general, public, common, universal [adjective/adverb] [‘al-gu-meen‘]

"Algemeen" is a word that is used very often. Its most common translation is "general", though "public", "common" or "universal" are also possible translations – depending on context, see the Examples.


– "En dan nu het algemene nieuws…"
("And now the general news…")

– "Het is van algemeen belang dat de veiligheid van de mensen gegarandeerd wordt."
("It is in the public interest that the people’s safety is guaranteed.")

– "In het algemeen kan men zeggen dat Nederlanders langer zijn dan Japanners.
("In general one can say that the Dutch are taller than the Japanese.")

– "Het is een algemene regel dat iedereen opstaat als de koningin binnenkomt."
("It’s a common rule that everyone stands up when the queen enters.")

– "Hoe weet jij dat?" – "Man, dat is algemene ontwikkeling!"
("How do you know that?" – "Man, that’s general education/knowledge!")

– "Het is algemeen bekend dat mensen steeds dikker worden."
("It’s common knowledge that people become increasingly fat.")

– "Sinds 1922 hebben vrouwen in Nederland algemeen kiesrecht."
("Since 1922, there’s universal suffrage for women in the Netherlands.")

– "Door de bank genomen": generally speaking (lit.: taken through the bank).

Related words:
– "Universeel": universal.
– "Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands (ABN)": standard educated Dutch (lit.: general polite Dutch). This is the Dutch that everyone should speak 🙂 The best bet to try to catch some ABN is by watching the evening news on tv.

Yesterday it was "Prinsjesdag". Today, the "Algemene Beschouwingen" take place: the Budget Debate (literally: the "General Observations"). The financial plans that were presented by the government yesterday, are discussed today by the Parliament.

2 thoughts on “Algemeen

  1. The word “gemeen” is related to English “mean” and “common”. Originally, it seems to have meant “common”, as in Huygens’ “een gemeen soldaat” (a common soldier), but like the English word “mean”, it came to mean, mainly, “vicious”. You can still find it in expressions like “gemeen hebben” (“to have in common”) where it retains the meaning of “common”, and in derivative words like “algemeen” (general), “gemeente” (municipality or congregation), “gemeengoed” (common heritage), “grootste gemene deler” (greatest common denominator). To modern Dutch ears, “grootste gemene deler” sounds a bit funny, the first time you hear it, conjuring up images of menacing mathematical abstractions with sharp teeth.
    The Dutch word for “commons”, by the way, as in commonly held grazing grounds, was “meent”, and common lands survived in some corners of the country, including the isle of Ameland, until they were enclosed by way of “ruilverkaveling”. The correct Dutch translation for “the tragedy of the commons”, a concept commonly used in economics, should therefore be (in my opinion) “het treurspel van de meent”. It is commonly left in English, though.

  2. Hi Jaap, interesting stuff! Thanks! Now I think that I know what used to be present, there where we now have the Meent in Rotterdam 🙂

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