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Five essential words you need when speaking to a doctor in Denmark

If you are visiting your GP in Denmark or perhaps speaking to the on-call doctor, a few essential words will help you to converse effectively in Danish.

'Akutmodtagelse' or Accident & Emergency is a useful Danish word to know in medical situations .
'Akutmodtagelse' or Accident & Emergency is a useful Danish word to know in medical situations . Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

If Danish is your second language but you feel comfortable enough with it to use in official correspondences, knowing a few key technical words can enable you to put your existing proficiency to reliable use.

Communicating with doctors or other medical professionals is one such situation where you might need to add a few technical words to your existing conversational ability.

We’ve put together an outline of some of these words, their meanings and the context in which you might use them below. If there’s anything important you think we’ve missed, let us know.


Literally the ‘doctors’ shift’, the lægevagt is the line you call for non-emergency medical advice outside of your own doctor’s opening hours. It is staffed by vagtlæger, or on-call doctors.

Unlike the emergency telephone number, the number you call to reach a lægevagt varies depending on the region of Denmark in which you are located at the time of the call. For example, the number in Greater Copenhagen is 1813, while in Southern Denmark you’d dial 70 11 07 07.

The other lægevagt numbers in Denmark are 70 15 07 00 (Zealand); 70 11 31 31 (Central Jutland); 70 150 300 (North Jutland).


 These two words are the equivalent of Accident & Emergency/Casualty in UK English or Emergency Room in US English.

Skadestue (literally, ‘injury room’) is a more old-fashioned term than akutmodtagelsen (‘acute reception’). You could hear wither conversationally, but are more likely to see the later on hospital websites or on signposts on site at hospitals.


Most relevant at pharmacies, medicines can be bought using a recept or prescription or as håndkøb, literally ‘hand purchased’ i.e. over the counter or without prescription.

If you’re asked about medications by a doctor, these words could come up. You might also need them when asking about how to pick up any medicines you’re advised or at the pharmacy itself.


Patient records are usually referred to as a journal. The term is relatively easy to remember due to its diary-like connotations. You may hear medical professionals referring to checking your journal if you are communicating with regard to a longstanding or previous problem.

Women who have been pregnant in Denmark may be familiar with the slightly quirky but also charming term for maternity notes vandrejournal, literally ‘wandering journal’. Danish maternity notes are usually kept in a yellow envelope, which also makes them remarkable given the digitisation of almost all medical record keeping.


When describing symptoms or an injury, or possible causes of your medical problem, you may need to use or hear the word betændelse (inflammation or infection) or betændt (inflamed or infected).

It’s important to know the nuanced meaning of this word so that you can understand how it’s being used in the context of what is being said. For example, lungebetændelse literally means ‘lung infection’ but is a common word for pneumonia. But you may also have a betændt or swollen, inflamed mouth after an operation to remove a wisdom tooth, and need a recept for antibiotika (antibiotics) to keep infection at bay.

Doctors may also use the word infektion for infection. This is easier for Anglophones because of its similarity to the English word. Swelling or inflammation can also be referred to as hævelse.

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Danish in the third person: When do you use hans, hendes, sin and sit?

The third-person possessive in Danish is more complicated than ‘his’ and ‘hers’.

Danish in the third person: When do you use hans, hendes, sin and sit?

In English, when talking about possessions in the third person, we use “his”, “her” and “their” as the adjective (“his apple, her car, their shoes”) and “his” and “hers” as the possessive pronouns (“the apple is his, the car is hers, the shoes are theirs”).

Things work a little differently in Danish.

Sin, sit and sine

Some parts of the Danish language are more important than others to master. For example even though it is good to know which words are en (en bil = “a car”) and which are et (et hus = “a house”), it is not a disaster if you happen to say “et bil” or “en hus”.

Using the wrong pronoun (such as hans or hendes) could cause more confusion, however. Take a look at this classic example:

  1. Christian kysser sin kæreste.
  2. Christian kysser hans kæreste.

In English, both sentences translate to “Christian is kissing his partner”. In Danish however, you make a distinction between “his own wife” = sin, and his as in someone else’s wife, hans in the second sentence.

If we swap sin and hans for names, this may become clearer:

  1. Christian kysser Christians (sin) kæreste.
  2. Christian kysser Henriks (hans) kæreste.

In other words, if Christian is the subject of the sentence and also has an “owner” (please forgive the expression) relationship to the object of the sentence, then we express that ownership by using sin and not hans.

It is not only hans that sometimes should be replaced with sin. It is also the case for hendes (“her”) and deres (“their”). It is also worth bearing in mind that sin changes to sit if the object is an et-word, and to sine if the object is plural. See the examples below:

Christian har malet sit hus i sommer

Christian painted his own house last summer

Christian har malet hans/hendes/deres hus i sommer.

Christian painted his (Henrik’s)/her/their house last summer.

In the second sentence here, Christian has painted someone else’s house – maybe he’s a painter-decorator or a helpful relative.

Christian skal hente sine børn fra børnehaven

Christian is going to pick up his children from pre-school

Christian skal hente hans/hendes/deres børn fra børnehaven

Christian is going to pick up his (Henrik’s)/her/their children from pre-school

In the second sentence, Christian is not picking up his own children from pre-school (unless we’re referring to shared children in the “their” version).

Unfortunately, sin, sit, hans and hendes cannot always easily be deduced from this subject-object pattern. In the following sentences:

Christian synes godt om maden, som hans kæreste tilbereder

Christian likes the food that his partner prepares

Jens venter med at gå i seng, fordi hans søn ikke er kommet hjem endnu

Jens is waiting up since his son is not home yet

Kathrine og hendes kæreste skal på restaurant i aften

Kathrine and her partner are going out for dinner tonight

You might ask yourself at this point, “Why not sin all of a sudden? There’s an ‘ownership’ connection in play, right?”

The explanation for this lies in what the subject and object of the sentence is, and whether it is split into clauses.

Christian synes godt om maden is the main clause (hovedsætning) in the first sentence. “Christian” is the subject.  

som hans kæreste tilbereder is a subordinate clause (bisætning or ledsætning). Here, hans kæreste is the subject in it. Since hans kæreste is not an object, it cannot take the sin pronoun.

Not that a main clause makes sense without the subordinate clause, but a subordinate clause cannot be a standalone sentence – this is how you tell the difference between the two types.

In the second example, Jens venter med at gå i seng is the main clause with Jens as the subject, and fordi hans søn er ikke kommet hjem endnu is the subordinate clause in which hans søn is the subject.

In the final example which unlike the others is single-clause, Kathrine og hendes kæreste are the subject together, so hendes mist be used, not sin.

When you are speaking Danish in real life, you probably don’t have time to think about sentence structure and subject-object relations. If you’re in doubt, it’s probably better to hedge your bets and go with hans or hendes – regional dialects of Danish in Jutland sometimes use these instead of sin and sit anyway.