A bit of this and that

Strangely enough, the usage of those two simple, everyday words is quite often the other way round in Dutch when referring to abstracts rather than tangible objects.

It’s a bit tricky to put your finger on, unfortunately. Because it wouldn’t exactly be wrong in English to have written “these two words” instead – it would be the less common option, though, whereas Dutch would almost invariably write “deze twee woorden“. There’s no issue if you’re talking about a physical object (this mug in my hand, those mugs over there on the shelf); it’s when something intangible is being referred to. An aspect that’s just been mentioned in the previous sentence will often be “dit” or “deze” in Dutch, as if you’ve got it in your hand, whereas – particularly if it’s external to the document or webpage or whatever the text may be – it will tend to be “that” or “those” in English. A couple of real examples:

  • Onder bepaalde voorwaarden […] Deze voorwaarden kunt u vinden… => Subject to certain conditions […] Those conditions can be found…
  • Dit is waarom wij… => That’s why we…
  • This knowledge will let community nurses => That knowledge…
  • As a consequence of losing these battles… => […] those battles

I’ve held back on this one for a while (although it’s quite a big thing) because of the difficulty explaining it. The grammar books and rules basically only cover physical objects, where there’s no problem.

Prevalence: endemic. Turns up in all kinds of texts by all kinds of authors.
Frequency: high. A highly persistent issue.
Native: hmm. Probably, in cases where both forms are acceptable. Might vary a bit with the author’s style or dialect too. But equally, there are cases where it sounds peculiar and we woudln’t make those mistakes.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

2 thoughts on “A bit of this and that

  1. Not really a dit or dat, but I similarly often find myself correcting “This way, … ” to “That way, …” (for e.g. the type of sentence “Zo kunnen ze … “)

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  2. Pretty similar and certainly something that comes up regularly in corrections/edits. Things like “This way, …” => “That lets you…” or “That means…”

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