Dutch Language Blog

Dutch expressions and proverbs Posted by on Oct 11, 2008 in Dutch Language

Dutch proverbs and expressions.

English and Dutch proverbs have more in common than we might think. Some phrasings developed in a fairly similar way, but of course there will always be little differences and big big big differences.

So, just for fun, a few Dutch proverbs and the Dutch equivalent plus literal translation.

Oh and to get in the spirit for October 4th, World Animal Day:

Als je zo vlijtig bent als een bij,
zo sterk als een beer,

werkt als en paard,
en naar huis toe gaat zo moe als een hond,

dan moet je eens naar de dierenarts gaan.
Misschien ben je wel een ezel!

If you are as busy as a bee,

as strong as a bear,

work like a mule

and you go home dog tired.

Maybe you should visit a vet.

You might be an ass!

* Okay, so in English you can be angry as a wasp, in Dutch you get “nijdig als een spin.”

Same meaning actually, but a different animal.

spin = spider

* In English you can kill two birds with one stone. In Dutch you can kill “twee vliegen in één klap”.

twee vliegen in één klap = two flies with one hit.

* The English can make a mountain of a molehill, the Dutch make of a “mug een olifant”

van een mug een olifant maken = to make an elephant from a mosquito

* If someone is not too bright., he ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. In Dutch this

person certainly wasn’t the one who invented the “buskruit”.

Hij heeft het buskruit niet uitgevonden = He didn’t invent the gunpowder

Popular expressions:

Voor niets gaat de zon op à the sun rises for free there’s no such thing as a free lunch

Als de maan vol is, schijnt zij overal when the moon is full, it shines everywhere when someone strikes gold, everyone will know.

Na regen komt zonneschijn after the rain the sun will shine every cloud has a silver lining.

Waar de dijk het laagst is, loop het eerst het water over where the dyke is lowest, water runs over it first the poor will suffer first

Een haastig man moet op geen ezel rijden he who is in a hurry, shouldn’t be riding a donkey if you want to succeed, you need the right tools

Ben je helemaal van de pot gerukt? Did someone completely grab you from the pot?

Hoge bomen vangen veel wind high trees catch a lot of wind important people attract a lot of attention

Hoogmoed komt voor de val pride goes for the fall self-explicatory

Beter één vogel in de hand, dan tien in de lucht it’s better to have one bird in the hand, than to have ten flying about a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Een gulzige mond is nooit verzadigd a greedy mouth will never be satisfied a drunken man is always dry

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  1. Mathieu:

    Thanks for putting all these together. Some good ones here.

    A coouple didn’t quite work well, however:

    Hoge bomen vangen veel wind → high trees catch a lot of wind → important people attract a lot of attention
    “Important people attract a lot of attention” sounds more neutral than the expression actually is. At least in the (many) instances I’ve seen it used, it has to do with someone standing out in a way that the group disapproves of. Either being snobby or proud, usually. But I’ve also heard it used for people who dress too outrageously and receive “feedback”.

    Hoogmoed komt voor de val → pride goes for the fall → self-explicatory

    better expressed: pride comes before downfall.

    Existing English proverb along this line:
    When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

  2. sarax:

    Thought I’d add some ‘feedback’ as I’m interested to note so many similarities between the two languages.

    The expression : Hoogmoed komt voor de val → pride goes for the fall

    surely would be best expressed by that other well known English proverb : pride comes before a fall – which as stated does make it self-explanatory, in my opinion.

    Worked for me.