Dutch Language Blog

I’m just making a goat and other stupid mistakes I’ve made in Dutch Posted by on Jun 5, 2013 in Dutch Grammar

Quacktaculous / Flickr Creative Commons

Every Monday morning, my husband gathers with his colleagues for their weekly office meeting.

And every Monday morning, just before the meeting officially begins, they have what I like to call the “Stupid things Tiffany said this week” briefing.

This is when my husband lists all the notable flub-ups I’ve made in Dutch since the last Monday meeting.

The first time my husband told me this, I was so embarrassed.

“No, no, don’t be embarrassed” my husband said. “They’re so impressed. They always go on about how good your Dutch is. Especially in the short time you’ve been here. They just think your mistakes are cute.”

Now, when something bizarre comes out of my mouth, we both simultaneously shout “That’s one for the morning meeting!”

Though, sadly, in the past 3 years, those Monday morning meetings have gotten to be pretty boring. My language skills are at the point where there’s hardly anything to report any more.

Here’s the thing… at some point during your language learning journey you are going to say something stupid. It’s inevitable. It comes with the territory. It’s also the only way you learn.

But that underlying fear of screwing up holds a lot of people back. If you’re one of those people, take heart. Whatever embarrassing mistake you make, I can guarantee you I’ve already made it.

Using het when the correct article is de? Guilty.

Glaring word order mistakes? Guilty.

Referring to someone as je when I should have used the formal u? Guilty.

Choking on that phlegm rattling g? Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Guilty as charged. On all accounts.

But, really, those are just minor offenses.

Here are the real doozies:

What I wanted to say: I can’t stay awake.
What I should have said: Ik kan niet meer wakker blijven.
What came out of my mouth: Ik kan niet meer makker worden.
What’s so embarrassing about that? What I really said was “I can’t wake up again” or “I’m dead.”

What I wanted to say: In the moonlight.
What I should have said: In de manenschijn.
What came out of my mouth: In de manenschijt.
What’s so embarrassing about that? What’s not embarrassing about saying “In the moon sh*t”?

What I wanted to say: I’d like macaroon ice cream.
What I should have said: Ik neem graag een bitterkoekjesijs.
What came out of my mouth: Ik neem graag een bitterballen ijs.
What’s so embarrassing about that? Bitterballen are fried meat gravy balls. Totally not something you want in your ice cream!

What I wanted to say: That was delicious.
What I should have said: Het was lekker.
What came out of my mouth: Ik ben lekker.
What’s so embarrassing about that? Instead of telling my (then future) in-laws that the meal they served was delicious, I told them I was hot. As in sexy hot.

What I wanted to say: I’m just joking.
What I should have said: Ik maak alleen maar een geintje hoor.
What came out of my mouth: Ik maak alleen maar een geitje hoor.
What’s so embarrassing about that? You miss one lousy vowel and instead of making jokes you’re making goats.

There are more. Many more. But I think I’ve embarrassed myself enough.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of the silly mistakes you’ve made while learning Dutch?

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About the Author: tiffany

Tiffany Jansen is an American magazine and copywriter in the Netherlands.


  1. Ge-Anne:

    I told my mother-in-law that my brother-in-law was sleeping WITH his girlfriend instead of AT his girlfriend’s place….oops! I also once ordered “salty white wine” instead of “sweet white wine” when we were dining. 🙂

    • tiffany:

      @Ge-Anne Sounds about as awkward as telling your in-laws that you’re hot 🙂

  2. Renee:

    Loved this! Well done for documenting it so well. I’ve messed up many times while learning Dutch – and probably still do daily though as of yet, no-one has actually told me about it!

    • tiffany:

      @Renee Haha, I’m sure there are many, many, many more… I just couldn’t think of them while writing up this post.

  3. Melynda:

    What I wanted to say: I’m in the mood for a party.
    What I should have said: Ik heb zin in een feestje.
    What came out of my mouth: Ik voel me als een feestje.
    Why is this embarrassing: what I said means ‘I feel like a party’, as in, touch me and you’ll enjoy it. 🙂

    • tiffany:

      @Melynda I was so hoping you would share this!

  4. Terri:

    Shortly after we arrived in Holland we got a sales call from someone wanting to sell us something like new windows for the house. I was very proud of myself that I understood this gentlemen in Dutch on the phone and that I could answer him in Dutch as well. Here’s my big language goof:

    What I wanted to say: We live in a rental house.
    What I should have said: Wij wonen in een huur woning
    What I said: Wij wonen in a hoerhuis.
    What I really said: We live in a house of prostitution!

    Gratefully he just thanked me and hung up the phone. This goof has provided many a good laugh!

    • tiffany:

      @Terri Haha, yes, you learn rather quickly to be careful about hoer and huur 🙂 Congratulations on being able to understand Dutch over the phone. Over the phone is always trickier than in person

  5. Clarissa:

    I think my worst mistake was naming May 5th as the “Bevredigingsdag” instead of “Bevrijdingsdag”. And then I couldn´t understand why everybody laughed and made naughty jokes…

    • tiffany:

      @Clarissa Aww. Well, at least you can have a good laugh about it now, too 🙂

  6. Welcome Thuis:

    I love this post! My first Thanksgiving here I bravely called Hanos 2 months in advance and asked if they sold Turkeije, instead of kalkoen! They don’t sell, Turkeije, but they do have some of the best kalkoen that comes from some farm in France! You have to order about a month in advance.

  7. mexican:

    So funny! 🙂 Thanks! you made me laugh so much.
    I remember about my own experience

    What I wanted to say: I like fish.
    What I should have said: Ik houd van vis.
    What I said: ik houd van vies
    What I really said: I like dirty ..

    yikes! just a slight change of sound (vis – vies) and it changes everything

    • tiffany:

      @mexican Love it! Thankfully, the Dutch are pretty easy-going about us butchering their language 🙂

  8. Christopher Hanney:

    Seven years ago when I first immigrated to Belgium from Australia, I sat behind a telephone for some days trying to find an apartment.

    I thought I was doing a really great job, having memorized a basic Dutch script that introduced who I was, and what I wanted, all in perfectly translated Dutch (read: Google translated!).

    However no matter how nicely I tried to play out the phone calls – they would almost always end in an abruptly hung up receiver on the other end.

    What went wrong?

    What I wanted to say: Is your apartment for rent?
    What I should have said: Is uw appartement te huur?
    What I said: Is uw appartement voor (een) hoer?
    What I really said: Is your apartment for (a) whore?

    Aaahh, the joys of dutch.

    • tiffany:

      @Christopher Hanney Oh my goodness! I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall of the offices you were calling. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  9. ruth:

    ah yes …
    What I wanted to say: We’ve forgotten your card (the key card to a hotel room; we had checked out without returning it, so I ran back with it in my hand and said …)
    What I said: Wij hebben uw kart gegeten!
    What I should have said: Wij hebben uw kart vergeten!
    What I really said: We’ve eaten your card!

    and then there was my first solo purchase in the netherlands:
    What I wanted to say: I’d like to buy a vacuum cleaner
    What I said: Ik zou graag een stofzuiger verkopen
    What I should have said: Ik zou graag een stofzuiger kopen
    What I really said: I’d like to sell a vacuum cleaner.

    • tiffany:

      @ruth Thank you so much for sharing these! They’re fabulous!

  10. Afwasser:

    Should be: Die kinderen zijn lol aan het maken.
    I wrote: Die kinderen zijn lulmaken.

    • tiffany:

      @Afwasser Haha, that’s a good one!

  11. Karen heiner:

    My most memorable screwup was when I confused the word strand and said strond. The entire family fell eerily silent as I tried to explain that the “strond” was where you go and lay to get brown….finally someone realized I meant strand.

    Strand -beach
    Strond – sh*t

    • tiffany:

      @Karen heiner Haha! I can just imagine what they were thinking. I’m already getting hilarious mental images!

  12. erica:

    My husband once made a similar mistake with lekker. He told my grandma in his first visit that her granddaughters, my cousins, were lekker.
    He wanted to say that the photo of them was mooi, but got confused 🙂

    • tiffany:

      @erica Well, at least it was still a compliment 😉

  13. Ramon:

    I can relate… as a Dutchman in the US, I’m often accused of speaking Dunglish. That’s about mispronouncing sounds (“s”/”z”, “g”/”k”, as in “eckssss” instead of “eggzzz”). The other hilarious thing: literally translating Dutch expressions into English. I just can’t help it 🙂

    • tiffany:

      @Ramon Oh I LOVE literally translating expressions into English! My husband has issues with sent and send when writing and sometimes slips in a “d” instead of a “th.” 🙂

  14. Chris:

    On one of my 1st attempts to speak Dutch in public i Was In a cafe in Amsterdam and confidently made my order

    What i wanted to say: I would like a hot chocolate with cream please.
    What I should have said: Mak ik en warm chocolade melk met slagroom,aub.
    What I actually said: Mak ik en warm chocolade melk met sla.
    What is embarrassing about that: I ordered my hot chocolate with lettuce not cream to the high amusement of all the staff and my Dutch girlfriend.

  15. Ian:

    My mother often wanted to say: I am lazy
    What she said: Ik ben lauw
    what she should have said: Ik ben lui
    what she actually said: I am luke warm.

  16. Gemma:

    Mine was “een kut van tijd” instead of “een zond van tijd” Luckily it was just during a conversational class with my dutch teacher, but he went quiet for a second.

  17. Carlton Banks:

    My roommate and I were chatting with a stranger when the stranger asked us where we lived:

    What I wanted to say: We live in Oegstgeest.
    What I said: We wonen samen in Oegstgeest.
    What I said: We’re living together (as in boyfriend and boyfriend).

  18. Carlton Banks:

    My colleague and I were waiting for a meeting to start. We were waiting for some to join us. The 3rd party called to tell us that he couldn’t make it because he had been in a traffic accident:

    I tell my colleague: “Hij was in een verkeeringsongeluk” (Dating accident)
    What i meant to say: “Hij was in een verkeersongeluk”