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Dutch proverbs and sayings

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The Dutch use many 'spreekwoorden en uitdrukkingen' (proverbs and sayings). These will make zero sense to foreigners if you do not know the actual meaning of them. In this chapter, you will be introduced to some common Dutch proverbs and sayings!

Dutch proverbs in English

Below, you will find some common Dutch proverbs. As you can see, animal names are used in a lot of Dutch proverbs.

Dutch proverbLiteral translationActual meaning
Van een mug een olifant maken.To make an elephant out of a mosquito.Exaggerating.
Als de kat van huis is, dansen de muizen op tafel.When the cat leaves the house, the mice dance on the table.Without supervision, people do whatever they like.
Als er een schaap over de dam is volgen er meer.If one sheep crosses the dam, more will follow.If one person tries something new, others will have the courage to do so as well.
De aap komt uit de mouw.The monkey comes out of the sleeve.The truth is revealed.
Over koetjes en kalfjes pratenTo talk about little cows and little calves.Chit-chatting.
Een kat in de zak kopen.Buying a cat in the bag.Making a bad bargain.
Het regent pijpenstelenIt is raining pipes.It is raining very hard.
Lachen als een boer met kiespijn.To laugh like a farmer with toothache.An obvious fake laugh.
De kogel is door de kerk.The bullet is through the church.A decision has been made.
Beter een goede buur dan een verre vriend.Better a good neighbour than a far-away friend.A good neighbour is worth more than a distant friend.
Hij staat met zijn mond vol tanden.He's standing there with his mouth full of teeth.He's speechless.
Al draagt een aap een gouden ring, het is en blijft een lelijk ding.A monkey may wear a golden ring, but it will always be an ugly thing.One's appearance doesn't make up for their negative personality.
De appel valt niet ver van de boom.The apple does not fall far from the tree.A child's character reflects their parents'.
Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.High trees catch a lot of wind.People in a high position have many responsibilities.
Een ezel stoot zich niet twee keer aan dezelfde steen.A donkey doesn't stub itself against the same boulder twice.One who makes the same mistake twice is a fool.

Some of these proverbs may be easier to remember, since there is an English proverb that has the same meaning:

  • Van een mug een olifant maken - Make a mountain out of a molehill.
  • Als de kat van huis is, dansen de muizen op tafel. - When the cat's away the mice will play.
  • Een kat in de zak kopen - To buy a pig in a poke.
  • Het regent pijpenstelen -It is raining cats and dogs.
  • Hij staat met zijn mond vol tanden - To be tong-tied.
  • Al draagt een aap een gouden ring, het is en blijft een lelijk ding - You cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear.
  • De appel valt niet ver van de boom - The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
  • Een ezel stoot zich niet twee keer aan dezelfde steen. - Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. 

Dutch sayings translated to English

Here you can find some common Dutch sayings. In general, sayings are used more often than proverbs.

Dutch sayingLiteral translationActual meaning
Één april, kikker in je bil!First of April, frog in your bottom!Exclaimed when one falls for an April Fools joke.
Helaas pindakaas!Unfortunately peanut butter!Too bad!
ApenstaartjeMonkeytailThe @ in an E-mailaddress
Een bakje troostA cup of comfortA cup of coffee
KippenvelchickenskinWhen the hair on one's skin stands up straight.
Een fluitje van een cent.A whistle of a penny.It's easy.
MierenneukerSomeone who makes love to antsA nitpicker.
KiplekkerChicken-deliciousWhen you are feeling very well.
Slapend rijk wordenBecoming rich while sleepingEarning a lot of money without doing any work.
Er is werk aan de winkel.There is work at the store.There is work to be done.
Iemand onder vier ogen spreken.To talk to someone among four eyes.To have a private conversation with someone.
Uit het oog, uit het hart.Out of the eye, out of the heartForgetting about someone you do not see every day anymore.
Liefde maakt blind.Love makes blind.Not seeing someone's poor characteristics because you're in love with them.
Oost west, thuis best.East west, home best.Wherever you are, home is where you'll feel most comfortable.
Samen uit, samen thuis.Out together, home togetherIf you start something together, you should finish it together.

Some English sayings have similar meanings as these Dutch sayings:

  • Één april, kikker in je bil! - April Fools!
  • Kippenvel - Goosebumps
  • Een fluitje van een cent - A piece of cake.
  • Oost west, thuis best - Home sweet home
  • Uit het oog, uit het hart. - Out of sight, out of mind.

enlightenedAvoid literal translation of the Dutch proverbs and sayings to English, and vice versa. 

Hopefully these Dutch proverbs and sayings will come in handy at some point! Train your knowledge of the Dutch proverbs and sayings by doing the exercises below. 


  1. Choose the right meaning of the Dutch proverbs
  2. Choose the correct meaning of the given Dutch sayings
  3. Guess the correct Dutch proverb

Choose the right meaning of the Dutch proverbs

Choose the correct meaning of the given Dutch sayings

Guess the correct Dutch proverb

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