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Danish word of the day: Ø

The Danish language might be known for its lengthy compound words, but today we take a look at a word just one letter long.

What is Ø?

Today’s word of the day ø, meaning island, is also the shortest Danish word (well, tied with another single-letter word, å, which means stream).

It is also one of three Danish letters that don’t exist in English, along with the aforementioned Å and Æ. These letters are often split into oe (ø), aa (å) or ae (æ) when, for example, Danish names are written in English texts. Ø is also sometimes written as o, which is misleading, because o is a different vowel in Danish.

The pronunciation of ø is somewhere between the exclamation ‘oh!’ and the filler word ‘er’ in English, but given the letter ø cannot be found in the English-language alphabet, it’s hard to describe an exact match.

We think that, like the word ‘bed’ in English, ‘ø’ has the rare quality of looking like the thing it signifies. It has more than a passing resemblance to an island, right?

Why do I need to know Ø?

Apart from Jutland, Denmark is a country consisting of islands (there are 443 named ones), so it’s a word you’ll hear a lot.

You’ll spot it in the names of some of these islands, such as Læsø, Samsø, Æbelø, Bogø, and Sprogø. These are generally the smaller islands, while big ones have names without the ø — the obvious examples are Zealand (Sjælland) and Funen (Fyn), but Bornholm, Langeland, Lolland, Falster and Møn can also be added to this list.

There are some exceptions to this, like Endelave and Anholt, which are both somewhat smaller than our favouritely-named Danish island of all: Ærø.

An important linguistic point to remember is that you generally use the preposition på (on) with islands. For example, you would say ‘jeg bor på Fyn‘ (I live on Funen), but jeg bor i Jylland (I live in Jutland).

Although ‘på Fyn‘ is correct, this only applies when talking about the island, not towns or cities located on it, for example: jeg bor i Svendborg, en mindre by på Fyn (I live in Svendborg, a small town on Funen).

Likewise, when talking about a region within an island you switch back to (in). This is particularly relevant on the largest island, Zealand, which is often discussed in terms of its geography. Jeg bor i Hillerød, det ligger i Nordsjælland (I live in Hillerød, it’s located in North Zealand) is correct, for example.

It’s not a major faux pas to mix up  and i, however.

Finally, the Danish word for peninsula is halvø, literally ‘half island’. Worth knowing given that the only non-island part of the country, Jutland, is in fact a very large peninsula.


Jeg har lige været på Ærø og synes øboerne er utrolig venlige.

I have recently been to Ærø and think the islanders are incredibly friendly.

Intet menneske er en ø.

No person is an island.

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Danish expression of the day: Det ligner

It looks like an obvious choice for the word of the day. But is it?

Danish expression of the day: Det ligner

What is det ligner?

The verb at ligne is another example of a word that enables Danes to say something in fewer words than the equivalent sentence in English.

Meaning “to look like”, it normally has a straightforward use: han ligner sin mor, for example: “he looks like his mother”.

Arguably, there is an English verb directly equivalent to at ligne which would allow you to say the above sentence in neither more nor fewer words than the Danish version. “He resembles his mother” would also be an acceptable translation of han ligner sin mor. 

Despite this, I’d argue “looks like” is more accurate in most situations and contexts, because at ligne does not have the formal feel of written language that “resemble” conjures up.

Why do I need to know det ligner?

When you put the pronoun det (“it”) in front of the verb, making it “it looks like”, the use of at ligne can take on a different meaning.

In the sentence det ligner at det bliver regnvejr hele weekenden (“it looks like it will rain all weekend”), ligner drops its equivalence to “resemble” and, similar to “looks like”, can be used to make a prediction.

According to language regulator Dansk Sprognævn, this alternative use of det ligner has emerged in the last 20-25 years. That being the case, you could speculate that it has occurred as a result of an English phrase being adopted in Danish, even though it makes less sense in Danish in its original guise.

This is not necessarily true. Another way of talking about an uncertain future event in Danish is to say det ser ud til, approximately “it looks as though”. Det ser ud til at det bliver regnvejr is, in fact, probably closer to “it looks like it will rain” than any translation that uses det ligner.

Nevertheless, det ligner is a concise way of talking about something that looks likely to happen in the future. You would normally say it based on some form of evidence, rather than your own instinct: in the examples above, darkening grey clouds on the horizon would probably get people saying det ligner regnvejr.


Det lignede en sikker sejr for hjemmeholdet, men så lukkede de tre mål ind i anden halvleg.

It looked like a comfortable victory for the home team, but they conceded three goals in the second half.

Er du okay? Du ligner slet ikke dig selv.

Are you ok? You don’t look yourself at all.