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Dutch is pretty straightforward with its alfabet (alphabet): It has 26 letters, there are no special ones. So, that’s pretty simple! However, there are some lettercombinaties (letter combinations) that create a different sound. There are 16 of them, and in the coming weeks, we will have a look at all of them. Today, we start of with those starting with a: ae, ai, aai, au. And because au and ou are basically the same, I will discuss them together here today. Let’s check them out!
Other posts in this series:
The video above explains pretty much everything you need to know, but here it is again in writing.
This is an old letter combination, and is not used anymore in the new Dutch spelling. However, some old Dutch and some old names still have the ae in there. That is especially the case in Vlaams (Flemish). An example is Flemish painter Jan Frans van Dael.
You just say it as a long, double aa, like this:
Here you can already hear the tweeklank. You start with a and end with i, so a – i. And then you glide the two together: ai. And that is how you do it with all of them.
ai is not that common. It appears in words like hai, meaning hello. Many words with ai are foreign words, such as samurai, bonsai, or chai. There is an exception though, which is aids. It is a word that was imported and the pronunciation remained the same.
aai is like ai, just longer and much more common: Haai (shark), papegaai (parrot), aardbeienvlaai (strawberry cake), lawaai (noise), kraai (crow)… It is all over the place! The combination here is aa + i: aai.
Finally today, we will talk about au. I will talk about au and ou together, because they sound exactly the same and even mean the same. It is the combination of a and oe (a letter combination by itself that we will get to in coming weeks). Glide it, and you get: au/ou.
Because they mean the same, you just have to learn by heart or get a feeling for how to write words that contain au or ou. For example, brouwen (to brew) is written with ou. But wenkbrauw (eyebrow) is written with au. Brauw/brouw sound exactly the same!