Dutch Language Blog

How to Sound Dutch in Dutch Posted by on Aug 19, 2015 in Dutch Language

Image by Oberazzi found in Flickr.com

Image by Oberazzi found in Flickr.com

Even after learning grammar and enough vocabulary to hold conversations, language learners can always be spotted in conversation. What separates us learners from the native speakers are expressions that we rarely learn in the classroom.These expressions we pick up slowly because sometimes they do not make sense when we translate them to our own language and because they do not come natural to us.

I have compiled a list of some of these expressions in the hopes of explaining their meaning and, hopefully, as a way to study them so that we can all use them and sound more Dutch when speaking Dutch.

  • Hoe gaat het met jou?

This is probably the only one in this list that you really learn in any Dutch class. The literal translation is “how goes it with you?” but its just the Dutch way of asking “How are you?”

  • Wat is er aan de hand?

Together with the previous one, this is a basic Dutch expression. It literally means “What is on the hand?” but really means “What is going on?” When I say it, I can’t help but want to look to my hand.

  • Ik doe dit niet voor niets.

While this phrase has a more obvious and clear meaning, English speakers will be baffled by the double negative. “I do this not for nothing” is just another way of saying “I am doing this for a reason or for something in return.”

  • Je bent te laat.

For the most part, the Dutch are very punctual people. The use of “te” before “last” is a clear example of the Dutch view about being late…you are always “too late” and never just a little late.

  • Het loopt uit de hand.

This phrase doesn’t mean that “It walks from the hand” but rather that you are losing control of the situation. An English equivalent would be “it is getting out of control.”

  • Je steekt je hoofd in ‘t zand.

“You shove your head in the sand” sounds kind of funny, but it really means that you act as though a problem doesn’t exist.

  • Het duurt even voordat het van de grond komt.

“It will take some time to come of the ground” makes no sense to me but what this phrase says is that it will take a while until something gets started.

  • Zeg het maar uit je hoofd.

“Just say it out of your head.” Um…I say everything out of my head, but it means to say what you know.

  • We moeten de neuzen in dezelfde richting krijgen.

“We must get the noses in the same direction.” Sure, I can get my nose in the same direction as everyone else….but this means that we all have to work together for the same goal. Perhaps an English equivalent would be to “be on the same page.”

What other examples can you think of?

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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!


  1. Martin van den Berg:

    It should be pointed out that there is a real difference between

    Je bent laat.

    Meaning “you’re late”, we waited, we’re annoyed, so let start right now.

    Je bent te laat.

    Meaning “you’re (too) late”, we waited, we got really annoyed, and then we started already, you may or may not be able to join.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Martin van den Berg Hello Martin! I was told by several Dutch teachers in the Netherlands that just saying “laat” is actually incorrect although many people use it, even native speakers. The correct expression is always “te laat” and I have been working pretty hard to get used to always saying it that way. I cannot say first-hand. Thank you for stopping by!

  2. Cerys:


    My dutch boyfriend says this is a mistake:
    ‘Zeg het maar uit je hoofd.’

    This should be:
    ‘Zet het maar uit je hoofd.’

    Meaning, set it out of your mind, put it out of your mind (i.e. stop thinking about it) – which makes much more sense as an idiom.

    This was an interesting and useful list though, thanks for sharing!

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Cerys Hello Cerys! The sentence you are using varies in meaning from the one I use as an example in the post. One letter changes the phrase completely! Yours is a great contribution to this list! Thank you for stopping by.

  3. Simon Mayer:

    I’m from the UK, and “it’s getting out of hand”, and to “bury (one’s) head in the sand” are phrases I know from English.

  4. Johanna Reyers:

    Breek mij de bek niet open…..means don’t break my mouth open but means don’t get me started.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Johanna Reyers Thank you Johanna for your addition to the list!

  5. tony:

    Toch ! and Visweer when it is pouring down.
    I don’t know much Dutch but heard these back in the day!

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @tony Tony, those are great contributions! Thank you 🙂