Adjectives

A definition

Adjectives are words that are used for describing nouns. If you think of the noun “car”, try to think of a few words you can use to describe this car. You could say that the car is old, and “old” is an adjective. You could also say that the car is red, yellow, rusty, fantastic, new, or something else. All these words are adjectives.

Try identifying the adjectives in the sentences below. (Hover over the sentences to see an English translation).  

Find the adjective Answer
Jeg har et gammelt køkken.
I mit køkken laver jeg ofte varm kakao.
Men min kæreste elsker kold kakao.
Han bruger frisk mælk til at lave sin kakao.
Han bager ofte lækre kager.
Men jeg spiser dem ikke, for jeg bliver alt for tyk.

 

Inflection

As is the case in many European languages (although not English), Danish adjectives are inflected for gender, number and definiteness. What this means is that the adjective’s form changes depending on the thing it describes, how many things it describes, and whether the thing it describes is in its “known” or “unknown” form.

We say that an adjective has three forms: grundform (basic form), t-form, and e-form

Adjective Form
brun grundform
brunt t-form
brune e-form

In Danish, nouns have two grammatical genders: common gender (“en”) and neuter gender (“et”). If the terminology confuses you, then just skip it: Think of “en” and “et” (and read the post about nouns which I will, someday, write. In the meantime: Wiki is your friend). We use the different forms of the adjectives for describing nouns of different gender, and for describing plural nouns.

Compare the following sentences:

English Danish
I have a brown car. Jeg har en brun bil.
I have a brown house. Jeg har et brunt hus.
I have two brown cars. Jeg har to brune biler.
I have two brown houses. Jeg har to brune huse.

In the English phrases, the word “brown” stays the same no matter what it describes, but in the Danish sentences, we see three different forms: “brun”, “brunt”, and “brune”. Because “bil” is an n-word (“en bil”), we use the basic form to describe it, and because “hus” is a t-word (“et hus”), we use the t-form of the adjective to describe it. When we are talking about multiple cars and multiple houses (“biler” and “huse”), we use the e-form.

For the t-form, you simply add a -t to the end of the adjective, and for the e-form, you simply add an -e. Easy peasy!

If you know any other languages than English, now is the time to pause for a moment and think about how YOUR language uses adjectives. Try saying the sentences above in your own language. Is the word “brown” always the same, or does it change depending on what it describes?

Try inserting the correct form of the adjectives belows. Hover for a hint!

Sentence Adjective
Jeg giver min søster en  telefon i fødselsdagsgave. ny / nyt / nye
Vi havde en  tur til London. god / godt/ gode
Min veninde har to  drenge. sød / sødt / søde
Der kommer mange  vindstød fra vest. kraftig / kraftigt / kraftige
Om sommeren er der  temperaturer i Danmark. høj / højt / høje
Jeg gav min mor en buket  blomster. gul / gult / gule
Han har et  humør. høj / højt / høje
Jeg har købt en  bil! ny / nyt / nye
Der er mange  blade på træerne. grøn / grønt / grønne
Jeg vil gerne have et  træ i haven. grøn / grønt / grønne
Han har taget et  billede af stranden. smuk / smukt / smukke

 

The e-form is not just used for plural

Many think of the e-form as the plural form, but the e-form is used for more than just plural. The e-form is used in connection with the definite form of the nouns. You might know that the definite article of a noun goes to the end of the noun in the definite form, but when an adjective is involved it changes things. We know that “a house” is “et hus”, and “the house” is “huset”, and by now we also know that “a new house” is “et nyt hus” (with “nyt” being the t-form of “ny”), but what if we want to say “the new house”? This is where the e-form come into play again. If you want to say “the new house”, “my new house”, “the new car”, “my new car” or “John’s new car”, you should use the e-form of “ny”, which is “nye”. Compare the sentences below and notice how the e-form is used after “den”, “det”, “de”, possessive pronouns and the genitive case (as in “Johns“)

English Danish
I love your new car! Jeg elsker din nye bil!
Have you met his new wife? Har du mødt hans nye kone?
My new roomie is super cool! Min nye sambo er super cool!
Have you seen the new iPhone? Har du set den nye iPhone?
We’ll move into the new house next week. Vi flytter ind i det nye hus i næste uge.
Where are the new documents? Hvor er de nye dokumenter?
Have you heard about Anna’s new job? Har du hørt om Annas nye arbejde?

Notice how the article before the adjective changes depending on whether a word is an n-word, a t-word, or plural: “den nye iPhone”, “det nye hus”, and “de nye dokumenter”. If you are familiar with how nouns work in Danish, you might be a bit confused right now. You know that “a car” is “en bil”, and you know that “the car” is “bilen”, but here I come with all my adjectives and make everything weird. All of a sudden, “the” is now “den”, “det” or “de”? Yes, that’s exactly the case: When you say “the car”, you say “bilen” in Danish, but when you say “the new car”, the definite article is in front of the adjective – just like in English – and we say “den nye bil”. Languages are weird that way… Just be happy that you are studying Danish and not Norwegian and Swedish for this grammatical point. 😉

Try inserting the correct form of the adjectives in the sentences below. Hover for a hint!

Sentence Adjective
Når det er koldt, tager jeg min  hue på. varm / varmt / varme
Tager du din  kjole på til festen? ny / nyt /nye
Jeg har købt en  telefon. billig / billigt / billige
Kan du bære den  kasse selv? tung / tungt / tunge
Han har arvet 2.000.000 kr. af sin  onkel. rig / rigt / rige
Det var en virkelig  dag i går. varm / varmt / varme

 

Irregular adjectives

There are a few irregular adjectives, but many of them follow similar patterns. Here’s a list of some of the most useful rules:

  1. Adjectives that end in -t and -sk are identical in the basic form and t-form.
    English Grundform T-form E-form
    black sort sort sorte
    good-looking flot flot flotte
    fresh frisk frisk friske
  2. Adjectives that end in -e only have a single form.
    English Grundform T-form E-form
    quiet stille stille stille
    afraid bange bange bange
  3. Adjectives that end in -et are identical in the positive basic form and t-form (because they end in -t, see point 1), and they end in -ede in the e-form.
    English Grundform T-form E-form
    dirty snavset snavset snavsede
    interested interesseret interesseret interesserede
    silly fjoget fjoget fjogede
  4. Adjectives that end in -er, -en and -el become -re, -ne and -le in the e-form. If they have a double consonant in the basic form, this is reduced to a single consonant in the e-form.
    English Grundform T-form E-form
    delicious / hot lækker lækkert lækre
    adult voksen voksent voksne
    old gammel gammelt gamle

 

Before or after a noun?

Danish adjectives are used differently in attributive and predicative positions, i.e. before a noun and after a noun. This means that the form of the adjective “new” in “the new car” isn’t the same as it is in “the car is new”, because “the new car” involves an adjective in attributive position (i.e. adjective before a noun), while “the car is new” involves an adjective in predicative positions (i.e. an adjective after a noun).

Compare the sentences below.

# English Danish
1 I love your new car. Jeg elsker din nye bil.
2 Your car is new. Din bil er ny.
3 What do you think about our new house? Hvad synes du om vores nye hus?
4 Your cars are new. Dine biler er nye.
5 They bought two new beds. De købte to nye senge.
6 Are the beds new? Er sengene nye?

The e-form is used in sentence 1 and 3 because the adjective comes after a possessive pronoun (“din” and “vores”), but in sentence 2 the basic form is used, and in sentence 4 the e-form is used. This is because the adjective is used in a predicative position in these sentences: it’s not between “den”,”det”, “de”, possessive pronouns or the genitive case (e.g. “Johns“) and a noun (“bil” or “biler”) – it’s after the noun! In this position we only care about whether a word is common gender (“en”), neuter gender (“et”) or plural. We simply don’t care about definiteness when the adjective comes after a noun.

Now, try inserting the correct form of the adjective in the sentences below. (Hover over the sentence to see a hint!)

Sentence Adjective
Se! Himlen er helt . blå / blåt / blå
Vejret bliver  i morgen. dejlig / dejligt / dejlige
Skal vi ikke gå udenfor i det  vejr? god / godt / gode
Danmark har et flag, som er  og . rød / rødt / røde
hvid / hvidt / hvide
Solen skinner, og temperaturen er . høj / højt / høje
Blomsterne er . gul / gult / gule
Den  temperatur får mig til at svede. høj / højt / høje
Lad os køre en tur i min  bil. ny / nyt / nye
Bladene på træerne er meget . grøn / grønt / grønne
Græsset er også meget . grøn / grønt / grønne
Alt er så . smuk / smukt / smukke

 

Positive, comparative and superlative

All of the three forms described above are part of what we call the “positive” (Danish: “positiv”) form of the adjective. When we say that a building is tall or that a car is new, we use the positive form of an adjective: tall and new.

But you might also be familiar with the comparative (Danish: “komparativ”) and the superlative (Danish: “superlativ”) form.

 

Comparative

We use the comparative form of adjectives when we want to compare things to one another. We can say that one building is taller than another building, or that one car is newer than another car.

In English, the comparative form can be made in to different ways: by adding -er to the adjective or by saying “more” before the adjective. Danish is very similar: You add -ere to the adjective or you say “mere” before the adjective.

If an adjective is really short (1 syllable), you add -ere.
If an adjective is really long (3 syllables or more), you say “mere” before the adjective.
If an adjective is neither short nor long (2 syllables), give it your best shot. 🙂 Danes will most often understand both the -ere version and the “mere” version, and sometimes even the Danes get a bit confused as to which is the proper form.

Try forming the comparative form of the adjectives below. Hover for English translations.

Positive Comparative
Min telefon er ny! Min telefon er !
Er din te kold? Den er  nu end for en time siden.
Det var varmt i går, men det er endnu  i dag.
Jeg synes, Harry Potter er en spændende bog. Jeg synes, at Ringenes Herre er .
Det er sundt at gå en tur. Men det er  at løbe en tur!
Netto er et meget billigt supermarked. Men Aldi er alligevel  end Netto.

 

Superlative

We use the superlative form of the adjective when we want to say that something is most X. We can say that Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, or that the newest iPhone is way too expensive, and for this we need the superlative forms of the adjectives.

In English, the superlative form can be made in to different ways: by adding -est to the adjective or by saying “most” before the adjective. Danish is very similar: You add -est or -st to the adjective or you say “mest” before the adjective.

If an adjective is really short (1 syllable), you add –est or -st.
If an adjective is really long (3 syllables or more), you say “mest” before the adjective.
If an adjective is neither short nor long (2 syllables), give it your best shot. 🙂 Danes will most often understand both the -est/-st version and the “mest” version, and sometimes even the Danes get a bit confused as to which is the proper form.

English Danish
Peter is tall. He’s taller than John. But Adam is tallest! Peter er høj. Han er højere end John. Men Adam er højest!
It’s cold in Denmark. It’s even colder in Norway. In Iceland, it’s coldest. Det er koldt i Danmark. Det er endnu koldere i Norge. I Island er det koldest.
Coffee is expensive in Denmark. But alcohol is more expensive. Alcohol in bars is most expensive! Kaffe er dyrt i Danmark. Men alkohol er dyrere. Alkohol på barer er dyrest!
Linse is a little famous. The queen is more famous, but Mads Mikkelsen is most famous! Linse er lidt berømt. Dronningen er mere berømt, men Mads Mikkelsen er mest berømt!

A superlative e-form also exist, and it works just like the positive e-form (described above). If we are talking about the tallest building, my newest car, the coldest countries in the world or the most famous Danes, we have to use the superlative e-form:

English Danish
The tallest building in the world is Burj Khalifa. Den højeste bygning i verden er Burj Khalifa.
My newest car is black. Min nyeste bil er sort.
Denmark is not really amongst the coldest countries in the world. Danmark er ikke rigtig blandt de koldeste lande i verden.
Mads Mikkelsen is probably one of the most famous Danes in the world right now. Mads Mikkelsen er nok en af de mest berømte danskere i verden lige nu.

As in English, there are also a bunch of adjectives that are completely irregular in the comparative and the superlative form. They are among the more common words in Danish, and the best thing is simply to learn them by heart. Below are a few examples.

English Danish
bad, worse, worst dårlig, værre, værst
good, better, best god, bedre, bedst
old, older, oldest gammel, ældre, ældst
young, younger, youngest ung, yngre, yngst
a little, less, least lidt, mindre, mindst
small, smaller, smallest lille, mindre, mindst
big, bigger, biggest stor, større, størst
few, fewer, fewest få, færre, færrest

 

Summary

  • Danish adjectives are inflected for gender, number and definiteness
  • There are 3 positive forms:
    • The basic form, called “grundform“, used for n-words:
      en smuk pige, pigen er smuk
    • T-form, used for t-words:
      et smukt hus, huset er smukt
    • E-form, used for plural and definite nouns:
      to smukke huse, det smukke hus
  • The definite articles are den, det or de when describing a definite noun with an adjective:
    den smukke pige, det smukke hus, de smukke piger, de smukke huse
  • There is a bunch of irregular adjectives:
    • Adjectives ending in -t and -sk have no distinct t-form:
      en frisk pige, et frisk æble, to friske piger, to friske æbler
    • Adjectives ending in -e only have one form:
      en bange pige, et bange barn, to bange piger, to bange børn
    • Adjectives ending in -el, -er, -en and -et end in -le, -re, -ne and -ede in the e-form:
      en gammel dame, to gamle damer
      et lækkert æble, to lækre æbler
      en voksen mand, to voksne mænd
      en snavset pige, den snavsede pige
  • If an adjective is before a noun, we care about definiteness, but if the adjective is after a noun, we only care about n-word, t-word or plural:
    En smuk pige > Den smukke pige > Pigen er smuk
    Et smukt barn > Det smukke barn > Barnet er smukt
    Mange smukke børn > De smukke børn > Børnene er smukke
  • The comparative form of the adjective is formed by adding -ere to the stem of the adjective or with the help of mere:
    billigere, smukkere, koldere, mere interessant
  • The superlative form of the adjective is formed by adding -(e)st to the stem of the adjective or with the help of mest:
    billigst, smukkest, koldest, mest interessant
  • The superlative form has an e-form:
    barnet er smukkest > det smukkeste barn
    telefonen er billigst > den billigste telefon
  • Many irregular adjectives have very irregular comparative and superlative forms.
    gammel > ældre > ældst
    ung > yngre > yngst
    mange > flere > flest
    få > færre > færrest
    lille > mindre > mindst
    stor > større > størst

 

Exercises

grundform t-form e-form komparativ superlativ
kedelig
langsom
hurtig
lukket
gammel
sulten
grim
lille
fuld
ædru
mærkelig
mørk
lys
svær
hyggelig

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