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  5. "Ik spreek geen Engels."

"Ik spreek geen Engels."

Translation:I do not speak English.

July 18, 2014



so... we meet again, Friedrich Engels


Of the Groucho sort.


Dat baard is groot.


well done! this is a correct dutch sentence. it means: im big.


And I don't mean you should die, but it's 'die' instead of 'dat'. And a beard is 'lang' instead of 'groot'.


Many people confuse die and dat, don't worry about it. It's just one of those things that's hard to grasp if you don't learn it growing up as a native speaker.

On the plus side, Dutch is far easier to learn than German.



  • dat = that for het words
  • die = that for de words


  • dit = this for het words
  • deze = this for de words

Since baard is a de word, "that beard" translates to "die baard", not "dat baard".


But I got the beard right, so that's something. :)

And thinking about it, I knew it was die. I suck.


Yes it should be die baard. But I disagree you should use long. In this case it it definitely a big beard! But not a long one.

Both lange baard en grote baard are used personally I hear grote baard more often but that can be depended on region or situation. However I think gus generally are trying to get an awesome full beard and not necesarry akways a long one, so that might be a part of the equation.

Zz top you would call guys with long beards this guy has a big beard.

I guess how I and people I have heard mentioning beard. Usually call it big unless it is either long but not really full or really long regardless of it is full.

But like I said might differ per place situation. Just say nice beard and you're good ;)


well that explains it...


What is the difference between dat and die? I haven't come across die yet


Both are for refering something which isn't near you. Those books that house. If the definite article is het you would use that and if it is the (which plurals always take) it is die.

The book=het boek->dat boek=that book
the houses= de huizen->die huizen=those houses

Note that the house is het huis, but plurals always come with de so de huizen.


Funny last names are everywhere xD.


Haha that is one magnificent beard! Sometimes I'm sad I can't grow one. How can I ever look majestic now!


Whenever I hear Friedrich, I think of Friedrich's ataxia. It's a type of condition that makes the spine fragile.


Could another translation for this be, 'I don't speak English'?


Yes, that is definitely correct. It is more literally translated to I speak no English. but I don't speak English. is also correct, as it is more natural than the first translation.


So, you mean that it should be like this?

I don't speak English = Ik spreek niet Engels


Actually, no. I re-read my post and it didn't make much sense, so I'm going to edit or delete it once I'm done typing this.

If you were to say I don't speak English. it would be Ik spreek geen Engels. It is more literally translated to I speak no English. but since that is not as natural in English, it also means I don't speak English.

The reason why it isn't Ik spreekt niet Engels. is because you are technically negating the noun, not the verb (which is shown in the literal translation).

Since this is a little different than English it's kind of hard to explain. If you're still confused, I'll try to find a better way to explain it.


Sorry, I do realize that I must learn more about Dutch's grammar, but what do you mean with "technically negating the noun"?

According to this link (https://www.duolingo.com/comment/3734833),

  • "niet" is essentially used to negate verbs, thoughts, adjectives and any other sentence elements that aren't nouns, meanwhile

  • "geen" is used to negate a noun itself.


That is correct. I once read that a reason why you do not use "niet" in situations like this is that by saying Ik spreek niet Engels, since you're negating the verb it's almost as if you're doing something else with English... which obviously doesn't make any sense, and so you have to use geen. Also, you still speak, just not English, so you negate English.

This isn't exactly easy to explain for this instance, so if I am incorrect in my reasons or if you are still unsure about it, I'm sorry. This is pretty much what I know about it, so if you need further explanation, you'll probably have to look it up somewhere else.


[Apparently this was a response to a post that has been deleted. As some people found it useful, I am only deleting the parts that lost their context.]

"Ik spreek geen Engels" means that you cannot speak English.

"Ik spreek niet Engels" can mean that as well, but can also mean that you are speaking another language instead. As in: "Ik spreek niet Engels maar Nederlands." This additional meaning is the one where the noun is negated.


Thank you for explaining the rule, correct me if I'm wrong: Negating noun=geen, negating verb=niet.


Correct, but as AlsEenPoffertje says there is a little extra twist. Dutch and German speakers like to negate nouns a lot. We often do it when it would be more logical to negate the verb.

More precisely, the most common way to negate a transitive verb is to negate the object instead of the verb. Example:

  • Ik zing. - I am singing.
  • Ik zing niet. - I am not singing. (Intransitive use, so there is no choice: We must negate the verb.)
  • Ik zing een lied. - I am singing a song.
  • Ik zing geen lied. - I am not singing a song. (Literally: I am singing no song. We used the chance to negate the object instead of the verb.)

There are also two rarer negations with special meaning.

  • Ik zing een lied niet. - There is a song that I am not singing.
  • Ik zing niet één lied. - I am singing not a song / not a single song / not one song.

You would think that niet in the last example negates the verb, but because of the different word order (in Dutch main clauses niet has to follow the verb because the verb always comes in second position), it comes right before een. Therefore it's more natural to interpret niet een as a phrase (rather than zing niet).

So the weird negation practices seem to be a logical consequence of the V2 word order of Dutch. But they are also extended to situations when this wouldn't be necessary, as e.g. in infinitives:

  • zingen - to sing
  • niet zingen - not to sing
  • een lied zingen - to sing a song
  • geen lied zingen - not to sing a song (any song)

  • een lied niet zingen - to not sing a song (a specific song)

  • niet één lied zingen - to sing not a (single) song.


So, so helpful. Thank you!


That's pretty much it, though it is a little more complex than that. The way I've learned to look at it is if there is no noun you use "niet" - that much we've established already - but if there's a noun it can actually be either, depending on the article (or lack thereof) used. If there's a definite article (de or het), you still use "niet." If there's an indefinite article or no article at all you use "geen." Here are some examples:

  • Hij slaapt niet. = He does not sleep.

  • Hij gebruikt niet de pen. = He does not use the pen.

  • Hij gebruikt geen pen. = He does not use a pen.

  • Hij gebruikt geen pennen. = He does not use pens.

Hope this clears things up. :)


This helped me a lot! :) Thank you!


Yes, and it is accepted.


It's like German: 'Ich spreche kein Englisch'


Don't is a combination of do and not so yes. I don't know if they changed it, but that is the answer now, just not combined.


What a delightful name for my language!


Yes, and a similar effect happens in German the other way round, though only in religious jargon. I used to think it odd that a certain Catholic song related to Mary was called "der englische Gruß", which translates as "the English greeting". It took years until I found out that in this case the adjective englisch was derived from Engel (angel) rather than from England as usual. So it was really "the angelic greeting".


That's cool. If you sound it, however, it sounds a little like "the English grudge". :)


Can you say ik spreek engels niet or is it always ik spreek geen engels?


You can say it, but it has a different meaning. In Dutch, when you negate a sentence with a transitive verb (a verb with an object), you do so by negating the object, not the verb. If you negate the verb itself, it means that it's the verb that is wrong, not the entire sentence or the object.

I'm not a native Dutch speaker, but based on my native German I am pretty sure that the following pun is a good example:

  • Ik spreek engels niet, ik eet ze.

The pun works (I hope) because just like English, Dutch is regularising its nouns to increasingly form plurals with -s. Just like English child, children, Dutch engel, engelen (meaning angel) still has an old-fashioned plural in the standard language. But no doubt some speakers have already regularised this to engel, engels. Of course this is almost impossible to translate to English:

  • I don't speak English, I eat them [= angels].

Of course more straightforward examples are also possible:

  • Ik spreek engels niet, ik probeer het te spreken.
  • I don't speak English, I try to speak it.


How is "geen" pronounced? I am having trouble hearing how the g is sounded out. Is it a "ch" sound?


As an American learning Dutch, I've found out a bit hard too. The Dutch /g/ seems to be halfway between the gulping English /g/ in...well, the 'gulp' and the rough, throaty /ch/ in Bach, loch, challah bread, and Chanukah.


Then why are you taking the Dutch for English speakers course, may I inquire?


So should E/engels be capitalized or lower case? This makes it seem capitalized, but it says lower case in correct in other questions.


As a general principle, Duolingo never punishes incorrect capitalisation. The worst that will happen if you only get that wrong and everything else is correct, is that Duolingo tells you the properly capitalised sentence. This is the same method that Duolingo uses for punctuation.

As to what is correct, from all I have read, Engels should always be capitalised. There may be some grey areas such as when it is the second constituent of a compound word like pidgin-engels.

But it's possible that Dutch speakers are less firm about this in the case of adjectival use since they are surrounded by speakers of French and German. In these languages, adjectives such as anglais and englisch are spelled with small initials even though the nouns Angleterre and England from which they are derived are capitalised.


Thanks! That was really helpful!


Shouldnt it be niet because that translated to 'i speak not a dutch'?


Technically, the literal translation of "Ik spreek geen Engels" would indeed be "I speak no English", or perhaps "I don't speak any English". These ways of putting it are not in use in English, which prefers the more logical "I speak not English" (which due to a quirk of English becomes "I don't speak English") or maybe occasionally the more emphatic "I don't speak any English".

I we had to translate "I don't speak any English" to Dutch, "Ik spreek geen Engels" might be the best choice because "Ik spreek helemaal geen Engels" really corresponds more closely to "I speak no English at all" or "I don't speak any English at all".

One thing that fuels language change is people's inclination to use drastic or colourful language.

At some point English speakers came up with a way of expressing the fact that some action was going on right now. At first it only existed to stress the on-going nature (as is still the case in most languages that even have a progressive). But through overuse it eventually became mandatory to say "I am going to school now" instead of "I go to school now", and it even became acceptable to use the progressive in connection with actions in the near future ("I am going to school in a minute").

Something similar may have happened with how Dutch (and German) negates sentences. Maybe some people started saying things like "Ik spreek geen Engels" instead of "Ik spreek niet Engels" for emphasis, as in "I don't speak any English". But then this became so popular that it became almost obligatory. (Not as obligatory as using the English progressive when it applies!) At that point the sense of emphasis was lost and it became a grammatical rule: When a verb has an object, negate the object (using geen) rather than the verb itself (using niet).


When do we use niet and when geen???


Very roughly:

  • niet = not (as in: not doing something)
  • geen = no (as in: no object)


Why not "niet" rather than "geen"?


Why not "niet" rather than geen?


why can't it be translated "I can't speak english?"


Sometimes, when very literal translations are possible, Duolingo courses get a bit pedantic and insist on them. There is no can in the Dutch sentence, though there could be ("Ik kan geen Engels spreken", "Ik kan niet Engels spreken")


I've found that English uses "can" a lot more than most languages use their equivalent. Maybe it should also be accepted more?


Actually, I think my native German doesn't use können any less than English does, and presumably the same is true for Dutch kunnen. This may be a general feature of Germanic languages. Romance languages do seem to use their equivalents less.


Could very well be a Germanic thing. Interesting!


The same is true for Scandinavian languages, as well as Yiddish, but I'm not sure for Icelandic (they use various inflected forms of geta which means "to be able" so it seems to have the same usage but all other Germanic languages have a cognate of "can" and I don't know how often it's used). So yes, it's a Germanic thing, although they do use an equivalent word in Slavic languages, but I'm not sure how frequently.


In this the noun, Engels, is being negated, not the verb. So it "I speak NO ENGLISH".


Why would "I talk no English" be incorrect...?


You wouldn't even say that in English. :P

To talk and to speak are different verbs. In Dutch, the word to talk is praten. Spreken means to speak. "I don't speak Dutch" = Ik spreek geen Nederlands.


You speak a language, but you talk to your friends. The verb changes depending on the contest.


Is there a reason why the g in engels is not pronounced like the throaty 'ch'


I think in Dutch, ng together is a more nasal N. Like when "ng" is at the end of the word in English--unless you're stressing each syllable, you wouldn't pronounce sing as "sin-guh."


Yea, you're right. I forgot about that rule. Thanks!


Could someone please help me with the correct pronunciation? Google Translator says "spreek" with an "r" used in English while the lady here uses a more German-like one. Which one is more common?


It is definitely not like the English r. It's closer to the German one. :) The only time I can think of r's sounding more like English is when it comes after a couple vowels, like meer and maar.


Thanks! Google is not right then. :)


I actually took a listen at the Google recording, and if you listen carefully you'll hear that it sounds a little bit closer to a Spanish r - not quite, but it's still not an English r. I might be totally wrong in saying this, as I have much more practice writing and reading Dutch than I do listening or speaking, but from what I've heard it seems as though southern regions of the Netherlands use an r that's a bit closer to Spanish, while northern regions use one that's closer to German.

Even in Germany it differs. Down south you can hear them really roll the r, like in Bavaria or even Austria, but up north it sounds more like the recording for this sentence.

Conclusion: It definitely isn't like English, but whether it's a bit closer to Spanish or German differs in regions. I'd suggest simply following the pronunciation in the recording provided here. :)

If someone with a little more listening/speaking experience has any corrections to make on this, please do so! :D


Could it be "ik spreek niet Engels"?


native dutch here.

no this is not a correct dutch sentence. if you want to say you dont speak english, but an other language at the time, you have to say: ik spreek geen engels maar (other language). if you want to say you cant speak english at all, tou have to say: ik spreek geen engels.


OK, bedankt! I just realized that "Ik spreek niet Engels" would actually mean "I speak no English", right?


No, it doesn't. It's an ungrammatical sentence which in English would perhaps be best rendered as the equally ungrammatical "I speak not English", which is its exact literal word-by-word translation. They are ungrammatical for different reasons, but one thing they have in common is that if you add maar Nederlands / but Dutch, they become grammatical.

PS: I am no longer sure why I wrote "Ik spreek niet Engels" is ungrammatical, and more specifically that it is equally ungrammatical as "I speak not English". I think it's actually in a grey area of things that native speakers will sometimes say inadvertently, but avoid when speaking carefully. Both "Ik spreek niet Engels" and "I speak not English" are neither fully grammatical nor completely grammatical, but I think the former is more acceptable than the latter.

PPS: But this is only because the object in this case is Engels rather than a noun taking an indefinite article. If the object were de taal (the language) we would have no choice but negating the entire sentence: "Ik spreek de taal niet". (Negating the verb only as in "Ik spreek niet de taal" is reserved for special situations similar to how I explained above.) And if the object were een taal, then negating anything but the object would indeed be more ungrammatical, so that anything but "Ik spreek geen taal" would in fact be ungrammatical. (Of course that sentence is self-contradictory as you can't say it without speaking a language, but that's not a matter of grammar.)


Oh, I see, thank you!


Can "I speak not English" be used? Instead of "I do not speak English". I feel like tge first one is more true of a direct translation.


No. "I speak not English" would have been a proper English sentence in Shakespeare's time, but nowadays it is ungrammatical. In Modern English, negating a full verb (such as speak) requires do support.

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