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Danish word of the day: Dygtig

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish word of the day: Dygtig

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Today’s word of the day is usually a compliment, but be careful not to use it in the wrong context.

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What is dygtig? 

Dygtig can mean a variety of things including skilled, talented, capable, clever, competent or hard-working. In phrases like Ej, hvor er du dygtig! (Wow, you’re so clever!) it's a compliment.

You can use it on its own, in the same way as you might say in English "you're such a hard-worker!" or (to a child) "good girl/boy!". But it usually refers to an action of some sort, whether that's a job or a specific task.

It is often used before a noun to highlight that someone is skilled in a particular role or capacity, so you could say:

Vores dygtige medarbejdere står klar til at hjælpe dig

Our capable staff are ready to assist you

Hun er en dygtig forfatter

She is a talented author

Han er en dygtig far

He is a good dad

Hun er en dygtig målmand

She is a skilled goalkeeper

Han er en dygtig ansat

He is a competent/skilled employee

The last and the first of these examples can be difficult to translate directly, because they might refer to someone being highly qualified, skilled, experienced or just ‘good’ at their job, depending on context.

For example, it’s common for a company or organisation to refer to vores dygtige medarbejdere in promotional material. Here, the dygtig is more of a vague compliment than a reference to the level of skills or qualification the staff have.

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Why do I need to know dygtig? 

When combined with the preposition til and a verb or noun, on the other hand, dygtig can very specifically praise someone’s talent or skill (dygtighed), such as is hvor er du dygtig til dansk (you’re so good at Danish).

It can also be turned into an adverb by adding "t": han spillede dygtigt (he played well).

A related verb is the irregular du, (not to be confused with du when it means “you”). At du til noget means to be suitable or functional for a purpose: min mobil duer ikke længere means “my phone has stopped working”.

Dygtig is not without controversy. Some people argue that it can be patronising when used about an adult, since it is best translated as "aren't you good!" and is most often associated with parents or teachers talking to children (or even pet-owners talking to their dogs), rather than peer to peer conversations. So it's a word where you need to pay close attention to context. 

With that said, if someone tells you you're virkelig dygtig til dansk (very good at Danish), it is in all likelihood a sincere compliment – even if you’ve lived here for more than long enough to have learned the language.

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