Dutch Language Blog

Back to Basics: Incorrect uses of “als” Posted by on Apr 13, 2016 in Dutch Language

The word als is a very versatile Dutch word. You can use it as a conjunction (Als je klaar bent met studeren, kunnen wij ijs gaan eten) or a preposition (Ik zeg dit als een Nederlands leerling). This is perhaps one of the reasons why it is a word that can easily be used incorrectly. Here are just two instances of the incorrect use of als.

Als en Toen

I learned early on in my Dutch classes that wanneer is a very Dutch-learner word. I would translate “when” literally and would say things like wanneer ik naar Nederland ga… Luckily, one of my Dutch teachers quickly corrected this and told me it was best to use als for those sentences. After that, als became my go-to word for everything! Als ik naar Nederland ga…Als het weer warm is….Als….Als…Als…

And then I ran into another typical problem, I began using als for things that had happened in the past. I simply made als the equivalent of “when” and went crazy with it. This became my follow up Dutch learner mistake. Again, thanks to the hard work and good ear of my Dutch teachers, this problem was corrected and I was introduced to toen. Toen, I was told, was the past version of “when.”

So…when you are speaking about the present and the future….Als je over het heden en de toekomst spreekt….use als.

Als ik klaar ben met deze blog, ga ik een koffie drinken.

Als wij goed Nederlands spreken, kunnen wij Duits leren.

When you are speaking about the past…toen jij over het verleden had gesproken…use toen!

Toen ik in Mexico was, heb ik elke week tacos gegeten.

Toen mij moeder in Amsterdam was, heeft zij het lekkerste ijs gehad! 

Als en Dan

Another common but incorrect use of als is when you are comparing. When you are saying how two things are alike, it is perfectly correct to use als.

Nederland is even nat als Engeland.

But when you are pointing out a difference, you must hold back from using als because it is a Dutch rookie mistake. If you are talking about how two things are different, you must use dan instead.

Nederland is kleiner dan Duitsland.

I think the following song from Snapje explains this a lot better than I can.


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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!