I don't know Danish, Nynorsk, or Bokmål, but will sometimes, on coming across a writing sample of one of them, wish to know which it is. How do I distinguish them in their written forms?

(I'd include Swedish in the question also, but I think I can already distinguish that by its ä, ö, and lack of ø. (Is that correct?) But if anyone knows another way to distinguish it from the others, that'd be great, too.)


2 Answers 2


You are correct about Swedish. But a non-Swedish text may contain Swedish parts, dialogue by a Swede for instance, and then you might find ä and ö.

Danish uses "at" where Norwegian (both forms) uses "å". It is the infinitive marker, used much as "to" in English. Danish isn't very fond of diphthongs either.

Nynorsk and Bokmål is harder. The vocabulary of bokmål and nynorsk are not identical. The personal pronouns for instance are not all the same, here's some of the differences:

         1st sing 1st plural 2rd plural 3rd plural
Bokmål:  jeg      vi         dere       de
Nynorsk: eg       vi/me/oss  de/dykk    dei

Some users of Bokmål collapse the feminine and masculine genders into a common gender, using the inflections of the masculine.

Nynorsk inflected words are less likely to end with -n, or -t and more likely to end with a vowel.

Nynorsk in general uses more diphthongs, and different diphthongs in some places. For instance in some strong verbs the past tense forms uses different diphthongs:

         infinitive present    simple past   past perfect
Bokmål:  å krype -  kryper   - krøyp/krøp  - har krøpet
Nynorsk: å krype -  kryp(er) - kraup       - har krope/kropi

(The dialect I speak most of the time uses

         å krype -  kryper   - krøyp       - har krypi

Some might consider this to reveal my political stance :) )

Good Nynorsk can be quite different from Bokmål grammatically but Nynorsk translated from Bokmål uses Bokmål grammar. I know good Nynorsk when I see it but I don't get to see it very often so I can't give you any "look for this" tips :)

Disclaimer: I am Norwegian and have not studied Norwegian after high school. I have read a reference grammar though, in order to write a recognizer: Faarlund, J.T. Norsk Referansegrammatikk. Universitetsforlaget, 1997.

  • 1
    For Swedish, you could add that the infinitive marker is "att" instead, like "to study" = "att studera". So he can distinguish these three languages already by using that. I'd like to answer this question myself, since I'm studying Swedish, but I suppose my knowledge is still insufficient. :P
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 9:52
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    One might add some more remarks about Norwegian vs. Danish, cause they can be pretty hard to distinguish. Wikipedia gives a very good overview there: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – jcm
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 11:31
  • @msh210 You're welcome! :) Thank you for the question, it's nice to explore languages like this, looking for the small details. It's what we all love here, I suppose. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 14:43
  • @jcm That almost deserves to be an answer. I was going to write something, but your link pretty much sums it up.
    – dainichi
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 7:32
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    It’s important to remember that Norwegian also uses at, just not as the infinitive marker. In both Danish and Norwegian (both Bokmål and Nynorsk), at is the subordinator used to head complement clauses (‘that’ in English). Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 18:55

The Twitter user incunabula tweeted (https://twitter.com/incunabula/status/1560597822151356416) a diagram with an algorithm to distinguish between European languages. The feature that - in this diagram - distinguishes Danish from Norwegian is "øy".

I have searched Det Centrale Ordregister https://ordregister.dk/ for "øy" among Danish words and there is no word with "øy" in it.

  • 1
    While øy doesn’t exist in lexical words in Danish, it is not unheard of in names: Høy and Bøye are both relatively common family names (though in both cases spellings with j are more frequent). Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 14:39
  • "øy" in Danish is spelled as "øi" or "øj". For example, Danish "øjne" corresponds to Norwegian "øyne", or Danish "højde" which in Norwegian is spelled as "høyde". Norwegian does not spell "øi" because this diphthong is rounded, like the vowel "y" Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 22:01

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