Dutch Language Blog

Spelling in Dutch – Part One Posted by on Mar 8, 2011 in Dutch Grammar, Dutch Language

Whether you were a spelling bee champion or a spelling bee drop-out, Dutch has some spelling rules of its own for you to contend with. I will cover the main spelling rules in two posts.

Getting Friendly with Closed and Open Syllables

If you have been wondering why some Dutch words gain or lose letters at the blink of an eye, then understanding closed and open syllables is going to help make things clearer.

Closed Syllable = a syllable that ends in a consonant (think c for closed, c for consonant)
Open Syllable = a syllable that ends in a vowel

Divide and Conquer

In order to know if a syllable ends in a consonant or a vowel, you first need to know where to divide the syllables:

  • When two consonants stand between vowels (potten, armen), the syllable division usually comes between them. So we would divide potten as pot-ten and armen as ar-men. In both examples the first syllable ends in a consonant so it is a closed syllable.
  • When one consonant stands between vowels (buren, deuren), the syllable division comes before the consonant. Buren is divided as bu-ren and deuren as deu-ren. Since the first syllable ends in a vowel, it is an open syllable.

Spelling with Short Vowels

1. The Dutch short vowels (a, e, i, o, u) are always written with one letter and usually occur in a closed syllable.

2. So, if another syllable is added (like –en to make the word plural), the consonant is doubled.

Let’s look at an example using the Dutch word man, which conveniently means man in English (words in red are not correct but are written to show you why the change occurs):

Man = closed syllable –> Add –en to make it plural Manen –> The short vowel sound ‘a’ would no longer be in a closed syllable since the division, as per the rules above, would occur before the consonant ma-nen (manen means moons) –> So, we must double the consonant to keep our first syllable short –> mannen (divided as man-nen)

3. When one of the short vowel sounds occurs in a word of one syllable, where it is already followed by more than one consonant, no change needs to be made when a second syllable is added (kerk –> kerken).

4. It is important that when you go back to the one syllable form that you remove the extra consonant that you added. In Dutch, you will never see any double consonants at the end of a word (except in a few loanwords).

Answers from Tuesday’s Post:

1. Dat kind praat heel zacht. Ik versta haar niet.

2. Welk woord bedoelt u precies?

3. Kent u het schilderij ‘De Nachtwacht’ van Rembrandt?

4. Weet u misschien waar het hangt?

5. Wat betekent ‘zout’?

6. Ik hou niet van Picasso. Ik begrijp hem niet.


Add the ending –en to the following words, adjusting the spelling where needed.

1. bed

2. vul

3. zit

4. land

5. ding

Tags: , , ,
Keep learning Dutch with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. aoconnor:

    I appreciate these Dutch grammar lessons! Thanks for taking the time and effort to post them.

    • heather:

      @aoconnor Glad you find the lessons useful! Good luck with your studies. 🙂

  2. saloni:

    It was very useful for me. However i am wondering what happens in wonen? Kindly reply.

  3. saloni:

    I undestood it in spelling in dutch part 2. No need answer. Thank you so much. Your blog is very helpful.

  4. Jose:

    Really useful blog and job. Thanks! 😉

  5. Ahmad:

    Hello, so why “dak” becomes “daken” instead of “dakken”.

  6. John mcdonald:

    Thank you, very helpful.

  7. John mcdonald:

    Still learning, post very helpful