Danish Language Blog

3 Strange Friends: D, R and G Posted by on Jun 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

As you’ve hopefully learnt from the last few months’ how-to-say-it sessions, one of the reasons Danish is so hard to pronounce is found in the way vowels (a, e, i, o, u, y, æ, ø, å) mess up their neighbours. Let’s review:

  • R after a vowel becomes a kind of British or sound, as in tur [tooᵒʳ] ’trip’
  • D after a vowel sounds like the th sound of English mother, said with a swollen tongue, as in glad [glath] ’happy’
  • G after a dark vowel (o, u, å, ra) – and after R ‑ sounds like the W of English now, as in brag [brah-w] ’clash’
  • G after a light vowel – and after L – sounds like the Y of English hey, as in pige [PEEY-eh] ’girl’

Phew, that’s quite a bit to remember, isn’t it? A tip: Keep you mouth wide open when talking, that will help you opening up for those flimsy Danish sounds!

Just like English spelling, Danish spelling is quite conservative. That is, spellings that seemed logical in the Middle Ages, are kept like that, even if the way the words are said has changed a lot! I guess many Danish schoolchildren have been chewing their pencils, trying to figure out why dej (dough) and dig ([object] you, as in ’I love you’) both sound like [dy].

Here’s a little rhyming thing, which can hopefully help making things clearer:

Three Strange Friends

The Danish D was an adamant dude,
refusing to bend, so harsh and so rude,
only vowels in front could him anyhow soothe,
as in sød and in glad and in side and ud.

(English meanings: sweet, happy, page, out)

The Danish R was quite a bore,
she gargled along with the sound of a snore,
till the vowels said, Britishly, ”come, join us, my De-ar,
as in øre and pære and ord and papir.”

(ear, pear, word, paper [pron. pahPEER)

The Danish G was the chameleon guy,
too good to be true, as the vowels would say,
in some words he’d act in a W way,
making Prag rhyme with grav (and with ’now’, BTW),
in other words he’d sound just like a Y,
rhyming leg, dig og mig with dej, maj – and ’bye’!

(Prague, grave, play, you ’n’ me, dough, May)

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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.


  1. Alex:

    The descriptions are really good and I’m glad this was posted, I am! However, it sort of ruins it not being able to listen to a recording of that final rhyme. Even after reading it and trying to internalise it, I’ll I’m doing is reading words and doubting how I think they might sound fits the actual rhyme and is actually correct. That sort of stuff works fantastically when I can aurally remember a recording of the rhyme…not so much when just reading one… :\

    Adding a recorded version in some form of a YouTube video or even just a short link to a player that has audio would make this post really top quality!

  2. Bjørn A. Bojesen:

    Hi Alex,

    OK, let me give this some thought! 🙂

    Great idea, and I’ll certainly try to do something about it…