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Difference between 'de' and 'het'

I do not get the difference between 'de' and 'het' - when does one use 'de' and when does one use 'het'? Is there a rule that I do not understand or is it a matter of 'getting the feel' which to use?

(Ik had het liever in het Nederlans gevraagt maar dat werd te moeilijk- sorry)

January 8, 2014

31 opmerkingen


That's a very good question. :)

'Het' is used as an article for 'neutral(ly gendered) words and 'de' for either masculine or feminine words. There are a few rules which can help you remember which of the two is to be used, but there is a decent amount of exceptions as well:

~ About 65% of the words have the article 'de'

~ 'De' is always used for the plural, for professions and for people, for vegetables, fruits, trees and plants, names of mountains and rivers

~ 'De' is also used for the words ending with -ie,- ij, -heid, -teit,-a, -nis, -st, -schap, -de, -te, -iek, -ica, -theek, -iteit, -tuur, -stuur, -sis, -xis, -tis, -ade, -ide, -ode, -ude, -age, -ine, -se, -ea

~ 'Het' is always used for a diminutive and for words consisting of two syllables and starting with be-, ge-, ver-, ont-

~ 'Het' is always used for languages, names of metals, words ending with -isme, -ment and for words derived from verbs.

This is a link to a blog which explains the difference as well: http://blogs.transparent.com/dutch/de-or-het-knowing-when-to-use-which/.


WOW thanks for this insight into tips for identifying noun gender. :) But I noticed you said "de" is used for people. Would "meisje" be an exception since everytime I've had to translate "the girl" it was "het meisje?"


There is another exeption: the child = het kind


This is going to be so helpful for me :) Just started learning the difference between definite articles in the textbook I'm learning Dutch from, and they're a little vague about what rules apply to which article so this is a huge help! Written it down in my little learning notebook so that I can always easily refer back to it if I'm unsure:)

Thanks a bunch Lavinae! :)


Why is 'Het' used before meisje then? :/


Because, like louis.vang wrote above: "it is a diminutive (verkleinwoord). When a word ends with -je or -tje its always 'het'." That makes it an exception to the rule that says people always get 'de'.


Thanks for that post, but ... ... why should one translate 'het water' (I've found several translations like that)? Is that an exception or I'm wrong?


Are you under the impression that there are precise rules for gender? That is not true. Gender is essentially arbitrary, and water happens to be a het word.

You must learn the gender of each noun separately. The rules described by Lavinae are just rules of thumb that make it easier for certain classes of nouns. None of them applies to water anyway, and even if one did, Lavinae has made it clear that there are plenty of exceptions.


It's just what I'm writing johaquila ... btw thanks


Thank you very much this opened my mind way more than the closed nordic systems :)


Thanks for the tip!


Thank you so much! That's really helpful :)


Thanks Lavinae, I also had this question - it is good to see an explanation!


I have been meaning to ask this question but thought I would wait until I learned some more lessons.

Lavinae has now given more than enough to digest and it is brilliant. I will have to print it up and put it on the wall.

Hungarian has now started and I did the first lesson but it is Dutch that is the fun language for me to do and learn


abonneer op mijn instagram account the hidster


I’ve noticed that words that are noticeably similar to their German counterparts (I’d say “derived from German” but that may not be true in all cases) generally have the same gender between the two languages, that helps me to remember the genders of a few words.


Dutch and German have the same origin so one is not derived from the other (e.g. see the coloured table here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_languages ), but yes Dutch and German are quite closely related. So if you know a word in only one of the languages, it often is a good guess to try it in the other.

Indeed in quite some cases, gender is the same in both languages e.g. diminutives in Dutch and German are the same (always n). Also it may help in some other cases (especially from German to Dutch as German has both m and f, Dutch has them combined). But take care, it's not always the case (e.g. de auto, das Auto, het socialisme, der Sozialismus). I'm not sure to what extent the genders are equal.


When the words are the same, the gender is usually the same as well. Though yes, there are exceptions that one needs to remember.

The main problem for me as a German is that very often the words are not the same. In most cases the Dutch word is a cognate of a German word that is pretty antiquated or means something slightly different. In other cases it is actually French or a cognate of an English word. The case when the Dutch word is exactly the same as the German word is sufficiently rare that I have trouble remembering them in many cases. (I can't think of a Dutch word and it doesn't occur to me that this might be because the German word does the job.)

I think words for 4-wheeled transport are somewhat illustrative. I will give them in the format "Dutch singular, plural = German singular, plural (English cognate)".

  • de wagen, de wagens = der Wagen, die Wagen (wagon)
  • de kar, de karren = der/die Karre(n), die Karren (car, cart)
  • het automobiel, de automobielen = das Automobil, die Automobile (automobile)
  • de auto, de auto's = das Auto, die Autos (auto)

First, you can see how similar the West Germanic languages really are. The cognates are very easy to recognise and mean basically the same things. German der/die maps to Dutch de, and German das maps to Dutch het. Everything maps to English the. German plural endings also seem to map to Dutch plural endings. Where the German plural has no extra ending or ends in -s, Dutch has an -s. Where the German plural ends in -n or -e, Dutch has -en.

The most common word for car today in Dutch/German is auto/Auto. This word also exists in English, though only in American English - possibly due to Dutch and German influence!

Auto is derived from automobile as an abbreviation. In English the issue of gender does not arise. Dutch seems to have chosen the most common gender, which is also the gender of the other related words. So it is de auto. German does not have a most common gender, and in German, the gender situation for the related words is not so clear. So German took the gender of the original word: das Automobil, hence das Auto. This is how languages diverge, though in this case it's only temporary because Dutch is clearly about to merge all genders.


De and Het is one of the difficult parts of Dutch. That and the whole d/t/dt thing. Even Dutch people struggle with it ;)


I think (being Dutch with foreign friends with various levels of Dutch) de and het isn't the most difficult part. You just have to learn the gender of the words and the situations in which they affect other words (deze/dit, die/dat, inflection of adjectives), declension has a difficulty similar to French or Spanish if you ask me and is WAY easier than German for instance, but yes if you only know English I can imagine you struggle with this...as you will with lots of languages, at least I don't know any language that is as easy as English in this respect.

The d/t/dt thing in Dutch is horrible, you're totally right in saying Dutch people struggle with it. And I imagine that learning strong and irregular verb conjugations also is a big hurdle (they are common…and there are a lot of different ones). Another hard part is pronunciation and hearing the difference between "eu" "ui" "ij/ei" "au/ou", if Dutch learners are a bit off with their pronunciation of these, I found that it's hard for me to understand them. One positive thing about pronunciation: there's no need to worry about the "g" or "r" (hard g and rolling r). Pronouncing them differently than most Dutch do, only make you sound foreign and doesn't create any communication problem. Besides, there are big differences between native speakers as well, Flemish and many accents and dialects don't have the hard "g".

Another tricky thing might be the apparent chaos in word order and usage of tenses, there are many options to choose from, a lot of them are fine, but then there are some that just don't work. I'm glad Dutch is my mother tongue and I had to learn the English word order and tenses instead of the other way around. ;)


Thanks - it gives me comfort to know that it is really fairly complicated - and not just me!


Me, I'm glad German is my mother tongue and I had to learn the English word order instead of the other way round. I guess it's just natural, but I still find it surprising how the word order in Dutch is almost always the totally bizarre one of my native language. It's so counterintuitive that a foreign language might do things so similarly, that when translating English to Dutch I often lose hearts because I forget to translate a sentence to German first in order to see what weirdness in word order to expect.

I guess the same applies to tenses, though I haven't seen much of them yet.


That's a clear bonus indeed, and you're right about the tenses "ik heb het geprobeerd" (ich habe es probiert), "ik zou het kunnen doen" (ich würde es können machen), "we gaan het doen" (wir gehen es machen), "dat zal gaan" (das werde gehen). Very similar in Dutch and German and different in English. Only "gaan" (gehen) is stretching it a bit too much probably, we use it in all cases where "to go" is used in English and also to form the future tense.

And there are more tricky situations where it's really helpful to know German when learning Dutch:

  • when to use "toch" -> when "doch" is used in German

  • when to use "niet" or "geen" and in what position in the sentence -> same as "nicht" and "kein" in German

  • any kind of vocabulary, just 'Dutchify' the German word, you have a good chance of either getting it (almost) right, saying something that people will understand or saying a bit old-fahioned word that people will also understand


Thanks for that last point! I guessed it might be like that, but it's encouraging to have your confirmation.


I'm Italian and German and yes, I'm finding it really easy to get the word order in Dutch because of German :)


nope no one does btw im dutch hoi iedereen ik ben de coole jongen


I had the same question as Arthurva, glad to see it's been answered so well! Thanks, it helps a lot since I'm trying to reverse engineer the tree (I only speak English)!

It's really neat seeing the similarities between German (I've done a bit of the English>German tree on duolingo so I recognise a few words here and there) and sometimes English with a lot of the Dutch words, sometimes if it is a simple sentence with the right vocabulary used, I can read it without trouble, since it is so similar to English (or has a couple words very similar to German words I know). (ex. Arthurva's reply to louis.vang: Dat is een goede idee, I had no trouble understanding that without knowing Dutch).


Good luck with that, it will take some time before the English>Dutch course becomes available.. I imagine you really need some help with the grammar in that case, here are 2 links that might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_grammar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_orthography#Morphological_alternations

FYI "Dat is een goede idee" is not 100% correct, it should be "goed" instead of "goede". The adjective "goede" is used for masculine/feminine nouns (both definite "de" and indefinite "een") and for neuter nouns when definite: "het" (the same applies to all adjectives, e.g.: leuke, mooie, rode, interessante). For indefinite neuter nouns like the example there is no extra "e" in the adjective. So it is "een goed/leuk/mooi/rood/interessant idee"


That example is actually tricky because both the original French word idée and the corresponding German word Idee are feminine for all uses. But it's one of those Dutch words that change gender according to use. Both genders appear in dictionaries, sometimes without explanation.

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