A mixed bag of Dunglish

Corpus work can be either data driven or theory driven. Theory driven (top-down) means that we want to analyse a corpus with a particular hypothesis in mind (‘Dutch people always seem to say x funny; let’s see if this is true’). In this case, you search the corpus in a directed way, looking specifically for x. In contrast, a data driven (bottom-up) approach is more exploratory: you rummage around in the corpus and see what you can find, without anything in particular in mind; in other words, you let the data speak for itself.

Some people might argue that when it comes to Dutch English, the approach can only be data driven. This is because in a theory-driven approach, we would face a certain paradox. Corpus work shows us what the features of a language variety are: what grammar features are used, what words, how and where. Without corpus work, we can’t know these things (we can suspect, but we can’t know, systematically and empirically); therefore, we can’t formulate a hypothesis. In other words, you can’t form a theory about particular features of Dutch English to investigate in a corpus if you haven’t already done corpus work to figure out what the particular features of Dutch English are. Still with me?

Of course, the reality lies somewhere in the middle. It’s easier to search a corpus if you’re looking for something, even if you just have a few clues or hunches to begin with. Other things will then emerge during the process, and if you have an open mind (and an open research agenda) you can then pursue them if you want. So at the very least, we can direct the search to some extent based on hunches we might have about Dutch English. And those hunches, interestingly, come directly from work that is diametrically opposed to ours, at least in terms of intention. Anything that has been labelled a ‘common error’ that Dutch people make in English, for us now becomes a potential dialectal ‘feature’.

Think of anything that’s ever struck you as ‘typically’ Dunglish. Now we can see if these anecdotal, impressionistic and casual observations really are characteristic of Dutch English – i.e. used systematically by lots of people – or if they just stick in our minds because they are salient and funny, and therefore seem more predominant than they really are.

Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of all these casual observations. You can find any number of them in books like I always get my sin or Righting English that’s gone Dutch, and I’ve collected my own examples from the gazillion Dutch-authored texts I’ve read and edited over the years. You can find a random – but by no means exhaustive – selection of these below. Apologies in advance, on several fronts: I’ve not replaced all the jargon here and have categorised these hurriedly, without adding further explanation; and I’ve only included things vaguely related to grammar and vocabulary, ignoring, for the time being orthographic (spelling-related) things as well as discourse/pragmatics. Those are for another day. In the coming weeks, I intend to go into more detail which two or three aspects we’ve decided to investigate in painfully minute detail…

Grammatical features

Use of adjective instead of adverb

  • The aim is to organise the services as efficient as possible.
  • All answers are treated fully confidential.
  • More concrete this means we offer three types of programmes.

Sentence fragments

  • Whereas research shows that exercise has no added value.
  • Very interesting to study how they relate to other asset classes.
  • Goals that have given input to the company strategy.

Lack of perfect aspect

  • Since twenty years there is political stagnation.
  • In this organisation the tool is used for years.
  • Almost every laboratory makes such interventions traditionally.

Extension of perfect aspect

  • A study in 2004 has demonstrated that the intervention worked.
  • Yesterday you have received a formal invitation.
  • He has been the founding father of the institute.

Lack of progressive aspect

  • At this moment, we negotiate with other possible sponsors.
  • More and more, publishers allow open access to articles.
  • For now, he enjoys being in the Netherlands.

Extension of progressive aspect

  • Society isn’t working like that.
  • First students register for a course and subsequently tutors are being assigned.
  • As long as you will be receiving unemployment benefits, you will also be entitled to collective health care insurance.

Nonstandard use of that-clause

  • This is an initiative to achieve that terminology is translated unambiguously.
  • Students have the luxury that they can access two libraries.
  • To avoid that variables were selected by chance…


  • Looking forward to hear from you.
  • Sometimes I have problems now to find the right word.
  • Good education is worth to be given.

Auxiliary usage

  • Do you simply haven’t got a clue what your career prospects are?
  • They did not only work on that in the lab, but also at home.
  • Under no circumstances these men do want to lose their power.


  • But not only in Holland women had to deal with this traditional gender construction.
  • Only then, differences can be turned into vehicles for learning.
  • Not until the end of term students can go home.


  • We learned some lessons that we like to share with you now.
  • I give you an example.
  • There you find information such FAQs and contact details.

Of-structure with animates

  • This programme will lead to a healthier lifestyle of diabetes patients.
  • That is the car of my dentist.
  • The book of Feynmann was fantastic.

Word order

  • teacher English
  • course mathematics
  • opening hours library

Frontal overload

  • Especially for our external clients this could be an interesting offer.
  • Doctors can diagnose correctly at a very early stage thanks to this method.
  • The basic assumption that foreign students will not enter the Dutch labour market, but will practice at home, is the fundamental argument for this setup.

Countable use of mass nouns

  • In 2006 she published a research in Science.
  • We also offer an Outlook training.
  • On this website, you can find advices about …

Placement of phrasal modifier

  • The by critics highly praised movie …
  • Privileged or otherwise from disclosure protected information may be included in this message.
  • The in 2007 deceased co-founder of the company was responsible for the accounts.

Adverbial placement

  • Our models contain also clinical variables.
  • I have still a week to choose a proper outfit.
  • Later she made accidentally acquaintance with a famous artist.


Multiple titles

  • Prof. dr.
  • Dr. ir.
  • Mw. prof. ing.

Dutch titles

  • Drs.
  • mr.
  • heer

Dutch/nonstandard abbreviations

  • nr.
  • a.o.
  • f.e.

Nonstandard use of ‘in case’

  • In case your personal situation changes, you have to inform the Tax Office.
  • In case you don’t have one, please request one at the council.
  • One credit point is awarded, in case the course is completed successfully.

Dummy subject

  • It is not allowed to copy software to the system.
  • It will be advocated to pay special attention to methodology.

Lexical shift/borrowing/false friends etc.

  • accent for emphasis
  • actual for topical/current
  • agenda for mean diary/calendar:
  • beamer for projector
  • college for lecture
  • consequent for consistent
  •  diverse for various
  • eventual for possible
  • mail for email
  • miss for lack
  • paragraph for section
  • public for audience
  • sporter for athlete
  • stage for internship
  • technique  for technology

Nonstandard prepositions/phrasal verbs

  • We hope to see you on one of the events!
  • She will hold a lecture on an international conference.
  • Welcome at Schiphol.

Redundant prepositions

  • discuss about
  • emphasise on
  • attend on

2 thoughts on “A mixed bag of Dunglish

  1. Fascinating list! One error I’ve seen several times in research papers by Dutch authors has been a simple one: using ‘en’ for ‘and’. I’m not sure why authors with generally excellent English make this elementary error – have you any thoughts? Do you ever see this?


    • Definitely! Quite a lot, really. In this case, though, I’d say were talking about a ‘mistake’ as opposed to an ‘error’. In the case of an error, the person is aiming for, say, British English, but falls short (or, in the spirit of non-prescriptivism, sideways) of the mark. If you draw their attention to the error, they may not realise it is ‘wrong’ or not know why. On the other hand, a mistake is just e.g. a typo. It’s not that they actually think the right word is ‘en’, and if you drew their attention to it they’d notice and immediately correct it. In this case I’d say it’s just an unconscious slip of the hand – motor memory, if you like. I have the same thing every time I try to write ‘of’ in Dutch; it always comes out as the English equivalent, ‘or’, just because of typing habits, and then I often won’t notice because it’s not particularly salient …


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