends with s , then change this letter to z when you add e to the word.
    Een grijs dak. Het grijze dak. - A grey roof. The grey roof.
    Een ambitieus plan. Het ambitieuze plan. - An ambitious plan. The ambitious plan.

    If an adjective ends with f , then change this letter to v when you add e to the word.
    Een creatief plan. Het creatieve plan. - A creative plan. The creative plan.

    If an adjective has one of the following vowels: a, e, i, o, u, then the consonant (following the vowel) has to be doubled, when the pronunciation of the vowel would change (which is not correct) because of the adding of an e. When you add e, then the vowel is suddenly part of an open syllable. In that case the vowel would be pronounced as one of the Dutch sounds aa, ee, ie, oo, or uu, but that is not correct. So we add a vowel to close the syllable.
    Een zwak paard. Het zwakke paard. - A weak horse. The weak horse.
    Een bot mes. Het botte mes. A dull knife. The dull knife.

    Two of these rules are causing spelling adaptations to the word draadloos.
    Een draadloos apparaat. Het draadloze apparaat. - A wireless device. The wireless device.

    Dutch words used as adjectives and adverbs

    In Dutch, some words are used as adjectives and adverbs as well. It is an adjective when you say:
    Een snel schip. - A quick ship.

    It is an adverb when you say:
    Het schip roest snel. - The ship rusts quickly.
    It’s the rusting that is quickly. Quickly says something about the verb to rust.

    When the verb is zijn (to be), the adverb says something about the verb to be, and therefore about the subject being something.
    Het boek is groen. - The book is green.

    It does not matter if the noun is preceded by de or het, the spelling is the same. We get:
    Het boek is groen. - The book is green.
    De tafel is groen. - The table is green.

    When the noun is preceded by een, we get:
    Een boek is groen als de kaft groen is. - A book is green, when the cover is green.
    Een boek is rood als de kaft rood is. - A book is red, when the cover is red.
    Een tafel is blauw als het blad blauw is. - A table is blue, when the top is blue.

    When the noun is plural, we get:
    De boeken zijn groen. - The books are green.
    De tafels zijn groen. - The tables are green.
    Weilanden zijn groen. - Pastures are green.

    Continue to part 2

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