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What’s “some” in Dutch? Posted by on Aug 10, 2021 in Dutch Grammar

A few days ago, a friend of mine who’s learning Dutch right now told me about how een paar, enkele, sommige, wat, een beetje and soms are confusing, because they all mean some! I was taken aback – is that true? I had never thought about how confusing that can be. She gave me some examples, and I knew: this deserves a proper explanation. So here’s my take on that. I hope it helps disentangle this stuff for you too!

So, what do each of these mean?

Sometimes, it’s all some…

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

This page was also quite helpful for some visualisations!

Een paar, enkele – “a pair, a few”. This means a small number of something, or a few. Een paar, enkele always comes with a meervoud (plural). So let’s say, ik heb een paar/enkele boeken gelezen would translate to “I’ve read some books”. Frustrating. A more accurate translation is “I’ve read a small number of books” or “I’ve read a few books”.

sommige – “some”. This really translates to “some”! Sommige always comes with a meervoud. It also looks like it, so that might have to do with it. Sommige relates more to a small fraction of a total. If you say, ik heb sommige boeken gelezen, it implies that there are books you haven’t read, that you read a selection only. So it’s like: Van die 10 boeken heb ik sommige gelezen (of those 10 books, I’ve read some). The listener would think that you mean a small fraction of those 10 – maybe 3, 4, something like that.

wat, een beetje – again, “some/a few”. However, wat and een beetje come with an ontelbaar woord (uncountable nouns), not a meervoud! So it’s akin to I drink some tea: ik drink wat/een beetje thee. So wat/een beetje is quite easy in that sense, and less confusing.

However, sommig also exists! Sommig also means “some”, but is for the enkelvoud (singular) and also only ontelbare woorden. This makes super much sense, by the way. A countable noun couldn’t be some, after all: Sommig eend (a number of duck… you see, that can’t work). So, here, sommig can signal the occurrence of something: Sommig vlees is gevaarlijk (Some/certain meat is dangerous).

But guess what, the English “some” has another job: you can use it even for singular countable nouns! “some man”, “some duck”, “some lady”. The meaning here is more akin to “a certain man”, or, even wordier “there is/was a man/duck/lady”. In Dutch, we can also say er is (there is): er is/was een man/eend/mevrouw. Or simply een (a): Een man zei dat dit mocht (Some man said this was allowed).

I start to feel that English is the problem here, not Dutch!

What about soms?

Photo by Slava on Unsplash

So, sure, een paar, enkele, sommige and wat, een beetje, even sommig make sense. They literally mean some in one way or the other with some’s 1000 meanings. But soms?

Soms means sometimes or perhaps/by any chance:

Ik maak soms mijn bed op (I sometimes make my bed)

Heb jij soms Mark gezien (Have you seen Mark by any chance?)

Because of the ubiquitous occurrence of “some” in English, it’s possible that it may look like soms is the translation, but it isn’t! Soms means sometimes or perhaps/by any chance. That’s it!

I hope this explanation helped unwind some of these confusing words for you. Are there more terms like this that confuse you in Dutch? 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.


Comments:

  1. Norwegian Jazz:

    Confusing terms in Dutch, when to use:
    er and daar;
    wij and we

    Thanks!

    • Sten:

      @Norwegian Jazz Thanks for the suggestions! Subscribe to our newsletter so you’ll always be notified of new posts, and you will see when I write about this 🙂

      Sten