More on Gender
For English speakers, one of the mysteries of Danish (and other European
languages for that matter) is that nouns come in two different genders. This
does seem unnecessary and not at all logical, but there it is. All nouns in Danish are either common
gender (n-words) or neuter gender (t-words). About
75% of nouns are of n-words, but many very frequently used nouns are t-words.
There is a some fleeting logic to it, in that uncountable things are usually
t-words, but on the whole there is no sure way to predict the gender of a word.
For a serious student of Danish, there is no real alternative to learning the
gender of each word at the same time as learning the word itself.
The notes below represent my attempts to form some rules for my own use, to
help me remember which nouns are t-words. Be warned though that none of these
rules are completely reliable.
- Uncountable common things are usually t-words, for example arbejde (work), areal (area),
vand (water), øl (beer), fyr (fire), kit (putty), kød (flesh), dun (down), brum (hum),
fed (fat), fnuller (fluff, lint), held (luck), klynk (whimper), liv (life), plasma
(plasma), sand (sand), sjov (fun), pludder (mud), skidt (dirt), stof (stuff), stå (straw), tab (loss),
tak (thanks), tin (tin), vat (cotton wool). Note that øl becomes common when used in a
countable way, en øl (a beer) meaning a glass or a bottle of beer.
But mad (food), tid (time), sne (snow), uld (wool), umage (trouble) and varme (heat) are
- Things which usually come as part of a series or group, or which are not normally
identified individually, are usually t-words. For example ark (sheet), skridt (step or
pace), fnis (giggle), fnug (fluff, flake), fnys (snort), klap (pat, clap), kluk (cluck),
klæde (cloth), loop (loop), nip (sip), nik (nod), trin (step or stair), plask (splash),
dump (thud), slag (blow), stræk (stretch), stænk (splash, spot), ord (word). This is
also perhaps the reason why barn (child!), dyr (animal), får (sheep) and svin (pig) are
t-words. (When treated individually, children would be boys or girls which are n-words and
animals would be referred by a species name.)
- t-words are usually short, single-syllable words or are compound nouns which finish with
- Nouns which are unchanged in the plural are almost always t-words and vice versa.
- Compound nouns which finish with a t-word are t-words.
- Languages are t-words, because of sprog.
- Countries are t-words, because of land.
- Substances are t-words. For example element, tin, stål (steel).
- Nouns imported from English or another language can be t-words if they are indentified
with a Danish t-word. Hence additiv, casino, circulære, cv, forum, hotel, job, system, tribunal,
Here are some examples of neuter nouns:
additiv barn bedste belæg ben besøg brug brud brum brus bryllup brød cirkulære cv
Danmark dansk dun drøn dryp drys dyk dyr døgn erhverv Europa fed find forum får guf job
hotel hus juks klap kursus kær kød køkken køn land lem lyn løb lån miljø mirror
mål nik nip ny ord organ plask plasma plast rum ræs sand sjov skab skaft skel skib skidt
skifte skilt skravl skridt skrift slag sprog stof svar svin syn system søm sår tab tag
tak tog tribunal trick trin tæppe tøj universitet ur vand vindue vink æble æg øl
The longer words here are mostly imported from other languages, and have taken the
gender of the closest Danish word.
Note that these include
- country names (because of land)
- language names (because of sprog)
Compound words follow the last component noun:
- brug, hence jordbrug (agriculture)
- hold (team), hence forbehold (reservation), forhold (conditions), indhold (contents),
ophold (stay), underhold (support)
- mål (target), hence formål and spørgsmål
- ord (word), hence biord (adverb)
- slip (lull), hence udslip (escape)
- snit (cut), hence udsnit (section)
- svar, forsvar (defence)
- tag (grasp), hence optag (uptake)
- tog (train), hence optog (procession)
- tøj (clothes), hence køkkentøj (utensils), værktøj (tools)
- trin (step), hence optrin (scene)
Some words have different genders with different meanings:
- brud (et -) break, brud (en -e) bride
- brug (et -) farm, brug (en) use
- skrift (et -er) publication, skrift (en -er) writing
Most of the t-words are unchanged in the plural (et -).
- hus, huse; land, lande; skab (cupboard), skabe
- cv, cv'er; hotel, hoteller; køkken, køkkener; lem, lemmer; organ, organer; skrift,
Danish for English Speakers
Copyright © Gordon Smyth