Danish and Norwegian Bokmål (the most common standard form of written Norwegian) are both descended from the Old Norse, the common ancestor of all North Germanic languages spoken today. Thus, they are closely related, and largely mutually intelligible. The largest differences are found in pronunciation and language-specific vocabulary, which may severely hinder mutual intelligibility in some dialects. All dialects of Danish and Bokmål form a dialect continuum within a wider North Germanic dialect continuum.
Generally, speakers of the three largest Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) can read each other's languages without great difficulty. This is especially true of Danish and Norwegian. 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. According to a scientific study, of the three groups, Norwegians generally understand the other languages better than any other group, while Swedes understand the least.
In general, Danish and Norwegian speakers will be able to understand the other's language after only a little instruction or exposure.
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.
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.
|Danish||Jeg ved,||hvordan manden,||(som) du snakker om,||ser ud.|
|Norwegian||Jeg vet||hvordan mannen||(som) du snakker om,||ser ut.|
|English||I know||how the man||(that) you're talking about||looks.|
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.
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.
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 b, d, and g), as well as the German-like realisation of r as a uvular or even pharyngeal approximant in Danish as opposed to the Norwegian alveolar trills or uvular trills/fricatives.
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:
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 [e:] (sene [se:n?], late [plural]) and short [?] (sende [s?n:?], to send), while the grapheme i corresponds to long [i:] (sine [si:n?], his/her/its/their own) and short [?] (sinne [s?n:?], anger). In Danish, the tendency of differentiation has led to a qualitative overlapping: also here, e can stand for long [e:] (sene [se:n?], late [plural]) and for short [?] (sende [s?n?], to send), but i, besides signifying long [i:] (sine [si:n?], his/her/its/their own), has come to correspond to short [e] ([nogen]sinde [sen?], ever) and, to complicate things further, a short [i] pronunciation is maintained in some cases (sidste [sist?], 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.
|short||[?]||[a > æ], [?]1)||||[?:]|
|short||[?] 2)||[?]||[?a > ], [?a > ?a] 2)3)||[a?]|
|short||[?]||[e], [i]||[?æ], [?i]||[i?]|
|short||[?] 5)||[?], [?] 6)||||[?:], [o]|
|u||long||[?:]||[u:]||[?u: > ?o:]||[u:?]|
|short||[?], [u]||[?] 7), [u]|| 7), [?u > ?o]||[u?]|
|short||[y]||[ø] 7), [y]||[?oe] 7), [?y]||[y?],  8)|
|short||[æ]||[?]||[?a > ?], [?a > ?a] 3)||[a?]|
|short||[oe]||[ø]||[?oe],  10)|||
While the more open realisations of /?/ and /?:/ before /r/ are allophonic in Danish, they have acquired phonemic status as /æ/ and /æ:/ 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 /?:/ vs. e /e:/ and sj /sj/ vs. rs /s/ have come to be pronounced in the same way in Norwegian (respectively /e:/ and /?/), thus rendering the occurrences of /æ/ unpredictable.
The Danish diphthongs [a] and  (spelled as ej and øj) correspond to the Norwegian diphthongs (in Oslo pronunciation) [æ] and [oe] (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  and  after a vowel: thus, dag (day) is pronounced [d?æ:?()] in Danish, but [d?:?] in Norwegian; lov (law) is pronounced [l] in Danish, but [lo:v] in Norwegian. Similarly, [a] and  are often spelled as eg and øg in Danish (eg may be pronounced [æ] in Norwegian, too, e.g. in regne, "to rain"). The Danish pronunciation is therefore, as with a above, closer to English, while the Norwegian is more conservative, closer to its spelling.
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, "shriek" vs skrike). Furthermore, Danish has replaced the voiced/voiceless opposition in /p, t, k/) vs /b, d, ?/) with an aspirated/nonaspirated one ([p?, t?, k?] vs [b?, d?, ]), 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 [b]. 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).
|In stressed onset||Elsewhere (single)||Elsewhere (double)||In stressed onset||Elsewhere|
|g||||[-, , ]||||[?]||[?]|
The Danish /r/ is either vocalized or dropped altogether, after having influenced the adjacent vowels, in all positions but word-initially and pre-stress, making the Danish r very similar to the standard German r. Also, note the Danish pronunciation of initial t as [t?], displaying a hint of the High German consonant shift wherein German changed t to z/tz (cf. Danish tid, German Zeit).
Meanwhile, syllable-final b, v, d, and g may be compared to English syllables that end in y, w, and th (English "say" vs. Danish sige, "law" vs. lov, "wrath" vs. vrede).
Some letter combinations that are pronounced quite differently are:
Some notable sound correspondences are:
In Norwegian, each stressed syllable must contain, phonetically, either a long vowel or a long (geminate) consonant (e.g. male [m?:l?], "to paint" vs malle [m?l:?], "catfish") . In Danish, there are no phonologically long consonants, so the opposition is between long and short vowels ([mæ:l?] vs [mal?]). 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" ['lø:b] vs løber "runs" ['lø:?b], Norwegian løper2[lø?:p?r] vs løper1[lø?:p?r]. Note Danish landsmand ['lan?sman?] "compatriot" (one word, two støds) as opposed to Norwegian landsmann [lnsm?n:] (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 is not transcribed here, because it belongs to the prosody of the phrase rather than the word.
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 /?/). 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 plural suffix -e is used too, but the system is rather regularized, since it is only nouns ending with -er in unbent form that get -e in indefinite plural form, and this is current for both masculine, feminine and neuter nouns; en skyskraper - skyskrapere "a skyscraper - skyscrapers"; en hamburger - hamburgere "a hamburger - hamburgers"; et monster - monstre "a monster - monsters"; et senter - sentre "a center - centers". The ending -er is dominant in masculine/feminine nouns and some neuters with several syllables, 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 masculine and feminine words, and an -ene or -a for neuter words. A few masculine words also have an alternative ending -a, derived from -a(ne)/-æne in the spoken language (en feil - feila/feilene, "a mistake/error - the mistakes/errors"). 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).
There are significant differences between the numeral systems of the two languages.
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.
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). In the case of Switzerland, which is known in written Danish and Swedish by its German name Schweiz, this is transliterated in Norwegian as Sveits.
As a result, Australien, Italien and Spanien are used in Danish, but as Australia, Italia and Spania in Bokmål, although the earlier forms can be heard in speakers of more conservative forms (for instance Queen Sonja of Norway). Similarly, while Mongolia and Slovakia are now used in Norwegian, Mongoliet and Slovakiet are still used in Danish.
In Danish, Latvia is referred to as Letland, similar to German Lettland, whereas in Norwegian, it is referred to as Latvia (although Letland and Lettland were previously used), but Estonia and Lithuania are referred to in both languages as Estland and Litauen, as in German.
Other differences include the use in Norwegian of the native names of countries. In Danish, Greece is referred to as Grækenland but in Norwegian, it is mostly referred to as Hellas (the Greek form of the name), even though the Danish-like Grekenland is sometimes used. Similarly, the name for Cyprus in Norwegian is the Greek-derived Kypros, rather than the Cypern (influenced by the German Zypern) used in Danish.
Nevertheless, Norwegians usually use greker (noun) and gresk (adjective) for "Greek", not hellener (noun) and hellensk (adjective); the latter are used only when talking about Ancient Greece, in the sense of Hellenic, as in English and other languages.
In addition, Norwegian speakers, unlike Danish 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 (the Norwegian dictionary Bokmålsordboka identify both Holland and hollandsk as previously commonly used in Norwegian).
By contrast, both Norwegian and Danish speakers refer to New Zealand by its English name, whereas Swedish speakers call the country Nya Zeeland. However, "New Zealand" as an adjective is newzealandsk or nyzealandsk in Norwegian, whereas newzealandsk is encountered in Danish, In Danish, "New Zealander" is newzealænder' while in Norwegian it can be translated as either newzealender or nyzealender.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Bosnien-Hercegovina||Bosnia-Hercegovina|
|Cape Verde||Kap Verde||Kapp Verde|
|Central African Republic||Den Centralafrikanske Republik||Den sentralafrikanske republikk|
|Congo, Republic of||Republikken Congo||Republikken Kongo|
|Czech Republic, Czechia||Den Tjekkiske Republik, Tjekkiet||Den tsjekkiske republikk, Tsjekkia|
|Democratic Republic of Congo||Den Demokratiske Republik Congo||Den demokratiske republikken Kongo|
|Micronesia, Federated States of||Føderale statsforbund Mikronesien||Mikronesiaføderasjonen|
|Saudi Arabia||Saudi Arabien||Saudi-Arabia|
|United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland||Det Forenede Kongerige Storbritannien og Nordirland||Det forente kongerike Storbritannia og Nord-Irland|
There are also differences in the names of cities, with one language using a native name, while the other uses one borrowed from another language. For example, in Norwegian, Helsinki is referred to as Helsingfors, as in Swedish, whereas in Danish it is usually called Helsinki, as in Finnish.
In Danish, Brussels is referred to as Bruxelles, as in French, or sometimes Bryssel as in Swedish, while in Norwegian it is known as Brussel, as in Dutch (but Bruxelles was permitted until 1961). In Norwegian, however, Lisbon is known as Lisboa, as in Portuguese, whereas in Danish it is known as Lissabon, as in German. (However, Lissabon was previously used in Norwegian).
Prague is known in Danish as Prag, as in German, unlike Norwegian, in which the Czech name Praha is used. However, Belgrade, Moscow and Warsaw are known in both languages by their respective Serbian, Russian and Polish names, Beograd,Moskva and Warszawa.
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).
|afraid||bange, (arch., dial.:) ræd||redd, but also bange (archaic, mostly used in standard expressions like "bange anelser")|
|afterwards||bagefter, derefter||etterpå, efterpå (conservative), deretter/derefter|
|angry||vred||sint, vred (literary)|
|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)|
|cinema||biograf, kino (old-fashioned)||kino, biograf (older cinemas)|
|to comb (verb)||rede||gre(ie), kjemme|
|decade||årti, tiår, dekade||tiår, årti, dekade|
|easy||nem, let||lett, nem|
|evening||aften, (poet.:) kvæld||kveld, aften|
|fact||kendsgerning, faktum||faktum, kjennsgjerning|
|fast, quick(ly)||hurtig, rask||fort (adv), rask (adj), hurtig|
|floor (storey)||etage, sal||etasje|
|healthy||rask, sund, frisk||frisk, sunn|
|hydrogen||brint, hydrogen||hydrogen, vannstoff (archaic)|
|... , isn't it?/didn't he? etc.||... , ikke/vel? ikke sandt?, ikke også?||... , ikke sant?|
|jealous||jaloux, skinsyg, misundelig||sjalu, misunnelig|
|last year||sidste år, i fjor||i fjor|
|like (vb. enjoy)||kunne lide||like|
|lunch||frokost||lunsj (alt. lønsj or lunch), formiddagsmat|
|maybe||måske, muligvis, kanske (old-fashioned)||kanskje, muligvis, måskje (archaic)|
|oxygen||ilt, oxygen||oksygen, surstoff|
|potato||kartoffel||potet, kartoffel (outdated)|
|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||somme tider, iblandt, (colloquial:) nogle gange, af og til, indimellem,||iblant, av og til, innimellom|
|spring(time)||forår, (poet.:) vår||vår, forår (archaic)|
|still (yet)||stadigvæk, fremdeles (archaic), fortsat||fremdeles, fortsatt|
|there, thither (about direction)||derhen||der hen, derhen (riksmål), dit, dithen|
|ugly||grim, (ethically:) styg||stygg, grim|
|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|
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.
|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||fast (adj.) or litter (garbage)|
|svær||difficult / obese||large|
|kneppe||to fuck||to button / unbutton|
|rar||kind, nice||strange, weird|