This Is How Dutch Letters Sound Posted by on Dec 9, 2019 in Dutch Grammar, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

The alfabet (alphabet) of a language is essential when you’re learning it. When you try to make yourself understood, but you mispronounce a word, it is helpful to be able to spell the word out – and knowing what the alphabet looks and sounds like is quite helpful! So here is a list of all letters in the Dutch language and their pronunciation.

The alfabet song and all the letters!

The song above is made for kinderen (children) in the Netherlands to learn the alfabet. It is very helpful to remember how the alfabet goes, and I have to admit, I am sometimes still singing parts of it in my head to remember the exact order of letters. If you just want each individual letter, here it goes!

Can you say all the letters?

What’s going on with the y?

Image by author

Perhaps you noticed, the Y gets a bit of a weird pronunciation sometimes. It is often called i-grec, referring to the greek origin of the letter. Calling it ij, like they do in the song (and I do in the first version of y) is technically incorrect. That sound belongs to ij, the letter combination, or tweeklank, that was originally written as y. However, the ij is not part of the Dutch alfabet, just like the other tweeklanken aren’t. It is therefore clear that in the alfabet, you are referring to y, not ij. So in context it is fine, In wiskunde (maths), you also say y-as like ij-as and x-as. Or Y-chromosoom (Y-chromosome) in biologie (biology).

Even though it does not count as a letter in the alphabet, the ij must be capitalized at the beginning of sentences, like this:

IJzer is minder sterk dan staal (Iron is less strong than steel).

So, Dutch has that ij, but it is not part of the alphabet. So you will simply find it in dictionaries etc. after the i. However, sometimes, it is bundled with the y. Why? Well, that’s because history. There was a time when the ij was written as y.1Some place names: Ysselsteyn and IJsselstein are two different places, even though they sound the same! The y also served to make tweeklanken instead of the i.2An example of this is the name of one of the greatest admirals in Dutch history, Michiel de Ruyter.

But because of all this, the y is sometimes called Griekse ij (Greek ij). Less common, but still understood is the Greek word for the letter, ypsilon.

If you have to differentiate, always like this:

Hoe heet hij? IJsbrand, toch?

– Ja, IJ-S-B-R-A-N-D.

Met een gewone of een Griekse ij?

– Met de gewone ij.

(What’s his name? IJsbrand, right?

– Yes, IJ-S-B-R-A-N-D.

With a normal or Greek y?

– A normal y.)

You see in the example above, in spelling, especially where the and ij sound the same, make clear which one you mean! Of course, a word like baby doesn’t need that, because here the sounds like an ie in Dutch – there is no confusion about its spelling when you spellen (to spell) the word!

Any questions? 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 and filmmaker.