Dutch Language Blog

De and Het Words in Dutch: Also Known as Definite Articles Posted by on Feb 1, 2010 in Dutch Language

One of the more tricky parts of the Dutch language are the definite articles. As a non-native Dutch speaker, this is one of the more difficult things for me to get correct, and if you haven’t noticed already, I still occasionally mess it up every now and again. At least as a non-native Dutch speaker I get granted a certain amount of leniency by the very patient Dutch people around me, because if you use the wrong one, you will usually still be understood. But it’s still very important to learn, so let’s get down to some nitty-gritty grammar.

Without further ado…

In English we have the definite article the. In Dutch we have the definite articles de and het.

For example:

de auto: the car

het huis: the house

De and het serve the same function as the in English. What makes it all so tricky is that there are no simple rules for determining if a word is a de word, or a het word. Apparently all native Dutch speakers come equipped with a de/het determining radar, but alas you and I must somehow try to make some sense of it all. Do not despair, there are a few tricks to help us out along the way.

1. The first clue is that around 80 percent of Dutch words are de words. If you really aren’t certain, just stick with de. If you chose the wrong one, it’s okay. More often than not, if you make a  de/het error, you will still be understood.

2. The second clue is that all plural words are always de words. All the time. No exceptions.

Examples (keep your eye out for spelling changes with plurals here):

het huis = de huizen [the house(s)]

het jaar = de jaren    [the year(s)]

het restaurant = de restaurants    [the restaurant(s)]

de stoel = de stoelen    [the chair(s)]

de kat = de katten    [the cat(s)]

de tafel = de tafels    [the table(s)]

3. A third clue is in the ending of the word. If a word ends in -je, -pje, -asme, -isme, -um, or -sel the word is a HET word.

For example:

het huisje: the little house

het filmpje: the little film

het enthousiasme: the enthusiasm

het feminisme: (the) feminism

het universum: the universe

het verschijnsel: the phenomenon

4. A fourth clue is yet another ending of the word. If a word ends in -held, -ie, -ica or -ing it is a DE word.

For example:

de gezondheid: the health

de situatie: the situation

de grammatica: the grammar

de ontdekking: the discovery/finding

5. The fifth clue isn’t really a clue at all, and I offer my deepest apologies and sympathies for it. You simply have to memorize whether or not a word is de or het. A tip for making it less tedious is to keep a list of het words as you learn them, and remember that these are het words. Otherwise, assume you have a de word on your hands.

If you are really very curious about de and het words, there are resources available that go into even more complicated rules for determining whether a word is de or het. I don’t recommend doing it unless you want a headache. After you have read the rules you will only discover there are more exceptions to the rules than words that follow the rules. But over time, with lots of practice, you’ll start to develop a small de/het determining radar as well.

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  1. Abhinav:

    nice explanation!!! do you have more lessons on dutch?

    • heather:

      @Abhinav There are quite a few posts on the blog about learning Dutch. Have a bit of a search and you should come across them. Good luck!

  2. tenzin:

    hi its very good tht i know the difference between de and het.so thanks for it and in future like tht kind of problem.u have to solve like tht…thanks alot

  3. James:

    Is het sometimes contracted to ‘t in conversation and casual writing? I’ve seen this: ʼt Laatste Stuivertje (it’s the name of a pub in 18th century Cape Town), and wondered if the ‘t wasn’t het.


    • Gilles:

      @James Yes, ´t is a contraction of het.

  4. Lorrie Lee:

    Thank you so much for this info. I’m an American going to get married to a Dutchman and living in the Netherlands. I’ve been studding a Dutch School book. The chapter I’m on for article and demonstratives was really confusing me. I think this will help me a whole lot. Thank you

  5. Michael Guerrero:

    I absolutely love this post, the style is good and the explanation is clear. I just wanted to say thank you.

    I find Dutch a tough nut to crack, so appreciate all the help I can get.

  6. Pete:

    Native Dutch speakers have the strong advantage here since they’ve had years of listening to each word and it’s corresponding gender, and can easily match the two without thinking. Newcomers such as myself are so busy just learning the vocabulary words alone that bothering with the definite article seems like extra work for something that seems unimportant.

    My line of thinking is this:

    If you don’t know the gender, just guess and there’s a 50/50 chance you get it right. In fact, as the blogger pointed out, it’s actually about 80% if you just guess and use “de”.

    Also, since it doesn’t change the meaning of what you’re trying to say, most people won’t care that much.

    Thanks for the nice post. Tot ziens,


  7. Laurent:

    Hi! To answer James’ question regarding to the contraction of ‘het’ into ‘ ‘t ‘, that’s indeed true. Ever since there’s a certain amount of correlation between Dutch and Afrikaans, in this case we share this commonality. ‘ ‘T ‘ is also frequently used in The Netherlands to make the sentences a bit more shorter than when we use ‘het’. It’s simply easier sometimes. ‘De’ always remains ‘de’. And finally: ‘t Laatste Stuivertje translates into “The Last Nickle”.

  8. Kidus:

    Thank you it was really helpful.

  9. Riana:

    Thank you very much! I am so glad that I found this good explanation! Danke wel!

  10. Gilles:

    Thank you for the explanation, i was indeed confused. Doesn’t solve the problem completely, but helps quite a lot !