SHARE
COPY LINK

DANISH LANGUAGE

TELL US: Which Danish word should the English language adopt?

The number of English loan words in the Danish dictionary is growing, but which Danish word would you like to see borrowed in the other direction?

If you could drop any Danish word into the English language, which one would it be?
If you could drop any Danish word into the English language, which one would it be?Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

The authoritative dictionary of the Danish language, Den Danske Ordbog, has been updated with 214 new words.

As is usually the case when new words are added to the Danish dictionary, a significant number are popular English loan words.

This year’s additions include cringe, disrupte (‘to disrupt’ with Danish grammar), snooze and gamechanger (contracted into a single word grammatically in Danish).

But what Danish word do you think the English language would benefit from borrowing the other way? Which Danish word just can’t be boiled down to a succinct English equivalent? Which concept is easier to express in the Nordic tongue? Are there any Danish words you’d just like to be able to say more?

We’d love to hear your thoughts — please take a look at the survey below.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

LEARNING DANISH

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.

SHOW COMMENTS