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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?

September 14, 2014



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.


Nice summary. I have a remark on the "synes" part: In my head I'm always translating synes to German as "mir scheint". This is more or less the same meaning and it also preserves the original passive of the Danish word.


Yes, I'm thinking the same, but in English - "jeg synes" roughly equates to "it seems to me".

Interesting that English and German kept the passive forms, whereas Danish has made it an active form.


Takk skal du ha! Und fünf Lingotes, dafür dass du fragen beantwortest noch bevor ich sie stellen kann :) [have you considered applying as a course contributor from German to a Nordic language or vice versa?]


Using alternative English translations can also be helpful.

Jeg tror = I believe

Jeg synes = I am of the opinion

Hvis det sker = In case it happens

Om det sker = Whether it happens


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).


Jeg tror - I guess

Jeg synes - My opinion is

Om - Whether

Hvis - In case


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 :)


I think your tror/synes explanation is correct (the difference is the same as in Norwegian)


Thanks, that's cool to hear!

It's super fun to get to teach one's own language :-) I had never considered the difference between tror and synes before and having to come up with a clear explanation of the difference can be challenging.


I think "om" is kind of like the English equivalent of "whether", right? It implies a sort of uncertainty, like a could-be-yes / could-be-no type of thing


My actual doubt is between Tror and Taenker (sorry, my keyboard is not Danish)


There is nothing to be sorry about.
Writng æ, ø and å as ae, oe and aa, is correct if you do not have access to the single letters.
e.g. writing "Støvler" as "Stoevler" is correct if using a non-danish keyboard, but incorrect if using a danish keyboard


"Tænke" is the act of thinking/cotemplating about something or considering something.

I am thinking of something - Jeg tænker på noget

Although it can sometimes also be used (more casually) in the same use as 'tror'

Do you think he will come - Tænker/tror du han kommer


When I see om I first try "about" before if. Vi vil vente og se om han er enig. We will wait and see about, if he agrees. Whether seems to also work.

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