Introducing the Definite Article

I like to know why things are the way they are in languages, so even although I’m following the Duolingo course to learn Dutch, when I come across a grammatical construct that differs from the way it works in English, I want to find out why. Duolingo doesn’t teach this way, but my curiosity gets the better of me. Most of the time I’ll try and work it out, and sometimes if I can’t figure it out I’ll look it up.

De vs. Het

So, why “het meisje” (the girl) or “het sap” (the juice), but “de man” (the man) & “de jongen” (the boy)?

At initial inspection I thought Dutch must have masculine and feminine articles, but “de vrouw” (the woman) which I’d seen earlier doesn’t fit that hypothesis.

Dutch has a concept of common (“de”) and neuter (“het”) nouns. I asked a dutch person how you tell the difference if you’ve never seen the word before and all I got was a shrugged response back.

Unlike Spanish, where there is a rule that covers most cases in determining the type of noun, in Dutch you just have to remember each on a case-by-case basis. In fact there are some general rules, but all seem to have exceptions – I’ll go into them later on. Having said that there are many more common nouns, hence the name, than neuter nouns.

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Colin Angus Mackay

I blog at ColinMackay.scot. I also talk at software development conferences.

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