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Problems in Dutch Pronunciation and Spelling

Dutch spelling is fairly phonetic. In general, there is just one way of writing for each sound, and each letter and each letter combination is usually pronounced in the same way. Once you know the General Rules written Dutch will almost always clearly tell you how to say it, and spoken Dutch will tell you how it's written.
It was only when I started thinking about teaching Dutch that I became aware of the exceptions, words 'not spoken as they're written.' Dutchmen are often not aware of these problems.

This page will deal with exceptions to the general pronunciation rules.

A single vowel can be pronounced as 'short' or 'long.' You may already have seen how this is indicated by the vowel's position in the word, or by the number of consonants following. See Dutch Spelling or Dutch Pronunciation. The E is a special case because next to 'long' and 'short' it can be 'voiceless.'
A few sounds in Dutch can be written in two ways.
Many people in Holland do not pronounce the N's at the end of plurals and verbs. It's accepted, it's not wrong, but I do recommend students to pronounce those final N's. You'll see them written and you'll have to write them anyway. Dropping them will only make learning Dutch more difficult.
In Dutch there is under certain conditions a softening of D to Y (Dutch J.)

A suffix is a letter or combination of letters attached at the end of a word that changes its meaning. In English for instance, an -S or -ES ending indicates a plural (word/words).
A prefix is a letter or combination of letters put at the beginnng of a word that changes its meaning. In English, RE- or CON- are common prefixes, and an A- prefix changes the meaning of a word to its opposite (symmetrical/asymmetrical).
xs Longer words can be divided into syllables, like for instance com-pli-cat-ed. Short words are often just one syllable.
The stress in a word is the part that gets emphasis, is pronounced a little louder. For instance, aMERican.
Please note that short, one-syllable words follow the general pronunciation rules: their beginnings and endings are not prefixes and suffixes (except for the plural and possesive form).

(het) achtervoegsel click to hear 2 3 suffix
(het) voorvoegsel click to hear 2 suffix
(de) klemtoon click to hear 2 stress (grammar)
(de) lettergreep click to hear syllable
click to hear 2

Exceptions to Phonetic Spelling

A few letter combinations are not pronounced as expected. Some of these exceptions may be brought in line with pronunciation in a next spelling change. It will look awful to the people used to the present spelling: incorrect, uneducated, barbaric even, but it will be easier for both native and foreign students.

Pronunciation   Hypothetical Spelling Changes
I in -IG endings: voiceless E   -IG to -UG
aardig weinig click to hear aardug weinug (aarduhg etc.?)
luchtig duchtig gelukkig click to hear luchtug duchtug gelukkug
grimmig grillig zinnig click to hear grimmug grillug zinnug
puntig gunstig slungelig click to hear puntug gunstug slungelug
de zuinige motor click to hear de zuinugge motor (de zuinuhge motor?)
een aardige man click to hear un aardugge man
One-syllable words:
wig lig click to hear
IJ in -LIJK endings: voiceless E   -IJK to UK
eerlijk billijk degelijk click to hear eerluk billuk degeluk
verrukkelijk smakelijk click to hear verrukkeluk smakeluk
rijkelijk tijdelijk wijselijk click to hear rijkeluk tijdeluk wijseluk
degelijke schoenen click to hear degellukke (deguhluhke?) schoenen
een verschrikkelijke winter click to hear un versrikkellukke winter
One-syllable words:
slijk blijk click to hear 2
CH in SCHR is not pronounced   SCHR- to SR-
schrijven schriel schroom  
click to hear
srijven sriel sroom
ISCH is pronounced as EES (Dutch IES)   -ISCH to -IES
logisch basisch kritisch click to hear logies basies krities
H after T is not pronounced   TH- to T-
thee ether theorie click to hear tee eter teorie
teertheorie theeteelt click to hear teerteorie teeteelt
C is either pronounced as K or as S   C to K or S
succes accent cent click to hear sukses aksent sent
W before R is pronounced as V   WR to VR
wreef wrikken wroeten click to hear vreef vrikken vroeten
weerwraak verwrongen click to hear 2 weervraak vervrongen
End-of-Word B is Pronounced as P   (no changes in spelling: mid-word B is NOT pronounced as P.) Writing 'hij hept'  next to wij hebben  would make the problem worse I think
krab krabben stap stappen click to hear
eb ebben step steppen click to hear

End-of-Word D is Pronounced as T   (no changes in spelling: mid-word D is NOT pronounced as T)
vod vodden pot potten click to hear
bord borden sport sportief click to hear

-TIE ending: (English) SEE or (English) TSEE 
 if pronunciation changes a little further: all to -SIE or -XIE Some possible changes look too weird to write down:
polietsie spaatsie tolerantsie writing TS in those words is very strange
after vowels and N: (English) TSEE
politie ambitie spatie click to hear
polietsie ambietsie
evolutie solutie click to hear 2
clementie gratie click to hear
urgentie administratie click to hear
democratie tolerantie click to hear
vakantie click to hear 2
after most consonants: (English) SEE
frictie attractie connectie click to hear
Changing T to S or CT to X is less offensive:
friksie/frixie conneksie/connexie
restrictie reflectie directie click to hear 2 direksie/direxie
other -TIE endings (like -TIEF, -TIER
and -TIEK) are not irregular:
fictie - fictief click to hear
fixie - fiktief
statief - statiegeld click to hear 2 statief - staatsiegeld
positie - positief click to hear 2
gratie - gratis click to hear graatsie - graties
sectie - sekte click to hear 2 seksie/sexie - sekte
selecte selectie click to hear
collectie collecte click to hear 2
False Friends Note: Dutch administratie is just 'bookkeeping,' while Dutch directie means 'the management.'

Sound the Same, Different Spelling

A few sounds in Dutch can be written in two ways. Mistakes are very common. Maybe this will also get a future spelling change.

au/ou: trouw blauw lauw koud click to hear
ei/ij: hei hij mei mij click to hear
ch/g: vlaggen lachen licht ligt click to hear - 2

When is the E voiceless?

A major problem of Dutch pronunciation is that a written E can be either short, long or 'voiceless.' 'Voiceless E' is also (maybe more professionally) called 'unstressed E' or 'the schwa.'
Hear: "e-long" - "e-short" - "e-short" (alternate take) - "e-voiceless".
'Long,' 'short,' and 'voiceless' are just naming conventions. One might as well say there's a difference in tone. 'Voiceless E' is also called 'schwa' ('sjwa' in Dutch.)
snel eten click to hear
deze weg click to hear
het hele meer click to hear

Guidelines to the E-pronunciation do not cover all cases and there are (of course!) exceptions.
Keep in mind that the stress of the word cannot be on a voiceless E: so the E's in unstressed syllables are often voiceless.

Final N's

Many people in Holland drop the final N's in noun plurals and verbs. At the moment it's not considered the standard way of speaking Dutch, I think it's sloppy and incorrect, but it's accepted. Of course, we live in the free world, do as you please as long as you don't hurt someone.
To students, however, I do recommend to pronounce those final N's, because dropping them just adds another rule, it will make learning Dutch harder. You'll have to write those N's and you'll see them written, so adding another exception to the fairly phonetic pronunciation of Dutch just increases the level of difficulty.
Most of the English-language Dutch courses I've seen tell the student that the final N's are not pronounced. Probably, the English or American authority on Dutch has decreed so. Well, he or she is wrong. Interestingly, the voice talent on the CD's or tapes coming with those courses often does pronounce the final N's.

If the final N's are dropped from standard Dutch pronunciation, they may also disappear in spelling; an even more radical but not entirely unimagineable step would be changing all voiceless E's to UHs. (Though it will create a new problem about when not to write the H's.)

lopen lopuhn
lope lopuh
koopjes koopjuhs
click to hear

D and T Softening

In a few words, D's are changing into Dutch J's, English consosnant Y's, usually before voiceless E:

goed goede goeie click to hear - 2 - (good)
goeiemorgen click to hear - good morning
op een goeie dag ... click to hear - someday ...

rood rode rooie click to hear - 2 - (red)
die rooie veger click to hear - that red broom (not a stock expression)
door de rooie gaan click to hear - cross into extremes

dood dode dooie click to hear - (dead)
op z'n dooie gemak click to hear - taking his time, without any hurry

dode bladeren click to hear - poetic: dooie blâren click to hear [dead] fallen leaves

D's are also disappearing in a few first person singular, 'ik' ('I') present tense verb forms, and also in the 'jij' question mode:

houden ik houd ik hou click to hear - houden = to hold - houden van = to like, to love
ik houd niet van vis click to hear - I don't like fish

ik houd niet van vlees snijden - click to hear - I don't like cutting meat
daar houd ik niet van click to hear - I don't like that

ik snijd het brood click to hear - I'm cutting the bread
hij snijdt het brood click to hear - he is cutting the bread
ik sneed het brood click to hear - I was cuting the bread

jij houdt / houd jij? click to hear - you 'hold ' / do you 'hold'?
jij snijdt / snijd jij? - click to hear - you are cutting / are you cutting?

"Houd jij van opera? - Ik niet." click to hear "Do you like opera? - I don't."

ik vind er niks aan click to hear - ik vin 'r niks aan click to hear It's not interesting to me, I don't care for it

One could say Dutch always has a W-sound after AU and OU, but (to my ears) it gets more prominent when followed by voiceless E:
oud oude ouwe click to hear - (old)
ouwe koeien uit de sloot halen - click to hear - 2 - [dredge up old cows from the ditch] pointless talk about foregone matters, flogging a dead horse

T between S and J or Z is dropped:
STJ: kastje worstje click to hear - 2 - small cabinet - small sausage
STZ: postzegels click to hear - stamps (for mail)

When talking rough, Ts are often dropped:
dat lust ik niet click to hear - I don't like the taste of that
da lus' ik nie click to hear
(Even properly pronounced 'Dat lust ik niet' is not a polite thing to say.)

But, dear Students, it's perfectly alright to pronounce these D's and T's.

Vowels Followed by R

You may have noticed that Dutch vowels get longer before R and/or change slightly in tone. Don't worry about it in your first years of studying Dutch - advanced students.

Pronunciation - Vowels Review - Consonants Review - Spelling

Everyday Dutch Words Basic vocabulary for conversation and reading
Useful Words and Phrases for Travelers
Learning Dutch? (Lessons - Suggested Method)



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