Dutch phonology

Dutch phonology
Dutch grammar series

Dutch grammar

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

Dutch as spoken in Haarlem is popularly said to be closest to northern “Standard” Dutch,[1] not the Amsterdam dialect.



Monophthongs of Netherlandic Dutch (from Gussenhoven (1992:47))
Diphthongs of Netherlandic Dutch (from Gussenhoven (1992:47))

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/.

Vowel length is not always considered a distinctive feature in Dutch phonology, because it is usually paired with changes in vowel quality. However, there are some minimal pairs distinguished by length alone. One example occurs in dialects where the opposition between voiced and voiceless fricatives has been neutralised (by devoicing the voiced fricatives); in these dialects, roze [rɔːsə] ("pink") and rosse [rɔsə] ("red-haired") are not only a minimal pair, but could even conceivably lead to misunderstanding if misheard (is someone's hair red or pink?). Compare kroes [krus] ("mug") versus cruise [kruːs] ("cruise").

Dutch Vowels with Example Words
Symbol Example
Vowel IPA orthography Gloss
ɪ About this sound kɪp kip 'chicken'
i About this sound bit biet 'beetroot'
ʏ About this sound ɦʏt hut 'cabin'
About this sound fyːt fuut 'grebe'
ɛ About this sound bɛt bed 'bed'
ɛː3 bɑ.ri.ɛː.rə barrière 'barrier'
eɪ, eː1 About this sound beɪt
About this sound beːt
beet 'bite'
ə About this sound  de 'the'
øʏ, øː1 About this sound nøʏs
About this sound nøːs
neus 'nose'
ɑ About this sound bɑt bad 'bath'
About this sound baːt baad 'bathe'
ɔ About this sound bɔt bot 'bone'
ɔː3 About this sound rɔːzə roze 'pink'
oʊ, oː1 About this sound boʊt
About this sound boːt
boot 'boat'
u About this sound ɦut hoed 'hat'
ɛi About this sound bɛit , About this sound ɛi bijt, ei 'bite', 'egg'
œy About this sound bœyt buit 'booty'
ʌu, ɔu2 About this sound fʌut , About this sound nʌu

About this sound fɔut , About this sound 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]
^3 Only in loanwords, mostly from French.


  Labial 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 ~ x ~ χ 4
voiced v 5 z 5 ʒ 3 ʝ ~ ɣ 4 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 allophonically when /k/ is voiced due to assimilation, 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'). However, /s/ + /j/ phoneme sequences in Dutch are often realized as [ʃ].
^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 /r/ 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 as the alveolar approximant [ɹ].
^7 The realization of /ʋ/ 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, Belgium, as well as in the Hasselt and Maastricht dialects, it is pronounced as a bilabial approximant ([β̞]).[4][5][6]
^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 About this sound pɛn pen 'pen'
b About this sound bit biet 'beetroot'
t About this sound tɑk tak 'branch'
d About this sound dɑk dak 'roof'
k About this sound kɑt kat 'cat'
ɡ About this sound ɡoːl goal 'goal' (sports)
m About this sound mɛns mens 'human being'
n About this sound nɛk nek 'neck'
ŋ About this sound ɛŋ eng 'scary'
f About this sound fits fiets 'bicycle'
v About this sound oːvən ¹ oven 'oven'
s About this sound sɔk sok 'sock'
z About this sound zeːp zeep 'soap'
ʃ About this sound ʃɛf chef 'boss, chief'
ʒ About this sound ʒyːri jury 'jury'
x About this sound ɑxt acht 'eight'
ç About this sound ɑçt acht 'eight'
ɣ About this sound ɣaːn gaan 'to go'
ʝ About this sound ʝaːn gaan 'to go'
r About this sound rɑt rat 'rat'
ɦ About this sound ɦut hoed 'hat'
ʋ About this sound ʋɑŋ wang 'cheek'
w About this sound wɑŋ wang 'cheek'
j About this sound jɑs jas 'coat'
l About this sound lɑnt land 'land / country'
ʔ About this sound 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 (About this sound [baːrdən] ) is retained in singular spelling baard ('beard'), but pronounced as About this sound [baːrt] , and plural ribben (About this sound [rɪbən] ) has singular rib ('rib'), pronounced as About this sound [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/. However, 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'): About this sound [loːʝən] vs. About this sound [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 ). This also conveys information about the grammatical behavior of the word: when inflected, vóórkomen separates as kom- ... voor, while in voorkómen the prefix is considered as part of the root and thus remains in place. 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, which, as a clitic, bears no stress) 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 About this sound [lʏxt] or About this sound [lʏçt] ).
  • Proto-Germanic */uː/ turned into /yː/ through palatalization, which, in turn, became the diphthong About this sound /œy/ , spelled ⟨ui⟩. Long */iː/ also diphthongized to About this sound /ɛi/ , spelled ⟨ij⟩.

See also



  • Gussenhoven, Carlos (1992), "Dutch", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 22 (2): 45–47, doi:10.1017/S002510030000459X 
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos; Aarts, Flor (1999), "The dialect of Maastricht", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 29 (02): 155–166, doi:10.1017/S0025100300006526 
  • 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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