Danish word of the day: Nå

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

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

This Danish word of the day is multipurpose, but what does it even mean?


What is ? 

can be either a verb or an interjection. If you’ve ever spoken to a Dane (including in English), you’ve probably heard them say it.

Let’s begin with the verb: at nå translates roughly as “to reach” but can mean various things. In sentences like Jeg kan ikke nå den øverste hylde, vil du hjælpe mig? (”I can’t reach the top shelf, can you help me?) it is a direct equivalent of “to reach”.

You can also say jeg kan ikke nå det when you don’t have much time to do a task. For example, jeg vasker først tøj i weekenden, jeg kan ikke nå det i dag means "I’ll wash the clothes this weekend, I don’t have time to do it today/I won’t manage to get it done today”. Think of it as having enough time or resources to “reach” or stretch to getting a task done.

You can also say at in relation to arriving at a place or destination. Vi når frem til jer om en halv time ("we’ll arrive at yours in half an hour”) is an example of this.

Note that in the above sentence, is in present tense form with an -r ending. This turns it in to a homonym with one of the Danish words for “when”, når. 

These two homonyms can easily be used within the same sentence, such as når vi når København (“when we get to/arrive in Copenhagen”).


Why do I need to know ?

As an interjection, has even more different meanings than it does when it’s a verb. It’s so ubiquitous as a filler in spoken Danish that it’s not uncommon for Danes to drop it into sentences when they’re speaking English.

The range of different things it can mean is broad, and can normally be differentiated by the way the is pronounced. If this isn’t possible, you’re relying on context. A few examples are given below.

Nå! – reaction at being given an unexpected piece of information

Nåååå – reaction at being given an explanation for previously unknown piece of information

Nå. – expression of mild irritation at information that has been given

Nååårh or nuuurh – reaction at being confronted with a cute baby, dog or similar

Nå, nå – expression used to suggest another person should get off their high horse

Nånånånånå – expression at very surprising but ultimately unthreatening news

This is not a comprehensive guide and an alternative can be seen below in a meme about which has floated around Danish social media for years.

Source: 9gag

I once had a professor at Aarhus University who would say to signal the end of his lectures. It was a gruff nå, verging on a cough. I’ve never heard anyone else say in such a way but it seems to demonstrate the endless ways of using the word and a good way to close. Nå.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also