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Counting in Danish Posted by on Sep 14, 2011 in Conversation, numbers, Society

Trouble falling asleep? Counting får (sheep) in Danish might just do the trick! For one thing, the Danish words for 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 are much less transparent than the fif-ty, six-ty, seven-ty, eigh-ty, nine-ty row of English – and so it goes when comparing them with a lot of other languages too. Norwegians and Swedes on holiday in Denmark always mess things up, creating on-the-fly numerals like ”fems” and ”halvfirs”. Don’t you listen to them! It’s actually quite easy when you get down to it:

Amager Strandpark - kite surfers

If the water’s too cold, do it the Danish way: Count TI - TYVE - TREDIVE - FYRRE - HALVTREDS - TRES - HALVFJERDS - FIRS - HALVFEMS - and at HUNDREDE you dive!

50 – halvtreds

60 – tres

70 – halvfjerds

80 – firs

90 – halvfems

The halv- part means–you guessed it–half. As usual, there’s a historical explanation lurking in the mist… The modern words are actually shortened from older Danish

halv tredje sinds tyve = half(way to the) third times twenty = 2.5 × 20 = 50

tre sinds tyve = three times twenty = 3 × 20 = 60

halv fjerde sinds tyve = half(way to the) fourth times twenty = 3.5 × 20 = 70

fire sinds tyve = four times twenty = 4 × 20 = 80

halv femte sinds tyve = half(way to the) fifth times twenty = 4.5 × 20 = 90

Makes sense? 🙂 Most Danes are not aware of this either, and happily go on counting without giving the etymology much thought. It is, however, revealed whenever you want to say that something is the 50th, 60th … of something:

den halvtredsindstyvende, tresindstyvende, halvfjerdsindstyvende, firsindstyvende, halvfemsindstyvene øl ’the 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th, 90th beer’

(I doubt you’ll get to the 90th beer, though!) By the way, the word sinds is not used in modern Danish. (Only as a part of nogensinde ’ever’. Some young folks even use the English word ever. Whatever.) 4 × 20 in the modern language is 4 gange 20.

And oh, in Danish you say ”two and forty” rather than fourty-two!

Now, let’s count:

0 nul

1 et (én)

2 to

3 tre

4 fire

5 fem

6 seks

7 syv

8 otte

9 ni

10 ti

11 elleve

12 tolv

13 tretten

14 fjorten

15 femten

16 seksten

17 sytten

18 atten

19 nitten

20 tyve

21 enogtyve (en og tyve)

22 toogtyve

23 treogtyve

24 fireogtyve

25 femogtyve

26 seksogtyve

27 syvogtyve

28 otteogtyve

29 niogtyve

30 tredive

31 enogtredive

32 toogtredive

33 treogtredive …

40 fyrre

50 halvtreds

60 tres

70 halvfjerds

80 firs

90 halvfems

100 hundrede

101 hundrede et

102 hundrede to

247 to hundrede syvogfyrre

500 fem hundrede

1000 tusind

2001 to tusind og et

1 000.000 en million

7 000.000 syv millioner

1 000.000.000 en milliard

10 000.000.000 ti milliarder

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.