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How to talk about family in Danish

The Local Denmark
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How to talk about family in Danish
Illustration photo of a mother and child. Using the right words for family members in Danish can take a bit of family tree knowledge to get right. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Talking about family in Danish can be complicated. Discussing your relatives requires an in-depth knowledge of exactly how they are related to you, so it's time to start brushing up on your family history.


Let’s start with grandparents.

Danish has six different words for “grandmother” and “grandfather”, depending on which side of the family you’re talking about. This may be confusing if your native language doesn’t have this distinction, as you will need to start reminding yourself of your family tree every time you discuss your grandparents in Danish.

Grandparents, or bedsteforældre in Danish, can be called bedstemor (grandmother) or bedstefar (grandfather), but it’s probably more common to hear the slightly shorter, but more specific, combination of mor (mother) and far (father) used in four different variations, a unique one for each grandparent.


Most Danes refer to their mum and dad as mor and far (although the more formal terms for parents, moder and fader do still occasionally see the light of day), and these are also the terms used in the names for grandparents – as well as other relatives.

First off, let’s look at your maternal grandparents, or morforældre (“mother parents”). These are your mother’s mum and dad. 

To refer to your mother’s parents, you would use mormor (“mother-mother”) for your grandmother, and morfar (“mother-father”) for your grandfather. 

So what about your paternal grandparents? These are your farforældre or “father parents” – although Danes are far more likely to use the catch-all term bedsteforældre to refer to two or more grandparents.

Your father’s mother would be your farmor (“father-mother”), and your father’s father would be your farfar (“father-father”).

So to recap: your mum’s parents are mormor and morfar, and your dad’s parents are farmor and farfar.

READ ALSO: Danish expression of the day: At tage en morfar

This also means, bizarrely, that the same grandparent can be called two different names depending on their exact relationship with their grandchild. If a woman has a son and a daughter, for example, her son’s children would refer to her as farmor, but her daughter’s children would call her mormor.

Great-grandparents can be referred to in two ways: by adding the word mor or far after the grandparent’s title, such as mormors mor (“mother’s mother’s mother”), or farfars far (“father’s father’s father”), or by adding the word olde- (literally, “very old”) before the grandparent’s title, such as oldemor or oldefar. The latter option does not have the family tree encoded into its construction, but is probably the most common way Danes refer to great-grandparents.

A great-great-grandparent is a tipoldefar or tipoldemor.


It doesn’t stop there. Your aunts and uncles all have special terms as well. These are similar to the terms for grandparents, in that they trace each family member linking you and your aunt or uncle.

We’ve already covered the word for “mother” in this context: mor. The Danish words for sister and brother are søster and bror, meaning that your mother’s sister is your moster (shortened from morsøster) and your mother’s brother is your morbror. 

Your father’s siblings follow the same pattern: faster for your aunt and farbror for your uncle.

This only applies to aunts and uncles you’re related to by birth. Although Danish does have the word tante for aunts and onkel for uncles by marriage (someone who is married to one of your parent’s siblings), you may also hear Danes referring to these family members as their farbrors mand (“father’s brother’s husband”) or morbrors kone (“mother’s brother’s wife”) instead.

Nieces and nephews do not follow the same pattern in Danish. Your brother’s kids are your nevø (nephew) and niece and your sister’s kids have the exact same descriptions.


Finally, grandchildren. The general word for “grandchild” in Danish is barnebarn (“child-child”), which is the word you’re most likely to hear.

There is also a now-antiquated way in Danish for grandchildren to be referred to using the same system as for other family members: sønsøn for your son’s son, sønnedatter for your son’s daughter and dattersøn or datterdatter for your daughter’s son or daughter, respectively. 

But what about your cousins? Are they your farbrorsøn (father’s brother’s son) and mosterdatter (mother’s sister’s daughter)? Thankfully, no, but they do have gender-specific words. Kusine is traditionally used for female cousins and fætter for male cousins.


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