Dutch Language Blog

Think Learning Dutch is Hard? It Could Be Worse. You Could Be Learning English! Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Dutch Language

Have you seen the graphic making the rounds on Facebook? The one about all the reasons why English is hard to learn?

It includes things like “the soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert” and “after a number of injections my jaw got number.” Pretty mind blowing, huh?

Lots of Dutch language learners complain that it’s such a difficult language to learn. And native Dutch speakers themselves don’t hesitate to remind you of how tough their language is and how awesome you are for giving it a go.

But it could be worse. You could be learning English!

Check out this poem… if your brain can handle it.

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese,
You may find a lone mouse or a whole nest of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But a bow if repeated is never called bine,
And the plural of vow is vows, never vine.
If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
And I give you a boot would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth, and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
If the singular’s this and the plural is these,
Should the plural of kiss ever be nicknamed keese?
Then one may be that and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren,
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis and shim,
So the English, I think, you all will agree,
Is the queerest language you ever did see.
~author unknown

Though, truth be told, Dutch is not that far behind. Check out this poem shared by blog reader Fritz Evenbly in the comments section of the post 14 English Words You Probably Didn’t Know Have Dutch Origins:

Het meervoud van slot is sloten
Maar toch is het meervoud van pot, geen poten
Evenzo zegt men; een vat twee vaten
Maar zal men niet zeggen: een kat twee katen
Wie gisteren ging vliegen, zegt heden ik vloog.
Dus zeggen ze misschien ook van wiegen ik woog.
Nee mis! want ik woog is afkomstig van wegen.
Maar is nu ik “voog”, een vervoeging van vegen.

En van het woord zoeken vervoegt men ik zocht
En dus hoort bij vloeken, misschien wel ik vlocht
Alweer mis! want dit is afkomstig van vlechten
Maar ik hocht is geen juiste vervoeging van hechten

Bij roepen hoort riep, bij snoepen geen sniep
Bij lopen hoort liep, maar bij slopen geen sliep
Want dit is afkomstig van het schone woord slapen
Maar zeg nu weer niet, ik riep bij het woord rapen.

Want dat komt van roepen, en u ziet terstond
Zo draaien wij vrolijk in een kringetje rond
Van raden komt ried, maar van baden geen bied
Dat komt van bieden, (ik hoop dat u ‘t ziet)
Ook komt hiervan bood, maar van wieden geen wood.

U ziet de verwarring is akelig groot
Nog talloos veel voorbeelden kan ik u geven
Want gaf hoort bij geven, maar laf niet bij leven
Men spreekt van wij drinken, wij hebben gedronken
Maar niet van wij hinken, wij hebben gehonken

Het volgende geval, dat is bijna te bont
Bij slaan hoort, ik sloeg, niet ik sling of ik slond
Bij staan niet ik stong ik sting maar ik stond
Bij gaan hoort ik ging, en niet ik goeg of ik gond

Een mannetjeskat, noemt men meestal een kater
Hoe noemt men een mannetjesrat, soms een rater
zo heeft het NEDERLANDS verschillende kwalen
Nietemin is en blijft het, DE TAAL DER TALEN.
~attributed to language critic Charivarius (Gerard Nolst Trenité, 1870-1946)

So remember, learning Dutch may not be a picnic. But neither is learning English. And if you can speak one, you can surely learn the other!

What do you find to be the oddest/most difficult thing about the English language? How about Dutch? Share in the comments below.

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About the Author: tiffany

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


  1. Peter Simon:

    No, I don’t think Dutch is a difficult language, and neither is English among the most difficult ones, up to a high level. I think that the idiomatic level may become difficult, but once someone gets the gist of normal sentence structure, Dutch is easier than German with the genders and more inflections. Still, real inflectional languages with genders, like Russian, French etc. are a lot more difficult, where you change the forms of adjectives with the nouns, for example, not only of verbs according to gender and number, which you also hardly do in Dutch or English. We shouldn’t over-emphasize what difficulties the three verb-forms bring: try the more than 150 various forms of Hungarian verbs and the dozens of inflections to nouns instead of prepositions! And there’re not even genders there. Also, try another letter systems, or pictogram languages, where reading doesn’t help but hinder progress, and adults have next to no chance of getting used to changes of meaning caused by melodic patterns, like Chinese or Vietnamese. Although grammatically Chinese is simple, it’s a nightmare to understand it.

  2. tiffany:

    Hi Peter. Thanks for your comment. I’m so glad you’ve had such an easy time learning all those languages – good for you! People either struggle with or have marked success with languages for all kinds of reasons: personality, environment, learning disabilities, educational opportunities, their native languages as well as others they’ve been exposed to just to skim the surface. In selecting English and Dutch for this post, my goal was to home in on two languages that ALL our readers know. That and the fun poems inspired by each 🙂

  3. Peter Simon:

    Hi, Tiffany, yes, I do understand it. And the poems are really good, thanks.

  4. Ralph Baker:

    Hello, Tiffany! I’m learning het Nederlands in stages, and I have a question: how do Nederlanders handle sentences using words such as ‘would’, ‘could’ and ‘should’? In Dutch there are many examples of ‘mag’, ‘kun’, ‘wil’ and ‘moet’; these words indicate ‘optional”able’, declared’ and ‘compulsory’ but nothing to indicate ‘conditional’ or ‘recommended’. Are there Dutch equivalents of ‘would”could”should’? One fellow wrote in English “All of you should….” but in Nederlands he wrote “Jullie moeten….”. He went from ‘should’ to ‘must’. If I write that sentence, how do I express ‘should’ in strict definition?

    • tiffany:

      @Ralph Baker Hi Ralph. Great question! And one that’s going to take up more space than I have here, I’m afraid. Let me cook up a blog post on this one and I’ll send you the link as well as come back and add it in the comments here. Thanks!

  5. Ralph Baker:

    You’re very welcome – I’ll be watching!!

  6. Grethe:

    I’ve just come across your blog, and love reading it!
    I am a Norwegian married to a Dutch man I met in the UK, where I lived for 6 years. I also studied German in school, so for me, picking up Dutch is fairly easy, as most of the dutch words are related to one of the languages I know.
    However, the pronunciation (which by the way is a mystery why it’s not pronOunciation!) can be a challenge. It’s not easy in English either – many of the words must be learned in its own setting.

    I have to add this joke on the English language:
    If ‘GH’ stands for ‘P’ as in ‘Hiccough’,
    ‘OUGH’ stands for ‘O’ as in ‘Dough’,
    ‘PHTH’ stands for ‘T’ as in ‘Phthisis’,
    ‘EIGH’ stands for ‘A’ as in ‘Neighbour’
    ‘TTE’ stands for ‘T’ as in ‘Gazette’
    and ‘EAU’ stands for ‘O’ as in ‘Plateau’,
    then wouldn’t the right way to spell ‘POTATO’ be

    I first saw this on the London Underground – it’s a good example of the challenges of the English language!