Danish Language Blog

Two Ways of Giving Posted by on Dec 17, 2020 in Grammar

(Free image from Pixabay; no copyright.)

Julen er gavernes tid. (Christmas is the time of gifts.) While many of us are still pondering to whom to give what, let’s look at the Danish grammar of giving.

The Danish verb at give [at gheew’] is historically related to the English to give. Fortunately, it works in similar ways.

Jeg ved ikke hvem jeg skal give gaven til. (I don’t know to whom to give the present.)

Hvad giver du til far? (What are you going to give Dad?)

I giver mig intet valg! (You guys give me no other choice!)

”To give” is a great verb, because as all you grammar geeks know – it takes two complements! Look:

Hun tænker. (She’s thinking.) – Zero complements. (What’s she thinking? We don’t know.)

De savner julemanden. (They’re missing Santa Claus.) One complement. (Whom are they missing? Santa.)

Børnene giver mor et knus. (The kids are giving Mum a hug.) Two complements! (What are they giving? A hug. To whom are they giving it? To Mum.)

The ”whom/what” complement1known as the direct object usually appears after the verb: Jeg elsker kager! (I love cakes!) In the Viking age, both Danish and English had a special case for this, called the accusative. You can still see it in some pronouns, which is why you are sometimes free to shuffle sentences with pronouns: Mågerne hader mig. (The seagulls hate me.) > Mig hader mågerne. (Me the seagulls hate.) Now imagine if all words had cases and shuffle you could around everything. 🙂

This leaves one big question: What about the to whom complement2known as the indirect object? Unfortunately, we’ve left the Viking age long ago and the pronouns don’t help, as the so-called dative pronouns of 2020 are identical to the accusative pronouns discussed above:

De savner hende. (They miss her.)

De sender hende et julebrev. (They send her a Christmas letter.)

I hope you see the pattern. As in English, the to whom complement can either appear squeezed in between the verb and the ”whom/what” complement – OR it can appear after the word til (to), usually at the end of the sentence.

Phew, here’s the first type: Julen giver os håb. (Christmas gives us hope.)

And the second: Alle gav gaver til børnene. (Everybody gave presents to the children.)

When to use which? There are no good rules here, but it seems to me that the first kind of structure (I-give-you-hugs) is more common with pronouns like ”you” and ”me”. The second type (I-give-hugs-to-my-good-friend) is more common when the recipient is represented by a noun or several words. But follow your gut feeling, as you’do in English. When it comes to giving, grammar can only give us clues (clues to us?)

Tak for godt selskab! (Thanks for the good company, so far!)

Glædelig jul og godt nytår! 🙂

  • 1
    known as the direct object
  • 2
    known as the indirect object
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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.