Many learners of Dutch as a second language or foreign language use to get stuck when learning Dutch as it is a very extensive language compared to many other languages. There are many rules you won’t get immediately and will cost you a lot of effort even when you think you know how to apply them.


Dutch flag of country of Dutch language
Flag of the Netherlands. (Source: Visualhunt)

Dutch grammar is so broad and complex that there are always exceptions to several rules that normal should be taken into account for better mastering the language.

It’s a fact that grammar is a language’s most important aspect for understanding how it literally works, it is the fundament of the structure of the whole. So, it will be necessary to fully understand the pitfalls in order to master the Dutch language.

You won’t always find in books or other learning materials what some main exceptions are when we study this complex language, therefore we will mention some of those rules where most people will slip up.

Not to terrify you but even speakers of Dutch as their mother tongue will many times get into confusion or forget how to use some of those rules. Although, whenever you are up to date with this data, you will quickly be immune for falling into such pitfalls in the future.

To introduce you to frequent mistakes that Dutch learners use to make, we can see learners make mistakes in the use of all kinds of grammatical aspects. We will mention exceptional rules you won’t be introduced to in most other parts.

Dutch Grammar Rules: Nouns, Articles And Gender Exceptions

This is a very confusing topic for many. In Dutch grammar, nouns are either masculine, feminine or neuter. The general rules indicate that nouns that are masculine of feminine belong to a definite article which is ‘’de’’ and neuter nouns to the definite article ‘’het’’.

This seems simple but whenever we try to apply this rule in the real world, we will get stuck easily because we do not know exactly when to apply any of these articles.

We can recognise when a noun is masculine or feminine when it has an ending in -ing, -ie, -ij, -heid, -teit, -a, -nis, -st, -schap, -de, -te, -e.

Nouns with these endings are followed by the definite article ‘’de’’: De vrijheid (The liberty); De ruimte (The Space).

Nouns with endings in -isme, -ment, -sel and -um are considered neuter and nouns with these endings are followed by the definite article ‘’het’’. Nouns of two syllables beginning with be-, ge-, ver- and ont-, as well as diminutive nouns are followed by ‘’het’’: Het schaap (The sheep); Het monument (The monument).

Check for more examples.

These are just some basic examples. To be specific, you will easily get in trouble with this rule and you will not easily understand when to apply ‘’de’’ or ‘’het’’.

What many other sources don’t tell you is that there is not any specific method to apply to differentiate the nouns according to what they belong to. The only key for this is to get really familiar with the nouns and little by little you will get more used to it.

Learning Dutch Spelling And Dutch Alphabet Pronunciation: Vowels And Consonants In Words

The principle rule is that alone standing vowels as e, a, i, o and u are pronounced as short vowels; when they are repeated or accompanied by another vowel they become long vowels: ee, aa, ie, oo, uu. In one-syllable words, alone standing vowels are short and when the vowel is repeated, they will become long sounded: man (short ‘a’); maan (long ‘a’).

In words with two syllables as in for example ‘’haken’’, the ‘’a’’ is pronounced as a long vowel sound because of that the first syllable is closed with a single consonant ‘’k’’. If we repeated that consonant: ‘’hakken’’, the ‘’a’’ becomes a short vowel sound.

The same applies in: Boten (long ‘o’) and Botten (short ‘o’); Leken (long ‘e’) and Lekken (short ‘e’).

We can find this in all kinds of words, they can be nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. When for example a one-syllable noun or verb has a long sound (e.g. Raam; Leek), when they are changed with an inflection or get converted into words with two or more syllables, one vowel will be removed but the sound will be still a long vowel sound: Raam → Ramen (here the a is still a long ‘a’); Leek → Leken (still a long ‘e’).

When we see a short vowel in a one-syllable word (Ram; Lek) or a by consonants closed syllable within a word (‘a’ in ‘’Buurman’’), when the word is inflected and converted into a word with more syllables, the last consonant in most cases should be repeated in order to let the short vowel stay short: Ram → Rammen; Lek → Lekken; Buurman → Buurmannen.

Because if we spell it as ‘’Buurmanen’’, the ‘’a’’ will be pronounced as a long vowel sound, which is WRONG.

With an exception for some words: Blad (short ‘a’) → Bladeren (plural - long ‘a’); in this example the short vowel in its singular form becomes a long vowel when pluralised.

Learn Dutch Spelling Rules And Exceptions Of Verbs And Their Inflections

Many verbs when they go along with a second person singular pronoun, the original stem should end in –t: Ik hoor (I hear) → Hij hoort (He hears). Verbs that already end in ‘’t’’ naturally have no additional ‘’t’’.

Many Dutch learners and even native speakers make the mistake when a verb ends with ‘’d’’ (e.g. Houd; Lijd), that they don’t add a ‘’t’’ to the end while this is OBLIGATORY: Ik houd → Jij Houdt; Ik lijd → Jij lijdt.

The past participle in Dutch grammar is written with a stem ending in -d and a prefix such as ge- or be-: Hoor → Gehoord.

Exceptions are when the last letter of the stem is a t, k, f, s, ch or p; here the verb in past participle should end in ‘’t’’: Hoop → Gehoopt.

This leads many people to confusion, they use –t at the end of a stem when they should add –d and vice versa.

Gebeuren (to happen) → Gebeurt (happens) → Gebeurd (happened).

I studied these and more grammar rules during my Dutch courses London

Dutch grammar
Dutch language grammar. (Source: Visualhunt)

The Dutch Pronunciation

You probably know that there exist some tough pronunciations. Pronunciations that cost Dutch learners the most effort are:

  • eu’ [ø] as in ‘’Neus’’ (nose)
  • uu’ [y] as in ‘’Muur’’ (wall)
  • u’ [ʏ] as in ‘’Mus’’ (sparrow)
  • ui’ [œy] as in ‘’Fruit’’ (fruit)
  • eeu’ [eːu] as in ‘’Leeuw’’ (lion)
  • ou’ [ɔu] as in ‘’Goud’’ (gold)
  • ij’ [ɛi] as in ‘’Lijm’’ (glue)

As well as the consonants:

  • g’ and ‘ch’ [x] as in ‘’Goed’’ and ‘’Acht’’ (these have different intensities in pronouncing depending on the regions where the language is spoken, in Flemish and Dutch from the south usually pronounce it softer)
  • r’ [r] as in ‘’Rood’’ (red), this ‘r’ is very different from the English one
  • w’ [ʋ] as in ‘’Weer’’ (weather)
  • Always take into account that the ‘v’ is always pronounced as ‘f

It is no issue if you speak without pronouncing everything flawlessly and full fluency, but these pronunciations will help you a lot.

Check for a broader list of Dutch pronunciation and learn more about the most common Dutch errors.

Dutch Compound Nouns

As a beginner, you might quickly become confused when seeing large words or notice that several words together form one word. In Dutch we will find multiple nouns with an aggregation of an adjective, verb or preposition.

Examples of those nouns are ‘’koffiekopje’’ (the coffeecup), ‘’rugzaktoerisme’’ (backpack tourism), ‘’kosten-batenanalyse’’ (cost-benefit analysis), and even longer ones as ‘’voetbalverslaggevingsjargon’’ (football coverage jargon).

Unlike other languages, in Dutch the nouns and adjectives, verbs and prepositions that describe the noun go together without spaces in between.

How To Learn Dutch Effectively

Dutch is a very broad and complex language and the Dutch grammar can at first sight be literally a nightmare. Most grammatical aspects can vary a lot and even while knowing the exceptions you will not learn it overnight with such easiness.

In order to achieve our aims and master the language we should:

  • Practise with full dedication
  • Have a lot of consistency
  • Have as much attention possible to the smallest details
  • At first build up a reasonable basis of grammar knowledge before further developing your skills
  • Attain a better reading comprehension
  • Improve your writing skills
  • Train your vocabulary as much as you can (especially nouns with their belonging articles and verbs)
  • Challenge your listening skills
  • MOST IMPORTANT: interact as much as you can with Dutch speakers


Learning Dutch by conversation
Having conversations in the Dutch language. (Source: Visualhunt)

Dutch is a language you will not learn just from books and learning materials, there will always be things that make us improve the language from social interaction and having an effective conversation. While you endeavour to speak with other Dutch speakers you will come across many expressions, sayings, colloquialisms and linguistic aspects you will not get from most books.

At the same time you will become familiar a lot faster and you will be challenged to use the knowledge you already know and possibly correct yourself when you are wrong.

The most important thing of social interaction in Dutch is that you will find parts where no specific theoretical rules or methods can be applied. Such as the variety of different uses of Dutch words, nouns, gender, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and so on. They many times can’t be explained with ease and it is a matter of memorising.

We also should consider what we are studying Dutch for. If we learn Dutch for a specific purpose, then we should prioritise this purpose and learn vocabulary and all related to this specific kind of purpose.

Now you have a jump on basic grammar for when you start your Dutch lessons!

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