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Gender of words in Dutch and the consequences for other words


Gender of nouns

Every Dutch noun (zelfstandig naamwoord) has a gender (geslacht).

In the past, there were 3 genders, masculine, feminine and neuter (I don't know why they call it this way. I would think neutral would be more logical). Nowadays, for most purposes, no distinction is made anymore between masculine and feminine.

The gender of the noun determines a lot of other things. But unfortunately, there are not a lot of clear rules that can tell you the gender of the noun. You just have to memorize it for each noun.

An English page about gender, and the Chinese equivalent.


Just like in English, there are definite and indefinite articles (lidwoorden). In English 'a' is an indefinite article, and 'the' is a definite article.

In Dutch, een is the indefinite article, and it is the same for nouns of all genders.

Alas there are 2 definite articles, 1 for masculine/feminine nouns (de) and 1 for neuter (het) ones.

De is used for masculine/feminine nouns, het for neuter ones.

Here you can find a very clear English explanation of definite articles.

Wikipedia also has (more complex) articles (in English and Chinese) about articles.

Referring back to a noun by using 'hij', 'zij' or 'het'

Example: De jongen zat op een bank. Hij las een boek. (The boy was seated at a bench. He was reading a book.)

Depending on the gender of the noun (jongen in this example), you have to use hij, zij or het to refer back to it in another, or later in the same sentence.

As far as I know, in Dutch Dutch (as contrasted with Belgian Dutch), zij is almost never used (although technically incorrect). Except of course when you're talking about a female person or animal, then zij *is* used.

So usually you use hij for everything, whether a thing is masculine or feminine, and het for neuter nouns.

The effect of gender on adjectives


Let's start with the most simple part. An adjective in front of a plural noun always gets an 'e' at the end.

Examples: gele auto's (yellow cars), grote bomen (big trees), dikke boeken (thick books).


When you use an adjective before a singular noun, you have to know the gender again.

After de and het the adjective always ends in an 'e'.
Examples: de grote boom, het dikke boek.

After een, only an adjective before a feminine or a masculin noun gets an 'e' at the end. Adjectives before a neuter noun don't.
Examples: een grote boom, een dik boek.


So in fact it's very easy: there is just 1 situation in which an adjective before a noun doesn't get an 'e' at the end: if the noun is neuter and singular.

This and that (in relation to gender)

Like with 'the', we also have 2 Dutch words for 'this' (when used as an adjective for a noun), and 2 words for 'that'.


The 2 words for 'this' are dit (neuter) and deze (masculine/feminine).

So you say dit glas (this glass) and deze kat (this cat).


The 2 words for 'that' are dat (neuter) and die (masculine/feminine).

So you say dat boek (that book) and die student.

Male and female names for professions

This page (in Dutch) explains quite clearly when professions are called the same for males and females, and when there are separate names.

Female form of 'ober'

An ober is someone who serves drinks and food in restaurants, cafe's, etc.

There is no female equivalent of ober.
But: another word with the same meaning is kelner, and there is an equivalent for that: kelnerin.

A specific term for females (I think there is no male equivalent) is serveerster.

And finally, although almost never used to address the people who are serving, you can use the terms bedieningsmedewerker and bedieningsmedewerkster to refer to males and females, respectively.

See this page on Wikipedia (in Dutch).

When to put an 'e' behind an adjective, pronoun, etc.

In the below table I will use the same words as examples over and over again:

Type of word Female
Article de
de vrouw
de boom
het boek
een vrouw;
een boom;
een boek
de boeken
No difference between 'de' and 'het'.
Gender has to be memorized, although there are some guidelines.
Adjective +e
de mooie vrouw
de dikke boom
het rode boek
een rood boek
de rode boeken
rode boeken
Demonstrative pronoun die/deze
die vrouw ;
deze mooie vrouw
die boom ;
deze dikke boom
dat boek ;
dit rode boek
die vrouwen;
deze dikke bomen;
die rode boeken
Interrogative pronoun +e
welke vrouw;
welke mooie vrouw
welke boom;
welke dikke boom
welk boek;
welk rood boek
welke vrouwen;
welke boeken
'Welk' means 'which'.
Possessive pronoun +e
onze vrouw;
onze mooie vrouw
onze boom;
onze dikke boom
ons boek;
ons rode boek
onze dikke bomen;
onze rode boeken
'ons/onze' is the only possessive pronoun that is conjugated like an adjective. Other poss. pronouns, like 'mijn' (my), 'jouw' (your), 'zijn' (his) always stay the same.
Indefinite pronoun

Some rules (in English) about which nouns use the het-article
Some rules (in English) about which nouns use the de-article

© Henk Dalmolen
Reageer via E-mail (dalmolen@xs4all.nl)

Deze pagina is voor het laatst gewijzigd op: 27-5-2013 23:52:55