Danish expression of the day: Hård hund

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish expression of the day: Hård hund

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

You’ll have a dogged determination to use this Danish phrase.


What is hård hund? 

Literally a “hard dog”, this expression is used figuratively to describe a person who is either insensitive or exceptionally tough, demanding or, dare we say, ‘dogged’.

Its dictionary definition is closer to the first of the meanings above, i.e. insensitive. However, it’s arguably more common to see it used to mean “tough”, for example in this quiz on broadcaster DR’s website, which asks if you are a hård hund and therefore capable of surviving in the Stone Age.

It may have started out as a phrase for “insensitive”, but because this can be conflated with “tough”, it evolved into the latter meaning.


This can be seen in the example sentence used on the Danish Dictionary’s website:

Hun var en hård hund, der nådeløst slæbte mig til papirbunkerne, når de blev for høje. 

She was a hård hund who mercilessly dragged me to the stacks of paper if they got too tall”.

This sentence (taken from a 1989 memoirs) is apparently a description of a demanding mentor, but whether the mentor is being insensitive, demanding or tough in this passage is open to interpretation.

Why do I need to know hård hund?

You can use hård hund for either “tough” or “insensitive” without being misunderstood, provided you have the right the context.

There are some alternative expressions which are similar to hård hund. Hård banan (“hard banana”) and hård negl (“hard nail”) could similarly be interpreted as either insensitive or tough, but I’d probably go with hård negl for “tough” and hård banan for “insensitive”.

This is perhaps due to mother-tongue bias: the English phrase “as hard as nails” means someone who is physically tough, sometimes to the point of being intimidating. It is similar but not identical to hård negl.


The ‘d’ in hård is silent, so it is a homophone with the Danish word for “hair”, hår. This is pronounced as “hoor”.

In hund (“dog”), the ‘d’ is also silent but requires you to put a glottal stop at the end of the word (like how the ‘t’ in “water” is dropped in the British cockney accent, making “wa-er”). The 'u' sounds like the 'oo' in "book" or "hood". So hund is pronounced “hun-”.


Han er en hård hund og kan klar en fysisk belastende arbejdsuge på 40 timer uden at blive træt.

He’s a tough cookie and can get through a physically demanding 40-hour week without getting tired.

Jeg forsøgte at forklare, at jeg var ked af det, men hun var en hård hund og sagde bare, at jeg skulle mande mig op.

I tried to explain that I was upset, but she was harsh and just said I should ‘man up’.


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