Personal pronouns are words such as I, me, your and it, words which are used to refer to a specific person or actor without having to mention them explicitly. Pronominal forms are a key element of all languages and must be learned early in one’s linguistic journey in order to communicate effectively. This article discusses Dutch personal pronouns and provides an overview of all key information.
The below table delineates the basic Dutch personal pronoun system:
|U||You (formal)||U||You (formal)|
|Jullie||You (plural)||Jullie||You (plural)|
For the most part, Dutch personal pronouns follow a similar pattern to English. They have the same distinctions for masculine, feminine and neuter and for first, second and third person. They also have the same distinctions for nominative and accusative, depending on whether the pronoun is used as subject or object of the clause.
Some Dutch pronouns have two versions as outlined in the table below:
These are generally interchangeable, but the first variant can be used for emphasis or when introducing the person for the first time. The exception is the ie variant of ‘he’, which can only be used in subordinate constructions, such as in subordinate clauses or in questions. It is usually marked with a dash in order to show that it is not a typical pronoun. This construction is very informal.
‘Is he coming?’
Ik ben bang dat-ie weg is.
‘I’m afraid he has gone’
The distinction between u en jij.
Both u and jij mean ‘you’ (singular), but u is the more formal variant. Theoretically, u is used when addressing people you do not know, or with clients or people in authority. However, Dutch culture is generally quite egalitarian and it rare to hear u in everyday speech. You might use it when interacting with a client, for example, but even then, this might only be restricted to the first interaction. By the end of the conversation, it is common to have switched to jij entirely. Young people tend always to use jij with each other.
The table below shows the possessive pronoun system of Dutch:
There are different forms of the first person possessive pronouns depending on whether it is singular or plural.
|Mijn huis||My house||Mijne huizen||My houses|
|Onze auto||Our car||Onze autos||Our cars|
|Ons paard||Our horse||Onze paarden||Our horses|
|Mijn potlood||My pencil||Mijne potloden||My pencils|
Where the noun is singular, the bare possessive pronoun is used, without any ending. Where the noun is plural, an –e ending is added to the pronoun.
Often, when you hear Dutch people speak English, you will notice that they will sometimes produce utterances such as ‘John his car’ or ‘Maria her hat’.
This is a direct transfer of a possessive construction that is commonly used in spoken Dutch.
Jan z’n fiets.
Tinneke d’r tuin.
In these examples, z’n is a contractions of zijn and d’r is a contraction of haar. Some Dutch learners of English understand the ‘s which marks possession is an abbreviation of his, as it is in the Dutch construction. So when they use the construction for feminine possessors, they use her, in Dutch haar.
The third person singular
The third person pronoun het is most commonly used for inanimate nouns, both in the nominative and accusative. It corresponds to English it.
Het is drie uur.
It is three o’ clock.
Ik heb het al gedaan.
I have already done it.
Het was echt leuk.
It was really good fun.
Hij (nominative) and hem (accusative) are most commonly used when the noun is masculine and animate. They correspond to English ‘he’ and ‘him’.
Hij is mijn stiefvader.
He is my stepfather.
Hij and hem can also be used when the noun is a common gender noun. In the accusative, it often takes the contracted form ‘m.
Ik kan mijn lamp niet vinden. Heb je‘m gezien?
‘I can’t find my lamp. Have you seen it?’
Ik vind je tafel echt leuk. Waar heb je hem gekocht?
‘I really like your table. Where did you buy it?’
Ik vond de oogschaduw mooi, maar hij was echt duur.
‘I really liked the eyeshadow, but it was very expensive.’
We generally can only use the feminine pronouns when referring to feminine animate nouns.
Zij is de nieuwe manager van de bedrijf.
‘She is the new manager of the company’.
However, there is a growing tendency to use feminine pronouns with certain collective nouns, which denote larger organisations. This is particularly the case for haar, meaning ‘her’.
De Commissie en haar personeel hebben een groot rol gespeeld.
‘The Commission and its (her) staff have played a big role’.
De vereniging heeft laten weten dat zij zich gesteund voelt door haar vrijwillgers.
‘The organisation has let it be known that it (she) feels supported by its (her) volunteers‘.
The distinction in grammatical gender between masculine and feminine has all but disappeared in the Dutch language. Both masculine and feminine nouns are denoted by the article de. Possessive pronouns zijn and haar should technically only be used with de words that were originally masculine and feminine, respectively, but this is no longer a meaningful distinction for most Dutch speakers.
It is increasingly common to find haar used with neuter het nouns, but grammar purists would consider this incorrect.
Het kabinet heeft haar plannen over studiefinanciering bekend gemaakt.
‘The cabinet has made its (her) plans for student financing known’.
The use of haar in this way has become so pervasive that it is sometimes known as the haar-ziekte, or the ‘her disease’.
Dutch Pronouns Grammar Challenge
This article has outlined the basic pronominal distinctions in Dutch. Now that you know the basics, why not give the Dutch pronoun grammar challenges a try? Practice using Dutch pronouns in actual sentences with Clozemaster!