Danish Language Blog

Articles Posted by on Nov 24, 2011 in Grammar

En sol – solen. A sun – the sun. Articles are easy in Danish.

You already know how to make plurals of Danish nouns. Now the time has come to say hello to the Danish articles, they’re already tripping outside in the raw November weather, anxious to be let in… What’s an article? Besides the stuff journalists write, it’s a way for some languages to mark whether a noun is already known to the audience or not. The first time you hear about something (in the singular) in English, it will typically be introduced by the indefinite article ’a(n)’: A man appeared in the corridor. Okay, now we know the guy, so the definite article ’the’ takes over: The man was wearing my hat!

The Danish way of using articles is pretty much the same as the English one. In fact, whenever a Danish noun comes with an adjective (red, pretty, dangerous) the articles work exactly like in English: en rød hat ’a red hat’ – den røde hat ’the red hat’ – de røde hatte ’the red hats’. (Don’t let the e of røde confuse you, we’ll get back to that later.)

Let’s look at nouns that come without any adjectives:

en mand ’a man’
en kvinde ’a woman’
et barn ’a child’

manden ’the man’
kvinden ’the woman’
barnet ’the child’

mænd ’men’
kvinder ’women’
børn ’children’

mændene ’the men’
kvinderne ’the women’
børnene ’the children’

You’ll probably have noticed two things:

• In Danish, the definite article is attached to the (adjective-less) noun rather than being an independent word like English ’the’!
• Danish has two classes of nouns. The ”common gender” (fælleskøn) takes the articles en and -en. The ”neuter” (neutrum) takes the articles en and -et.

To make definite plural forms, you just take the ordinary plural and add the ending -ne, no matter the gender of the word. This ending prefers being joined to an -e or –er, so if the basic plural form ends in another sound, an extra e is inserted: børn ’children’ > børn+e+ne > børnene ’the children’.

Also note that ee isn’t a good ol’ Danish sound combo, so it’s reduced to a single e in forms like kvinde+en > kvinden ’the woman’.

Pretty easy, isn’t it?

Let’s take a few more examples:

et dyr – dyret – dyr – dyrene ’an animal – the animal – animals – the animals’
en hest – hesten – heste – hestene ’a horse – the horse – horses – the horses’
en rotte – rotten – rotter – rotterne ’a rat – the rat – rats – the rats’

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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.