Danish /ˈdeɪnɪʃ/ ( listen) (dansk
pronounced [ˈdanˀsɡ] ( listen); dansk sprog,
[ˈdanˀsɡ ˈsbʁɔwˀ]) is a North Germanic language spoken by
around six million people, principally in
Denmark and in the region of
Southern Schleswig in northern Germany, where it has minority language
status. Also, minor Danish-speaking communities are found in
Norway, Sweden, Spain, the United States, Canada, Brazil, and
Argentina. Due to immigration and language shift in urban areas,
around 15–20% of the population of
Greenland speak Danish as their
Along with the other North Germanic languages, Danish is a descendant
of Old Norse, the common language of the
Germanic peoples who lived in
Scandinavia during the Viking Era. Danish, together with Swedish,
derives from the East Norse dialect group, while the Middle Norwegian
language before the influence of Danish and Norwegian
classified as West Norse along with Faroese and Icelandic. A more
recent classification based on mutual intelligibility separates modern
spoken Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish as "mainland Scandinavian",
while Icelandic and Faroese are classified as "insular Scandinavian".
Until the 16th century, Danish was a continuum of dialects spoken from
Scania with no standard variety or spelling conventions.
Protestant Reformation and the introduction of printing, a
standard language was developed which was based on the educated
Copenhagen dialect. It spread through use in the education system and
administration, though German and Latin continued to be the most
important written languages well into the 17th century. Following the
loss of territory to
Germany and Sweden, a nationalist movement
adopted the language as a token of Danish identity, and the language
experienced a strong surge in use and popularity, with major works of
literature produced in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, traditional
Danish dialects have all but disappeared, though regional variants of
the standard language exist. The main differences in language are
between generations, with youth language being particularly
Danish has a very large vowel inventory comprising 27 phonemically
distinctive vowels, and its prosody is characterized by the
distinctive phenomenon stød, a kind of laryngeal phonation type. Due
to the many pronunciation differences that set apart Danish from its
neighboring languages, particularly the vowels, difficult prosody and
"weakly" pronounced consonants, it is sometimes considered to be a
difficult language to learn and understand, and some evidence shows
that small children are slower to acquire the phonological
distinctions of Danish. The grammar is moderately inflective with
strong (irregular) and weak (regular) conjugations and inflections.
Nouns and demonstrative pronouns distinguish common and neutral
gender. Like English, Danish only has remnants of a former case
system, particularly in the pronouns. Unlike English, it has lost all
person marking on verbs. Its syntax is V2 word order, with the finite
verb always occupying the second slot in the sentence.
1.1 Mutual intelligibility
2.1 Runic Danish: Dǫnsk tunga
2.2 Old/Middle Danish
2.3 Early Modern Danish
2.4 Standardized national language
3 Geographic distribution
6.1.6 Nominal compounds
6.2.1 Tense, Aspect, Mood, Voice
6.3.1 Main clauses
6.3.2 Subordinate clauses
Writing system and Alphabet
9 See also
10 Notes and references
12 External links
Danish and its relationship to other North
Germanic languages within
the Germanic branch of Indo-European
Danish is a Germanic language of the North Germanic branch. Other
names for this group are the Nordic or Scandinavian languages. Along
with Swedish, Danish descends from the Eastern dialects of the Old
Norse language; Danish and Swedish are also classified as East
Scandinavian or East Nordic languages.
Scandinavian languages are often considered a dialect continuum, where
no sharp dividing lines are seen between the different vernacular
Like Norwegian and Swedish, Danish was significantly influenced by Low
German in the Middle Ages, and has been influenced by English since
the turn of the 20th century.
Danish itself can be divided into three main dialect areas: West
Insular Danish (including the Standard variety),
and East Danish (including Bornholmian and Scanian). Under the view
that Scandinavian is a dialect continuum, East Danish can be
considered intermediary between Danish and Swedish, while Scanian can
be considered a Swedified East Danish dialect, and Bornholmsk is its
Danish is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Swedish.
Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can often understand
the others fairly well, though studies have shown that speakers of
Norwegian generally understand both Danish and Swedish far better than
Danes understand each other. Both Swedes and
understand Norwegian better than they understand each other's
languages. The reason Norwegian occupies a middle position in terms
of intelligibility is because of its shared border with Sweden
resulting in a similarity in pronunciation, combined with the long
tradition of having Danish as a written language which has led to
similarities in vocabulary. Among younger Danes, Copenhageners are
worse at understanding Swedish than
Danes from the provinces, and in
Danes are not as good at understanding the
neighboring languages as are Norwegian and Swedish youths.
Main article: History of Danish
The Danish philologist Johannes Brøndum-Nielsen divided the history
of Danish into a period from 800 AD to 1525 to be "Old Danish", which
he subdivided into "Runic Danish" (800-1100), Early Middle Danish
(1100-1350) and Late Middle Danish (1350-1525).
Runic Danish: Dǫnsk tunga
Main article: Old Norse
The approximate extent of
Old Norse and related languages in the early
Old West Norse dialect
Old East Norse
Old East Norse dialect
Germanic languages with which
Old Norse still
retained some mutual intelligibility
Móðir Dyggva var Drótt, dóttir Danps konungs, sonar Rígs er
fyrstr var konungr kallaðr á danska tungu.
"Dyggvi's mother was Drott, the daughter of king Danp, Ríg's son, who
was the first to be called king in the Danish tongue."
Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson
By the eighth century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia,
Proto-Norse, had undergone some changes and evolved into Old Norse.
This language was generally called the "Danish tongue" (Dǫnsk tunga),
or "Norse language" (Norrœnt mál). Norse was written in the runic
alphabet, first with the elder futhark and from the 9th century with
the younger futhark.
From the seventh century, the common Norse language began to undergo
changes that did not spread to all of Scandinavia, resulting in the
appearance of two dialect areas, Old West Norse (
Norway and Iceland)
Old East Norse
Old East Norse (
Denmark and Sweden). Most of the changes
separating East Norse from West Norse started as innovations in
Denmark, that spread through
Sweden and by maritime
contact to southern Norway. A change that separated Old East Norse
(Runic Swedish/Danish) from Old West Norse was the change of the
diphthong æi (Old West Norse ei) to the monophthong e, as in stæin
to sten. This is reflected in runic inscriptions where the older read
stain and the later stin. Also, a change of au as in dauðr into ø as
in døðr occurred. This change is shown in runic inscriptions as a
change from tauþr into tuþr. Moreover, the øy (Old West Norse ey)
diphthong changed into ø, as well, as in the
Old Norse word for
"island". This monophthongization started in Jutland and spread
eastward, having spread throughout
Denmark and most of
Through Danish conquest,
Old East Norse
Old East Norse was once widely spoken in the
northeast counties of England. Many words derived from Norse, such as
"gate" (gade) for street, still survive in Yorkshire, the East
Midlands and East Anglia, and parts of eastern England colonized by
Danish Vikings. The city of
York was once the Viking settlement of
Jorvik. Several other English words derive from Old East Norse, for
example "are" (er), "knife" (kniv), "husband" (husbond), and "egg"
(æg). The suffix "-by" for 'town' is common in place names in
Yorkshire and the east Midlands, for example Selby, Whitby, Derby, and
Grimsby. The word "dale" meaning valley is common in
Fangær man saar i hor seng mæth annæns mansz kunæ. oc kumær han
"If one catches someone in the whore-bed with another man's wife and
he comes away alive..."
Jutlandic Law, 1241 
In the medieval period, Danish emerged as a separate language from
Swedish. The main written language was Latin, and the few
Danish-language texts preserved from this period are written in the
Latin alphabet, although the runic alphabet seems to have lingered in
popular usage in some areas. The main text types written in this
period are laws, which were formulated in the vernacular language to
be accessible also to those who were not latinate. The
Scanian Law were written in vernacular Danish in the early-13th
century. Beginning in 1350, Danish began to be used as a language of
administration, and new types of literature began to be written in the
language, such as royal letters and testaments. The orthography in
this period was not standardized nor was the spoken language, and the
regional laws demonstrate the dialectal differences between the
regions in which they were written.
Throughout this period, Danish was in contact with Low German, and
Low German loan words were introduced in this period. With
Protestant Reformation in 1536, Danish also became the language of
religion, which sparked a new interest in using Danish as a literary
language. Also in this period, Danish began to take on the linguistic
traits that differentiate it from Swedish and Norwegian, such as the
stød, the voicing of many stop consonants, and the weakening of many
final vowels to /e/.
The first printed book in Danish dates from 1495, the Rimkrøniken
(Rhyming Chronicle), a history book told in rhymed verses. The
first complete translation of the
Bible in Danish, the
Christian II translated by Christiern Pedersen, was published in 1550.
Pedersen's orthographic choices set the de facto standard for
subsequent writing in Danish.
Early Modern Danish
Herrer og Narre have frit Sprog.
"Lords and jesters have free speech."
Peder Syv, proverbs
Following the first
Bible translation, the development of Danish as a
written language, and as a language of religion, administration, and
public discourse sped up. In the second half of the 17th century a
number of grammarians elaborated grammars of Danish, first among them
Rasmus Bartholin's 1657 Latin grammar De studio lingvæ danicæ; then
Laurids Olufsen Kock's 1660 grammar of the Zealand dialect Introductio
ad lingvam Danicam puta selandicam; and in 1685 the first Danish
grammar written in Danish, Den Danske Sprog-Kunst ("The Art of the
Danish Language") by Peder Syv. Significant authors from this period
are Thomas Kingo, poet and psalmist, and Leonora Christina Ulfeldt,
whose novel Jammersminde (Remembered Woes) is considered a literary
masterpiece. Orthography was still not standardized and the principles
for doing so were vigorously discussed among Danish philologists. The
Jens Pedersen Høysgaard was the first to give a detailed
Danish phonology and prosody, including a description of
the stød. In this period, scholars were also discussing whether it
was best to "write as one speaks" or to "speak as one writes",
including whether archaic grammatical forms that had fallen out of use
in the vernacular, such as the plural form of verbs, should be
conserved in writing (i.e. han er "he is" vs. de ere "they are").
The East Danish provinces were lost to
Sweden after the Treaty of
Brömsebro after which they were gradually Swedified; just as Norway
was politically severed from Denmark, beginning also a gradual end of
Danish influence on Norwegian (influence through the shared written
standard language remained). With the introduction of absolutism in
1660, the Danish state was further integrated, and the language of the
chancellery, a Zealandic variety with German and French influence,
became the de facto official standard language, especially in writing
- this was the original so-called rigsdansk ("Danish of the Realm").
Also beginning in the mid-18th century, the skarre-R, the uvular R
sound ([ʁ]), began spreading through Denmark, probably through
influence from Parisian French and German. It affected all of the
areas where Danish had been influential, including all of Denmark,
Southern Sweden, and coastal southern Norway.
In the 18th century, Danish philology was advanced by Rasmus Rask, who
pioneered the disciplines of comparative and historical linguistics,
and wrote the first English-language grammar of Danish. Literary
Danish flourished with the works of Ludvig Holberg, whose plays and
historical and scientific works laid the foundation for the Danish
literary canon. With the Danish colonization of
Greenland by Hans
Egede, Danish became the administrative and religious language there,
Iceland and the
Faroe Islands had the status of Danish colonies
with Danish as an official language until the mid-20th century.
Standardized national language
Moders navn er vort Hjertesprog,
kun løs er al fremmed Tale.
Det alene i mund og bog,
kan vække et folk af dvale.
"Mother's name is our hearts' tongue,
only idle is all foreign speech
It alone, in mouth or in book,
can rouse a people from sleep."
N.F.S. Grundtvig, "Modersmaalet"
Following the loss of
Schleswig to Germany, a sharp influx of German
speakers moved into the area, eventually outnumbering the Danish
speakers. The political loss of territory sparked a period of intense
nationalism in Denmark, coinciding with the so-called "Golden Age" of
Danish culture. Authors such as
N.F.S. Grundtvig emphasized the role
of language in creating national belonging. Some of the most cherished
Danish-language authors of this period are existential philosopher
Søren Kierkegaard and prolific fairy tale author Hans Christian
Andersen. The influence of popular literary role models, together
with increased requirements of education did much to strengthen the
Danish language, and also started a period of homogenization, whereby
Copenhagen standard language gradually displaced the regional
vernacular languages. After the
Schleswig referendum in 1920, a number
Danes remained as a minority within German territories.
Throughout the 19th century,
Danes emigrated, establishing small
expatriate communities in the Americas, particularly in the US,
Canada, and Argentina, where memory and some use of Danish remains
Language shift in the 19th century in southern Schleswig
After the occupation of
Germany in World War II, the 1948
orthography reform dropped the German-influenced rule of capitalizing
nouns, and introduced the letter Å/å. Three 20th-century Danish
authors have become
Nobel Prize laureates in Literature: Karl
Henrik Pontoppidan (joint recipients in 1917) and
Johannes V. Jensen (awarded 1944).
With the exclusive use of rigsdansk, the High Copenhagenian Standard,
in national broadcasting, the traditional dialects came under
increased pressure. In the 20th century, they have all but
disappeared, and the standard language has extended throughout the
country. Minor regional pronunciation variation of the standard
language, sometimes called regionssprog ("regional languages") remain,
and are in some cases vital. Today, the major varieties of Standard
Danish are High Copenhagenian, associated with elderly, well to-do,
and well educated people of the capital, and low-Copenhagenian
traditionally associated with the working class, but today adopted as
the prestige variety of the younger generations. Also in the
21st century the influence of immigration has had linguistic
consequences, such as the emergence of a so-called multiethnolect in
the urban areas, an immigrant Danish variety (also known as
Perkerdansk), combining elements of different immigrant languages such
as Arabic, Turkish, and Kurdish, as well as English and Danish.
Danish is the national language of
Denmark and one of two official
languages of the
Faroe Islands (alongside Faroese). Until 2009, it had
also been one of two official languages of
Greenlandic). Danish is widely spoken in
Greenland now as lingua
franca, and an unknown portion of the native Greenlandic population
has Danish as their first language; a large percentage of the native
Greenlandic population speaks Danish as a second language since its
introduction into the education system as a compulsory language in
1928. Danish was an official language in
Iceland until 1944, but is
today still widely used and is a mandatory subject in school taught as
a second foreign language after English.
Learn Danish banner in Flensburg, Germany, where it is an officially
recognized regional language
In addition, a noticeable community of Danish speakers is in Southern
Schleswig, the portion of
Germany bordering Denmark, where it is an
officially recognized regional language, just as German is north of
the border. Furthermore, Danish is one of the official languages of
European Union and one of the working languages of the Nordic
Council. Under the Nordic Language Convention, Danish-speaking
citizens of the Nordic countries have the opportunity to use their
native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic
countries without being liable for any interpretation or translation
The more widespread of the two varieties of written Norwegian,
Bokmål, is very close to Danish, because standard Danish was used as
the de facto administrative language until 1814.
Bokmål is based on
Danish, unlike the other variety of Norwegian, Nynorsk, which is based
on the Norwegian dialects, with
Old Norwegian as an important
No law stipulates an official language for Denmark, making Danish the
de facto language only. The Code of Civil Procedure does, however, lay
down Danish as the language of the courts. Since 1997, public
authorities have been obliged to observe the official spelling by way
of the Orthography Law. In the 21st century, discussions have been
held regarding creating a language law that would make Danish the
official language of Denmark.
Main article: Danish dialects
Map of Danish dialects
A map showing the distribution of stød in Danish dialects: Dialects
in the pink areas have stød, as in standard Danish, while those in
the green ones have tones, as in Swedish and Norwegian. Dialects in
the blue areas have (like Icelandic, German, and English) neither
stød nor tones.
The distribution of one, two, and three grammatical genders in Danish
dialects. In Zealand, the transition from three to two genders has
happened fairly recently. West of the red line, the definite article
goes before the word as in English or German; east of the line it
takes the form of a suffix.
Standard Danish (rigsdansk) is the language based on dialects spoken
in and around the capital, Copenhagen. Unlike Swedish and Norwegian,
Danish does not have more than one regional speech norm. More than 25%
of all Danish speakers live in the metropolitan area of the capital,
and most government agencies, institutions, and major businesses keep
their main offices in Copenhagen, which has resulted in a very
homogeneous national speech norm.
Danish dialects can be divided into the traditional dialects, which
differ from modern Standard Danish in both phonology and grammar, and
the Danish accents or regional languages, which are local varieties of
Standard language distinguished mostly by pronunciation and local
vocabulary colored by traditional dialects. Traditional dialects are
now mostly extinct in Denmark, with only the oldest generations still
Danish traditional dialects are divided into three main dialect areas:
Insular Danish (ømål), including dialects of the
Danish islands of
Zealand, Funen, Lolland, Falster, and Møn
Jutlandic (jysk), further divided in North, East, West, and South
Bornholmian (bornholmsk), the dialect of the island of Bornholm
Jutlandic is further divided into Southern
Jutlandic and Northern
Jutlandic, with Northern
Jutlandic subdivided into North
Insular Danish is divided into Zealand, Funen, Møn,
and Lolland-Falster dialect areas - each with addition internal
variation. The term "Eastern Danish" is occasionally used for
Bornholmian, but including the dialects of
Scania (particularly in a
historical context) -
Jutlandic dialect, Insular Danish, and
Bornholmian. Bornholmian is the only
Eastern Danish dialect spoken in
Denmark, since the other Eastern
Danish dialects were spoken in areas
Sweden and subsequently swedified.
Traditional dialects differ in phonology, grammar, and vocabulary from
standard Danish. Phonologically, one of the most diagnostic
differences is the presence or absence of stød. Four main
regional variants for the realization of stød are known: In
Southeastern Jutlandic, Southernmost Funen, Southern Langeland, and
Ærø, no stød is used, but instead a pitch accent. South of a line
(Danish: Stødgrænsen "The
Stød border") going through central South
Jutland, crossing Southern Funen and central Langeland and north of
Lolland-Falster, Møn, Southern Zealand and Bornholm,s neither stød
nor pitch accent exists. Most of Jutland and on Zealand use stød,
and in Zealandic traditional dialects and regional language, stød
occurs more often than in the standard language. In Zealand, the stød
line divides Southern Zealand (without stød), an area which used to
be directly under the Crown, from the rest of the Island that used to
be the property of various noble estates.
Grammatically, a dialectally significant feature is the number of
grammatical genders. Standard Danish has two genders and the definite
form of nouns is formed by the use of suffixes, while Western
Jutlandic has only one gender and the definite form of nouns uses an
article before the noun itself, in the same fashion as West Germanic
languages. The Bornholmian dialect has maintained to this day many
archaic features, such as a distinction between three grammatical
Insular Danish traditional dialects also conserved three
grammatical genders. By 1900, Zealand insular dialects had been
reduced to two genders under influence from the standard language, but
other Insular varieties, such as Funen dialect had not. Besides
using three genders, the old Insular or Funen dialect, could also use
personal pronouns (like he and she) in certain cases, particularly
referring to animals. A classic example in traditional Funen dialect
is the sentence: "Katti, han får unger", literally The cat, he is
having kittens, because cat is a masculine noun, thus is referred to
as han (he), even if it is female cat.
Main article: Danish phonology
The sound system of Danish is unusual among the world's languages,
particularly in its large vowel inventory and in the unusual prosody.
In informal or rapid speech, the language is prone to considerable
reduction of unstressed syllables, creating many vowel-less syllables
with syllabic consonants, as well as reduction of final consonants.
Furthermore, the language's prosody does not include many clues about
the sentence structure, unlike many other languages, making it
relatively more difficult to segment the speech flow into its
constituent elements. These factors taken together make Danish
pronunciation difficult to master for learners, and Danish children
are indicated to take slightly longer in learning to segment speech in
Although somewhat depending on analysis, most modern variants of
Danish distinguish 12 long vowels, 13 short vowels, and two schwa
vowels, /ə/ and /ɐ/ that only occur in unstressed syllables. This
gives a total of 27 different vowel phonemes - a very large number
among the world's languages. At least 19 different diphthongs also
occur, all with a short first vowel and the second segment being
either [i̯], [u̯], or [ɐ̯]. The table below shows the
approximate distribution of the vowels as given by Grønnum (1998) in
Modern Standard Danish, with the symbols used in IPA/Danish. Questions
of analysis may give a slightly different inventory, for example based
on whether r-colored vowels are considered distinct phonemes. Basbøll
(2005):50 gives 25 "full vowels", not counting the two unstressed
The consonant inventory is comparatively simple. Basbøll (2005:73)
distinguishes 16 non-syllabic consonant phonemes in Danish.
Many of these phonemes have quite different allophones in onset and
coda. Phonetically there is no voicing distinction among the stops,
rather the distinction is one of aspiration and fortis vs. lenis.
/p t k/ are aspirated in onset realized as [b̥ʰ, d̥ˢ, ɡ̊ʰ], but
not in coda. The pronunciation of t, [d̥ˢ], is in between a simple
aspirated [d̥ʰ] and a fully affricated [d̥s] as has happened in
German with many words that now contain z. The stops /b d g/ are
realized as [b̥, d̥, ɡ̊] in onset and as [b̥ ð̞ˠ̠, j/ʊ̯] in
coda. In syllable onset the phonemes /b d ɡ v j r/ are contoid
(having enough closure to produce friction), but in coda syllables
they become vocoids, with no audible friction making them phonetically
similar to vowels. For example, /v b/ is pronounced as a [w]-sound in
syllable coda e.g. /grav, løb/ ("grave, ran") are pronounced [grau̯,
[ʋ, ð] often have slight frication, but are usually pronounced as
approximants. Danish [ð] differs from the similar sound in English
and Icelandic, in that it is not a dental fricative but an alveolar
approximant which sounds like and is frequently mistaken for an [l]
(or [ɮ]) by second language learners.
The sound [ɕ] is found for example in the word /sjovˀ/ "fun"
pronounced [ɕɒu̯ˀ] and /tjalˀ/ "marijuana" pronounced [tɕalˀ].
Some analyses have posited it as a phoneme, but since it occurs only
after /s/ or /t/ and [j] doesn't occur after these phonemes, it can be
analyzed as an allophone of /j/, which is devoiced after voiceless
alveolar frication. This makes it unnecessary to postulate a
/ɕ/-phoneme in Danish.
In onset /r/ is realized as a uvu-pharyngeal approximant, [ʁ], but in
coda it is either realized as a non-syllabic low central vowel, [ɐ̯]
or simply coalesces with the preceding vowel. The phenomenon is
comparable to the r in German or in non-rhotic pronunciations of
English. The Danish pronunciation of /r/ as a so-called skarre-r
distinguishes the language from those varieties of Norwegian and
Swedish that use trilled [r].
Danish is characterized by a prosodic feature called stød (lit.
"thrust"). This is a form of laryngealization or creaky voice. Some
sources have described it as a glottal stop, but this is a very
infrequent realization, and today phoneticians consider it a phonation
type or a prosodic phenomenon. It has phonemic status, since it
serves as the sole distinguishing feature of words with different
meanings in minimal pairs such as bønder ("peasants") with stød,
versus bønner ("beans") without stød. The distribution of stød in
the vocabulary is related to the distribution of the common
Scandinavian pitch accents found in most dialects of Norwegian and
Stress is phonemic and distinguishes words such as billigst [ˈbilist]
"cheapest" and bilist [biˈlist] "car driver".
Main article: Danish grammar
Similarly to the case of English, modern
Danish grammar is the result
of a gradual change from a typical Indo-European dependent marking
pattern with a rich inflectional morphology and relatively free word
order, to a mostly analytic pattern with little inflection, a fairly
SVO word order and a complex syntax. Some traits typical of
Germanic languages persist in Danish, such as the distinction between
irregularly inflected strong stems inflected through ablaut (i.e.
changing the vowel of the stem, as in the pairs tager/tog
("takes/took") and fod/fødder ("foot/feet")) and weak stems inflected
through affixation (such as elsker/elskede "love/loved", bil/biler
"car/cars"). Vestiges of the Germanic case and gender system are found
in the pronoun system. Typically for an Indo-European language, Danish
follows accusative morphosyntactic alignment. Danish distinguishes at
least seven major word classes: verbs, nouns, numerals, adjectives,
adverbs, articles, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections and
Nouns are inflected for number (singular vs. plural) and definiteness,
and are classified into two grammatical genders. Only pronouns inflect
for case, and the previous genitive case has become an enclitic. A
distinctive feature of the Nordic languages, including Danish, is that
the definite articles, which also mark noun gender, have developed
into suffixes. Typically of
Germanic languages plurals are either
irregular or "strong" stems inflected through ablaut (i.e. changing
the vowel of the stem (e.g. fod/fødder "foot/feet", mand/mænd
"man/men") or "weak" stems inflected through affixation (e.g.
skib/skibe "ship/ships", kvinde/kvinder "woman/women").
Main article: Gender in Danish and Swedish
Standard Danish has two nominal genders: common and neuter; the common
gender arose as the historical feminine and masculine genders
conflated into a single category. Some traditional dialects retain a
three-way gender distinction, between masculine, feminine and neuter,
and some dialects of Jutland have a masculine/feminine contrast. While
the majority of Danish nouns (ca. 75%) have the common gender, and
neuter is often used for inanimate objects, the genders of nouns are
not generally predictable and must in most cases be memorized. The
gender of a noun determines the form of adjectives that modify it, and
the form of the definite suffixes. 
Danish regular plural patterns
Definiteness is marked by two mutually exclusive articles, a preposed
demonstrative article which occurs with nouns that are modified by an
adjective or a postposed enclitic. Neuter nouns take the clitic
-et, and common gender nouns take -en. Indefinite nouns take the
articles en (common gender) or et (neuter). Hence, the common gender
noun en mand "a man" (indefinite) has the definite form manden "the
man", whereas the neuter noun et hus "a house" (indefinite) has the
definite form, "the house" (definite) huset. 
Jeg så et hus
"I saw a house"
Definite with enclitic article:
Jeg så huset
"I saw the house"
Definite with preposed demonstrative article:
Jeg så det store hus
"I saw the big house"
The plural definite ending is -(e)ne (e.g. drenge "boys > drengene
"the boys" and piger "girls" > pigerne "the girls"), and nouns
ending in -ere lose the last -e before adding the -ne suffix (e.g.
danskere "Danes" > danskerne "the Danes"). When the noun is
modified by an adjective, the definiteness is marked by the definite
article den (common) or det (neuter) and the definite/plural form of
the adjective: den store mand "the big man", det store hus "the big
Danish irregular plurals
There are three different types of regular plurals: Class 1 forms the
plural with the suffix -er (indefinite) and -erne (definite), Class 2
with the suffix -e (indefinite) and -ene (definite.), and Class 3
takes no suffix for the plural indefinite form and -ene for the plural
Most irregular nouns take an ablaut plural (with a change in the stem
vowel), or combine ablaut stem-change with the suffix, and some have
unique plural forms. Unique forms may be inherited (e.g. the plural of
øje "eye", which is the old dual form øjne), or for loan words they
may be borrowed from the donor language (e.g. the word konto "account"
which is borrowed from Italian and uses the Italian masculine plural
form konti "accounts").
Possessive phrases are formed with the enclitic -s, for example min
fars hus "my father's house" where the noun far carries the possessive
enclitic. This is however not an example of genitive case marking,
because in the case of longer noun phrases the -s attaches to the last
word in the phrase, which need not be the head-noun or even a noun at
all. For example, the phrases kongen af Danmark's bolsjefabrik "the
king of Denmark's candy factory", or det er pigen Uffe bor sammen meds
datter "that is the daughter of the girl that Uffe lives with", where
the enclitic attaches to a stranded preposition.
Danish personal pronouns
1st p. sg.
2nd o. sg.
3rd p. sg.
1st p. pl.
2nd p. pl.
3rd p. pl
As does English, the Danish pronominal system retains a distinction
between subjective and oblique case. The subjective case form of
pronouns is used when pronouns occur as grammatical subject of a
sentence, and oblique forms are used for all non-subjective
occurrences including accusative, dative, predicative, comparative and
other types of constructions. The third person singular pronouns also
distinguish between and animate masculine (han "he"), animate feminine
(hun "she") forms, as well as inanimate neuter (det "it") and
inanimate common gender (den "it") 
Jeg kysser dig
"I kiss you"
du kysser mig
"you kiss me"
Possessive pronouns have independent and adjectival forms. The
adjectival form is used immediately preceding the possessed noun (det
er min hest "it is my horse"), whereas the independent possessive
pronoun is used in place of the possessed noun (den er min "it is
mine"). In the third person singular sin is used when the owner is
also the subject of the sentence, whereas hans ("his"), hendes (her)
and dens/dets "its" is used when the owner is different from the
Han tog sin hat
He took his (own) hat
Han tog hans hat
He took his hat (someone else's hat)
Like all Germanic languages, Danish forms compound nouns. These are
Danish orthography as one word, as in
kvindehåndboldlandsholdet, "the female national handball team". In
some cases, nouns are joined with an extra s, originally possessive in
function, like landsmand (from land, "country", and mand, "man",
meaning "compatriot"), but landmand (from same roots, meaning
"farmer"). Some words are joined with an extra e, like gæstebog (from
gæst and bog, meaning "guest book").
Danish verbs are morphologically simple, marking very few grammatical
categories. They do not mark person or number of subject, although the
marking of plural subjects was still used in writing as late as the
19th century. Verbs have a past, non-past and infinitive form, past
and present participle forms, and a passive, and an imperative.
Tense, Aspect, Mood, Voice
Verbs can be divided into two main classes, the strong/irregular verbs
and the regular/weak verbs. The regular verbs are also divided
into two classes, those that take the past suffix -te and those that
take the suffix -ede.
The infinitive always ends in a vowel, usually -e (pronounced [ə]),
infinitive forms are preceded by the article at (pronounced [ɒ]).
The non-past or present tense takes the suffix -r, except for a few
strong verbs that have irregular non-past forms. The past form does
not necessarily mark past tense, but also counterfactuality or
conditionality, and the non-past has many uses besides present tense
The present participle ends in -ende (e.g. løbende "running"), and
the past participle ends in -et (e.g. løbet "run"), -t (e.g. købt
"bought"). Additional composite tenses are constructed with auxiliary
verbs (e.g. at være "to be" and at have "to have") and participial
Hun er gået
"She has left"
Hun har gået
"She has walked"
Hun var gået
"She had left"
Hun blev siddende
She remained seated (lit. "she stayed sitting")
The passive form takes the suffix -s: avisen læses hver dag ("the
newspaper is read every day"). Another passive construction uses the
auxiliary verb at blive "to become": avisen bliver læst hver
The imperative mood is formed from the infinitive by removing the
Danish basic constituent order in simple sentences with both a subject
and an object is Subject-Verb-Object. However, Danish is also a V2
language, which means that the verb must always be the second
constituent of the sentence. Following the Danish grammarian Paul
Danish grammar tends to be analyzed as consisting of
slots or fields, and in which certain types of sentence material can
be moved to the pre-verbal (or "grounding") field to achieve different
pragmatic effects. Usually the sentence material occupying the
preverbal slot has to be pragmatically marked, usually either new
information or topics. There is no rule that subjects must occur in
the preverbal slot, but since subject and topic often coincide, they
often do. Therefore, whenever any sentence material that is not the
subject occurs in the preverbal position the subject is demoted to
postverbal position and the sentence order becomes VSO.
Peter (S) så (V) Jytte (O)
"Peter saw Jytte"
I går så (V) Peter (S) Jytte (O)
"Yesterday, Peter saw Jytte"
When there is no pragmatically marked constituents in the sentence to
take the preverbal slot (for example when all the information is new),
the slot has to take a dummy subject "der".
der kom en pige ind ad døren
there came a girl in through the door
"A girl came in the door"
Haberland (1994, p. 336) describes the basic order of sentence
constituents in main clauses as comprising the following 8 positions:
"And him Per hadn't given a thought in years"
Position 0 is not part of the sentence and can only contain sentential
connectors (such as conjunctions or interjections). Position 1 can
contain any sentence constituent. Position 2 can only contain the main
verb. Position 3 is the subject position, unless the subject is
fronted to occur in position 1. Position 4 can only contain light
adverbs and the negation. Position 5 is for non-finite verbs, such as
auxiliaries. Position 6 is the position of direct and indirect
objects, and position 7 is for heavy adverbial constituents.
Questions with wh-words are formed differently from yes/no questions.
In wh-questions the question word occupies the preverbal field,
regardless of whether its grammatical role is subject or object or
adverbial. In yes/no questions the preverbal field is empty, so that
the sentence begins with the verb.
hvem så hun?'
whom saw she
"whom did she see?"
så hun ham?
saw she him?
"did she see him?"
In subordinate clauses, the syntax differs from that of main clauses.
In the subordinate clause structure the verb is preceded by the
subject and any light adverbial material (e.g. negation).
Complement clauses begin with the particle at in the "connector
Han sagde at han ikke ville gå
he said that he not would go
"He said that he did not want to go"
Relative clauses are marked by the relative articles som or der which
occupy the preverbal slot:
Jeg kender en mand som bor i Helsingør
"I know a man who lives in Elsinore"
Danish label reading militærpoliti, "military police", on police
About 2000 of Danish non-compound words are derived from the Old Norse
language, and ultimately from Proto Indo-European. Of these 2000
words, 1200 are nouns, 500 are verbs, 180 are adjectives and the rest
belong to other word classes. Danish has also absorbed a
considerable number of loan words, most of which were borrowed from
Middle Low German
Middle Low German in the late medieval period. Out of the 500 most
frequently used Words in Danish, 100 are Medieval loans from Middle
Low German. In the 17th and 18th Centuries standard German and
Low German influence and in the 20th Century English
became the main supplier of loan words, especially after World War II.
Although many old Nordic words remain, some were replaced with
borrowed synonyms, as can be seen with æde (to eat) which became less
common when the
Low German spise came into fashion. As well as loan
words, new words are freely formed by compounding existing words. In
standard text in contemporary Danish,
Middle Low German
Middle Low German loans account
for about 16‒17% of the vocabulary, Graeco-Latin-loans 4‒8 %,
French 2‒4 % and English about 1%.
Danish and English are both Germanic languages, Danish a North
Germanic language descended from
Old Norse and English a West Germanic
language descended from Old English, and
Old Norse exerted a strong
Old English in the early medieval period. To see their
shared Germanic heritage, one merely has to note the many common words
that are very similar in the two languages. For example, commonly used
Danish nouns and prepositions such as have, over, under, for, give,
flag, salt, and kat are easily recognizable in their written form to
English speakers. Similarly, some other words are almost identical
to their Scottish equivalents, e.g., kirke (Scottish kirk, i.e.,
'church') or barn (Scottish bairn, i.e. 'child'). In addition, the
word by, meaning "village" or "town", occurs in many English
place-names, such as Whitby and Selby, as remnants of the Viking
occupation. During the latter period, English adopted "are", the third
person plural form of the verb "to be", as well as the corresponding
personal pronoun form "they" from contemporary Old Norse.
In the word forms of numbers above 20, the units are stated before the
tens, so 21 is rendered enogtyve, literally "one and twenty".
The numeral halvanden means 1½ (literally "half second", implying
"one plus half of the second one"). The numerals halvtredje (2½),
halvfjerde (3½) and halvfemte (4½) are obsolete, but still
implicitly used in the vigesimal system described below. Similarly,
the temporal designation klokken halv tre, literally "half three
o'clock", is half past two.
One peculiar feature of the
Danish language is the fact that numerals
50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 are (somewhat like the French numerals from 80
through 99) based on a vigesimal system, meaning that the score (20)
is used as a base unit in counting. Tres (short for tre-sinds-tyve,
"three times twenty") means 60, while 50 is halvtreds (short for
halvtredje-sinds-tyve, "half third times twenty", implying two score
plus half of the third score). The ending sindstyve meaning "times
twenty" is no longer included in cardinal numbers, but still used in
ordinal numbers. Thus, in modern Danish fifty-two is usually rendered
as tooghalvtreds from the now obsolete tooghalvtredsindstyve, whereas
52nd is either tooghalvtredsende or tooghalvtredsindstyvende. Twenty
is tyve (derived from old Danish tiughu, a haplology of tuttiughu,
meaning 'two tens'), while thirty is tredive (Old Danish
þrjatiughu, "three tens"), and forty is fyrre (
Old Danish fyritiughu,
"four tens" via fyrretyve. Thus, the suffix -tyve should be
understood as a plural of ti (10), though to modern
Danes tyve means
20, making it hard to explain why fyrretyve is 40 (four tens) and not
80 (four times twenty).
én / ét
three and twenty
three and 20th
four and thirty
four and 30th
five and forty (four tens)
five and four tens-th
six and [two score plus] half [of the] third (score)
six and [two score plus] half [of the] third score-th
seven and three (score)
seven and three score-th
eight and [three score plus] half [of the] fourth (score)
eight and [three score plus] half [of the] fourth score-th
nine and four (score)
nine and four score-th
[four score plus] half [of the] fifth (score)
[four score plus] half [of the] fifth score-th
For large numbers (one billion or larger), Danish uses the long scale,
so that the short scale billion (1,000,000,000) is called milliard,
and the short scale trillion (1,000,000,000,000) is billion.
Writing system and Alphabet
Main article: Danish orthography
Danish keyboard with keys for Æ, Ø, and Å.
The oldest preserved examples of written Danish (from the Iron and
Viking Ages) are in the Runic alphabet. The introduction of
Christianity also brought the
Latin script to Denmark, and at the end
High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages Runes had more or less been replaced by Latin
Danish orthography is highly conservative, still using most of the
conventions established in the 16th century. The spoken language
however has changed a lot since then, creating a severe gap between
the spoken and written languages.
Danish alphabet is similar to the English one, with three
additional letters: æ, ø, and å, which come at the end of the
alphabet, in that order. A spelling reform in 1948 introduced the
letter å, already in use in Norwegian and Swedish, into the Danish
alphabet to replace the digraph aa. The old usage still occurs in
some personal and geographical names (for example, the name of the
Aalborg is spelled with Aa following a decision by the City
Council in the 1970s and
Aarhus decided to go back to Aa in 2011).
When representing the å sound, aa is treated just like å in
alphabetical sorting, even though it looks like two letters. When the
letters are not available due to technical limitations (e.g., in
URLs), they are often replaced by ae (Æ, æ), oe or o (Ø, ø), and
aa (Å, å), respectively.
The same spelling reform changed the spelling of a few common words,
such as the past tense vilde (would), kunde (could) and skulde
(should), to their current forms of ville, kunne and skulle (making
them identical to the infinitives in writing, as they are in speech).
Modern Danish and Norwegian use the same alphabet, though spelling
differs slightly, particularly with the phonetic spelling of
loanwords; for example the spelling of station and garage in Danish
remains identical to other languages, whereas in Norwegian, they are
transliterated as stasjon and garasje.
Notes and references
Insular Danish at
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute
for the Science of Human History.
^ The Federal Ministry of the Interior of
Germany and Minorities in
Germany Archived 25 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 318.
^ a b Grønnum 2008a.
^ a b Bleses et al. 2008.
^ a b c d e f Torp 2006.
^ Rischel 2012, pp. 809-10.
^ a b Åkesson 2005.
^ Torp 2006, pp. 70-72.
^ Howe 1996.
^ Faarlund 1994, p. 38-41.
^ Faarlund 1994, p. 39.
^ Faarlund 1994, p. 41.
^ "Viking place names and language in England". Viking.no. Retrieved
^ Pedersen 1996, p. 220.
^ Pedersen 1996, pp. 219–21.
^ Pedersen 1996, pp. 221–224.
^ Torp 2006, pp. 57-58.
^ "Bog Museum (Book Museum)". Royal Danish Library. Archived from the
original on 21 December 2014.
^ Pedersen 1996, p. 225.
^ a b Pedersen 1996.
^ Torp 2006, p. 52.
^ Rischel 2012, p. 828.
^ Rischel 2012, p. 831.
^ a b c Pedersen 2003.
^ a b Kristiansen & Jørgensen 2003.
^ Quist, P. (2006). lavkøbenhavnsk. , at dialekt.ku.dk
^ Jacobsen 2003.
^ a b "Nordic language co-operation". Nordic Council. Retrieved 1
^ Rischel 2012, pp. 822-23.
^ Heltoft & Preisler 2007.
^ Kristiansen 1998.
Copenhagen University, Center for Dialect Research.
^ Nielsen 1959.
^ a b Prince 1924.
^ "danske dialekter Gyldendal - Den Store Danske" (in Danish).
Denstoredanske.dk. Retrieved 2013-09-22.
^ Sørensen 2011.
^ "Stød". University of Copenhagen, Center for Dialect Studies.
^ Ejskjær 1990.
^ Kroman 1980.
^ Arboe 2008.
^ "Navneordenes køn".
Copenhagen University, Center for Dialect
^ Grønnum 2008b.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 319.
^ a b c Haberland 1994, p. 320.
^ Basbøll 2005, p. 130.
^ Grønnum (2005:305–306)
^ Fischer-Jørgensen 1989.
^ Basbøll 2005, pp. 83-86.
^ Rischel 2012, p. 811.
^ Becker-Christensen 2010, p. 17.
^ Haberland 1994, pp. 323-331.
^ a b Haberland 1994, p. 323-324.
^ a b Rischel 2012, p. 813.
^ a b Lundskaer-Nielsen & Holmes 2015, p. 61-68.
^ note here that in Swedish and Norwegian the preposed and the
enclitic article occur together (e.g. det store huset), whereas in
Danish the enclitic article is replaced by the preposed demonstrative.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 330.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 325-326.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 326.
^ Lundskaer-Nielsen & Holmes 2015, p. 35-40.
^ Herslund 2001.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 325.
^ Lundskaer-Nielsen & Holmes 2015, p. 53-60.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 326-328.
^ Allan, Lundskaer-Nielsen & Holmes 2005, p. 63.
^ Bredsdorff 1958, pp. 83-85.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 331.
^ a b Haberland 1994, p. 332.
^ a b Haberland 1994, p. 333.
^ Rischel 2012, p. 814.
^ Becker-Christensen 2010, p. 24.
^ Diderichsen 1974.
^ a b Haberland 1994, p. 336.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 344.
^ Jensen 2011.
^ Haberland 1994, p. 345.
^ Haberland 1994, pp. 346-347.
^ a b Jervelund, Anita Ågerup (2008). "Antal arveord og låneord".
Dansk Sprognævns svarbase.
^ Bredsdorff 1958, pp. 6-10.
^ Ordbog over det danske sprog
^ (in Danish) Dansk sprognævn – De danske tal halvtreds, tres,
halvfjerds, firs og halvfems
^ Haberland 1994, p. 348.
^ a b Rischel 2012, p. 815.
^ Rischel 2012, p. 820.
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Ejskjær, I. (1990). "
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Danish edition of, the free encyclopedia
For a list of words relating to Danish language, see the Danish
language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikibooks has more on the topic of: Danish language
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Danish.
"Sproget.dk" (a website where you can find guidance, information and
answers to questions about the
Danish language and language matters in
Denmark (in Danish))
Southern Schleswig Danish
Insular Danish (ømål):
Eastern Danish (østdansk):
Standard Danish (rigsdansk)
Comparison of Norwegian and Danish
Languages of the Kingdom of Denmark
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See Also: Languages of the Faroe Islands
Part of the Kingdom of Denmark
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World War II
Rescue of the Danish Jews
Mountains and hills
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The unity of the Realm
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