June 20, 2014 at 12:16 pm #121
Dutch spelling is much more systematic than, for instance, English spelling. There are some rules to learn, but once you know them they are easy to apply. The pronunciation of Dutch may occasionally appear difficult, especially with certain vowel sounds, but as with spelling, the rules for pronunciation are quite systematic.
Spelling and pronunciation go hand in hand, and in the explanation below the two are generally discussed together.
In the following explanation sounds are put in between //. This is a linguistic convention. Letters are put between <>. Words that are grammatically incorrect are preceded by *.
On this page:
The Dutch alphabet has 26 letters, which are divided into vowels (klinkers) and consonants (medeklinkers).
These are the Dutch vowels:
vowel as in translation a kat cat e bel bell i in in o op on u bus bus
The vowels <a>,<e>,<i>,<o> and <u>in the above examples are all pronounced as short vowel sounds. These vowels can also be pronounced as long sounds, in which case certain spelling rules apply (spelling of long vowel sounds)
The letter <e> can be pronounced in three different ways: as the short vowel /e/ as in bel, the long vowel /e:/ as the first in leren, and also as the unstressed /ə/, which is called a ‘schwa’. The schwa can be heard for example in the suffix -en to make the plural of verbs and nouns; e.g. bellen /belən/, leren /le:rən/, tassen /tasən/.
Note that the schwa is also heard in the indefinite article een, which is pronounced /ən/ or in the suffix -lijk, such as in natuurlijk.
All of the above vowels can occur together with another vowel. The combinations <ie>, <oe> and <eu> are pronounced as a singular sound:
vowel as in translation ie niet not oe hoek corner eu leuk nice
In the pronunciation of the other combinations of vowels, however, the two different vowels can be identified. These are called diphthongs. The letter combinations <au> and <ou> represent the same sound (i.e. <au> and <ou> sound the same), as do <ei> and <ij> (i.e. <ei> and <ij> sound the same).
vowel as in translation au auto car ou jouw your ei klein small ij jij you ui huis house
The Dutch consonants are:
consonant as in b België c Canada d Duitsland f Frankrijk g Griekenland h Hongarije j Japan k Kosovo l Letland m Mauritanië n Nederland p Polen q Qatar r Roemenië s Spanje t Turkije v Verenigd Koninkrijk w Wit-Rusland x Mexico z Zweden
Some consonants can be combined with other consonants to produce different sounds:
- In the combination <ng>, as in the word for ‘boy’, jongen, the <ng> is pronounced as /η/, like the sound in the English word ‘sing’.
- The consonants <c> and <h > are combined to form <ch> which is generally pronounced as /g/, but in some loan words, like chocola, the <ch> is pronounced as /sj/.
The letter <c> can be pronounced as either /s/ (cent) or /k/ (cadeau).
The letters <d> and <b>, when occurring at the end of a word, are in fact pronounced as /t/ and /p/ respectively. The <d> in the word goed (‘good’), for instance, is pronounced as /t/, and the <b> in heb (‘have’) is pronounced as /p/.
Consonants are doubled to allow for the spelling of short vowel sounds. One thing to remember is that Dutch words can never end in a double consonant. A word like *basketball would not be correct in Dutch, it should be basketbal.
Some loan words in Dutch have pronunciations that do not follow the above guidelines. Words like computer (from the English) and journalist (from the French) retain most of their original pronunciation. Others are partly adapted to Dutch pronunciation, for instance the word garage. The pronunciations of these words are best memorized as you come across them.
If a long vowel is followed by one or more consonants in the same syllable, it is written double. E.g. naam (‘name’), in which the letters stand for the long vowel /a:/. Other examples:
If these vowel sounds occur as the long vowel in the configuration long vowel-single consonant-any vowel (long V-C-V) in the same word (e.g. in the plural of nouns or verbs), they are written as a single letter:
naam → namen name – names studeer → studeren study – to study woon → wonen live – to live buur → buren neighbour – neighbours
As a general rule you can say that the following sequence is NOT allowed in Dutch spelling:
The plural of the word buur could, following this rule, never be *buuren. The only exception to this rule is the word tweede (‘second’).
The letter <e> is the only long vowel that can appear as a double identical letter at the end of a word:
The long vowel /i:/ is given an additional <e>:
Short vowels are always written as a single letter. When the short vowel is followed by consonants and another vowel, the spelling rule that applies is:
short vowel – consonant – consonant – vowel (short V-C-C-V).
When forming the plural of nouns with –en, or in the conjugation of verbs, or in the formation of comparatives, consonants will need to be doubled after short vowels.
Some examples are:
vak → vakken subject – subjects adres → adressen address – addresses (ik) tennis → (wij) tennissen (I) play tennis – (we) play tennis (ik) heb → (jullie) hebben (I) have – (you) have gek → gekker carzy – crazier
It follows that if the short vowel in a word is already followed by two or more consonants, no doubling of the last consonant is required, because the criterion ‘short V–C–C–V’ has been met. E.g.:
Consider the following:
The above examples show that the letters f/v and s/z form a special case in Dutch spelling. These letters may trigger some changes in the spelling because of the following rules:
- In pronunciation, /v/ becomes /f/ and /z/ becomes /s/ at the end of words and before consonants;
- In spelling, you write what you hear with these sounds (unlike /b/-/p/ and /d/-/t/, see consonants).
Therefore, in Dutch, the letter <v> can be changed into <f> and the letter <z> can be changed into <s> and vice versa. This happens, for example, when conjugating verbs or when forming the plural of nouns, or when forming comparatives.
For example, the verb leven (‘to live’) in its infinitive form is spelled with a <v> in the middle. The stem of that verb, however, cannot end in <v> (*leev is not correct) and the <v> is therefore changed into an <f>.
A similar thing happens when forming the plural of nouns. The noun huis (‘house’), cannot have the plural form *huisen because the <s> can only occur at the end of a word or before a consonant.
Some other examples are:
As in many other languages, Dutch vowels (though not consonants) sometimes receive accent marks. Apart from the imported <ê>, these accent marks do not ‘create’ new vowel sounds but they merely help the reader interpret some of the vowels.
é, á, ó, ú
- The word een (‘one’) normally receives these accent marks (één) to distinguish it in writing from the indefinite article een (‘a’).
- The accent is often given to the word hé: Hé, mag ik misschien jouw adres? (‘Hey, could I have your address?’)
- It is also placed on any vowel that requires stress: Luuk, kom nú naar binnen! (‘Luuk, come inside NOW!’)
ë, ï, ö, ü
The two ‘dots’ on a vowel are called a diaresis (trema in Dutch). You’ll see it most frequently on the letter <e>. It basically tells the reader that the vowel with the diaresis has to be pronounced separately. It occurs in various situations. Some common ones are:
- in non-compound words to prevent two vowels being read as one sound. For instance, if the did not have a diaresis in the word *poezie, the two vowels in the middle would be read as the sound /oe/. To prevent this from happening, the word is spelled as poëzie, telling the reader that the and the have to be pronounced separately. Examples of words with the diaresis on other letters are intuïtie, coöperatie and reünie.
- in the spelling of numbers as in tweeëndertig (‘thirtytwo’).
- at the end of many names of countries: Italië, België.
This accent mark is placed on short vowel sounds, mainly on <e>: Hè, moet ik echt naar binnen? (‘Ahh, do I really have to come inside?’).
You’ll only find this accent mark in loan words like enquête (‘questionnaire’).
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