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10 common Dutch proverbs and sayings

Even if you’re completely fluent in the Dutch language, you might still scratch your head and silently wonder from time to time, “what on earth is that person talking about!” That’s because the Dutch language is often peppered with a colourful selection of Dutch proverbs and sayings that are not always easy to interpret – below you’ll find 10 common Dutch proverbs and sayings, along with their literal translations, their approximate English equivalent, as well as their meaning.

Common Dutch proverbs and sayings

1. Zoals het klokje thuis tikt, tikt het nergens

Literal translation: The clock ticks at home, as it ticks nowhere else.

English equivalent: ‘There’s no place like home’.

Meaning: There’s nowhere quite as cosy or comfortable as your own home.

2. Boontje komt om zijn loontje

Literal translation: The little bean comes to the deserved.

English equivalent: ‘What goes around comes around’ or ‘your chickens will come home to roost’.

Meaning: You’ll get what you you deserve.

3. Je moet het ijzer smeden als het heet is

Literal translation: You must strike while the iron is hot.

English equivalent: ‘Strike while the iron is hot’ .

Meaning: It’s best to take prompt action (particularly when it comes to special offers from Holland at Home!).

4. Wie de schoen past, trekke hem aan

Literal translation: He whom the shoe fits, should put it on.

English equivalent: ‘If the shoe fits, wear it’.

Meaning: if a description applies to you, then accept it.

5. Door de mand vallen

Literal translation: To fall through the basket.

English equivalent: To ‘reveal one’s true colours’.

Meaning: to be exposed for who you really are (e.g. as a liar or a cheat).

6. Wie het onderste uit de kan wil hebben, krijgt het deksel op zijn neus

Literal translation: he who wants the bottom of the jug, gets the lid on his nose.

English equivalent: ‘He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house’.

Meaning:  Greed will cause you problems in the long run.

7. Hoog van de toren blazen

Literal translation: to blow from the high tower.

English equivalent: ‘To blow your own trumpet’.

Meaning: To talk as though you are extremely important or successful.

8. Hij heeft de klok wel horen luiden, maar weet niet waar de klepel hangt.

Literal translation: he has heard the clock bell, but doesn’t know where the pendulum hangs.

English equivalent: Similar to ‘the lights are on, but there’s nobody home’.

Meaning:  One who thinks they know the subject, but the essence eludes them.

9. Door het oog van de naald kruipen

Literal translation: To crawl through the eye of a needle.

English equivalent: ‘by the skin of your teeth’ or ‘a close shave’.

Meaning:  To only just manage to avoid a negative event (such as an accident or redundancy).

10. Gezelligheid kent geen tijd

Literal translation: Cosiness knows no time.

English equivalent: ‘Time spent together is time well spent’.

Meaning: Cosiness is more important than time – so, it doesn’t matter if an especially cosy gathering (e.g. a family get-together or birthday party, where the Dutch beer is flowing freely) goes on longer than expected, as the occasion more than merits the time spent!

Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then why not visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants abroad?

3 comments on “10 common Dutch proverbs and sayings

  1. ingrid
    29/12/2016

    I’m looking for the one ….. iedereen heeft een boek…..

  2. Willemina Tarrant
    14/01/2016

    What is the rest of the saying, gevaarlike vijand, warnte bron………..?

    • Leendert Dekruis
      12/02/2016

      Is this a Dutch saying ? I `ve never heard of this one before !

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