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Danish for Beginners

Danish is a Germanic language and closely related to Norwegian and Swedish.

Part One - The Basics

Lesson 1: The Alphabet

The Alphabet

The most difficult thing about it is probably the pronunciation, esp. the sound of the soft "d" [ð].

We will start with a pronunciation guide, which should help you to decode spoken Danish, but as many letters can be pronounced in several ways, you will learn pronunciation along with vocabulary.

The Danish alphabet is
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z æ ø å

 Letter/s Sound
 a  either like short or long "a" as in Italian/Spanish/German or as short or long "a" in English "bad"
 ag  in front of a consonant like "ou" in "about" or "au" in German in front of a vowel or at the end of the word like "a" in "bad"
 af  like "ou" in "about", in the word "af" "f" is not pronounced
 av  like "ou" in "about"
 c  in front of e, i, y, æ, ø like a hard "s", in front of u, o, å like "k"
 ch  like "sj" in German or "sy" in English
 d  like a normal unvoiced "d" in the beginning of a word, in loan words also in the middle of words (ex. "modern")
otherwise like [ð]" This sound is in the middle of a soft "th" and "l"" Try to put you tongue in "th" position between your teeth and say "l"" Often "d" is not pronounced as in Norwegian, ex. in "ds", "dt", "nd", "ld" and "rd"
 e  often like "[aw]
 eg  [ai]
 ej  [ai]
 eu, ev  [eu]
 g  in the beginning of a word, in front of "t" or at the end of a word (NOT included adjectives) like a normal "g" often soundless or like German "j"/English "y"
 h  soundless in "hv", "hj"
 ig  [ai], in Adjective endings [i] (ex. venlig = ['ven-li])
 iv  [iu]
 p, t, k  in the middle or at the end of words like [b], [d], [g], respectively
 r  [R] as in German/French, after vowels often almost soundless, as in German "sehr"
 v  [v], like "w" in German
 y  [y], like "ü in German
 yv  [yu]
 sc  like sharp s
 x  like sharp s (occurs only in loanwords)
 z  like sharp s (occurs only in loanwords)
 æ  like "a" in "bad", German "ä"
 ø  like German "ö"
 å  if short like an open "o", if long like a closed "o"

As you have seen, Danish has many dipthongs.


Lesson 2: Verb conjugation, Gender, Articles

A Conversation

Let's have a look now at a little conversation between Morten and Peter, who meet in the cafeteria on their first day at university. All Danish text will be written in blue and the English translation in green.

 Tekst 1  Translation
 M: Hej! Jeg hedder Morten. Hvad hedder du?  M: Hi! I am Morton. What is your name?
 P: Hej, jeg hedder Peter. Hvordan går det?  P: Hi, my name is Peter. How are you?
 M: Tak, det går fint, hvad med dig?  M: Thanks, I am fine, what about you?
 P: Jeg har det også fint, tak.  P: I am also fine, thanks.
 M: Hvad læser du til?  M: What are you studying (to)?
 P: Jeg læser til ingenieur, hvad med dig?  P: I am studying (to be) engineer, what about you?
 M: Jeg læser sprog, engelsk og tysk.  M: I am studying languages, English and German.
 P: Skal vi gå hen og hente noget at spise?  P: Shall we go and get something to eat?
 M: God idé, jeg er meget sulten.  M: Good idea, I am very hungry.

Verb conjugation

The basic word order in Danish is SPO in main clauses. In Subordinate clauses there is a lot of inversion. Danish verb conjugation is very simple. The basic form is ex. at hente = to get. To form the present tense you just add a "r" at the end and you get "henter". This conjugated form is the same for all pronouns:

 jeg elsker  I love  Of course there are also exceptions, of which you already know 3:
 to be = at være, present form "er"
 to have = have, present form "har"
 to shall = skulle, present form "skal"
 du elsker  you love
 han elsker  he loves
 hun elsker  she loves
 det elsker  it loves
 vi elsker  we love
 i elsker  you love
 de elsker  they love

Gender

There is now the concept of noun gender, a concept not known in English but is in almost every other language. In most other languages a noun has a certain gender. So you're telling me a noun can be a boy or a girl? Indeed...that's what we're saying. A noun has a certain gender in Danish (and many other Germanic languages). Danish just has two genders: utrum/fælleskøn (common gender) and neutrum (neuter gender).

Articles

The indefinite article for the neuter words is et. Et hus = a house, et sprog = a language.

The article for the common gender words is en. En bog = a book, en stol = a chair.

The definite article is built when you put the "et" or "en" at the end of the word. That makes "huset" = the house, "sproget" = the language, "bogen" = the book and "stolen" = the chair.

If you want an adjective in front of a definite noun, you use det/den (neuter or common gender).

 Det smukke hus  The beautiful house
 Den spændende bog  The exciting book

The adjectives get an "e" in the end and if they end on a short vowel+consonant it gets doubled: smuk - smukke but: stor - store. But we will cover this in another unit.


Vocabulary

 smuk  beautiful
 hej  hi
 jeg  I
 hedde  to be called
 hvad  what
 du  you
 hvordan  how
 gå  to go
 det  it
 tak  thanks
 fin  fine, good
 med  with
 dig  you (obj.)
 har (have)  has/have (to have)
 også  also
 læse  to study/read
 til  to
 ingenieur  engineer
 sprog  language/s
 engelsk  English
 tysk  German
 skal (skulle)  shall (to shall)
 vi  we
 hen  there/to (German=hin)
 og  and
 hente  to get
 at  to
 spise  to eat
 idé  idea
 meget  very, much
 sulten  hungry
 et bord  table
 et værelse  room
 at bo  to live (somewhere)
 at drikke  to drink
 at arbejde  to work
 et universitet  university
 på universitetet  at university
 at kunne godt lide  to like
 kunne (jeg kan)  to can
 Jeg kan godt lide at læse bøger.  I like reading books
 at lave mad (lit.: to make food)  to cook
 en ven (plural: venner)  friend
 at møde  to meet
 i  in
 en by  city
 en lilleby  village
 stor  big
 lille (plural små)  small
 sød  nice (person)

Exercises

Exercise A: Translate to Danish:
Now try to translate these sentences, or create new ones with the words above.
1) I am hungry.
2) I read a book.
3) I read the book.
4) We are called Morton and Peter.
5) How are you?
6) They are fine.
7) He studies languages.
8) Her name is Ingelise.
9) We shall eat.

Solutions

Solution of Exercise A
1) Jeg er sulten.
2) Jeg læser en bog.
3) Jeg læser bogen.
4) Vi hedder Morten og Peter.
5) Hvordan går det?
6) De har det fint.
7) Han læser sprog.
8) Hun hedder Ingelise.
9) Vi skal spise.


Lesson 3: Adjectives, Plurals

A Reading

Text 2
Sønderborg er en lille by i Sønderjylland. Den er ikke særlig stor, men hyggelig. I en gade i Sønderborg står der et stort, gammelt, rødt hus. Der bor Morten sammen med sin gode ven Thomas. De to er flyttet ind i lejligheden i august, lige før det nye semester begyndte. I deres hus bor der også nogle andre personer. På den første etage bor der en matematiklærer med sin kone og deres to småbørn. Påanden etage bor en gammel dame, der engang har arbejdet som frisør. Hun er meget sød og har tit besøg af hendes børnebørn. De kommer gerne forbi hos hende for at høre spæ ndende historier fra den tid mormor var ung og for at fånoget af hendes lækre kage.

Morten og Thomas har en hyggelig lejlighed. I køkkenet stå r der et bord og fire stole. Der sidder de tit sammen med deres venner og spiser. Morten er nemlig meget godt til at lave mad. Thomas kan det ikke så godt, så vasker han alltid op.
Translation
Sønderborg is a small town in South Jytland. It is not so big but cosy. In one street in Sønderborg stands a big, red, old house. There lives Morten together with his good friend Thomas. The two moved into the flat in August, just before the new term started. In their house live some other people also. In the first story lives a math teacher together with his wife and his two small kids. In the second story lives an elderly lady, who once worked as hairdresser. She is very nice and has visits from her grandchildren often. They like to come around to her's to hear exciting stories from the time granny was young and to get some of her delicious cake.

Thomas and Morton have a cosy flat. In the kitchen stands a table and four chairs. There they often sit with their friends and eat, since Morten is a good cook. Thomas isn't, so he always cleans the dishes.

Adjectives

In this unit you will learn more about adjectives. You should have noticed that they don't always appear in the basic form.

The ways to use them are:

et stort hus
en gammel dame
en søde pige
et billigt bord
a big house
an old lady
a nice girl
a cheap table
The adjectives gets a -t at the end if the noun is neutrum, if it is common gender the adjective remains in its basic form.
det store bord
den gamle dame
den søde pige
det billige bord
the big table
the old lady
the nice girl
the cheap table
All adjectives get inflected the same way: they all get an -e in the end. some adjectives change: gammel-gamle sikker-sikre etc.
Bordet er stort.
Damen er gammel.
Pigen er sød.
Bordet er billigt.
The table is big.
The lady is old.
The girl is nice.
The table is cheap.
The adjectives who refer to a neuter noun get a -t. The others don't get inflected.
den tyske pige
det engelske flag
Bordet er tysk.
the German girl
the English flag
The table is German.
These adjectives cannot take a -t in the end. They only get inflected this way.
de engelske flag
de søde piger
the English flags
the nice girls
The plural definite article is "de".
Husene er store.
Pigerne er tyske.
lækre kager
hyggelige byer
The houses are big.
The girls are German.
delicious cakes
cosy cities
If the nouns are plural, the adjectives just get an - e no matter where they stand.

Plurals

Plural indefinite
There are different ways to form plural. Most words just get an -r in the end: kage-kager
lejlighed-lejligheder
værelse-værelser
gryde-gryder
vindue-vinduer
etc.

Some short words just get an -e:
hus-huse
blad-blade
stol-stole

There are also some words that don't change in plural:
sprog-sprog
bord-bord
frø-frø

Like in German many words change their vowels to umlauts and/or double consonants:
bog-bøger
hånd-hænder
barn-børn
fod-fødder

Nouns that end on -er, -el change also: søster-søstre
broder-brødre
mandel-mandler
nudel-nudler

Plural definite

To form a definite plural -ne or -ene (if it ends on a vowel) is added to the indefinite plural form:
søstrene
bøgerne
børnene
sprogene
husene


Vocabulary

 lille  small
 særlig  specially
 hyggelig  cosy
 men  but
 en gade  street
 at stå  to stand
 gammel  old
 rød  red
 et hus  house
 der  there
 sammen  together
 sin  his
 en ven  friend
 de  the, plural
 at flytte ind  to move in
 en lejlighed  flat
 lige  just
 før  before
 ny  new
 et semester  term
 at begynde  to start
 deres  their
 nogle  some
 anden (pl:andre)  other, second
 først  first
 en etage  story
 en lærer  teacher
 en kone  wife
 to  two
 lille (pl:små)  little
 en dame  lady
 en frisør  hairdresser
 engang  once
 at arbejde  to work
 meget  very
 sød  sweet, friendly, nice
 tit  often
 et besøg  visit
 et barnebarn (pl:børnebørn)  grandchild
 at komme  to come
 gerne  with pleasure
 forbi  around
 hos  at ... place
 for at  to
 at høre  to listen,hear
 spændende  exciting
 en historie  story, history
 fra  from
 tid  time
 en mormor  grandmother (mother of mother)
 var  was
 ung  young
 at få  to get
 lækker  yummy, tasting good
 en kage  cake
 et køkken  kitchen
 et bord  table
 at sidde  to sit
 nemlig  since, as
 at vaske op  to wash the dishes
 så  so


End Of Part One

This is the end of part one.

Thanks for your interest in this course! If you discovered any mistakes or you just want to say something then please let us know . We do need feedback!

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