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Spreekwoorden en Uitdrukkingen (Sayings and Expressions) 3 – The Fingers! Posted by on Aug 18, 2016 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

In Dutch, there are some spreekwoorden (sayings), but many more uitdrukkingen (expressions) that involve vingers (fingers). Today, I have a selection of two that are used a lot. I will probably make another post with only expressions about fingers, because they are so much fun, and used quite a lot. Welcome to number three of the series Sayings + Expressions!

First the spreekwoord.

Als je één vinger geeft...

Als je één vinger geeft…

Als je hem één vinger geeft, neemt hij de hele hand

If you give him a finger, he takes the whole hand

This literal translation of this spreekwoord doesn’t need an English version, because the meaning is clear, and many different ways exist to express this particular spreekwoord. For example: Give them an inch, and they’ll take an ell (or a mile). Mostly, such expressions involve vingers (fingers), handen (hands) and armen (arms).

What does it mean? If you do somebody a favor, soon this person will want more of such favors from you, because it shows that you would do him such favors. So the saying is a sort of warning to be wary about iemand een plezier doen (doing another a favor)  if that person cannot be appreciative of them.


As I just said, the spreekwoord is a sort of waarschuwing (warning) from doing just anybody favors. An example sentence:

Ingrid: Ik heb Jan vorige week urenlang geholpen bij zijn werkstuk, en het enige wat hij vroeg is of ik hem niet vaker kan helpen!

Tanja: Tja, als je hem één vinger geeft, neemt hij de hele hand!

Ingrid: I helped Jan last week for hours with his paper, and the only thing he asked is whether I cannot help him more often!

Tanja: Well, if you give him one finger, he takes the whole hand!

On to the uitdrukking!

Iemand kijkt je op de vingers!

Iemand kijkt je op de vingers!

Iemand op de vingers kijken

To watch somebody on the fingers (to watch somebody closely / carefully)

This expression means that a person is constantly watching what a person is doing and whether he is doing it correctly. You do things, work, with your fingers, so watching somebody on the fingers will reveal what the person is doing and how. It makes sense!


The uitdrukking is used often in cases of top-down situations, say where a baas (boss) is watching a werknemer (employee) to monitor whether the work is done correctly. But it could really be in any case, also in the case of pottenkijkers. An example sentence:

Tanja’s baas kijkt haar veel op de vingers, omdat hij van collega’s heeft gehoord dat ze haar werk slordig doet.

Tanja’s boss watches her closely, because he heard from colleagues that she does her work sloppily.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Do you know these expressions in your country? What do you say in situations like this? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!