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The language of Dutch love: from leuk vinden to houden van

By Dr. Ruud Hisgen (Direct Dutch Institute)

Love is in the air. Spring has sprung. Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing cuccu. Olla vogala…

Yes, all the birds have begun their nests except you and I, so what are we waiting for? So the lyrics go in the earliest Dutch poem, first noted down in the 11th century.

I feel like singing: Ik hou van jou, de lucht is blauw, de zon is geel and ik hou van jou heel veel- as one of my students from Kuwait recently rhymed.

The seven stages of Dutch love

Declaring ‘ik hou van jou’ can go a long way, but there are other, more original, ways to express your romantic feelings in Dutch. Here are seven words and expressions that can come in handy if your partner (or partner-to-be) is a Dutchie, a Flemmie or simply enjoys a little Dutch romance:

1 Leuk vinden (to like) – Ik vind je leuk (I like you)

So it starts. Strangers exchanging glances. There is a warm feeling. You want to know this person. You say or whisper: ik vind je leuk. If this feeling proves to be mutual you can maybe move on to the next stage.

2 Lief vinden (to be fond of) – Ik vind je lief (I think you’re sweet)

The ice is broken. Hands are touching. Sweet remarks are made. Ik vind je ogen leuk (I like your eyes). You are not afraid to say ik vind je lief (I think you’re sweet). A flighty kiss might follow. You are sweet on the other person and you know for sure that you’ll be seeing more of each other.

3 Verliefd worden op iemand (to fall in love with someone) – Ik word verliefd op jou (I’m falling in love with you)

Do you believe in love at first sight? I do. But it is madness. It isn’t love in fact. It’s verliefdheid, or infatuation.The Dutch poet Hans Andreus (1926-1977) wrote a cycle of 39 sonnets which he called “Sonnetten van de kleine waanzin” (1957) The words kleinewaanzin mean “small madness”. When you fall in love you lose control in a mad way. It’s hell when the feeling remains unanswered, but absolute heaven when it is mutual.

4 Verliefd zijn op iemand (to be in love with someone) – Ik ben verliefd op jou (I am in love with you)

You’re on cloud nine or in de zevende hemel (in the seventh heaven) in Dutch. The two of you say: we zijn verliefd, we zijn zo verliefd, we zijn zo vreselijk verliefd… So terribly in love.

5 Vrijen (to make love)

At this point you’re likely to be more intimate with one another. “Making love” in Dutch is the verb vrijen (past: vrijde or vree; perfect: heeft gevrijd or gevreeën). I love the word vrijen just as much as the action itself. It’s so much nicer than the mechanical verb “making love” (de liefde bedrijven in Dutch). Dutch vrijen contains the word vrij which means “free”. So when you vrijt you make the other and yourself free.

6 Lief hebben (to love) – Ik heb je lief (I love you)

At this stage the mad feelings of being head-over-heels in love have developed into a deeper feeling of affection and attachment. Poet Hans Andreus expresses this feeling wonderfully in the poem “Ik heb je liever”: “[Ik heb je] liever dan vrolijkheid of regen, liever nog dan ik heb je lief.” “More than cheerfulness or rain I’d have you, even more than I love you.”

7 Houden van iemand (to love someone) – Ik hou van jou (I love you)

To my mind ik hou van jou is stronger than ik heb je lief, but other Dutchies or Flemmies may disagree. Personally speaking, I dislike the verb houden van because of its possessive overtones (houden is “to hold”). So it sounds a bit like you’re holding on to someone or you’re not letting this person go.

So many ways to say “I love you”

If you’re about to eternalise the relationship with the one you love, you must at one time or other utter the phrase ik hou van jou. If you love him or her very much, you can say: ik hou zielsveel van je (zielsveel means “with heart and soul”). If you’re a bit nerdy or old-fashioned then you can say: ik bemin je (beminnen is “to love” or “to hold dear”). Alternatively, you can express your eternal love in English, French (je t’aime), Italian (ti amo) or German (ich liebe dich).

Original love

If you wish to be original, say: ik lief je. A Dutchie will think you’ve gone mad, but then you can explain that that’s the way a medieval Netherlander would have said it. In those days the word lieven for “to love” was common. Lieven has survived in the word geliefd (beloved). If you’re in Flanders and you’re dating a Flemmie, then you can say: ik zie je graag, because it is a lovely, funny Flemish way of saying “I love you”.