Dutch vs German: What is the Difference?

Not many people realize that English, Dutch, and German share a common root in the West Germanic dialects. However similar they may sound to the untrained ear, German and Dutch are as different as Spanish and Italian. Despite a similar seeming vocabulary, the two languages followed a different evolution.

Dutch differs from German in that the German language underwent a High German consonant shift from the 3-5 century onwards, which explains its difference in pronunciation from Dutch. German has a more complex grammar, while Dutch has a more extensive vowel inventory. 

The good news is that if you’re an English speaker, you may already be familiar with many Dutch or German ‘borrowed’ words. Despite what the German and Dutch languages have in common, there are some distinct differences. If you plan to learn either of these languages, here are some facts behind the Dutch vs. German distinction. 

Dutch vs German Vocabulary

The Dutch language emerged along with its sister languages, English and German, along the coast of Flanders, Holland, in the 700s AD. These three are West Germanic languages derived from Low Franconian and North Sea Germanic influences. Despite their separate evolutions as languages, Dutch and German share quite a sizable vocabulary. 

The Dutch language accounts for 20% of loan words and shows a strong influence of Romance and Picardic French dialects. The Dutch language also has Latin (32% of all loanwords) and English words (7.6%).

Most German vocabulary is from the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, with mostly Latin and French influences. 

Dutch vs German Grammar

Although Dutch and German are significantly different in grammar, some essential similarities bridge the divide. These base similarities include:

  • Placing age at the beginning of a verb to show the past tense.
  • Both languages adopt the V2 and SOV word order (with some dialectical exceptions).

Beyond these similarities, German employs a more rigorous and challenging grammatical structure than the more ‘loose’ Dutch language. The main differences in grammatical structure between German and dutch include the following: 

  • German Plurals. Dutch employs a much easier plural system in their grammar and typically uses -s or -en forms. The German use of irregular and varied plurals is more complex than the Dutch language. 
  • German Genders. The German language employs three gender cases: masculine, feminine, and neuter, while Dutch only employs two. Common gender typically stands for masculine and feminine, while neuter refers to objects without a definite gender.
  • German Grammatical Cases. German employs four cases: the nominative (subject), accusative (direct object), dative (indirect object), and genitive (possessive). On the other hand, Dutch resembles English in casual speech with only two cases, subject and oblique, expressed in personal pronouns. 

Dutch vs. German Speaking

Dutch and German diverged from their common roots during the High German Consonant Shift, a sound change that evolved in several phases from about the 3-5th century AD. This shift is responsible for many pronunciation differences between German and Dutch. 

German speakers tend to use the front of their mouths when articulating in a clipped manner, whereas Dutch speakers use the middle and back of the mouth when speaking

This difference in phonetic pronunciation is why some Germans refer to Dutch as a ‘flat’ language while the Dutch call German ‘sharp or hoarse.’ 

The main differences in pronunciation include:

Sound ChangeEnglish Dutch German 
/t/ t/ Not at the end of a word becomes a /s/ or /z/ sound.White Wit Weiss
Words ending with /p/ change to /ff/ sund Ape Aap Affe
K replaced by /ch/Belly BuikBauch 
/p/ become /pf/Horse PaardPferd
/t/ becomes /z/ or /ts/Tooth Tand Zhan 
/d/ sound at beginning of word becomes /t/ sound Part Deel Teil
The /f/ or /v/ sound becomes a /b/ soundLove LiefdeLiebe 
the /s/ and the /z/ are pronounced as /sch/Weak Swak Schwach 

Written Dutch vs. Written German

Both German and Dutch use the same Latin script that English is based on, consisting of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Dutch, however, uses one additional character, the digraph Jl. It also has a higher number of doubled vowels and consonants to distinguish the many vowel sounds of the Dutch language.

German also follows the standard 26 letter alphabet but also includes three vowels with umlauts:

  • Ää
  • Öö
  • Üü 
  • Special letter ß that represents /ss/

German is also the only major language that still capitalizes all nouns in their written language, a remnant of a widespread practice in Northern Europe in the early modern era. 

Dutch vs German Usefulness

According to Statistica, German is the 12th most spoken language in the world with over 135 million speakers worldwide. German is also recognised as one of the international languages of commerce so German is useful for those in business. 

Dutch is a lower ranked language at number 52 with 23.1 million speakers but is immensely useful when traveling in the Netherlands and other Dutch speaking countries. Dutch is also somewhat easier to learn than German for native English speakers. 


Both Dutch and German languages have pros and cons, with Dutch being easier to learn for most English students. Often referred to as the mid-point between English and German, Dutch is arguably a more accessible language to master, especially when it comes to grammar. 

Ultimately, both languages are a valuable resource for travelers and language enthusiasts in general.

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