The Dutch and time: how their language shows they are planning maniacs

The Dutch are crazy about a lot of things, like splitting the bill, eating chocolate sprinkles for breakfast. But their one true love is time โ€” and making sure they’re always on it. โŒš

After more than a few years in the Netherlands, people expect certain things from you: like not complaining about the weather anymore, being able to do your groceries in Dutch, and drinking karnemelk (buttermilk) at lunch like it is the most normal thing in the world (WHERE IS MY WATER?!). ๐Ÿฅ›

Dutch language and time: a love story

After learning the basics of the Dutch language and its culture, something strikes you: the language itself shows their love for punctuality. “Save the date” is a way of living and talking โ€” everything can be accomplished if tackled in time.

woman-writing-on-laptop-online-calendar
Want to hang with your Dutch friend โ€” better put it in your agenda (calendar). Image: Rawpixel/Depositphotos

READ MORE | An expat’s guide to learning Dutch

Here are 3 Dutch language constructions about time that amazed me:

1. What time is it?

The Dutch phrase for saying “What time is it?” is Hoe laat is het? (How late is it?). Basically, when they’re asking for the time, they’re assuming that they are already late. ๐Ÿ™„

2. They tell time by looking at the future

The way you answer that question is also kind of perverse. Dutch people look at the future. For example, 11:30 is not “half-past eleven” or “half eleven” but half twaalf (half twelve). As in: you’re already rushing for the next hour. ๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿผโ€โ™‚๏ธ

The absolute masterpiece, however, is with the forthcoming minutes: 8:20, for example, is tien voor half negen, or “ten minutes before half nine”.

By the time you’ve calculated this in your head, you’re probably late โ€” again.

3. Time is one of the first elements in a Dutch sentence

As you proudly build your Dutch sentence, the “when” of the action happening always comes before where, how, what, and with whom. Ik moet morgen werken met Sander op kantoor (lit. I have tomorrow to work with Sander at the office).

The time follows the subject Ik (I) and the auxiliary verb moet (must), but precedes the main verb werken and the rest of the sentence.

The basic structure of a Dutch sentence is: Subject โ€” Finite verb โ€” Time โ€” Manner โ€” Place โ€” Other verb(s). However, verbs can change their positions a lot in Dutch just because. ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿผโ€โ™€๏ธ

Conclusion: a healthy relationship with time comes with a fast-paced mindset. And the Dutch language had to adapt to this!

Are the Dutchies obsessed with time, or are the rest of us just sloppy? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Feature Image: stokkete/Depositphotos
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2017, but was fully updated in November 2021 for your reading pleasure. 

Aurora Signorazzi
Aurora comes from the majestic Italian capital, and is working on her PhD in virology at the University of Groningen. She has been living in the Netherlands for four years and is by now familiar with many Dutch habits... But still finds plenty of reasons to be pleasantly amazed (most of the time) by this industrious country and its brutally honest inhabitants!

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9 COMMENTS

  1. There is nothing that annoys me, is not starting a meeting on time. It seems that you cannot start a meeting until every one is there.

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