Jul 19 / Koen Kleinstra

When to use de or het?

Koen, when should I use de and when 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'm going to tell you how it works.

When de or het?

Let me fall with the door in the house (Dutch saying: Met de deur in huis vallen. Meaning: Immediately getting to the point).

There are a few strict rules and a lot of guidelines, but this only applies to a small group of words. The truth is that you have to learn it by heart for every single word. That might seem hard, but it will get easier over time.

It's still important to go over the strict rules since this is 100% going to help you at a couple times. The guidelines you should read once, and then never look a again. Fasten your seatbelts and bear with me.

Strict rules

Rule 1 - Plural nouns always have the article "de"
A singular noun can have both "de" and "het", but a plural noun always has the article "de". Examples:

  • het boek - de boeken (books)
  • het verhaal - de verhalen (stories)
  • de vrouw - de vrouwen (women)
Rule 2 - Fruits and vegetables always have the article "de"
For some unexplainable reason vegetables and fruits are always "de" words. Look at this:

  • de appel (apple)
  • de banaan (banana)
  • de sinaasappel (orange)
  • De druif (grape)
Rule 3 - Compass points always have the article "het"
  • 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"
Normal Dutch people call this a "verkleinwoord". It's pretty much to say the thing is small. For example:

  • de hond (dog)
  • het hondje (little dog)
Every word ending in "-je" is a diminutive. We learn more about this in the Nederlands Level 2 course.
Rule 5 - Nouns in the diminutive form, but also plural always have the article "de"
This basically means that plural wins over diminutive. So if it's two "little" things, then we still use "de" and not "het". Example:

  • de hond (the dog)
  • het hondje (the dog) - diminutive
  • de hondjes (orange) - 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)

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

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". Learning a language is a matter of doing and repeating.
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