Use 'even'. It sounds sweeter

18.01.2014
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Image courtesy of Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Strange words that don’t mean a lot, but are used a lot: sentence fillers

The Dutch word ‘even‘ literally translated: just a moment

Phonetic: [ˈevə(n)]

NL: Wacht even – EN: Wait a second/minute

BUT it’s also used for politeness; it makes the sentence more polite, sweeter

Ik zal even in zijn agenda kijken – EN: I’ll check his diary/schedule
Kun je me even helpen? – EN: Can you help me? … and even more polite: Kunt u me even helpen?

NL: Wil je even mijn tas pakken? – EN: Could you get my bag?
NL: Kun jij even de kinderen roepen? – En: Would you call the kids?
NL: Wil jij even die e-mail sturen dat we niet kunnen komen. – EN: Can you send an e-mail to them that we can’t make it?

With this, I can offer some explanation as to why some English speakers think Dutch people come across as rude. It has (not only 🙂 ) a lot to do with this sentence filler.

Whereas in English you might say ‘could you’ or ‘would you be so kind,’ we add this little untranslatable word ‘even’.

When a Dutch person translates the question ‘Kun je even de deur opendoen?’ from Dutch to English, we turn it into ‘Can you open the door?’
Without a translation for the word ‘even,’ we tend to leave it out. Without that sentence filler, the phrase can come across more rudely than intended.

Also in Dutch you can use the intonation to make it sound friendly.
So when you ask “Kun je even de deur opendoen?” to a stranger with the right intonation*, it’s perfectly oke. If the person is older than you, you would use the more formal way and say “Kunt u even de deur opendoen?”.

* ‘doen’ is a few tones higher than open.

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