Differences between Norwegian Bokmål and Standard Danish

Differences between Norwegian Bokmål and Standard Danish

Danish and Norwegian Bokmål (the most common standard form of written Norwegian) are very similar languages, but differences between them do exist. The languages are mutually intelligible, with the primary differences being in pronunciation and in the sound system as a whole.


Mutual intelligibility

Generally, speakers of the three largest Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) can read each others' languages without great difficulty. This holds especially true of Danish and Norwegian.[1] The primary obstacles to mutual comprehension are differences in pronunciation. Danish speakers generally do not understand Norwegian as well as the extremely similar written norms would lead one to expect. Many Norwegians - especially in northern and western Norway - also have problems understanding Danish, but according to a recent scientific investigation Norwegians are better at understanding both Danish and Swedish than Danes and Swedes are at understanding Norwegian.[2] Nonetheless, Danish is widely reported to be the most incomprehensible language of the three.

In general, Danes and Norwegians will fluently understand the other language with only a little training.[3]


In the Kingdom of Denmark–Norway (1536–1814), the official language was Danish. The urban Norwegian upper class spoke Dano-Norwegian, a form of Danish with Norwegian pronunciation and other minor local differences. After the two countries separated, Danish remained the official language of Norway, and remained largely unchanged until language reforms in the early 20th century led to the standardization of forms more similar to the Norwegian urban and rural vernaculars. Since 1929, this written standard has been known as Bokmål. Later attempts to bring it closer to and eventually merge it with the other Norwegian written standard, Nynorsk, constructed on the basis of Norwegian dialects, have failed due to widespread resistance. Instead, the most recent reforms of Bokmål (2005) have included certain Danish-like constructions that had previously been banned.[4]


Danish text1
I 1877 forlod Brandes København og bosatte sig i Berlin. Hans politiske synspunkter gjorde dog, at Preussen blev ubehagelig for ham at opholde sig i, og han vendte i 1883 tilbage til København, hvor han blev mødt af en helt ny gruppe af forfattere og tænkere, der var ivrige efter at modtage ham som deres leder. Det vigtigste af hans senere arbejder har været hans værk om William Shakespeare, der blev oversat til engelsk af William Archer og med det samme blev anerkendt.
Norwegian (moderate Bokmål)1
I 1877 forlot Brandes København og bosatte seg i Berlin. Hans politiske synspunkter gjorde imidlertid at det ble ubehagelig for ham å oppholde seg i Preussen, og i 1883 vendte han tilbake til København, der han ble møtt av en helt ny gruppe forfattere og tenkere, som var ivrige etter å motta ham som sin leder. Det viktigste av hans senere arbeider er hans verk om William Shakespeare, som ble oversatt til engelsk av William Archer, og som straks ble anerkjent.
Translation of the Bokmål sample into Danish1
I 1877 forlod Brandes København og bosatte sig i Berlin. Hans politiske synspunkter gjorde imidlertid at det blev ubehageligt for ham at opholde sig i Preussen, og i 1883 vendte han tilbage til København, hvor han blev mødt af en helt ny gruppe forfattere og tænkere, som var ivrige efter at møde ham som deres leder. Det vigtigste af hans senere arbejder er hans værk om William Shakespeare, som blev oversat til engelsk af William Archer, og som straks blev anerkendt.
English translation
In 1877 Brandes left Copenhagen and took up residence in Berlin. However, his political views made Prussia an uncomfortable place to live in, and in 1883 he returned to Copenhagen, where he was met by a completely new group of writers and thinkers, who were eager to accept him as their leader. The most important of his later works is his work about William Shakespeare, which was translated to English by William Archer and received recognition immediately.
  1. ^ Excerpts from the articles about Danish critic Georg Brandes from the Danish Wikipedia, version from May 19, 2006, 09:36 and Norwegian (bokmål) Wikipedia, version from April 4, 2006, 01:38. The translation of the Bokmål sample into Danish was created for the purpose of this article.

Writing system

Generally, Norwegian orthography is more simplified and regularized and closer to actual pronunciation than Danish. As a rule, the graphic differences between the two languages do not reflect actual differences in pronunciation; while there are significant phonetic and phonological differences, they are rarely expressed in writing. The few exceptions are noted below.

  • In writing, Danish may employ either the letter e or the letter æ to signify the short vowel phoneme /ɛ/. Norwegian almost always uses e. Example: Danish lægge (to lay), sende (to send) vs Norwegian legge, sende.
  • Danish regularly, although not always, uses the letter combinations nd, ld instead of the double consonant letters nn, ll. In most cases this isn't etymologically justified. In Norwegian, only the etymologically justified spellings occur. Example: Danish kende (to know, Old Norse kenna), denne (this /common gender/, ON masculine accusative þenna) and sende (to send, ON senda) vs Norwegian kjenne, denne (but sende); Danish ilde (bad, ON illa), ville (to want, Old Norse vilja) and holde (to hold, Old Norse halda) vs Norwegian ille, ville (but holde).
  • Unlike Norwegian, Danish often uses ds instead of double s. Example: ridse (to scratch) but visse (certain [plural]) vs Norwegian risse, visse. Likewise in some other contexts, Danish bedst (best), sidst (last) vs Norwegian best, sist.
  • Unlike Norwegian, Danish doesn't use double consonants word-finally. Example: Danish vis can signify both the adjective pronounced /viːˀs/ (wise) and the adjective pronounced /ves/ (certain), even though the plural forms of the adjectives, where the consonant occurs medially, are distinguished in writing by means of a double s in the second word (vise vs visse). In contrast, Norwegian does distinguish between vis and viss in the same way as between vise and visse.
  • Danish preserves the above rule both before inflexional and derivational endings, beginning in a consonant, and in compounding. Norwegian, too, prohibits word-final double consonants before inflexional endings, beginning in a consonant, (unless homography needs to be avoided), but not before derivational endings and in compounding. Example: Danish al (all /common gender/) - alt (all /neuter gender/) - alle (all /plural/) - altid (always, literally "all time"); Norwegian all - alt - alle, but alltid.
  • Norwegian has preserved the spellings gj, kj, and skj in the beginning of words when followed by e, æ, ø, while modern Danish has simply g, k and sk. Today, this in part reflects the fact that these words are also pronounced differently in the two languages, see below. Examples: Danish gemme (keep, hide), kær (dear), skønt (although) vs Norwegian gjemme, kjær, skjønt.
  • A pair of diphthongs are spelled as ej and øj in Danish, but as ei and øy in Norwegian. The exact pronunciation of these diphthongs is also somewhat different in the two languages, see below, and the different spellings are phonetically justified at least for the second diphthong. Examples: Danish vej (way), løj (lied /past tense/) vs Norwegian vei, løy.
  • In the oblique case forms of the 1st and 2nd person pronouns and of reflexive pronouns, the ei/ej diphthong is spelled ig in Danish, but eg in Norwegian: mig, dig, sig vs meg, deg, seg.
  • In Danish, the preposition af "of, from" is spelled with f (pronounced [a] or, in compounds, [ɑʊ̯]), whereas Norwegian has av with v like Swedish.
  • In loanwords, Danish generally has tended to partly preserve the spelling of the source language, whereas Norwegian traditionally usually has adapted the spelling to its own rules in order to reflect the expected pronunciation. Examples: Danish bureau (bureau), chauffør (chauffeur), information (information), garage (garage), centrum (centre), zone (zone) vs Norwegian byrå, sjåfør, informasjon, garasje, sentrum, sone.
  • Traditional Danish punctuation requires that a comma be placed before and after every dependent clause, and although two recent reforms encourage the dropping of a comma before the dependent clause, the old system is still in general use.[5] In contrast, Norwegian only requires a comma after the dependent clause; a comma is placed before it only if the clause is parenthetic (the same rule as in English).[6] Example sentence:
Danish Jeg ved, hvordan manden, (som) du snakker om, ser ud.
Norwegian Jeg ve(i)t hvordan mannen (som) du snakker om, ser ut.
English I know what (lit. how) the man (that) you're talking about looks like.

Note, however, Norwegian John, som hadde sett mannen, visste hvordan han så ut (John, who had seen the man, knew what he looked like), where the dependent clause is parenthetic.

Pronunciation and sound system

The difference in pronunciation between Norwegian and Danish is much more striking than the difference between Norwegian and Swedish. Although written Norwegian is very similar to Danish, spoken Norwegian more closely resembles Swedish.

The Danish pronunciation is typically described as 'softer', which in this case refers mostly to the frequent approximants corresponding to Norwegian and historical plosives in some positions in the word (especially the pronunciation of the letters d and g), as well as the realisation of r as a uvular or even pharyngeal approximant in Danish as opposed to the Norwegian alveolar trills or uvular trills/fricatives.

It is often jokingly claimed[7] that Danes have an easier time understanding drunk Norwegians than sober ones, as the former often use a more slurred manner of speech that resembles Danish.

Also, Danish people make jokes about Norwegians sounding childish, because of their sing-song sounds in their language.

Note that in the following comparison of Danish and Norwegian pronunciation, the East Norwegian pronunciation of Oslo is taken as the norm. In practice, most Norwegians will speak a local dialect in most contexts; furthermore, Bokmål itself is not a spoken standard, and is likely to be pronounced with clearly regional features. The most obvious instances are the uvular (rather than alveolar) pronunciation of /r/ and the lack of retroflexes in much of Western Norway, and the pronunciation, in some cases, of a retroflex flap instead of /l/ in much of Eastern Norway, including the less "refined" forms of the Oslo dialect. All of this is ignored in the following exposition.


Arguably the most acoustically striking differences in vowels are that:

  • In Danish, the grapheme a corresponds, in most contexts, to the pronunciation of a front, often even open-mid front vowel ([a] or [æ]). In Norwegian, a is invariably an open back vowel [ɑ]. Example: Danish bane [b̥æːnə] vs. Norwegian bane [bɑːnə] (course, orbit).
  • The grapheme u corresponds to (more or less close) back vowels in Danish, but usually to a close central vowel (/ʉ/) in Norwegian. Example: Danish [huːs] vs. Norwegian [hʉːs].

As a whole, Norwegian still preserves the old pairs of short and long vowels, as suggested by the writing system, pretty close to each other, even though the long ones are usually closer. Thus, the grapheme e corresponds to long [eː] (sene [seːnə], late [plural]) and short [ɛ] (sende [sɛnːə], to send), while the grapheme i corresponds to long [iː] (sine [siːnə], his/her/its/their own) and short [ɪ] (sinne [sɪnːə], anger). In Danish, the tendency of differentiation has led to a qualitative overlapping: also here, e can stand for long [eː] (sene [seːnə], late [plural]) and for short [ɛ] (sende [sɛnə], to send), but i, besides signifying long [iː] (sine [siːnə], his/her/its/their own), has come to correspond to short [e] ([nogen]sinde [senə], ever) and, to complicate things further, a short [i] pronunciation is maintained in some cases (sidste [sistə], last). Most Danish vowels have also many segmentally conditioned allophones, especially more open ones when preceded or followed by /r/ .

The following is a table that compares the most common Danish and the Norwegian pronunciations of a letter (without taking into account the grouping of sounds into phonemes, as well as many sub-rules, exceptions and subtleties). Note that in many cases, even when the same IPA transcription is used, the sounds may still be somewhat different in the two languages.

Grapheme Quantity Norwegian Danish
/V/ /rV/ /Vr/
a long [ɑː] [æː] [ʁɑː] [ɑː]
short [ɑ] [a > æ], [ɑ]1) [ʁɑ] [ɑː]
e long [eː] [eː] [ʁæː(ɪ̯)] [eːɐ, ɛːɐ]
short [ɛ] 2) [ɛ] [ʁa > ʁɑ], [ʁa > ʁaɪ̯] 2)3) [aɐ]
unstressed [ə] [ə] [ɐ] [ɐ]
i long [iː] [iː] [ʁiː] [iːɐ]
short [ɪ] [e], [i] [ʁæ], [ʁi] [iɐ]
o long [uː] 4) [oː] [ʁoː] [oːɐ]
short [ɔ] 5) [ʌ], [ɔ] 6) [ʁʌ] [ɒː], [o]
u long [ʉː] [uː] [ʁuː > ʁoː] [uːɐ]
short [ʉ] [ɔ] 7), [u] [ʁɔ] 7), [ʁu > ʁo] [uɐ]
y long [yː] [yː] [ʁyː] [yːɐ]
short [y] [ø] 7), [y] [ʁœ] 7), [ʁy] [yɐ], [ɶɐ] 8)
æ long [æː] 9) [ɛː] [ʁæː(ɪ̯)] [ɛːɐ]
short [æ] [ɛ] [ʁa > ɑ], [ʁa > ʁaɪ̯] 3) [aɐ]
ø long [øː] [øː] [ʁœː] [øːɐ]
short [œ] [ø] [ʁœ], [ʁɶ] 10) [ɶɐ]
å long [oː] [ɔː] [ʁɔː] [ɒː]
short [ɔ] [ʌ] [ʁʌ] [ɒː]
1) before labials and velars
2) But [æ] before /r/
3) before velars
4) But [oː] before /ɡ, v/
5) but, in some cases, [u] (notably before rt, nd, and sometimes st)
6) in some words before /ʋ/, /s/, /n/, /m/ (< older ō)
7) almost universally before /m, n, ŋ/
8) only in fyrre "40"
9) But [ɛː], when, by exception, not followed by /r/
10) before /n/

Interestingly, while the more open realisations of /ɛ/ and /ɛː/ before /r/ are allophonic in Danish, they have acquired phonemic status as /æ/ and /æː/ in Norwegian, and the Norwegian letter æ has come to be used almost only to signify them. The phonologisation of /æ/ was mostly a collateral effect of the merger of some other sounds: Danish æ /ɛː/ vs. e /eː/ and sj /sj/ vs. rs /ɐ̯s/ have come to be pronounced in the same way in Norwegian (respectively /eː/ and /ʂ/), thus rendering the occurrences of /æ/ unpredictable.


The Danish diphthongs [aɪ̯] and [ʌɪ̯] (spelled as ej and øj) correspond to the Norwegian diphthongs (in Oslo pronunciation) [æɪ̯] and [œɥ̯] (spelled as ei and øy). Besides that, a great many letter combinations are pronounced as diphthongs in Danish, but as usual vowel-consonant combinations in Norwegian. That is mostly due to the Danish letters g and v (colloquially also b) being pronounced as semivowels [ɪ̯] and [ʊ̯] after a vowel: thus, dag is pronounced [d̥æ(ɪ̯)] in Danish, but [dɑːɡ] in Norwegian; lov (law) is pronounced [lʌʊ̯] in Danish, but [loːv] in Norwegian. Similarly, [aɪ̯] and [ʌɪ̯] are often spelled as eg and øg in Danish (eg may be pronounced [æɪ̯] in Norwegian, too, e.g. in regne, "to rain").

  • A significant sound correspondence (rather than simply a difference in pronunciation) is the fact that Danish has long monophthongs (e /eː/, ø /øː/) in some words, where Norwegian has restored the reflexes of old Norse diphthongs (ei [æɪ̯], øy [œɥ̯] and au [æʉ̯]) as alternatives or, sometimes, replacement of the Danish ones. Examples: Danish ben (leg, bone) - Norwegian ben or bein; Danish (hay) - Norwegian høy; Danish høj (hill) - Norwegian haug.


The most notable differences are, as already mentioned, the pronunciation of approximants in Danish, corresponding to voiced and voiceless stops in Norwegian and of r as a uvu-pharyngeal approximant in Danish, corresponding to an alveolar trill in (East) Norwegian (skrige [sɡ̊ʁii], "shriek" vs skrike [skriːkə]). Furthermore, Danish has replaced the voiced/voiceless opposition in /p, t, k/) vs /b, d, ɡ/) with an aspirated/nonaspirated one ([pʰ, tˢ, kʰ] vs [b̥, d̥, ɡ̊]), and the contrast between the two is neutralized syllable-finally and before schwa (in practice, in the core of native words, this means it is lost everywhere except word-initially). Thus, begge (both) and bække (brooks) are pronounced alike as [b̥ɛɡ̊ə]. In Norwegian, the opposition is still voiced vs voiceless and it is preserved everywhere, with /p, t, k/ being aspirated in the onset of a stressed syllable (as in English and German).

Grapheme Danish Norwegian
In stressed onset Elsewhere (single) Elsewhere (double) In stressed onset Elsewhere
b [b̥] [b̥, ʊ̯] [b̥] [b] [b]
d [d̥] [ð̪] [ð̪] [d] [d]
g [ɡ̊] [-, ɪ̯, ʊ̯] [ɡ̊] [ɡ] [ɡ]
k [kʰ] [ɡ̊] [ɡ̊] [kʰ] [k]
p [pʰ] [b̥] [b̥] [pʰ] [p]
r [ʁ] [ɐ̯, -] [r] [r]
t [tˢ] [d̥] [d̥] [tʰ] [t]
v [ʋ] [ʊ̯] [ʊ̯] [ʋ] [ʋ]

The Danish /r/ is either vocalized or dropped altogether, after having influenced the adjacent vowels, in all positions but word-initially and pre-stress.

Some letter combinations that are pronounced quite differently are:

  • rd, rl, rn, rs, rt are pronounced as spelled in Danish (with the /r/ dropped), but in the part of Norway using trilled r, they are always or almost always merged into retroflex consonants ([ɖ], [ɭ], [ɳ], [ʂ], [ʈ]).
  • sj is pronounced [ɕ] in Danish, but as [ʂ] in most of Norway.

Some notable sound correspondences are:

  • Danish has /b/ (spelled b), /ð/ (spelled d), and [ɪ̯, ʊ̯] (spelled g) after long stressed vowels, where Norwegian has restored/preserved the /p/, /t/ and /k/ from Old Norse. Examples: Danish fod (foot), reb (rope), syg (sick) - Norwegian fot, rep, syk - Old Norse fótr, reip, sjúkr. In a handful of cases, however, Norwegian has kept the Danish form (lege, doctor, tegn, sign, bedre, better, vs Old Norse læknari, teikn, betri). In most of these cases, the Nynorsk equivalents have retained the old consonants (lækjar (variant form), teikn, betre).
  • Sometimes Danish has /v/ ([ʊ̯], spelled v) after originally long stressed vowels, where Norwegian has restored/preserved /ɡ/ from Old Norse. Example: Danish skov (forest), mave (belly) - Norwegian skog, mage - Old Norse skógr, magi. However, in many cases Norwegian has kept the Danish form (lyve "tell a lie" - Old Norse ljúga), and variation is permitted (mave, lyge, and even ljuge).
  • Danish has /ɡ/, /k/, and /sk/ (spelled g, k and sk) in stressed syllable onsets, where Norwegian usually has /j/, /ç/ and /ʂ/ (spelled as in Danish before i, y, ei and øy, and gj, kj and skj elsewhere). Examples: Danish gemme (keep, hide), kær (dear), skønt (although), gyse (shiver), kilde (source, spring) vs Norwegian gjemme, kjær, skjønt, gyse, kilde.


In Norwegian, each stressed syllable must contain, phonetically, either a long vowel or a long (geminate) consonant (e.g. male [mɑːlə], "to paint" vs malle [mɑlːə], "catfish") . In Danish, there are no phonologically long consonants, so the opposition is between long and short vowels ([mæːlə] vs [malə]. Both languages have a prosodic opposition between two "accents", derived from syllable count in Old Norse and determined partly phonologically, partly morphologically and partly lexically. However, the exact nature of this prosodic contrast is very different. In Norwegian, the contrast is between two tonal accents, accent 1 and 2, which characterise a whole word with primary stress; in Danish, it is between the presence and the absence of the stød (a kind of laryngealisation), which characterises a syllable (though usually a syllable that bears at least secondary stress). Example: Danish løber "runner" [ˈløːb̥ɐ] vs løber "runs" [ˈløːˀb̥ɐ], Norwegian løper2 [lø̂ːpər] vs løper1 [lø̀ːpər]. Note Danish landsmand [ˈlanˀsmanˀ] "compatriot" (one word, two støds) as opposed to Norwegian landsmann [lɑ̀nsmɑnː] (one word, one accent).

Note: The pronunciation of the tone accents varies widely between Norwegian dialects; the IPA tone accent transcriptions above reflect South-East Norwegian pronunciation (found e.g. in Oslo). There is usually also high pitch in the last syllable, but it not transcribed here, because it belongs to the prosody of the phrase rather than the word.

Grammatical differences

Nominal morphology


Danish has two grammatical genders - common (indefinite article en and definite article -en) and neuter (indefinite article et and definite article -et). In Norwegian, the system is generally the same, but some common words optionally use special feminine gender declension patterns, which have been preserved from Old Norse in Norwegian dialects and were re-introduced into the written language by the language reforms of the early 20th century. Hence, three genders are recognized - masculine (morphologically identical to Danish common, with indefinite article en and definite article -en), feminine (indefinite article ei and definite article -a) and neuter (morphologically identical to its Danish counterpart, with indefinite article et and definite article -et, pronounced /ə/). The likelihood of a feminine as opposed to common form being used depends on the particular word, as well as on style: common gender forms are often more formal or sometimes even bookish, while feminine forms tend to make a more colloquial and sometimes even rustic impression. Examples: Danish en mand - manden ("a man - the man"), en sol - solen ("a sun - the sun"), et hus - huset ("a house - the house") vs Norwegian en mann - mannen ("a man - the man"), ei sol - sola or en sol - solen ("a sun - the sun"), et hus - huset ("a house - the house").

The Norwegian feminine can also be expressed in the indefinite singular declension of the word liten, which has a special feminine form lita beside the neuter lite. Danish has only lille, which is the definite singular form in both languages.


In Danish, the plural endings are -er, -e or zero-ending. The choice of ending is difficult to predict (although -er is especially common in polysyllables, loanwords and words ending in unstressed e; -e is most usual in monosyllables; and zero-ending is most usual in neuter monosyllables). In Norwegian, the system is rather regularized, as the -e ending has all but disappeared, and -er is dominant in common gender monosyllables, while zero-ending is prevalent in neuter gender monosyllables. Examples: Danish en appelsin - appelsiner, en hund - hunde, et hus - huse, et fald - fald, vs Norwegian en appelsin- appelsiner, en hund - hunder, et hus - hus, et fall - fall (singular and plural forms of "orange", "dog", "house" and "fall").

In addition, the formation of the definite plural forms are somewhat different in the two languages. In Danish, plural forms in -er transform into definite plural -erne, while plurals in -e and zero-ending become -ene. Norwegian has generalized -ene for nearly all words, and has introduced an alternative ending -a for neuter words. Examples: Danish en sag - sager - sagerne, en dag - dage - dagene, et fald - fald - faldene, et ben - ben - benene vs Norwegian en sak - saker - sakene, en dag - dager - dagene, et fall - fall - fallene, et be(i)n - be(i)n - be(i)na/be(i)nene (singular, plural, and plural definite forms of "thing", "day", "fall" and "bone"/"leg").


In both languages, single nouns use a postpositive definite article. However, in Danish, when a noun is modified by an adjective, a prepositive definite article is used instead of the postpositive one. Norwegian both adds a prepositive article and keeps the postpositive. Example: Danish hus - huset, et stort hus - det store hus, vs Norwegian hus - huset, et stort hus - det store huset (indefinite and definite forms of "a/the house" and "a/the big house"). The same difference applies when a demonstrative pronoun is used: Danish Jeg elsker den mand vs Norwegian Jeg elsker den mannen (I love that man).


  • To denote second person plural ("you people"), Danish uses I (oblique form jer, possessive pronoun jeres), while Norwegian uses dere (oblique dere, possessive deres).
  • The 1st person plural possessive pronoun ("our") is vores (uninflected) in modern Danish, but vår (inflected: neuter vårt, plural våre) in Norwegian. Example: Danish vores ven/hus/venner vs Norwegian vår venn/vårt hus/våre venner ("our friend/house/friends"). (In Danish, the original inflected variant vor (vort, vore) occurs only in more solemn or archaic style.)
  • The possessive pronouns always precede what they are modifying in Danish; in Norwegian, they may also be placed after a definite noun or noun phrase. The choice of construction in Norwegian depends on the particular word and on style (the Danish-like construction is more formal or emphatic, the other one is more colloquial). Example: Danish min ven, min nye ven vs Norwegian vennen min or min venn, den nye vennen min or min nye venn ("my friend", "my new friend").
  • The reflexive possessive pronoun sin ("his/her/its own") can't refer to a plural subject in Danish, but it can do so in Norwegian. Example: Danish Han vasker sine klæder like Norwegian Han vasker klærne sine ("He is washing his [own] clothes"); but Danish De vasker deres klæder vs Norwegian De vasker klærne sine ("They are washing their [own] clothes").
  • In Danish, the pronoun that expresses an unspecified, generalized person or group (corresponding to English "one", French "on" and German "man") is man in its main form, but its oblique form is en and its genitive form is ens. In Norwegian, en can also be used as a main form. Example: Danish man kan ikke gøre det vs Norwegian man/en kan ikke gjøre det ("one/people can't do that").
  • In Danish, the pronouns "such" and "so (=in this way)" are usually translated with sådan (slig is obsolete and solemn). In Norwegian, the most usual form is slik (sånn can be somewhat colloquial).


There are significant differences between the numeral systems of the two languages.

  • In Danish, the number 7 is called syv. In Norwegian, it is called sju (although the 2005 language reform has permitted syv again).
  • In Danish, 20 and 30 are called tyve and tredive. Although these forms do occur in Norwegian (with tredive shortened to tredve), the only officially permitted forms are tjue /çʉːə/ and tretti.
  • In Danish, the number 40 is called fyrre. In Norwegian, it is førti, although førr is permitted in riksmål.
  • In Danish, the tens between 50 and 90 have different roots from the ones in most Germanic languages. Etymologically, like in French they are based on a vigesimal system; in other words, the name of the number is based on how many times 20 it is. Thus, 60 is tres (short for tresindstyve, "3 times 20") and 50 is halvtreds (short for halvtredsindstyve, "2.5 times 20" or more literally "half-third times 20"). Similarly, 70 is halvfjerds, 80 is firs, and 90 is halvfems. In Norwegian, these numbers are constructed much like in English and German, as compound words of the respective unit and an old word for "ten": 50 = femti, 60 = seksti, 70 = sytti /søtːi/ , 80 = åtti, 90 = nitti.
  • In Danish, units are placed before tens (as in German); in Norwegian, it's the other way round (as in English), although the Danish order is also used by some speakers. Example: Danish enogtyve ("one-and-twenty") vs Norwegian tjueen ("twenty-one") or enogtyve.
  • Concerning ordinal numbers, "second" is always anden in Danish, but andre (or sometimes annen) (a definite form) in Norwegian.

Verbal morphology

  • Danish regular verbs can be divided in those that form their past tense and past participle with the suffixes -ede and -et /əð/, respectively, (e.g. "to throw", kaste - kastede - kastet) and those that form them with the suffixes -te and -t (e.g. "to read", læse - læste - læst). Although the group in -ede, -et is the largest one, the choice between these two conjugation patterns is mostly unpredictable. The corresponding Norwegian groups use -et, -et (kaste - kastet - kastet), and -te, -t (lese - leste - lest). However, unlike Danish, the choice of conjugation has come to be governed by a rule (with a few exceptions): verb stems containing a short vowel, followed by a long consonant or a consonant cluster (as in ramme), use -et, and verb stems containing a long vowel, followed by a short consonant (as in male), use -te (Danish ramme - ramte - ramt vs Norwegian ramme - rammet - rammet "to hit"; Danish male - malede - malet vs Norwegian male - malte - malt "to paint"). In addition, verb stems ending in a stressed vowel form a third group with no parallel in Danish, using the endings -dde, -dd ("to live [somewhere]" - bo - bodde - bodd). The corresponding Danish verbs nearly always use -ede, -et (bo - boede - boet).
Bokmål has also introduced the optional use of the ending -a (taken from Norwegian dialects and used as the only allowed form in Nynorsk) instead of -et: thus, kaste - kasta - kasta, ramme - ramma - ramma, etc. The use of forms in -a is more common in speech than in writing.
  • Some Danish irregular verbs have longer forms, ending in unstressed -de, -ge and -ve, which have been dropped in Norwegian. In many cases, the Danish verbs may also be pronounced in the contracted way. Examples: Danish lade - lod - ladet, sige - sagde - sagt, blive - blev - blevet vs Norwegian la - lot - latt, si - sa - sagt, bli - ble(i) - blitt ("let", "say", "become"). Other examples are tage - tog - taget vs ta - tok - tatt ("to take"), have - havde - haft vs ha - hadde - hatt ("to have"), etc..
  • The perfect forms in Danish may be formed either with the auxiliary verb have "to have" (as in English) or with være "to be". Some verbs always use være (ske "happen", holde op "stop"), while others can use both auxiliaries, but with slightly different meanings: han har rejst "he has travelled (spent some time travelling)" emphasizes the action itself, while han er rejst "he has left (so he isn't here now)" emphasizes the result of the action. In Norwegian, ha "to have" may be - and increasingly is - used in all cases (han har reist), and no specific verbs require være (det har skjedd, it has happened).


Certain words present in both languages are used differently in each. This can result in identical sentences meaning different things in the two languages, or in constructions that make sense in one language becoming nonsensical in the other.

Examples include:

  • må/kan - The word "må" usually means "must" in Norwegian, but can mean "may", "can", or "must" in Danish.
  • der/som - Danish has both words for "which", although der is only used as the grammatical subject. In Norwegian, der is only used archaically or poetically.
  • nogle/nogen - in Danish the English words "some" (in a plural sense) and "any" can be translated with nogle and nogen, respectively, while in Norwegian both are rendered as noen (from Danish nogen).
  • kun/bare - in Danish, kun means roughly "only, solely" (referring to quantity or number) and bare "just, merely". While there are rules in Danish that govern when to choose which word, in Norwegian bare may be used with both meanings.
  • meget/mye - in Norwegian, the adverb meget (alternatively veldig etc.) modifies adjectives just like English "very", while mye is used like English "much, a lot". Using meget like mye may be considered a bit old fashioned by some Norwegians. In Danish, meget is used in both cases.
  • enda/ennå (ennu) - in Norwegian, ennå means "still, yet" in a temporal sense, but enda, which normally means "yet, nevertheless" among other things, is used in conjunction with comparative forms in expressions such as enda bedre, "better still". In Danish, endnu (the equivalent of ennå) is used in both cases.
  • The primary difference in preposition usage in the Danish and Norwegian languages is the use of i/, (in English in/on). Although the two are generally used similarly in both languages, in certain cases the two languages choose a different preposition for the same construction. For example, "a quarter to five" would be kvart i fem in Danish, but kvart på fem in Norwegian. To express a period of time during which something has happened, Danish always uses i, but Norwegian uses i in affirmative and in negative sentences: Danish jeg har (ikke) set ham i to år vs Norwegian jeg har sett ham i to år, jeg har ikke sett ham på to år ("I have [not] seen him for two years").
  • genitive constructions - unlike Danish, Norwegian very often uses the preposition til ("to") as a more informal alternative of genitive constructions: boka til Peter, or Peters bok vs Danish Peters bog. Norwegian also uses a construction with the reflexive pronoun, Peter sin bok, (Lit. Peter his book). This is in Norwegian bokmål called "garpegenitiv" and is (in bokmål) considered substandard.[8]


Danish has adopted many German (particularly from Low German variants spoken by the Hanseatic League) words and grammatical structures, while Bokmål has rejected some of these imports. An example is the naming of countries; Danish and Swedish generally use the German names of countries, or at least the German ending. These names were used in Norwegian as well, but have in modern times (during the second half of the 20th century) to a large extent been replaced by the Latin endings; this means that the usual ending is -a in Norwegian and -en or -et in Danish (the -en and -et endings are also the definite articles). Thus, Australia and Italy are known as Australien and Italien in Danish, but as Australia and Italia in Bokmål. Similarly, Spain is known as Spania in Bokmål, but people who speak a conservative form of Norwegian (for instance Queen Sonja of Norway), still refer to Spain as Spanien, as in Danish. Greece is mostly referred to as Hellas (the Greek form of the name) in Norwegian today, but the traditional Scandinavian name Grekenland is sometimes also used (the Danish and older Norwegian spelling is Grækenland, cf. German Griechenland). However, Norwegians usually use greker (noun) and gresk (adjective) for "Greek", not hellener (noun) and hellensk (adjective); Hellener and hellensk are used when talking about Ancient Greece. Unlike Danish, Norwegian speakers refer to the Netherlands as Nederland, as in Dutch, not as Holland, although Nederlandene is used in Danish in the same formal sense as The Netherlands would be in English. Similarly the Dutch language is known as nederlandsk in Norway, but is most often called hollandsk in Denmark.

Here are some examples of common words and expressions that are different in the two languages. Note that the Danish variant usually exists in Norwegian as an archaic or less frequent form (and/or vice versa).

English Danish Norwegian
afraid bange, (arch., dial.:) ræd redd, but also bange (archaic, mostly used in standard expressions like "bange anelser")
afterwards bagefter etterpå, efterpå (conservative), deretter/derefter
angry vred sint, vred (archaic)
autumn efterår, (poet.:) høst høst, etterår/efterår (archaic)
be correct, hold true passe, stemme stemme
boy dreng, (colloquial:) gut gutt, dreng (archaic or used in a more narrow sense)
breakfast morgenmad frokost
breathe ånde puste, ånde
cinema biograf kino
to comb (verb) rede gre(ie), kjemme
decade årti, tiår tiår, årti
easy nem, let lett
evening aften, (poet.:) kvæld kveld, aften
difficult svær, vanskelig vanskelig
fact kendsgerning, faktum faktum, kjennsgjerning
fast, quick(ly) hurtig fort (adv), rask (adj), hurtig
floor (storey) sal, etage etasje
frog frø frosk
fun sjov moro, gøy, artig
hesitate tøve, nøle nøle
girl pige jente, pike
good god(t) bra, god(t)
healthy rask, sund, frisk frisk
hydrogen brint,[9] hydrogen hydrogen, vannstoff (archaic)
..., isn't it?/didn't he? etc. ..., ikke/vel? ikke sandt?, ikke også? ..., ikke sant?
jealous jaloux, skinsyg sjalu, misunnelig
last year sidste år, i fjor i fjor
like (vb. enjoy) kunne lide like
lunch frokost lunsj (alt. lønsj), formiddagsmat
moustache overskæg bart, overskjegg
oxygen ilt,[9] oxygen oksygen, surstoff, ilt
potato kartoffel potet
rubbish (nonsense) sludder, vrøvl, vås, nonsens sludder, vrøvl, nonsens, tull, tøys, vås
satisfied/pleased tilfreds, fornøjet fornøyd, tilfreds
sheep får sau, smale (archaic/dialectal), får (archaic/dialectal, used in expressions/ fixed phrases )
short (person) lille, lav kort, lav
sometimes (colloquial:) nogen gange, (colloquial:) af og til, indimellem, somme tider (archaic) iblant, av og til, innimellom
spring(time) forår, (poet.:) vår vår, forår (archaic)
still (yet) stadigvæk, fremdeles (archaic) fremdeles, fortsatt, stadig vekk
team hold lag
there, thither (about direction) derhen dit, dithen
toad tudse padde
ugly grim, (ethically:) styg stygg, grim (archaic)
usual sædvanlig, vanlig (archaic) vanlig, sedvanlig
[earth]worm orm [meite]makk, [mete]mark, orm (Ambiguous, could mean both worm and snake, cf. wyrm.)
wrong forkert, gal(t) gal(t), feil

False friends

While most words have the same meaning, there are also a number of false friends. These are often cognates that have diverged in meaning. The vulgar nature of some of these differences forms the basis of a number of television sketches by Norwegian comedians.[10]

Word Danish meaning Norwegian meaning
grine laugh cry (both words cognates with English "grin")
kuk mess, problem penis (vulgar)
bolle sexual intercourse/bun bun (however, can be used for sexual intercourse in some areas)
rask healthy fast or garbage
svær difficult/obese large
kneppe to fuck to button/unbutton
flink nice skilled, clever
rar kind, nice strange, weird


See also

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