Danish grammar may not be as complex as some of the other Indo-European languages; for instance, there are only nine verb forms, including passive. However, it is still a grammatical system that you need to study carefully to truly master the language.
This article will give you an overview of the key notions in Danish grammar to give you the idea of what you should focus on learning.
Nouns are inflected for number (singular vs. plural) and definiteness and are classified into two grammatical genders.
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.
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.
A distinctive feature of the Nordic languages, including Danish, is that the definite articles, which also mark noun gender, have developed into suffixes.
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).
Jeg så et hus — I saw a house
Jeg så huset — I saw the house
There are three forms of the adjective in Danish:
- basic form or common, used with singular words of the common gender («n-words»)
en billig bog — a cheap book
- t-form or neuter, used with singular words of the neuter gender (“t-words”) and as an adverb
et billigt tæppe — a cheap carpet
- 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
The adjective must agree with the word that it qualifies in both gender and number. This rule also applies when the adjective is used predicatively.
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).
hurtig, hurtigere, hurtigst — quick, quicker, quickest
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 inflection of some adjectives is irregular.
Danish adverbs fall into three groups:
- original adverbs: nu, hvor, der, ofte, her, så
- compound adverbs: altid, fornylig, sommetider, hvorhen, herhen
- adverbs derived from adjectives:
en lang tur (a long walk) — Han gik langt (He went far)
naturlig (natural) — naturligvis (naturally)
The Danish pronominal system retains a distinction between subjective and oblique cases. The subjective case form of pronouns is used when pronouns occur as the 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 animate masculine (han “he”) and animate feminine (hun “she”) forms, as well as inanimate neuter (det “it”) and inanimate common gender (den “it”).
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”).
Danish verbs are morphologically simple, marking very few grammatical categories. They do not mark the person or number of the 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, a passive, and an imperative.
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, infinitive forms are preceded by the article at. 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 time reference.
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”). Perfect tense is constructed with at have (“to have”) and participial forms, like in English.
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 dag.
The imperative mood is formed from the infinitive by removing the final schwa-vowel:
løb! — run!
Some of the most common Danish prepositions are efter, som, på, men, af, for, fra, nær, om, ud, over, end, op, med.
This is a very brief overview of Danish grammar. To truly master it, you will need to study each of the parts of speech in much more detail. However, this overview will hopefully gives you a general idea of the Danish grammatical system and of the main points you should consider when learning.