Dunglish on a door in Port Zélande. Note that all three languages have errors, "Paarden Uitdeelplaats" for example should have been "Paardenuitdeelplaats" and is in fact an example of the influence of English on Dutch. (The English line is a too literal translation of the German text, in which horse is translated as "Pferd".)

Dunglish (a portmanteau of Dutch and English) or Dutch English are the mistakes native Dutch speakers make when speaking English.

They are closely related Germanic languages. English instruction in the Netherlands begins in elementary school, and Dutch-speaking Belgians are usually taught English from the age of twelve. In addition, like all foreign-language movies, English-spoken movies are subtitled rather than being dubbed in the Netherlands and in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.

The Dutch word for the poorest form of Dunglish is Steenkolenengels ("Coal English"). This term goes back to the early twentieth century when Dutch port workers used a rudimentary form of English to communicate with the personnel of English coal ships.

Errors occur mainly in pronunciation, word order and the meaning of words. Former Dutch ambassador and prime minister Dries van Agt supposedly once said "I can stand my little man" (ik kan mijn mannetje staan, a Dutch idiom meaning roughly "I can stand up for myself"). The former leader of the Dutch liberal party, Frits Bolkestein, repeatedly referred to economic prospects as "golden showers", unaware of the term's sexual connotation.[1]


Incorrect meaning of words

Errors often occur because of the false friend or false cognate possibility: words are incorrectly translated for understandable reasons. Examples are:

  • Former prime-minister Joop den Uyl once remarked that "the Dutch are a nation of undertakers". The Dutch verb ondernemen is literally the English undertake (as onder is under and nemen is take). The noun ondernemer is thus literally undertaker, however the idiomatic English usage is instead the French loanword entrepreneur.[1] (Dutch uses the more specific begrafenisondernemer for a funeral director.)
  • Former prime-minister Gerbrandy had a meeting with Churchill in London. Gerbrandy enters the room and shakes the hand of Churchill, saying: "Goodbye!" Churchill responded: "This is the shortest meeting I have ever had." Gerbrandy had looked up the English translation of goedendag, which in Dutch can be both used as a greeting and a valediction.
  • In spring during the Second World War, Churchill said to former prime-minister Gerbrandy while the two were standing on a balcony: "Spring is in the air". Gerbrandy's response was: "Why should I?" Gerbrandy thought Churchill told him: "Spring 'ns in de lucht", which translates into English as: "jump into the air".
  • One of the best known examples of Dunglish took place between the Dutch foreign minister Joseph Luns (a man whose main foreign language was French, the language of diplomacy prior to World War II) and John F. Kennedy. At one point Kennedy inquired what hobby Luns had, to which he replied "I fok horses". The Dutch verb fokken meaning to breed. Kennedy then replied "Pardon?" a word which Luns then mistook as the Dutch word for "horses" ("paarden") and enthusiastically responded "Yes, paarden!"[1]
  • The Dutch verb solliciteren means to apply for a job, which can lead to an embarrassing situation if someone claims that they have come to solicit.
  • The word eventueel in Dutch means potentially (like eventuel in French) and not eventually, which is uiteindelijk in Dutch. This mistake caused a row between the Scottish and Belgian football associations when the Belgian football association invited delegates from various associations over for the "eventual qualification of the Belgian national football team" before the play-offs against Scotland started. While the Scottish federation accused the Belgians of sheer arrogance, the Belgian association had actually meant to hold the drink after a "possible qualification".[1]
  • "I am a bit in the war" (from the Dutch Ik ben een beetje in de war, translates as "I am a little bit confused") and "I passed the brook." (Ik paste de broek, translates as "I tried on the trousers") are classic examples of too literal Dunglish translations.

Word order

Some Dutch speakers may use Dutch syntax inappropriately when using English, creating errors such as What mean you? instead of What do you mean?

This is because English and Dutch do not follow exactly the same word order. English has a SVO word order, but Dutch has this word order only partially having a V2 word order. Used with modal auxiliaries, Dutch perfect participles are placed at the end of a phrase.

English employs periphrastic constructions involving the verb to do for forming questions, a rare feature crosslinguistically. Dutch does not use this construction, but instead utilizes a VSO word order, inverting the subject and verb.

Verb conjugation

English and Dutch are both West Germanic, with many cognate verbs with identical or nearly identical meanings. This similarity between verbs may cause speakers of Dutch to conjugate English verbs according to Dutch grammar.

  • We kisse(n) her. (Dutch kussen means and is cognate with English to kiss. In Dutch grammar, verbs with plural subjects take a form identical to the infinitive, which in most cases has an en suffix.)
  • What do you now? for What are you doing right now? (In Dutch, Wat doe je nu?)
  • How goes it now? for How are you doing now? (The phrase is used particularly after someone has had a bad spell. A similarly constructed phrase is found in Shakespeare, carrying a slightly different meaning, which underlines the even closer similarities between English and Dutch historically.)

Errors in pronunciation

  • Words like third and the are commonly mispronounced by Dutch speakers as turd and duh, replacing the dental fricative consonants that are not present in Dutch with dental plosives, the nearest equivalent.
  • Many Dutch speakers have trouble distinguishing between bat, bad, bet and bed. This is because Dutch devoices obstruents at the end of a word, and also because Dutch does not distinguish between [æ] and [ɛ].
  • Some pronounce the word idea (in Dutch: idee) without the ending sound, making "Do you have an idea?" and "Do you have an ID?" sound the same.

Other clues

  • Using greetings to end an email as a literal translation of (met vriendelijke) groeten - in English however a greeting is usually to describe the start of an exchange and it is odd to use it at the end. Note also that greeting is general used in English only to describe the act of welcoming someone into your house, usage in text as a form of salutation is restricted to Christmas cards (Season's Greetings) and would always be used at the start (never at the end).
  • Using possessive forms like that is the Lamborghini of Patrick instead of the use of an apostrophe to indicate possession. Saying that Lamborghini is Patrick's is a marked improvement, and a native English speaker would say that is Patrick's Lamborghini.
  • Concatenation of words like officemanager is a common Dutch habit that sometimes also creates unintended mondegreens.
  • Excessive and incorrect use of the apostrophe particularly when using acronyms in the plural form - note however that this is quite common in many countries including the US.


Certain Dutch users have a tendency to overtranslate Dutch terms causing a literal, sometimes incomprehensible, translation of the Dutch term into English. For example the English and Dutch know the famous Amsterdam church as the Westerkerk. The term "Western Church" used to help English tourists locate this tourist attraction can cause more confusion than necessary. (However, English users have readily adopted "Dam Square" instead of "Dam", the original form of this Amsterdam open space.)

Overtranslation can yield some mondegreens in the language.

Use in media

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Undutchables, White and Bourke
  2. ^ Eneco commercial - 'From the wind, we can not live'

External links

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