Dutch Language Blog

Spreekwoorden en Uitdrukkingen (Sayings and Expressions) 16 – Sunshine! Posted by on Oct 29, 2020 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

The last time we looked at spreekwoorden (sayings) and uitdrukkingen (expressions), it was May. The zomer (summer) had just started, and we talked about the nice weather. However, you can also have too much sun… At least that’s what our spreekwoord suggests. Sunshine is still awesome, though, as our uitdrukking argues! Let’s take a look at them, starting with the spreekwoord!

For other sayings and expressions in this series, click here.

Altijd zonneschijn schept een woestijn

Image by Fernando Paredes Murillo at Unsplash.com

Literally: Always sunshine creates a desert

Too much of a good thing

The Dutch have many spreekwoorden that involve the zon (sun). Most of them are quite obvious in their meaning, though their herkomst (origin) might be a bit obscure. This is one like that: Altijd zonneschijn schept een woestijn. It’s kind of a gem having a spreekwoord like this in the Netherlands, a country where it’s always rainy and where the beaches on the North Sea are the closest thing to a desert. But it does not take away from its truth.

Generally, we love sunshine, we don’t like deserts, we don’t like rain. But it makes sense that if you always have sunshine, and never any rain, that you will eventually end up with a desert. And that’s not something we want. So the metaphorical meaning is clear. If you always have a good thing, it will end up being bad. It’s probably an oude boerenwijsheid (old farmer’s wisdom). But it’s a nice twist on how sun is always good!


Ik ben er helemaal klaar mee, ik wil niet meer voetballen!

– Natuurlijk niet, Jeroen. Je hebt de hele week elke dag urenlang gevoetbald. Altijd zonneschijn schept een woestijn!

(I am completely done with it, I don’t wanna play soccer anymore!

– Of course not, Jeroen. You’ve played soccer for hours every single day of this week. It’s too much of a good thing!)

But the sun, obviously, has positive meanings too. Let’s move to our uitdrukking for that!

Iemand in het zonnetje zetten

Image by Ignacio Amenábar at Unsplash.com

Literally: To put somebody in the little sun

To honor somebody

This is one of my favorite uitdrukkingen in the Dutch language. And thankfully, it is also a frequently used one. It has a nice meaning, it sounds cute, and takes away some of the seriousness that “honoring” or “appreciating” has, making it more celebratory than sincere. So it is also a great reflection of Dutch culture in general, with its flat hierarchies and informal work culture. So if you want to thank your retiring coworker with bloemen (flowers) or a afscheidstaart (farewell cake) with a little party, you are putting them in het zonnetje.

And while the expression is almost always used to refer to honor or appreciate a person, it can also mean to highlight something. See for examples below.

Again, the origin is a bit obscure, but that’s fine, since the meaning is rather obvious. Like I said, the Dutch really enjoy the sun. On any sunny day, people go outside, look for terrasjes (“terraces” outside areas of bars and restaurants) and just enjoy the warm beams of light. Of course, you can’t replicate the sun, but you can create a little sun, a bit of comfort and enjoyment that you want to give somebody – you put them in a little sun.

It is used from the most informal to the most formal and you can use it in any and all situations. And while people would technically understand if you said in de zon zetten, the belittling is important here. It signals a bescheidenheid (modesty) about what you do to thank or honor them. So make sure you say in het zonnetje zetten.

Example 1:

Als dank voor al je geweldige werk over de jaren wil ik je even in het zonnetje zetten.

– Ach, dat is toch niet nodig!

Jawel! We hebben koffie, taart, en iedereen wil je bedanken.

(As a thank you for your amazing work over the years, I just want to honor you.

– Oh, that’s really not necessary!

It is! We have coffee, cake and everyone wants to thank you.)


Example 2:

Aangezien we dit jaar veel meer leerlingen hebben, willen we het tekort aan schoolboeken in het zonnetje zetten.

(Since we have a lot more students this year, we want to highlight the shortage of school books).


Have you heard of this spreekwoord and uitdrukking before? Do you have similar ones in your language? 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.