Danish: Farvel!

So, we’ve reached the end of the line for Dansk, the last Scandinavian language in the blog. But not without some interesting observations. What did I discover?

SUMMARY: Danish is spoken by over six million people in Denmark, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and other parts in northern Europe. Danish evolves from Old East Norse, an old Germanic language and obtained a Latin alphabet upon the arrival of Christianity in Denmark around the 800s. The first Danish books appeared in 1495. The language is mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Swedish.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS: In a nutshell, Danish seems to be identical to the other Scandinavian languages, except for its pronunciation. Several sounds tend to be silent. I also heard a lot of rounded vowel sounds. As far as writing, Danish, as I mentioned before, looks exactly like Norwegian’s Bokmål, but there are some difference in vocabulary. The distinctions in grammar are mostly minor.

Danish is the last piece of the Scandinavian language triangle, so here are my observations in conjunction with those from Norwegian and Swedish:

Pronunciation: To me, Swedish tends to sound the strongest out of them all. It has a pitch accent, although it’s generally not indicated in writing. It comes across as sing-songy. Norwegian sort of sounds like Swedish, except softer and not as sing-songy. However, it has a ton of dialects where words can sound different.

Danish, on the other hand, seemed to have the major exceptions. The “d” tends to be swallowed or not pronounced in a lot of words.

Also, there’s this magical thing called the “stød.” What exactly is it? If I’m explaining it correctly, it’s a feature that forces a syllable to become a glottal stop (a sound made in the throat) or a “creaky voice” sound. In English, you can hear it in the phrase “uh-oh” (the dash is the glottal sound in the throat). According to my friend Kristoffer, who is from Denmark, the stød is the thing that instantly identifies if one is a Danish speaker or not, and non-native speakers generally have problems mastering it. I heard it with the Danish word ved (knows).

Grammar: Nouns in Danish can be common or neuter, with 75 percent of the nouns being common. Swedish nouns are also common and neuter. However, Norwegian has three different forms – masculine, feminine and neuter (except for the Bergen dialect, which just has common and neuter). Guessing the form seems to be easier in Swedish.

One thing that’s the same in all of these languages is that the definite article (the) tends to be attached to the noun. Also, these are generally Subject-Verb-Order languages, although the order is inverted when asking a question.

Also, a bonus for English speakers is that verbs don’t change for person, which means the same form is used regardless of the speaker (In Danish, Jeg er, han er, vi er, which translate to I am, he is, we are).

Writing System: Written Danish and Norwegian (Bokmål) are identical, due to Norway inheriting the Danish alphabet from Danish rule. Swedish words look different and the Danish/Norwegian letters æ and ø and appear as ä and ö. I personally prefer the Danish/Norwegian system, but it’s not a big deal (I just like their letters, as silly as it sounds).

So, with all of this in consideration, I’m still going to lean toward Norwegian. I guess this was predictable, but as I’ve already mentioned before, Norwegian seems to be the best language to learn. It is thought that Norwegian speakers have the least amount of trouble understanding Swedish and Danish in comparison to Danish and Swedish speakers with the other Scandinavian languages. Also, Danish pronunciation seems hard to master.

Sorry Dansk! No hard feelings. But at least if I learn Norwegian or Swedish, I’ll be able to understand songs like these:


Intelligibility: 3
Complexity: 4
Resonance: 4
Continuation: 3


Danish Grammar for the World
Norwegian Grammar – St. Olaf University
Swedish Grammar
Wikipedia (Danish language, Norwegian language, Stød, Swedish language)


2 thoughts on “Danish: Farvel!

  1. You say: “It is thought that Norwegian speakers have the least amount of trouble understanding Swedish and Danish in comparison to Danish and Swedish speakers with the other Scandinavian languages.”

    I believe this to be true, but I don’t think the reason is in the languages themselves. It rather lies in the fact that there are fewer Norwegian speakers, and thus they get more exposure from the other languages. Another factor is the history of Scandinavia, where Norway was ruled first by Denmark then by Sweden for hundreds of years. That may make Denmark’s and Sweden’s history and literature more part of Norway’s history and literature than the other way around.

    Unfortunately it seems that the mutual understanding between the Scandinavian languages has deteriorated over the decades. We more and more often resort to English when communicating with other Scandinavians.

    1. Hi Tore,

      Thank you so much for your comment and I really apologize for my late reply. I think that’s a good point that you raised, regarding the history of each country. But I wonder — is it simply that reason alone?

      Norwegian and Swedish seemed to sound the most alike, while Norwegian and Danish resembled each other the most (for the reason you explained). Danish is probably more complicated because it’s harder to pronounce (such as the stød). In both cases, it seems like Norwegian has a special something that makes it the “perfect middle.” You may be right, but I’m not sure … it’s definitely something worth exploring.

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