chapter  11
43 Pages

Word formation

Many words in Danish are directly descended from Indo-European, Common Germanic or Common Scandinavian from which Danish has developed. Examples of such indigenous words are:

bror, brother; far, father; kone, wife; mand, man; mor, mother; søster, sister

Later words in Danish have arisen historically as a result of four main processes:

Affixation, i.e. the addition of an affix (i.e. a prefix or suffix) to an existing independent word (see 11.2.1-11.2.7):

klar → uklar clear → unclear god → godhed good → goodness demokrati → demokratisere democracy → democratize

Compounding, i.e. the joining together of two independent words into one (see 11.3.1-11.3.8):

regering + chef → regeringschef Lit. government head

Abbreviation, i.e. the shortening of a word or the merging of two (shortened) words into one (see 11.4.1-11.4.5):

automobil → bil car

elektrisk komfur → elkomfur electric cooker

Borrowing, i.e. the introduction of a word from another language (see 11.5.1-11.5.4):

English jazz → Danish jazz jazz

French terrain → Danish terræn terrain


The stem of a word is an uninflected form onto which various word formation elements (prefixes, suffixes) and inflectional elements may be added:

In afdelingerne, the departments: del, afdeling are stems In højeste, highest: høj is a stem In råbtes, was shouted: råb is a stem In uvenlighed, unfriendliness: ven, venlig are stems

Both derivatives and compounds can be formed from a stem:

childhood friend childhood friend

One kind of suffix already examined (in chapters 1, 2 and 5) is inflectional endings:

In afdelingerne: –er, –ne are inflectional endings

In højeste: –est, –e are inflectional endings

In råbtes: –te, –s are inflectional endings

which often joins compound nouns together:

cf. et universitets rektor genitive –s (see 1.8.3) a university’s vice-chancellor

en universitetsrektor s-link in noun compound a university vice-chancellor


Notice that the first element in a compound often modifies the second ele ment: tegltag, skifertag, stråtag are all kinds of tag (roof). In both derivatives and compounds it is the second element to which the inflectional ending is attached, and consequently this element which determines the word class:

free time unaccustomed

rust-free (stainless) goodness

This means that while prefixes never alter the word class (e.g. vant → uvant), suffixes are frequently used for this very purpose (e.g. god → godhed).