Global communications in English
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‘Busy’ and ‘bezig’ – doubly false friends

Busy bee on lavenderBusy and bezig are false friends in at least two ways. First, they behave slightly differently in terms of the structures they participate in. In Dutch, if someone is doing something, you can say that person is bezig met the activity in question:


Jan is bezig met zijn huiswerk.
Jan is bezig met opruimen.

Here, bezig met can be followed by a noun phrase (zijn huiswerk) or a verb phrase with an infinitive (opruimen). In English, you can also use busy with if a noun phrase follows:

John is busy with his homework.
John is busy with a new film.

But if a verb phrase follows, you can only use busy:

John is busy clearing out his papers.
John is busy making a new film.

Busy and bezig also differ slightly in meaning. In Dutch, if you are bezig met something, you are doing it, but not necessarily making hard work of it. In English, if you are busy, you are fully involved in it – what would be described in Dutch as druk bezig. To express the normal Dutch level of busy-ness in English, we would probably simply use the continuous tense of the verb:

John is clearing out his papers.
John is making a new film.

© 2014 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands

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