Danish word of the day: Gerne

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Danish word of the day: Gerne

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

We’ll gladly explain the meaning of this polite Danish word which can be used many times a day.


What is gerne? 

Gerne is a very useful Danish word, which can often be literally translated as 'willingly' or 'gladly', but is used much more often and in more informal contexts than either of those words in English.

Speakers of other languages might spot the similarity with German gern, Swedish gärna and Icelandic gjarna, with all these words sharing a root in the Old Norse word gjarn ('willing' or 'eager').

Why do I need to know gerne?

Gerne can be used as an adverb in sentences like jeg tager gerne en kop kaffe (literally 'I'll happily have a coffee' but closer to 'I'm happy to have a coffee/I'd like to have a coffee) or jeg hjælper dig gerne (‘I'm happy to help you’).

You can also use it on its own, in which case it's a snappier alternative to 'yes, I'd like that' or 'yes please!': For example, you can reply to the question Vil du med? (‘would you like to come along?’), with gerne!, meaning 'yes please' or 'I'd love to'.


If someone asks Vil du have mælk og sukker? (‘Do you want milk and sugar?’), you can answer gerne mælk, tak (‘milk, please’). 

Gerne can also be used when you're talking about someone else, such as in the sentence hun snakker gerne om det (‘she doesn’t mind talking about it’) or hun vil gerne med (‘she would like to come along too’).

It's also possible to use it to mean 'if you like', for example tag gerne kontakt ('feel free to get in touch' or 'please get in touch') or tag gerne børnene med (‘bring your kids if you like’).

In these examples, the use of gerne softens the requests: tag børnene med (‘bring your children’) is a command, while adding gerne emphasizes that the decision is up to the listener. This phrasing is particularly common in situations where the speaker is encouraging someone to do something they may think they aren't allowed to.

Gerne can also be used when you're not implying any choice or pleasure linked to the action, but simply implying that something happens readily, easily, or often. This might mean you're talking about inanimate objects, for example den falder gerne fra hinanden  (‘it falls apart easily’).

You may occasionally hear a waiter or a bartender say så gerne in response to an order, for example Jeg vil gerne bestille to øl (‘I would like to order two beers’) – Så gerne. Here, it means ‘certainly’ or ‘my pleasure’ or a similar nicety you might hear from service staff who are taking an order.

This phrasing is old-fashioned and increasingly rare to hear in modern Denmark. If you watch classic television series Matador, though, you’ll hear the character Boldt say it in almost every episode.



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