It’s one thing to translate a word into another language. But getting to know language-specific words can take your knowledge of a culture to the next level!
Nederland (“the Netherlands”) has such original food, lifestyle, and way of looking at things that it would be a shame to miss out on the following 80+ Dutch words.
As in any language, some words are just too typical or grammatically necessary to leave out of everyday conversations.
Two small words you’ll need to get the hang out of while you’re studying Dutch, are the translations for the definite article “the”. That’s right. Just as in French, Spanish, and German, Dutch has multiple options when it comes to the singular form of the definite article.
Trying to figure out when to use het or de might seem like a challenge, but being able to correctly refer to de tafel (“the table”) and het raam (“the window”) will make you look like a natuurtalent (“natural”) in front of your new Dutch friends.
The Dutch manage to make everything sound cute. By adding the suffixes -tje, -je, or -pje to pretty much any noun, you’ll fit into any conversation, whether casual or serious.
Do you fear that ordering a biertje (“little beer”) at a bar might result in you receiving a tiny beer? Give it a go, and you’ll notice that the Dutch order their regular-sized drinks the same way.
The Dutch like their diminutives so much that they even make adjectives out of them, like the long huisje-boompje-beestje. Although it literally translates into “little house, little tree, and little animal”, it’s used to describe something simple and boring.
If you’d like to talk like a true Dutch person, you’ll need to know what little words to drop into everyday conversations! Use these stopwoordjes (“little filler words”) a couple of times, and you’ll fit in immediately.
Instead of answering a question affirmatively with a ja (“yes”), you could also use zeker (“certainly”). It’s often used and sounds more positive and confident, which are two Dutch characteristics.
When starting a new sentence, no one would frown at you for using the Dutch equivalent of “well”, which is nou. It’s often overused.
An adjective and adverb that is used similarly to the English “really”, is echt. You could use it for saying something is echt leuk (“really nice”) or use it as a question: echt? (meaning “really?”)
Functioning as an interjection, the word hoor doesn’t have an exact English translation. It can be used to emphasize something and is placed at the end of a sentence, when answering a question, or saying something with confidence. The English words that you could compare it with are “of course” and “alright”.
Zeg is a similar interjection to hoor. If placed at the beginning of a sentence, it could be translated into the adverb “say”. At the end of a sentence, it would be more fitting to translate it as “alright”.
Some other words you could place at the end of many Dutch sentences are en zo and of zo (literally translating into “and so” and “or so”). Both of the little word groups are the equivalent of “et cetera”. While they may seem like strange endings, en zo and of zo are classic filler words.
Aside from often being described as direct, confident, open, and even a tad rude, the Dutch are considered happy, outgoing people. And their language reflects that. The Dutch could give you hundreds of other ways of saying fantastisch (“fantastic”), so here are just a few examples.
When something is great, describing it as leuk (“nice”) simply doesn’t cut it. Instead, you could get your Dutch optimism on with words like toppie (“awesome”), helemaal te gek (similar to the Australian “far out”), or mooi (“beautiful”).
When a conversation feels warm, and the setting is cozy, you could say it’s gezellig. Looking forward to something fun that’s going to happen can give you a good feeling or voorpret. It literally translates into “before fun”.
And if you’re going to have a lot of fun, you’re a gelukzak. Although the word literally translates into “bag of luck”, it just means you’re a lucky guy or girl.
Don’t be scared if your Dutch boss speaks to you in a direct way. It’s part of Dutch culture not to put too much fluff into conversations. Although they might only address what you did wrong, your boss probably thinks you are lekker bezig (“on a roll”) and that your parents must be apetrots (literally “monkey proud” but meaning very proud).
Although not even one percent of today’s Dutch are farmers, visitors to the Netherlands will often get to see the exact landscape they dreamed of before they arrived. You’ll probably notice the green meadows with cows and the occasional classic molen (“mill”) when you drive between cities.
Even if tulpen (“tulips”) aren’t native to the Netherlands, they have become a symbol of the country’s romantic farmland image, along with klompen (“clogs’), traditional, wooden farming footwear.
The Netherlands has a proportionally long shoreline, with many wadden (“mudflats”) laying in front of it. They’re perfect for a day of uitwaaien (literally “to blow out”, but meaning “going for some fresh air”).
Because part of the country lies beneath sea level, the shore is protected by dijken (“dykes”). In many cities, there are grachten (“canals”) and kanalen (“channels”) where you’ll spot woonboten (“houseboats”).
Fietsen (“to bike”) is a popular way of getting around. It’s also a cherished pastime. Some of the bikes even have boxes on the side to move cargo, kids, or pets. They’re called bakfietsen (literally “box bikes”).
During winter, with sneeuw (“snow”) covering the landscape, you’ll still see people grab their bikes. The Dutch even look forward to their rivers freezing. It allows them to ijsschaatsen (“ice skate”) on them, a popular winter sport.
The Dutch might tell you that their classic dinner meal consists of three ingredients: aardappels, groente en vlees (or “potatoes, vegetables, and meat”). But there’s so much more to their food culture! Because of the growing international population, there’s a lot of exotic influence in Dutch cuisine.
And if you were to focus on traditional Dutch food only, you’d still discover a variety of sweet and savory dishes to try. Eet smakelijk (“enjoy your meal”)!
A typical lunch consists of boterhammen en soep (“sandwiches and soup”), with the sandwiches either containing kaas (“cheese”), fine meat-products, or wisps of chocolate or sugar, known as hagelslag. Pindakaas (“peanut butter”) is another Dutch boterham favorite. Muisjes (literally “mice”) are tiny sugary balls that usually come in blue or pink and are used to put on beschuit (Dutch crisp bakes) to celebrate a child’s birth.
Greasy but yummy Dutch food, you can get out of vending machines uit de muur (“out of the wall”). Think of kroketten (“croquettes”), bitterballen (deep-fried meatballs), and frikandellen (minced-meat hot dogs).
For the sweet tooths, there are pannenkoeken (Dutch pancakes), poffertjes (tiny puffy pancakes), and stroopwafels (wafers with a caramel filling). Yum!
If you’re still not full after trying all of those delicious Dutch classics, you could devour some kruidnoten (small balls of gingerbread) or drop (“licorice”). Afterward, you’ll probably need to uitbuiken (literally “outbellying”; relax and digest because your stomach did such a good job).
Language can tell you a lot about a culture. The same goes for Dutch. And even if the locals don’t often use words like klompen or tulpen, they’re definitely what new learners of the Dutch language think of when they have to sum up national symbols.
Whether you’re interested in learning about Dutch filler words, ways to express optimism, everyday life, or food, you’re sure to pick up some culture-specific behavior or traditions. It’s exactly what makes learning a new language zo plezierig (“so much fun”).
Succes met het leren van Nederlands! / Good luck learning Dutch!
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Lisa is a multilingual freelance copywriter and blogger who spent the past year living out of a Jeep somewhere in Australia. When she’s not writing or traveling, she likes to browse through museum shops, sing to her plants, and learn new languages. You can find her Indonesian cultural language course Bali in a few words. on her website, lisasvividwriting.com.