Danish Language Blog

There Be Adjectives! Posted by on Nov 30, 2011 in Grammar

Marc-horse in a landscape

The world would be quite dull without adjectives! Painting by Franz Marc (1910).

We’ve already seen how to pluralize nouns (by adding an -er, -e, -s or no ending at all, remember?) Furthermore, we’ve taken a sneak peek at the article system. Basically, that one boils down to adding en or et to any singular noun – as a lead word in front if it is to mean ’a’ or ’an’, and as an attached ending if it to mean ’the’. Thus en hest means a horse, whereas hesten means the horse. In order to ”the” a plural noun, all you need is the regular plural form + the ending ne: hestene the horses. If the basic plural does not end in an -er or an -e, an extra ’e’ is inserted in front of the ’ne’ – just to ease the pronunciation: chipsene the chips.

But we can’t just go around pointing at things – we need adjectives to describe them! Adjectives are words that say something about the quality of nouns: ’red’, ’happy’, ’inconvenient’. In both English and Danish, they either appear in front of nouns, or independently, most often in conjunction with the verb to be: en rød hest a red horse, hesten er rød the horse is red.

Unlike English, however, adjectives are inflected in Danish.

Let’s take a look at the various forms:

                                      singular                                              plural
common gender        en rød hest   ’a red horse’           røde heste    ’red horses’
neuter                           et rødt træ   ’a red tree’               røde træer   ’red trees’

Those are the indefinite forms. They are also used when the adjective is standing on its own: hesten er rød, træet er rødt, hestene er røde, træerne er røde.

Finally, we have the definite forms, used when the noun is singled out by a word like ’the’ or ’my’ – let’s use the word hans ’his’ in our example:

                                      singular                                                         plural
common gender        hans røde hest   ’his red horse’          hans røde heste    ’his red horses’
neuter                           hans røde træ   ’his red tree’               hans røde træer   ’his red trees’

So, when in a ”definite position” (one specific instance of a noun is highlighted by a word like ’the’ or ’my’), an -e is added to the adjective. Anywhere else, a -t is added in the singular neuter, whereas -e is the plural ending. That’s about it!

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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.