This is NOT how we’re MARRIED! … and other DUTCH expressions

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In this video foreigners talk about one of my favourite things about learning Dutch: Dutch expressions.

Expressions are one of the most interesting things about a language, I think. At first sight they don’t always make sense. But they are fun.

Grammar, vocabulary and rules are important, but expressions often surprise you and can also be very helpful in a Dutch conversation.

Here are some examples that foreigners heard when they were in the Netherlands.

Expressions heard in the Netherlands

  • Zo zijn we niet getrouwd

Translation: This is not how we are married.

Meaning: you can’t do this! This is not the way we set out our rules.

  • Weet ik veel

Translation: I know much.

Meaning: The opposite of ‘I know much’. It means: I don’t know. It’s used really often, especially by teenagers who don’t want to talk to their parents.

  • Ben je in de kerk geboren?

Translation: Were you born in the church?          

Meaning: This is said when you leave a door open. It probably comes from the fact that the doors in the church are almost always open.

  • Appeltje eitje

Translation: A small apple and a small egg.

Meaning: This is the Dutch variation on ‘easy peasy lemon squeezy’.

Apples are a popular product in the Netherlands. You can see this in the appleboor but also in a lot of other expressions. This brings me to the next part.

Expressions in Dutch about apples

Let’s take a look at other expressions with apples.

  • Iets voor een appel en een ei verkopen

Translation: To sell something for an apple and an egg.

Meaning: To sell something for a very low price.

  • Appels met peren vergelijken

Translation: To compare apples with pears.

Meaning: Compare two totally different things.

  • Door de zure appel bijten

Translation: To bite through the sour apple.

Meaning: You do an unpleasant thing because you have to.

  • Een appeltje voor de dorst hebben

Translation: To have an apple for your thirst.

Meaning: To have a buffer for difficult times.

Dutch expressions with body parts

Another subject that there are a lot of expressions about are expressions that have to do with the human body. Here are some examples.

  • Je hebt geen geld op je rug

Translations: You don’t have money on your back.

Meaning: You are not going to find money all around.

  • Haar op de tanden hebben

Translations: Having hair on your teeth.

Meaning: Whoever has hair on their teeth is assertive and thus stands their ground in a discussion or an altercation.

  • Onder de knie hebben

Translations: Having it under the knee.

Meaning: Having mastered it.

  • Iemand aan de tand voelen

Translations: Feeling someone on the tooth.

Meaning: Putting someone to the test.

  • Het ergste achter de rug hebben

Translations: Having had the worst behind your back.

Meaning: The worst is over.

  • Watertanden

Translation: to ‘watertooth’.

Meaning: ‘Water teeth’, salivate, is a description of the phenomenon that ‘the water runs in your mouth’ when you see and/or think about good food.

Other – strange – Dutch expressions


(no translation)

This is quite a strange one.

Ammehoela (also spelled as amehoela, ammenoela) means something like ‘never in my life’, ‘no way’. You proclaim it when you don’t believe something or don’t want to do something.

It’s used a lot by parents who are ‘angry’ with their children. Wanting to indicate that something is not going to happen.

  • Child: Ik wil nog een ijsje! (I want another ice cream)
  • Mom: Ammehoela, dat gaan we niet doen. (We’re not going to do that)

This strange Dutch expression is from the name of a king: Ammehoela. It originated when this King was a much-discussed media personality in Europe, around the 1960s. A tap with the right hand on the right buttock at the screaming exclamation ‘ammehoela’ was very popular.

  • Lachen als een boer met kiespijn

Translation: Laughing like a farmer with a toothache.

Meaning: This means that you are laughing, but you don’t mean it because there’s really no reason to laugh.

Also, a position that might be familiar to foreigners new to the Netherlands, you can say this when someone laughs with others, without knowing why everyone is laughing.

  • Het is huilen met de pet op

Translation: It’s crying with your hat on.

Meaning: This expressions is used when something is of bad quality, or very disappointing. ‘Totally nothing’.

You’re not just crying. You are crying with your hat on!

  • Jan met de pet

Translation: Jan (authentic Dutch male name) with the hat.

Meaning: This refers to an ordinary worker, or the average worker. In English you would say ‘the small man’ or ‘someone of the ordinary people.’

  • Ergens met de pet naar gooien

Translation: Throwing your hat to something.

Meaning: This means you are not doing a good job, there is no evidence of motivation or effort.

  • De puntjes op de ‘i’ zetten vandaan?

Translation: Putting the dots on the ‘i’s; in English, dot the ‘i’s.

Meaning: Finish things off. Complete a task paying attention to detail.

  • Dat zit wel snor

Translation: That is like a moustache.

Meaning: That will be okay. It is going to be all right.

  • De hond in de pot vinden

Translation: Finding the dog in the pot.

Meaning: This means that you arrive somewhere when they have just finished a meal.

  • Malle Pietje (niet) zijn

Translation: To be ‘silly Pete’.

Meaning: an idiot; a gudgeon.

Someone that is a malle Pietje is easy to fool. Mostly this expression is used to suggest that you are NOT one. So if you don’t want to do something that seems risky or dumb, you can say ‘I’m not malle pietje’. ‘I am not a loon’.

Malle Pietje was originally a character in the popular television series Swiebertje on the NCRV in the 1960s.

Closely related is gekke henkie.

  • Gekke henkie

Translation: Crazy (little) Henk.

This is also mostly used in a negative way. To say that you cannot fool me.


That’s it. 

And remember: learning Dutch is all about trying and making mistakes. So just try one of these and see what happens!

Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School