Danish grammar

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Danish grammar is either the study of grammar in the Danish language, or the grammatical system itself in the Danish language.

Nouns[edit]

Inflections[edit]

There are two noun classes (genders) in Danish: common and neuter. All nouns are mostly arbitrarily divided into these two classes. The singular indefinite article (a/an in English) for common nouns is en and for neuter nouns is et. They are often informally called n-words and t-words.

En dreng. A boy.

Et fængsel. A jail.

Unlike English, singular definite nouns in Danish are rendered by placing the indefinite article as a suffix at the end of the noun.

Drengen. The boy.

Fængslet. The jail.

The articles and suffixes for plural nouns are more complex. The following table shows the various inflections of articles for regular Danish nouns in both noun classes.

Noun class Singular Plural Meaning
Indefinite Definite Indefinite Definite
Common en dreng
en sag
en kvinde
en ske
drengen
sagen
kvinden
skeen
drenge
sager
kvinder
skeer
drengene
sagerne
kvinderne
skeerne

"boy"
"case"
"woman"
"spoon"

Neuter et fængsel
et æble
et lyn
fængslet
æblet
lynet
fængsler
æbler
lyn
fængslerne
æblerne
lynene

"jail"
"apple"
"flash of lightning"

As the table above indicates, there is a certain degree of predictability of the plural form based on the gender and the number of syllables in a word. However, even among regular nouns, the choice between -er and -e for common gender nouns is not predictable in monosyllables and one can only generalize that borrowings tend to take -er. Furthermore, there are many irregular nouns, as exemplified below.

Note that if the final syllable ends in unstressed -e, -el, -en, or in some cases -er, the e will disappear if a grammatic ending starting with an e is added. E.g. the declension of "fængsel" above is quite regular. This is known as the Danish apocope.

There are many nouns with irregular plurals. Here are some typical examples:

Gender Singular Plural Meaning
Indefinite Definite Indefinite Definite
Common en mand
en bonde
en drink
en sten
en risiko
manden
bonden
drinken
stenen
risikoen
mænd
bønder
drinks
sten
risici
mændene
bønderne
drinksene
stenene
risiciene

"man"
"farmer"
"drink"
"stone"
"risk"

Neuter et barn
et hus
et våben
barnet
huset
våbnet
børn
huse
våben
børnene
husene
våbnene

"child"
"house"
"weapon"

Some have the "wrong" regular form, some have vowel change with or without a suffix, and some are foreign words using their native plurals. In all cases, it is only the plural indefinite that is irregular. Singular definite always just adds -en or -et. Plural definite adds -ne to the indefinite if it has a standard plural suffix, -ene if not.

Grammatical case[edit]

There are no case declensions in Danish nouns except (in a sense) the use of the genitive, which is normally applied as an -s ending, or simply with an apostrophe when the noun ends with an s already (also if the word ends in x or z). Pigens hus ("the girl's house"); et hus' beboere ("the inhabitants of a house"). Thus, one does not distinguish between persons and things in the genitive, as in English. The order of the genitive and the governed word is always the same as in English.

When the noun governed by the genitive can be considered part of the governing noun physically, the genitive is often replaced by a prepositional phrase, e.g. låget på spanden "the lid of the bucket", bagsiden af huset "the back of the house" rather than spandens låg, husets bagside, which are not incorrect but more formal.

Older case forms exist as relics in phrases like i live "alive" (liv = "life"), på tide "about time" (tid = "time"), på fode "on his foot" (fod = "foot"). Similarly, the genitive is used in certain fossilised prepositional phrases (with til "to"): til fods "on foot", til vands/søs "by water/sea", gå til hånde "assist" (hånde being an old genitive plural of hand "hånd", now replaced by hænder).

Articles[edit]

The indefinite article, en, et, is prepositive as in all European languages that have an indefinite article, and the origin of the word is the same as in the other Germanic languages, namely the numeral én, ét "one"[citation needed]. There is no indefinite article in the plural.

The definite article, -en, -et, -(e)ne, is postpositive as in the other Scandinavian languages save the West Jutlandic dialect of Danish, which has the prepositive æ (inflexible). The postpositive article probably comes from an old pronoun, Old Norse inn, "that", related to English yon and German jener[citation needed]. The point of departure may be expressions like ormr inn langi > ormrinn langi "the long worm". Yet, Danish only uses the postpositive article when the noun does not carry an attributive adjective or a genitive, while otherwise a prepositive den, det, de is used instead (whereas Norwegian uses the prepositive and the postpositive articles at the same time in such cases):

Indefinite article No article Definite article
Postpositive Prepositive
Common en hund
en stor hund
Lones hund
Lones store hund
hunden den store hund
Neuter et hus
et stort hus
Peters hus
Peters store hus
huset det store hus
Plural hunde
store hunde
huse
store huse
Lones hunde
Lones store hunde
Peters huse
Peters store huse
hundene
husene
de store hunde
de store huse

Pronouns[edit]

Nominative case Oblique case Possessive
Common Neuter Plural
Singular
First person jeg I mig me min my/mine mit mine I
Second person informal1) du (thou) dig (thee) din (thy/thine) dit dine you
polite1) De Dem Deres
Third person
(personal)
masculine han he ham him hans his he
feminine hun she hende her hendes her(s) she
Third person
(impersonal)
common den den dens it
neuter det it det it dets its
Reflexive2) - sig sin sit sine him, her, it
Plural
First person vi we os us vor3) vort3) vore3) we
vores our(s)
Second person informal1) I (ye) jer you jeres your(s) you (all)
polite1) De Dem Deres
Third person de they dem them deres their(s) they
Reflexive2) - sig deres

1) Since the 1970s, the polite form De (cf. German Sie) is no longer the normal form of addressing adult strangers. It is only used in formal letters or when addressing old people or members of the royal family. It is sometimes used by shop assistants and waiters to flatter their customers. As a general rule, one can use du almost in every situation without offending anyone.

2) The reflexive pronoun is used when the object or possessive is identical to the grammatical subject of the sentence: han slog sin kone ihjel "he killed his (own) wife" ~ han slog hans kone ihjel "he killed his (somebody else's) wife". It is also used when referring to the subject of an infinite nexus, e.g. an accusative with infinitive: Rødhætte bad jægeren hilse sin kone "Little Red Riding Hood asked the hunter to greet his wife", where sin refers to the hunter. This difference is often not observed by Jutlandic speakers.

3) Vores is the only form normally used in current spoken language; vor, vort and vore are more archaic, and perceived as formal or solemn.

Verbs[edit]

In Modern Danish the verb has nine[clarification needed] distinct forms, as shown in the chart below.

Non-finite forms
Active forms Passive forms
Infinitive (at) vente to wait/expect (at) ventes, (at) blive ventet to be expected
Verbal noun venten a waiting
Present participle ventende waiting/expecting
Past participle ventet waited/expected
Finite forms
Present tense venter wait(s)/expect(s) ventes, bliver ventet am/is/are expected
Past tense ventede waited/expected ventedes, blev ventet was/were expected
Imperative vent wait/expect bliv ventet be expected

Person and number[edit]

Verbs do not vary according to person or number: jeg venter, du venter, han, hun, den, det venter, vi venter, I venter, de venter. However, until the beginning of the twentieth century, it was normal to inflect the present tense in number in educated prose. There existed also a special plural form in the imperative. These forms are not used anymore, but can be found in older prose:

weak verbs strong verbs
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Present venter vente wait(s) tager tage take(s)
Past ventede ventede waited tog toge took
Imperative vent! venter! wait tag! tager! take

For example, Søger, saa skulle I finde "Seek, and ye shall find" (Matthew 7:7); in the 1992 translation Søg, så skal I finde.

Tenses[edit]

Like in other Germanic languages, the conjugation of verb tenses is divided into two groups: The first group, the so-called weak verbs, indicates the past tense by adding the suffixes -ede or -te. The second, called strong verbs, forms the past tense with a zero ending and, in most cases, certain vowel changes.

The future tense is formed with the modals verbs vil or skal and the infinitive, e.g. tror du, det vil regne, "do you think it's going to rain", vi skal nok komme igen i morgen, "we'll come again tomorrow". Often the present tense is also used as future, only with the addition of a time specification i morgen køber han en bil, "tomorrow he'll buy a car".

In the perfect, the word har ("have, has") is placed before the past participle: han har købt en bil, "he has bought a car". In certain words implying a movement, however, er ("am, are, is") is used instead: han er gået sin vej, "he has gone" (like German er ist gegangen or French il est allé). In such cases har is used for the activity, while er is used if the result is what is interesting. Han har rejst meget, "he has traveled a lot". Han er rejst, "he is gone", he is not here anymore.

Similarly, the pluperfect is formed with havde or var: han havde købt en bil, han var gået sin vej. NB. The perfect is used in many cases where English would have a simple preterite.

Moods[edit]

In Danish, there are two finite moods, indicative and imperative. Depending on interpretation, there may also be an optative.

  1. The indicative mood is used everywhere, unless the imperative or optative is required.
  2. The imperative is used in commands: "Kør langsomt!" (Drive slowly!), "Kom her!" (Come here!). (The imperative is the stem of the verb.)
  3. The optative is rare and used only in archaic or poetic constructions. It's probably more correct to describe these as elliptical constructions leaving out a modal and just retaining an infinitive, e.g. "Gud være lovet!" (God be praised!), "Kongen længe leve!" (Long live the king!) -- completely analogous to the English use).

In short, Danish morphology offers very little in moods. Just like English, Danish depends on tense and modals to express modes.

Example: Where a language with an explicit subjunctive mood (such as German, Latin, or Icelandic) would use that mood in hypothetical statements, Danish uses a strategy similar to that of English. Compare:

a. Real, or at least possibly real, situation in present time: Hvis Peter køber kage, laver Anne kaffe. "If Peter buys [some] cake, Anne makes coffee." Here, the present indicative is used.

b. Real, or at least possibly real, situation in past time: Hvis Peter købte kage, lavede Anne kaffe. "If Peter bought [some] cake, Anne made coffee." Here, the past indicative is used.

c. Unreal situation in present time: Hvis Peter købte kage, lavede Anne kaffe. "If Peter bought [some] cake, Anne made coffee." (Implying: But Peter doesn't actually buy any cake, so Anne doesn't make coffee—making the whole statement hypothetical.) Here, the past indicative is used.

d1. Unreal situation in past time: Hvis Peter havde købt kage, havde Anne lavet kaffe. "If Peter had bought [some] cake, Anne had made coffee." (Implying that Peter didn't actually buy any cake and so Anne didn't make coffee—making the whole statement hypothetical.) Here, the pluperfect indicative is used.

A language with a full subjunctive mood, the way it typically works in Indo-European languages, would translate cases a. and b. with indicative forms of the verb, and case c. and d. with subjunctive forms. In the hypothetical cases (c. and d.), Danish and English creates distance from reality by "moving the tense one step back". Although these sentences do work, however, it would be normal in Danish as well as in English, to further stress the irreality by adding a modal (which is actually why they're called modals: an important function of modals is to serve as auxiliaries in periphrastic sentences to express mood). So that, instead of either example c. or d1, Danish and English would add "ville/would" in the main sentence, creating what may be considered a periphrastic subjunctive:

d2. Unreal situation in past time: Hvis Peter havde købt kage, ville Anne have lavet kaffe. "If Peter had bought [some] cake, Anne would have made coffee."

(As will be seen from the examples, Danish, unlike English, switches from the normal subject-verb word order to verb-subject when a main clause follows a subordinate clause, but that's always the case and has nothing to do with the mood of the sentence. See V2 word order.)

Voice[edit]

Like the other Scandinavian languages, Danish has a special inflection for the passive voice with the suffix -s, which is historically a reduced enclitic form of the reflexive pronoun sig ("himself, herself, itself, themselves"), e.g. han kalder sig "he calls himself" > han kaldes "he is called".

Danish has a competing periphrastic form of the passive formed with the verb blive ("to remain, to become").

In addition to the proper passive constructions, the passive also denotes:

  1. a reciprocal form (only with the s-passive): Hans og Jørgen mødtes på gaden "John and George met on the street", vi ses på onsdag "we'll see each other on Wednesday", I må ikke slås "you must not fight" (literally "beat each other").
  2. an intransitive form (a lexicalised s-passive): der findes / fandtes mange grunde til at komme "there are / were many reasons why one should come" (literally: "are / were found").
  3. an impersonal form: der kæmpes / bliver kæmpet om pladserne "there was a struggle for the seats".

In the preterite, the periphrastic form is preferred in non-formal speech except in reciprocal and impersonal passives: de sås ofte "they often saw each other", der fandtes en lov imod det "there was a law against it" (but real passive: de blev set af politiet "they were seen by the police", der blev fundet en bombe "a bomb was found").

The s-form of the verb can also imply habitual or repetitive action, e.g. bilen vaskes "the car is washed" (regularly) vs. bilen bliver vasket "the car is (being) washed" (right now, soon, next week, etc.)

The s-passive of the perfect participle is regular in Swedish both in the real passive and in other functions, e.g. vårt företag har funnits sedan 1955 "our company has existed since 1955", bilen har setts ute på Stockholms gator "the car has been seen in the streets of S." In Danish, the real passive has only periphrastic forms in the perfect: bilen er blevet set ude på Stockholms gader. In the lexicalised and reciprocal passives, on the other hand, we find a combination of the verb have and the s-passive preterite: e.g. mødtes "have met", har fandtes "have existed" etc. (but strangely enough, the irregular har set(e)s "have seen each other" is much more common than har sås, which is considered substandard).

Present participles[edit]

The present participle is used to a much lesser extent than in English. The dangling participle, a characteristic feature of English, is not used in Danish. Instead Danish uses subordinate or coordinate clauses with a finite verb, e.g. eftersom han var konge, var det ham, der måtte bestemme, "Being the king, he had the last word". The present participle is used in two circumstances:

  1. as an attributive adjective: en dræbende tavshed, "a boring (lit. killing) silence", en galoperende inflation, "a runaway inflation", hendes rødmende kinder, "her blushing cheeks".
  2. adverbially with verbs of movement: han gik syngende ned ad gaden, "he walked down the street singing"

If the present participle carries an object or an adverb, the two words are normally treated as a compound orthographically and prosodically: et menneskeædende uhyre, "a man-eating monster", en hurtig(t)løbende bold, "a fast(-going) ball", fodbold- og kvindeelskende mænd, "men loving football and women".

Past participles[edit]

The past participle is used primarily in the periphrastic constructions of the passive (with blive) and the perfect (with være). It is often used in dangling constructions in the solemn prose style: Således oplyst(e) kan vi skride til afstemning, "Now being informed, we can take a vote", han tog, opfyldt af had til tyrannen, ivrig del i forberedelserne til revolutionen, "filled with hatred of the tyrant, he participated eagerly in the preparations for the revolution".

The past participle of the weak verbs has the ending -et or -t. The past participle of the strong verbs verbs originally had the ending -en, neuter -et, but the common form is now restricted to the use as an adjective (e.g. en bunden opgave), and it has not been preserved in all verbs. When it is combined with er and har to form passive and perfect constructions, the neuter form, which happens to be identical to the ending of the weak verbs, is used. In the Jutlandic dialects, -en is frequently used in such constructions.

As to the voice of the past participle, it is passive if the verb is transitive, and active if it is intransitive.

Infinitive and verbal nouns[edit]

The infinitive may be defined as a verb form that is equivalent to a noun syntactically. The Danish infinitive may be used as the subject or object of a verb like in English: at rejse er at leve "to travel is to live", jeg elsker at spise kartofler "I love to eat potatoes". Furthermore, the Danish infinitive may also be governed by a preposition (where English normally has the gerund): han tog livet af sig ved at springe ud af et vindue "he killed himself by jumping out of a window".

The infinitive normally has the marker at, pronounced ɑd̥ or in normal speech ʌ, thereby being homonymous with the conjunction og "and", with which it is sometimes confused in spelling. The bare infinitive is used after the modal verbs kunne, ville, skulle, måtte, turde, burde.

A rarer form is the verbal noun with the ending -en (not to be confused with the definite article) which is used when the infinitive carries a pronoun, an indefinite article or an adjective: hans evindelige skrigen var enerverende, "his never-ending crying was enervating", der var en løben og råben på gangene, "people ran and cried in the hall". This use has a connotation of something habitual and is often used in a negative sense. It is used in formal information like Henstillen af cykler forbudt, "It is prohibited to leave your bike here." Whereas the infinitive is accompanied with adjectives in the neuter (det er svært at flyve, "it is difficult to fly"), the verbal noun governs the common gender. Due to the rarity of this form, Danes often mistakenly write Henstilling af cykler forbudt (lit. "Recommendation of bikes prohibited") instead, using a more familiar word form.

Verbal nouns like viden "knowledge" (literally: "knowing") or kunnen "ability" (literally: "being able") have become lexicalised due to the influence of German (Wissen, Können). Like the proper verbal noun, these forms have no plural, and they cannot carry the definite article; so, when English has the knowledge, Danish must use a pronoun or a circumlocution: e.g. hans viden, denne viden, den viden man havde.

Danish has various suffixes for turning a verb into a real noun:

  • the suffix -(n)ing: hængning "hanging" (: hænge), samling "collection" (: samle). The suffix, which is still productive, is related to the German -(n)ung and the English -ing. The German type takes the feminine gender, and as one would expect, the Danish words take the common gender. The variant without -n- is used after stems ending in n, nd, r and consonant + l.
  • the suffix -else: bekræftelse "confirmation" (: bekræfte). The suffix, which is still productive, takes the common gender.
  • the suffix -sel: fængsel "jail" (: fange), fødsel "birth" (: føde"). The suffix is used to form both concrete nouns (in the neuter) and abstract nouns (in the common).
  • the verbal stem with no ending: fald "fall" (: falde), tab "loss" (: tabe), kast "throw" (: kaste), håb "hope" (: håbe). They are all neuter (contrary to the rule of German: der Fall).
  • the verbal stem with some change of vowel or consonant: gang "walk(ing)" (: ), stand "state" (: stå), sang "song" (: synge), dåb "baptism" (: døbe). They normally have the common gender.
  • the suffix -(e)st: fangst "catching" (: fange), ankomst "arrival" (: ankomme), hyldest "ovation" (: hylde). The type takes the common gender.
  • the suffix -tion, -sion: funktion "function" (: fungere), korrektion "correction" (: korrigere), eksplosion "explosion" (: eksplodere). This type is restricted to stems of Latin origin (which normally have the suffix -ere in the verbal forms, cf. German -ieren). They take the common gender.

Numerals[edit]

Overview[edit]

The Danish numbers are:

Number Cardinal numbers Ordinal numbers
Spelling Pronunciation Spelling Pronunciation
0 nul nulte
1 en : et [ˈeːˀn] : [ed̥] første [ˈfɶ(ɐ)sd̥ə]
2 to [ˈtˢoːˀ] anden : andet [ˈann̩] : [ˈanəð̪]
3 tre [ˈtˢʁaːˀ] tredje [ˈtˢʁað̪jəːˀ]
4 fire [ˈfiːɐ] fjerde [ˈfjɛːɐ]
5 fem [ˈfɛmˀ] femte [ˈfɛmd̥ə]
6 seks [ˈsɛɡ̊s] sjette [ˈɕɛːd̥ə]
7 syv [ˈsyʊ̯ˀ] syvende [ˈsyʊ̯ˀnə]
8 otte [ˈɔːd̥ə] ottende [ˈʌd̥nə]
9 ni [ˈniːˀ] niende [ˈniːˀnə]
10 ti [ˈtˢiːˀ] tiende [ˈtˢiːˀnə]
11 elleve [ˈɛlʋə] ellevte [ˈɛlfd̥ə]
12 tolv [ˈtˢʌlˀ] tolvte [ˈtˢʌld̥ə]
13 tretten [ˈtˢʁɑd̥n̩] trettende [ˈtˢʁɑd̥nə]
14 fjorten [ˈfjoɐ̯d̥n̩] fjortende [ˈfjoɐ̯d̥nə]
15 femten [ˈfɛmd̥n̩] femtende [ˈfɛmd̥nə]
16 seksten [ˈsajsd̥n̩] sekstende [ˈsajs(d̥)nə]
17 sytten [ˈsød̥n̩] syttende [ˈsød̥nə]
18 atten [ˈad̥n̩] attende [ˈad̥nə]
19 nitten [ˈned̥n̩] nittende [ˈned̥nə]
20 tyve [ˈtˢyːʊ] tyvende [ˈtˢyːʊ̯nə]
21 enogtyve [ˈeːˀnɐˌtˢyːʊ] enogtyvende [ˈeːˀnɐˌtˢyːʊ̯nə]
22 toogtyve [ˈtˢoːˀɐˌtˢyːʊ] toogtyvende [ˈtˢoːˀɐˌtˢyːʊ̯nə]
30 tredive [ˈtˢʁɑð̪ʋə] tredivte [ˈtˢʁɑð̪fd̥ə]
40 fyrre (arch. fyrretyve) [ˈfɶːɐ] ([ˈfɶːɐˌtˢyːʊ]) fyrretyvende [ˈfɶːɐˌtˢyːʊ̯nə]
50 halvtreds (arch. halvtredsindstyve) [halˈtˢʁas] ([halˈtˢʁasn̩sˌtˢyːʊ]) halvtredsindstyvende [halˈtˢʁasn̩sˌtˢyːʊ̯nə]
60 tres (arch. tresindstyve) [ˈtˢʁas] ([ˈtˢʁasn̩sˌtˢyːʊ]) tresindstyvende [ˈtˢʁasn̩sˌtˢyːʊ̯nə]
70 halvfjerds (arch. halvfjerdsindstyve) [halˈfjä(ɐ)s] ([halˈfjä(ɐ)sn̩sˌtˢyːʊ]) halvfjerdsindstyvende [halˈfjä(ɐ)sn̩sˌtˢyːʊ̯nə]
80 firs (arch. firsindstyve) [ˈfiɐ̯ˀs] ([ˈfiɐ̯ˀsn̩sˌtˢyːʊ]) firsindstyvende [ˈfiɐ̯ˀsn̩sˌtˢyːʊ̯nə]
90 halvfems (arch. halvfemsindstyve) [halˈfɛmˀs] ([halˈfɛmˀsn̩sˌtˢyːʊ]) halvfemsindstyvende [halˈfɛmˀsn̩sˌtˢyːʊ̯nə]
100 hundred(e), et hundred(e) [ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪(ð̪), (ˈed̥) ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪(ð̪)] hundrede, et hundrede [ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪(ð̪), (ˈed̥) ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪(ð̪)]
101 (et) hundred(e) (og) en [(ˈed̥) ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪ (ɐ) ˈeːˀn] (et) hundred(e) (og) første [(ˈed̥) ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪ (ɐ) ˈfɶ(ɐ)sd̥ə]
200 to hundred(e) [ˈtˢoːˀ ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪(ð̪)] to hundrede [ˈtˢoːˀ ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪(ð̪)]
1,000 tusind, et tusind [ˈtˢuːˀsn̩, ˈed̥ ˈtˢuːˀsn̩] tusinde, et tusinde [ˈtˢuːˀsnə, ˈed̥ ˈtˢuːˀsnə]
1,100 et tusind et hundred(e) [ˈed̥ ˈtˢuːˀsn̩ ˈed̥ ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪(ð̪)] et tusind et hundrede [ˈtˢuːˀsnə ˈed̥ ˈhun(ʁ)ɐð̪(ð̪)]
2,000 to tusind [ˈtˢoːˀ ˈtˢuːˀsn̩] to tusinde [ˈtˢoːˀ ˈtˢuːˀsnə]
1,000,000 en million, en million [ˈeːˀn mil(i)ˈjoːˀn] millonte [mil(i)ˈjoːˀnd̥ə]
2,000,000 to millioner [ˈtˢoːˀ mil(i)ˈjoːˀnɐ] to millonte [ˈtˢoːˀ mil(i)ˈjoːˀnd̥ə]
1,000,000,000 en milliard [ˈeːˀn mil(i)ˈjɑːˀd̥] milliardte [mil(i)ˈjɑːˀd̥ə]
2,000,000,000 to milliarder [ˈtˢoːˀ mil(i)ˈjɑːˀd̥ɐ] to milliardte [ˈtˢoːˀ mil(i)ˈjɑːˀd̥ə]

Vigesimal system[edit]

Counting above forty is in part based on a base 20 number system, called vigesimal: halvtred-s(inds-tyve) = 2½ x 20, tre-s(inds-tyve) = 3 x 20, halvfjerd-s(inds-tyve) = 3½ x 20, fir-s(inds-tyve) = 4 x 20, halvfem-s(inds-tyve) = 4½ x 20 (halvtredje, halvfjerde and halvfemte (lit. "halfthird", "halffourth" and halffifth") being old words for 2½, 3½ and 4½). This is unlike Swedish and Norwegian, both of which use a decimal system.

The word fyrre / fyrretyve = "40" does not belong to the vigesimal system. The optional second part of the word is not the number tyve, "20", but an old plural of ti, "ten" (like in English forty, German vierzig); the first part is a variant of the number fire, "four". Similarly, tredive is a compound of tre, "three", and a weakened form of the old plural of ti, "ten".

Vigesimal systems are known in several European languages: French, Breton, Welsh, Albanian, and Basque. Some scholars speculate that the system belongs to an "Old European" (i.e. pre-Indo-European) substratum, whereas others argue that the system is a recent innovation of the Middle Ages. See Vigesimal.

Sequence of numbers[edit]

The ones are placed before the tens with an intervening og ("and"): toogfyrre (42), seksoghalvfjers (76). The ones and the tens are placed after the hundreds with an optional og: to hundred (og) femoghalvfjers. This system is similar to that of German (zweiundvierzig, zwei Hundert fünfundsiebzig), but unlike that of Swedish (fyrtiotvå, tvåhundrasjuttiofem).

Adjectives and adverbs[edit]

Declension[edit]

There are three forms of the adjective in Danish:

  1. basic form or common, used with singular words of the common gender ("n-words").
    en billig bog, "a cheap book"; en stor dreng, "a big boy"
  2. t-form or neuter, used with singular words of the neuter gender ("t-words") and as an adverb.
    et billigt tæppe, "a cheap carpet"; et stort hus, "a big house"
    han bor billigt, "he has a low rent (lit. lives cheaply)"
  3. e-form or plural / definite, used in the plural and with a definite article, a pronoun or a genitive.
    den billige bog, "the cheap book"; hans store hus, "his big house"
    billige bøger, "cheap books"; store huse, "big houses"

Only words ending in a consonant take -e. Only words ending in a consonant or the vowels -i or -å take -t. Others are unchanged.

Agreement[edit]

The adjective must agree with the word that it qualifies in both gender and number. In accordance with most languages, but contrary to German, this is the general rule also when the adjective is used predicatively: huset er stort, "the house is big", or bøgerne er billige, "the books are cheap" (cf. German das Haus ist groß, die Bücher sind billig).

An exception to the rule of agreement are the superlative and, in regular prose, the past participle when used in the verbal meaning (e.g. børnene er sluppet løs, "the children have been let out", but børnene er løsslupne, "the children are unrestrained").

Definite form[edit]

The definite e-form is historically identical to the so-called weak declension of the Germanic adjective, cf. German ein großes Haus, "a big house" ~ das große Haus, "the big house". But whereas the German definite form is not used after a genitive (Peters großes Haus) or the endingless forms of the possessive and indefinite pronouns (mein, kein großes Haus), and conversely, it is used after the indefinite pronoun in the forms that have an ending (meinem, keinem großen Haus = dem großen Haus), the Danish definite form is used in all instances after any determiner save the indefinite article:

Singular Plural
Indefinite form Definite form Indefinite form Definite form
en billig bog
bogen er billig
Lones billige bog
hendes billige bog
min billige bog
den billige bog
billige bøger
bøgerne er billige
Lones billige bøger
hendes billige bøger
mine billige bøger
de billige bøger
et stort hus
huset er stort
Peters store hus
hans store hus
mit store hus
det store hus
store huse
husene er store
Peters store huse
hans store huse
mine store huse
de store huse
basic form
t-form
e-form

Three degrees of comparison[edit]

The Danish adjectives and adverbs are inflected according to the three degrees of comparison. The comparative has the ending -ere (sometimes -re) and the superlative has the ending -st (sometimes -est): e.g. hurtig, hurtigere, hurtigst, "quick, -er, -est"; fræk, frækkere, frækkest, "impertinent, audacious"; lang, længere, længst (with umlaut), "long, -er, -est". The choice between -st and -est is determined by the syllable structure (to avoid uncomfortable consonant clusters), whereas the variant -re is used only in a few frequent comparatives.

In many cases, especially in longer words and words of a Latin or Greek origin, the comparative and superlative are formed with the adverbs mere and mest instead: e.g. intelligent, mere intelligent, mest intelligent.

The comparative is inflexible, and it is not used with the definite article (in which case Danish uses the superlative instead). The conjunction of comparison is end, "than".

The superlative is inflected like the positive (the t-form being identical to the n-form); længst, længste. When used as a predicate, the basic form is used instead of the e-form: hans ben er længst, "his legs are the longest".

Irregularities[edit]

The inflection of some adjectives is irregular:

  • Ny (new) and fri (free) take -t and optionally -e, even though they end in vowels.
  • Several common adjectives with the suffix -s (historically the ending of the genitive) are inflexible, e.g. fælles, "common" (: fælle, "fellow"); ens, "identical" (: en "one"); træls, "annoying" (: træl, "slave") (one also hears trælst, trælse).
  • Adjectives with the very common -sk ending are special. If they are polysyllabic or refer to a country, geographic area or ethnic group, they never take -t. Et klassisk stykke (a classical piece), et svensk hus (a Swedish house). Otherwise the -t is optional. Et friskt pust, or et frisk pust (a breath of fresh air).
  • Some words never take the t-ending: stems ending in another -t (e.g. mat, "weak"; sort, "black") stems ending in -et (-ed) [-əð̪] (e.g. tobenet, "biped"; elsket, "loved"; fremmed, "foreign").
  • The t-form sometimes undergoes phonetical changes that are not reflected orthographically, especially shortening of the preceding vowel or assimilation of a preceding consonant: e.g. god [ɡ̊oːˀ(ð̪)] : godt [ɡ̊ʌd̥]; ny [nyːˀ] : nyt [nyd̥]; syg [syːˀ(j)] : sygt [syɡ̊d̥]. The adjectives ending in -en (originally past participles of the strong verbs) have either -ent [-ənd̥] or -et [-əð̪] in the t-form: e.g. et sunke(n)t skib, "a sunken ship"; et give(n)t antal, "a given number" (the choice is often a matter of style or tradition).
  • Adjectives in -vis have an optional -t in the t-form: et gradvis(t) salg, "a phased sale".
  • Some adverbs may be formed with the basic form instead of the t-form, especially those ending in -ig and -lig -vis: det forstår han selvfølgelig ikke, "of course, he doesn't understand"; The t-less form of such adverbs is obligatory when the adverb is isolated (i.e. with no corresponding adjective) or the meaning of the adverb is essentially different from that of the adjective (e.g. endelig, "finally, at last" ~ endeligt, "definitively"). In other cases, the t-less form is preferred when the adverb qualifies an adjective (e.g. væsentlig(t) større, considerably larger").
  • The comparative and superlative of some frequent adjectives have umlaut: e.g. lang, længere, længst, "long, longer, longest"; ung, yngre, yngst, "young, younger, youngest; stor, større, størst, "big, bigger, biggest.
  • One adjective is suppletive: lille, "little, small" (n- and t-form and definite e-form) ~ små (plural e-form), småt (adverb t-form). Six adjectives are suppletive in the three degrees of comparison: god, bedre, bedst, "good, better, best"; dårlig, værre, værst, "bad, worse, worst"; gammel, ældre, ældst, "old, older, oldest", mange, flere, flest; "many, more, most"; megen/-et, mere, mest, "much, more, most"; lille / lidt, mindre, mindst "little, less / smaller, least / smallest". Irregular, but not suppletive are få, færre, færrest, "few, fewer, fewest" and nær, nærmere, nærmest, "close, closer, closest".

References[edit]

  • Tom Lundskær-Nielsen & Philip Holmes, Danish. A Comprehensive Grammar, 2nd ed. 2010, Routledge, London & New York