Subtly different words: hvis/om and tror/synes
Hi all, I'm Danish and have been helping my girlfriend learn the language for some time. Duolingo is now a great help here, kudos to the course admins for all the work they've put into the Danish tree!
When trying to teach someone Danish, I've noticed that there are some words that cause trouble. The differences between hvis/om and between tror/synes are subtle and tricky to get right.
Are there exercises in the tree that focus on these words? Here's my best take at explaining them...
hvis and om
Both hvis and om can be translated into if in English. The best explanation I've come up with is to say that hvis is used for conditionals with implications. So "If he agrees, then we do it" becomes "Hvis han er enig, så gør vi det". Compare this to "We will wait and see if he agrees" which I would translate as "Vi vil vente og se om han er enig".
tror and synes
Similarly for tror and synes which can both be translated as think in English. So I would translate "I think it will rain" and "I think it is late" as "Jeg tror det vil regne" and "Jeg synes det er sent", respectively. The difference is (I think!) that tror is used about factual things that can be said to be true or false. The word synes expresses a more personal opinion or taste about something.
Has anybody run into these words and found better ways to explain when to use which?
Interestingly enough, we make the same distinctions in German with falls / wenn and ob:
If he agrees, then we do it. = Wenn / falls er zustimmt, dann tun wir es. (hvis)
We will wait and see if he agrees. = Wir werden warten und sehen, ob er zustimmt. (om)
And also with view to tror / synes:
I think it will rain. = Ich glaube, es wird regnen. (tror)
"I think it is late. = Ich meine, daß es spät ist. (synes) [Fn]
Fn: For both examples, however, many people nowadays use denke analogous to English think. Hence I'm not sure whether the German language will be able to preserve the distinction in general usage.
Wanting simple answers I always used to think "believe" for "tror" and "feel" for "synes" and try to forget about "think" i.e.
"Jeg synes (at)" = "I feel (that)"*
Not sure that this is right. Just chiming in, interested to know whether it is dead wrong or whether it's okay in many instances but there are gotchas. Like you, I always thought of "om" as "whether"
*or even to use some Valley Girl that seems even more right "I feel like" (in the "I feel like it is late" sense not in the "I feel like a perky hedgehog" sense).
I added this to the Danish Collection thread :)
For the linguistically interested, I can add that "synes" was originally a passive form (e.g. det synes mig at det er sent -> it appears to me that it is late) but today it is used like an active form (e.g. jeg synes at det er sent -> I think that it is late). That explains why it has the
-s ending instead of the
-r ending :)