Flemish and Dutch: the main differences explained - Taalhuis Amsterdam

The biggest differences between Dutch in the Netherlands and Belgium

After moving out of their parents’ house and starting with their studies, Dutch students often start living op kamers – but in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, students would go op kot. There they probably have a lot of goesting to go op café (‘feel like going to a bar’), drinking Belgian specialty beers. And a bit of appelsiensap (instead of sinaasappelsap), every now and then.


In general, Dutch and Flemish people can understand each other pretty easily, but the way they speak Dutch is not exactly the same. And if you want to avoid spijtige misunderstandings, you’d better pay close attention to some specific words.


When ordering Flemish fries in Belgium for example, it’s better to say friet and not patat as the Dutch do, unless you want to get a potato on your plate. When a Fleming compliments you on your beautiful kleedje he’s probably referring to your dress – a Dutchman would rather be impressed by the rug on your floor. And if you propose to a Fleming to go for a walk and you say ‘zullen we een stukje lopen?’, don’t be surprised if he puts on his running shoes. While lopen means to walk in the Netherlands, Flemish people use it for running.


The word poepen should be approached with particular caution. In the Netherlands you could use this word for going to the toilet – for number two, to be precise – but in Flanders it’s a quite indecent way of saying ‘to make love’. Amai! This is also why the Flemish say scheefpoeper if someone cheats on their partner, while Dutch people would call this person a vreemdganger (from the word vreemdgaan, to cheat).


But less about cheating, and more about grammar. The clearest grammar difference between the two Dutch forms arises when addressing someone in the second person. Where Dutch people use jij (emphasised) or je (not emphasised), the Flemish say gij or ge, which sounds a bit solemn and old-fashioned to the Dutch. ‘Gij hebt uw huiswerk heel goed gemaakt!’


In the Netherlands, the word u is the polite form: ‘Wilt u iets drinken?’ But in Flemish it’s also used in informal settings, because it’s the object form of gij – just like uw is the possessive form. In Belgium it’s therefore perfectly possible to say ‘Ik zie u graag’ to your loved one. (In Flemish, ‘iemand graag zien’ means that you love someone, while in the Netherlands it would literally mean that you just enjoy seeing someone.)


This is one of the biggest grammar differences between the two. Others are that the Dutch use tje or je to make a diminutive (biertje, grapje), while in Belgium it is also common to put ke after a word, as with vrouwke and manneke. Speaking of vrouwkes and mannekes: in the Netherlands it’s not that easy to tell whether words are masculine or feminine, but in some parts of Flanders, it is. For masculine words, Dutch people would say een stoel, een man and een vis, just like they would do with feminine words: een vrouw, een tafel, een tekening. But in what Flemish linguists call the tussentaal (‘intermediate language’, something between standard language and dialect), you might hear ne stoel, ne man and ne vis for masculine words. The feminine words simply keep their een.


There are quite some pronunciation differences, but the most obvious one is this: the Flemish G is pronounced a lot ‘softer’ than the harsher G in the Netherlands, which sounds a bit like the Spanish J. The soft G, which is also being used in the Dutch provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg (‘onder de rivieren’), is pronounced less far down the throat than the northern G.


Since Belgium is closer to France than to the Netherlands, it’s not surprising that their language is more influenced by French. Where the Dutch say vrachtwagen and busje, Belgians also use camion and camionette. The word chance is also commonly used instead of geluk, and in the morning, Flemings don’t spread jam but confituur on their bread – or have a croque monsieur (instead of a tosti). And they drink a tas koffie, which to Dutch people, would sound like they’re filling their bag full of coffee. So in the Netherlands it’s a better idea to order a kop koffie.


Furthermore, the word nonkel is often used instead of oom, and kozijn instead of neef. (Dutch doesn’t have a distinction between cousins and nephews or nieces: a neef can be your brother’s or your uncle’s son, and the same applies to the female variant nicht.)


But sometimes, it’s the other way around: in response to the French influence in Flemish Dutch, a lot of Flemish purisms have been arising that are maybe even more Dutch than the words Dutch people use. Not very widely used though, some examples are droogzwierder (‘drying spinner’) or droogkast (‘drying closet’), duimspijker (‘thumb nail’) and kinderkribbe (‘children’s manger’) instead of the French words Dutch people would use: centrifuge, punaise and crèche.


Some northern and southern Dutch expressions are very similar, but have small differences nonetheless. If Dutch people feel something in their gut, they say ‘ik voel het aan mijn water’ (‘I feel it in my water’), but the Flemish replace the word water with milk. Flemish people also say ‘de kat bij de melk zetten’ (‘to put the cat with the milk’) for putting someone into an irresistible temptation, while Dutch people would say ‘de kat op het spek binden’ (‘to tie the cat to the bacon’). And instead of bringing home the bacon, Flemish people earn money to have ‘zaad in het bakje’ (‘seed in the tray’), where Dutch people want to have ‘brood op de plank’ (‘bread on the shelf’).


The Dutch expression ‘boontje komt om zijn loontje’ (which means someone gets the punishment they deserve) even has a Belgian alternative that’s simply reversed: ‘loontje komt om zijn boontje.’


Allez, some Flemish ways of speaking can sound a bit formal to Dutch people – wenen instead of huilen, vermits instead of omdat – but in the end, a lot of Flemish words are also zeer plezant or schoon (pretty). Think of accordeonfile for a slowly moving traffic jam. And some of them, like muizenstrontjes (‘mouse droppings’) instead of hagelslag for chocolate sprinkles, are, well, imaginative!


Blog by Dutch teacher Yoran.

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