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Articles introduce noun phrases, preceding the noun either directly or with additional attributive elements in between. An example is een in een (klein) kinda (little) child. As in English, Dutch has definite and indefinite articles. The indefinite article has only one form: een/ən/a. This is a singular article - Dutch does not use indefinite articles with plural nouns and does not have a form for this use. The definite article has two forms in the singular and one in the plural. Of the two singular forms, de/də/DEF.SG.Cthe is used with common gender nouns, het/ət/DEF.SG.Nthe with neuter gender nouns (the stressed variant /hɛt/ is only used in special circumstances). The plural form, which is used for both genders, is identical to the common gender singular, de/də/.

Generally speaking, definite articles are used when the referent of the noun phrase is identifiable, as in het huisthe house where the speaker can infer from the discourse or from extralinguistic knowledge, which house is intended. The indefinite article is used for referents that remain unidentifiable, as in een huisa house.

The syntactic rules that determine when articles are used or left out are discussed in depth here (see also here).

[+] Forms

In order to describe the morphology of the article, three features are needed: definiteness, number and gender. However, not all forms are available or distinct. The full paradigm shows the amount of syncretism:

Table 1
Definite Indefinite
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Common de de een -
Neuter het de een -
There is a gap in the paradigm: Dutch does not have a plural indefinite article. In indefinite contexts, nouns are used without articles: een huisa house - huizenhouses.

Definite articles agree with their nouns in number and gender. Standard Dutch has two genders, common and neuter (read more on Gender). As is the case everywhere in the language, there is no gender distinction in the plural, so the plural definite article is invariant.

[show extra information]

In present-day Dutch, gender/number agreement between article and noun is restricted to the definite article. From synchronic and diachronic varieties of Dutch we know that this asymmetry is due to the reduction of inflectional morphology, which has removed the formal markers from the indefinite articles. In conservative dialects and in historical texts, gender agreement for indefinite articles is widely attested. In Southern Limburgian dialects, for example, een broekINDF.F.SG trousers(F)SGa pair of trousers contrasts with ene rokINDF.M.SG skirt(M)SGa skirt (Gaston Dorren, personal communication). Note that Limburgian still maintains the distinction between masculine and feminine gender which is obsolete in Standard Dutch (see here for more information about gender).

Dutch articles no longer distinguish case. Historical forms that show case marking have survived in fixed expressions, for example the genitive form des in des huizesof the house (with former masculine or neuter nouns) or the dative form den in op den duur in the long run (with feminine nouns). Some of these forms have merged into one word that is no longer recognized as complex, e.g. desnoodsdes-nood-sDEF.SG.M.GEN-need(M)-GEN.SGif need be. For more information about case forms, see here.

[+] Use

Whether a noun is used with or without an article depends primarily on the syntactic context (see also here). In noun phrases with an article, indefinite articles are used for unknown referents, definite articles for known referents (but see here for a much more detailed description of the meaning differences between the articles). Thus, we can contrast (1a) and (1b), in which (1a) is probably about the family pet, while the cat in (1b) is an unfamiliar animal.

Example 1

a. In de mand ligt de kat.
In the basket there is the cat
b. In de mand ligt een kat.
In the basket there is a cat

The referents of indefinite articles can be specific or unspecific. Thus, the phrase een miljonair in (2) can be read as 'a specific millionaire' or 'any millionaire'.

Example 2

Loes wil met een miljonair trouwen.
Loes wants to marry a millionaire

Despite their differences, both the definite and the indefinite article can be used for generic statements such as in (3) (a third option would be to use a plural noun without an article).

Example 3

a. De zebra heeft strepen.
The zebra has stripes.
b. Een zebra heeft strepen.
A zebra has stripes

The common gender definite article de has a special use in superlatives, as in (4).

Example 4

Zij is de mooiste.
She is the most beautiful one.

Stressed forms of articles are rare, a special usage that requires stress on articles is illustrated in (5).

Example 5

a. Dit is hét adres voor wijn.
This is the best possible place for wine.
b. Hij is dé man voor de tuin.
He's the best possible man for the garden.
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