Dutch Language Blog

Tweeklanken 2: ie, ieu(w), ij/ei Posted by on Aug 8, 2017 in Culture, Dutch Grammar

Hi there! Welcome to the second post on tweeklanken, or vowel combinations. Here’s last week’s post on aeaiaai, and au/ou. Today we have an exciting one, because we will discuss the ij, one very special letter in the Dutch alphabet and in the realm of tweeklanken. Apart from the ij, we will discuss the ie and ieu(w) today, because they also start with an i. I will also talk about ei, because ij and ei are very much related. You will see. Let’s dive into it!

Tweeklanken 1: ae, ai, aai, au/ou

Tweeklanken 3: eeu(w), ei, eu, ui

Tweeklanken 4: oe, oei, oi, ooi

A Dutch fiets (bike)!


ie is pretty simple: it sounds like a normal i but longer. A normal i is pronounced as the in ik (I). The i-e combination gives it a sound as in fiets (bike). You say it like the English ee as in need, keep, sleep. Still, it is a bit shorter, though, best comparable with knie (Dutch for knee): knie and knee. Unlike the next one, ie is very common.


Eeew! Poep! (Image by Basotxerri at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY SA 4.0)

Eeeew! Yeah, yucky. That’s how you can remember ieu best. The is in brackets, because officially, it is not part of the tweeklank. However, the sound is rounded off best with a w, as it might otherwise sound too much like a french -ieu. So ieu is a combination of ie and u. It is not so common, and you will find it in words as nieuw (new) and benieuwd (curious). Caution with the word interview – we just write it the English way!


ij is quite a different story. While it is considered a tweeklank, it is also a more strict letter combination. It is the only letter combination that is capitalized together: IJ. In alphabetical order, you should place it just in the i-rowIJ started being used in the Middle Ages because words like prise (price) had to be pronounced with a long i, a lange ij. So prise evolved into prijs. This ij is still called lange ij today. I will get to the korte ei below.

For a long time, the y was still used in a lot of words. Words like tyd and bevryd would now be written with ij (tijd (time) and bevrijd (freed)).

This y is called griekse y (greek y), i-grec, or ypsilon in Dutch.


There is a thing with pronunciation though.

There are words where the ij is still pronounced as the medieval i, such as bijzonder or the name of the town Wijchen.

It is also pronounced differently in words that end with -lijk, such as eerlijk (honest, fair) or gevaarlijk (dangerous).

In all normal cases, it sounds like ij as in dijk (dyke) or wijk (neighborhood).

And pronounced the same as the lange ij is… de korte ei.


The korte ei sounds exactly like the lange ij, and is also very common. It is used a lot in words that end with -heid, such as eenheid (unit, unity) or overheid (government).

It is achieved by “gliding together” the and sound.

There are also words that sound the same but because of their ij/ei mean something else:

lijden means “to suffer”, whereas leiden means “to lead”.

The korte ei is not considered to be its own letter, and so only the e is capitalized, not the i, just like all other tweeklanken.

So the ij is really special!

Do you have any questions left? 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.


  1. Papa Van Twee:

    We named our son Matthijs, meaning to Americanize it to Matt as he grew. For some reason, he became Thijs, or as it’s been Americanized, Thys. I never knew before that famous Dutch people would change the ij in their name to y. So the famous race driver named Arie Luyendyk (2 time winner of the Indianapolis 500) actually grew up spelling his name Luijendijk.

    I liked the Trijntje Oosterhuis song, “Knocked Out”. When it was released in 2012, I mentioned it to a guy who has a radio show called, “Crap from the Past”, and he loved it enough to play it (and has played it a few times since). But he always trips over the pronunciation of her name. I wonder if using “y” instead would help,