Dutch Courses » Advanced Course » Parts of Speech » Nouns


Nouns are very important words in Dutch. Names of persons and things are nouns. Names of vague things (like concepts and ideas) are nouns also.

boek - book
taart - cake

When we talk about more than one book, we add en to the singular noun boek. The result is the plural noun boeken. Many plural nouns are made this way.

boeken - books
taarten - cakes
woorden - words
vliegtuigen - planes
landen - countries

Many other nouns are made plural by adding s to it.

tafels - tables
kamers - rooms
hotels - hotels
bakkers - bakers


An article is a word that precedes a noun. There are three articles in Dutch: de, het and een.
The e in het is pronounced as e in mess, when stressed. When it is not stressed, it is pronounced not that sharp.
The e in de is pronounced as u in hurtle. The ee in een also. It is a soft and short vowel. If you would pronounce ee in een as ay, you would say a number: one (1).

Definite articles

The words de and het both mean the. They precede a noun when we are talking about a specific object or person. Therefore they are called definite articles.

het boek - the book
de taart - the cake
Zij heeft het boek. - She has the book.
Zet de taart op die tafel. - Put the cake on that table.

Some words take de, and some take het. However, in the plural, all words take de.

Plural examples:
de boeken - the books
de meisjes - the girls
de stoelen - the chairs
de tafels - the tables
Ze heeft de boeken teruggegeven. - She has returned the books.

The same subjects in the singular:
het boek - the book
het meisje - the girl
de stoel - the chair
de tafel - the table
Ze heeft het boek teruggegeven. - She has returned the book.

Indefinite article

The word een means a or an. It is used when you talk about something that is not specified. Therefore een is called an indefinite article.

een boek - a book
een taart - a cake
een technicus - a technician
een appel - an apple
een week - a week

In the next example a book is mentioned, but we don’t know which one. Because the book is not specified, we use een.
Ze leest een boek, maar ik weet niet welke. - She reads a book, but I don’t know which one.

In the next example a coat is mentioned. The speaker does not mind at the moment which one. We use een.
Ze heeft een jas meegenomen, maar niet haar eigen jas. - She took a coat with her, but not her own coat.

We use een (which means a or an) to introduce a new person, thing, or animal.
Ik zag een vogel. De vogel zat op een lantarenpaal. - I saw a bird. The bird sat on a lamppost.

Normally the word een doesn’t precede a plural word.
boeken - books
taarten - cakes
Ik lees graag boeken. - I like to read books.
Ik bak taarten voor dat bedrijf. - I bake cakes for that company.

Spelling of plural nouns

The plural of a noun is often adapted a little, mainly because of the pronunciation.

The s is often changed to z.
het huis, de huizen - the house, the houses
het glas, de glazen - the glass, the drinking glasses
The f is often changed to v. The pronunciation difference is small.
de druif, de druiven - the grape, the grapes
An extra letter is added, when just adding en causes a wrong pronunciation.
de tak, de takken - the branch, the branches
A letter is dropped when it is not needed to guarantee the right pronunciation.
de taak, de taken - the task, the tasks
A diaeresis can be placed on the first letter of a syllable. In this case it shows that ee (of the first syllable) and e (of the second) are not one sound. The letter ë is pronounced like a normal e.
de slee, de sleeën - the sleigh, the sleighs

Note: This kind of adaptations also occur when other words (like verbs) are involved.

Suffixes of Plural Nouns

Most nouns are made plural by adding en, with or without some spelling adaptations. Many others are made plural by adding s. Other suffixes are less common.

heid always becomes heden
de verantwoordelijkheid, de verantwoordelijkheden - the responsibility, the responsibilities
de mogelijkheid, de mogelijkheden - the possibility, the possibilities
us becomes i in some cases.
de technicus, de technici - the technician, the technicians
um becomes a in some cases.
de datum, de data - the date (of the year), the dates (of the year)
eren is added to a word rarely.
het kind, de kinderen - the child, the children
het ei, de eieren - the egg, the eggs
het lied, de liederen - the song, the songs
het blad, de bladeren - the leave, the leaves (of a plant)

Rarely, a word can be made plural in two different ways. We use en or s here.
de aardappel, de aardappels - the potato, the potatoes
de aardappel, de aardappelen - the potato, the potatoes
de gewoonte, de gewoontes - the habit, the habits
de gewoonte, de gewoonten - the habit, the habits

Some words are made plural by adding ’s (apostrophe + s), when the last letter is one of these vowels: a, i, o, u, or y.
de collega, de collega’s - the colleague, the colleagues
de taxi, de taxi’s - the cab, the cabs
de radio, de radio’s - the radio, the radios
het menu, de menu’s - the menu, the menus
de baby, de baby’s - the baby, the babies
Sometimes the apostrophe is not used, even if the last letter is a vowel. This occurs often when doing this doesn’t cause an unwanted pronunciation change. Examples are words ending with the vowel eau (a French vowel with a fixed pronunciation: the Dutch oo), the vowel é (the fixed pronunciation is the Dutch ee), and the vowel eu (the fixed pronunciation is eu). These vowels do not need the apostrophe.
het bureau, de bureaus - the bureau, the bureaus
het niveau, de niveaus - the level, the levels
het cadeau, de cadeaus - the present, the presents
de biljartkeu, de biljartkeus - the billiard cue, the billiard cues
het milieu, de milieus - the environment, the environments
het comité, de comités - the committee, the committees
de coupé, de coupés - the compartment (of a train), the compartments (of a train)
The word douche (shower) is pronounced the French way having a silent e. We add s, because we are not looking for the ee sound in the plural, but for the e sound.
de douche, de douches - the shower, the showers

Vowels preceding an apostrophe are pronounced “long” and “clear”. That’s the main reason why the apostrophe is used.

  • The a in collega’s sounds like the Dutch aa.
  • The a in het gas (the gas in English) sounds like a.
  • The u in menu’s sounds like uu.
  • The u in de bus (the bus in English) sounds like u.

Irregular Plural Nouns

Sometimes, the last consonant of the singular word is not doubled when the plural word is made, although we would expect it to happen. This is often done to cause a pronunciation change.
de dag, de dagen - the day, the days
het dak, de daken - the roof, the roofs
het dal, de dalen - the valley, the vallies
de weg, de wegen - the road, the roads

In the following examples, it is far more clear that a vowel change occurs.
de koe, de koeien - the cow, the cows
het lid, de leden - the member, the members
het schip, de schepen - the ship, the ships
de stad, de steden - the city, the cities


In Dutch you can add a few letters to a noun to signify you talk about a small thing or person. Of course you can use the adjective klein (small) instead. Then we get:

het kleine boek - the small book
de kleine tafel - the little table

Diminutives are less formal. Add letters to the noun to make a diminutive.
het boekje - the small book
het gebakje - the little cake
het tafeltje - the little table

Diminutives are always het-nouns. They have suffixes like: je, tje, and sometimes etje or pje. The word jongen (boy) loses the letter n for some unknown reason, when the diminutive is made.
het jongetje - the little boy
het huisje - the small house
het bloemetje - the little flower
het boompje - the little tree

Add an extra s to make the plural diminutives.
de kluisjes - the little safes
de zakdoekjes - the little handkerchiefs

The use of diminutives is limited, because they do not fit in every context. And sometimes a diminutive does not simply mean the small version of a thing.
de jas - the coat
het jasje - the jacket
de telefoon - the telephone
het telefoontje - the telephone call, the little telephone
de auto - the car
de kleine auto - the small car
het speelgoedautootje - the toy car
het autootje - the little car (a toy most of the time)

If you have a small house or car, just say:
een klein huis - a small house
een kleine auto - a small car

Diminutives are used to disparage something, or as an understatement.
een foutje - a little mistake

Or to say that you cherish something or someone.
het kindje - the little child
het vrouwtje - the little woman

Sometimes, the large version (like “horlogeband”) does not exist.
het kladblaadje - the little scribbling sheet
het horlogebandje - the watch-string

The word meisje (girl) is not a diminutive. It is on the same level as jongen (boy).
het meisje - the girl
het kleine meisje - the little girl
jongens en meisjes - boys and girls

The genitive case of a noun

In these examples s is added to the name of a person. After the adapted name, the thing he owns is written down. This construction is called the genitive case.
Peters computer - Peter’s computer
De computer van Peter - Peter’s computer
Marco’s laptop - Marco’s laptop
Waar is Marco’s laptop? - Where is Marco’s laptop?

Compound Nouns

The Dutch language has many compound words. In English, these words are normally not joined together. The compound noun zeilboot (sailing boat) is a de-noun, because the last component, boot (boat), is a de-noun. (The word zeil is a het-noun, but that doesn’t matter.)
de boot - the boat
de zeilboot - the sailing boat

Another example:
de kraan - the tap
het water - the water
het kraanwater - the water from the faucet or tap.

The word het vierkant is an exception, possibly because its meaning is far enough away from the component kant.
vier - four
de kant - the side
het vierkant - the (mathematical) square
de waterkant - the waterside

Many compound words have an extra s between two joined words. Compare this to the genitive case described in the previous paragraph.
de bakker - the baker
de winkel - the shop
de bakkerswinkel - the bakery

If you don’t know the translation of a compound word, look for the letter after the s, if there is an s somewhere in the middle. Look up winkel (shop) in the dictionary, instead of looking up s + winkel first. For example, there are more than one hundred compound words beginning with arbeids. Words beginning with arbeid (labour) without an extra s are rare.
de arbeid - the labour
het loon - the wages
het arbeidsloon - the wages

Even for native speakers it can be hard to determine whether or not the s must be included or left out.
het water - the water
de nood - the distress
de watersnood - the inundation, the flooding

Often, compound words are made by joining two words together using en. In this case nen is added instead of en to guarantee the right pronunciation of the letter a.
de pan - the pan
de koek - the cake
de pannenkoek - the pancake

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