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Lesson nr. 7

Dutch Plural Nouns

Although there are only two endings for nouns, the procedures for making them plural are straightforward, although spelling needs careful attention.

Most plural nouns are formed by adding either -en or -s. Remember that the definite article is always de before plural nouns.

1. -en (the n is pronounced softly) is added to most nouns, with a few spelling changes

boek - boeken book(s)
jas - jassen coat(s)
haar - haren hair(s)
huis - huizen house(s)

The ending -s This is used in the following cases: 

1 Words ending in unstressed -er, -el, -em, -en, -erd, and sometimes -aar.

  • de kamer - room - de kamers
  • de lepel - spoon - de lepels
  • de bezem - broom - de bezems

2. Words ending in the vowels a, o, u, i, y. An apostrophe is added. Also words ending in unstressed -e and -ie, no apostrophe is added. Lastly, loanwords ending in -é, again without the apostrophe, and other loanwords (film, telefoon, restaurant).

  • de agenda calendar de agenda’s
  • de auto car de auto’s
  • de baby baby de baby’s

3 All diminutives ending in -je (and -tje, -pje, -kje).

  • het tasje small bag de tasjes
  • het deurtje small door de deurtjes

4 Words for persons ending in -e, -ster, -ier, -eur and -or.

  • de dame lady de dames
  • de werkster cleaner de werksters

Of course, there are no rules without exceptions. Sometimes you might find two plural forms for a word, such as aardappels and aardappelen ‘potatoes’, wortels and wortelen ‘carrots’ or gedachtes and gedachten ‘thoughts’. In words for persons ending in -eur and -or, we often find two plural forms, for example in directeur–directeurs/directeuren ‘directors’, or in professor–professors/professoren ‘professors’. Other plural forms will contradict the rule, such as redenen instead of redens ‘reasons’ or wonderen instead of wonders ‘miracles’.

Irregular forms

Some nouns containing a short vowel do not double the following consonant in the plural before -en. The plural vowel is then pronounced as long.

bad - baden bath(s)
dag - dagen day(s)
spel - spelen game(s) (like the Olympics, smaller games are spellen)
glas - glazen glass(es)
weg - wegen road(s)

A few neuter nouns take the ending -eren (or -deren if the noun ends in -n)

blad - bladeren leaf (leaves)
kind - kinderen child(ren)
ei - eieren egg(s)
been - beenderen bone(s) [Note: been - benen leg(s)]
lied - liederen song(s)
volk - volkeren nation(s), people

Nouns ending in -heid have a plural in -heden.

mogelijkheid - mogelijkheden possibility (possibilities)

Some other common irregular plurals are:

stad - steden town(s)
schip - schepen ship(s)
lid - leden member(s)
koe - koeien cow(s)