Dutch Language Blog

Do I use “de” or do I use “het”? Posted by on Jan 13, 2015 in Dutch Grammar, Dutch Vocabulary

Something I’ve struggled with in Dutch is distinguishing when a noun (person, place thing) uses de or het. I remember going over that while I was still living in Mexico, and although I know some of the rules, I cannot say I really KNOW them. Perhaps some of you already have this de or het dilemma out of the way, but it never hurts to freshen up the rules.


I find de to be the most problematic because it is so similar to “the” in English. I automatically want to use de for everything just because it sounds like “the.” Some of the rules for de are the following:

Use de for…

  • words for fruits, plants, trees,
    de appel, de boom
  • names of rivers and mountains
    de Maas
  • numbers and letters
    de vier, de K
  • most words for persons
    de ober, de leraar, de buurman
  • words ending in -ie, -tie, -sie, etc.
    de familie, de visie, de filosofie
  • words in plural, also called meervoud
    de katten, de boeken

There are a lot more rules, but I find this to be some of the most used ones. If I missed one you think is important, please comment so we can all work on it!

Use het for…

  • words ending in -je
    het boekje, het bloempje
  • languages
    het Nederlands, het Spaans, het Duits, het Engels
  • countries
    het Nederland, het Mexico
  • cardinal direction
    het noorden, het zuiden, het oosten, het westen
  • words beginning with be-, ge-, ver-, ont-
    het belang, het verstand, het gebouw
  • words ending in -isme, -ment, -um
    het communisme, het instrument, het museum

If I missed a group of words for het that you think is important, please share it with the rest of us!

When speaking Dutch, the article de or het tends to sound almost as if it is part of the noun. Listen to the news report about using animals/pets for therapy and try to spot out which nouns use de and which use het.


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About the Author: Karoly Molina

Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with languages and writing. I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and a little bit of French. I am a writer, reader, language teacher, traveler, and a food lover! I now live in The Netherlands with my husband Riccardo, our cat Mona, and our dog Lisa, and the experience has been phenomenal. The Dutch culture is an exciting sometimes topsy-turvy world that I am happily exploring!


  1. Peter Simon:

    Dear Karoly,

    I’d like to make 2 additions that people may also find useful.

    One is that street names not only have ‘de’ but we always have to use it as well (except in postal addresses), so in a sentence it goes like “Kunnen we elkaar in de Konigstraat ontmoeten?”, or “Het adres is in the Steenstraat”.

    On the other hand, while names of countries are ‘het’-words, we don’t use ‘het’ in speech or writing in general, so “Ik ben net van Kanada teruggekomen”. Exceptions are, just like in E, plural country and organization names, but we use them with ‘de’ on account of the plural, so “De VS moeten nu erop reageren”.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Peter Simon Great additions Peter 🙂 Thank you!

  2. Ian:

    Peter, note that in Dutch, the country Canada is spelled with a “C” and not with a “K”. It is the Germans who spell “Canada” with a “K”.

    • Karoly G Molina:

      @Ian Thank you Ian for pointing that out!