About de and het

About de en het

One of the most frustrating things for those who learn Dutch at an adult age, is knowing when a word is a het word and when it is a de word. I’m not going to tell here that there is a method that deletes all frustrations, but I do have a few hints that should make it a bit easier. To begin with the reason for all this: there are masculine words, feminine words and neuter words. All masculine and feminine words get de while all neuter words get het. A good way to remember this is simply to:

  •  think of ‘the man, the woman and the child’, since this will be: de man, de vrouw en het kind.

Though there is mostly not a very good reason for things to be masculine, feminine or neuter there are a few indications:

  •  all words that are made smaller with (e)(t)je are neuter (de vrouw – het vrouwtje, de man – het mannetje),
  • practically all words that and on standard suffixes like -ing, -ij, -ie, -e and -heid are feminine (de vereniging, de bakkerij, de politie, de dame, de moeilijkheid),
  • all infinite verbs used as nouns are neuter (het eten, het fietsen),
  • words starting with standard prefixes like ge-, ver, ont- and be- and not ending on -ing are neuter (het gevaar, het verhaal, het ontzag, het beslag),
  • words ending on -el or -er are quite often de-words (de tafel, de beker),
  • buildings, however, are often het-words (het theater, het huis, het station – just not de bioscoop, since that ends on -scoop, which is one of those standard suffixes),
  • in plural all words get de (de vrouwtjes, de boeken)
  • and, naturally, all words referring to persons(individuals) are de-words (de minister, de bakker).

Now, you could decide not to bother, producing a sound somewhere between de en het (…edth…)in case of doubt, but think of the consequences of the difference:

  •  meaning ‘this’ and ‘that’, de-words get deze and die, while het-words get dit and dat,
  • meaning ‘which’ (or sometimes ‘what’), de-words get welke and het words get welk,
  • meaning ‘our’, de-words get onze, while het-words get ons,
  • adjectives end on an extra e (always pronounced inDutch!) standing before a noun, except when this is an indefinite (using een) het-word: de groene pen, een groene pen, het groenboek, een groen boek).

If the learning of this de/het difference is really important to you, I would advise you to make a list of all het-words you find: there are less of them then there are de-words.

Finally, when you really need to know, look in your dictionary. When it doesn’t say straight forward if the words are de or het, it might very well tell you indirectly, by putting (m), (v), or (o) behind the word. Since the m stands for mannelijk(masculine), the v for vrouwelijk (feminine) and the o for onzijdig (neuter) you’ll know what to use. And for words having two or even three of those, like affiche (o&v(m)), you are free make your own choice.


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