Danish Language Blog

Feeling the Way of Words Posted by on Nov 30, 2015 in Grammar


(Free illustration from OpenClipart.)

Hello all you people who are brave and patient enough to delve into the mysteries of dansk! Some time ago I asked you for feedback on your learning difficulties, and a couple of great suggestions popped up (keep ’em coming!) One of you wrote: ”Do you have an idea how to obtain that feeling of the language, so that the words could be placed in the proper order without too much thinking about it?”

The thing is: If you really want to understand Danish word order, there is no way around grammar. And thinking about grammar most often means blocking the flow of the language. I’ll do my best to explain a bit of ”grammar without grammar”, then:

1. Feel the verb
Can you pick the verb in any phrase, without even blinking an eye? Good, then you’re on your way to perfect Danish. The verb is the ”action word” that is moved up front when making questions (or orders). Get a feel of it by turning every phrase you read into a question (or an order):
Hun planter et æbletræ. (She’s planting an apple tree.) > Planter hun et æbletræ? • Plant et æbletræ!
De kører børnene i børnehave. (They’re driving the kids to the kindergarten.) > Kører de børnene i børnehave? • Kør børnene i børnehave!
Det sner. (It’s snowing.) > Sner det? • Sne så, dit dumme vejr! (Then snow, you stupid weather!)

2. Balance the elements of the phrase
When you’ve spent some time tuning your verb radar, add other words to form phrases. For now, there’s 1 rule to remember: Only 1 unit of meaning should go in front of the verb, the rest goes behind it:
Jeg køber en julegave. (I’m buying a Christmas present.)
Rudkøbing ligger på Langeland. (Rudkøbing is on Langeland.)
Den gamle hund ligger og sover i solen. (The old dog lies sleeping in the sun.)
Mie og Lotte spiller bold. (Mie and Lotte are playing [with a] ball. – Yes, it’s still 1 unit of meaning; instead of Mie and Lotte we could’ve said the girls.)

Non-natives tend to cram in extra units of meaning in front of the verb, like this:
I dag jeg køber en julegave.
Her den gamle hund ligger og sover i solen.
Rudkøbing ikke ligger på Fyn.

No, no, no. Remember, only 1 unit of meaning in front. Other elements are ”squeezed” away and land after the (first) verb:
I dag køber jeg en julegave. (Today…)
Her ligger den gamle hund og sover i solen. (Here…)
Rudkøbing ligger ikke på Fyn.

Write some short phrases and make sure there’s always just one ”element” (phrase part) in front of the verb. Then read the phrases aloud and transition to speaking.

Next week, we’ll be looking at some phrases that might be a bit more complicated… 🙂

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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. SG:

    Tak for det! The idea about one unit of meaning is really good. Looking forward to the next post with more complex sentences.