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DANISH NUMBERS

Danish has a rather weird number system.

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).

CARDINALSORDINALS
1en   10ti   1.første10.tiende
2to   20tyve   2.anden20.tyvende
3tre   30tredive   3.tredje30.tredivte
4fire   40fyrre   4.fjerde40.fyrretyvende
5fem   50halvtreds   5.femte50.halvtredsindstyvende
6seks   60tres   6.sjette60.tresindstyvende
7syv   70halvfjerds     7.syvende  70.halvfjerdsindstyvende
8otte   80firs   8.ottende80.firsindstyvende
9ni   90halvfems   9.niende90.halvfemsindstyvende

This strange system combines two archaic ways of counting:

  1. 20-based instead of 10-based
  2. fossilized expressions for two and a half, three and a half and four and a half

50halv-tred-s(ind-s-tyve) half-third-t(imes-of-twenty)
60tre-s(ind-s-tyve)three-t(imes-of-twenty)
70halv-fjerd-s(ind-s-tyve)half-fourth-t(imes-of-twenty)
80fir-s(ind-s-tyve)four-t(imes-of-twenty)
90halv-fem-s(ind-s-tyve) half-fifth-t(imes-of-twenty)

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
etc.

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:
2,5halvtredjehalf-third
3,5halvfjerdehalf-fourth
4,5halvfemtehalf-fifth
A similar construction is still in normal use, though
1,5halvandenhalf-second

Furthermore they are truncated:
halvtredje, but halvtred(je)s
halvfjerde, but halvfjerd(e)s
halvfemte, but halvfem(te)s
Also:
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
http://listserv.linguistlist.org/archives/lowlands-l.html

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© Ole Stig Andersen, Aug 20, 2001 (rev Aug 4, 2003)