Verbs (the basics)

A definition

A verb is a word that describes what action or situation is going on in the sentence. It’s the “doing-word”.

English Danish
She swims. Hun svømmer.
He eats. Han spiser.
I run. Jeg løber.

In English, it’s usually the word right after the grammatical subject in a normal sentence. In a sentence such as “she swims”, “she” is the subject, and “swims” is the thing she is doing, i.e. the verb.

In the examples above, the verbs are all easy to identify, and they are all in the present tense, but the sentences are, obviously, a bit simple. Try identifying the verbs in the sentences below. Some are in present tense, and some are located not after the subject but before the subject. (Hover over the sentences to see an English translation).  

Find the verb Answer
Jeg børster altid tænder om morgenen.
Normalt drikker jeg ikke kaffe om morgenen.
Men i dag drak jeg to kopper kaffe.
Jeg tager normalt på arbejde omkring kl. 8:30.
Jeg cykler på arbejde om sommeren.
Men kun hvis det ikke regner.

 

Conjugation

You will find that verbs come in many different forms. Take the verb “to take” in English, which is “at tage” in Danish. All of the sentences below use the verb “to take”, but it is used in different forms, and these forms have names.

English Danish Verb form in Danish
Take your pills! Tag dine piller! Imperativ / Bydeform
I don’t want to take my pills. Jeg har ikke lyst til at tage mine piller. Infinitiv / Navnemåde
He takes his pills every morning. Han tager sine piller hver morgen. Præsens / Nutid
He took his pills yesterday. Han tog sine piller i går. Præteritum / Datid
He has already taken his pills. Han har allerede taget sine piller. Perfektum / Førnutid
I wanted him to take his pills, but he had already taken them. Jeg ville have ham til at tage sine piller, men han havde allerede taget dem. Pluskvamperfektum / Førdatid

Notice first how each verb form has two Danish names: One comes from Latin, and the other is the more “Danish” name. In Denmark, the convention is to use the more Danish names in elementary school teaching and the Latin names at higher educational institutions, but for some reason, the terms “nutid”, “datid”, “førnutid” and “førdatid” are also used by many people in higher educational institutions. Perhaps because it makes sense: “nutid” literally means “now-time”, “datid” is “when (in the past)-time”, “førnutid” is “before-now-time”, and “førdatid” is “before-when-time”.

Notice also how the imperative form and the infintive form are identical in English, but not in Danish. We can even add the present tense to this in English! The sentence above is “he takes…”, but if we use a different pronoun, for instance “I” or “you”, it becomes “I take” or “you take”, and now the present tense (nutid) is also identical to the imperative and the infinitive form. In Danish, these forms are all different from each other, as can be seen above.

 

The imperative

The imperative form is the shortest possible form of the verb, without any present or past tense endings. It’s the “root”, “base” or “stem”, so to speak. It’s used for giving (very direct) orders and commands:

English Danish
Stop! Stop!
Relax, man! Slap af, mand!
Vent lige et øjeblik. Just wait a moment (please).

 

The infinitive

The infinitive is the form of the verb you look up in a dictionary, and it’s one of the most useful forms to know because we use it for all kinds of things in Danish.

English Danish
I love running. Jeg elsker at løbe.
To be or not to be – that is the question. At være eller ikke at være – det er spørgsmålet.
Can you speak Danish? Kan du tale dansk?

Notice how the Danish “at løbe” translates into “running” in English. Danish verbs do not have a grammatical present continuous form (am/are/is doing), so we use one of the other grammatical forms for this.

Notice also how the “at” is not always present, just like in English. It would be wrong to say “Can you to speak Danish?“, and the same rule applies in Danish: “Kan du tale dansk?” is perfect, but “Kan du at tale dansk?” does not make sense.

The infinitive form usually ends in -e, but we do have some (often very short) verbs that end in a vowel and which do not have this -e at the end, e.g. “to die” = “at dø” and “to walk/go” = “at gå”. So if you want to move from the imperative form to the infinitive form, simply add an -e unless the verb ends in a vowel. There are a few exceptions to this rule “all verbs end in an -e in the infintive unless they end in a vowel”-rule, the most common being “at synes” (“to think/have an opinion about something), but there are very few of these -es verbs.

Imperativ Infinitiv
begynd
spørg
vær
tro
svar
grin

 

The present tense

The regular present tense ending in Danish is -r, so when you’ve looked up a verb in the dictionary and found the verb in the infinitive form, add an -r.

Infinitiv Nutid
At stoppe Jeg stopper.
At slappe af Han slapper af.
At vente Vi venter.

In many languges, including English, verbs change depending on the subject. In English, we say “I stop”, but we say “he stops“; we add an -s! This is not the case in Danish: The verb is the same no matter who the subject is. This makes the present tense very easy to learn, because you only have to learn a single form!

Note that Danish does not have a present continuous form (am/are/is doing), as noted above in the section about the infinitive form. This means that we cannot say “I am eating” in Danish. We simply say “I eat” (“jeg spiser”), and we interpret this either as “I am eating” or “I eat” based on context.

Danish does not have a grammatical future tense either, so if I want to say something along the lines of “I will eat dinner with my boyfriend”, I would use the present tense: “Jeg spiser aftensmad med min kæreste”. From context, it is usually clear whether the sentence should be interpreted as future tense or not.

Infinitiv Nutid
at begynde
at spørge
at stoppe
at tro
at svare
at grine

 

The past tense

In English, you create the past tense of a verb by adding -ed (or just -d if an e is already present) to the stem (or “base” or “root”) of the verb, so “I live” becomes “I lived”, and “you wash” becomes “you washed”. Sometimes, you change the word completely, so that “I am” becomes “I was” and “he runs” become “he ran”.

The past tense of verbs in Danish is formed in three different ways. We say that each verb belong to a certain group, and we can tell which group a verb belong to by looking at the inflection of the verb in the past tense; we simply look at the ending! English has two groups (the regular and the irregular), while Danish has three groups (two regular and one irregular).

Conjugation Nutid Datid
Gruppe 1: -ede Jeg stopper. I venter. Du snakker. Jeg stoppede. I ventede. Du snakkede.
Gruppe 2: -te Han spiser. Vi læser. Hun taler. Han spiste. Vi læste. Hun talte.
Gruppe 3: irregular Vi går. Vi ser. Vi bliver. Vi gik. Vi så. Vi blev.

Notice how some verbs are given a double consonants. This is because the vowels just before the consonants in “stop” and “snak” are short and not long.

Because Danish and English are somewhat related historically, the rule of thumb is that if a verb is irregular in English, it is also often irregular in Danish. Not always, but often.

Most verbs are group 1 verbs, and if you accidentally use the -ede ending for a group 2 or group 3 verb, don’t despair. People will usually understand what you mean, but it will, of course, be grammatically incorrect. Just like it would be incorrect to say “I goed to the market yesterday” in English, because “to go” is an irregular verb and the past tense of the word is “went”.

Try locating the verb in the sentences below and write the whole sentence in past tense. Please note that you should remember to start all your sentences with a capital letter (i.e. “J” and not “j”), and that you have to write full stops at the end of your sentences, in accordance with the rules of written Danish.

Find the verb and write the whole sentence in past tense Svar Gruppe
Jeg elsker kaffe. 1
Jeg spiser frokost. 2
Kl. 8 drikker jeg kaffe. 3
Hans far ringer til ham. 1
De taler sammen. 2
Jeg er mekaniker. 3

 

The present perfect

In Danish, the present perfect can be formed with two different “helping-verbs” (auxiliaries): “to be” (at være) and “to have” (at have). For the majority of verbs, we use “to have”, but for verbs describing means of transport or transformation, we use “to be”. More about this later.

As we have just learned the past tense of verbs, we now know that Danish verbs are divided into three different groups, and we will use these groups again for forming the present perfect. In essence, the present perfect is formed with the present tense of “at have” (har) or “at være” (er) and by adding -et or -t to the verb’s stem, but for group 3, things are a bit more complicated.

CONJUGATION NUTID DATID FØRNUTID
Gruppe 1:
har/er STEM-et
Jeg stopper.
Du venter.
Jeg stoppede.
Du ventede.
Jeg er stoppet.
Du har ventet.
Gruppe 2:
har/er STEM-t
Han spiser.
Hun taler.
Han spiste.
Hun talte.
Han har spist.
Hun har talt.
Gruppe 3:
har/er ??-t/-et
Vi ser.
Vi bliver.
Vi så.
Vi blev.
Vi har set.
Vi er blevet.

Group three verbs are irregular, and the -t or -et can be added to either the infinitive form or the past tense form, but sometimes you will also so a vowel change making the word sound very different from its other forms, i.g. the verb “at hjælpe” (to help):

Imperativ Infinitiv Nutid Datid Førnutid
hjælp at hjælpe hjælper hjalp har hjulpet

“Har” or “er”?

We use “har” (have/has) as the helping-verb if we focus on the action or situation, and we use “er” (am/are/is) as the helping-verb if we focus on the fact there some kind of movement or transition has happened. This means that a phrase like “Jeg har rejst i Frankrig” can be translated as “I have done some traveling in France”, whereas “Jeg er rejst til Frankrig” means something like “I have traveled to France (so I am no longer in Denmark)”.

 

The past perfect

The past perfect is identical to the present perfect, except the helping verb is not past tense.

CONJUGATION FØRNUTID FØRDATID
Gruppe 1:
havde/var STEM-et
Jeg er stoppet.
Du har ventet.
Jeg var stoppet.
Du havde ventet.
Gruppe 2:
havde/var STEM-t
Han har spist.
Hun har talt.
Han havde spist.
Du havde talt.
Gruppe 3:
havde/var ??-t/-et
Vi har set.
Vi er blevet.
Vi havde set.
Vi var blevet.

 

Summary

  • Danish verbs have 6 different forms:
    • Imperative: Imperativ/bydeform
    • Infinitive: Infinitiv/Navnemåde
    • Present tense: Præsens/nutid
    • Past tense: Præteritum/datid
    • Present perfect: Perfektum/førnutid
    • Past perfect: Pluskvamperfektum/førdatid
  • The imperative, infinitive, and present tense are all different from each other (unlike in English).
  • There is no present continuous form (no “am eating”, just “eat”) and no grammatical future (no “will eat”, just “eat”).
  • The past tense is formed in three different ways: stem-ede, stem-te or irregular.
  • The present perfect is formed with either har or er + stem-et, stem-t or ??-et/-t.
  • The past perfect is is identical to the present perfect, except for the helping-verbs: har becomes havde, and er becomes var.
  • The helping verb har/havde implies focus on the activity, and the helping verb er/var implies focus on movement/transition.

 

Exercises

Infinitiv Nutid Datid Førnutid Gruppe
at begynde 2
at spørge 3
at stoppe 1
at tro 1
at svare 1
at grine 1
at bage 2
at fortælle 3
at sende 2
at bo 1
at hente 1
at glemme 2
at tage 3
at spise 1
at blive 3

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