Tuesday, April 19, 2011

'ei' or 'ij'

an egg or an ice cream?
Another confusing beauty in the Dutch language: do I write 'ei' or 'ij'?

Both sound exactly the same, but it is extremely important to use the correct written form in order to avoid confusion. There are no 'rules' or 'mnemonics' for it, you will just have to study it, word for word. Undust does dictionaries and unfold those bookworm-glasses!

Although the pronunciation is exactly the same, the difference between 'ei' or 'ij' can be very important. For example, "leiden" is "to lead (as a responsible one)" and "lijden" is "to suffer (as a victim)":
  • ik lijd (because I am hurt)
  • ik leid (because I know the way)

"ei" and "ij" have the same pronunciation, but their spelling is something you will just have to practice, even native speakers have that problem. Use a dictionary. The "ei" is called "korte ei", the "ij" is called "lange ij"(*) to avoid confusion.

Some examples:
ei ij
leiden to lead lijden to suffer
eis a demand ijs 'ice' or 'ice cream'
wei pasture, field wij we
weide pasture, field wijde from the adjective 'wijd'
zei past tense of 'zeggen' zij 'she' or 'they'
mei the month May mij me
peil a level, like in 'water level' pijl an arrow
bereiden to prepare (food) berijden to ride (a horse)
reist third person singular of 'reizen' rijst 'rice' or third person singular of 'rijzen'


About the 'ij' in Dutch:

(*) Personally, I prefer the way that my former coordinator Martine uses to distinguish both sounds: "de eitjes ei" and "de ijsjes ij", hence the illustration that accompanies this article.

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