Danish expression of the day: Spænder ben

Have you ever (figuratively) stumbled around trying to find the right turn of phrase in Danish? Today's expression of the day could be just the thing for you.

What is spænder ben?

The verb at spænde means to stretch something to its full length, making it tense, perhaps by fixing it to two points (it should not be confused with the noun et spænde, meaning a clip which holds things together).

It can also have the figurative meaning of squeezing as much use or potential out of something as possible, as in han spændte ugens madbudget så effektivt, at han først skulle handle igen ni dage senere (“he stretched that week’s food budget so efficiently that he didn’t need to shop again for nine days”).

Ben is the Danish word for “leg” (and does not change between singular and plural form), so to spænde ben is literally to stretch a leg. 

Why do I need to know spænder ben?

A more accurate translation of at spænde ben would be to “stick a leg out”, with the implicit intention of tripping someone up. 

The phrase is not just used to describe juvenile practical jokes though, and also has a figurative use meaning to present an obstacle or difficulty in the way of what you or someone else may be trying to achieve.

As such, Denmark has an equivalent phrase for trying to trip someone up, but an object or situation can also “stick a leg out”, something that wouldn’t make sense in the English language usage of the phrase.

You can even spænde ben for yourself by hindering your overall progress through your actions, conjuring up images of contorted limbs as you try to get one of your legs in the way of the rest of your body.


Du spænder kun ben for dig selv, hvis du ikke finder et relevant praktikforløb under din uddannelse.

You’re just holding yourself back if you don’t find a relevant work placement during your studies.

EU regler spænder ben for regeringens ønske om at indføre et forbud mod at sælge cigaretter.

EU rules are providing an obstacle to the government’s plan to introduce a ban on selling cigarettes.

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Danish word of the day: Overordnet

We'll try to give you an overarching explanation of today's word of the day.

Danish word of the day: Overordnet

What is overordnet?

While we covered the meaning of over previously (spoiler: it means “over”), you’ll also need the translation of the verb at ordne to get a sense of how to use overordnet.

Because it has its roots in Latin, at ordne (from the Latin “ordinare”) is easy enough to understand for an English speaker. When used in Danish, it signifies to sort, place in a correct order, tidy or fix something. It can also mean to take care of a problem, conflict or situation: Lejligheden sejlede da jeg kom hjem, så jeg ordnede den lige hurtigt (“the apartment was a mess when I came home, so I gave it a quick sort-out”).

Getting back to overordnet, which is an adjective in the form of a past-tense verb, the prefix suggests something ahead in a certain order. In other words, overordnet can be someone of a higher rank, such as in the military or at a work place.

It can also mean a higher meaning or context, similar to how you might use “overall” in English — an overordnet strategi, for example, can be a company’s long-term business model, around which it builds its more immediate aims.

Why do I need to know overordnet?

While it’s a good example of an adjective that is formed from a rarely-used verb (at overordne), it’s also a word that will help you to convey nuance and give sentences in spoken Danish a sense of articulacy (provided you don’t overuse it, then you might end up sounding like a proponent of ‘management speak‘).

You can some up your thoughts on a certain subject by saying overordnet set (approximately, “generally speaking”) or say that you have been thinking up an overordnet plan (“overall plan”).

Like all good “over” words, overordnet has and “under”-based antonym. Underordnet is an even more expressive word than its superior (in a literal sense) opposite, and is usually used to dismiss something as irrelevant: det er underordnet, om det tager fem minutter eller en time, bare jeg får tid til en gåtur hver dag (“it doesn’t matter whether it takes five minutes or an hour, as long as I get a chance to take a walk every day”).


Jeg forstår ikke, den overordnede betydning med universet.

I don’t understand the overall meaning of the universe.

Jeg kan desværre ikke svare på dit spørgsmål, inden jeg har talt med min overordnede.

I’m afraid I can’t answer your question until I’ve spoken with my superior.