De or Het? Knowing When to Use Which Posted by heather on Jan 25, 2011 in Dutch Grammar, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary
In Dutch there are two definite articles (words that mean ‘the’). These are de and het. The article de is for masculine and feminine nouns. These are also known as common nouns. The article het is for neuter words.
Knowing when a word is common or neuter is one of the challenges in learning Dutch, as there are no hard and fast rules. However, learning which words are common and which are neuter is a worthwhile area to invest your time in because it does affect other aspects of the language.
- the number of de-words is about twice as large as the number of het-words, so when in doubt pick de
- plural nouns have the definite article de (het boek becomes de boeken)
- the gender of a compound noun is determined by the gender of the second word (de wijn + het glas = het wijnglas)
- diminutives (indicating that something is small, usually by adding -je to the end of a word) have the definite article het (de tomaat becomes het tomatje)
- colours and languages usually take het
- nouns referring to people typically take de
- to learn the definite article when you learn the noun
- to make a list of all the neuter nouns you come across, since these are less it is easier to keep track of them
- a dictionary should tell you if a noun is neuter, feminine or masculine. This is often done via a letter next to the noun: neuter: ‘o’ for onzijdig, feminine: ‘v’ for vrouwelijk, masculine: ‘m’ for mannelijk
Sarah also wrote a post on definite articles last year. If you are looking for more tips or just another wording of what de and het are all about, then check it out.