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Grammar: Jij vs. Je / Zij vs. Ze / Wij vs. We

As the title suggests, this grammar explanation thread concerns the difference (in use) between marked and unmarked pronouns. This is really about the difference in Dutch between the pronouns that receive emphasis, and those that do not.

The marked and unmarked pronouns

Thusly, we have several pronouns which have a marked/stressed and a standard, unmarked form. These are the ones we’re talking about:

As you may have guessed, the Ik (= I), Hij (= he), and Jullie (= You, plural) forms do not have both a marked and an unmarked version.

When we, the Dutch, feel like emphasizing an inanimate entity, a ‘thing’, which we address with ‘het’ or ‘hij’ (it) and ‘ze’ (they), then we choose to use a demonstrative pronoun.

Anecdote: Interestingly, there’s a difference between the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands and that spoken in Flanders (Flemish) in this respect. Flemish, in fact, uses ‘ze’ for the inanimate feminine nouns. In contrast, in the Netherlands, inanimate entities, or things, are not described as being feminine and generally approached with either the ‘it’ pronoun or the masculine ‘hij’.

So when do we use marked pronouns?

Yes, this distinction between different pronouns is not for naught. It actually has a function. We use marked pronouns when we want to emphasize the pronoun. Generally speaking, you’ll use one version or the other depending on the situation you are in. However, in speech there are cases in which an unmarked pronoun fits better than a marked pronoun, and vice versa. You’ll get a feeling for this by learning the language. Also remember not to stress an unmarked pronoun and note this: we use unmarked pronouns more frequently than their marked versions.

How do we emphasize the pronoun?

  1. Obviously, we first use the right version: zij, or ze, wij, or we, and jij, or je.
  2. However, when we give emphasis to the pronoun we increase our pitch
  3. We also tend to increase our volume, ever so slightly
  4. In addition, the word is also pronounced ‘longer’ (its duration is stretched in comparison to that of the unmarked pronoun). Thus, in contrast, when you’re using an unmarked pronoun, you should emphasize another part of the sentence (instead of the pronoun).


  1. Jij vs. Je (marked vs. Unmarked)

    Jij moet dat doen.” = “You have to do that” (that’s you, and not me!)
    Je moet dat doen.” = “You have to do that” (in order to…)

  2. Zij vs. Ze (marked vs. Unmarked)

    Zij wil vandaag zwemmen.” = “She wants to swim today.” (but I don’t….)
    Ze wil vandaag zwemmen.” = “She wants to swim today.”

  3. Dat vs. Het (marked vs. Unmarked)

    Dat klopt niet.” = “That is not correct”. (something specific is incorrect).
    Het klopt niet.” = “It is not correct”. (something in general is incorrect).

  4. Deze/die vs. Hij (marked vs. Unmarked)

    Deze geeft licht” = “This one gives light”.
    Hij geeft licht” = “It gives light.

  5. Wij vs. we (marked vs. Unmarked)

    Wij komen niet.” = “We are not coming.” (but the others are…)
    We komen niet.” = “We are not coming.”

  6. Zij vs. Ze (marked vs. Unmarked)

    Zij luisteren nooit naar ons.” = “They never listen to us.” (talking about a group in specific)
    Ze luisteren nooit naar ons.” = “They never listen to us.” (talking about some group in general)

  7. Deze/die vs. Ze (inanimate entities/things)

    Deze horen daar niet bij.” = “These ones do not belong with that.”
    Ze horen daar niet bij.” = “They do not belong with that.”

Return to Grammar Overview!

July 16, 2014



This may be the conventional way of explaining the difference, but it appears to me that at least for jij/je, zij/ze, wij/we it is misleading. For example, Google Books has almost twice as many hits for "wij zijn" as for "we zijn". This wouldn't make sense if wij were just the stressed/emphasised/marked version of we. Stressed, emphasised and marked are relatively precise linguistic terms which in the majority of uses of wij obviously don't apply.

There is what I consider a much clearer explanation here, in German, from a native Dutch speaker. She refers to the variants as full and reduced and explains that the full version can be either stressed or unstressed, but the reduced version can only be used when the pronoun is unstressed. She also explains that there is a bias towards the full forms in the written language and towards the reduced forms in the spoken language.

This is completely logical as the reduced versions are what comes out naturally when you pronounce the full versions sloppily. This helps to predict/remember some usage distinctions that would otherwise be arbitrary:

  • Why can't the reduced versions be stressed? - Because stress is incompatible with sloppy pronunciation.
  • Why can the full versions be unstressed? - Because careful pronunciation doesn't imply stress.
  • Why is there a preference for the full versions in writing, and an extremely strong one in older literature? - Because the full versions can be thought of (or at least were once thought of) as 'more correct' in the same fuzzy sense in which some native English speakers think of it is as 'more correct' than it's.
  • Why can some of the reduced versions also stand for more than one pronoun? - Because sloppy pronunciation can make two different words such as jij and jouw sound the same.

PS: When I came back to add a reference to some linguistic literature, I found that this post at -1 with no comments. I think that's bad form. If I am wrong I would love to get an explanation why I am wrong. It's hard to learn from a downvote.

I don't know how to search for literature on Dutch linguistics systematically. Here are quotations from what I found with my unsystematic search:

  • Marlies van der Velde, The asymmetry of Dutch weak pronouns. This paper is only about object pronouns. (The present post by Lavinae is about subject pronouns.) Still it's interesting to note the terminology she uses: "Dutch has two series of pronouns: a series of full forms (strong pronouns) and a series of reduced forms. The status of these reduced forms is the subject of some debate."
  • Frank van Eynde, On the notion ‘minor preposition’. "Like French and Italian, Dutch has two types of personal pronouns: the full or tonic ones and the reduced ones [...]. The most conspicuous difference between the two types is a phonological one: while the full pronouns can be stressed, the reduced ones cannot. [...] Next to the phonological and syntactic differences there is also a semantic one. Whereas the full pronouns are always used as the argument of some predicate, be it a verb, a preposition or an adjective, the reduced ones can also be used in positions which are not assigned any semantic role. In other words, the reduced forms may have semantically vacuous uses, whereas the full forms are always referential."

To sum this up, linguists refer to the two kinds of pronouns as full and reduced, or as major and minor, and it appears they have good reasons for this choice of terminology.


This is great!

I realize that we have the same thing, only less developed, in spoken english, where when "you" is pronounced as "yuh" or "ya" or "y'," it always functions like the dutch unstressed form. It's not new-- "Ya gotta have heart, all ya really need is heart"--it's just ongoingly invisible in grammar books.

Might help a native english speaker to distinguish the usages, to keep that in mind. (It's not that the stressed "you" didn't and doesn't exist concurrently, BTW; "hey you!--yeah You! You listen to me: ya gotta have heart.")


A comment (since removed for unnecessary aggression?) made it clear, in passing, that people won't necessarily recognize my allusions to some or all of the (long-standing, multi-regional) spoken versions of "you" (as referenced above).

Therefore, here are some examples, spanning decades, and regions.

Bette Middler https://youtu.be/Hhp7mz3Q7NQ?t=28

Adam Lambert https://youtu.be/8QYMBfB5eDQ?t=14

Mets Slogan (Ya gotta believe) https://metsinsider.mlblogs.com/ya-gotta-believe-7b16425c57ea

Meghan Trainor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3uMeM9L71w

Phineas and Ferb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9-R9R0pS_E

Tim Montana https://youtu.be/cWxh3bGta-g?t=47

Again: these variants exist in SPOKEN english. They are therefore essentially invisible to standard grammar texts.

They may, nevertheless, potentially be helpful to people who know English "as it is spoken" (and sung, and yelled, and chanted, and cheered).


I agree, But I think you just need to be careful.

You are getting some things wrong and that will hurt people's learning.

I found a comment of yours lower down that is teaching people incorrect learning.

Here it is -

("We do it all the time: "you hold the screw, I'll hold the wire" is a stressed "you." And, "you need to clean the bathroom [it's your turn, I'm not doing it again]" is a stressed "you." In contrast, unstressed would be, "for assembly, you put the coupling in the large hole, you next place the set screw in the small hole, then you use the provided hex wrench to tighten the set screw until finger-tight." Or, "to get there, you go straight, take the second right, and then you should see the red sign on the left. If you reach the river, you've gone too far.")

Everything in this comment is incorrect. There is no way in a language to tell if something is stressed or not.

'Sit in the corner' Well? Am I saying it stressed or not stressed? How much am I stressing or not stressing it? There is no way to tell. That is why languages like Dutch have a change in a word to make it understood that it's stressed or not.

The only way to tell in English if something is stressed or not is to use exclamation points.

'Come here' vs 'Come here!

Your example for instance is this -

"you hold the screw, I'll hold the wire" is a stressed "you."

No. How is it stressed? Where is evidence that it's stressed? To me it sounds like someone calmly teaching or helping someone learn how to fix something.

But you seem to think it's someone defusing a bomb and they are frustrated or something.

I'm just trying to point out that what you've said isn't correct and is actually going to make people even more confused and even more lost.

I don't think that was your intention, but it's still what you've done.

Another example is you are demanding 'ya' is an unstressed you.

But you're not saying why or providing proof..You're just demanding that it is..

For instance I'll use what you say is unstressed 'Ya' in a stressed way.

"Ya idiot" "Ya going the wrong way!

See..you said they are unstressed, no....They can be anything.

So literally your entire post is incorrect yet you think that you're right..

I just want you to be careful because people could learn the wrong things from you.

I'm also confused that someone who is an adult who speaks English can be getting confused about this.

'Ya', 'yea', they are all just lazy abbreviations and trends, they don't serve a purpose to stress or unstress anything.


"Stress / stressed" has multiple meanings.


Several of them are language specific.


Those meanings are distinct from (and unrelated to) the popular meaning of "being upset."

As applied to language, the two most common meaning of stress are,

  1. lexical stress ( where the vocal emphasis falls within a word; or the placement of the accent within a foot of poetry or metered prose: iambs, trochees, anapests, etc).

  2. prosodic stress (greater emphasis on a word as used in a specific phrase, or emphasis employed for contrast (e.g. "I do this, you do that.")

Those are, however, only a subset of the meanings of "stress" in language. There are also other valid uses of the term.

In the specific context of this discussion, I'm defining and using "stressed" in the specific and limited sense of, "an audible difference in english that correlates with the concept of marked and unmarked pronouns in Dutch."

When the "you" in English is specific and intentional (or comparative--I do X, you do Y) we pronounce it with greater emphasis and greater precision.

When "you" is a general placeholder for "any person in that circumstance," people commonly use less emphasis, and to say the word with less precision.

Think of it as the situation where the French would generally use "on" (English, "one.") The French "Faut-qu'on..." is functionally very similar to the use of "You've got to" that people pronounce, "ya gotta."

(Side note: "Faut qu'on" adds up to "You must..." but specifically, you must because "one must"--which is to say, everyone must.)

FWIW, I'm english mother tongue; over half a century old; have lived on both coasts, the mid-atlantic, the midwest.

If a writer's use of a term makes no sense to a reader, the reader does themselves a favor by considering that the term may have more than one meaning.

That does not mean the reader must always check a dictionary or google or wikipedia (though doing so can be edifying). But asking for clarification rather than defaulting to calling people out for your confusion is wise policy. (It's also the fastest way to become less confused and less frustrated.)

Similarly, assuming that any comment not (currently) useful to you is clearly useless to everyone--and even worse, ignorant, wrong, and misleading--is a misunderstanding of how this site works.

Duolingo's comment boards thrive on posts that add up to, "I noticed this pattern; if other people see the same pattern, it may help them."

Implicit in every such post is the equally important corollary, "if this isn't useful to you, then don't use it; that's cool too."

Learners here include anyone from grade school students learning their first foreign language, to profesional etymologists learning their 20th language. Comments will be written by and for people with that full variety of backgrounds--and an endless variety of reference points and background knowledge.

Not every comment by any one student will fit the needs of every other student. Furthermore, something that makes no sense now may pop into sharp focus if you encounter the same information six months from now, or six years from now.


Not the same thing at all. 'Yuh, ya', etc. are not proper English forms, but colloquialisms... slang, even.


What then? We're talking about meaning here, not formality.


Except they are. I guarantee that you use them in everyday life without batting an eye. English just hasn't codified them in writing, while Dutch has. But they are VERY much part of the English language.


They're not "the same," for the reasons you state.

But they follow the same pattern.

If you're American English mother-tongue, there's a reasonable chance that the pattern is already hidden in your brain--whether or not you're aware of it. (It got there from movies, from songs, from hearing other people speak--whether or not you yourself ever say "you" as anything other than a perfectly enunciated "you.")

As such, if you "unhide" that pattern (bring it into your awareness), you can apply that familiar pattern to the challenge of using marked and unmarked pronouns in Dutch.

Not at all required, of course! Some people crack nuts with a hammer, some people with a nutcracker. They both work.


Exactly, finally someone with a brain. Can you believe you helped point out someone's mistake and rectified it, and people are hating you for it? What has this world become.

People who are wrong and who are lying are getting upvotes and people who are correct and who are helping are getting down votes. This world needs to burn.


Thanks, these are some really interesting points and probably worth considering. But please be patient with Team Dutch :) They are all very busy right now. And the choice between a more precise terminology and a commonly (as far as the Dutch language teaching community is concerned, if I understand Lavinae correctly) established terminology, is certainly not an easy one.


I didn't demand any immediate action, did I? And I am sure I wouldn't have used so many words if I understood the situation better myself. I'm just learning the language, and while doing so I realised that what may well be the conventional way of teaching the two kinds of pronouns wasn't so helpful. I realised that because I did the reverse course before, where it wasn't explained, and at the time I found the extremely helpful and linguistically sound explanation on buurtaal.de. (English for Dutch speakers came out before Dutch for English speakers; as a speaker of German and English I found it a fast and efficient way to learn Dutch.)


Upvote with an explanation: I was beginning to deduce that "marked" versus "unmarked" corresponded to contractions in English plus "stressed" and "unstressed" pronunciations, like we are versus we're which can be pronounced "correctly" when it's emphasized as /wii ər/ or as /wɚ/ (rhymes with "bird" without the /d/) when it's not emphasized - or when it becomes a habit.

Your explanation aligns with my theory. Thank you!


I salute your rather scholarly research. Not being a language teacher or scholar, I got lost trying to understand some of the terminology. I train dogs for a living. My area of expertise is behavior modification and canine behavior. Unless my clients are psychologists familiar with B-Mod terminology, I try to avoid technical explanations peppered with jargon. It only confuses the client. I teach with demonstrating the technique with the client's dog(s). Then I walk the client through the training exercise. Regardless of dog or client, if it's too hard, I break it down to more manageable smaller steps.

To put it plainly, you lost me dude. Can someone please break it down with lots of examples?

I don't expect my clients to know what CC/DS is or +P and - P and +R as opposed to - R and BAT 2.0 any more than I expect any of you reading this to know.

I am a student of Dutch and not a linguistic specialist. I don't understand full/Reduced any more than I expect you to know what back chaining is all about.

So, if you are still around, give it one more try with less linguist jargon and more examples.


As far as I can tell, it's like this: the 'full' words are jij, zij and wij. They're called 'full' because they're longer -- they have more letters in them, they take longer to say. These are what you could consider the normal words. But sometimes they're replaced with the 'reduced' or shorter options, je, ze, and we. So how do you know which to use? You use the long ones for emphasis. E.g. We speak English and you speak Dutch. Wij spreken Engels en jij sprekt Nederlands. You see here there is a contrast between 'us' and 'you', the ideas that the speaker thinks are most important. But take another example: She eats an apple. Ze eet een appel. The word 'she' is not very important in this sentence; the important ideas are 'eat' and 'apple'. So since the word 'she' is not emphasised, it is spoken more quickly and quietly, and the shorter 'reduced' word is used.


I completely agree with this interpretation of the two forms. This (Dutch) site gives a nice overview of all forms, and also uses the terminology of full and reduced forms:


It is noted there that ie, 'k, 'm, 'r, d'r, 't, m'n, z'n (the reduced forms of hij, ik, hem, haar, haar, het, mijn, zijn) are typically not written down/spelled the same as the full forms. They are heard very regularly nonetheless, and in many situations it sounds odd if someone does not say the reduced form of a personal pronoun!

Maybe it would be nice if there was a separate Duolingo exercise for this, containing sound files with the reduced forms (but using the typical writing conventions, so writing "hij" when hearing "ie").


Thanks for the explenation, both of these are great


Thanks, that was very helpful


thanks, this was very helpful


People need to be very careful..This isn't a guessing game, if you don't know, then don't say anything, you're only making it worse.

@ (JFSPA - "in spoken english, where when "you" is pronounced as "yuh" or "ya" or "y'," it always functions like the dutch unstressed form")

No, you're wrong. I'm English and never ever do we use Yuh' 'ya' or 'y'. Your examples are abbreviations in lazy incorrect texting and almost nobody does it. In no way are they proper words or word forms.

You're not even using grammar properly, These " " are when you're quoting someone speaking..You're using them wrong. You're meant to use these ' '

Either you're young or English isn't your native language. In either case you probably shouldn't be giving English lessons. You're missing a couple capitals where there should be some and you've got capitals where there shouldn't be. Not even an English child gets that wrong.

@(DBlomgren2 "I was beginning to deduce that "marked" versus "unmarked" corresponded to contractions in English plus "stressed" and "unstressed" pronunciations, like we are versus we're")

No, 'We are' and we're can be equally stressed or unstressed. It has nothing to do with stressing or not, they are simply abbreviated words. 'You're not going to the shops' Is exactly the same as 'You are not going to the shops' We have no stress emphasis in English, there is no change in a word to make it stressed like in Dutch. In English we have different words for stressing. Like extreme dislike is 'hate' or to stress something you use an exclamation point. 'You're not going to the shops! 'You're not going to the shops' You are not going to the shops' You are not going to the shops!

The reason why people get confused is because people get excited and want to contribute, but in their excitement at the proposition of helping, they might actually be making things more confusing for people and actually hurting their learning...If I was new at English and listened to @DBlomgren2 and @ JFSPA I would have learnt things wrong and spent lots of time going down a wrong understanding and would then get upset and angry and depressed and then need to go back and properly find out the real meaning. Well done for making peoples learning harder.

People are already disliking my comment...Why? People lied to you...pretending like they were experts...They are hurting people... I come along and tell you the correct education and you down vote me?? This is a place to learn and life is harsh...You upvote liars who are hurting people but you down vote the person teaching you correct education?!


People are here to learn Dutch from English, not English from Dutch. Nobody cares about your nitpicks about English.

The user originally said 'you' is PRONOUNCED as 'yuh', 'ya' or 'y'. That certainly does happen. "Extreme dislike is 'hate'": pretty sure that applies to Dutch too. I think you're getting the meaning of 'stress' wrong here.


I'm a native speaker of English and while I agree with you about a lot of those things that you said, you need to understand that we're not really trying to learn English grammar here.

In all other manners of looking at it, I agree with you and wholeheartedly support your statements.

(P.S. Your comment seemed a bit too presumptuous and arrogant. That's probably why so many people voted you down.)



Hey, this is a pretty entertaining intro into prosodic and lexical stress. Take a quick look / listen, and see if some of the other comments here make more sense.

Tom Scott, "Why Shakespeare Could Never Have Been French" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUnGvH8fUUc


This is interesting - but in the app it asks me to translate but without context or inflection. How am I supposed to know? I often feel like its a 50/50 guess.


Often both versions are correct. If you feel that the personal pronoun probably isn't stressed in English, then it probably isn't stressed in Dutch either. In this case you have free choice in principle, but should prefer the more casual je or ze because native speakers normally prefer it in this situation. But if the personal pronoun is stressed in English, then it's probably stressed in Dutch as well. Since you can't stress je or ze, you must use jij or zij.

If you are confused and you just want to make sure not to make a mistake: Whenever je/ze is possible, jij/zij is also possible, so by always choosing jij/zij you are on the safe side.

Except that je can also mean jou[w] (your), in which case obviously it would be a mistake to use jij. By the way, that's another trick: If you can't decide whether it should be jou or jouw, you can just use je instead.


I understand that, but the app marks it incorrect is my point. It will say to translate a simple declarative sentence but if i use the wrong pronoun it marks it incorrect - even though there isn't enough information for me to make an informed decision.


Can you give an example?


Sure. I will say 'Translate "She drinks milk.''

I will put "Ze drinkt melk."

But it will mark it incorrect because it wanted "Zij drinkt melk."

Something like this has happened a few times.


Maybe whatever method was used to ensure that je is always accepted instead of jij and that we is accepted instead of wij doesn't work for ze instead of zij: If it's automatic, then maybe it wasn't implemented. If it is done by hand, maybe it wasn't done as systematically as for the other pairs.

I verified with Onze Taal that ze can always be used instead of unstressed zij, whether it is used as a plural pronoun or as a feminine singular pronoun.

Next time this happens, please report the additional correct answer with the form provided.


Maybe it's because Duo reads this sentence as: SHE drinks milk, rather than as She drinks MILK.


That is definitely not supposed to happen. If you can provide a screenshot, that could be very helpful.


I've had this very same thing today and almost every day since I started the course /I think about a week ago)...


With translation exercises or listening exercises? In a listening exercise only one is correct as there's a difference in pronunciation.


I haven't run across it again. But if I do I will take a screenshot.


Yes, this also happened for me yesterday and I hadn't read about ze/zij yet so I was very confused about why I was wrong. I will take a screen shot if it happens again! :)


Greetings all.

So I'm wondering how frequently the emphasized pronouns are used in Dutch compared to English. In English, it doesn't seem like emphasizing nouns and pronouns is all that frequent, unless you're trying to make a point or something, but I gather that it must be quite a bit more frequent in Dutch than in English if there's a whole set of pronouns devoted to it. Any thoughts?

Thank you!


It is very frequent in Dutch. The fact that one of the pronouns is marked and the other unmarked is useful in poetic contexts, in literature and other cases of written Dutch and when you want to get a specific message (with emphasis) across in a conversational context (also for the sake of clarity).

Generally speaking, however, in spoken Dutch we sometimes use one of the two because of their (un)marked nature, but (I personally have to admit that) we also just use either form, without giving it much thought. Whereas the distinction is certainly there and at times very useful, in practice it often disappears (it being of no concern) and these personal pronouns are used interchangeably. :)

I'm a native speaker so I rarely put much conscious thought into my use of marked vs. unmarked pronouns. I only really think about which pronoun I use when I want to get a specific message across, which emphasizes a particular individual. For instance: "Zij heeft dat gedaan" ( = she has done it (it wasn't me)). This happens about less than once a week. :)

In sum: Yes, marked pronouns are used very frequently. Even though the distinction can be usefully used for clarification purposes and the use of one pronoun over the other does make a difference (in certain situations), the marked and unmarked pronouns are also very much used interchangeably.


I am quite unhappy about your 'marked'/'unmarked' terminology. Where does it come from?

'Marked' has a (somewhat) precise linguistic definition, see e.g. the Wikipedia article on markedness. Your doubtless correct statement that the full/major/tonic pronouns are used very frequently, even though the reduced/minor pronouns are often preferred, basically contradicts your terminology. If something is very frequent it can't be marked.

The definition of markedness depends on context. To say that jij is marked in a specific context and je is unmarked in that context implies that one would expect je to be used, and if someone uses jij instead people consciously take note of the fact. This may be true in many contexts, but there are frequent contexts in which either is perfectly normal, and there are also frequent contexts in which jij is not only unmarked but is in fact required, since je isn't just marked but is outright wrong. Nobody chooses je when they want to stress it. Even when not stressing the first word in "Jij met je eeuwige gezeur", nobody would replace it by je. And, I suppose (this is the only example I made up on my own), nobody would reply to the question "Wie ben ik?" by saying je rather than jij.

Je being so reduced in applicability in comparison to jij, if there is an objective measure of markedness (i.e. independent of context), then it seems to be je that is marked, and jij that is unmarked, because jij is a normal full pronoun like those in most Indoeuropean languages, whereas there are special rules for when je is allowed.

The 'emphasized'/'unemphasized' terminology isn't better, either, since very often jij is not actually emphasized at all.


Johaquila, I understand that you don't agree with the terminology, but your arguments and words are a bit excessive.

My use of this terminology is based on how language courses teach Dutch, recognized courses such as those provided by IntertaaL and Klare Taal! and as referred to on language reference forums. In fact, the company I work for also teaches pronouns this way. Now I understand that a number of linguists may see this differently. This is however how, indeed, these pronouns are conventionally taught. Besides that, our students are not all linguists and complicating a matter unncessarily does not aid understanding.

I repeat: I'm willing to look into your material and reflect on it, but you do need to give me some time to do so.


Sorry if I have given you the impression that I'm in a hurry. I am certainly not. The reason I have commented so much about this - yes, in retrospect it may well be excessive - is that I slowly learned about the connections while answering other learners' questions as best I could. My comments reflect the various iterations of my understanding.

I believe it is not at all rare that the terminology used in education is far from optimal. There is of course a benefit to being consistent with other courses. On the other hand there is also a benefit to not abusing the terminology of linguistic researchers, and most importantly to not confusing learners by, e.g., first implying that jij is always stressed and then somehow taking it back. I am not accusing you of that, but there does seem to be some widespread confusion in this area. (This confusion is normal. It always happens when a language has special features that don't exist in certain more prestigious languages. E.g. it explains the confusion about English will and shall, or about the so-called split infinitive. These don't exist in Latin, so the old grammarians couldn't simply copy ideas from Latin grammars, as they normally did.) The line covering this topic in the first lesson is not misleading, or at most a tiny little bit: "Je, ze and we are un-emphasized forms of jij, zij and wij." Some learners may be inclined to believe that consequently jij, zij and wij are emphasized forms, but logically it doesn't follow.

PS: Maybe I am suffering from a déformation professionelle. For me as a mathematician, it is normal to be objectively wrong on occasion and to be told by others when that happens. And it is normal for me to immediately point it out when I think someone else is wrong.

In this case it isn't even so much about wrong or false as it is about comprehensible explanations, another thing very dear to mathematicians. In the culture that I am coming from, when someone can think of a more comprehensible explanation of some phenomenon than the seminar speaker, it's perfectly normal to immediately address the audience. It is also normal to then, occasionally, be told by the speaker why one is wrong, after all, and things can't be explained so simply.

Let me add that at least for me the urge to contribute in this way is much greater if the seminar talk, or in this case the language course, is excellent. And to the extent that I have seen it, this course is really outstanding. Please don't take anything I have written as complaining. I didn't mean it that way.


I'm getting a huge amount out of this, and thank you, but if Duo is right, and there are more people learning languages with them in the US, than in the schools, I'm guessing that 'detailed enough to satisfy the average 14 year old, who will refine the details through use and through YouTube and WhatsApp," is their approximate goal.

I'd actually love to see an (optional) additional etymology and cognates section (or two, or three!) in place of, or in addition to, the frankly half-assed idioms option and the (borderline icky) "flirting" option. Until then, I have posts like yours!


We do it all the time: "you hold the screw, I'll hold the wire" is a stressed "you." And, "you need to clean the bathroom [it's your turn, I'm not doing it again]" is a stressed "you." In contrast, unstressed would be, "for assembly, you put the coupling in the large hole, you next place the set screw in the small hole, then you use the provided hex wrench to tighten the set screw until finger-tight." Or, "to get there, you go straight, take the second right, and then you should see the red sign on the left. If you reach the river, you've gone too far."

I notice my dutch spouse suffers from the absence of two distinct forms in English, and sometimes feels ordered to do something when that's not the case--especially if the general directions / information are said distinctly and emphatically. Or fails to understand a direct request as being....directed. I also notice that the in-laws will point and very intently say YOU! or 'We!" when they're intending the stressed usage in English. It can come across as bossy, actually, but it's just filling in for the absence of a linguistic distinction.


Are you English?? What you're saying is completely wrong... You realise that all of your examples use the same 'you'?.....Nowhere have you expressed how or why one 'you' is different from another.... That's why they have different words in Dutch......To tell the difference....

JFSPA "you hold the screw, I'll hold the wire" is a stressed "you."

......What? No it's not.. It could be a calm woman talking to a child saying that....There is no way of knowing if it's stressed or unstressed in English...Which is why WE DO THIS and have these!!!!!!

Literally nothing you're saying makes sense and you don't even know the difference between " and ' And you're an English adult?


You're really sounding like a child now.

In "You hold the screw, I'll hold the wire" the stress is expressed through accent. If you say that sentence, you'll usually put stress on the word 'you' and on the word 'I'. And unstressed 'you' sounds like some sort of 'ye' or 'yuh', while unstressed 'I' sounds like 'ah', except you don't usually distinguish those in written English.

If we're going to start fighting about punctuation, what about your 6 exclamation marks and your 6-dot ellipses not followed by spaces? I usually don't complain about those, but I'm doing it because you're special.


Let's all take a step back. (Including remembering that some of the people here ARE children.)

LukeBailey112185 would ideally learn the linguistic / phonological definitions of "stress." (LukeB, if you're still reading--please, you'll feel much less bamboozled if you start there.)

But for now, he (gender presumed based on the monicker) is working off of the mistaken impression that "stress" in this context means "being upset." If that were, in fact, the meaning of stress, then he would be justified in concluding that most people here are stark raving bonkers; that this is all terribly frustrating; and that people are jerks.

None of that justifies his calling people out.

However, I get why some people are so frustrated. Quite a few students, including younger students, are using Duolingo for class credit. At present, this means they're doing so as part of perhaps a full year's worth (and counting) of remote school due to Covid restrictions. Or they are going to school in the face of Covid exposure.

Duo (which relies so heavily on crowd sourcing) is not well-designed for hard-assed scoring in a for-credit class. Given two equally-accomplished students, one may get questions that all work well, and thus score 100%; another randomly bumps into a morass of unfixed Duo issues and scores 80%. Then, because Duo is programmed to repeat questions that you miss, hapless student #2 gets floored repeatedly. So if LukeBailey112185 (or anyone else) is feeling the essential unfairness of the situation--especially if Duo is essentially the only teacher in the room--you're right--the situation is legitimately frustrating.

I have near-boundless sympathy to anyone who has reached the point of feeling, "I can't even begin to deal with all of this information that makes no sense to me, I didn't ask to be here, and it can't all be my fault, can it?"

It's still bad form to presume ignorance in others, or make wild assertions about their demographics.

It's also bad form to assume that

  1. Duo's default is "English as used in England" (explicitly not so)

  2. that there's no variation in formal English grammar, from continent to continent (not so) or

  3. that people who use (or reference) informal diction in a chat are ignorant of grammar.

Still, if you or I were laboring under an unfair situation--and on top of that, we had a complete misconception about the situational meaning of an essential term--we might be just as testy. In this all, I recognize, with poignant regret, my 14 year old self from 40 years ago. I'd be thrilled if he (and any other aspersion-throwers) decided to chill out on the accusations--and the assumptions--and get back on track. As a sometimes Professor (albeit in a different discipline) I'd rather keep trying to guide people in that direction. As for the invective, I've been called wors. I've been cussed out while I was teaching a large lecture course, no less, by a distraught, overwhelmed student.

I default to registering that level of dismissiveness and anger as, "someone's in distress," not as, "someone needs to be put in the corner."

I'm open to reconsidering, mind you! But for now, I'm still taking this as a Teachable Moment.


My understanding is that it's not so much about emphasis, but really about clear and non-sloppy pronunciation. This corresponds to not using a contraction in English when you could. Normally it doesn't matter whether you use a contraction or not, but obviously you can't stress a word when you have contracted its syllable away. Similarly, you never pronounce an emphasised word sloppily, e.g. replacing the clear ie/ay sound of jij by the neutral schwa sound of je.

Maybe Dutch is a bit further advanced on the path towards a grammatical difference between two words jij and je as opposed to just a phonetic phenomenon making the vowel of English is optionally disappear if it's unstressed. But I don't think you can make any mistakes by just ignoring this and thinking of English contractions as a perfect analogy.


Is there a way to stress the male pronoun "he?" Why is there only one way of saying "he" (hij) versus two ways of saying "she" (ze, zij)? Thank you in advance!


If you want to stress hij, just stress it like you would do in English. The other, 'stressed', pronouns wij, jij, zij aren't stressed, either, unless you actually do stress them the way you do in English. The terminology used in this course is misleading. Wij, jij, zij aren't stresséd, they are stressáble. That is, if you want to stress one of the unstresséd and unstressáble pronouns we, je, ze, you have to replace it by wij, jij or zij.

This is much like contractions in English. If English were taught like Dutch, a learner of English might ask why there is no way to stress nothing, whereas you can stress n't by replacing it by not. The obvious answer is that not isn't actually automatically stressed and that the real difference is that it's impossible to stress n't because it has no vowel. So instead of "No, it isn't!" you say "No, it is not!" (This argument is slightly problematic because the contracted not in isn't is in practice often stressed by moving the stress to the vowel i, i.e. by stressing is. Logically this makes little sense, though. It's just a workaround.)

Similarly, we, je, ze are the result of replacing the (variable but) clear ij sound in wij, jij, zij by a neutral schwa sound. As to why this doesn't work for hij - I don't really know for sure, but there is a number of plausible explanations:

  • To me (as a native German speaker), he, pronounced in the Dutch way, feels slightly strange to pronounce. The consonant h is quite different from w, j, z, and saying he feels a little bit like pronouncing only the vowel. Somehow it doesn't feel like a full word. If Dutch speakers feel the same way, it makes sense that they always pronounce hij in full.
  • He is just an aspirated e and the aspiration is easy to miss. And the point of e instead of ij is precisely that it's short, unstressed, indefinite - in fact, almost absent. This is probably just the explanation of my feelings about this (non-)word.
  • The modern Dutch pronouns are the result of merging pronouns in different cases. Maybe there was a case for which wij sounded a bit like we, one for which jij sounded a bit like je, and one for which zij sounded a bit like ze - but none for which hij sounded a bit like he.


I have a few questions concerning other pronouns. What is the difference between: 1. Dit and Dat? 2. Deze and Die? 3. U and Jij/Je?

Thank you in advance.


dit en dat: this and that

deze en die: these and those (but die also has other meanings)

u, jullie en jij: you (polite singular and plural), you (informal plural) and thou (informal singular)

The last explanation only makes sense when read in Early Modern English, the language of the King James Bible. (And even then it's obviously not perfect, as you was ambiguous even then.) Thou was the familiar form of address for a single person. You was originally just the plural version of thou, what in Dutch is jullie. Then people started to address single people in the plural when they wanted to be polite. In Dutch, it was more common to say something like your honour, which over time was abbreviated to u.


Sorry, but "thou" used to be (and still is by some peoples) used in very intimate situations, like "du". So when you read your King James Bible, remember to read the "thee's, thou's, thy's, and thine's" as though the writer/speaker is speaking directly to you on a personal level. 'You" in the KJV is not a confusion; rather, it is a distinction between personal and less personal (but not necessarily impersonal) communication.


You are correct, more precisely the usage of Kings James mirrors the Hebrew, with 'thou' used for the Hebrew 'ata' & 'at' ( את & אתה ) which are the singular versions of you/thou for males and females respectively, while 'you' is restricted to translating the Hebrew 'atem' & 'aten' ( אתם & אתן ) which are the plural versions (again, masc. & fem.) of 'ata' & 'at' and are never translated by 'thou.'

I still use the old 2nd person singular, but almost only in writing and only to my children. I do still occasionally fall into a use of it that was more common in my 1950s rural childhood, which is to use it when directly cursing someone, but do try not to! Anyway, it is usually behind the closed windows of my car, so no harm no foul.


The KJV was published in 1611 and even then it was stylistically conservative or even out of date. This was a time (see: Shakespeare) when you and thou contrasted in formality, but set the clock back a couple hundred years or so to account for the translators' conservatism, and you reach a time when you was not uniformly established as the singular formal pronoun and thou was possible for any level of formality. Thus the translators often erred on dividing thou and you only by plurality, not formality. Any intimacy one tries to read into the use of thou in the KJV is mostly a historical accident resulting from our later conception of what we believe thou was supposed to mean.


For English speakers that use collapsed interrogatives in /ʤ-/ their distribution may help clarify the difference. For non-IPA users, /ʤ/ is the initial sound of 'just' and 'gin.' /ə/ is the final sound of 'sofa' and /u/** means the sound of 'ou' in you.

First, what I'm referring to. Many (most?) English speakers collapse the sequence 'Did you . . .?' in normal speech to /ʤu/ or /ʤə/, the first being mildly stressed and the latter unstressed. These speakers will in normal speech only render 'did' separately if highly stressed.

If this is you, keep following:

When "Did you go?" is /ʤu go?/ it corresponds to 'Ben jij gegaan?'

When "Did you go?" is /ʤə go?/ it corresponds to 'Ben je gegaan?'

Note that the second one is far more common in our spoken idiom, just as its counterpart in Dutch, because in second person addresses the role of the addressee is generally well known. The barrier for the Anglo is to render in writing a distinction only made in speech. If you can recognize this in your own tongue you have half the battle won.

** If you are a Canadian or Pacific Coast 'u' fronter, you have a tiny extra hurdle, as the vowel in 'je' being rounded and front, closely resembles the /u/ of /ʤu go?/ which comes out [ʤʉ go?] or even /ʤy go?/ if it comes after a slew of front vowels or palatals. 'Je' may sound a lot like the way you say 'you' in English. It may sound familiarish, but your native speech has no unstressed rounded vowels and that may make you overestimate it. The quicker you learn to round the unstressed vowel of Dutch the quicker your ear will peg it for what it is when you hear it.


Indeed, there is a difference between full forms of pronouns and eroded forms of pronouns in Dutch, just like there is a difference between emphasised and unemphasised words in Dutch. However, those are not the same differences.

Emphasis is written by adding an acute accent to the vowel in the emphasised syllable. (Strictly speaking: To the letters that form the vowel in the emphasised syllable.) This can be done to almost any word: "Dé vréémde kát dróég géén échte suède." (The strange cat did not wear real suede). As you can see this rule can be applied to articles, adjectives, nouns, etc.. Note that "suède" has no emphasis here: It's a word that originated from French, and it has inherited the French grave accent, as otherwise there's no rule in Dutch to pronounce it. Pronouns can have emphasis too: "Ík lees maar híj slaapt." (I read but he sleeps.) Here, both pronouns have emphasis. Note that the people of Unicode apparently can't be persuaded that "ij" can have emphasis and thus should allow replacing both dots with acute accents. When you write by hand, make sure to write both, even if the programs you otherwise use don't allow it.

Several Dutch pronouns have two forms: a full form and an eroded form. For personal pronouns as subjects those are: "jij"; "gij"; "zij", "het"; "wij" (you singular; you Flemish/archaic formal singular; she and they; it; we). For personal pronouns as objects those are: "mij"; "jou" (me; you singular). Each of these will still sound when the vowel is replaced by a schwa, which is how the eroded versions are formed. ("Schwa" in this sense is a tone-less replacement of a vowel.) This allows for shorter sentences, but there are limitations: Whenever lengthening the vowel is required, it can't be replaced by an eroded form,as then there would not be a vowel to lengthen. (This is similar to why "hij" (he) doesn't have an eroded form: Since "h" in itself is near toneless, there would no word left if the vowel was replaced by a schwa.) Three cases that require full forms are: Pronouns in combinations, pronouns in comparisons, and emphasis. Thus: "Ze houdt van kaas." (She likes cheese.), but "Zij en haar kat houden van kaas." (She and her cat like cheese.), as "zij" is part of a combination here. Likewise: "Ze kookt graag" (She likes to cook.), but "Zij kookt graag, maar hij is een chefkok." (She likes to cook, but he is a chef.), as she's part of a comparison here. And finally: "Ze houdt van haar moeder." (She loves her mother), maar "Zíj houdt van iedereen." (She(emphasis) loves everybody.), as the emphasis requires the full form.

Of course, there are other pronouns, and there are dialects and sociolects that differ in some ways from the above, but this explanation is too long already. Just remember that emphasis and eroded forms are related in some ways but they are not the same thing. The details you can look up when you need them.


In Basics, because I just started Dutch today, one sentence is "Zij is een meisje en ik ben een jongen". Is the "zij" a "zij" because it's like "SHE is a girl, and I'm not"? Maybe it's just a stupid sentence. Maybe I just need more experience with Dutch. :)


I do not understand when to use die and when deze as the stressed subject pronoun for an object in 3rd person plural.

You used deze. Here: http://www.dutchgrammar.com/en/?n=Pronouns.ps02 only an example with die is given.

Die staan je heel goed.

It seems to me that an English sentence "THEY look very good on you" could be translated either way.

The same goes for the the stressed pronouns in 3rd person singular.


That got me frustrated too. I found the answer on onzetaal.nl/taaladvies and took notes on it. It's in Dutch but I used Google Translate. To save you the strain, here are the notes I took.

In general, when referring to a de-word or plural, "deze" is this and "die" is that In general, when referring to a het-word or something unspecified, "Dit" is this and "dat" is that Deze and dit can refer to something with a nearby point of origin. Die and dat are further away.

Obviously there are exceptions as we all know by now there are for everything in Dutch but I hope this helped and if you have any questions just ask.


why does "ze wil" not have a 't'. all the conjugation charts show that it should be stem+t for ze/zij


It's an irregularity that demonstrates how closely English and Dutch are related: The English modal will, which once was an ordinary verb with the same meaning that the Dutch verb willen still has (compare derivations such as [last] will, wilful or even the construction to will someone to do something) has it as well! If it were regular, you would hear sentences such as "she wills come" in English. In Dutch, "ze wilt komen" sounds just as wrong. (Of course the meanings of both sentences are no longer the same.)

It's a general phenomenon of language change that frequently used words tend to preserve irregularities much longer than rarely used words. These irregularities are usually remnants from an earlier stage of the language when totally different grammatical rules existed. (The English irregular plurals such as children, feet etc. are good examples. Most affect frequently used words, and these types of forming the plural are still somewhat alive in Dutch and German. And of course the extremely irregular English auxiliaries be and have.)


This is somewhat related to another interesting feature in language evolution: productivity. (I know this is going to be somewhat off-topic, but I wanted to mention it.) Productivity defines whether or not a process, such as verb conjugation, is used by speakers in forming new words. For example, the overwhelming majority of newly coined verbs in English take the weak conjugation of -ed for the past tense and past participle (so that text becomes texted and email becomes emailed), rather than the strong conjugation of a vowel change in the past tense and sometimes -en for the past participle. This has become the case because it is unambiguous and regular, and thus recognizable.

So, as you say, the irregularities only continue to exist in words that are relatively common and old, because speakers continue to recognize them as derivations of the relevant base form. It not immediately apparent that stadia is the plural form of stadium without some knowledge of Latin, so the native English plural form -s has produced the more common stadiums. But speakers nonetheless understand that am, is, are, was, and were are all forms of the verb to be because they are so entrenched in common Standard English usage that no one would try to say "he bees" instead.


Why is Dutch so difficult!? Afrikaans is much the same, without all the different forms of the same thing!! And we understand each other very clear!! Hoekom is Nederlands so ingewikkeld!? Afrikaans is baie dieselfde, behalwe al die verskillende vorme vir dieselfde ding!


Maar het is zeer mooi, dus... And plus: I enjoy puzzles and challenges: they keep my brain active.


History. Afrikaans is Hollandic with additionally irregularities removed. (I'm tempted to say travelling in the 17th century may have played a part, but it may also be linguistical Eva's fault. Let the historical linguist see what they can make of it.) On the other hand, 16th century Dutch was constructed not just from one particular Hollandic dialect, but all Hollandic dialects, and Brabantian dialects, and Sealand dialects, and Gelre dialects, and Flanders dialects, and Limburgian dialects, and ... The creators tried to make a consistent standard dialect out of it, but as poets and writers they probably were not the ideal parents for the child, unwilling to leave out less common forms. Nor did the actual speakers give up their local peculiarities without a fight, and still don't.


Fascinating! Do you happen to know...does the buzz / distinctive R's in Afrikaans (vs modern dutch) capture an aspect of 17th C Hollandic (as with elizabethan Shakespearean English--as reconstructed--having both some vowel forms and some consonants that sound vaguely Scots, to American ears)? Or did that come later? Southern Dutch and Flemish have "R" variants and vowels that are noticeable even to foreign ears, compared to "amsterdam dutch," and Gronigen Dutch has yet others, which is why I'm wondering if there were even more dramatic variations in the 17th century.


No, sorry. I imagine that 17th century Hollandic dialects would have had more variation, compared to what is spoken nowadays. After all, there was much more water to separate locals. But whether that translated into sociolects on the end of Afrika, I don't know.


how do you say "stressed/marked prounouns" in dutch


De volle/volledige persoonlijke voornaamwoorden


Is "u" simultaneously plural and singular?


Well, I wouldn't say "simultaneously", but it can indeed be used as the formal form for both the singular and the plural.


This is so helpful, thank you!


I am having problems knowing when to use ze or zij for she and they. Can someone help make this more clear?


You simply do it just like that. Just ensure you have the right verb conjugation


what does it mean by unstressed/unmarked and stressed/marked?


Hi :)

Unstressed/unmarked = without emphasis
Stressed/marked = with emphasis


Thank you! This is helpful. But...here on Duolinguo, I simply cannot hear the difference between je/jij and ze/zij. What do I do?


Listen to different examples and from that get used to the difference in pronunciation.



In the web version of Duolingo, always use the slow voice in a dictation. The fast voice generally pronounces jij as je and zij as ze.

I am afraid if you only have access to the fast voice, you will have to guess. Or you can switch off dictations.


In the examples I provided there is a clear difference in pronunciation, also at the normal speed.


Indeed. There are worlds between this and the automatic voice.


Would ze and zijn only refer to all female groups in the example?


Not at all. Zij/ze is the only third person plural pronoun regardless of gender. In particular, it's also used for exclusively male groups.

Fun fact: There was a point in the history of Dutch and German when for many words you could choose between masculine and feminine genders, with a difference of meaning unrelated to male/female. For concrete individual things people used masculine gender, and for abstract things and groups of things treated as a collective, people used feminine gender. So one function of feminine gender was as a collective plural!

Once you know this, having a single word serving both as the 3rd person singular feminine pronoun and as the 3rd person plural pronoun for all genders doesn't appear so arbitrary any more.


I always love running into you on a thread. You give just the sort of explanations and etymologies that I need to understand the language as a complex, living thing. I'm impressed by your ability to explain Dutch in English when you're a native German speaker! You certainly write English better than most native English/Americans. Thanks for all your comments on this thread--the nuances make a big difference for my understanding. Not everyone wants to bother with them when learning a new language, but for me, as someone with a pretty good grasp of my native tongue, an imperfectly understood linguistic rule just doesn't stick--I need to understand how words are used in practice, and what the stories are behind them, in order for them to have a permanent, usable place in my brain. I don't want to have toddler-Dutch all my life; I want to be able to say complex and nuanced things. Thanks for your help.


What about "je" vs "u" and "jou" vs "u" ...? I would be very happy if somebody can give some nice examples which one of the two is to be used. For sure in the exercises I do not see the difference between formal and not formal. Eg. the sentence "You do not know me." By my understanding it could be translated as "Je kent mij niet." but as well as "U kent mij niet" …


You are completely right. Duolingo is not the perfect platform for adding context to the sentences. Therefore, it is almost impossible to show the difference between 'je', 'jij', 'u' and 'jullie'.

As for your question about the formal 'u':

You would use 'u' when
1. You speak to people that you don't know and are (obviously) older than you (e.g. you are 20 and the other is 30 years old)
2. You speak to your boss, the king, professors, teachers, doctors or someone else that is "above you"
3. Someone you know and who is older than you, e.g. your grandparents. Parents sometimes expect their (young) children to say 'u' to them as well, but it's more common to say 'je' to your parents (unless they are of age).
4. When you want to be polite in general. E.g. when you are a customer and you speak with an employee or when you are working with customers.

It's safest if you start with saying 'u' to people that you just met/don't know. They'll tell you if you can switch to 'jij' ("Zeg maar 'jij' hoor!").


When I was a little girl my parents made a bedroom poster for me. 'Mamma en Pappa zijn U'.


"Mama en papa zijn U" = "Mom and Dad are you". Doers not make sense.


It meant that I had to say 'U' when talking to my parents and not 'jij' or 'je' which they used to talk to me. They were 'U' people. I guess I took a bit of convincing


("Does) No: 'Mom and Dad are 'You.'" Remember that earlier generations of the Sparkle families probably had signs on the wall with 'Broeder en Zuster zijn "U".' Now, addressing the same generation with "U" was no longer the way thing were done, but the parents were not going to give up their right that easily.


Is there somewhere a Jij vs Jou page ?


Jij leest jouw boek omdat het van jou is. You read your book because it is yours. Incorrect and often heard by non Dutch native people: “Het boek is van jij” (Fault!). Better : “Het boek is van jou.”


thank you for helping me : )


Can you tell me more about Ze being used for the inanimate feminine nouns in Flemish ? What do you mean by inanimate feminine nouns ?


Let's talk and train together in Tweeter: @maze_designer

((Only Dutch please))


thank you, i understand now and it's not that difficult.


Most useful. Dank u wel

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