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?
- Obviously, we first use the right version: zij, or ze, wij, or we, and jij, or je.
- However, when we give emphasis to the pronoun we increase our pitch
- We also tend to increase our volume, ever so slightly
- 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).
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…)
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.”
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).
Deze/die vs. Hij (marked vs. Unmarked)
“Deze geeft licht” = “This one gives light”.
“Hij geeft licht” = “It gives light.
Wij vs. we (marked vs. Unmarked)
“Wij komen niet.” = “We are not coming.” (but the others are…)
“We komen niet.” = “We are not coming.”
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)
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.”
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.")
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.
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").
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!").
("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.