Learn Dutch - street names

You can learn a lot of Dutch out of street names (straatnamen). A walk through Amsterdam Centre.

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“You might actually know a lot more Dutch than you think you do”. This is something I tell each student during the first lesson of the courses I offer.

If you have lived in Amsterdam for an extended period, you probably already know many street names in which Dutch words are present. Many people don’t even realize that they already know so many words.

Let’s first focus on the word ‘straat.’ A street can be called:

      •          Weg (like road in English)
      •          Steeg (little alley)
      •          Gracht (actually this is a canal)
      •          Dijk (we can’t do without them; the dike)
      •          Wal (like city wall; think about Wall street, derived from a Dutch word)
      •          Kade (a quay where ships dock)


These names are all often found in watery areas. Half of the Netherlands used to be swamp, and we removed the water, but that’s a different story…

In Amsterdam we have lots of canals, known as ‘grachten’. The major ones going half around the city center, or ‘het centrum’ are:

De Singel (no particular meaning)   Rozengracht Amsterdam
De Herengracht             – sing: de heer            – plur: de heren
De Keizersgracht           – sing: de keizer         – plur: de keizers
De Prinsengracht          – sing: de prins           – plur: de prinsen

Heren’ is the plural form of master/mister and in singular form ‘de Heer’ refers to the Lord. *
‘Keizer’ is emperor.
Prinseneiland And the last one is ‘prins’ which I think you can probably guess… 😉

Here is a little walking tour of Amsterdam, to give you an example of how much names can teach you:

When you walk from Amsterdam Central Station straight to ‘het centrum’, you will reach Dam Square in Dutch called ‘de Dam’ with the palace on the Dam / ‘het paleis op de Dam’.

If you go to the left from ‘het centraal station’ you will enter the Red Light District which we call ‘de Wallen’ in Dutch. You’ll see where that comes from. ‘Aan wal gaan’ means to go ashore. Sailors (zeemannen) used to love this area 😛

From ‘het centraal station’ you walk over ‘de Zeedijk’ (sea dike) to ‘de Nieuwmarkt‘ (New market. Isn’t Dutch easy?). Amsterdam nieuwmarkt

Ok a little more complecated, read carefully out loud. Before de Zeedijk you will reach ‘ de Oudezijdsvoorburgwal‘ and ‘de Oudezijdsachterburgwal‘. On the right of het centraal station (C.S.) is ‘de Nieuwzijdsvoorburgwal.


 nieuw     – new                                       oud          – old
 zijde        – side                                       voor        –  in front/for
 achter    – behind                                  and ‘wal’ you already know

And burg is an old Dutch word we don’t use anymore but some Dutch cities have it in the name: Middelburg, Tilburg, Voorburg.
Burg is nowadays called ‘burcht’ and it means castle. In the Red Light District there is a little castle ‘op de Nieuwmarkt’ (on the new market) with a restaurant in it ‘de Waag‘.

When you are back ‘op de Dam’ you will find ‘de Nieuwe Kerk’ (the new church). This is the place where our king (Koning Willem-Alexander) was crowned.

In het midden op de Wallen’ (in the middle of the red light district) is ‘de Oude Kerk’. Both are nice places to visit.

De Oude Kerk is located on ‘het Oudekerksplein 23‘. You now know oude kerk is old church, but what about ‘plein’? Plein is square. Many of you will have likely visited the popular going-out area in Amsterdam, the Leidse-square: ‘Leidseplein.’ ‘Leiden’ means to lead. Unfortunately though, I don’t think you’ll pick up a lot of Dutch there!

Notice that we always use an article (de or het) with street names.

* In Dutch Mister and Mrs. X is ‘meneer en mevrouw X’. De word ‘meneer’ comes from ‘mijn heer’ and means my lord or my mister. We still commonly address letters to ‘dhr. en mw. X’ ( de heer en mevrouw X); however you can also use ‘men. en mevr. X’ (meneer en mevrouw).

I hope this has shown you a few of the many similarities between Dutch and English.

‘Dutch isn’t difficult, it’s just different.’

Red light district – op de Wallen – stopthetraffik.nl

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