SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LEARNING DANISH

Danish in the third person: When do you use hans, hendes, sin and sit?

The third-person possessive in Danish is more complicated than ‘his’ and ‘hers’.

Danish in the third person: When do you use hans, hendes, sin and sit?
Whose house in being painted? Photo by Roselyn Tirado on Unsplash

In English, when talking about possessions in the third person, we use “his”, “her” and “their” as the adjective (“his apple, her car, their shoes”) and “his” and “hers” as the possessive pronouns (“the apple is his, the car is hers, the shoes are theirs”).

Things work a little differently in Danish.

Sin, sit and sine

Some parts of the Danish language are more important than others to master. For example even though it is good to know which words are en (en bil = “a car”) and which are et (et hus = “a house”), it is not a disaster if you happen to say “et bil” or “en hus”.

Using the wrong pronoun (such as hans or hendes) could cause more confusion, however. Take a look at this classic example:

  1. Christian kysser sin kæreste.
  2. Christian kysser hans kæreste.

In English, both sentences translate to “Christian is kissing his partner”. In Danish however, you make a distinction between “his own wife” = sin, and his as in someone else’s wife, hans in the second sentence.

If we swap sin and hans for names, this may become clearer:

  1. Christian kysser Christians (sin) kæreste.
  2. Christian kysser Henriks (hans) kæreste.

In other words, if Christian is the subject of the sentence and also has an “owner” (please forgive the expression) relationship to the object of the sentence, then we express that ownership by using sin and not hans.

It is not only hans that sometimes should be replaced with sin. It is also the case for hendes (“her”) and deres (“their”). It is also worth bearing in mind that sin changes to sit if the object is an et-word, and to sine if the object is plural. See the examples below:

Christian har malet sit hus i sommer

Christian painted his own house last summer

Christian har malet hans/hendes/deres hus i sommer.

Christian painted his (Henrik’s)/her/their house last summer.

In the second sentence here, Christian has painted someone else’s house – maybe he’s a painter-decorator or a helpful relative.

Christian skal hente sine børn fra børnehaven

Christian is going to pick up his children from pre-school

Christian skal hente hans/hendes/deres børn fra børnehaven

Christian is going to pick up his (Henrik’s)/her/their children from pre-school

In the second sentence, Christian is not picking up his own children from pre-school (unless we’re referring to shared children in the “their” version).

Unfortunately, sin, sit, hans and hendes cannot always easily be deduced from this subject-object pattern. In the following sentences:

Christian synes godt om maden, som hans kæreste tilbereder

Christian likes the food that his partner prepares

Jens venter med at gå i seng, fordi hans søn ikke er kommet hjem endnu

Jens is waiting up since his son is not home yet

Kathrine og hendes kæreste skal på restaurant i aften

Kathrine and her partner are going out for dinner tonight

You might ask yourself at this point, “Why not sin all of a sudden? There’s an ‘ownership’ connection in play, right?”

The explanation for this lies in what the subject and object of the sentence is, and whether it is split into clauses.

Christian synes godt om maden is the main clause (hovedsætning) in the first sentence. “Christian” is the subject.  

som hans kæreste tilbereder is a subordinate clause (bisætning or ledsætning). Here, hans kæreste is the subject in it. Since hans kæreste is not an object, it cannot take the sin pronoun.

Not that a main clause makes sense without the subordinate clause, but a subordinate clause cannot be a standalone sentence – this is how you tell the difference between the two types.

In the second example, Jens venter med at gå i seng is the main clause with Jens as the subject, and fordi hans søn er ikke kommet hjem endnu is the subordinate clause in which hans søn is the subject.

In the final example which unlike the others is single-clause, Kathrine og hendes kæreste are the subject together, so hendes mist be used, not sin.

When you are speaking Danish in real life, you probably don’t have time to think about sentence structure and subject-object relations. If you’re in doubt, it’s probably better to hedge your bets and go with hans or hendes – regional dialects of Danish in Jutland sometimes use these instead of sin and sit anyway.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

DANISH LANGUAGE

‘Don’t take it personally’: Word ‘Anglophobia’ added to Denmark’s dictionary

‘Anglophobia’ was one of 252 new words added to the Danish Dictionary on Friday.

'Don’t take it personally': Word 'Anglophobia' added to Denmark's dictionary

The Danish Dictionary (Den Danske Ordbog) received an update on Friday with ‘Anglophobia’ – anglofobi, as it’s written in Danish – one of a number of notable new entries to the national lexicon.

A total of 252 new words, 12 new meanings and 5 idioms have been added to the Danish Dictionary, along with revisions to 194 existing entries.

The headline entry is arguably anglofobi, which has the dictionary definition “disgust for or hostility towards England or English language and culture”.

That may sound alarming to English people or other Anglophones in Denmark, but it does not signal a change in Danish sentiment towards the UK nation according to Henrik Lorentzen, senior editor with the Society for Danish Language and Literature (Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab).

“You mustn’t take it personally,” Lorentzen told The Local’s English reporter in a telephone call.

“It’s not included because there’s a particular hostility towards English people, or towards American or Anglo-Saxon culture,” he said.

“Some would say ‘there’s Brexit, there’s Boris Johnson’ – but it’s not because of that,” he said.

The large quantity of new entries into the dictionary can primarily be credited to space created by the dictionary’s move from physical to online form, he explained.

Around two decades ago, the Danish Dictionary was produced as a six-volume physical book which naturally limited the space available for entries.

“But now we make dictionaries for the Internet, and have done so for the last 13 years,” Lorentzen said.

“Now we also have space for foreign words, loan words or whatever we choose to call them,” he said.

The digital age has also improved language researchers’ ability to detect use of new or loan words by broadening the volume of text that can be encompassed in its work, he explained.

A large proportion of loan words – including anglofobi – can be found among the new entries. Other examples include firmware, piece, maceration, FOMO and nativisme.

On a similar theme to anglofobi, a cluster of words prefaced by anti-, including antiamerikansk, antimuslimsk and antiisraelsk among several others, were added to the dictionary on Friday.

“Some of these words are not so new but they are unfortunately relevant because there are conflicts in the Middle East, in Europe, so there are some words that are relevant to mention,” Lorentzen said.

Last summer’s UEFA European Championship semi-final, in which England defeated Denmark after a disputed penalty decision, does not appear to have permanently damaged relations between the nations, though.

The inclusion of anglofobi does not reflect increased anti-English sentiment related to football “as far as I can tell,” Lorentzen said.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re coming home’: How Denmark views the Euro 2020 semi-final clash with England

During the recent election campaign a satirical Twitter account posted a spoof picture of the leader of the national conservative Danish People’s Party, Morten Messerschmidt, claiming he wanted Danes to drop the use of the term “fast food” and instead call convenience meals hurtigmums.

Messerschmidt did not in fact make any such statement, but his party has in the past spoken against the use of English loan words in Danish.

“Some people think the English spillover into Danish overwhelming, awkward or even damaging for the Danish language,” Lorentzen said in a press statement which accompanied the announcement of the dictionary update.

“For others, English is woven into everyday life and working life, they perceive multilingualism as more of an opportunity than a threat, and the use of English words and expressions can in certain circles even be an important identity marker,” he said.

The Danish Dictionary is descriptive and therefore obliged to account for the most broadly used vocabulary in the national language, the statement notes. This applies regardless of the linguistic origins of the words.

The dictionary is a free online resource and is used by around 130,000 people daily, according to the statement. It is updated twice a year, based on a body of texts comprising over a billion words.

The Society for Danish Language and Literature (Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab, DSL) publishes and documents the Danish language from its historical origins to the present day.

SHOW COMMENTS