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Word Order Inversion when not a Question

The following is a reply of mine to a question in a sentence discussion. If something is unclear, please don't hesitate to ask about in the comments, and I will clarify the post.

A Learner Asked: Why is it Før de drikker den taler han om vinen and not Før de drikker den han taler om vinen when the sentence is not question?

Questions are, unfortunately, not the only situation in which Danish uses inversion.

Inversion occurs in the following cases:

  • Questions. You know this one :)
  • If an adverb or adverbial phrase precedes the subject in the sentence.
  • If the object precedes the subject (so they stay on either side of the verb).
  • If a subordinate clause comes before the main clause. This could be relative time specifications or conditional statements.

Here are some examples:

  • Object preceding subject: Jeg kender ikke drengen (I do not know the boy) could also be said as Drengen kender jeg ikke (The boy I do not know). Notice the inversion of verb (kender) and subject (jeg).
  • Adverb: Jeg spiser nu (not inverted) meaning I am eating now. If you want to put emphasis on the fact that you're going to eat right now, inversion occurs: Nu spiser jeg (Now I (will) eat).
  • Adverbial phrase: Vi gør det i morgen (not inverted, we do it tomorrow) can also be said as I morgen gør vi det (inverted, lit. tomorrow do we it, but same meaning).
  • This can also be more complicated: Efter vi er færdige med skolen i morgen, gør vi det (inverted) meaning After we are done with school tomorrow, we will do it except the verb and subject are switched in the Danish for "we will do it". The non-inverted version is Vi gør det efter vi er færdige med skolen i morgen.
  • Subordinate clause: Hvis katten er sulten, spiser den meaning if the cat is hungry, it eats. Inversion again. Non-inverted: Katten spiser, hvis den er sulten (the cat eats, if it is hungry).

This is probably one of the hardest parts of Danish! So don't fret :) If you don't get it right, you will still be understood perfectly.

There's a very technical explanation on Wikipedia which deals with the positioning of words in inversion. There's also more here, here (scroll to "Word Order") and here.

So, to conclude, in this sentence a subordinate clause precedes the main clause and inversion occurs. In the following, I'll mark the subordinate clause by putting it in parentheses:

  • Han taler om vinen (før de drikker den) meaning He talks about the wine (before they drink it)

Because we want to emphasize that something occurs before they drink the wine, we want to put the subordinate clause at the head of the sentence. According to the rules above, inversion must occur then:

  • (Før de drikker den) taler han om vinen meaning (Before they drink it) he talks about the wine.
September 5, 2014



Could this be added as a Tree 2.0 lesson in the last stages of the current tree?


If I put "ikke" into "de drikker den" (I know it doesn't make much sense, but let's just experiment with syntax), should it be "Før de ikke drikker den taler han om vinen"?


Yes, it would be like that :)

Just to clarify they do not drink it on its own (without before) would be de drikker den ikke.


Excellent explanation! Mange tak skal du have!!


Thank you very much for your clear (and long!) explanation. I didn't realize at first that it was a subordinate clause: it sounded right to me, but I kept on thinking that I learned somewhere that the second phrase in a sentence doesn't need inversion. I was probably thinking of something like this:

  • Klokken 9 Mette står op bagefter skal hun tager tøj på og hun skal spiser morgenmad

In this way "hun skal spiser morgenmad" doesn't need inversion since it is not a subordinate clause, right?

Thanks for your time.

  • 273

I think you are correct that inversion is not needed at the end of your example but you do need it at the beginning. Also tage and spise need to be in infinitive form. Here is how I would write it (but do wait for confirmation by a native speaker :)

Klokken 9 står Mette op. Bagefter skal hun tage tøj på og hun skal spise morgenmad.


The danish way to say this would be to either insert the conjuction "så" like this: "Klokken 9 står Mette op. Bagefter skal hun tage tøj på og så skal hun spise morgenmad." Literally meaning "Afterwards she must put on clothes and then eat breakfast". Or more commonly just delete the pronoun "Klokken 9 står Mette op. Bagefter skal hun tage tøj på og spise morgenmad." :)


Of course! I had it in mind, but concentrated just on the last part, thanks!


jeg er velkendt med faktum at du hader (capital letters) men TAK for det..


"Efter vi er færdige med skolen" Why is "skole" in it's definitive "skolen" when it doesn't make sense, at least to me.


OK but What is the word order after "for"? Are those sentences correct? "For ikke at komme for sent, tog han en taxa fra stationen i morges" "Han skal på kursus næste uge, for hele tiden at være med den nyeste teknik ajour."

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