Danish for Travellers
This is an overview of basic words and phrases which can be helpful on your visit to Copenhagen and Denmark. You won’t get lost without them – virtually everybody speaks perfect English – but as many travellers would confirm, knowing just a few words in the local language can make all the difference.
Top 20 Survival Words
øl = beer
hej [mostly pronounced like hi, sometimes also like hey] = hello
farvel [fah-vel] = goodbye
undskyld [pronounced like on-skill] = excuse me
tak [tack] = thanks
ja [ya] = yes
nej [nay] = no
ikke = not
og [ow] = and
forbudt [forboot] = forbidden
lukket = closed
åben fra … til … [oben fra … til …] = open from … until …
kl = abbreviation for klokken = hour
kr = abbreviation for Danish krone (currency)
billet / billeter = ticket / tickets
indgang [in-gang] = entrance
udgang [oll-gang] = exit
gade = street
plads = square
tog = train
lufthavn = airport
More Words and Phrases
- Please, thank you, you’re welcome
- Shopping and money
- Food and drinks
- Months and days
- Opening hours and tickets
- Directions and transport
- Danish names for popular places in Copenhagen
Hello in Danish is either hallo or hej.
Hej is more informal, but both are commonly used with strangers in shops, restaurants, and generally at any time, unless you are talking to the Queen – just like in English.
How Are You
Also like English, how are you is another common informal greeting:
Hvordan går det? [vor-dan gore d] = literally How is it going?
It is best to answer that you’re well or it’s going fine:
Godt, tak [got tack] = Well, thank you
Det går fint [de gore fint] = It’s going well
You should follow by also asking the other person Hvordan går det?, or simply:
Et dig? [et daj] = And you?
Hvad med dig? [vad med daj] = What about you?
Good Morning / Day / Evening
More formal greetings like good morning are also common in Danish, but their use is always limited to a certain part of day. It is much stricter than in English, where you can say good morning long after morning is gone.
Godmorgen [god-morgen] = Good morning (only until about 9-10am)
Goddag [something between god-da and god-day] = Good day (any time)
Godaften [god-haften] = Good evening
Although aften sounds like afternoon, it actually means evening, and godaften should only be used after about 6pm. The Danish word for afternoon is eftermiddag, and the greeting (though slightly less common than the ones above) would be god eftermiddag. Similarly, between morning and noon you can use god formiddag.
Hej hej = Goodbye (yes, hello hello is goodbye)
Farvel = Goodbye (like farewell)
Vi ses = See you soon (literally We will see one another, or We will be seen)
Godnat [god-nad] = Good night
In sum, although there are numerous ways to say hello and goodbye in Danish, if you are the minimalist and want the best results for the least effort, just learn Hej and say it once at the beginning and twice at the end.
Please and Thank You
Please is a bit tricky. In fact, there is no simple word for please in Danish – it would almost seem that the Danes are generally not that polite, as locals often joke when explaining this to foreigners.
One possible phrase is:
Wær så venlig [ver saw venlee] or just wær venlig = literally be so nice
But the best way is to simply say the English please. You will find locals use the English please way more often than any Danish alternative.
Thank you, on the contrary, is very easy and very common:
Tak = Thank you
If you want to express even bigger thanks:
Mange tak = Many thanks
Tusind tak = Thousand thanks
Or if you want to show how advanced you Danish skills are, you can use:
Tak skal du have [tack ska du have], which may look a bit complicated, but it is very commonly used. It literally means something like Thanks, you will have – so it would hint at the fact that you are grateful and looking forward to an opportunity to return the favour.
When responding to thank you, you can say:
Selv tak = the most common response to Tak, which literally means something like My pleasure or I thank you myself, as selv means self in Danish
Det var så lidt [de var so lit] = That was so little
0 to 20
0 = nul
1 = en or et
2 = to
3 = tre
4 = fire [pronounced like fear, not like the English fire]
5 = fem
6 = seks
7 = syv [syw]
8 = otte
9 = ni
10 = ti
11 = elleve [elve]
12 = tolv [pronounced like toll, without the v]
13 = tretten
14 = fjorten
15 = femten
16 = seksten
17 = sytten
18 = atten
19 = nitten
20 = tyve [tyw]
21 to 99
Unlike English, Danish numbers beyond twenty are said backwards. Instead of twenty-one, Danes say one-and-twenty.
21 = enogtyve
22 = toogtyve
23 = treogtyve
30 = tredive
40 = fyrre
Like in French, the higher tens are expressed using multiples of twenty, althouth the exact logic is slightly different and the word tyve (twenty) does not explicitly appear.
50 = halvtreds (like half-three, which really means two and half, times twenty)
60 = tres (three times twenty)
70 = halvfjerds
80 = firs
90 = halvfems
99 = nioghalvfems
100 and Up
100 = hundrede or et hundrede
101 = et hundrede og et
102 = et hundrede og to
123 = et hundrede og treogtyve
200 = to hundrede
300 = tre hundrede
400 = fire hundrede
500 = fem hundrede
1,000 = et tusind
The great fire of Copenhagen was in year 1728 – en tusind syv hundrede og otteogtyve, or as some would say, sytten hundrede og otteogtyve.
2,000 = to tusinde
5,000 = fem tusinde
10,000 = ti tusinde
100,000 = hundrede tusinde
1,000,000 = en million
1,000,000,000 = en milliard
Notice that hundrede and tusind are “et”, while million and milliard are “en”.
Short Grammar Lesson: en vs. et
Besides meaning the number one, the en and et are two Danish genders, just like der/die/das in German or le/la in French.
In Danish the genders are not masculine and feminine, but instead they are:
- en = common gender, which is generally used for persons and live creatures
- et = neuter gender, generally used for objects or substances
That said, as you can see on the et tusind vs. en million example, the rule is only very rough and with many exceptions – more or less you have to learn the gender for each individual word. Only about 25% of all Danish nouns are the so called t-words, and many objects or non-living things are n-words – such as island (en ø), city (en by), or train station (en banegård). At the same time, child (et barn), animal (et dyr), or pig (et svin) are t-words.
Definite and Indefinite Nouns
While English uses different articles (a/the) to distinguish between indefinite and definite nouns, in Danish they are differentiated by the location of the article. Indefinite nouns have the en or et article as a separate word in front, while definite nouns have the same article appended to the end as a suffix:
en by = a city
byen = the city
et barn = a child
barnet = the child
You will recognize these articles in some of the travel phrases below.
Shopping and Money
Despite being in the EU, Denmark doesn’t use the euro. Its currency is the Danish krone (crown), with international symbol DKK.
Locally, krone is abbreviated kr, usually placed before the amount. For example, a price would be quoted kr 10, which would read ti kroner (-r is the plural in Danish, just like -s in English).
One krone is divided into 100 øre, but it is such a small amount and Denmark is so expensive, that you rarely need to use this word.
Other Shopping Words and Phrases
Jeg kigger bare [yai kee-gah bah] = I’m just looking (to tell the staff you don’t need their help at the moment; it is best to add a tak at the end)
Hvad koster det? [vat koster det] = How much does this cost?
pris = price
betale = pay (like German bezahlen)
kort / kreditkort = card / credit card
Dankort = national payment card that all Danes have
Kan jeg betale med kort, tak? = Can I pay with a card, please?
pose = bag
Kan jeg få en pose, tak? = Can I get a bag, please?
kvittering(en) = (the) receipt
Kan jeg få kvitteringen, tak? = Can I get the receipt, please?
Thank You instead of Please
As you may have noticed, in absence of a proper please word it is very common to say thanks instead of please at the end when asking for something. Instead of Can I have this, please you say Can I have this, thank you.
When the seller is giving you the item you asked for, they often say:
Værsgo [ver-sko] = which is short for wær så god and means here you are, or literally be so good
Another thing people will say to you all the time when asking you to wait a bit:
Et øjeblik [et oye-blik] = One moment (øje means eye and blik means look)
Food and Drinks
Some of the best things to buy in Denmark are of course things to eat (spise) and drink (drikke):
kød = meat
kylling = chicken
svine = pork
okse = beef
fisk = fish
suppe = soup
ost = cheese
æg = egg
skinke = ham
pølse = sausage
salt = salt
peber = pepper
sukker = sugar
sennep = mustard
olie = oil
brød = bread
bolle = roll
smøre = butter
smørrebrød = popular meal, which literally means bread and butter, but it is bread with lots of things on it, including various kinds of meat, seafood, vegetables, eggs, and sauces. There are many different kinds of smørrebrød and when visiting Denmark, you should definitely try some.
kage = cake
fløde = cream
småkage = cookie/biscuit (literally small cake)
is = ice (cream)
kaffe = coffee
mælk = milk
kaffe med mælk og sukker = coffee with milk and sugar
te = tea
vin = wine
hvidvin = white wine
rødvin = red wine
øl = beer
One phrase which many foreigners learn very quickly is:
En øl, tak = You know what that means.
By the way, when drinking in Denmark, instead of cheers you say Skål!
Months, Weekdays, Dates
Danish months are generally the same as English ones, with only little differences in spelling. Another difference is that Danish months (and weekdays) are generally not capitalized, except of course at the beginning of sentence.
Weekdays are also quite similar, except Saturday (lørdag) which is completely different (its original meaning from old Scandinavian languages appears to be bathing day).
mandag [manda] = Monday
tirsdag [tearsda] = Tuesday
onsdag [onsda] = Wednesday
torsdag [torsda] = Thursday
fredag [frehda] = Friday
lørdag [l’rda] = Saturday
søndag [senda] = Sunday
Abbreviated weekday format is typically the first three letters, or first four letters for Tuesday and Thursday:
man, tirs, ons, tors, fre, lør, søn
Other Useful Calendar Words
dag = day
uge [uugh] = week
måned = month
år = year
i dag = today
i går = yesteday
i morgen = tomorrow
næste uge = next week
To illustrate common date formats, let’s use the example of 5th June, which is Denmark’s national holiday, Grundlovsdag (Constitution Day). The date would typically be written like this:
5. Juni 2018
The day always comes first, then the month. Full stop is usually used after day and month (if written as a number).
That said, the above are just the traditional, most common formats. These days you can of course encounter many different ways of writing dates in Denmark.
tid = time
time [pronounced as two syllables ti-me] = hour
to timer = two hours
klokken [claw-gen], abbreviated kl. = as English o’clock
klokken 5 = kl. 5 = 5 o’clock
halv = half
kvart / krarter = quarter
minutter [minooduh] = minutes
Telling the Time (from 10:30 to 11:30)
halv elleve = half eleven = half past ten = 10:30
tyve minutter i elleve = 20 minutes before eleven = 10:40
kvart i elleve = quarter to eleven = 10:45
femten minutter i elleve = also 10:45
ti minutter i elleve = 10:50
(klokken) elleve = 11:00
ti minuter over elleve = ten minutes after eleven = 11:10
kvart over elleve = quarter past eleven = 11:15
tyve minutter over elleve = 11:20
halv tolv = half twelve = half past eleven = 11:30
AM and PM
Danes don’t use am and pm. Time is usually written in the 24-hour format. The 12-hour format is common in spoken Danish, where you can add the part of day to avoid confusion. For example:
syv om morgenen = 7am (7 in the morning)
ti om formiddagen = 10am (10 in the morning)
tre om eftermiddagen = 3pm (3 in the afternoon)
syv om aftenen = 7pm (7 in the evening)
tre om natten = 3am (3 at night)
Hvad er klokken? = What time is it?
Klokken er otte or just Den er otte = It is eight
Hvornår …? = When …?
Hvornår åbner Tivoli? = Hvornår har Tivoli åben? = When do the Tivoli Gardens open?
Opening Hours and Tickets
Åbningstider = Opening hours
åben = open
åben fra 10:00 til 18:00 = open from 10am to 6pm
lukket = closed
alle dage / hver dag = every day
tirsdag til søndag = Tuesday to Sunday
indgang senest kl. 12:00 = last entrance at 12:00
billetter = tickets
priser = prices
voksen = adult
voksne fra 15 år = adults from 15 years
barn = child
børn = children
børn fra 5 til 12 år / mellem 5 og 12 år = children from 5 to 12
2 voksne og 2 børn = 2 adults and 2 children
When visiting a museum, don’t confuse billetter (tickets) with billeder (pictures, paintings, or photos).
Directions and Transport
When asking for directions, you can say:
Hvor er …? [vor er] = Where is …?
Hvordan kommer jeg til …? = How do I get to …?
It is best to make it a bit more polite:
Undskyld, hvor er …? = Excuse me, where is …?
Undskyld, ved du, hvor er …? = Excuse me, do you know where is …?
gade = street (like Vesterbrogade)
plads = square (like Rådhuspladsen)
torv = also a square, literally market (like Kongens Nytorv)
kirke = church (like Marmorkirken)
slot = palace / castle (like Rosenborg Slot)
have = garden (like Kongens Have)
havn = port / harbour (like Nyhavn)
bro = bridge (like Knippelsbro)
When being told how to get somewhere, these words and phrases will be useful to understand:
lige ud = straight ahead
højre = right
venstre = left
nord = north
syd = south
øst = east
vest = west
foran = in front of
bag = behind
mellem A og B = between A and B
nær = near
før = before
efter = after
Gå lide ud = Go straight ahead
Gå til højre / til venstre = Go to the right / to the left
Drej til højre / venstre = Turn right / left
tog = train
S-tog = S-train (Copenhagen urban train)
banegård = railway station
perron = platform
spor = track
vogn = coach / car
plads = seat
indgang = entrance
udgang = exit
afgang = departure
ankomst = arrival
forsinket = delayed
køre = go / drive / travel / ride
køre med tog / bus = travel by train / bus (med means with)
køre på cykel = ride a bicycle (på means on or by)
ride en cykel = ride a bicycle (ride means ride)
Grammar note: Most Danish verbs end with -e in infinitive form. In present tense, -r is added to the end:
- at køre på cykel = to ride a bicycle (at is like the English to)
- jeg kører på cykel = I ride a bicycle / I’m riding a bicycle
Toget kører til … = This train goes to …
Toget kører ikke videre = This train terminates here (literally: doesn’t go any further)
Hvornår kører det næste tog til Roskilde? = When is the next train to Roskilde? (literally when does the next train go)
Næste station = Next stop
And finally, when in the Copenhagen metro (metroen), remember the escalator rule:
Stå til højre, gå til venstre = Stand in the right, walk in the left
Popular Places in Copenhagen
Let’s conclude with Danish and English names for some of the popular places and tourist attractions:
København (Kbh. or KBH) = Danish name for Copenhagen, which means merchants’ harbour
Indre By = Inner City (the central district of Copenhagen)
Lufthavnen or Københavns Lufthavn = Copenhagen Airport
København H or Hovedbanegården = Copenhagen central train station
Den lille Havfrue = The Little Mermaid
Kastellet = The Citadel
Amalienborg Slot = Amalienborg Palace
Rosenborg Slot = Rosenborg Castle
Christiansborg Slot = Christiansborg Palace (Parliament)
Børsen = Stock exchange
Marmorkirken or Frederiks Kirke = The Marble Church
Det Kongelige Teater = Royal Danish Theatre
Rundetårn = The Round Tower
Vor Frelsers Kirke = Church of Our Saviour
Statens Museum for Kunst = Danish National Gallery
Zoologisk Have (i København) = Copenhagen Zoo
Amager Strand = Amager Beach
Øresundsbron = Øresund Bridge