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False friends between Dutch and English

You might have noticed that some words in Dutch text resemble certain English words in their spelling or pronunciation. Unfortunately, these words sometimes carry a different meaning. False friends are words that appear very much alike, often have the same etymological origin, and yet mean something quite different.

As an English speaker learning Dutch, I have grown wary of such words and consequently acquired a new appreciation for the dictionary. Linguee.com is a great tool as well; it allows you to translate Dutch to English and vice versa while presenting each word in a given context.

Below is a list of eight examples of false friends commonly confused by Dutch speakers learning English.

Eekhoorn (D) vs. Acorn (E):

Eekhoorn is a squirrel in English and, quite fittingly, an acorn (eikel in Dutch) is what squirrels often eat as part of their diet.

Brutaal (D) vs. Brutal (E):

Brutaal might refer to someone who is being bold or cheeky, while brutal (wreed in Dutch) can describe a punishingly hard or uncomfortable situation. E.g. I’ve got a brutal week ahead of me.

Actueel (D) vs. Actual (E):

Actueel means current, relevant or topical, while actual (eigenlijk in Dutch) is used to emphasize important aspects or factual content. Actualiteit, in Dutch, is derived from it and is more commonly used; it refers to common events in the world or in media. E.g. the estimate was much less than the actual cost.

Mening (D) vs. Meaning (E):

Mening, meaning one’s opinion, is different than meaning (betekenis in Dutch). E.g. what is the meaning of this phrase?

Eventueel (D) vs. Eventual(ly) (E):

Both are derived from the same stem and both are used as adjectives. Eventueel expresses doubt or potentiality and is unrelated to time, while eventual refers to the final or ultimate result of a series of actions. E.g. it’s impossible to predict the eventual outcome of the competition.

Hard (D) vs. Hard (E):

This is a tricky one, as the word has multiple meanings in both languages. Hard, in English, can mean difficult but it can also mean firm or solid. This differs from the Dutch use of the word, meaning firm, solid or loud. E.g. we’re going to have a hard time meeting the deadline next week.

Willen (D) vs. Will (E):

Willen is used to express desire for something, while will, in English, is a modal verb used to express inevitable events or the future tense, among others. E.g. I will call you back as soon as possible.

Raar (D) vs. Rare (E):

Raar is equivalent to strange in English, while rare (zeldzaam, rauw) is the opposite of common and can also be used to order a lightly cooked steak. E.g. she suffers from a rare genetic condition.

Tip: In order to avoid miscommunication on various levels, define new words before using them in practice – especially if they have similarities with other words in your first (or second) language. Good luck!

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Alma Bonger
Alma Bonger
Alma is an English language trainer and writer from Canada. She is passionate about education, exploring new cultures, and creative collaboration.

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