Grammar: The Dutch Personal Pronouns (Subject vs. Object)
- The personal pronouns in their subject forms
- The uses of the subject personal pronouns
- The personal pronouns in their object forms
- The uses of the object personal pronouns
1. The personal pronouns in their subject forms
In Dutch, we use (what many Dutch grammarians conventionally refer to as) both stressed and unstressed personal pronouns (of which you can find a more in-depth explanation and discussion here). Anyways, we use both of these forms in spoken and written Dutch. It’s been said that the unstressed pronouns are used more frequently than the stressed variants, but don’t quote dear Team Dutch on that… Below you can find a table which includes the stressed and unstressed forms, or ‘full’ and ‘reduced’ forms (as some linguists prefer, see this discussion), of the personal pronouns:
Beware that the short forms ’k, ie are (generally speaking) not used in writing.
2. The uses of the subject personal pronouns
As is the case in English, the second person singular and the third person plural can denote an indefinite pronoun and in our case, these are the je and ze pronouns.
“Dat doe je toch niet!” = “You/One shouldn’t do that!”
“Ze zeggen van wel.” = “They say so.”
On the one hand, some personal pronouns are suited for addressing the people that we know well. These are jij, je and jullie. People you would address with this form could be: family, friends, coworkers and kids.
On the other hand, we also have the formal personal pronoun u. We tend to use this pronoun when we intend to be polite (yes, really) and when addressing strangers. In formal contexts, this pronoun can be used for addressing one person or multiple individuals (in this sense, you could also regard u as the formal form of ‘jullie’, but ‘u’ is not used in this way very often).
“Gaat u mee?” = “Will you go with/along?”
Lastly, when you are referring to an inanimate object, say a ‘thing’ or an ‘idea’, we use the pronoun ‘het’ or ‘hij’. When you refer to a het word as a subject, you use het, and when referring to a de word as a subject, you use hij.
“Waar is het boek?” “Het ligt op de tafel.” = “Where is the book?” “It is on the table.”
“Waar staat de vaas?” “Hij staat in de hoek.” = “Where is the vase?” “It is in the corner.”
3. The personal pronouns in their object forms
In this case, beware that the short forms ’m, ‘r/ ‘dr and ’t are (generally speaking) not used in writing.
4. The uses of the object personal pronouns
When it comes to referring to things, ideas or inanimate objects, we use het and hem. Again, when the word concerned is a het word, we use het. When it is a de word, we use hem.
“Heb je het lied gehoord?” “Nee, ik heb het niet gehoord.” = “Have you heard the song?” “No, I have not heard it.”
“Heb je de deur gesloten?” “Ja, ik heb hem gesloten.” = “Have you closed the door?” “Yes, I have closed it.”
The personal pronoun in the object form hen means ‘them’ and constitutes either the direct object in a sentence or is used after a preposition. It also refers to people**.
“Jij hebt hen gezien?” = “You have seen them?”
“Ik geef het boek aan hen.” = “I give the book to them.”
Now, hun also means ‘them’ and this personal pronoun in the object form is used as an indirect object and one without a preposition. Likewise, hun also refers to people.
“Ik geef hun het boek.” = “I give the book to them.”
(Very) formal contexts excluded, ze (= them) can also be used instead of hen and hun, it referring to people, animals or objects. It is also used after a preposition.
“Wij hebben ze gezien.” = “We have seen them.”
“Jullie geven ze eten?” = “You give them food?”
“Ik doe dit niet voor ze.” = “I do not do this for them.”
So all singular de-words are treated as masculine? What about haar-ziekte? I still don't understand the dutch pronouns :( From what I understand the choice of the 3rd person pronoun depends on four dichotomies: masculine/femine, de/het, animate/inanimate, singular/plural Plus the different grammatical functions: nominative, accusative, possessive, dative, prepositional. For the explanation to be clear and exhaustive, we'd need a huge chart will all the possibilities and the pronouns that correspond to each unique combination ^^'
Can you tell me when would you use het /ɜ/? I know that we use het /ə/ to say “het is een kind (en niet een hond)” = “he/she is a child (and not a dog)” but would you use het /ɜ/ to say “het is het kind (en niet de hond) dat je hoort” = “it is the child (and not the dog) that you hear”? If yes, does the first or the second het have the /ɜ/ sound?
I should think the stress would fall on the words 'kind' and 'hond' in the example you gave.
The stress would probably fall on 'het' when attempting to distinguish which entity is the child you can hear crying. But, quite likely, you'd use 'dat' in that case. So I'm not sure when the stressed 'het' would be common. Interested in whatever answer someone might be able to give here. (Please include some examples.)
In your latter example, both het's can have the same sound, or the second one can be /ɜ/.
Ik, mij, mijn en mijne. There are so many different Dutch pronouns! How well do you know your Dutch Personal and Possessive Pronouns?
Test your knowledge of the different Dutch pronouns with the below language test! Have fun and good luck ;-)