Dutch phonology: Wikis


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Dutch grammar series

Dutch grammar

This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Dutch is a Germanic language and as such has a similar phonology to other Germanic languages (particularly Low German, Frisian, English, and to a lesser extent, German). (See the West Germanic languages.)

The Dutch as spoken in Haarlem is popularly said to be closest to northern “Standard” Dutch, not the Amsterdam dialect. Amsterdam dialect is different from northern Standard Dutch in that, for example, /z/ is replaced by [sʲ].[1]



Dutch has an extensive vowel inventory consisting of 13 plain vowels and four diphthongs. The vowels /eː/, /øː/ and /oː/ are included in the diphthong chart below because many northern dialects realize them as diphthongs, though they behave phonologically like the other simple vowels. When they precede /r/, these vowels are pronounced [ɪː], [ʏː] and [ɔː] respectively. [ɐ] (a near-open central vowel) is an allophone of unstressed /a/ and /ɑ/.

Monophthongs of Netherlandic Dutch. from Gussenhoven (1992:47)
Diphthongs of Netherlandic Dutch. from Gussenhoven (1992:47)
Dutch Vowels with Example Words
Symbol Example
Vowel IPA orthography Gloss
ɪ Nl-kip.ogg kɪp kip 'chicken'
i Nl-biet.ogg bit biet 'beetroot'
ʏ Nl-hut.ogg ɦʏt hut 'cabin'
Nl-fuut.ogg fyːt fuut 'grebe'
ɛ Nl-bed.ogg bɛt bed 'bed'
eɪ, eː1 Nl-beet.ogg beɪt
Nl-beet (Belgium).ogg beːt
beet 'bite'
ə Nl-de.ogg de 'the'
øʏ, øː 1 Nl-neus (Netherlands).ogg nøʏs
Nl-neus (Belgium).ogg nøːs
neus 'nose'
ɑ Nl-bad.ogg bɑt bad 'bath'
Nl-baat.ogg baːt baad 'bathe'
ɔ Nl-bot.ogg bɔt bot 'bone'
oʊ, oː1 Nl-boot.ogg boʊt
Nl-boot (Belgium).ogg boːt
boot 'boat'
u Nl-hoed.ogg ɦut hoed 'hat'
ɛi Nl-bijt.ogg bɛit , Nl-ei.ogg ɛi bijt, ei 'bite', 'egg'
œy Nl-buit.ogg bœyt buit 'booty'
ʌu, ɔu 2 Nl-fout (Netherlands).ogg fʌut , Nl-nauw (Netherlands).ogg nʌu

Nl-fout (Belgium).ogg fɔut , Nl-nauw (Belgium).ogg nɔu

fout, nauw 'mistake', 'narrow'
  1. Pronounced as long vowels in Belgium, but as narrow closing diphthongs in the Netherlands. The transcription /eɪ øʏ oʊ/ for this diphthongal pronunciation is non-standard and used here for the sake of clarity.
  2. Pronounced /ʌu/ in Northern Standard Dutch and /ɔu/ in Standard Belgian Dutch.[2]


  Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k (ʔ)1
voiced b d ɡ 2
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ 3 ç 4 x ~ χ 4
voiced v 5 z 5 ʒ 3 ʝ 5 ɣ 5 ʁ 6 ɦ 5
Trill r 6 ʀ 6
Approximant β̞ ~ ʋ 7 l 8 j w7


  1. [ʔ] is not a separate phoneme in Dutch, but is inserted before vowel-initial syllables within words after /a/ and /ə/ and often also at the beginning of a word.
  2. /ɡ/ is not a native phoneme of Dutch and only occurs in borrowed words, like goal or when /k/ is voiced, like in zakdoek [zɑɡduk].
  3. /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ are not native phonemes of Dutch, and usually occur in borrowed words, like show and bagage ('baggage'). And even then they are usually realized as [sʲ] and [zʲ] respectively. However, /s/ + /j/ phoneme sequences in Dutch are often realized as [sʲ], like in the word huisje ('little house'). In dialects that merge s and z [zʲ] often is realized as [sʲ].
  4. The sound spelled <ch> is a voiceless velar fricative [x] in Northern Dutch and a voiceless palatal fricative [ç] in Southern Dutch, including all of Dutch-speaking Belgium.[3] In the North /ɣ/ is usually realized as [x] or [χ], whereas in the South the distinction between /ʝ/ and /ç/ has been preserved.
  5. In some northern dialects, the voiced fricatives have almost completely merged with the voiceless ones; /ɦ/ is usually realized as [h], /v/ is usually realized as [f], /z/ is usually realized as [s].
  6. The realization of the /r/ phoneme varies considerably from dialect to dialect. In "standard" Dutch, /r/ is realized as the alveolar trill [r]. In some dialects it is realized as the alveolar tap [ɾ], the voiced uvular fricative [ʁ], the uvular trill [ʀ], or even as the alveolar approximant [ɹ].
  7. The realization of the /ʋ/ phoneme varies considerably from the Northern to the Southern and Belgium dialects of the Dutch language. In the north of the Netherlands, it is a labiodental approximant: [ʋ]. In the south of the Netherlands and in Belgium, it is pronounced as a bilabial approximant ([β̞])[4] (so in the Hasselt and Maastricht dialects [5][6]), and Standard Belgian Dutch uses the voiced labiovelar approximant [w][citation needed].
  8. The lateral /l/ is velarized postvocalically (and may even be vocalized by certain speakers).[2][4]
Dutch Consonants with Example Words
Symbol Example
IPA IPA orthography Gloss
p Nl-pen.ogg pɛn pen 'pen'
b Nl-biet.ogg bit biet 'beetroot'
t Nl-tak.ogg tɑk tak 'branch'
d Nl-dak.ogg dɑk dak 'roof'
k Nl-kat.ogg kɑt kat 'cat'
ɡ Nl-goal.ogg ɡoːl goal 'goal' (sports)
m Nl-mens.ogg mɛns mens 'human being'
n Nl-nek.ogg nɛk nek 'neck'
ŋ Nl-eng.ogg ɛŋ eng 'scary'
f Nl-fiets.ogg fits fiets 'bicycle'
v Nl-oven.ogg oːvən ¹ oven 'oven'
s Nl-sok.ogg sɔk sok 'sock'
z Nl-zeep.ogg zeːp zeep 'soap'
ʃ Nl-chef.ogg ʃɛf chef 'boss, chief'
ʒ Nl-jury.ogg ʒyːri jury 'jury'
x Nl-acht (North).ogg ɑxt acht 'eight'
ç Nl-acht (South).ogg ɑçt acht 'eight'
ɣ Nl-gaan.ogg ɣaːn gaan 'to go'
ʝ Nl-gaan (South).ogg ʝaːn gaan 'to go'
r Nl-rat.ogg rɑt rat 'rat'
ɦ Nl-hoed.ogg ɦut hoed 'hat'
ʋ Nl-wang.ogg ʋɑŋ wang 'cheek'
w Nl-wang (Belgium).ogg wɑŋ wang 'cheek'
j Nl-jas.ogg jɑs jas 'coat'
l Nl-land.ogg lɑnt land 'land / country'
ʔ Nl-beamen.ogg bəʔaːmən ¹ beamen 'to confirm'
  1. Often the final 'n' is not pronounced.

Dutch language devoices all obstruents at the ends of words (e.g. a final /d/ becomes [t]). This is partly reflected in the spelling, the voiced "z" in plural About this sound huizen becomes About this sound huis ('house') in singular. And About this sound duiven becomes About this sound duif ('dove'). The other cases, are always written with the voiced consonant, although a devoiced one is actually pronounced, e.g. the voiced "d" in plural baarden (Nl-baarden.ogg [baːrdən] ) is retained in singular spelling baard ('beard'), but pronounced as Nl-baard.ogg [baːrt] , and plural ribben (Nl-ribben.ogg [rɪbən] ) has singular rib ('rib'), pronounced as Nl-rib.ogg [rɪp] .

Because of assimilation, often the initial consonant of the next word is usually also devoiced, e.g. het vee ('the cattle') is /(ɦ)ətfeː/.

Some regions (Amsterdam, Friesland) have almost completely lost the voiced fricatives /v/, /z/ and /ɣ/. Further south these phonemes are certainly present in the middle of a word. Compare e.g. logen and loochen [loːɣən] vs. [loːxən]. In the South (i.e. Zeeland, Brabant and Limburg) and in Flanders the contrast is even greater because the <g> is palatal. ('soft g'): Nl-logen (Belgium).ogg [loːʝən] vs. Nl-loochen (Belgium).ogg [loːçən] .

The final 'n' of the plural ending -en is usually not pronounced (as in Afrikaans where it is also dropped in the written language), except in the North East (Low Saxon) and the South West (East and West Flemish) where the ending becomes a syllabic n sound.


When the penultimate syllable is open, stress may fall on any of the last three syllables. When the penultimate syllable is closed, stress falls on either of the last two syllables. While stress is phonemic, minimal pairs are rare.[7] [8] For example vóórkomen (to occurAbout this sound listen ) and voorkómen (to preventAbout this sound listen ). In composite words, secondary stress is often present. Marking the stress in written Dutch is optional, never obligatory, but sometimes recommended. The most common practice is to distinguish een (indefinite article) from één (the cardinal number one).


The syllable structure of Dutch is (C)(C)(C)V(C)(C)(C)(C). Many words, like in English, begin with three consonants - e.g. About this sound straat (street). There are words that end in four consonants - e.g. About this sound herfst (autumn), About this sound ergst (worst), About this sound interessantst (most interesting), About this sound sterkst (strongest) - most of them being adjectives in the superlative form.

Historical sound changes

Dutch (with the exception of the Limburg dialects) did not participate in the second Germanic consonant shift except for the last stage - compare

  • /-k-/ > /-x-/: German machen vs. Dutch About this sound maken , English make
  • /-p-/ > /-f-/: German Schaf vs. Dutch About this sound schaap , English sheep
  • /-t-/ > /-s-/: German Wasser vs. Dutch About this sound water , English water
  • /-θ-/ > /-d-/: German das, Dutch About this sound dat vs. English that

Dutch generalised the fricative variety of Proto-Germanic */ɡ/ as [ɣ] or [ʝ], in contrast with German which generalised the plosive [ɡ], and English which lost the fricative variety through regular sound changes.

Dutch underwent a few changes of its own. For example:

  • Words with -old or -olt lost the /l/ in favor of a diphthong as a result of l-vocalization. Compare English old, German alt, Dutch About this sound oud .
  • /ft/ changed to /xt/ (North) or /çt/ (South), spelled <cht>, but this was later reverted in many words by analogy with other forms. Compare English loft, German Luft, Dutch lucht (pronounced Nl-lucht.ogg [lʏxt] or Nl-lucht (Belgium).ogg [lʏçt] ).
  • Proto-Germanic */uː/ turned into /yː/ through palatalization, which, in turn, became the diphthong Nl-ui.ogg /œy/ , spelled <ui>. Long */iː/ also diphthongized to Nl-ei.ogg /ɛi/ , spelled <ij>.

See also



  • Gussenhoven, Carlos (1992), "Dutch", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 22 (2): 45–47 
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos; Aarts, Flor (1999), "The dialect of Maastricht", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 29: 155–166 
  • Peters, Jörg (2006), "The dialect of Hasselt", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 36 (1): 117–124, doi:10.1017/S0025100306002428 
  • Verhoeven, Jo (2005), "Belgian Standard Dutch", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 35 (2): 243–247, doi:10.1017/S0025100305002173 
  • Verhoeven, Jo (2007), "The Belgian Limburg dialect of Hamont", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37 (2): 219–225, doi:10.1017/S0025100307002940 


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