Home Back

Dutch is a Western Germanic language spoken in the Netherlands and in parts of Belgium. In the Netherlands it is the official language and it is spoken in the entire country, but in the province of Frisia it is co-official with Frisian. In Belgium Dutch is spoken in the region of Flanders and in the city of Brussels. Both in Flanders and in Brussels it is recognized as an official language, but in Brussels it is co-official with French, which is the dominant language there (even though the city is entirely surrounded by a Dutch speaking region).

Dutch is also the official language of Surinam (formerly Dutch Guyana), but among themselves the Surinamese usually speak Sranan. In the Netherlands Antilles, an autonomous part of the Netherlands in the Caribbean, Dutch is the official language as well, but here it is not used much either in everyday conversation, and Papiamento and English are used instead. In these islands the local languages (Papiamento in the Leeward Islands and English in the Windward Islands) are also official languages.

Being a Western Germanic language Dutch is closely related to English, and even though English has borrowed a vast amount of words from non Germanic languages, English and Dutch still have a large common vocabulary. A few of these words are shown in the following table which also includes their German counterparts:

English Dutch German
eat eten essen
day dag Tag
fish vis Fisch
ten tien zehn
sword zwaard Schwert
path pad Pfad


Dutch is more closely related to German than to English. Nevertheless, in many cases Dutch and English words of Germanic origin resemble each other more than Dutch and German words do. This is caused by the fact that in the Middle Ages certain consonants in the southern dialects of German (the so-called High German on which modern standard German is based) changed considerably. However, this change did not take place in the North where Low German was spoken (At that time there were not yet distinct Dutch and German languages. Dialects changed gradually as one travelled from one place to another).

It is probably due to the long time that there existed no sharp geographical boundary between German and Dutch that there are few loanwords in Dutch that are clearly of German origin. Undoubtedly German words must have travelled from German to Dutch (and vice versa) in large quantities but during this process they became totally assimilated and unrecognizable as loanwords.

Like most European languages Dutch has borrowed lots of words from Latin, some of these like muur (Lat. murus, Eng. wall) and keizer (Lat. Caesar, Eng. emperor) date from Roman times (the Southern Netherlands once were part of the Roman Empire), while others were borrowed during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Greek words are not rare either in Dutch, especially the scientific words of Greek origin that are common in most other European languages as well.

French influence has not been as strong in Dutch as is has been in English and it dates from a later period; that is, French words in Dutch are mainly borrowed from Modern French. However, there are numerous French words in Dutch, much more than in German which has generally been a more puristic language. Some French suffixes are even occasionally combined with Germanic roots to form words such as lekkage (leakage) and vrijage (courtship), analogous to purely French words like bagage (luggage) and arbitrage (arbitration). Another example is the French feminine suffix -esse which as -es is freely attached to masculine Dutch words to create feminine equivalents like danseres (female dancer), meesteres (mistress) and lerares (female teacher), even though Dutch already had the suffix -in at its disposal (cf. German Tšnzerin, Herrin, Lehrerin).

In the second half of the 20th century Dutch like so many languages has borrowed a large quantity of English words: shit, computer, chip, show, quiz and internet are only a few of them. Those words are freely combined with other words and with affixes to form new words like shitzooi (load of shit), computergestuurd (computer-controlled) and showtje (a little show). It has even become customary to add Dutch verb endings to English words, which results in words like internetten (to work with the Internet), downloaden (to download), upgraden (to upgrade), and even geŁpgraded (ge-upgrade-d, the past participle of upgraden).

Dutch words in English are far less numerous. Most of these were borrowed in the 17th century when the United Provinces (a federal republic dominated by Holland and Zealand) became an important maritime power and a centre of art and scholarship. The following table lists a few Dutch loanwords in English:

English Dutch
landscape landschap
yacht jacht (original meaning: chase)
dock dok
Brooklyn Breukelen (a town in the Netherlands)
deck dek
brandy brandewijn
gas gas (A word invented by the Belgian chemist Van Helmont)
knapsack knapzak
skipper schipper
dock dok
guelder-rose Gelderse roos



An infamous word in English (and several other languages) that is often attributed to Dutch is apartheid, but this word originates actually from Afrikaans, an offshoot of Dutch that developed in South Africa and grew gradually into a separate language. The Afrikaans vocabulary is still very similar to that of Dutch (apart from relatively small differences in spelling and pronunciation) but its grammar has changed drastically. As for the word apartheid, it does exist in Dutch but only as a loanword from its descendant Afrikaans.

There are several words in English denoting African animals, which look very much like Dutch words. Many of these words (or words very similar to them) do indeed exist in Dutch but in this language they are still used to refer to European animals and it would therefore be more accurate to consider these words as being of Afrikaans origin, even though it is impossible to tell when exactly Dutch in South Africa became sufficiently different to be considered a new language. An example of such a word is eland which in English denotes a kind of antelope. In Dutch eland means elk (i.e. the deer species called moose in North America, not the wapiti which is also locally called elk), and the antelope is called elandantilope (lit.: "elk-antelope"). In Afrikaans eland means both eland and elk, but since these animals live in different parts of the world there is not much chance of confusion.

By the way, the words elk and eland are in fact related, they originate from the same word. This is not as you might think simply because English and Dutch have a common ancestor. Eland is actually a loanword in Dutch that was borrowed from the Lithuanian word for elk, which is elnis. Lithuanian is one of the Baltic languages, like the Germanic languages a branch of the Indo-European language family, and therefore a distant cousin of English and Dutch.

Home Back

Copyrighted by Scott A. Vander Sande 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004,2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998.  All rights retained.  Permission is hereby granted to make a single copy for your personal research.  You may not republish any material contained within this site.