Dutch Language Blog

Curious Words In Dutch 2: Voorkomen Posted by on Dec 11, 2017 in Culture, Dutch Language

There are many strange words in a language. Words that are just not used much, words that are pronounced in a weird way… Just words that have something curious about them! And those are the ones we look at in this series. Today, we look at voorkomen.

Previous posts in this series:

Curious Words in Dutch

Prevent, Seem or Appear?

Image by Keagan Henman at Unsplash.

Voorkomen. It is a pretty normal word, and primarily means three things: “to appear”, “to prevent” and “to seem”. As a noun, it can even mean “occurrence, incidence” and “appearance”. To clarify that, here are some sentences:

Jij komt mij bekend voor. (you look/seem familiar to me.);

Kan de VN een oorlog voorkomen? (Can the UN prevent a war?);

Het komt voor. (It happens.);

Jij komt voor in dat boek! (you appear in that book!)

Het voorkomen aan aardgas is niet erg groot meer. (The natural gas deposits are not very large anymore.)

Snapshot of the entry at vandale.nl, one of the most prominent dictionaries of the Netherlands

It can be quite convoluted, as you can see in the sentence above. The meanings for “to happen/appear” and “to prevent” of the word are the most common, and confusion, in my experience, ensues mostly between these two meanings. One nice way that as a verb, you can find the difference is that voorkomen is split in a sentence depending on meaning:

Voorkom je de publicatie van die film? (Are you preventing the publication of that film?)

Kom je in die film voor? (Do you appear in that film?)

Komen dat soort films veel voor? (Are there many of such films?)

So, you can see that “to prevent” keeps the word voorkomen together in its declination:

ik voorkom (I prevent)

jij/U voorkomt (you/you (formal) prevent)

hij voorkomt (he prevents)

wij voorkomen (we prevent)

jullie voorkomen (you (pl.) prevent)

ze voorkomen (they prevent)

For comparison, with “to appear”:

ik kom voor (I appear)

jij/U komt voor (you/you (formal) appear)

hij komt voor (he appears)

wij komen voor (we appear)

jullie komen voor (you (pl.) appear)

ze komen voor (they appear)


And what about its third prevalent meaning, “to seem”? You would use the declination as for “appear”, but usually it is used in the passive:

Komt hij jou ook wat vreemd voor? (Does he also seem a bit strange to you?)

Dit komt mij niet zo doordacht voor. (This does not seem well thought through to me.)

So it is easier to distinguish in context from “appear”. Also, “appear” and “seem” can be synonyms, so you should not have problems with that!

Are there words that confuse you in their meaning? That seem ambiguous to you? Did you find voorkomen one of such words? Let me know in the comments below!


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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.