The vast majority of Amsterdammers speak English—most of them quite well—and they usually don't mind using their bilingual skills to communicate with visitors. For these reasons, English-speaking travelers in Amsterdam really have no functional reason to learn much Dutch before visiting.
As a courtesy, these words will show your Dutch hosts that you appreciate their language and their ability to communicate with you in yours. The following format gives you the Dutch word (in italics), the pronunciation (in parentheses), the English equivalent (in bold type) and the typical usage of the word or phrase (below the word).
Hello and Other Greetings
You'll hear the Dutch greet each other and visitors with any of the following words and phrases. It's customary to return the sentiment when greeted.
- Hallo ("HAH low")—Hello
Universal greeting for hello (and by far the easiest to say). Appropriate almost any time or place.
- Hoi ("hoy")—Hi
Used more often with people you know. A bit more casual.
- Goedemorgen ("KHOO duh MORE khen")—Good morning
Most commonly used in museums, shops, restaurants, hotels, etc. More formal and appropriate for people you don't know. Sometimes shortened to morgen.
- Goedenmiddag ("KHOO duh midakh")—Good afternoon
Same usage as above, only for a different time of day. Sometimes shortened to middag.
- Goedenavond ("KHOO dun AH fohnt")—Good evening
Same usage as above, only for a different time of day. Not typically shortened.
When leaving a store or café, most people in Amsterdam use one of the following words or phrases. Be a friendly visitor and try one out.
- Dag ("dakh")—Bye
Literally "day" as in "good day," this is the most common word for goodbye. Appropriate with most anyone. Can also be used as a greeting.
- Tot ziens ("toht zeens")—See you later (figurative)
Cheerful, yet still appropriate with people you don't know. Often used by shop or restaurant workers as you leave.
- Doei or doeg ("dooey" or "dookh")—Bye
Used more often with people you know, but can be used in a casual, friendly way. Much like the British "cheerio."
Thank You, Please and Other Polite Words
Thank you and please are used regularly and a few different ways in everyday Dutch conversation and interaction, even in the most casual settings. As a visitor, you should follow suit (in any language).
- Dank u wel ("dahnk oo vel")—Thank you very much (formal)
Dank je wel ("dahnk yuh vel")—Thank you very much (informal)
Most common way of saying thank you. The formal version is appropriate to use with people you don't know and the informal for family and friends. Although it isn't a literal translation, the added wel is similar to adding "very much" to thank you. A simple dank u is also fine.
- Bedankt ("buh DAHNKT")—Thanks
A little less formal than dank u wel, but appropriate for most any situation.
- Alstublieft ("ALST oo bleeft")—Please or if you please (formal)
Alsjeblieft ("ALS yuh bleeft")—Please or if you please (informal)
These words have various meanings in different contexts and are used very frequently. Here's a typical example in a café situation:
You: Een koffie, alstublieft. (One coffee, please.)
The server arrives with your coffee and presents it to you. Server: Alstublieft.
You: Dank u wel.
The server doesn't mean "please" as he gives you your coffee. He means something more like "here you are" or "if you please." If you manage to thank your server before he says it, he may respond with alstublieft as a kind of "you're welcome." Sometimes shortened to alstu or blieft.
- Pardon ("par DOHN")—Pardon, excuse me
Universal word for excuse me, whether to get someone's attention or to be polite when trying to work your way through a crowd.
- Meneer ("muh NEAR")—Mister
Mevrouw ("muh FROW")—Miss, Mrs.
These words are the Dutch equivalents of the English "mister" or "sir" and "miss," "Mrs." or "ma'am" (mevrouw is used for both married and unmarried women). You might say Pardon, meneer, to be more polite.
- Sorry (same as English, but with a long "o" and somewhat rolled "r")—Sorry
This one's pretty self explanatory. You accidentally step on someone's toe on the tram. "Oh, sorry!" No translation needed.
Other Dutch Phrases to Learn
No need to stop with basic greetings. Learn how to order food in Dutch—a skill you'll almost certainly find useful as post travelers have to order food on your trip—and how to ask for the check in Dutch. No waiter will assume you want the check unless you specifically request it; learn how to do it in Dutch. You can even learn how to say Happy Birthday.
You can also read more about whether to learn some Dutch before you visit Amsterdam.