Danish language

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Danish is one of the Scandinavian languages, a sub-group of the Germanic group of the Indo-European language family. Danish is the official language of Denmark, one of two official languages of Greenland (the other is Greenlandic), and one of two official languages of the Faeroes (the other is Faeroese). In addition, there is a small community of Danish speakers in the portion of Germany bordering Denmark.

The closest relatives of Danish are the other North Germanic languages of Scandinavia: Norwegian and Swedish. Written Danish and Norwegian are particularly close, though the pronunciation of all three languages differs significantly. Proficient speakers of all three languages can often understand the others.


Danish is written using the Roman alphabet, with three additional letters: Æ / æ, Ø / ø, and Å / å, which come at the end of the Danish alphabet, in that order. Before an orthograpy reform in 1948, aa was used instead of å; the old usage still occurs in names and old documents. Aa is treated just like å in alphabetical sorting, even though it looks like two letters.

Modern Danish and modern Norwegian use the same alphabet.

Basic Facts

Most Danish words are derived from the Old Norse language, with new words formed by compounding. Because English and Danish are related languages, many common words are very similar in the two languages. For example, the following Danish words are easily recognizable in their written form to English speakers: have, over, under, for, kat. When pronounced, these words sound quite different from their English equivalents, however. The rules of Danish pronunciation are challenging for English speakers to learn; the written forms of words sometimes do not correspond to modern pronunciation.

The infinitive forms of Danish verbs end in a vowel, which in almost all cases is the letter e. Verbs are conjugated according to tense, but otherwise do not vary according to person or number. For example the present tense form of the Danish infintive verb spise ("to eat") is spiser; this form is the same regardless of whether the subject is in the first, second, or third person, or whether it is singular or plural.

Danish nouns fall into two grammatical genders: common and neuter. The genders of nouns are not generally predictable and must in most cases be memorized. A distinctive feature of the Scandinavian languages, including Danish, is an enclitic definite article. To demonstrate: "a man" (indefinite) is en mand but "the man" (definite) is manden. In both cases the article is en. (However, Danish uses a separate word for the definite article when an adjective is employed: den store mand, "the big man").

The numbers from one to ten in Danish are: en, to, tre, fire, fem, seks, syv, otte, ni, and ti.

Written Works in Danish

Some famous authors of works in Danish are existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, prolific fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen, and playwright Ludvig Holberg. Three 20th-century Danish authors have become Nobel laureates in literature: Karl Adolph Gjellerup and Henrik Pontoppidan (joint recipents in 1917) and Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (awarded 1944).

See Common phrases in different languages