Declining adjectives

In the Dutch language the adjective is declined. The rules are as follows:

1. Add an ‘e’ at the end in the case that:
a. The adjective goes with a plural form.
b. The article preceding the adjective is ‘de’ or ‘het’.
c. The adjective is preceded by the article ‘een’ while the noun has gender.

2. Add no ‘e’ in all other cases!

Confused? Let’s look at some examples that follow the rule numbering above.

Rule 1. Adding an ‘e’:
a. “De oude vrouwtjes zaten in de zon.”
(“The old ladies were sitting in the sun.” Literally: ‘sat in the sun’).

Here ‘vrouwtjes’ is plural, hence ‘oud’ becomes ‘oude’.

b. “De grote wolf verslond het kleine lammetje.”
(“The big wolf devoured the little lamb.”)

Both ‘wolf’ and ‘lammetje’ have a definite article, hence the adjectives ‘groot’ and ‘klein’ are declined.

c. “Het meisje heeft een leuke jurk aan.”
(“The girl is wearing a nice dress.”)

Here the article is indefinite, but ‘jurk’ has gender: ‘de jurk’. Therefore ‘leuk’ becomes ‘leuke’.

Rule 2. Adding no ‘e’:
“Het meisje heeft een leuk gezicht.”
(“The girl has a nice face.”)

Because ‘gezicht’ has no gender (‘het gezicht’) and the article is ‘een’, the adjective ‘leuk’ is not declined.

Of course there are exceptions, or what seem to be exceptions 😉

Exception 1. You will encounter the adjective ‘groot’ in undeclined form when it is used in the meaning of ‘great/grand’.

“André Hazes was een groot artiest.”
(“André Hazes was a great artist.”)

When you write “André Hazes was een grote artiest” (rule 1.c above), you mean to say that he was tall (which he wasn’t by the way 🙂 ).

Exception 2. When the adjective is a material, as a rule it ends in ‘-en’ in all of the following cases:
a. “Het gouden horloge.” : the golden watch.
b. “De ijzeren staaf.” : the iron bar.
c. “Een houten huis.” : a wooden house.
d. “De zilveren borden.”: the silver plates.

Read more about the famous Dutch singer “André Hazes” at (in Dutch)

10 thoughts on “Declining adjectives

  1. Yes it does mean that. The Dutch language has three genders: feminine, masculine and neuter. The Dutch translation of neuter is “onzijdig”, which literally translates to “unsidy/no sides”, hence “no gender”. This is formally incorrect though, since neuter is indeed a grammatical gender.

  2. Does 1c at the top mean “has neuter gender” or should be be “has no gender”?. Your site is great, (multi-thanks) but this adjective business always (I mean ALWAYS) confuses me.

  3. Hi Eddie – well it is confusing for us too 🙂
    In any case I’m thinking of rewriting this post and use “neuter gender” instead of “no gender”.
    Alternatively you can look at it this way: having gender implies “de” as an article. Neuter gender (or “no gender” as we incorrectly say) implies “het” as an article. So in 1c at the top I mean to say that when an indefinite article is used (“een”) but it concerns a noun that normally would have the definite article “de”, then the adjective ends in -e when declined. Example: “een leukE jurk”.
    Hope this helps 🙂

  4. I think there must be some other exceptions that don’t fit in your rule. When the word has a gender (is a “de” word), but has neither “de” or “een” in front, you still must add “e.” The opposite for “het” words (or neutral words). For example:
    Ik hou van koude koffie.
    Ik hou van koud water.

  5. My question has to do with adjective declination, but more to do with pronunciation.
    I know when you add “e” to the adjective, you have to preserve the vowel sound, so for example:
    If it is long, you do drop the vowel:
    groot = grote
    rood = rode
    leeg = lege
    If is short, you add a consonant:
    fris = frisse
    wit = witte
    dik = dikke
    After all that, here’s my question and I can’t find the answer ANYWHERE:
    What words like “ander”? I know that you write “andere” and not “anderre” (I don’t think double “r” even exists in dutch), but my question is this: Do you still pronounce the first e as “e” ( the “e” in andEre) and not “ee” or does the final “e” affect the pronunciation?
    What about “enkel” and “enkele”?
    Please help!

  6. A friend of mine explained a quick, and reasonably accurate way of deciding whether to add the “e” or not. He suggests that if there is no other way of indicating that the noun is neuter, then you don’t add the “e”.
    If it’s preceded by “het”, you know it’s neuter, so add an “e”. I think the same would apply if it were preceded by “dit” or “dat”. On the other hand, if a noun is preceded by “een”, “geen” or nothing at all (e.g. “heet water”), then there is nothing to indicate gender, so miss out the “e”.
    I don’t know if this is watertight, but it works quite well.
    It might be worth mentioning that an adjective after the noun never has an “e” – so “het water is heet”.

  7. @ Mixalhs
    Both e’s in ‘andere’ are pronounced the same and they are short. The same goes for the last twe e’s in enkele.
    Double rr’s do exist in Dutch, though. For example: Van verre.
    (from far away), sterren (stars), starre (inexorably, rigid)…

  8. >>>2. Add no ‘e’ in all other cases!
    Ik denk dat het gemakkelijker zou zijn als je het op die manier ging verklaren:
    1) Use the standard form of the adjective in question only when:
    The noun is preceded by ‘een’ AND it is neuter, eg:
    een aardig meisje (neuter); een boos kind (neuter).
    2) Add ‘e’ in all other cases.
    aardige meisjes, boze kinderen (plural)
    een aardige jongen (gendered)
    de aardige jongen (de, not een)
    het boze kind (het, not een)
    Ik vind het wel gemakkelijker, misschien vinden andere lezers dat ook?
    Groetjes uit Polen,

  9. I also think of it like friemelaar does. So much easier, but is there something missing from that rule?
    You do need to know that adjectives aren’t declined when they’re seperated from the noun (de vrouw is oud), but that’s it, isn’t it?

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