The new spelling

Two Romanian
words for "a"

  Two Dutch words for "the"

In the 21st century, distinction between the two forms of definite article is diminishing in informal speech, a change impelled partly by the influence of young second-generation immigrants.

There is precedent for this shift in the Surinaams-Nederlands dialect and in Afrikaans, both of which have only one definite article.

The Dutch language employs two definite articles. De and het both mean the same thing - "the."

But the difference is consequential because each noun is paired with one article or the other, forever and everywhere. And there is a rule for making the distinction but it's based upon "gender" in a way that no such characteristic is unidentifiable in the features of the noun.

Semi-arbitrary gendering of nouns is not unusual. Much of Europe has a "gender" assignment that is not semantically logical. But there is often some relationship between the form of the word and its gender. In Dutch you can't tell whether a noun is masculine or feminine. And then, besides that, what really matters is whether it's either or neither.

The critical matter is whether or not the noun has a gender. There is a sense among the Dutch that they "just know" which lidwoord is correct. The grasp of usage is probably formed in childhood rote learning.

For the student, the foreigner, there is one general rule, not very elegant. You have to memorize each noun's definite article. There are some groups — for example, the names of animals, languages, and colors — within which the usage is consistent. But it's mostly a brute memorization task.