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Dutch Pronunciation

by Maarten van Gompel (Proycon)

This document focuses on the pronunciation of the Dutch language. The Dutch pronunciation can be quite hard and contains several difficult constructions that I'll try to elaborate on in this document. It also differs quite a lot from English, especially the vowels.

In order to make things as clear as possible, I've recorded several soundclips with the pronunciation of all Dutch words in this document. Each section of this article has it's own soundclip, but to save space I've compressed all WAV files into one single ZIP file which you should download first:

Click here to download the ZIP file with the soundclips (3.9 MB)

After the download is complete, you should decompress the ZIP file using Unzip, Pkunzip, Winzip, StuffIt Expander or any other suitable program. The soundclips will consume 5.4 MB disk space when decompressed. You can play them with any suitable WAVE player (such as Winamp, Xmms , RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player etc...)

Let's start with the consonants, since they are the easiest. First, we'll go through the consonants which sound just like in English. We'll give a Dutch word for each consonant along with it's approximate pronunciation.

B (boot - BOAT), D (dier - DEER), F (fiets - FEETS), H (hotel - HOATEL), K (kogel - KOA-CHUL), L (licht - LIHCHT), M (maand - MAAND), N (niemand - NEA-MAND ), P (paard - PAARD), S (steen - STEYN), T (tijd - TEYD), V (vis - VIHS), W (walvis - WALVIS), Z(zee- ZAY)

All of the above Dutch words are recorded in the soundclip similarconsonants.wav

Now we'll handle the consonants that have a different sound in Dutch:

Letter Sound Dutch examples
C Can sound like a K or an S  
G Sounds like CH as in the Scottish word LOCH, the German word ICH or like the Spanish J as in "Julio"
Note: it never sounds like the G as in the English word GOOD
graag, gemeen, goed
J Sounds like the Y as in the English words YES and MAY ja, jager, juist
Q Hardly ever used in Dutch, only in words borrowed from other languages  
R Pronounced more thrilled as in English, therefore pronounced not as far back in the throat as in English.
Sounds more like a French or Spanish R
regen, riool, raam
X Hardly even used in Dutch, only in words borrowed from other languages  
Y Only used in borrowed words  

All of the above Dutch words are recorded in the soundclip differentconsonants.wav

Dutch vowels sound quite different compared to their English equivalents. First of all, you should realize that Dutch vowels come in pairs (except for the i). There is a short version and a long version. We'll first teach you how they sound and later on we'll show you when a vowel is to be pronounced long, and when short.

Letter Sound Dutch examples
A (short) Pronounced as in the British word BATH, only slightly shorter bad, gat, tassen
A (long) Pronounced long and open as in the Spanish word CHICA gaas, maand, varen
E (short) This rule only applies when the E appears in a STRESSED syllable;
Pronounced slightly shorter than in the English word WET
met,bed, heg
E (long) This rule only applies when the E appears in a STRESSED syllable;
Pronounced like AY in the English word MAY
meer, deeg, eten.
Note: in the last word only the first E is a long one, the other one is an unstressed E.
E (unstressed) This rule applies when the E appears in an UNSTRESSED syllable;
Pronounced very short and kind of like the U in the English word MUG. You can also compare it to the sound that is produced when pronouncing the consonants "tn" as a word
gaten, muren, eten.
Note: in the last word only the second E is an unstressed one, the other one is a long E.
I Pronounced as the I in the English word BIT vis, tik, gil
O (short) Pronounced slightly shorter than the O in the English word SHOT mol, lot, rok
O (long) Pronounced like OW in the English word LOW only without a clear W sound boot, boten, ogen
U (short) Pronounced slightly shorter than the U in the English word BUT hut, gum, suf
U (long) This has a sound that's not heard in English. It has the same sound as the U in the French word "VOITURE".
The sound can also be heard when you pronounce "EW" as in NEW, the sound that you hear between the E and the W is then the long U vowel.
Note: it's certainly NOT pronounced as in Spanish
muur, fuut, duren

All of the above Dutch words are recorded in the soundclip vowels.wav


Diphthongs are constructions of two or more vowels joining together and forming a different sound as a whole:

Letter Sound Dutch examples
AU Pronounced like OW in the English word NOW auto, lauw, dauw
EI Try to pronounce AY as in the English word MAY, but replace the A sound with the sound of the short Dutch vowel E ei, beleid, eigen
EU Pronounced like in the French word BEURRE reus, leuk, zeug
IE Pronounced like EE in the English word BEE biet, mier, lied
IJ Pronounced exactly the same as the Dutch EI diphthong.  
OE Pronounced like OE in the English word SHOE boek, doen, voet
OU Pronounced exactly the same as the Dutch AU diphthong.  
UI Has a sound not known in English, it kind of sounds like a nasal A followed by an English Y sound huis, buiten, ruit

All of the above Dutch words are recorded in the soundclip diphthongs.wav


Several consonants can also be combined forming somewhat different sound:

Letter Sound Dutch examples
NG Sounds as in English, as in the word KLING for example. bang, vangen, eng
NK Also sounds as in English, as in the word LINK for example.  
SCH This is a combinations that usually causes a lot of difficulty for foreigners.
It's not quite hard though, only the sound appears to be quite weird when you first hear it.
It's pronounced as a S followed by CH as in the Scottish word "loch"
school, schuim, schaap

All of the above Dutch words are recorded in the soundclip combinedconsonants.wav


All of the Dutch words in this section are recorded in the soundclip longandshortvowels.wav

Dutch vowels come in pairs. You already know that there are long vowels and there are short vowels. There are two exceptional vowels: the i, which is always short (you could consider the diphthong IE the long i), and the E vowel. It doesn't have two versions but rather three! When the E appears in a stressed syllable it can be either long or short, but when it doesn't appear in a stressed syllable then you use the unstressed version (the short U sound).

But now we still haven't solved the issue of "How do I know whether a vowel is long or short?". In order to solve this problem, we'll state a rule that should solve this question:

When the vowel appears at the end of a syllable it is a LONG vowel. If it doesn't, it's a SHORT vowel, unless it's doubled.

That is the main rule. Also note there can be only one long vowel in a sentence because it's always the vowel the stress falls on. But it might still be a bit vague, so we'll continue our explanation with some examples. Long (and therefore stressed) vowels will be written in uppercase and short vowels in lowercase. An unstressed "e" will be noted as 3 for notation's sake. Syllables will be separated by a `. Diphthongs will only be written in uppercase when they stress is placed there.

leven lE`v3n (life)
eten E`t3n (food, to eat)
wonen wO`n3n (to live)
mager mA`g3r (skinny)
sleutel slEU`t3l (key)
maand MAAnd (month)
tas tas (bag)
tassen tas`s3n (bags)
bedelen bE`d3`l3n (to beg)
vergeten ver`gE`t3n (to forget)
muur mUUr (wall)
muren mU`r3n (walls)
eend EEnd (duck)
aandacht AAn`dacht (attention)
missen mis`s3n (to miss)
zoon zOOn (son)
zonen zO`n3n (sons)

You see that long vowels (in uppercase) always appear at the end of a syllable (they're followed by a `) unless they're doubled (meaning they appear as AA, EE, UU or OO).

Note that this is a vital aspect of the Dutch language, and definitely should be mastered before continuing your Dutch studies.


All of the Dutch words in this section are recorded in the soundclip doubleconsonantsandvowels.wav

We've now spoken about how to determine whether a vowel is short or long. But now another important aspect is that you can apply this knowledge. To retain pronunciation in Dutch there are cases when you have to double a consonant. There are also cases when a double vowel has to be reduced to only one version or vice versa. We'll try to cover these cases now. Let's start with the Dutch word "zoon" (meaning: "son"). We'll make this word plural, which is (generally speaking) done by adding EN. Now looks what happens:

ZOON (zOOn) --> ZOONEN (zOO`n3n) (example illustrates error)

The second form is INCORRECT although we did apply the rule to form a plural noun correctly. This is because in Dutch you always have to keep the "long/short vowel rule" in your head. In the sample above we see that the last two characters of the syllable are "OO" but this is of course not a necessity since a single vowel will also suffice, since when it appears at the end of a syllable it's always pronounced long. So we'll do it correctly now:

ZOON (zOOn) --> ZOONEN (zOO'n3n) --> ZONEN (zO'n3n)

The plural of "zoon" is indeed "zonen". Some other examples now:

TAAL (tAAl) --> TAALEN (tAA'l3n) --> TALEN (tA'l3n)
MUUR (mUUr) --> MUUREN (mUU'r3n) --> MUREN (mU'r3n)
BOOR (bOOr) --> BOOREN (bOO'r3n) --> BOREN (bO'r3n)

Now let's try this the other way around. We'll start to make a singular noun out of a plural noun. Keep in mind that in Dutch the sound of the stressed vowel should remain the same in both forms (of course there are some exceptions).

ZALEN (zA`l3n) --> ZAL (zal) (example illustrates error)

You see that by simply removing EN, the vowel A no longer appears at the end of the syllable. That would cause the sound of the A no change from a long sound to a short sound. That is of course not allowed. So we have to take countermeasures. This is done by doubling the A. Keep in mind the rule: / When the vowel appears at the end of a syllable it is a LONG vowel, if it doesn't it is a SHORT vowel unless it's doubled.

ZALEN (zA`l3n) --> ZAL (zal) --> ZAAL (zAAl)

Some more examples:
FUTEN (fU`t3n) --> FUT (fut) --> FUUT (fUUt)
BEKEN (bE`k3n) --> BEK (bek) --> BEEK (bEEk)
ZAKEN (zA`k3n) --> ZAK (zak) --> ZAAK (zAAk)

The previous paragraph explained how to double and reduce vowels. Now we're going to look at doubling and reducing consonants. Note that vowels are still the trigger here. Consonants are only doubled to make sure the vowel retains it's short form whereas vowels are doubled to retain their long form.
Let's begin with an example, let's make the Dutch noun "tas" plural

TAS (tas) --> TASEN (tA`s3n) (example illustrates error)

We clearly see that the "A" loses it's short form here because it's displaced and ends up at the end of the syllable. In order to fix this, we just move it back to the center of a syllable, and we do that by simply adding a consonant:

TAS (tas) --> TASEN (tA`s3n) --> TASSEN (tas`s3n)

You see it's all very logical once you understand how it works. Some more examples:
VET (vet) --> VETEN (vE`t3n) --> VETTEN (vet`t3n)
JAS (jas) --> JASEN (jA`s3n) --> JASSEN (jas`s3n)
MOT (mot) --> MOTEN (mO`t3n) --> MOTTEN (mot`t3n)

Now we'll try it the other way around again. We're going to form singular nouns out of the plural noun "messen", which is quite easy. Only first you have to know that in Dutch a syllable never ends on two equal consonants, nor does one single consonant form a syllable as a whole.

MESSEN (mes`s3n) --> MESS --> MES (mes)

Some more examples:
BEDDEN (bed`d3n) --> BEDD --> BED (bed)
TOLLEN (tol`l3n) --> TOLL --> TOL (tol)
GROTTEN (grot`t3n) --> GROTT --> GROT (grot)

Note that, although we've only applied these rules to nouns, they also apply to verbs and other constructions.


I hope this document kind of helped you in increasing your knowledge about Dutch pronunciation. If you've any questions you can mail me at proycon@unilang.org