Jul 19 / Koen Kleinstra

When to use De or Het?

If you gave me a cup of coffee for every time someone asked me this question, I probably wouldn't close an eye for the rest of my life. đź‘€

However, I have the real answer on this really important question for you.

About "de" & "het"

Let me fall with the door in the house (Dutch saying: Met de deur in huis vallen. Meaning: Immediately getting to the point). The real answer is that there are no exact rules on when to use "de" or "het" that cover all cases. However, there are a few strict rules and some guidelines that might help you go through this struggle. Fasten your seatbelts and bear with me.

Strict rules

So here are 7 strict rules to keep in mind.

Rule #1 - Plural nouns always have the article "de".
Examples:
  • het boek (the book)
  • de boeken (the books)

Rule #2 - Fruits and vegetables always have the article "de".
Examples:
  • de banaan (the banana)
  • de komkommer (the cucumber)

Rule #3 - Compass points always have the article "het".
Examples:
  • het noorden (the North)
  • het zuiden (the South)
  • het westen (the West)
  • het oosten (the East)

Rule #4 - Nouns in the diminutive form always have the article "het".

Examples:
  • de hond (the dog) - normal
  • het hondje (the dog) - diminutive

Rule #5 - Nouns in the diminutive form, but also plural always have the article "de".
Examples:
  • de hond (the dogs) - normal
  • het hondje (the dogs) - diminutive
  • de hondjes (the dogs) - diminutive & plural

Rule #6 - If we use a verb as a noun, we always use "het".
Example:
  • Het wachten is voorbij (the waiting is over)

Rule #7 - Names of languages always have the article "het".
Example:
  • Het Nederlands
  • Het Italiaans is een mooie taal. (Italian is a beautiful language)

Guidelines

Now we go on to some guidelines. These guidelines are all cases in where the word "often has de or het".

Guideline #1 - Nouns with two syllables starting with be-, ge-, ver-, and ont- often have "het".
Example:
  • het verhaal (the story)
  • het gezicht (the face)

Guideline #2 - Nouns ending in -ing, -ij, -er, -aar, -heid, and -ie often have de article de.
Example:
  • de verzekering (the insurance)
  • de overheid (the government)

Guideline #3 - Nouns ending in "er" or "el" often have the article "de".
Example:
  • de kamer (the room)
  • de kabel (the cable)

Guideline #4 - Nouns ending in -isme, -ment, -sel, or -um often have the article "het".
Example:
  • het moment (the moment)
  • het veganisme (the veganism)

Guideline #5 - Nouns referring to a profession often get the article "de".
Example:
  • de bakker (the baker)
  • de leraar (the teacher)

Guideline #6 - Words of trees and plants always have the article "de".
Example:
  • de boom (the tree)
  • de tulp (the tulip)

My personal advice

There are no rules that fully cover the usage of "de" and "het". Therefore my personal advice to you is when you learn a new word, don't only learn the word, but also learn if it comes with "de" or "het". The only way to get "de" and "het" right is by getting a native feeling for it. Let's discuss how to practice.

How to practice

You can simply practice by reading, writing and listening to Dutch. If you read a sentence containing "de hond" (the dog) a couple times, you will automatically know it's "de hond" instead of "het hond". I mean honestly, learning a language is a matter of doing and repeating.
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