Danish Language Blog

From Play to Playful Posted by on Nov 14, 2012 in Grammar

Sometimes you need to change a word from one grammatical class to another. In English you do that all the time, for example when you make the verb ”to read” into a noun by adding an -ing suffix: Reading makes me happy.

When you want to swap the class of a Danish word, you have several suffixes or endings at your disposal. (Don’t worry, each word is usually tied to a single suffix. I mean, you wouldn’t say ”happity” or ”stupidness” in English.) Let’s look at the most common:

Changing an adjective to an abstract noun

-hedøm (tender) > ømhed (tenderness), dansk (Danish) > danskhed(”Danishness”), kærlig (loving) > kærlighed (love)

-skabklog (wise) > klogskab (wisdom), fuld (drunk) > fuldskab(drunkenness). This suffix can also be attached to words from other classes, like ven (friend) > venskab (friendship).

-domrig (rich) > rigdom (richness, wealth), fattig (poor) > fattigdom(poverty), ung (young) > ungdom (youth, young people)

Changing a verb to an abstract noun

-ningat ride (to ride) > ridning (riding), at betyde (to mean, to signify) >betydning (meaning)

-enat løbe (to run) > løben (running), at synge (to sing) > syngen(singing)

-elseat føle (to feel) > følelse (feeling, sentiment), at nyde (to enjoy) >nydelse (enjoyment, pleasure), at spøge (to haunt) > spøgelse (ghost)

-eri: at fiske (to fish) > fiskeri (fishing), at bage (to bake) > bageri(bakery – okay, that’s a very concrete place!)

Changing a verb to a noun describing a person

-erat bage (to bake) > bager (baker), at købe (to buy) > køber (buyer)

-endeat studere (to study) > studerende (a student – this is actually an ”ing-form”, ”studying”, serving as a noun)

Changing a verb to an adjective

-ligat glæde (to delight) > glædelig (pleasant), at kede sig (to be bored) > kedelig (boring)

Changing a noun to an adjective

-etsten (stone) > stenet (stony, full of stones; ”stoned”), sex (sex) > sexet(sexy)

-som: tvivl (doubt) > tvivlsom (dubious), en (one – allright, that’s not a noun!) > ensom (lonely)

How do I know which ending to pick?

Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut rules here, you just have to learn which words go with which endings. That said, there are some rules of thumb concerning the ways we transform verbs to nouns:

  • The ending -en never changes the meaning of the verb, it just makes it a noun: en stille hvisken (a quiet whisper)
  • When you want to talk about an activity, -ning is usually the suffix to pick: jeg går til svømning (I go to swimming)
  • The ending -else usually denotes something that is related to the activity of the verb: at høre (to hear) > hørelse (hearing, the ability to hear), at smøre (to smear) > smørelse (lubricant)

Note that the word tegning can me ’the act of drawing’ as well as ’a drawing’.

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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.