Danish and German are two Germanic languages of Northern Europe and their shared ancestry shines through in many different ways, even though they do have important differences as well.
Other languages in the same category include Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, and English. While Danish is very close to Swedish and Norwegian, German is much closer to Dutch, and slightly less so, to English.
But how close are the two languages really?
Danish and German are both Germanic languages and share a lot in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. There are, however, some notable differences, and today, Danish appears to be less consistently pronounced whereas German is more complicated grammatically. They both share a significant amount of root vocabulary and appear closer to one another than they do to English.
In the following, I’m going to try and compare the two languages in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
Read also: Danish VS Dutch.
The Danish And German Alphabets And How They’re Pronounced
Below, you’ll see a comparison of the alphabets in Danish and German along with the approximative pronunciation of each letter (expressed with English equivalents).
For both languages, but especially for Danish, several different pronunciations exist for various letters, which means that the below list won’t be complete. It will not take letter-combinations into account either, but it might give you an idea about how the two languages compare in terms of pronunciation, at least, superficially.
|German Letter||English Pronunciation||Danish Letter||English Pronunciation|
|A a||“A” as in father||A a||“A” as in father but also as in “and”|
|B b||“B” as in Bob||B b||“B” as in Bob|
|C c||“K” as in “Ken” or “TS” as in “tsar”||C c||“K” as in “Ken”|
or “S” as in “symbol”
|E e||“E” as in enough||E e||“E” as in enough or sometimes as “ea” in earn|
|F f||“F” as in Fish||F f||“F” as in Fish|
|G g||“G” as in green||G g||“G” as in green or sometimes “W” as in dowel|
|H h||“H” as in hat||H h||“H” as in hat|
|I i||“I” as in “ill”||I i||“I” as in “ill”|
|J j||“Y” as in “year”||J j||“Y” as in “year”|
|K k||“K” as in “Ken”||K k||“K” as in “Ken”|
|L l||“L” as in “loop”||L l||“L” as in “loop”|
|M m||“M” as in “mouse”||M m||“M” as in “mouse”|
|N n||“N” as in “nice”||N n||“N” as in “nice”|
|O o||“O” as in “occult”||O o||“O” as in “occult” or “aw” as in “awful”|
|P p||“P” as in pizza||P p||“P” as in pizza|
|Q q||“KW” as in “Quality” (and “q” is always followed by “u”)||Q q||“KW” as in “Quality” (and “q” is always followed by “u” – in Danish, Q only exists in loan-words.)|
|R r||Guttoral “R” thrilled from the back of the throat. No equivalent in English. (example)||R r||Guttoral “R” – the same as in German, but in some cases the letter is silent.|
|S s||“S” as in “simple”||S s||“S” as in “simple”|
|T t||“T” as in “talk”||T t||“T” as in “talk”|
|U u||“OO” as in “look”||U u||“OO” as in “look”|
|V v||“F” as in “far” or “V” as in “View”||V v||“V” as in “View”|
|W w||“V” as in “View”||W w||“V” as in “View”|
|X x||“X” as in “fix“||X x||“X” as in “fix“|
|Y y||“Ü” (no equivalent in English, example) or “Y” as in “yellow”||Y y||Roughly same pronunciation as the German “Ü”|
|Z z||“TZ” as in “Pizza”||Z z||“S” as in “same”|
|Ä ä||“E” as in “melon” – but like a mix of an “a” and an “e”||Æ æ||“E” as in”melon” – but like a mix of an “a” and an “e”|
|Ö ö||Roughly as “E” as in “her”||Ø ø||Roughly as “E” as in “her”|
|Å å||Roughly as “O” in “slow”|
|Ü ü||“Ü” (no equivalent in English, example)|
|ẞ ß||“SS” as in “lasso”|
So as you might have been able to gather from the above, the Danish and German alphabets have a lot in common, despite their differences.
In the terms of pronunciation of the alphabets these are the major differences:
- “C” is pronounced like a “K” in both languages (like “cat”) but in German, it can additionally be pronounced “TS” like in the word “tsar” whereas in Danish it often is pronounced like an “S” as in “cycle”.
- “V” is often pronounced “F” in German, as in “Vater” (father) but this is never the case in Danish.
- “Z”, in German, is pronounced roughly like in English, but with a stronger accentuation on the “TZ” sound than a pure “Z”. In Danish, “Z” is always pronounced like an “S” and only used in loan-words.
- “Å” exists only in Danish, not in German.
- The German “Ü”, “Ö” and “Ä” have the equivalents of “Y”, “Ø” and “Æ” in Danish. Furthermore, the German “ẞ” is similar to “SS” in Danish.
Many letters have minor, secondary pronunciations in Danish and they can sometimes be silent as well, whereas German is much more consistent.
For example, the “G” in the Danish word “noget” is almost silent, or in some cases, it’ll add a “W” sound to the word. In addition to that, many Danish vowels represent multiple sounds as opposed to German.
Grammar In Danish And German – Not Quite The Same
Despite German and Danish having a lot in common, they have some major differences grammar-wise.
Gender And Articles
German, for instance, has three genders, whereas Danish has two. While the ancestor of the Danish language used to have a masculine, feminine, and neuter gender like German has today, the masculine and feminine are today merged into a combined “common” gender.
The articles in Danish are “en” and “et”, “en” being the “common” or combined gender, sometimes referred to as “n-ord” and “et” is the neuter gender, referred to as a “t-ord”.
These indefinite articles in Danish are used similarly to the indefinite articles “ein” and “eine” in German which correspond to “a” and “an” in English.
Where Danish is different, however, is when it comes to definite articles. Danish, as opposed to German and English, adds a suffix to a noun when it’s definite instead of putting a definite article (like “the”, “der”, “die” or “das”) in front of the word.
So while “the chair” (a chair) would be “der Stuhl” (ein Stuhl) in German, in Danish we say “stolen” (from “en stol”).
Another difference in grammar is verb conjugation. In German, verbs change their form depending on the person. The same happens to a lesser extent in English, but in Danish, verbs remain unchanged.
Here’s an example:
|I sing||Ich singe||Jeg synger|
|You sing||Du singst||Du synger|
|He/she/it sings||Er/sie/es singt||Hun/hun/den synger|
|We sing||Wir singen||Vi synger|
|You sing (pl)||Sie singen||I synger|
|They sing||Sie singen||De synger|
A major difference between Danish and German grammar is cases.
German has four grammatical cases, whereas Danish has none. Cases are a pattern of declensions that nouns take on depending on their role in a sentence.
German has a famous example of this. Have a look at these two sentences:
- Der Hund beißt den Mann
- Den Mann beißt der Hund
Without any knowledge of German cases, you’d think that, while in the first sentence “the dog bites the man” in the second one it’s “the man bites the dog”. This isn’t true, however. The two phrases mean the same thing, and this is made possible with cases.
In German, the article changes with the case.
In the above, we see the nominative case and the accusative case used. The nominative case is used for the “noun” who’s the subject in the sentence (the individual acting) whereas the accusative case is used for the individual acted upon (or the victim!)
As you’ll notice in the above example, even though the order of the words is different, the articles remain the same. “Hund” remains “der Hund” no matter if it’s at the beginning or at the end, which means that it’s the subject of both phrases. “Mann” remains “den Mann” in both cases, meaning that he’s the one being bitten each time. (Poor guy).
We could also switch around the articles in order to change the meaning.
- Der Hund beißt den Mann
- Den Hund beißt der Mann
The two sentences above look almost the same, but the meaning is completely different. In the first one, the dog bites the man, but in the second one, the dog is the victim and the man the perpetrator.
Danish And German Vocabulary
Due to the Danish and German languages’ common ancestry, they have a lot in common in terms of vocabulary. This doesn’t mean that words are the exact same, of course, because both languages have evolved separately for several hundred years, but when comparing words, it’s often quite obvious that they share roots.
Some of the differences between words follow quite predictable patterns. One reason for this is the linguistic changes that the German language has undergone in history, referred to as the high Germanic consonant shift.
Modern German is unique as the only major Germanic language which has undergone these changes, and it’s something which sets the German language apart when compared to other Germanic languages such as English, Danish or Dutch.
The consonant shift involves certain consonant sounds which are common throughout the Germanic languages but replaced by other sounds in German. A “P” or “B” in Danish might turn into an “F” in German. This is the case with “skib (ship) which turns into “Shiff” in German. Or the Danish word for “apple”, “æble” which turns into “Apfel” in German.
Despite these differences in morphology, Danish and German have a huge part of their vocabulary in common. To illustrate this, let’s try and run a simple sentence through Google Translate and see how the vocabulary differs.
First in English:
A man went to the baker’s to buy five loaves of bread, but on his way home he fell in a hole where he had to sit and wait for several hours.
Next in Danish:
En mand gik til bageren for at købe fem brød, men på vej hjem faldt han i et hul, hvor han måtte sidde og vente i flere timer.
And now in German:
Ein Mann ging zum Bäcker, um fünf Brote zu kaufen, aber auf dem Heimweg fiel er in ein Loch, in dem er sitzen und mehrere Stunden warten musste.
In the short example above, several words seem similar. I’ll try picking them out here:
|Way home||Vej hjem||Heimweg|
Roughly a third of the words in the Danish and German text are clearly similar, and these are mostly nouns and verbs. Where the grammar and the structure of the sentence get more complicated (as in “where he had to sit and wait for several hours”) the different languages seem to deal with the wording differently.
In comparison with English, both Danish and German have relatively fewer foreign (and notably French) loan-words. Where some say that English has as many as 60% French loan-words, German and Danish are much “purer” in terms of Germanic vocabulary. This means that they’re, perhaps, a little more similar in terms of vocabulary than English.
Conclusion: How Similar Are Danish And German?
Danish and German are two languages with similar origins. Despite having evolved separately for centuries, they still have a lot in common in terms of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.
There are some notable differences, however. German is notably more complicated than Danish in terms of grammar, and German words and how they’re pronounced often differ from Danish and English due to some of the changes that the German language has historically undergone, which other Germanic languages haven’t been subject to.
So which one is easier for an English speaker to learn? Danish is notably more simple than German, despite its pronunciation being a little more tricky due to its inconsistency.