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Mind your inversion Posted by on Jun 29, 2014 in grammar

Danish grammar has a tiny detail that always gives away foreigners: Inversion. That basically means that in some situations you have to change the word order, and if you forget to do that in those situations, well, then you sound like a foreigner… 🙂

Master Yoda - origami

The sequence of words important is, yes!

There’s inversion in English too. To make a phrase like “you are happy” into a question, you simply make the subject and the verb switch places: Are you happy? (With other verbs than “to be” it gets more complicated, but let’s leave that for now.) As you know, Danish make questions in the same way: Du er glad > Er du glad?

Let’s make that last example negative: Du er ikke glad (You are not happy) > Er du ikke glad? (Are you not happy?) Once again, Danish and English are like two peas in a pod.

Okay, let’s turn our example into a dependent clause:

Du siger at du er glad. (You say that you are happy. – As you maybe remember from school, a dependent clause is part of a main clause. “that you are happy” cannot stand on its own. Note that the Danish phrase can also be written with a comma after “siger”: Du siger, at du er glad.)

And the negative one:

Du siger at du ikke er glad. (You say that you are not happy.)

Finally we see the difference between the two languages. In Danish, the word “ikke” does a backwards summersault and places itself in front of the verb in dependent clauses: Du er ikke > Du siger at du ikke er…

The same goes for other words of the same kind, that is, adverbs that somehow influence the meaning of the whole sentence, such as tit (often), aldrig (never), altid (always), bare (just):

Han tager tit til Fyn. (He often goes to Funen.) > Jeg har hørt at han tit tager til Fyn. (I’ve heard that he often goes to Funen.)

Hun så bare træt ud. (She just looked tired.) > Det er hende der bare så træt ud. (It’s she that just looked tired.)

Du ringer aldrig. (You never call.) > Jeg forstår ikke hvorfor du aldrig ringer. (I don’t understand why you never call.)


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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. Julia:

    Just a comment on the use of her versus she in the English translation. She would be correct in this case due to subjext versus object pronoun. — Det er hende der bare så træt ud. (It’s her that just looked tired. Use instead “It is she that just looked tired”.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Julia @Julia – Thank you for the correction. I’ll fix the text.

  2. Julia:

    Sorry for spelling error above on “subject” … need to wear my glasses