cmlabs Official Writing Guideline for the Netherlands

Written by cmlabs | Last updated at Jun 13, 2024

NO. 00285/PP/CID/VI/2024

1. Language Aspects

Dutch, as the official language, is widely spoken across the country, but the linguistic landscape is further enriched by the presence of regional dialects and minority languages.

A. Dominant Languages

Here are the languages commonly used by Dutch: 

  • Official Language: Dutch.
  • Second Language: English.
  • Regional Language: Frisian, Limburgish, Low Saxon, and Zeelandic.
  • Migration Languages: Turkish, Arabic, Indonesian, Berber, Chinese, and Surinames Language. 

B. English in the Netherlands

Here are some things to note about the use of English in the Netherlands:

  • English is widely spoken in Amsterdam and other major Dutch cities. Meanwhile, fluency rates are generally lower in small villages.
  • English is widely used in universities or higher education institutions, businesses, and tourism. 
  • English is compulsory for Dutch kids in public schools and it usually starts around age 10-11.
  • The website of the Dutch government is available in both Dutch and English.
  • In many cases, businesses will have their websites in two languages, Dutch and English.
  • Signs, menus, and other written texts in tourist places (in major cities) are mostly bilingual – written in Dutch and English.
  • Hollywood and British television programs or media are aired in English with Dutch subtitles. Due to this, children are introduced to English at an early age, even before they learn it in school. 

C. Slang

The Netherlands has slang which varies depending on region, age group, and social context. Here are a few examples of Dutch slang:

Dutch Slang

Meaning in English

LekkerThis word typically means "tasty" or "delicious" in standard Dutch, but in slang, it's often used to express something as being "great," "cool," or "awesome".
DoeiA casual way to say "goodbye" in Dutch slang, similar to "bye" or "later" in English.
ChillBorrowed from English, "chill" is commonly used in Dutch slang to describe something as relaxed, comfortable, or enjoyable.
BakkieInformal slang for a cup of coffee, often used in social contexts to suggest getting together for a chat over coffee.
MazzelThis interjection is used in Dutch slang similarly to "right?" or "you know?" in English, often added to the end of a statement to seek agreement or confirmation.
JohA colloquial way to address someone in Dutch slang, similar to "mate" or "buddy" in English, used informally among friends.

Dunglish

"Dunglish" is a term used to describe the linguistic phenomenon that occurs when Dutch speakers, particularly those who are fluent in English, mix elements of Dutch and English together in their speech or writing. 

It can result in sentences that may sound odd to native English speakers due to direct translations of Dutch expressions or grammatical structures into English. Some common characteristics of Dunglish include:

  1. Direct translations: Dutch speakers may directly translate Dutch idioms, expressions, or word orders into English, resulting in sentences that sound unnatural or grammatically incorrect to native English speakers.
  2. Calques: This refers to the borrowing of a phrase or expression from one language and translating it literally into another language. In Dunglish, calques can lead to phrases that make sense in Dutch but sound strange in English.
  3. False friends: False friends are words in two languages that look or sound similar but have different meanings. Dutch speakers may use English words that resemble Dutch words but actually mean something different, leading to confusion or misunderstanding.
  4. Grammatical errors: Dunglish can also involve grammatical errors that stem from differences between Dutch and English grammar rules, such as word order, verb tense, or pluralization.
  5. Hybrid words: Dutch speakers sometimes create hybrid words by combining Dutch and English elements, resulting in words that are not recognized in standard English.


As an example, former Dutch prime minister Joop den Uyl famously observed that "the Dutch are a people of undertakers". This remark highlights a linguistic quirk: the Dutch verb "ondernemen" directly translates to "to undertake" in English (where "onder" means "under" and "nemen" means "take"). 

Consequently, the Dutch noun "ondernemer" translates literally to "undertaker"; however, in English, the idiomatic term for this profession is instead the French loanword "entrepreneur." (In Dutch, the term "begrafenisondernemer" is used specifically for a funeral director.)

D. Communication Styles

The communication style in the Netherlands is typically direct, pragmatic, and egalitarian. Here are some key aspects of the Dutch communication style:

  • Directness: Dutch communication tends to be straightforward and to the point. People value honesty and appreciate direct feedback, even if it is critical. This directness is often perceived as efficient and transparent.
  • Friendly but Direct: The Dutch typically communicate in a friendly manner and frequently use concise sentences. Excessive politeness is sometimes perceived as insincere because it can suggest indirectness in communication.
  • Equality: Dutch society emphasizes equality and egalitarianism. People generally address each other by their first names, regardless of their social or professional status. There is less emphasis on hierarchical structures in communication compared to some other cultures.
  • Consensus-oriented: Despite the directness, decision-making in Dutch culture often involves consensus-building. People value input from all stakeholders and strive for consensus through open discussion and debate. However, once a decision is made, it is expected to be followed without further discussion.
  • Non-verbal communication: Non-verbal cues such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body language play a significant role in Dutch communication. Maintaining eye contact is seen as a sign of attentiveness and sincerity. Additionally, Dutch people tend to be reserved in their gestures and expressions compared to some other cultures.
  • Respect for personal space: Dutch people value their personal space and privacy. They may maintain a certain distance during conversations and prefer not to engage in small talk or overly personal questions unless they have a close relationship with the person.
  • Sense of humor: Dutch humor can be straightforward and sarcastic. However, humor is subjective, so be cautious with jokes or sarcasm that may be misinterpreted or offensive. Irony and sarcasm are often not appreciated as many Dutch take what others say at face value.

 

2. Technical Aspects

A. Grammar and Spelling

The use of English in the Netherlands often features both American and British spelling. This is due to the use of British English in school but tend to watch more American TV shows or movies at home. 

Booji (2001) found that British English is omnipresent in education and governmental communication while American English is present in the media and social media. For that, we can use American English to write blog articles for business purposes. 

B. Naming

Conventions

  • The naming conventions: [First given name] [other given name(s)] [Family name]. For example, Daan van der Berg (male) or Sophie van den Heuvel (female).
  • Many Dutch also have another given name, similar to a middle name. It will be written between the first name and the family name. For example: Emma Rosa van Dijk with Rosa as the given name. 
  • Dutch family names contain a particle, such as ‘van’ (“of/from”), ‘de/het’ (“the”), and ‘der’ (“of the”). These particles, known as ‘tussenvoegsel’ are not capitalized. For example, Vincent van Gogh, or Antonia van der Berg.
  • Those particles are usually shortened with an apostrophe (e.g. ‘t Hart) or with an article followed by an apostrophe (e.g. d’Hondt). For instance, the prefix ‘t is short for het, meaning ‘the’.
  • Other than given name, it’s also common for Dutch people to have a calling name (roepnaam). 

Addressing Others

  • The way people address each other depends on the social relationship and context.
  • People usually address someone using their calling name or first given name.
  • In a workplace or when addressing a customer, it is common to address each other using the calling name. 
  • In some particular circumstances, family names and/or professional titles are used, especially for people working in government, academic, medical, and legal positions. For example: Dr. Bakker or Prof. van Dijk.

C. Numbers

Basic Number

  • Write out round numbers and numbers under twenty. You do not have to do so for non-round numbers above twentys.

                Example: “The four interviewees tell us that…” and "There were 235 respondents".

           There are differences in the use of commas and full stops in numbers for Dutch and English articles.  

  • In Dutch, use a comma for decimals and a period before every three digits. While in English, you put a period for decimals and a comma to indicate a thousand numbers. 

                Example: “Almost 1,500,000 students went to college this year" (In Dutch, you would write "1.500.000" here).”

Percentages

  • Never write out percentages and keep them as numbers. 

                Example: “In this survey, 17% of respondents indicated that…

Dates

In the Netherlands, the common date format is day-month-year with the following variations:

  • dd-mm-yyyy (17-05-2024).
  • dddd d mmmm yyyy (Friday 17 May 2024).
  • dddd dd-mm-yyyy (Friday 17-05-2024).
  • In body article: dd mmmm yyyy (“As of 1 March 2020, companies from other countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) ….”).

Currency

  • The currency of the Netherlands is the euro (€), and it is commonly abbreviated as EUR. In written text, use ‘a’ rather than ‘an’ EUR 3 million program.
  • The euro sign (€) is reserved for use in graphics. 
  • The coin denomination is cents represented by a c.
  • Use a comma to separate the cents. 
  • The symbol c is rare and generally informal in the Netherlands. It usually appears in specific contexts, such as informal writing and advertising.
     

Examples:

  • A sum of EUR 30 (use space).
  • A sum of €30 (without space).
  • A total of €99,95.
  • A total of EUR 15 billion
  • The bottle of water costs only €0,50.
  • Please bring 50c for the charity event.
  • For table headings (usually within brackets): A total of 10 million EUR

Time

  • Both the 24-hour clock and the 12-hour clock are used in the Netherlands.
  • The 24-hour clock is used in writing while the 12-hour clock is for everyday conversation. 
  • The Dutch never use "a.m." and "p.m." in writing.
  • Use a colon to separate the hour, minutes, and seconds. 

Example in writing:

  • The event will start at 13:30. 
  • In technical and scientific texts the use of the abbreviations h, min, and s is common – for example, 17 h 03 min 16 s.

Phone Number

Dutch telephone numbers can be written as 024-3611111 (phoning from a Dutch telephone number) or +31-24-3611111 (phoning from an international number). 

D. Capitalization

  • Always capitalize the first letter of a sentence. 
  • Do not capitalize the particles in Dutch names, such as Daan van der Berg. 
  • For titles, headings, and subheadings, capitalize the first letter of each word, except articles, conjunctions, and prepositions.
  • Capitalize job titles, events, publications, book titles, movies, seasons, nationalities, languages, and places.    

E. Use of Jargon or Slang

  • Only use jargon or slang that is relevant to the context of your article.
  • Provide brief explanations or context within the article when using industry-specific jargon or local slang.
  • Ensure to strike a balance between maintaining clarity and effectively connecting with the local readers. 

 

3. Cultural Aspects

The Dutch people have several values and cultural sensitivities that you must pay attention to. Therefore, it is important to learn, understand, and consider these points to make your content or article localized to the people in this country. 

A. Social Values

  • Dutch highly value punctuality. Give prior notice or a legitimate reason for being late. 
  • In the Dutch language, different forms of expression indicate varying levels of courtesy and formality.
  • The Dutch value their physical and personal privacy.
  • Dutch people rely heavily on words and generally make less use of body language to emphasize a communication point.
  • Putting your index finger to the temple of your head or forehead is considered an insult as it indicates that the person you are talking about is crazy.
  • Pointing is considered rude.
  • It is rude to speak whilst chewing gum.

B. Cultural Sensitivities

  • While it's common for individuals to use the term 'Holland' to describe the country, this usage is inaccurate as it refers to a specific region in the Netherlands. Using 'Hollanders' to refer to people residing outside this region may offend them, as the preferred term is 'Netherlanders'.
  • Do not ask a Dutch person how much they earn.
  • Do not act as if you are superior to others.
  • Avoid displaying intolerance towards ethnic minorities or alternative lifestyles.
  • Be mindful when expressing negative opinions about the Dutch royal family to older-generation Dutch people.

 

4. Prohibited Content

A. Hate Speech and Discriminatory Content

  • The use of personal data for intimidation purposes (doxing). 
  • Ill-written and hostile content that targets certain groups of ethnicity (discrimination).

B. Illegal Activities or Content

  • Animal abuse and animal neglect. 
  • Tobacco advertising – only specialist tobacco stores that meet specific conditions and are registered with the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority are allowed to advertise.
  • Sending unsolicited commercial messages (spam).
  • The possession and use of all firearms, ammunition, and other weapons is prohibited. Otherwise, you need a weapon license to make some exceptions.
  • Taking anything from the forest, such as wood, branches, and acorns is illegal.

C. Violent or Graphic Content

  • The Netherlands has laws against the possession, distribution, and production of child pornography. 
  • Promoting the use of weapons or ammunition.
  • Cyberbullying and online harassment.

D. General Rules on Advertising

According to the Dutch Advertising Code, an ad cannot:

  • Violate legal statutes, truthfulness, appropriate standards of taste, and decency.
  • Against the public interest, societal order, or ethical standards.
  • Cause unwarranted harm or infringe upon public health concerns.
  • Damage the credibility or integrity of advertising practices.
  • Exploit fear or superstition to manipulate audiences.
  • Engage in deceitful practices, including misleading or aggressive advertising tactics.

E. Rules for Advertising Financial Products

  • Provide clear information and a risk warning about the interest rate and cost of the loan (write in Dutch).
  • Content creators or influencers can’t advise on or post something about financial/investment without a license.  
  • Do not make overpromising advertisements.

F. Rules for Advertising Medicines 

  • Never advertise prescription medicines to the public. 
  • You need marketing authorization from the Medicines Evaluation Boardare (MEB) to advertise non-prescription medicines. Provide clear instructions for use and a statement that it is a medical product.
  • Never claim that one medicine is better than the other.
  • Inducement is prohibited.
  • In some cases, advertising animal medicines is illegal.

G. Restricted Imports

Certain imports into the Netherlands and the European Union are prohibited or require an import license.

  • Waste material.
  • Radioactive substances and nuclear material.
  • Cash and securities above a certain threshold.
  • Pets (unless the pet has a microchip, a valid rabies vaccination, a health certificate, and an EU pet passport).
  • Counterfeit goods.
  • Protected animal and plant species.
  • Animal products and foodstuffs. 
  • Plants, flowers, fruit, and vegetables (phytosanitary products).
  • Weapons, ammunition, dummy weapons, and explosives.
  • Medicines.
  • Drugs and drug precursors.
  • Cultural goods (such as art and antiques).
  • Pleasure crafts (boats).
  • Cars and motorcycles.

 

5. Additional Information

  • Dutch Advertising Code - Open
  • Advertising medicines - Open
  • Advertising for financial products - Open

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