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Classification: Indo-European, Germanic, North Germanic. The other languages in this branch are Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese.

Overview. Danish is a continental Scandinavian language like Norwegian and Swedish to which is closely related. Danish has drastically reduced its morphology in relation to Old Scandinavian, having lost the case system, merged the masculine and feminine genders into a common one and eliminated personal marking in the verb. In its lexicon, Danish is very similar to Norwegian but they differ substantially in pronunciation.

Distribution and Speakers. Danish is spoken in Denmark, including in the self-governing Faroe Islands and Greenland, by about 5.6 million people. There is also a small minority of Danish-speakers in the Flensburg area of Germany (close to the Danish border).

Status: It is the official language of Denmark, the Faeroe Islands (alongside with Faroese) and Greenland (alongside Inuit).

Varieties. Around a century ago there were still significant differences in pronunciation between the north and south of Denmark, and morphological differences between the east and west. Most of the so-called "classical dialects" have lost importance and have been partly replaced by the speech of Copenhagen (Advanced Standard Copenhagen).

Oldest Documents. The earliest written records in Scandinavia are runic inscriptions in a Proto-Germanic language, dating back to 200 CE and originating in the Danish peninsula of Jutland.

-The first legal texts in Danish are from 1200 CE.

-Literary works start at the 15th century.


Vowels (25). Danish has a complex vowel system that distinguishes at least 15 vowel qualities, most of them having short and long varieties. There is also a contrast between roundedness and unroundedness. The central vowels occur only in unstressed syllables.


There are at least 19 diphthongs whose first element is a short vowel and another 19 whose first element is a long vowel.

Consonants (19). Danish phonology is characterized for the lack of contrast between voiceless and voiced consonants, except between [f] and [v]. In the stops, the contrast is between unaspirated and aspirated even if in writing it seems otherwise as [ph], [th], [kh] are written p, t, k, and [p], [t], [k] are written b, d, g. [ð] is a "soft" d related in some way to English th but while the latter is a dental fricative the Danish sound is, in fact, a semivowel similar to [l]. [ʁ] is an r-like sound pronounced at the back of the throat.


Stød ('thrust' or 'push'): is a particular feature of Danish that affects a long vowel or a sonorant (nasal, glide, liquid) after a short vowel. It is a kind of glottal stop that occurs within the sound reducing its length. It can only occur in stressed syllables.

Stress: inherited Danish words are either monosyllabic or bisyllabic with stress on the first syllable while the second is unstressed and ends in [ə]. Loanwords may be polysyllabic and stress may not fall on the first syllable.

Script and Orthography

Danish is written with the Roman alphabet plus three new letters placed at its end to notate additional vowel sounds. Below each letter, its equivalence in the International Phonetic Alphabet is shown between brackets.


  1. the palatal fricative [ʃ] is represented by the digraph ch.

  2. the velar [ŋ] nasal is written ng.


  1. Nominal. Nouns are inflected for number and definiteness. Adjectives agree with their nouns in gender and number.

  1. case: possession is marked in the nominal phrase with the suffix -s ; it is not considered a true genitive case. It can also be expressed by possessive pronouns. Personal pronouns have subject and object forms.

  1. gender: common (masculine-feminine), neuter. Gender is not formally marked on the noun.

  1. number: singular, plural.  Plural marking differs for indefinite and definite nouns but it is not correlated with gender. The indefinite plural markers are: -e, -(e)r or zero, and the definite ones -(e)rne or -ene. Regular plural formation follows one of these three patterns:

  1. indefinite -(e)r, definite -(e)rne

  1. måned (month); måneder (months); månederne (the months)

  2. uge (week); uger (weeks); ugerne  (the weeks)

  1. indefinite -e, definite -ene

  1. dag (day); dage (days); dagene (the days)

  1. indefinite zero, definite -ene

  1. år (year); år (years); årene (the years)

  1. definiteness: can be marked by a suffix or by an article. The indefinite article is en for common gender nouns and et for neuter ones; it has no plural.

  2. When the noun is not accompanied by an attributive adjective, definiteness is expressed by the suffixes: -en (common sg.), -et (neuter sg.), -(e)rne or -ene (plural). If the noun is preceded by an attributive adjective, the suffix is omitted and a definite article is used: den (common sg), det (neuter sg), de (plural).


  1. adjectives: are inflected for number and gender (only in the singular). Their endings are zero in non-neuter singular, -t in neuter singular, and -e in the plural (see above). Comparison is marked by the ending -(e)re, and the superlative by -(e)st. The adverbs mere and mest are used with some adjectives.

  1. pronouns: personal, possessive, demonstrative, interrogative, reflexive.

  2. Personal pronouns distinguish case (nominative and oblique), and person and number; 3rd person singular pronouns distinguish also gender:


  1. Han and hun are applied to people while den and det are applied only to abstract things. De is a 2nd person (singular or plural) polite form. The oblique case is used for direct and indirect objects as well as in comparisons  and prepositional phrases.

  1. Some possessive pronouns inflect like adjectives (1sg, 2sg, 3rd reflexive sg, 1st pl) but others have just one, invariable, form (3sg and 2nd-3rd plural persons). Vores is used in the spoken language while the other 1st person plural, inflected, forms are more archaic and formal.

  1. Demonstrative pronouns are den (common gender) and det (neuter); they are both used for singular and plural. They are identical to the 3rd sg. personal pronouns but pronounced with stress.

  1. The interrogative pronouns are hvem (‘who?’) and hvad (‘what?’).

  1. The relative pronouns are som and der. Both mean ‘who/what/which’ but while som may be used for subject and object, dem is only used as subject. In the literary language the interrogative pronouns may be used also as relatives.

  1. Verbal. There are strong and weak verbs. Weak verbs make their past tense with a dental suffix. Strong verbs form the past through vowel changes in the stem.

  1. person and number:  verbs have no number or person inflections.

  1. tense: present, past, perfect, pluperfect, future, future perfect, conditional present, conditional past.

  2. The present and past are the only tenses formed without an auxiliary verb. The present, which frequently refers also to the future, is formed by adding -(e)r to the stem (except in a few verbs). In weak verbs the past tense is made by adding a dental suffix to the stem (-te, -de); in strong verbs is made by vowel changes (ablaut) in the stem. In some weak verbs, that form the past with -te, there may be also ablaut.

  1. The perfect and pluperfect are formed, respectively, with the present and past of have (‘have’) or være (‘to be’) + the past participle. The second auxiliary is used only with perfective intransitive verbs. The future and conditional use, respectively, the present and past of the auxiliaries skal (‘shall’) or ville (‘will’). In the simple future and present conditional combined with the infinitive; in the future perfect and past conditional combined with the infinitive of have + the past participle.   


  1. mood: indicative, imperative. The imperative has one single form (2nd sg).

  1. voice: active, passive. There are two passive forms, one ends in -s, and the other is formed with the auxiliary verb at blive (‘to become’) plus the past participle. The first form refers to general or objective facts while the second form refers to an specific event.

  1. non-finite formsinfinitive, present participle, past participle.

    1. infinitive: is formed by at followed by the verb stem: at vide (‘to know’).

    2. present participle: ends in -ende.

    3. past participle: ends in -(e)t.


Independent and dependent clauses have Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order. Questions are expressed by inversion of the subject-verb order (VSO) or by interrogative words.The subject must be always expressed (except in the imperative). If the verb consists of a finite and non-finite part, the latter follows the former and may be separated from it by other constituents:

The subject is in front position, and the first adverb follows the finite verb.

  1. subject-finite verb-adverb-non-finite-indirect object-direct object-adverb

The order in subordinate clauses is similar but the adverb precedes the finite verb:

  1. subject-adverb-finite verb-non-finite-indirect object-direct object-adverb

Basic Vocabulary

one: en     

two: to       

three: tre      

four: fire      

five: fem       

six: seks       

seven: syv       

eight: otte       

nine: ni                 

ten: ti

hundred: hundrede       

father: far

mother: mor       

brother: bror       

sister: søster      

son: søn                          

daughter: datter                          

head: hoved

face: ansigt

eye: øje        

hand: hånd                                     

foot: fod                          

heart: hjerte                         

tongue: tunge                          

Key Literary Works (forthcoming)

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

'Danish'. H. Haberland. In The Germanic Languages, 313-348. E. König & J. van der Auwera (eds). Routledge (1994). 

-Danish: A Comprehensive Grammar. T. Lundskær-Nielsen, P. Holmes & R. Allan. Routledge (1995).

-Danish: An Essential Grammar. T. Lundskær-Nielsen & P. Holmes. Routledge (2011).

-La Langue Danoise. Phonétique et Grammaire Contemporaines. P. Spore. Akademisk Forlag (1965).

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