Navigating faith, love, and life in the Netherlands

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Double Meanings

In my quest to learn Dutch, I have discovered, much to my dismay, that some words have more than one meaning.  

This is not quite like to/two/too in English, although these words will of course sound the same when spoken.  A similar example is the word "ring" in English.  This could mean a shiny piece of jewelry, or, if spoken by a British person, could mean the act of telephoning someone else.

These are confusing for newbies -- and perhaps for oldies/natives as well?  Does it make language learning more efficient?  We'll see.

Here are some words that I've encountered so far (definite articles de and het for nouns have been omitted):

bij = by, bee

arm = arm, poor

bank = sofa/couch or bank (money place)

boer = farmer, burp (both nouns)
boeren = farmers, burps (noun), to burp (verb)

kussen = pillow, to kiss

naar = to, weird

schuld = debt, sin

vlieg = I fly, a fly

hard = hard, loud, fast

weer = weather, again

waar = where, true

wat = what, something

wortel = carrot, root (this can also be used to discuss historical roots)

Another confusing thing is that there are two words for airport:  luchthaven and vliegveld.  What are the differences in meaning/connotation? 

Topping them all is the word zijn, which can be 3 different parts of speech! This word could mean "his" (his book), they are, or "to be" (in the infinitive).  Zijn boeken zijn in de kast.  His books are in the cupboard.


  1. Naar = to, that's right, but not weird. Closer to sad, nasty even, I'd say.
    Schuld, I don't think that it is sin. It is debt indeed. Both in a financial and a moral way.
    I don't think there are any differences between luchthaven and vliegveld. It may be the two words originated from different languages, I know the German word is Flughafen. Or in different parts of the country. In my ears, luchthaven sounds more formal. But that may just be me.

    As to being confusing, not really. I might visit a bank, and everyone will understand it is not a couch. Nor am I likely to sit on a financial institution.

    I can use my arm, but when I'd say I am "arm", it's quite clear I myself am not an arm as in a limb. So really, context generally makes quite clear what is meant.

    Btw, what about the word "put" in English? One could write a book on the different meanings of that word alone :-)

    1. Now you've got me thinking about the word "put"! Then again, with English, if you change the preposition that comes after the verb, the meaning changes completely: put up with someone, to feel put out, put away toys....or throw away, throw up...etc.

      Thanks for the other input. :)


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