When learning a foreign language, people often encounter false friends: words that are similar or even identical to words in their native language, but have a different meaning in the target language.
These false friends may confuse you, surprise you, or lead to funny misunderstandings. However, being fooled by a false friend may also make you feel awkward or embarrassed. No matter how false friends make you feel, this list will be useful to you, whether it will simply give you a good laugh or prevent you from making mistakes.
Let’s start our list with the titular false friend: the Dutch word ‘slim’ doesn’t actually mean slim. It doesn’t refer to a person’s body type at all! Instead, it means clever or smart. Therefore, it is possible to be rather ‘slim’ without being slim. Or er, to be slim without being ‘slim’. Yes, it’s odd!
Similarly, if a Dutch person compliments you on how ‘dapper’ you are, they’re not referring to how you’re dressed. In Dutch, ‘dapper’ means brave or courageous. Quite the difference, isn’t it? Well, at least they’re both compliments!
A Dutch person wearing a ‘hoed’ isn’t wearing a hood, but a hat, which would make them dapper, but not necessarily ‘dapper’.
Oh, and to make it even more confusing: ‘braaf’ doesn’t mean brave. That was ‘dapper’! ‘Braaf’ means good or well-behaved.
Likewise, ‘kind’ and kind do not share the same meaning. ‘Kind’ is the Dutch word for child. In this case, the English language is the odd one out in the Germanic language family, since ‘Kind’ is also the German word for child. Don’t blame the Dutch for this one!
A ‘big’ is a piglet, which has little to do with the English word big. The Dutch translation of big would be ‘groot’. You can imagine how the Guardians of the Galaxy phrase ‘I am Groot’ didn’t translate very well for us Dutchies!
A ‘recreant’ is a person doing something, usually something athletic, purely for their own enjoyment, not a recreant. Most Dutch sports clubs have special ‘recreantenteams’, and you’ll find that most people in these teams are actually quite nice!
‘Smal’ isn’t small, it’s narrow. The meanings of these two words are somewhat closer related than the previous examples, after all, plenty of small things are also narrow, but that’s exactly what makes it so incredibly confusing!
Now the next one may not look similar in spelling, but these two words actually sound quite alike: ‘eekhoorn’ and acorn! However, an ‘eekhoorn’ is a squirrel. Have you ever seen an eekhoorn eating an acorn?
Egel and Rover
An ‘egel’ is a hedgehog, not an eagle, and a ‘rover’ is a robber instead of a rover.
As I said before, some false friends may cause strange or even embarrassing situations. Take the Dutch word ‘panty’ for example. This has nothing to do with underwear, what we mean is a pantyhose! We just left the ‘hose’ bit off.
Another false friend that may cause quite some confusion, is the Dutch word ‘pony’. Alright, this one does actually mean pony… but it also means bangs. Apparently this hairstyle reminds us Dutch people of a pony, hence the name! So, next time you see a Dutch child asking their parents for a pony, they might just mean they want a new hairstyle. Strange, isn’t it?
And speaking of strange… the word ‘raar’ means strange or odd, not rare.
Here’s another thing that you may find ‘raar’: the Dutch word ‘monster’ doesn’t just mean monster, it also means sample, so next time someone offers you a free ‘monster’, you can accept it!
When a Dutch person tells you they’ll do something ‘eventueel’, that does not mean they’ll do it eventually. It means they’ll possibly do it. You can see how false friends like these may cause confusion!
However, when a Dutch person tells you it will be done in a ‘decade’, it won’t take them ten years. Don’t worry, a ‘decade’ is only ten days!
A Dutch person saying ‘ik wil’, you guessed it, does not mean I will. Instead, it means I want.
He gaat wel
‘Het gaat wel’ should never be translated to ‘it goes well’, even though that would seem like the most logical translation. A Dutch person telling you this actually isn’t that enthusiastic about their situation, as this phrase can best be translated to ‘it’s alright, it’s so-so’.
Lastly, ‘half drie’ does not mean half three, but half two. Huh? Well, basically, this would be half to three, as the Dutch see it. This is really important to bear in mind when setting up a meeting with Dutch people, as this false friend may cause the serious social faux-pas of you being an hour late, or your friends standing on your door step an hour early. Yikes!
Well, that’s quite the list, isn’t it? Who knew that learning Dutch could be so confusing! Don’t be nervous though, despite the false friends you may meet along the way, learning Dutch is actually quite easy for English speakers, as both are Germanic languages. Oddities aside, the two languages actually share many similarities. Just be aware of these false friends, and you’ll do just fine!
Which ones did you know? Which did you find funny or interesting? Let me know in the comments below!