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"The boy reads his books" / "The boy is reading his books"

Hello, native Danish speaker here.

I'm trying to help my girlfriend learn Danish and am having some trouble with sentences, like the one above.

While "The boy reads his books" is a statement that tells us that this boy reads his books (e.g. he knows his stuff), the sentence "The boy is reading his books" denotes a present tense, as in, he is currently reading his books (although I guess it could also have the same kind of meaning as the first sentence, i.e. he knows his stuff).

But in Danish, you'd just translate both with "Drengen læser sine bøger". Unless you were to say "Drengen læser sine bøger lige nu" (The boy is reading his books right now), there's nothing to denote the same kind of present tense, as we have with "The boy is reading his books".

It might be silly, but it's kind of bothering me. Is that just the way it is? Or is there some kind of grammar rule I'm missing?

October 23, 2014



I tried writing this earlier, but I wound up not being happy with how I laid it out and I kept wondering if I was getting the default interpretations in Danish wrong. Here is my pared-down version.

In both English and Danish the present conjugations can indicate both the simple present and the habitual present. In English there is a practice of interpreting the present conjugations as indicating the habitual present if the sentence allows that interpretation, i.e. it is the default interpretation.

The boy reads. (habitual)

The boy reads a book. (simple present)

The boy reads the book. (simple present)

The boy reads the books. (simple present)

The boy reads books. (habitual)

When the object is singular, English speakers interpret the verb as the simple present.

When the objects are unspecified and plural, English speakers interpret the verb as the habitual present.

That leaves the third case, plural objects with a definite article. This is where nuance and context play an important role. If the definite plural is left plain, then the verb is interpreted as the simple present. Additional adornment can change that arrangement.

I drink (habitual)

I drink the beer (simple present)

I drink the beers (simple present)

I drink the beers that come in orange bottles (habitual)

The last sentence by itself is habitual, but if the sentences preceding it are in the simple present, then it will be read as the simple present. The context of the last case can easily move the interpretation from a habitual interpretation to a simple present interpretation, more so than in the other examples.

Here is the part I am not certain about. I believe in Danish the present conjugation is interpreted as the simple present by default.

present (progressive and simple): I am exercising/training || Jeg træner

present habitual: I exercise || Jeg træner ofte/ Jeg træner dagligt/ Jeg plejer at træne

While the English sentence could use often/ daily/ usually to provide more detail it isn't necessary to cue the habitual interpretation. I think that in Danish the habitual exercise requires some indication of frequency or it would default to a simple present interpretation, but I would like reassurance about this.

Edit: corrected Danish word order, see below.


Holy! This is so awesome. And thank you for the examples! I'm not much of a grammar person (I'm terrible at explaining why something is how it is), but I really understood what you meant, because you included the examples. To me it feels like what you wrote made sense. Thank you very much for this thorough explanation. In any case, I'm showing my girlfriend this, and hopefully it'll make sense to her too (:


This was a very interesting post! (And so was the one you removed :).) I even learnt some new things about my own language Swedish, which is very close to Danish.

I think it works the same way in Swedish as you suggest it does in Danish, the default interpretation is the simple present. And to make it habitual you use expressions like "jag brukar/jeg plejer at/I use to".

By the way, if the rules for word order are the same in Danish as in Swedish, it should be "jeg træner ofte". (I tried with google translate and it says "jeg ofte træner" by I don't really trust google here.)


The rules for word order are definitely the same here. It is "Jeg træner ofte". That sneaky Google Translate can be a deceitful friend.


Thanks, I didn't think the order was right, but I thought with such a short sentence GT wouldn't go so wrong. I just assumed there was an exception I hadn't learned.


It would be interesting to find out from the grader-robot how English speakers interpret those whimsical sentences in Danish about bears eating with spoons and cats going to the movies and so forth. I tend to use the progressive, since anything can happen once, right? A particular bear is currently eating (probably honey) with a spoon. (Maybe soup, if some camper left a kettle on the fire.) But as a general rule, bears don't eat with spoons and so forth, so the simple form is contrary to fact, even if grammatically acceptable.. "Native-speaker instinct" says that the progressive form is really the better option here, unless you know that the writer was not a native speaker and probably just used the wrong form. The simple present may be used more frequently in the exercises than it normally is, of course, because it's shorter, meaning less chance of typos, and gets a pass.


We have the same problem in Swedish and it is really hard to come up with a good idea about how to indicate that something is happening(!) right now (except from adding "right now" just like you said).

In Swedish we can add "sitter och...", "står och..." or "ligger och...". So instead of saying "pojken läser sina böcker" (drengen læser sine bøger) we can for example say "pojken sitter och läser sina böcker". Do you have something similar in Danish?

There are also some special cases like "pojken kom springande" (the boy came running) , but that seems like premium knowledge to me.


It might just be a difference of language then. My girlfriend is a native English and Spanish speaker, and it annoyed me, when I came up short in explaining why both those English sentences had the same translation.

Oh yes, definitely. That works in Danish too. "Drengen sidder og læser sine bøger."

Not to get too far off topic, but that is really interesting to me that "the boy came running" would be "pojken kom springade", when if I'd had to take a guess what that Swedish sentence meant, I would've thought it meant he jumped! Haha. Just because "drengen kom springende" means that in Danish.


Ha ha, can't stop thinking of the jumping boy. Run is "løbe" in Danish, I suppose. We have that in Swedish too (löpa), but "springa" is much more common.

Again, this "sitta och..." thing is mostly used when you are describing what is happening "in the background" when something else happens, e.g. "The boy was reading when someone knocked on the door". It would sound really weird to say just "Pojken läste när någon knackade på dörren", while "pojken satt och läste när någon knackade på dörren" makes more sence. Or "pojken låg och läste..." if he is a lazy dreng.


Yep! Right on the money there. Maybe Swedish people are just very graceful, when they run, and you skip across the landscape, springing! (x

I agree with what you're saying. Judging from what Pleurocystites wrote below, it seems like it's just the way things are. Sidenote: I'm totally psyched about how I understand most of what you're writing in Swedish. I gotta try out that course.


Yeah, you should definitely try the Swedish course. I'm having so much fun with Danish and the pronounciation is not as difficult as I thought. I though that "bage", "bade" and "bare" for example all would sound like that "bæ" but they don't!

Btw, can you say something like "vad håller du på med?" ("what are you doing"?). That is a common way to say "vad gör du just nu?" in Swedish.


Hahahaha "bæ" :'D Oh dear. I'm certainly happy you don't think they do so any longer! (Wouldn't be nice to associate "bage" with sh*t)

Oh man, I just had Google Translate sound that out for me. Swedish sounds so musical and has much more of a pleasant flow to listen to, than Danish, in my opinion. It's hard for me to get my tongue to go along with saying it properly, without butchering it. "Hvad laver du?" doesn't sound nearly as good, haha. It's shorter though, so I guess it's got that going for it (x


Let's just hope one mod looks at this.


The lesson about progressive is quite late in the tree; it is the fourth line after the very last checkpoint. That even may be a hint about its importance in daily life; it is not that high and quite formal. Honestly, I never quite got why English introduced an extra grammatical form when adding a simple phrase like "right now" expresses the same. Most of the time English is a language that simplified things and left out Byzantine extra forms but here it didn't happen (yet).

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Yes this topic is covered in the lesson on Progressive. I've copied some highlights of the different ways progressive actions can be phrased in Danish. You will note parallels with what HelenCarlsson described in Swedish, at least for the first section.

"Står/Sidder/Ligger/Går og … You will often see that the word lige is added after the first verb"

"I gang med, i færd med and at være ved noget"

"Være ved at blive"

So back to the how to translate "The boy is reading his books". I'd say "Drengen sidder (lige) og læser sine bøger."


We both, as Danes, know that it'll be totally incorrect to say "Drengen er læsende sine bøger". Instead, we could use an adverb telling that it's right now or we could use "Drengen sidder/ligger/står op og læser sine bøger" or possibly the more formal "Drengen er i gang med/i færd med/ved at læse sine bøger".

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