The 3 articles
In Dutch, there are three articles:een (= ‘a(n)’), the indefinite article, and the definite articles de and het (= ‘the’).
We use de for singular masculine or feminine nouns and het with singular neuter nouns. We tend to refer to these nouns as either de words or het words. For plural nouns, we always use de.
- The woman = De vrouw
- The man = De man
- The child = Het kind
- The men/women/children = De mannen/vrouwen/kinderen
Dutch speakers actually never tend to think about the gender of words. Rather than knowing whether a word is originally feminine or masculine, the only distinction that has to be remembered is the difference between the de words and het words. This is because whether or not we’re dealing with a de word or het word has grammatical consequences (in terms of possessives, question words, demonstratives, adjectives and even relative pronouns). This is why when you learn a new noun, it is very important that you memorize whether it is a de or het word.
Rules for helping you remember when to use ‘de’ or ‘het’
These are rules which may help you remember which article to use, but unfortunately there are tons of exceptions to these rules as well:
- About 75% of the words have the article de and about 25% of the words are thus het words.
- De' is always used for the plural
- ‘De’ is always used for professions: ‘de kok’ (the chef), ‘de bewaker’ (the guard)
- ‘De’ tends to be used for people with an identified gender, such as: ‘de vader’ (the father), ‘de dochter’ (the daughter).
- ‘De’ is also used for vegetables, fruits, trees and plants, names of mountains and rivers
- Furthermore, '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, -esse
- Finally, ‘de’ is used for written-out numbers and letters: ‘de drie’ (the three); ‘de a’ (the a).
- 'Het' is always used for a diminutive
- ‘Het’ is also always used 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.
- ‘Het’ is used for names of compass points: ‘het noorden’ (the North).
- 'Het' is also used for the gerund: 'het zwemmen' (swimming), 'het dansen' (dancing), etc.
- ‘Het’ is used for names of sports and games: ‘het schaken’ (chess), ‘het voetbal’ (football)
Links for Practice/Overview
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"Het meisje" is what we call a diminutive, a word which provides some indication of a concept's or object's smallness in quantity or quality, but is also used for showing endearment.
- "Het jongetje" = The (little) boy
- "Het koninkje" = The (little king)
- "Schatje" = Dear/Little treasure
When a word ends with -je, -pje, -tje, -etje, or -kje, it's safe to say that you are indeed dealing with a diminutive. There will be a grammar thread about this up soon, but for the time being you can also find basic information about the diminutive here, at the beginning of the associated skill lessons.
Note: "Het meisje" is the Dutch equivalent for the German "Das Mädchen". As you can see, this word is also gender neutral, whereas "Die Frau" is of course a feminine noun.
I recently got Duolingo on my phone, and I have been working my way through the Dutch course. On the app, it doesn't have any place for discussion or any explanations, if there is I haven't seen it, and now I wish I went onto the website because all of the questions I had have been answered. Now I kind of feel like an idiot for not looking it up. Dank je.
I'm afraid not.
The only pointers I can give you are that:
- young animals are usually 'het' words
- animals with a recognized gender, say 'de merrie' (= the mare), 'de reu' (= the male dog), tend to be 'de' words
- as in all cases, the majority of these words are also 'de' words
I've rephrased it in the original post. :)
The most likely reason for 'kind' having the 'het' article is that 'child', in itself, does not have an identified gender and can thus either be a girl or a boy. Hence it is seen as a neuter.
The information I've given above really consists of guidelines only though. You may also want to see 'het kind' as an exception to the rule that people receive a 'de' article. In some cases, we just don't know why, but our use of 'het' for child does coincide with the German 'Das Kind'. :)
To those commenting on the need to introduce and learn nouns with their articles,
I've taken your points in mind, read your arguments and we have forwarded your feedback (both frequently and over a long period of time). :)
The idea to now introduce new nouns with the articles, with images, has been planned for a long time.
It is officially on the planning.
Staff, or rather the developers, will be working on it.
As this debate has been resolved and since giving you an explanation of the article which needs to be used is the actual purpose of this thread, I've removed the comments focusing on the previous debate.
You have been heard and it will be implemented.
As I'm not staff, I can't give you an ETA for this feature. ^^
This site might also help in learning Dutch grammar. http://www.dutchgrammar.com/en/?n=Grammar.DutchGrammar
I studied German in school and I find it incredibly helpful in understanding Dutch in general. The trouble is that because they're often very similar, my brain likes to default to its German dictionary. Either I mix up the words that are very close (trink vs drink) or if I don't remember the Dutch word at all, my brain supplies the German equivalent, which is not helpful.
That said, I find Dutch a lot easier overall.
We use 'hij' for de words and 'het' (as a pronoun) and 'hij' for het words, unless when a de word has a clear feminine grammatical gender (because then 'zij' will be used).
- "Ik eet de appel. Hij is rood." = I eat the apple. It is red.
- "Ik zie het paard. (Hij/)Het eet gras." = I see the horse. It eats grass.
- "Hij aait de hond. Hij houdt daarvan." = He pets the dog. It likes that.
- "Zij opent het slot. (Hij/)Het is open." = She opens the lock. It is open.
Beware: 'Hij' is not really correct for referring to het words also (one would, f.i., not refer to 'het water', an abstract entity, as 'hij'....). However, it is featured in spoken Dutch. If you want to be safe, I would only use het for referring to het words. :)
Insights from this pronoun thread may be of interest (especially the anecdote about the Flemish use of 'zij' for addressing concepts and words that are in NL Dutch considered to be gender neutral).
An example where you have to refer to "zij":
- "De regering neemt maatregelen. Zij moet haar burgers beschermen." = The government takes measures. It must protect its citizens.
- "De Tweede Kamer heeft haar besluit genomen. Zij zullen wapens gebruiken." = The house of representatives has taken its decision. It will use weapons.
Briefly said, one also refers to "zij" in special occasions and old Dutch words. So, not only the Flemish refer to "zij". Dutch do it as well.
Lavinae, would you consider including this comment on the main body of this thread or making a thread about the use of pronouns in general? I have been asking around about this and only accidentally found this explanation. I find it too important to be lost down here. Thanks for considering
Wikipedia explains how it works. In standard (northern) Dutch, hij has replaced zij except for words that have natural gender. Milk doesn't have natural gender, so it's referred to as hij. Only Flemish still uses zij as generally as German does, so Flemish still has three genders.
- Standard Dutch as taught in this course: Dat is melk, hij is wit.
- Flemish: Dat is melk, zij is wit.
- Both variants: Dat is een man, hij is oud. Dat is een vrouw, zij is oud. Dat is een meisje, het is jong. Dat is een appel, hij is rood.
As a native Dutch (Flemish) speaker it sounds very strange to say "hij" or "zij" when you're talking about milk. I would say "ze", e.g. "Dat is melk, ze is wit".
When referring to "een meisje" it also makes more sense to use the feminine word "zij" , because you know the girl is female: "Dat is een meisje, zij is jong."
So I live in Belgium (Brussels) and have just started some Dutch - I assume speaking standard Dutch in Flanders is normal (e.g. one is generally understood)? Is there any reason to learn Flemish specifically? I speak German fluently, so the more complicated gender usage doesn't really bother me if so.
Yes, if you speak standard Dutch people will understand you. Nevertheless, there are some differences in terms of vocabulary that sometimes may lead to misunderstanding... I've been learning Dutch since Feb. 2016 (Duolingo+grammar books+videos), and since Sept./Oct. 2017 I'm taking lessons with a Dutch teacher to sit for the CNaVT C1... She's a native speaker, from the NL, while my partner is Flemish and I mostly watch the VRT news and Flemish movies (so, I'm mostly exposed to Flemish). This has allowed me to understand both (as long as they don't speak dialect or 'dialectish' or too fast!).
So my advice would be: keep studying Dutch, but get exposed to lots of Flemish. You have a great advantage compared to me: you're there, so you have lots of opportunities to interact with Flemish speakers and are a lot more exposed to it than I am.
Hope this helps!
If the adjective does not precede the noun, you leave the adjective is it is (De jurk is klein, Het paard dis klein). If the adjective DOES precede the noun, you generally add -e on the end (De kleine jurk, Het kleine paard). The exception to this, is when it is a neuter noun, and it is also preceded by the indefinite article (Een klein paard, NOT Een kleine paard, as paard is neuter (HET paard)).
Non-neuter nouns do not observe this (Een kleine jurk).
I hope I explained it well enough (If I made a mistake, can somebody correct me?)
Yes, thanks. Also see: http://www.dutchgrammar.com/_word_docs/Adjectiva_Wim_Voortman.doc
When you say that you use het with gerund, I am curious because with rare exceptions, English does not use an article at all with gerunds.
So, the English sentence "He enjoys swimming and dancing" -- in Dutch would that be "Hij enjoyt het zwemmen en het dansen" or just "Hij enjoyt zwemmen en dansen."? (obviously "enjoyt" is a joke)
The translation that Bill gives is actually fine. ;)
The gerund may receive the article 'het' when:
- it it is the subject of the sentence.
- the gerund is used in the genetive and dative cases (for/of swimming; for/of dancing/etc)
- it comes after certain prepositions (in/tijdens/bij/over/door).
Quote: "3. .... 'Het' is always used for ... and for words derived from verbs. ... 5. 'Het' is also used for the gerund: 'het zwemmen' (swimming), 'het dansen' (dancing), etc."
Which words derived from verbs (except gerund) are het-words?
This is very unclear to me because there are actually many nouns that are derived from verbs that are actually de-words.
For example these nouns ending in -aar and -ing: de handelaar, de molenaar, de betaling, de uitnodiging, de ontdekking,
See http://www.dutchgrammar.com/en/?n=NounsAndArticles.05 for more examples.
An useful site for checking out whether a word is masculine or feminine, (or if you're a non-native), is Genus Inventio. I've used it sometimes when I'm unsure. Do note that sometimes, you have stuff like 'vrouwelijk (mannelijk)' etc. In those cases, often the first gender is the original one, or the more conservative one, or southern variant (used in Dutch Limburg, North Brabant, and Flanders), whereas the second one is the non-traditional, non-standard, or northern Dutch variety.
Side-note: in southern Dutch, there is the tendency to use accusative article forms for the nominative role, rather than the northern one, where the nominative forms prevailed. This is why awareness of grammatical gender is greater in the south; people say den man, de vrouw, het kind in the south, and in the north, it is de man, de vrouw, het kind. There also is the bdht-rule in southern Dutch, where if masculine words begin with one of these sounds or with a vowel, you add a -n after the previous adjective, article, or pronoun. More information is found here.
From everything I've seen, the words that are masculine/feminine in German tend to be "de" words in Dutch, and neuter German words tend to be "het" words. But before I succumb to the compulsion to go on autopilot with genders -- is this always true? Or just with cognates? How about loan words, which are often wild cards regarding pronunciation?
It's not a strict rule, just statistical correlation. Necessarily, since even within Germany we can't always agree on the genders of some nouns. E.g., a recent acquisition from French is the word Crêpe. As a German word it needs a gender. In this case there are two obvious rules that might apply: (1) In French, the gender is feminine (la crêpe), so let's use that in German as well. (2) A Crêpe is just a kind of pancake, so let's make the word masculine like der Pfannkuchen. Currently the two genders are battling it out. It's correct either way according to the Duden.
Dutch has often taken different decisions in such cases, and in an annoying number of cases Dutch uses sometimes one gender and sometimes the other depending on meaning. E.g., idee is common gender (corresponding to its being feminine both in French and in German), but only in the rare case that it's used as a philosophical concept. In all other cases it's neuter gender. A different example is Antwort, which in German perversely is feminine even though Wort is neuter, whereas in Dutch antwoord is neuter like woord, as it should be. (That Antwort is feminine would make sense if it started as an abbreviation of Beantwortung, which has the same meaning and is feminine like all words ending in -ung.)
That said, (in my experience as a learner) in more than 90% of cases, a German word and its cognate in Flemish have the same gender, and its Dutch gender is neuter if it's neuter in Flemish and common if it's masculine or feminine in Flemish.
Otherwise, you can make an educated guess on a noun's gender based on its gender in the original language if it's a loanword, based on other words from the same category, based on other words with the same ending, and if all else fails based on the fact that in Dutch, common gender is twice as common as neuter gender due to the merger of masculine and feminine.
For instance, take the hypothetical African fruit karapotatie. As most Dutch speakers don't know the original language of this word, its gender there (if the original language even has something sufficiently similar) won't help us. But most fruits are common gender and most words ending in -tie are also common gender (actually originally feminine in both cases). So it is almost certainly de karapotatie.
I just was told I filled in "Ik heb het ___ bord" incorrectly using "zwaar", and it told me "Ik heb het zware bord." was the correct answer. I thought "het" nouns took the version of the adjective with no "e" on the end? It wouldn't let me click on the discuss button, so I reported it as an error--I'm not entirely sure it is now. I'm confused!!
Great article. I still have some doubts:
You say "‘De’ is also used for vegetables, fruits, trees and plants, names of mountains and rivers", but then, why is it "Het sap" instead of "De sap"? like "De melk". Or why is it "Het ei" or "Het fruit" instead of "De ei" or "De fruit" like "De sinaasappel" or "De kaas"?
How can I know when to really use De or Het without memorizing the list?
You can't. All rules are just there to make it easier to memorise the list. It's easier to remember 10 rules, 50 exceptions and 400 genders to which no rules apply than to memorise 1000 genders without any rules. (The numbers are just for illustration, but they are perhaps not totally unrealistic.)
Dutch schoolchildren simply memorize which nouns are 'het' and which are 'de' -- mostly from repetitive hearing and usage. They don't go through all these rules and their "tons of exceptions" for each grammatical encounter. That seems best for me as well, as daunting as it seems at times. Ditto with spelling.
No, you can't use de with meisje. Meisje is a diminutive and therefore unambiguously a het word (neuter gender word). You can only use het in front of it: het meisje, not de meisje.
This used to mean that the personal pronoun used for a person who you referred to as het meisje would also have had to be het. (Selection of personal pronouns by grammatical gender.) This is still standard practice in Flemish, but in Northern Dutch it is more common to select the personal pronouns based on natural sex/gender.
Here is how this works in practice (if I have understood everything correctly - my native language is German):
- Northern Dutch (works like English): Kun je het meisje zien? Zij is nog heel jong en gaat nog niet naar school. Ik geloof zij kan nog niet lezen.
- Flemish (works like German): Kun je het meisje zien? Het is nog heel jong en gaat nog niet naar school. Ik geloof zij kan nog niet lezen.
Both varieties of Dutch agree about the article, and both agree that it is weird to refer to a person as it and therefore switch to using the personal pronoun he or she sooner or later, provided that it's clear which of the two to use. (As is the case for meisje, but not for kind unless we have a specific child in mind.)
The difference is that typical Northern Dutch speakers switch to she immediately whereas typical Flemish speakers wait until the original reference to the person by a het word is almost forgotten and the knowledge of the person's natural sex/gender prevails. This happens at an essentially random point; switching in the third sentence is just an example of what can happen. Here is another example:
- Flemish (2nd example): Kun je het meisje zien? [The girl waves. Speaker waves back.] Zij is nog heel jong en gaat nog niet naar school. Ik geloof zij kan nog niet lezen.
Here, non-verbal communication between the first and second sentences makes it natural for the Flemish speaker to pragmatically refer to the person by zij instead of referring to the het word meisje bij het. At the other extreme, in formal writing it is normal not to switch at all. If a company is referred to as de compagnie in a contract, then in Flemish, even 100 pages later you should expect it to be still referred to as zij.
Here we are getting a glimpse into the past of English. It used to work much like Flemish. (Yes, Old English nouns had gender: the man, the woman but that child.) Northern Dutch shows us how it is possible for native speakers of a language to gradually forget the genders of nouns in the course of a few centuries.
The reason for this exception is actually another 'rule'. Dutch has a special suffix to express smallness (a diminutive): -je. Dog = hond and therefore small dog = hondje. The dutch world for girl, 'meisje' is actually such a word, but the root 'meid' or 'meis' is rarely or never used. As a rule these diminutives or 'verkleinwoordjes' only get 'het' as article.
Yes, learning all nouns along with their definite articles is generally considered the only thing that really works. However, meisje isn't actually an exception. It's a case of two rules of thumb being in conflict:
- If there is a natural gender, grammatical gender tends to be the same.
- Diminutives have neuter gender.
The second rule is the stronger one. I'm not sure if it has any exceptions at all. It certainly wins in the case of meisje, which was originally the diminutive of meid (= maid, girl).
If this has been asked before, I'm sorry but I understand and appreciate the description above it is great, but what about animals? Why is a duck get and a horse de? I'm struggling with finding an explanation here or online in general. Thanks in advance for any insight and or advice.
There is no rule for animals because with them the situation is very complicated. There are some rules of thumb, but they only help in special cases:
- When there are separate words for the male and female animal, such as cow and ox/bull in English, then they were once masculine and feminine, respectively, and therefore they are now de words.
- In general, de words are about twice as common as het words because de words are what used to be masculine or feminine and het words are neuter, and masculine, feminine, neuter were each about equally common. Because of the previous point, I guess that in general, for animals de words are even more common.
- But when the word describing an animal is a diminutive, it's always a het word.
Eend (duck) is actually a de word and paard (horse) a het word, not the other way round. As explained above, the latter is sort of an exception. I think there is no particular rule predicting this. You will just have to remember which animal nouns are het words. As with all Dutch nouns, always learn them along with their definite articles. If you write vocabulary lists or cards, always write de eend and het paard, never just eend or paard. That way you get the definite article practically for free.
I can see how Dutch is part of some American colloquialisms.
For instance, jongens, which means boys in Dutch but youngins means children according to my Southern relatives. It is obvious the origin of the word in Appalachia. I always thought the word came from "young ones" but now I see it wasn't.
And we say missie for a young girl, and the Dutch is meisje. But you also call an unmarried woman Miss.
I think the Southerners have retained a lot of the more older Dutch, whereas the northern states have evolved their Dutch.
The Amish in America do speak Low German and Dutch, but their Bibles and hymnbooks are German, and most of them can't speak German or understand German.
But it is also funny that when writing in Ebonics, one says "de women", and they aren't even Dutch. So it must have come from that era.
I really have managed to learn what the Dutch sentence says, but typing it from English to Dutch is still a problem...lol.