Dutch has three genders, which are hidden from the learner in that the definite article for two genders is "de", and the indefinite "een" for all genders. However, they are important as one would refer to a spectacle as "he" and to the car as "she" (+ possessive pronouns).

Even in dictionaries it's pretty often not to find any info on the actual gender of the word. This is in contrast to German, where in basic article forms one can see this distinction. So basically, in German one can just learn "der Tisch" and "die Brille", using the articles as a shortcut for learning the gender. Or the respective article ending, i.e. -s, -r, -e. But in Dutch, it's not possible. Any ideas?

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    This is a very interesting but also a complex question. There are a few rules (based on endings) but they don't cover the entire lexicon, as far as I know. (I am a native speaker of Dutch.) I have found a few relevant web pages, but they are woefully incomplete. I'm doing some research now, which I will post on my website and summarise here. (The complete results would be too long to post as an answer.) Check back later :-) – Tsundoku Sep 15 '19 at 19:04
  • Hint: new Dutch language proposal on Area51. – Tsundoku Aug 25 at 14:12

There are a few rules that you can use (similar to German) but they don't cover all nouns. Websites about learning Dutch as a foreign languages sometimes list of few of these, but all of these listings are very incomplete. Below is a sample from longer list that I compiled on my website:

The following categories of nouns are neuter:

  • diminutive forms, e.g. het meisje, het mannetje, het huisje, het koekje;
  • substantivised infinitives, e.g. het eten, het praten;
  • words ending with "um" (as in Latin): e.g. het centrum, het colloquium, het museum (exception: de datum is masculine);
  • words ending with "isme", e.g. het alcoholisme, het anglicisme, het socialisme;
  • nouns ending with "ma", e.g. het schema (exception: cinema is masculine);
  • nouns ending with "ment", e.g. het document;
  • names of languages and dialects, e.g. het Duits, het Engels, het Frans;
  • names of places, i.e. towns, cities, countries, provinces and continents (e.g. "het Europa van morgen").

The following categories of nouns are masculine:

  • male persons and animals, e.g. man, vader, zoon, hengst, stier; (this excludes the diminutive forms listed above);
  • all compounds based on words that can only refer to men, e.g. brandweerman, ploegbaas, regelneef;
  • substantivised verb stems (as opposed to substantivised infinitives, which are neuter), e.g. dank, groei, slaap;
  • nouns for persons ending with "aar" (often names for occupations), e.g. ambtenaar, handelaar;
  • nouns ending with "aris" (usually occupations), e.g. bibliothecaris;
  • nouns for persons ending with "er" and derived from a verb stem, e.g. lezer, danser, verkoper;
  • nouns for persons ending with "ist", "loog", "maan", "noom" "teur", "eur" or "ier", e.g. economist, psycholoog, bibliomaan, econoom, acteur, gouverneur, tuinier, dictator.

The following categories of nouns are feminine:

  • female persons and animals, e.g. vrouw, moeder, merrie, hen;
  • nouns ending with certain native suffixes, including "heid", "ing", "erij", "arij", e.g. eenzaamheid, vergadering, bakkerij, bedelarij;
  • nouns ending with certain foreign suffixes, including "teit", "ente", "euse", "trice", "ica", "atie", "ogie", "suur", "theek", e.g. diversiteit, studente, souffleuse, actrice, grammatica, democratie, etymologie, censuur, bibliotheek;
  • occupations and other nouns for persons ending in "es(se)", e.g. lerares, secretaresse.

I have left out many categories from the above lists, namely those that have a few exceptions and those that have more than one gender (sometimes depending on meaning).

So here are a few tips:

  • In the Netherlands, you can treat most "de" words as having the "common gender" and pretend they are masculine. The exceptions are words referring to living beings that are biologically female.
  • For nouns that have more than one gender (often with a difference in meaning), the choice is usually between "de" and "het" (not between masculine or feminine "de"), so you need to learn the correct definite article with the corresponding meaning.
  • For those that fit into the three categories listed above, I recommend using a spaced repetitition system such as Anki. The front of the flashcard contains the concept you want to learn (typically as a word in your native language, a picture or a combination of these). This side of the card should not contain a hint for the word's grammatical gender in Dutch. The back of the flashcard then displays the Dutch noun with the correct article and the grammatical gender. If the word fits into one of the categories listed above, add a note to the card stating the applicable rule, for example, "all nouns on -heid are feminine".
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As of now, in Dutch as spoken in most of the Netherlands, really important is the juxtaposition of neuter (Het) and masculine genders. Female gender seems to be only used for a number of abstract nouns, most notably with the -eid suffix, and has even become a stylistic marker of elevated, sophisticated style - sometimes used hypercorrectively, where the masculine gender belonged. A new group of words appeared, used with both faminine and masculine articles (there's a list on wiki).

However, as I'm approaching Dutch from the German background, I'm going to experiment with memorizing Dutch genders using the archaic (and still used in Tussentaal) articles for the masculine, feminine and neuter such as

den de het

in Accusative, e.g. "den bril" or "het paard" or "den krokodil" or "de car".

My approach still needs to be tested empirically, I would also get more insight into the great statistical picture of gender distribution within different groups of words. My answer also definitely needs some expanding with a comprehensive list general rules with regard to genders in Dutch, and probably some notable deviatioons from rules as compared to German.

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  • "Den krokodil" heb ik nog nooit gehoord; "de car" bestat niet ("kar" begint met een "k"). Er zijn veel meer categorieën van vrouwelijke substantieven dan allenn maar woorden op "-eid". – Tsundoku Oct 21 '19 at 15:47
  • This was not my point. "Den krokodil" is here merely a shortcut to learning its gender. – Dan Oct 31 '19 at 23:13

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