Talking about the future

Posted on 08. Jan, 2015 by in grammar

(Courtesy of Comrade Foot at Flickr.)

(Courtesy of Comrade Foot at Flickr.)

2015 is upon us, so I thought it would be a great idea to look a bit ahead – grammatically speaking, that is! As you may be aware, verbs in Spanish and Esperanto and many other languages have a distinct future tense (yo cantaré/mi kantos = I’ll sing). In English, we’ve got to make compound tricks like I’ll sing or I shall sing or I’m going to sing. You’ll see that dansk is quite similar to English in this respect! :-)

Danes often talk about fremtiden (the future) in nutid (present tense):

  • Færgen sejler på søndag. (The ferry will depart on Sunday. – Literally: The ferry sails…)
  • I år får vi mange stikkelsbær. (This year we’ll get a lot of gooseberries.)
  • Flyver de ud til Venus og Mars? (Will they be flying out to Venus and Mars?)

The last example is from the Kim Larsen song Hvad mon de laver om hundrede år? (”Wonder what they’ll be doing in one hundred years?”) Obviously the sentence must be understood as having the future tense in this context!

However, the present tense is sometimes too ambiguous. The most common solution is to use the word vil (will) + an uninflected verb (infinitive or ”dictionary” form):

  • Turisterne vil strømme til det nye museum. (The tourists will be flocking to the new museum.)
  • Én dag vil du fortryde det her! (One day you’ll regret this!)

Please notice that vil also means wanna, so there can still be a bit of confusion even with this word!

  • Jeg vil spise en is NU! (I want to eat an ice-cream NOW!)
  • Jeg vil spise en is – når det engang bliver sommer. (I’m going to eat an ice-cream – once the summer is here.)

Skal (shall/have to) is often used like vil, but it’s more of an obligation, something you have to do (or commit yourself to do) in the near future:

  • Hvad skal vi spise? (What are we going to eat?)
  • De skal skilles. (They are going to be divorced.)
  • Det skal jeg nok. (Yeah, I’ll do that.)
  • Skal vi danse? (Shall we dance?)

Finally there is kommer til at, which is also quite common, maybe a bit more so in the spoken language:

  • Tror du det kommer til at sne? (Do you think it’s going to snow?)
  • Vi kommer bare til at have det SÅ sjovt!! (We’re just gonna have SO much fun!)

Word of the Year 2014

Posted on 31. Dec, 2014 by in Slang, Vocabulary


’Regnbueaktivist’ was one of the words nominated as the Danish ”word of the year”. (Free image from Open Clipart.)

Every year a handful of Danish language geeks kårer årets danske ord (elect the Danish ”word of the year”). This year, Sproglaboratoriet (’The Language Lab’), a Danish radio programme, had nominated the following twelve ord:

• Byhaver (’city gardens’) are small gardens that have become popular in Danish towns and cities. They may be shared by more than one owner, and folk (people) are careful to ensure that every addition to their little piece-of-wilderness is økologisk (biodynamic) and miljøvenlig (’enviromentally friendly’).

• Digital borger (’digital citizen’) refers to the fact that e-mail and internet skemaer (forms) are replacing letters between det offentlige (public services/the State) and borgerne (the citizens) everywhere in Denmark. Just a couple of years ago people used to receive things like their selvangivelse (tax form) in their postkasse (letter box); now everything is done on Internettet using NemID [nehm ee deh] (’Easy ID’, a kind of password generator).

• Ebola.

• Girafgate. Do you remember the terrible killing of the giraffe Marius back in February? Inspired by the American ”Watergate” scandal, someone mixed Danish with English to create this new word… 

• Hverdagssexisme means ’everyday sexism’. Some people, most often kvinder (women), are still not treated with the respekt they’re entitled to according to Danish laws about ligestilling (equality of status).

• Inklusion. There’s a lot of talk about including immigrants better in the Danish society, including weak pupils better in Danish schools, and so on! :-)

• Konkurrencestat (’competition state/country’). I’m not very much into politics, but whenever politicians bang on about Danes having to ”work harder” I imagine they have this word written all over their brains… Little Denmark competing against giant countries like Kina and USA. Wow.

• Madspild means ”waste of food” and is a problem everywhere in the world, not just in Denmark! :-) That said, there’s a group of people here, called skraldere (dumpster divers), that try to save some of all the fresh mad that supermarkeder dump in containere every day.

• Mobilepay is an app that makes it easy to transfer money between different kontoer (accounts). This app has become so popular that it’s become a verb: ”Jeg mobilepay’er dig lige 20 kroner.” (”I ’mobilepay’ you 20 Kroner in a sec.”)

• Nødløgn (’necessity lie’) is a kind of ”little lie” you say to save yourself. If you’re a guy with an overweight wife and she asks you if she looks fat, a nødløgn could come handy… :-)

• Regnbueaktivist (’rainbow activist’). Hm. I guess this refers either to gay/lesbian activists, or Greenpeace activists! In 2013, the Danish Greenpeace activist Anne Mie Roer Jensen spent many weeks in a Russian prison because of a protest against Russians drilling for oil in the Arctic…

• Retænke should’ve been ”gentænke” (re-think) in ”proper Danish”; this looks like a fun mix of Danish and Latin languages!

And the winner was … mobilepay!

Last year the winning word was the good, ole Danish word undskyld (sorry!), so a number of people protested that an English word was elected… Well, in 2014, lots of people in Denmark mobilepay’ede (’mobilepaid’) each other, and talked about it, and that’s the way words get popular, no matter how you feel about them. :-)

Godt nytår! See you in 2015!

Sprites of Christmas

Posted on 25. Dec, 2014 by in Traditions


A Scandinavian nisse. (Thanks to Anders Palovaara at Flickr.)

If you go to Skandinavien in december, you’ll most certainly encounter little men (and women) with pointy røde huer (red caps) everywhere: In butikker (shops), in private homes, in fjernsynet (television). No, you’re not mad! Say hello to the nisser [NESSore]…

The typical nisse looks like an old man with a langt, hvidt skæg (long, white beard) – except that he’s really small, like a child or even a rabbit. He’s wearing traditional clothes such as træsko (clogs, literally ’wooden shoes’). He’s often got tykke, røde kinder (fat round cheeks) and a jovial look. I think you wouldn’t mind having a grandfather like that! :-) On top of his head the famous nissehue looms large. It isn’t just a red version of a wizard’s hat – there typically is a white or red kvast (tuft) at the end.

Originally, a nisse was a kind of mythical being that helped farmers on their gård (farm). If the farmer didn’t treat him well, he could avenge himself by making sure that the cow gave birth to a calf with two heads – that kind of thing. There’s a Danish saying: Nissen flytter med. (The nisse moves house with you.) That means: Your problems keep following you…

Today nisser (or julenisser) are mostly associated with jul (Christmas) and sjov (fun). Sometimes they’re mixed up with Julemanden (Santa Claus/Father Christmas). He was introduced to Scandinavia from the US, though, and hasn’t got very much in common with the Scandinavian nisser – except that they all wear red caps. Nisser aren’t just old men; there are also nissekoner (nisse wives) and nissebørn (nisse children).

Nisser make dark nights bristle with liv [leew] (life), and I can’t imagine Christmas without them. One of the most beloved julesange (Christmas songs/carols) for children starts like this:

På loftet sidder nissen med sin julegrød,

in the loft the nisse’s sitting with his Christmas porridge

sin julegrød, så god og sød,

his Christmas porrigde, so good and sweet,

han nikker, og han spiser, og han er så glad

he’s nodding, he’s eating, and he’s so happy

for julegrød er hans bedste mad.

’cause Christmas porridge is his favourite food.


Glædelig jul!

Merry Christmas!