When we think of Dutch, we think of the Netherlands, but it’s also an official language in Belgium and other smaller countries in Asia, South America and even Oceania. It’s a Germanic language like English and German, and just like them, it uses the Latin script as its writing system.

This lesson is part of the chapter “Learning Dutch“.

Dutch Alphabet and Pronunciation

Introduction

The best thing about the Dutch language is that it’s written in a very straightforward way. It’s mostly read as it is written, meaning that each letter represents the actual spoken sound fairly well. Dutch is the language closest to English as well, and because of this, aside from some sounds that an English speaker can struggle a bit to pronounce, it should be easy to grasp. Let’s begin!

The Dutch Alphabet

Letter (lower case) Letter (upper case) Pronunciation English transcription (lower case) English transcription (upper case) Example
a A ah a A short: man (man); long: kaart (card)
b B bey b B brood (bread)
c C say c C camera (camera)
d D day d D de (the)
e E ay e E short: bed (bed); long: nee (no)
f F eff f F fiets (bicycle)
g G gay g G geel (yellow)
h H hah h H hand (hand)
i I ee i I short: lip; long: idee
j J yay j J jaar (year)
k K kah k K kat (cat)
l L ell l L licht (light)
m M emm m M morgen (morning)
n N enn n N nek (neck)
o O oh o O short: vol (full); long: rood (red)
p P pay p P pa (dad)
q Q koo q Q quiz (quiz)
r R err r R raam (window)
s S ess s S sok (sock)
t T tay t T taart (cake)
u U oo u U short: kus (kiss); long: vuur (fire)
v V fay v V vader (father)
w W vay w W waar (where)
x X ex x X extra (extra)
y Y eh-ee (Greek Y) y Y royaal (generous)
z Z zet z Z zilver (silver)

Pronunciation

Letter (lower case) Pronunciation Phonetic notation
a short: palm (but shorter); long: bar short: [ɑ]; long: [a:]
b book [b]; [p] at the end of the syllable
c car [s] before e, i, ij or y; otherwise [k]
d dad [d]; [t] at the end of the syllable
e short: test; long: dress short:[ɛ], [ə]; long: [e]
f find [f]
g No equivalent in English, this sound is usually compared to the one you make when clearing your throat. [ɣ]; [x] at the end of the syllable
h Soft H sound, like in high [ɦ]
i short: wit; long: see short: [ɪ]; long: [i]
j yard [j]
k kind [k]
l lamp [l]
m morning [m]
n night [n]
o short: hall (but shorter); long: boat short: [ɔ]; long: [o:]
p pen [p]
q quick [k]
r No equivalent in English, the sound is made by the vibration of the tongue when the air goes through the tip, which is touching the alveolar ridge. rolled [r]
s sock [s]
t tent [t]
u short: burden; long: no equivalent in English, you have to purse your lips and pronounce an oo short: [ʏ]; long: [u], [y]
v almost the same as the f sound, father [f]; [v]
w velvet, but a bit softer [ʋ]
x exact [ks]
y lyrics [ɪ]; [j]
z zoom [z]

The letter IJ

This letter has caused some debate since some people see it as a part of the alphabet, instead of the Y, and others don’t, so let’s talk about it separetly. In Dutch, the combination ij sounds like eh-ee, like the ai in “main” or the a in “fate”. It’s still regarded as a single letter, though, hence you have to capitalize both the i and the j when it’s at the beginning of a sentence.

The unstressed E or “schwa”

This is the third sound the letter e can represent. It’s a very short sound so it’s never followed by another e, and it sounds similar to the e in “the” or the first and last a’s in “banana”, the phonetic symbol is /ə/. We can know if a vowel is short or long depending on the way the it’s written (if there’s just an e it’s short, if there are two it’s long), but there’s no way to know when an e is a schwa since it’s written just like a normal e, so you just have to practise a lot. There are some rules you can learn though, but they don’t cover all the possible scenarios:

  • The single E at the end of a word is always a schwa.
  • It is found in the be, ge, te and ver prefixes (the beginning of the word)./li>
  • It is also found in the en, el and el suffixes (the endings of a word).
  • We can find ‘n, ‘r and ‘t written on their own in Dutch, the apostrophe is pronounced like a schwa.

The diaeresis

The diaeresis are the two dots we can find on top of a vowel, the important thing to know is that when we see it, it means that the vowel is pronounced separately, as if there was a small pause between time. For example: “vacuüm” doesn’t have a double u, it would be pronounced like “vacu-um”.

Consonant combinations

Now there are some consonant and vowel combinations that don’t follow the rules we have seen above, let’s take a look at them so that you know how to pronounce them when you spot them!

Consonant Combination Pronunciation
ch The same as the g, but it’s not pronounced when in a -ISCH or- SCHR ending.
isch (ending) Pronounced like “ees”.
ps The p is pronounced before the s.
td Pronounced like a d.
tie (ending) Pronounced like “see” after c, p and r; after n and vowels like “tsee”; otherwise like
“tee”.
dt Pronounced like t.
wr The w is pronounced like an v.
lijk (ending) The IJ is pronounced like a schwa (unstressed e).
ng Like in English, in words like “sing”. The g has a very soft sound.
tj, tsj Like the English ch in “chill”.
schr The ch is not pronounced, the s sounds a bit like sh an the r is not rolled, it sounds more guttural (the sound comes from the throat).

Vowel combinations

Vowel Combination Pronunciation
au, ou Pronounced like the ou in “house”.
ei Pronounced like ow.
eu Pronounced by pursing the lips and pronouncing an e, like in French or the German ö.
Similar to the e in “her”.
ie Pronounced like ee.
oe Pronounced like oo.
ui Doesn’t exist in English either, and it could be quite difficult for an English speaker to get right, it’s like an ou with an eu, try rounding your lips a bit and pronouncing the ou in “loud”, it sounds similar to that.
aai, oei, ooi Remember that the i is pronounced like an y before a vowel.
ieu(w), eeu(w) Sounds like an ee sound followed by an oo sound.

HTML and Unicode

Letter (lower case) HTML code (lower case) HTML code (upper case) Unicode (lower case) Unicode (upper case)
a #97 #65 U+0061 U+0041
b #98 #66 U+0062 U+0042
c #99 #67 U+0063 U+0043
d #100 #68 U+0064 U+0044
e #101 #69 U+0065 U+0045
f #102 #70 U+0066 U+0046
g #103 #71 U+0067 U+0047
h #104 #72 U+0068 U+0048
i #105 #73 U+0069 U+0049
j #106 #74 U+006A U+004A
k #107 #75 U+006B U+004B
l #108 #76 U+006C U+004C
m #109 #77 U+006D U+004D
n #110 #78 U+006E U+004E
o #111 #79 U+006F U+004F
p #112 #80 U+0070 U+0050
q #113 #81 U+0071 U+0051
r #114 #82 U+0072 U+0052
s #115 #83 U+0073 U+0053
t #116 #84 U+0074 U+0054
u #117 #85 U+0075 U+0055
v #118 #86 U+0076 U+0056
w #119 #87 U+0077 U+0057
x #120 #88 U+0078 U+0058
y #121 #89 U+0079 U+0059
z #122 #90 U+007A U+005A

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