Danish orthography

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Danish orthography is the system and norms used for writing the Danish language, including spelling and punctuation.

Officially, the norms are set by the Danish language council through the publication of Retskrivningsordbogen.

Danish currently uses a 29-letter Latin-script alphabet, identical to the Norwegian alphabet, with an additional three letters: Æ, Ø and Å.


There were spelling reforms in 1872, 1889 (with some changes in 1892), and 1948. These spelling reforms were based in the decisions of the Nordic spelling conference of 1869, whose goal was to abolish spellings that are justified by neither phonetics nor etymology and to bring Danish and Swedish orthographies closer.

The reform of 1872 replaced the letter ⟨e⟩ by ⟨æ⟩ in some words (Eg> Æg, fegte> fægte, Hjelm> Hjælm; however, for words with ⟨je⟩ the change was reverted in 1889), abolished the distinction of the homophonous words Thing and Ting (however, the distinction between thi and ti was retained), replaced the letter ⟨q⟩ by ⟨k⟩ (Qvinde>Kvinde), deleted the silent ⟨e⟩ after vowels (faae>faa), abolished doubling of vowels to signify vowel length (Steen>Sten), replaced ⟨i⟩ by ⟨j⟩ after vowels (Vei>Vej), and introduced some smaller spelling changes. In some cases, spelling of loanwords was simplified, but in general the question of spelling loanwords was largely left undecided.[1]

In 1889, ⟨x⟩ was abolished from native words and most loanwords: Oxe>Okse, Exempel>Eksempel. The letter ⟨j⟩ was deleted from the combinations gje, gjæ, gjø, kje, kjæ, kjø: Kjøkken>Køkken. Additionally, spelling of loanwords was standardized. In some cases, simplified spellings were adopted (⟨c⟩ sounded ⟨k⟩ mostly becomes ⟨k⟩; ⟨ch, ph, rh, th⟩ in words of Greek origin are replaced by ⟨k, f, r, t⟩), but in many cases original spellings were retained.[2]

Danish formerly used both ⟨ø⟩ (in Fraktur) and ⟨ö⟩ (in Antiqua), though it was suggested to use ⟨ø⟩ for /ø/ and ⟨ö⟩ for /œ/, which was also sometimes employed.[3] The distinction between ⟨ø⟩ and ⟨ö⟩ was optionally allowed in 1872, recommended in 1889, but rejected in 1892, although the orthographic dictionaries continued to use ⟨ø⟩ and ⟨ö⟩ (collated as if they were the same letter) until 1918 and the book Folkehöjskolens Sangbog continued to use ⟨ø⟩ and ⟨ö⟩ in its editions as late as 1962.[4]

Earlier instead of ⟨aa⟩, ⟨å⟩ or a ligature of two ⟨a⟩ was also used.[3] In 1948 ⟨å⟩ was re-introduced or officially introduced in Danish, replacing ⟨aa⟩. The letter then came from the Swedish alphabet, where it has been in official use since the 18th century. The initial proposal was to place ⟨å⟩ first in the Danish alphabet, before ⟨a⟩. Its place as the last letter of the alphabet, as in Norwegian, was decided in 1955.[5] The former digraph ⟨aa⟩ still occurs in personal names and in Danish geographical names. However, in geographical names, ⟨å⟩ is allowed as an alternative spelling: Aabenraa or Åbenrå, Aalborg or Ålborg, Aarhus or Århus. ⟨aa⟩ remains in use as a transliteration, if the letter is not available for technical reasons. ⟨aa⟩ is treated like ⟨å⟩ in alphabetical sorting, not like two adjacent ⟨a⟩, meaning that while ⟨a⟩ is the first letter of the alphabet, ⟨aa⟩ is the last.

All nouns in Danish used to be capitalized, as in German. The reform of 1948 abolished the capitalization of all nouns.


The Danish alphabet is based upon the Latin alphabet and has consisted of the following 29 letters since 1980 when ⟨w⟩ was separated from ⟨v⟩.[6]

Letter Pronunciation Most common corresponding phonemes
A a [ˈɛˀ] /a/ or /aː/
B b [ˈpe̝ˀ] /b/
C c [ˈse̝ˀ] /k/ or /s/ (in foreign words)
D d [ˈte̝ˀ] /d/ or /ð/
E e [ˈe̝ˀ] /ə/, /eː/, /ɛ/ or /ɛː/
F f [ˈef] /f/
G g [ˈke̝ˀ] /ɡ/, /j/, /v/ or silent
H h [ˈhɔˀ] /h/, silent before other consonants
I i [ˈiˀ] /i/, /iː/ or /e/
J j [ˈjʌð] /j/
K k [ˈkʰɔˀ] /k/ or /ɡ/
L l [ˈel] /l/
M m [ˈem] /m/
N n [ˈen] /n/ or /ŋ/
O o [ˈoˀ] /o/, /oː/ or /ɔ/
P p [ˈpʰe̝ˀ] /p/ or /b/
Q q [ˈkʰuˀ] /k/
R r [ˈɛɐ̯] /ʁ/ or silent
S s [ˈes] /s/
T t [ˈtsʰe̝ˀ] /t/ or /d/
U u [ˈuˀ] /u/, /uː/ or /o/
V v [ˈve̝ˀ] /v/
W w [ˈtʌpl̩ˌve̝ˀ] /v/
X x [ˈeks] /ks/, /s/
Y y [ˈyˀ] /y/, /yː/ or /ø/
Z z [ˈset] /s/
Æ æ [ˈeˀ] /ɛ/ or /ɛː/
Ø ø [ˈøˀ] /ø/, /œ/, /øː/ or /œː/
Å å [ˈɔˀ] /ɔ/ or /ɔː/
  • /p, t, k/, /pʰ, tsʰ, kʰ/ and /ʁ/ are often transcribed with b, d, ɡ, p, t, k and r even though the first set is voiceless, the second one is aspirated and the rhotic is uvular, not alveolar.
  • In monomorphematic words, vowels are usually short before two or more consonants + ⟨e⟩.
  • Vowels are usually long before a single consonant + ⟨e⟩.
  • In two consecutive vowels the stressed vowel is always long and the unstressed is always short.

The letters ⟨c, q, w, x, z⟩ are not used in the spelling of native words. Therefore, the phonemic interpretation of letters in loanwords depends on the donating language. However, Danish tends to preserve the original spelling of loanwords. In particular, a ⟨c⟩ that represents /s/ is almost never transliterated to ⟨s⟩ in Danish, as would most often happen in Norwegian. Many words originally derived from Latin roots retain ⟨c⟩ in their Danish spelling, for example Norwegian sentrum vs Danish centrum. However, the letter ⟨c⟩ representing /kʰ/ is mostly normalized to ⟨k⟩. The letter ⟨q⟩ is used in a few loanwords like quiz (from English), but ⟨qu⟩ is normally replaced by ⟨kv⟩ in words from Latin (e.g. kvadrat) and by ⟨k⟩ in words from French (e.g. karantæne). ⟨x⟩ is normally replaced by ⟨ks⟩ in words from Latin, Greek, or French, e.g. eksempel, maksimal, tekst, heksagon, seksuel; but ⟨x⟩ is retained: 1) at the beginning of words of Greek origin, where it sounds /s/, e.g. xylograf, xylofon; 2) before ⟨c⟩ in words of Latin origin, e.g. excellent, excentrisk; 3) in chemical terms, e.g. oxalsyre, oxygen; 4) in loanwords from English, e.g. exitpoll, foxterrier, maxi, sex, taxi; 5) at the end of French loanwords, where it is silent, e.g. jaloux [ɕæˈlu]. The verb exe/ekse, derived from the name of the letter ⟨x⟩ itself, can be spelled either way. The letter ⟨x⟩ is also used instead of eks- in abbreviations: fx (for eksempel, also written f. eks.), hhx (højere handelseksamen), htx (højere teknisk eksamen).

The "foreign" letters also sometimes appear in the spelling of otherwise-indigenous family names. For example, many of the Danish families that use the surname Skov (literally: "Woods") spell it Schou. Also ⟨x⟩ has been restored in some geographical names: Nexø, Gladsaxe, Faxe.

The difference between the Dano-Norwegian and the Swedish alphabet is that Swedish uses. ä instead of æ, and ö instead of ø — similar to German. Also, the collating order for these three letters is different: Å, Ä, Ö.

In current Danish, ⟨w⟩ is recognized as a separate letter from ⟨v⟩. The transition was made in 1980[citation needed]; before that, ⟨w⟩ was considered to be a variation of ⟨v⟩ and words using it were alphabetized accordingly (e.g.: "Wales, Vallø, Washington, Wedellsborg, Vendsyssel"). The Danish version of the alphabet song still states that the alphabet has 28 letters; the last line reads otte-og-tyve skal der stå, i.e. "that makes twenty-eight". However, today the letter ⟨w⟩ is considered an official letter.


Standard Danish orthography has no compulsory diacritics, but allows the use of an acute accent for disambiguation. Most often, an accent on ⟨e⟩ marks a stressed syllable in one of a pair of homographs that have different stresses, for example en dreng (a boy) versus én dreng (one boy). It can also be part of the official spelling such as in allé (avenue) or idé (idea).

Less often, any vowel except å may be accented to indicate stress on a word, either to clarify the meaning of the sentence, or to ease the reading otherwise. For example: jeg stód op ("I was standing"), versus jeg stod óp ("I got out of bed"); hunden gør (det) ("the dog does (it)"), versus hunden gǿr ("the dog barks").[citation needed] Most often, however, such distinctions are made using typographical emphasis (italics, underlining) or simply left to the reader to infer from the context, and the use of accents in such cases may appear dated. A common context in which the explicit acute accent is preferred is to disambiguate en/et (a, indefinite article) and én/ét (one, numeral) in central places in official written materials such as advertising, where clarity is important.

Correspondence between sound and spelling[edit]

The following tables lists graphemes used in Danish and their pronunciations.

Letter or letter combination IPA Occurrence Examples
a [æ:] in open syllables tale, hale, gade
[æ] in closed syllables before d, t, n, l, s halv, dansk, flaske
[ɑ:] before or after r svare, rase, vare
[ɑ] before other consonants than d, t, n, l, s pakke, aften
af [ɑu] as first part of compound afrejse, aftale
aj [ɑj] Anywhere maj, fajance
au [ɔ] in words of French origin chausse, chauffør
[ɑu] in words of Greek or Latin origin august, auditorium
av [ɑu] at the end of a syllable hav, havn
b [p] anywhere barn, løbe, skib
c [kʰ] before the vowels a, o, u or consonants l, r cafe, creme
[s] before front vowels e, i, ø, y, æ center, cirkel, cykel
ch [ɕ] in loanwords chef, march
ci [ɕ] in loanwords social
d [t] 1) word initial, 2) between consonants (except l, n) or a diphthong and unstressed vowel, 3) word final after a consonant dag, byrde, arbejde, bygd
[ð] 1) syllable finally before [ə]; 2) after a stressed vowel before j, l, m, n, r; 3) word final after a vowel bade, bedre, smedje, mad
dd [ð] syllable final before [ə] sidde, fødder
ds [s] anywhere except if the s is the genitive morpheme plads, bedst
dt [t] anywhere midt, lidt
e [e:] in most words except the below cases se, leve
[ε:] in certain specific words sjette, der
[ε] in most words except the below cases endelig, mellem
[æ] before or after r rest, herre
[i] only in the pronouns de (they), De (you, polite form)
[ə] when unstressed give, gade
eg [ɑj] after n, l or word finally negl, regn, leg
f f anywhere except in af
g [k] word or syllable initial
[j] syllable final or before schwa-vowel
[ʃ] in loanwords
h h anywhere
hj [j] anywhere
hv [v] anywhere
i [i:]
[e] in closed syllable
ig [ɑj]
j [j]
[ɕ] in loanwords
k [k] before schwa vowel
[kʰ] before non-schwa vowel or word initial
l [l] anywhere (always a light 'l)
ld [l] often represents l with stød
lv [l] often represents l with stød
m [m] anywhere
n [n] anywhere
nd [n] often represents n with stød
ng [ŋ]
nk [ŋg]
o [o:] in open syllables
[ɔ] in closed syllables
og [ɔu]
ov [ɔu]
p [p] word finally, between vowels when the next vowel is a schwa-vowel, or before consonant
[pʰ] word initially or between vowels when the next vowel is a non-schwa vowel
qu [kv]
r [ʁ]
(other effect) affects the quality of neary vowel
s [s] anywhere except the below cases
sc [s]
sch [ɕ]
sh [ɕ]
si [ɕ]
sj [ɕ]
t [t]
ti [ɕ]
u [u:]
v [v]
w [v]
x [ks] in loanwords
y [y:]
z [s] in loanwords
æ [ε:]
[æ] before or after r
ø [ø:]
øg [ɔj]
øj [ɔi]
å [ɔ:]

Computing standards[edit]

Danish keyboard with keys for Æ, Ø, and Å

In computing, several different coding standards have existed for this alphabet:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grundtvig, Svend (1872). Dansk Haandordbog med den af Kultusministeriet anbefalede Retskrivning (PDF). Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel. Retrieved July 24, 2022.
  2. ^ "Bekendtgørelse fra Ministeriet for Kirke- og Undervisningsvæsenet om Retskrivningen". Retsinformation. February 27, 1892. Retrieved July 24, 2022.
  3. ^ a b N. M. Petersen: Dänische Sprachlehre für Deutsche (i.e. Danish Grammar for Germans), Kopenhagen, 1830, p. 1–3 (at books.google)
  4. ^ Nyt fra Sprognævnet 2000/3
  5. ^ Einar Lundeby: "Bolle-å-ens plass i det danske alfabet" [The placing of Å in the Danish alphabet] in Språknytt, 1995/4. http://www.sprakrad.no/Toppmeny/Publikasjoner/Spraaknytt/Arkivet/Spraaknytt_1995/Spraaknytt-1995-4/Bolle-aa-ens_plass_i_det_dans/
  6. ^ "Informationsordbogen - kommentar". www.informationsordbogen.dk. Retrieved September 2, 2021.

External links[edit]