Phrases in Pennsylvania Dutch {Lessons from My Amish Family}

My brother & me

My brother & me

I was born into a “New Order Amish” family, and learned to speak both Pennsylvania Dutch and English as a child. The Amish people are fluent speakers of both Pennsylvania Dutch and English. They also have a reading knowledge of High German, which is used in their church services in scripture reading, preaching and worship songs.

My parents on their wedding day

My wonderful parents, on their wedding day

“Pennsylvania Dutch” is actually not “Dutch” at all, but rather, Pennsylvania Deutsch (or German). “Pennsylvania German developed in the eighteenth century as the result of the immigration of approximately 81,000 German-speakers from Central Europe, including Switzerland, to southeastern Pennsylvania. The vast majority (96 percent) of these immigrants were of the Lutheran or German Reformed faith; of the remaining 4 percent, roughly one-half were Mennonites and only a few hundred were Amish. Whatever varieties of German they spoke in Europe, the Amish assimilated to the language of the majority, Pennsylvania German, which resembles most closely the German dialects spoken in the southeastern Palatinate, near the city of Mannheim. The influence of English on Pennsylvania German is often overstated. Only 10 to 15 percent of Pennsylvania German vocabulary is English-derived; its core grammatical structures remain Palatine German.” Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College

Party at Grandma's house! (That's me, on my Grandma Esh's lap.)

Party at Grandma’s house!

Although I don’t speak much Dutch these days, there are a few phrases from my childhood that I still use on a regular basis, when speaking with my daughter. Here are the phrases, for your reading enjoyment! (Note: These words are not spelled technically, but phonetically instead so that you can pronounce them as written. Many thanks to my Daddy Jacob Dienner for his help!)

Playing with my brother

Playing with my brother

Kannscht du Deitsch schvetza?Can you speak Dutch?

Gleh vennigh or gleh bissley – A little bit

Vie gehts? – How are you?

Sittsit unnah Sit down

Vas is letz? What is wrong?

Vesh die pattiesWash your hands

Tzeit for essahTime to eat

Vas denkscht? – What do you think?

Vas in der velt? – What in the world?

Gutte’ nachtGood night

and my favorite…

Ich liebe dichI love you

Tomorrow I’ll be wrapping up my 31 days of lessons from my Amish family. What a great journey this has been! Thanks so much for sharing the road with me. ~ Justina Dee

Click here to read more posts from my Amish series.


The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College


Pennsylvania Dutch Phrases 

You Know You’re From Lancaster When…

First video in a series of PA Dutch lessons

19 thoughts on “Phrases in Pennsylvania Dutch {Lessons from My Amish Family}

  1. Identified several phrases that my grandmother, great-grandmother and my mother took us to when we were kids. My family is of German settlers and talk “Plattdeutsch”. Throughout these lessons from his Amish family, I made an amazing discovery: except domicialres cults, looked like you were describing my childhood! Including coffee soup (I do not know if it is done the same way as ours), the glass of water shared the small wooden bench in the kitchen …. So … kidding … I can say “I’m Amish but did not know it “lol

  2. Finally, today, I got “caught up” reading your posts. Justina…these need to be published in a book!!!! Have you considered that? It brought back such wonderful memories of your grandparents! Thanks for sharing!!!

  3. These are excellent phrases!! Danke for posting them. I am a complete beginner of P.D. and these phrases will be fantastic for every use, which in my humble opinion, is the best way to learn. I hope you will be posting more. I love this language! !

  4. I’m trying to learn the origin of an “onion snow” – there are a few definitions floating around out there. The phrase originated with the Pennsyvlania Dutch. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Hi just wondering if you know the meaning of the Pa Dutch phrase: “Now she will have to ride in the bake oven.” My grandparents used to say that quite often and even they didn’t know what it really meant. The phrase was always used in reference to a younger sister getting married before the older one. And the older one then “Had to ride in the bake oven.”
    My grandparents (PA Dutch) said all kinds of PA Dutch words and phrases. And it wasn’t’ until I got out in the world and around the Jewish Culture that I found they were Yiddish!

    • I’ve never heard the “bake oven” phrase, but when a younger brother marries before an older brother, the older brother has to dance in a pig trough at the wedding.

  6. My grandfather used to tell us a bedtime saying loosely translated to, “Bedtime for smart people, dumb people go to bed anytime”. I would love to know how to write it so that I could make a sign for my bedroom. Would you have any idea what that would be? I can only say it but have no idea how to write it out. I would appreciate any help that you could give!

  7. I’m making wine labels for my daughter’s wedding and would like to know the translation of Wedding Wine to PA German. Thank you.

  8. My spelling may be way off, but I once heard a Lutheran Pastor make a sermon around this phrase. Can you possibly remind me of what that phrase was an it’s interpretation?
    “Haley haley hinkle dreck, al is vay, is al is veck”.

  9. How do you say “I’m sorry” in PA Dutch. I am currently (slowly) learning the language and cannot find this translation.

  10. Also, I noticed that some words are different from what I have been learning, for example you say “sittsit” for sit and I learned it as “hocke” Is it just that there is different dialect in different areas?

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  13. Hello! I grew up in Harrisburg, Pa. and though my family was not Pa. Dutch, I was exposed to a reasonable amount of expressions, such as ‘Outen the lights,” etc. Occasionally as a child my grandmother would tell me to ‘skite/skeit/skight’ my feet to get mud off my shoes. I’ve asked my cousins (no brothers or sisters to ask) if their parents used this word, and they did not. Nor had they heard it. I’ve looked everywhere on the Internet and can’t find something about ‘skeit’ or however it is spelled! Can anyone help?

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