Danish word of the day: Madpakke

Feeling a bit peckish? It's time to get stuck in to the word of the day.

What is madpakke?

From mad (“food”) and pakke (“package”), madpakke is the word generally used to mean a packed lunch.

While “packed lunch” is the closest translation of madpakke and probably its most common use in Danish, there are some subtly different contexts in which it is used.

It’s not unusual to hear someone refer to a lunch box (i.e. the container with their madpakke inside it) as a madpakke, even though there is another word for lunch box, madkasse. A Danish madpakke is commonly simply wrapped in greaseproof paper or tin foil rather than placed in a container, particularly if it’s for an adult. This might explain the apparent overlap between madpakke and madkasse.

Additionally, the meal packed together at home to later be eaten on the go in a madpakke doesn’t have to be lunch, which probably explains why the Danish word for “lunch”, frokost, is only just making its first appearance in this article now. A madpakke can be eaten at any time and can therefore be a packed lunch, packed breakfast, packed dinner or just some packed (prepared to be eaten) food.

Why do I need to know madpakke?

The concept of a madpakke tells us a few things about everyday life and eating habits in Denmark, and also open the door to understanding a few commonly-used turns of phrase.

For example, although mad means “food”, it is also sometimes used to mean “sandwich”, at least in the Danish sense of a single slice of rye bread with some butter and perhaps a bit of pålæg or “topping” spread on top.

A Danish mad can therefore also be the equivalent of a snack. If two slices of bread are used, you will hear the term klapsammenmad, meaning ‘fold together meal’.

Many Danes eat at least one mad a day as a snack (mellemmåltid – literally “between meal”).

The above goes some way to explaining the sometime-disconnect between madpakke and the English term “packed lunch”.

Mad as a sandwich and madpakke also have somewhat quaint (to Anglophone ears) use of the verb at smøre, literally “to butter” but meaning to make (British) or fix (US English) a sandwich or snack. To smøre en madpakke, may on first hearing sound like the nonsensical “butter a packed lunch”, but it actually means “make some sandwiches”.

It’s very common for Danes of both school and working ages to carry a madpakke with them and the site of someone pulling out a little paper package bound with an elastic band, about the size and thickness of four slices of rye bread, is a ‘bread-and-butter’ occurrence across the country.


Jeg skal lige smøre Katrines madpakke, så er jeg klar til at køre. Har hun fået jakke på?

I just need to pack Katrine’s lunch box, then I’ll be ready to go. Has she put her coat on yet?

Han nægtede at få andet end leverpostejsmadder i sin madpakke. Det var for besværligt med rejer, sagde han altid.

He refused to have anything other than liver paté sandwiches in his packed lunches. He always said that prawns were too much of a nuisance.

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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.