For members


Danish word of the day: Underbo

Have you ever been irritated by loud music coming from the apartment downstairs, or by a tap-tap-tapping on your ceiling? Danish has a specific word for the culprits.

What is ‘underbo’?

Underbo is a compound word consisting of under (under) and bo, the infinitive of the verb ‘to live’ or ‘to reside’, but which can also be likened to ‘dweller’ — for example, someone who comes from the island of Funen can be referred to as a Fynbo or Funen-dweller.

So underbo literally means ‘the person who dwells under you’ but is best rendered in English as ‘downstairs neighbour’. 

The related overbo means ‘upstairs neighbour’, while your neighbour or neighbours on your own floor can be called either a nabo (neighbour) or genbo. Interestingly, someone who lives on the same floor as you but in an opposite  building, such that you can see each other’s windows, is also called a genbo.

We think that the suffix gen- in genbo comes from the archaic verb at genne, which means to drive people or animals in a certain direction — but are happy to listen to corrections or alternative suggestions on this particular point.

Why are these words useful?

Well, if you want to tell someone something about one of your upstairs or downstairs neighbours (or, and we hope you don’t find yourself in this situation, make a complaint to your landlord or building administrator), then you’ll need the proper terminology. Saying “neighbour who lives upstairs” in Danish (nabo, som bor op ad trapperne) sounds quite frankly bizarre.

Example sentences

Min underbo er kæmpe Justin Bieber-fan. Det ved jeg, for jeg kan høre ‘Sorry’ igennem gulvet flere gange om dagen.

My downstairs neighbour is a huge Justin Bieber fan. I know this because I can hear ‘Sorry’ through the floor several times a day.

Min overbo øver step en gang om ugen. Vi har aftalt, at hun gør det hver onsdag kl. 17, når jeg er til badminton.

My upstairs neighbour practices tapdancing once a week. We’ve agreed for her to do it on Wednesdays at 5pm, when I’m at badminton.

Jeg synes, det er lidt upassende, når vennerne i ‘Friends’ kommenterer på genboens udseende.

I always think it is a bit inappropriate when the characters in ‘Friends’ judge the appearance of the person who lived opposite.

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For members


Danish expression of the day: Det sejler

When things are falling to pieces all around you and you feel like sailing off into the breeze.

Danish expression of the day: Det sejler

What is det sejler?

The present tense form of the verb at sejle “to sail”.

At sejle can mean either “it is sailing” or “it sails” in English, with det being the pronoun. Birgitte sejler hver weekend og bruger mange kræfter på at vedligeholde båden: “Birgitte goes sailing every weekend and spends a lot of energy maintaining the boat”.

In noun form, a sejler can mean “a sailor”, although the more common term is probable sømand (“seaman”), with sejlere used for people who sail in sporting competitions. Confusingly, a sejler can also mean a boat (provided it has sails).

There are a collection of other ways at sejle can be used as a verb: it can mean to transport something using a ship (“sail the cargo”), to work on a ship (“I sailed for 45 years, man and boy”), to depart from a harbour (“she sailed from Esbjerg at 0800 hours”), or even to wade or float around at your leisure (“he sailed around the swimming pool on a foam mat all morning”).

Why do I need to know det sejler?

You may have noticed that all of the above examples have a personal pronoun (I, she, he etc.) rather than “it” (det) in front of the verb.

When you say det sejler, “it’s sailing”, things take on a different meaning: they are chaotic, out of control, a mess. This slang usage of sejle can be used to describe anything from a messy apartment, to a work project that is falling apart at the seams (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors), to dizzying or blurry surroundings.

At sejle in this sense can also describe people (so watch out for context if you see or hear it with personal pronouns): han sejler can variously mean “he is staggering”, “he is drunk”, or “he has lost control”.


Det sejler fuldstændig i det her hus. Vi trænger til en ordentlig forårsrengøring.

This house is a total mess. We need to have a proper spring clean.

Jeg fik alt for mange snaps i går. Da jeg kom hjem efter taxaturen, sejlede det fuldstændig for mig.

I had far too much schnapps last night. When I got home after the taxi journey, everything was spinning.