Seven essential Dutch Phrases explained

On a cold rainy day in August, the Shallow Man had more appointments to keep than an escort in the center of Amsterdam, so quickly put together this drive by posting.

I read a post on the Dutch Review called how to speak Dutch in seven words or less. It had some good language tips, however, I had to disagree with some of the explanations, so the Shallow Man presents seven essential Dutch phrases (and their real meanings). In no particular order here they are. Like an Elephant having sex with a mouse, the use of these phrases needs to be handled very carefully, however, feel free to use these phrases in the appropriate situations, however under no circumstances use phrase number six.

The things I do for my readers!


1. Ouwe Graftak one of the rare Dutch phrases

An Ouwe Graftak is a saying that is believed to have originated in Amsterdam to describe a person of advanced years who happens to be annoying. Literally speaking it’s a bunch of branches or flowers to be placed on a gravestone. A typical use of this saying in Amsterdam can be seen in the commercial below.

2. Hou je bek!

My personal favorite Dutch phrase, one that I’ve used in several situations, particularly handy if a pushy Dutch person asks you “HOW IS YOUR DUTCH?” with a tone of voice that means that if you answer them in Dutch they’ll speak to you in English, if you respond in English, they’ll be irritating about why you don’t speak Dutch. Hou Je bek is the direct equivalent of that old English saying ‘shut your cake hole’. Another polite alternative is hou je snavel!

3. Sorry Hoor!

For those of us that understand sarcasm, this phrase is always used inappropriately by the Dutch. So for example, if you happen to be walking along a pavement, and are almost hit by a person with fewer brain cells than an ameba, cycling while reading their text messages and have the nerve to complain, they’ll respond in a loud voice “SORRY HOOR!” Which is supposed to be sarcastically meant, even though they are plainly in the wrong for not paying attention and being on the pavement in the first place. This is also used by people that have been confronted for jumping the queue in shops, markets etc.

4. Gezellig (one of the most overused Dutch phrases)

The most overused phrase in the Dutch language. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be trapped at a Dutch circle of death party, you would have heard this phrase used many times. The term gezellig is used due to no other phrase quite summing up the monotony and awfulness of being stuck at such a gathering. Your mind starts wandering “who invented the idea of putting a stick through cubes of cheese? How much money does the person who has to make the cubes earn? That’s a big bottle of Cola, what an odd thing to serve adults.”

Then that dreaded moment arrives when your Dutch partner or friend asks you, “Are you having a good time?” and you say “yes, it’s gezellig!”

useful Dutch phrases gezellig

“An invitation from my Dutch in laws for coffee and cake”


Dutch phrases often over used, gezellig!

“Olga, come back, the circle party was toch gezellig”

5. Lekker

Lekker is used in polite society to describe things that are tasty or pleasant. If you get a bunch of drunk Dutch guys together in a bar, apart from spending the entire evening staring at attractive women but not talking to them, they will say to each other “dat is een lekker ding” and then go back to their biertjes.


6. Kanker followed by profanities

Here’s one that even after many years in the Netherlands I’ll never get used to. A subset of Dutch society appears to think that it’s clever and witty to use the term “Kanker” (cancer) followed by any number of insults. For example Kanker aap  =cancer ape. Using an illness that will affect most people at some time during their lives, (as in my case where my best friend died of it) is bizarre and beyond offensive, but for those with a limited vocabulary it’s perhaps the only way they can express themselves.

7. Mooi

As the Dutch review article explains, mooi can be used to describe things or people as beautiful. It can also be used to describe a situation such as for example “my husband died of a heart attack, thus leaving me with all of his money”, to which the response would be “mooi”.

Essential Dutch phrases mooi!


Phrases not used in the making of this article due to their incredibly rare use in Amsterdam were:

1. Dank je wel

2. Bedankt

3. Alstublieft

If you’re looking to learn or improve your Dutch, get in touch with my friends at Koentact in Amsterdam.

No ouwe Graftaks were hurt during the writing of this post.