The tens from fifty on are not based on the number 10, as is the case in most European languages (French being another outstanding exception).
This strange system combines two archaic ways of counting:
In cardinal numbers the part in parenthesis is almost always omitted. The full forms are very rarely spoken nor written, giving them an archaic, pompous feel. But in the ordinal numbers the full forms reappear obligatorily, yielding
50 = halvtreds, 50th = halvtredsindstyvende
60 = tres, 60th = tresindstyvende
The awkwardness of these ordinal forms can not be reduced by truncation,
only by reformulation:
halvtredsindstyvende -> nummer halvtreds,
and this anglicism (?) is becoming very widespread.
Only the initial consonant of the word for "times of" = "sinds" is realized. "Sinds" is genitive of "sinde" and both are obsolete - the modern Danish equivalent is "gange", genitive "ganges" - and occur only in numbers and in fossilized compound expressions like "nogensinde" = "ever".
The bases that 20 is multiplied with also have strange archaic forms that are now unproductive and hardly recognizable:
|A similar construction is still in normal use, though|
Furthermore they are truncated:
halvtredje, but halvtred(je)s
halvfjerde, but halvfjerd(e)s
halvfemte, but halvfem(te)s
fire, but fir(e)s
The "logic" of the system is NOT transparent nor generally known to native
speakers. This, together with the fact that _d_ is silent in the clusters
_ds_ and _rd_, creates very common spelling errors like
halvtres, (should be halvtreds (50))
treds, (should be tres (60))
halvfjers, (should be halvfjerds (70)).
A Scandinavist language reform movement tried to get the 20-based forms replaced by 10-based like Norwegian and Swedish have. With absolutely no success.
Danish 10-based forms are only used in inter-Scandinavian communication and money
documents like cheques.
They are: femti, seksti, syvti, ot(te)ti, niti
Ole Stig Andersen
An earlier version of this article was published in
L O W L A N D S - L * 20.AUG.2001 (02) * ISSN 189-5582 * LCSN 96-4226
|© Ole Stig Andersen, Aug 20, 2001 (rev Aug 4, 2003)|