I'm gonna need some help distinguishing brød/brødet, æble/æblet, and so much more. Can a native Dane give me some pointers on how to hear the difference? I tried putting them side-by-side into Google translate, but there I get a very definite "et" sound, which is completely different from Duo's pronunciation. Over here on Duolingo I hear "brøø" and "brø", if that makes any sense, but it's near impossible to tell which I'm supposed to type when listening. I'd love a side-by-side comparison of someone saying "brød, brødet" and "æble, æblet" over and over.
I'm a Dane and I'll agree with you that it's difficult to hear the difference.
I think much of it is based on the context. If I hear "Jeg spiser æb..." then I know that the sentence cannot be "Jeg spiser æble". That sentence would correspond to "I eat apple" in English and it is missing the article. So when I hear "Jeg spiser æb...", I expect you to finish it with "Jeg spiser æblet" since that makes sense. Another option for you would be ""Jeg spiser æbler", which is the plural ("I eat apples").
The other way works as well: if I hear you say "Jeg spiser et æb...", then I know that you will end with "æble" and not "æblet" since only the first is grammatically correct (saying "et æblet" would be like saying "an the apple" or something like that in English).
In general, we tend to cut off words a lot in Danish and that's very annoying for foreigners who try to learn the language. So don't feel bad if this sounds weird or is difficult :-)
I had this same query with water. I couldn't her the et on the end of vandet. Context makes no difference here, because 'I'm drinking water' is a perfectly acceptable English sentence, as does 'I'm drinking the water'.
And yes, although 'I eat apple' isn't great in English, I would say that 'I'm eating apple' or 'I will eat apple' is acceptable in English and 'Jag spiser aeble' can mean those as well.
Good point about "Jeg drikker vand", which is a fine Danish sentence. The other example doesn't work: saying "Jeg spiser æble" is not correct Danish.
I believe the problem is that "apple" has both a definitive and indefinitive form ("the apple" and "an apple"). This is unlike words like "sand", "sugar", "water" where you never use the indefinite article — there's no "a sand", but there is "the sand" and just "sand" which I guess is a kind of plural form. At least that's how I think about it in Danish.
True, though it's kind of interesting just why this is the case. Some food nouns in English are clearly countable (e.g. "banana") and others are clearly collective nouns (e.g. "bread"), and this corresponds roughly to the nature of the food, with the collective nouns used for foods that do not naturally come in portions and where you would want to specify the size of the portion before pluralizing (e.g. "loaves of bread" vs. "slices of bread"). For such collective noun foods, the plural refers to multiple varieties rather than multiple portions (e.g. "wines").
But... there is overlap and ambiguity, and the countable or collective nature of various foods does not seem to be consistent among languages that all do maintain such a distinction. Some food nouns considered obviously collective in English are countable in other languages, leading the occasional native Dutch or German speaker to demand "two breads" rather than "two loaves of bread." And even within English, you find odd things. "We drank a few wines" definitely refers to more than one variety of wine, and not just multiple glasses, but "we drank a few beers" can have either meaning, and you'd probably say something like "several different beers" if you specifically wanted to convey that you had more than one brand.