The Dutch people have a long-standing and well-deserved reputation for not caring very much about formality or politeness. Nonetheless, Dutch, like most European languages, has two forms of the pronoun 'you' denoting different levels of formality. In French, it's tu
; in German, it's du
; and in Dutch, it's jij
So when do you use which form? The rule of thumb is simple: jij
is for people with whom you're on a first-name basis, and u
for people with whom you're on a last-name basis and for strangers. Children are never called u
; teens sometimes are by young children who mistake them for adults. Adolescents (as in 18-25) are somewhat of a gray area; they're usually called jij
by strangers, but sometimes u
, depending on the context and on the attitude (and age) of the person addressing them. Either way, don't expect anyone to call you by your last name until you're in your late twenties.
For relatives, it varies from family to family. Anyone in your generation (siblings, cousins) or lower (children, nephews, nieces...) is always jij
. It's with those above you in the family tree (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles...) that it really gets interesting. Most Dutch children will call their parents jij
, but some who were raised more conservatively may use u
. And then there are those who call their parents jij
but their grandparents u
... To illustrate how this can vary, I address my grandmother (and all my other relatives) as jij
, but my cousins call her u
. Apparently, my aunt has different ideas on proper forms of address than my dad. Grandma herself doesn't care, by the way.
Dutch people speaking German may sometimes come across as impolite, because German often uses the formal Sie
in situations where jij
would be used in Dutch.
is an easy pronoun to learn: it's the same no matter how it's used, or whether it's singular or plural. (The associated possessive pronoun is uw
is... a bit more complicated.
You know how English personal pronouns have different forms depending on their role in a sentence? There's 'I' and 'me', 'he' and 'him', 'she' and 'her', 'we' and 'us', 'they' and 'them'... the odd man out is 'you', which remains 'you' no matter how you use it. In Dutch, jij
does have a second form, jou
Jij sloeg Willem.
You hit William. Willem sloeg jou.
William hit you.
The possessive pronoun is jouw
. And here's the catch: jij
all have the same "shortened" form, je
. Needless to say, this can be very confusing because you can't tell which of the three it is. The general rule is that you always use je
unless you want to emphasise that you're referring specifically to the person you're talking to:
Je doet het geweldig.
You're doing a great job. Jij doet het geweldig.
're doing a great job. (subtext: it's not your fault things are going downhill)
Er is post voor je.
There's mail for you. Er is post voor jou.
There's mail for you
. (subtext: of all people!)
Hoe is het met je vrouw?
How is your wife doing? Hoe is het met jouw vrouw?
How is your
wife doing? (subtext: we've just talked about mine)
These are only a few examples, and the subtext, of course, depends heavily on context, but you get the idea. Using jij
where you should use je
will make your Dutch sound very stilted and clumsy. Oh, and jij
are singular only. The plural form of all four is jullie
Moving on from the horrible, inconsistent mess of Dutch personal pronouns...
Like French, Dutch has no separate forms for addressing someone with or without his name: if you're talking to meneer Jansen
(Mr. Johnson), you call him meneer
(sir). The female version is mevrouw
are also used as polite words for 'man' and 'woman' when you're talking to a child compare English 'lady':
Vraag het maar aan die mevrouw daar.
Go ask that lady over there. Morgen komt er een meneer van het elektriciteitsbedrijf.
A man from the power company will come over tomorrow.
A more formal form of meneer
is de heer
('the gentleman'); this form is only used to refer to
someone, not to address
them. 'Dear Sir/Madam...' translates as Geachte heer, mevrouw...
; 'ladies and gentlemen' is dames en heren
In writing, the abbreviations dhr.
are often used:
-> de heer Jansen
-> meneer Jansen
-> Mr. Johnson mevr. Jansen
-> mevrouw Jansen
-> Ms. Johnson mw. Jansen
-> mevrouw Jansen
-> Ms. Johnson
The dimunitive forms meneertje
('little mister', 'little madam') are informal and very condescending. Calling someone meneertje
roughly says, 'I'm not taking you seriously because you're much less important than you think you are
says, 'I'm not taking you seriously because you're a woman.' Meneertje
is appropriate (if somewhat old-fashioned) when talking to a Bratty Half-Pint
; when talking to an adult, it will come off as a crude attempt to sound intimidating. Mevrouwtje
appropriate because of its sexist connotations.
There is no such thing as Ma'am Shock
in the Netherlands; although officially, we do still have a separate form of address for unmarried women (juffrouw
), it is very archaic, and using it will immediately mark you as behind the times (about five to six decades behind, to be specific), eccentric or, in some contexts, rude. Contrast this with French mademoiselle
and English 'miss', which are still widely used to refer to young and/or unmarried women.
survives, however, as the inofficial title for female primary-school teachers; when used this way, it is often shortened to juf
. Its Spear Counterpart
('master'). In primary school, you call the teacher by their first name. Thus, a woman named Iris Bakker will be called juf Iris
if she's a primary-school teacher, and mevrouw Bakker
if she's a secondary-school teacher. For her brother Hans, this would be meester Hans
and meneer Bakker
Oh, and we never use academic titles unless they're relevant to the matter at hand, and even then we use them sparingly. University students will address their teachers as meneer
rather than by their academic titles; an exception is sometimes (emphasis on "sometimes") made for professor
, but never for the "lesser" titles like doctor
(PhD) or doctorandus
Well, dames en heren
, that's all for tonight. Stay tuned for the third episode of MR:EDS!
edited 18th Jan '13 10:10:22 AM by MidnightRambler