Dutch and German are related languages that belong to the same family: the Germanic languages. They are even more closely related as they are on the same branch (West Germanic languages) which also includes English. Another branch, the North Germanic languages, includes languages such as Norwegian, Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish.
Dutch and German share many cognates (words that come from the same etymological ancestor). But many of these words have different spellings due to a phenomenon called the High German consonant shift.
Between the 3rd and the 8th century, the German language underwent some changes in pronunciation. These changes did not occur in the other Germanic languages (like Dutch and English) leading to a divergence between German and Dutch.
The three main high German consonant shifts are the following:
There is a historical reason which explains why English has more Latin-derived vocabulary words than German and Dutch.
The Norman conquest of England in 1066 caused Old Norman, a French dialect, to become the language of the Anglo-Norman government. Over several centuries, this French dialect gained wide usage in the royal court, church, and justice system of England. As a result, many French vocabulary words, which originated from Latin, entered English as loanwords, replacing some of the original Germanic terms.
In contrast, Dutch and German have not had as many of their original Germanic vocabulary words replaced by Latin-based words.
The author is a native English speaker who learned Dutch for 5 years, and after that moved to Germany. In this article, he discusses the similarities between Dutch and German, and how those made it much easier for him to learn German.
As I walked to my German A2 course for the first time one brisk September morning in Berlin, I was feeling a tad trepidatious. While I knew the basic German greetings from my previous visits to the city which I now call home, I had never taken a German language course before.
Yet here I was, strolling straight past the A1 Level, as though I already knew it all. I felt like an imposter.
"You'll be fine! You know Dutch." The reassuring words of my partner rang in my head as I neared the German language school. But I wondered if any confidence I might perceive in myself wasn't just hubris.
I knew there were similarities between Dutch and German. But could enough overlap really exist to save me from making a fool of myself?
I took my seat, and the language class began. My teacher spoke only in German, and my classmates nodded along in perfect sync with the stream of sentences flowing from her mouth. Remarkably, so did I.
Could I understand the nuance of every word? No. But what the teacher said wasn't gibberish. I could tell where sentences began and ended, and enough of the German vocabulary words were similar to Dutch that I could figure out a lot through context.
Maybe I wasn't an imposter after all.
The close relationship between English, German, and Dutch can be seen (but not as easily heard) with words and phrases like:
(English [EN] / German [DE] / Dutch [NL])
While Dutch has more in common with English vocabulary than German does, there is significantly more overlap in the lexicons of German and Dutch than either one shares with English. Consider the following words:
Of course, any list of examples only begins to scratch the surface. To be more succinct, the lexicons of German and Dutch overlap in a way similar to those of Spanish and Italian.
Simple German and Dutch sentences that use the present tense follow the basic subject-verb-object structure used in English.
In contrast to English, sentences in German and Dutch change their word orders frequently. For instance, when a sentence begins with an adverb like “yesterday” or “actually,” the verb should come before the subject of the sentence, like so:
The suffix '-lich' in German and the suffix '-lijk' in Dutch have similar pronunciations, and they are typically used to denote adverbs. They are like the suffix '-ly' which is often added to English adjectives to construct adverbs.
German and Dutch sentence structure also changes when auxiliary verbs are used. Auxiliary verbs, sometimes called “helping verbs”, are verbs like “have” or “seem”, which require the use of another verb, in the infinitive form, to complete the statement:
Note that in the German and Dutch versions of the statement, the verbs «sehen» and «zien» ("to see") are placed at the end of the sentence.
Returning to the first day in my A2 German course, the grammar lesson that morning was on constructing sentences using the conjunction «weil» («because»). I already knew how to do this using the Dutch equivalent: «omdat».
In this case, the verb of the secondary clause always goes to the very end of the sentence.
When I was first learning Dutch, this grammar rule proved very confusing. But by the time I started learning German, I had already thoroughly internalized it.
My prior knowledge not only made it easier for me to transfer the concept to German but was also key in helping me follow along with my teacher during class that morning.
Some German and Dutch words appear similar but have different meanings. Language learners refer to these word pairs as “false friends”.
|bellen (to call)
|bellen (to bark)
|varen (to sail)
|fahren (to drive)
German and Dutch clearly have significant similarities, but their differences are numerous as well. They are distinct languages, after all.
Dutch and German utilize many of the same sounds, but they have vastly different rules for spelling.
When reading Dutch, one notices the frequent use of vowels and unfamiliar letter combinations, while German's dauntingly long words and regular use of umlauts tend to intimidate new learners.
Some basic German-Dutch spelling and pronunciation differences are as follows:
Many Dutch words which start with the letter combination “vr” correspond to German words which start with “fr”:
Generally speaking, the rules of German grammar are much more complicated and complex than those of Dutch. Take the following examples, for instance: