Articles… All Dutch language learners have mixed feelings about this topic. Compared with the English language rules of when to use which article, ie., ‘an’, ‘a’ or ‘the’, the rules concerning Dutch articles, or often the lack thereof, can be confusing.
Additionally in some other foreign languages there is no grammatical equivalent of the Dutch articles, which is why it is not always easy to understand and apply them in practice. To make it easier for you to learn the rules of using de and het, we have put together lots of helpful information on this subject.
What is an article?
From a grammatical point of view, an article defines whether a noun is specific or unspecific and – in the case of Dutch – also defines the grammatical gender (masculine, feminine or neuter) of a noun (het huis), the adjective form (het grote huis) or numerals used as nouns (de drie). To put it in simpler terms, an article is the word een, de or het, and determines the form of the next word or group of words in a sentence.
In Dutch, each noun has a fixed article. When learning Dutch, it is good to learn the vocabulary thoroughly, including the associated articles. Linguists have distinguished several categories of words to help learners acquire knowledge faster. Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule, but our list will certainly give you a good foundation to learn the articles.
Unlike de and het, een is indefinite. Een can be compared to ‘a’ or ‘an’ in English. We use the articles de and het similarly to the English ‘the’.
The article HET
Only around 20% of Dutch words use the article het! When do we use the article het?
● Diminutives ending in -pje, -tje, -je → het bloempje, het jongetje, het briefje
● Words ending in -isme, -ment, -sel, -um → het communisme, het parlement, het kapsel, het centrum
● Words ending in -act, -ect, -ict, -uct → het contact, het aspect, het conflict, het product
● Words beginning with be-, ge-, ver-, ont- → het belang, het geweer, het verstand, het ontzet
● Names of sports and games → het tennis, het voetbal, het scrabble
● Foreign language names → het Nederlands, het Engels
● Names of metals and substances → het ijzer, het hout, het bier
● Destinations → het noorden, het zuiden
The article DE
Words that take the de article make up the vast majority. When do we use the article de? Plurals always use the de article, and additionally words ending in:
Exceptions to the rule
Learning Dutch, or any other foreign language for that matter, would be much easier without exceptions. Unfortunately, exceptions are a part of language learning and you simply need to learn these by heart. Becoming more familiar with the Dutch language will help you a lot with this. Over time, you will begin to distinguish between articles yourself.
Here are some common words that are exceptions to the rules above:
● before words ending with -um, we use het. Exceptions → de datum, de petroleum
● before words ending with -act we use het. Exceptions → de act, de tact
● words beginning with -ge, -ont usually follow het. Exceptions → de geneeskunde, de ontvangst
● names of animals are mainly preceded by de. Exceptions → het konijn, het kalf.
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