1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Danish
  4. >
  5. "Lege" vs "spille" (verbs and…


"Lege" vs "spille" (verbs and nouns).

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: What is the difference between leger (infinitive lege) and spiller (infinitve spille)?

Leger is generally an unorganized, unstructured, spontaneous game (such as kids might play in the yard) while spiller is the opposite: structured, planned, with rules (such as a board game, a video game, etc).

The same goes for the equivalent nouns en leg and et spil which both translate to a game. Notice that these are used in strict pairs to describe doing the activity:

  • Vi leger en leg, but
  • Vi spiller et spil, both of which mean we play a game.
September 14, 2014



And 'at lege' is where Lego got its name! That always helps me remember the difference between lege and spille. Children play with Lego bricks. Easy.


It's also easy to remember, when you know, that 'spiller' is very simmilar to German 'spielen'. And in Germany there is nothing unorganized. xD


I've heard that "Lego" is from "leg godt", "play well".


I understand that "dyrke" is commonly used also, as in, "vi spiller tennis, men vi dyrker sport."


You are right :) Also for vi dyrker motion -> we exercise. I can't think of any others right now, but there might be more.


"Dyrke" has a very broad meaning. It might be used very loosely in the informal everyday language. I would suppose it suggests a more serious nerdy approach to a thing. As such I would argue you could say "Jeg dyrker tennis", as in it being something more than just a hobby. I don't know if all natives would accept it as 100% correct though.. but it would be understood. And it would be a natural response to the question - "Hvilken sportsgren dyrker du?" (what kind of sport do you do?).


Mange tak! I have another question: How do we say "play" in the sense of playing a musical instrument?


It is "spil" according the the following: When we get to instruments, performances, etc. it is still "spiller" in Danish. Here, unlike "play" in English, the noun "spil" for "performance" has fallen out of use, you would simply use the word for "performance": "forestilling". In english "a play" is strictly a performance not a game, in Danish "et spil" is (not quite as strictly) a game, not a performance. (https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-spiller-and-leger-in-Danish)


Yep, just use "spiller". Me being a Danish flute-player I would say, "jeg spiller fløjte", more formaly, "jeg er fløjtist", or simply "jeg er fløjtespiller".
SO we do have the similar "ist" as in English "pianist". "Jeg er pianist, jeg spiller klaver." Oh and we have many German words for everything classical music.

  • 43

I generally understand the usage of leg vs. spil but the following seems to be an exception. Why do we have "De Olympiske Lege" and not "De Olympiske Spil?"


I looked up the etymologies, and it seems that lege is from Old Norse, while spil is an import from Low German. So lege has been in the language longer, I'm guessing. Maybe, when the Olympics where given that name in Danish, people liked the Old Norse word better. What do I know :)

  • 43

Sure good explanation :)


Mange tak! Det hjælper meget!


Yeah, good you post this. I am Norwegian, and would have just said that "leke" is something children do.


There is a time in every Danes life where you get offended when your parents ask when you friend is visiting so that you can "lege"... then you say, "vi leger ikke, vi hænger ud" (I believe that expression is still considered "cool" among the kids)

Learn Danish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.