Danish Language Blog

All has been perfect Posted by on Dec 30, 2019 in Grammar

Hvem har åbnet kassen? (Free image from Pixabay; no copyright.)

Har du fået nogle fine julegaver? (Have you got some nice Xmas presents?) With the festive days fresh in mind, the time has come to look at the perfect tense.

Have you ever thought about the perfect tense? It’s used to talk about a span of time that includes both the present moment and the past. (That’s why I didn’t ask: Did you ever think about…) Notice the difference between ”It has been raining all day” and ”Yesterday it was raining”.

In Danish, the perfect tense is called either perfektum or førnutid (meaning ”before-now-tense”). Most of the time you make it using the verb ”to have” – as in English – followed by the perfect participle (the third one in the row ”see – saw – seen”).

Vi har fundet nøglerne. (We’ve found the keys.)

Hvem har spist risengrøden? (Who has eaten the Christmas rice porridge?)

De har ventet i flere timer. (They have been waiting for several hours.)

Hun har kastet bolden over muren. (She’s thrown the ball across the wall.)

Han har boet på Færøerne. (He’s been living on the Faroe Islands.)

I har været til stor hjælp! (You’ve been of great assistance/really helpful!)

As you can see, the perfect participle ends in -et (and a few times just in -t, as in spist, eaten). This mirrors the English ending -ed (as in I have push-ed – neat, huh?)

Asking a question in the perfect tense is very straightforward in Danish, as is adding the word ”not” (ikke) to negate a phrase.

Har du set en lille, gul hund? (Have you seen a small, yellow dog?)

Vi har ikke været på ferie i år. (We haven’t been on holiday this year.)

Har I ikke set hende? (Have you not seen her? = Haven’t you [plural] seen her?)

WAIT, there is more to it. 🙂 For a handful of Danish verbs, the perfect tense is made using ”to be” (at være) rather than ”to have” (at have). This is a bit unusual for an English speaker, but is quite common in for example German. Rule of thumb: Use er (am/is/are) with verbs that denote

  • movement from place A to place B
  • change from state A to state B

Han er gået ud i haven. (He’s gone out into the garden.)

Toget er kørt. (The train has departed.)

Jeg er lige vågnet. (I have just woken.)

Strømperne er krympet i vaskemaskinen. (The stockings have shrunk in the washing machine.)

Det nye år er ikke begyndt endnu. (The new year hasn’t started yet.)

Det er blevet sent. (It has become late.)

Pakken er kommet. (The package has arrived.)



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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.