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Dutch Proverbs & Sayings About Life, Love, and All the Rest

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Proverbs are little phrases of wisdom, passed down from one generation to the next. While some proverbs seem to extend across borders, others are unique to a specific culture or way of living. 

For this reason, learning Dutch proverbs and sayings is a great way to expand your vocabulary and gain cultural insight. These nuggets of practical advice and observations can really serve as a window into the age-old wisdom and traditions of the Dutch. 

They may be old-fashioned, but the Dutch still use these old proverbs on a daily basis. They serve as a reflection of who they are and the values they stand for. 

In this article, you’ll learn thirty of the most common Dutch proverbs about love, success, life, personality, weather, and family and friends. Studying them will help you learn more about the Dutch, while memorizing and using them in conversation is sure to impress native speakers!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Dutch Table of Contents
  1. Dutch Proverbs About Love
  2. Dutch Proverbs About Success
  3. Dutch Proverbs About Life
  4. Dutch Proverbs About Personality
  5. Dutch Proverbs About Family & Friends
  6. Dutch Proverbs About the Weather
  7. How DutchPod101 Can Help You Learn More Dutch

1. Dutch Proverbs About Love

Four People Making Hearts with Their Hands

Let’s discover that Dutch love…

They say that love is what makes the world go ‘round. With that in mind, let’s kick off our list with a few popular Dutch love proverbs! 

#1

DutchGa niet op het uiterlijk af.
Equivalent“Never judge by appearance.”
This Dutch proverb is used to warn against falling in love with someone for only their looks. Looks are not the most important thing, so instead of judging someone by their appearance, you should rather have eyes for someone’s personality.

#2

DutchAls de armoede binnenkomt, vliegt de liefde het raam uit.
Literally“When poverty comes in, love flies out the window.”
MeaningPoverty often means the end of relationships.
Having money troubles often causes relationship troubles as well. When there’s stress about money, the tension in a relationship often rises. This is an old Dutch proverb about love that’s used less nowadays, but there’s still some truth to it. It’s most often used in reference to romantic relationships, but can also be used when talking about friendships.


#3

DutchVan liefde rookt de schoorsteen niet.
Literally“The chimney does not smoke from love.”
MeaningYou cannot live on love alone.
This Dutch proverb reflects the typical level-headedness of the Dutch. It may not be that romantic, but it’s true: you cannot live on love alone.

#4

DutchLiefde maakt blind.
Equivalent“Love makes blind.”
This proverb is the same in Dutch as it is in English. It’s frequently used in songs and literature.

#5

DutchIets bedekken met de mantel der liefde.
Literally“Covering something with the cloak of love.”
MeaningThis refers to not discussing something with others, but rather keeping silent and accepting the situation.
It may feel a bit contradictory to the Dutch directness and honesty, but even the Dutch sometimes prefer to keep quiet about something, out of love for the other person. This old Dutch proverb is a true classic and is often associated with motherly love. 

    → Would you like to learn some more Dutch sayings about love? Then have a look at our Dutch Quotes About Love vocabulary list.

2. Dutch Proverbs About Success

Silhouette of Three People Raising Their Arms in Victory Atop a Mountain

Here’s how to achieve success, according to the Dutch.

While success can mean different things to different people, there are some basic truths and words of advice we can all relate to. Here are some Dutch idioms and proverbs related to success and hard work—we hope they inspire you! 

#6

DutchEen kat in de zak kopen.
Literally“Buying a cat in the bag.”
EquivalentTo buy a pig in a poke.
If you buy “a pig in a poke,” it means you’ve just made a bad purchase. The Dutch use this saying when someone buys something that’s very disappointing or breaks down very quickly. 

This saying dates back to when people would buy a pig or hare in a sack, only to come home and find out it’s a cat instead. It’s a bad purchase because you can create a tasty dish with a pig or hare, but not with a cat. The Spanish language has a similar proverb: dar gato por liebre, meaning “to give someone a cat instead of a hare.”

#7

DutchHoge bomen vangen veel wind.
Literally“High trees catch a lot of wind.”
MeaningPeople in a high position face a lot of criticism.
Those who hold a high position have to face a lot of criticism. Just like tall trees, which rise above the small ones and are most exposed to the wind, high-ranking people are exposed to all kinds of judgment, hatred, and envy.

A variant of this Dutch proverb is: Hoge masten vangen veel wind. / “High masts catch a lot of wind.”

#8

DutchAls de berg niet tot Muhammad wil komen, dan moet Muhammad naar de berg gaan.
Equivalent“If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain.”
MeaningIf you cannot get what you want, you must adapt to the circumstances or adopt a different approach.
This is another Dutch proverb that has the exact same meaning as its English equivalent. Both are based on the legend in which Muhammad ordered a mountain to come to him, which did not happen. Afterward, he supposedly uttered the words: “Well, mountain, since you do not want to come to Muhammad, Muhammad will come to you.”

#9

DutchEen ezel stoot zich niet twee keer aan dezelfde steen.
Literally“A donkey doesn’t stub itself against the same boulder twice.”
EquivalentFool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
One should not make the same mistake twice. According to this Dutch proverb, only a fool would do so. 

#10

DutchWie het eerst komt, wie het eerst maalt.
Equivalent“First come, first served.”
MeaningWho comes first is helped first.
This saying means that whoever is first to pick up or buy something can be sure that what they want is still available. Those who come later may be too late, and everything may already be gone.

This old saying originates from the time when wheat had to be brought to a mill to be grinded. So, the one who arrived first with their wheat could count on it being grinded first.

#11

DutchSchoenmaker, blijf bij je leest.
Literally“A shoemaker must not go beyond his last.”
MeaningYou should stick to what you know.
The Dutch might say this to someone who judges something of which he or she has no knowledge.

This old Dutch proverb comes from a story about the famous Greek painter Apelles, who lived in the fourth century B.C. The artist liked to hide behind his paintings so that he could hear what spectators really thought of his artwork. One day, he heard a shoemaker comment on the shoes in one of his paintings, which was missing a shoelace hole. Apelles adjusted his work, but the shoemaker still found something to complain about. Apelles was fed up and said these famous words to the shoemaker: Sutor, ne ultra crepidam. / “Shoemaker, no further than the shoe.”


3. Dutch Proverbs About Life

A Little Girl Throwing Autumn Leaves Up into the Air

Some inspirational Dutch proverbs to help you enjoy life to its fullest…

For time immemorial, people have been asking themselves how to live life well. There are several idioms and proverbs in Dutch on the topic, and studying them can give you a glimpse of how the Dutch view this topic. 

#12

DutchBelofte maakt schuld.
Literally“Promise is debt.”
MeaningIf you promise something, you should honor that commitment.
This Dutch proverb reflects two things the Dutch value highly: honesty and loyalty. If you promise to do something, you have to stick to that promise.

#13

DutchWie goed doet, goed ontmoet.
Literally“Who does good, meets well.”
EquivalentIf you do good, good will be done to you.
This old Dutch proverb is still very true today. It means that if someone does good things for other people, that person can sometimes expect good things in return. It’s sort of a Dutch karma mindset, related to their highly valued honesty.

#14

DutchDoor de bomen het bos niet meer zien.
Literally“Can’t see the forest through the trees.”
EquivalentMissing the forest because of the trees.
When you pay too much attention to details (the trees), you’ll lose sight of the whole picture (the forest). For example, there’s so much information on the internet that it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for. 

#15

DutchGeld moet rollen.
Literally“Money must roll.”
EquivalentMoney is there to be spent.
You might say the Dutch are a pragmatic and responsible group of people, but they also have their impulsive and crazy moments. In the Netherlands, when someone comments about someone else’s (irresponsible) spending, that person may respond: Geld moet rollen. Many people also say this to encourage spending for the sake of the Dutch economy.

#16

DutchNood breekt wet.
Literally“Necessity breaks the law.”
EquivalentNecessity has no law.
The Dutch are quite the law-abiding citizens. Even though they value their freedom, they also know that they have this freedom because people respect the law. However, in emergency situations, things are permitted that would otherwise not be permitted.

#17

DutchEen gewaarschuwd mens telt voor twee.
Literally“A warned man counts as two.”
EquivalentForewarned is forearmed.
This Dutch proverb about life reflects the typical pragmatic and practical attitude of the Dutch. Someone who knows in advance what can go wrong should prepare for it. 


4. Dutch Proverbs About Personality

Someone Holding Two Signs Up, One with a Smiley Face and the Other a Frowny Face

Which Dutch proverb reflects your personality?

No two people are exactly alike, though there are some common personality and character traits we can easily pinpoint in others. Below are a few Dutch proverbs and sayings on this very topic! 

#18

DutchAls je hem een vinger geeft, neemt hij de hele hand. 
Literally“If you give him a finger, he takes the whole hand.”
EquivalentGive him an inch and he will take a yard.
This Dutch proverb refers to the greediness of people. If you help someone one time, they’ll come back for more. If you give someone a little bit of something, he or she will want more and more.

#19

DutchVan een mug een olifant maken. 
Literally“To make an elephant out of a mosquito.”
EquivalentTo make a mountain out of a molehill.
This common Dutch saying refers to people who are exaggerating. The Dutch are very down-to-earth and they don’t really like too much drama. They often use this proverb when someone is turning a small problem into a big one.

#20

DutchAls er één schaap over de dam is, volgen er meer.
Literally“If one sheep crosses the dam, more will follow.”
MeaningIf one person tries something new, others will have the courage to do so as well.
If someone sets an example, there will soon be people who follow that example.

#21

DutchAl draagt een aap een gouden ring, het is en blijft een lelijk ding. 
Literally“A monkey may wear a golden ring, but it will always be an ugly thing.”
EquivalentYou cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
This is a widely known Dutch proverb, and it may be one of the most amusing ones as it also rhymes. It can refer to someone’s ugly personality: one’s appearance doesn’t make up for their negative personality. But it may also refer to someone who is not very good-looking: if someone dresses nicely, it doesn’t improve the natural appearance of that person. 

#22

DutchBlaffende honden bijten niet.
Literally“Barking dogs don’t bite.”
EquivalentBarking dogs seldom bite.
This common Dutch proverb may be used in reference to actual barking dogs, but it’s also used when talking about “barking” people. People who make the loudest threats are the least likely to take action.

    → Which Dutch adjective describes your personality best? Discover this in our useful vocabulary list, and practice your pronunciation with the included audio recordings.

5. Dutch Proverbs About Family & Friends

A Family at the Mall Eating Ice Cream

Now for some Dutch proverbs that reflect some of the Dutch family values.

Family and friends are the most important people in one’s life, so it makes sense that there would be at least a few Dutch proverbs touching on these unique relationships. 

#23

DutchAls de kat van huis is, dansen de muizen op tafel.
Literally“When the cat leaves the house, the mice dance on the table.”
EquivalentWhen the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Without supervision, people do whatever they like.

This Dutch proverb is often used by parents when talking about their children. When they leave them without supervision, the children will do whatever they like.

#24

DutchBeter één vogel in de hand dan tien in de lucht.
Literally“Better to have one bird in the hand than ten in the air.”
EquivalentA bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
This common Dutch proverb refers to the value of having a few very close friends, rather than having a lot of friends that you hardly ever see. A variant of this saying is: Beter een goede buur dan een verre vriend. / “Better a good neighbor than a distant friend.”

The proverb may also mean that it’s better to have something little than nothing at all. Or that small, concrete results are better than big plans. (There’s the Dutch pragmatism again!)

#25

DutchDe appel valt niet ver van de boom. 
Literally“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
EquivalentA chip off the old block.
Children often resemble their parents. This is a common saying in the Netherlands, often said when a child has the same looks, interests, or talents as their parents.

#26

DutchZo vader, zo zoon. 
Equivalent“Like father, like son.”
Like the previous saying, this one also states that children inherit the characteristics of their parents. There’s also a variant: Zo moeder, zo dochter. / “Like mother, like daughter.”

There used to be a Dutch television program called Zo vader, zo zoon. The program revolved around guessing the father of a son from a group of four. A permanent panel had to try to guess by asking questions and presenting situations that would reveal which one the father was. 

#27

DutchBeter alleen, dan in kwaad gezelschap.
Literally“It is better to be alone than to be in bad company.”
This Dutch proverb already says it all: It’s better to be alone, than to be with bad people.


6. Dutch Proverbs About the Weather

Raindrops Falling on a Body of Water

The Dutch know their rain.

People often use different aspects of weather and the seasons as an analogy for things we experience in life. Here are just a few examples of how the Dutch do this…

#28

DutchHet regent pijpenstelen. 
Literally“It is raining pipes.”
EquivalentIt is raining cats and dogs.
Knowing the Dutch weather, it’s no surprise that the Dutch have a few sayings about the rain. Like its English equivalent, this one is often used when it’s raining very hard. 

#29

DutchNa regen komt zonneschijn.
Equivalent“After rain comes sunshine.”
Although this proverb might refer to the weather, it’s most often used to say that there will be better times after a period of adversity.

#30

DutchDoor wind en weer gaan.
Literally“Going through wind and weather.”
MeaningNothing can stop you.
This saying is a symbolic reflection of the Dutch stamina and their attitude toward facing bad weather. This is directly reflected in the Dutch bike culture. It doesn’t matter if it rains or if the wind blows strongly—the Dutch will take their bike and gaan door wind and weer, or “go through wind and weather.”

    → Expand your Dutch weather vocabulary with these useful lists of must-know terms for summer and autumn.

7. How DutchPod101 Can Help You Learn More Dutch

In this guide, you’ve learned about the most important Dutch proverbs and sayings on a variety of topics. Do you already feel inspired and motivated to learn more about the Dutch language, culture, and history? 

Then it’s definitely time to discover DutchPod101! Our numerous vocabulary lists with audio recordings and other useful free resources are designed to boost your Dutch studies and keep your Dutch learning fresh and entertaining.

Would you prefer some one-on-one coaching? Remember that DutchPod101 also has the MyTeacher service for Premium PLUS members. With this service, you can practice everything you’re learning with your personal tutor. You’ll quickly master the Dutch language through your teacher’s personalized feedback, fun assignments, and pronunciation advice.

Happy learning with DutchPod101!

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