For members


How did the Danish language end up with its crazy numbers?

From 'enoghalvtreds' (51) to 'nioghalvfems' (99), we look at how the Danish language ended up with such a bizarre numbering system.

How did the Danish language end up with its crazy numbers?
Photo: Andrew Buchanan on Unsplash

Any non-native person learning Danish will have noticed that the numbers – particularly from 50 to 99 – follow a, let’s call it eclectic system.

I’ve been speaking Danish as a second language for well over ten years and my brain still protests whenever someone tells me their telephone number in two-digit clusters. It’s just not that easy to immediately understand and write each set down. (‘Did they say 67? 77? 76? I’m going to need to ask them to repeat it…’)

Even Norwegians and Swedes, whose languages have perfectly normal numbering systems, will readily admit to finding numbers baffling in their Scandinavian sister tongue.

In Danish, the numbers are more or less child’s play until you get to 50, but then things get a little weird.

Single digit numbers and teens follow a pattern you would expect to see if translating number names directly from English.

Twenty (tyve), thirty (tredive) and forty (fyrre) also have their own words in Danish, albeit with somewhat strange spellings.

READ ALSO: Five tips that make it easier to learn Danish

To say a number between 20 and 49, the process is again straightforward: for example, 25 is ‘five-and-twenty’ (femogtyve), 32 is ‘two-and-thirty’ (toogtredive) and 49 is ‘nine-and-forty’ (niogfyrre).

Easy, right? It’s about to become less so.

The common names for numbers 50 (halvtreds), 60 (tres), 70 (halvfjerds), 80 (firs) and 90 (halvfems) are actually shortened versions of even longer number names: halvtredsindstyve, tresindstyve, halvfjerdsindstyve, firsindstyve and halvfemsindstyve.

All of these names have the suffix sindstyve, which comes from the archaic sinde meaning ‘to multiply’, and tyve (20). So the names of each of these numbers come from another number name ‘multiplied by 20’. Most people would think it’s easier to multiply by 10 than by 20, but you do you, Denmark.

We now need to explain where the first half of these number names comes from. This is where it gets flat-out bonkers.

You may have noticed that 50 (halvtreds), 70 (halvfjerds) and 90 (halvfems) each have a prefix as well as the aforementioned suffix. That is to say, they all begin with halv, the Danish word for ‘half’.

But the halv in each of these three cases does not mean the same thing. It is itself abbreviated from other, different words which all begin with halv: a series of old-fashioned Danish words for fractions which literally mean ‘this number minus a half’.

One of these words is still in use in modern Danish: halvanden, meaning one-and-a-half, is a very useful word in itself. It’s quite easy to see that halvanden comes from ‘two minus a half’, since anden means ‘second’ and halv, as we know, means ‘half’.

Still with me? Ok, on we go.

As mentioned, halvanden is one of a family of words for fractions, but the only one still commonly used. The full set is as follows:

  • halvanden: 1½ (literally, ‘the second minus a half’)
  • halvtredje: 2½ (‘the third minus a half’)
  • halvfjerde: 3½ (‘the fourth minus a half’)
  • halvfemte: 4½ (‘the fifth minus a half’)

Clear as crystal? I hope so. Because now we’re leaving this diversion and going back to our multiples of ten from 50-90.

  • 50, halvtreds, is constructed of halvtredje and sindstyve: 2½ times 20 equals 50.
  • 60, tres, is the more simple tre (three) and sindstyve: 3 times 20 equals 60.
  • 70, halvfjerds, is constructed of halvfjerde and sindstyve: 3½ times 20 equals 70.
  • 80, firs, is the more simple fire (four) and sindstyve: 4 times 20 equals 80.
  • 90, halvfems, is constructed of halvfemte and sindstyve: 4½ times 20 equals 90.

From here, the rest of the numbers between 50-99 are plain sailing, since they are spoken the same way as the lower double-figures. So 55 is ‘five-and-fifty’ (femoghalvtreds), 82 is ‘two-and-eighty’ (toogfirs) and 99 is ‘nine-and-ninety’ (nioghalvfems).

I suppose we could say that when you say a number like 55, you are technically saying ‘five-plus-two-and-a-half-times-twenty’… but let’s leave that for now.

So now the logic behind Denmark’s counting system is fully explained, right? Well, not quite, because there’s a dark horse: the number 40.

Earlier, I wrote that the word for 40 in Danish, fyrre, just means 40. But that’s not exactly correct. It’s actually an abbreviation of fyrretyve.

Fear not though, for this time there are no multiples of 20 involved. Fyrretyve comes from the Middle Danish word fyritiughu, which can be translated to ‘four tenners’. Someone, somewhere in Danish history, apparently did see the sense in using multiples of 10 after all.

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For members


Why does Denmark have church tax and do you need to pay it?

Church tax in Denmark is voluntary but 72 percent of the population pay it. We take a look at why.

Why does Denmark have church tax and do you need to pay it?

What is church tax?

Income tax in Denmark is divided into a number of components. There are the two state taxes, basic and top tax (bundskat and topskat,); municipal tax (kommuneskat) and labour market tax (AM-bidrag).

There is also a voluntary church tax, called kirkeskat. The exact rate of this depends on the municipality but it averages at 0.87 percent.

You pay this church tax when you become a member of the national church in Denmark, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which in Danish is called Folkekirken

How many people pay church tax in Denmark?

According to Statistics Denmark, there are 4,276,271 people in Denmark registered as members of the Church of Denmark (Folkekirken) out of a population of 5,932,654. That means around 72 percent of people in Denmark are members of the National Church and pay church tax.

Church membership in Denmark has remained high for the past ten years, despite several surveys showing less than a fifth of Danes see themselves as “very religious.”

However there was a spike in the number of people leaving the church in 2016 following a nationwide advertising campaign by the country’s atheist society.

What happens when you become a church member?

Anyone can attend a service at a church in Denmark but to hold an event, such as a baptism, wedding or a funeral, you must be a member of the Danish church and pay your voluntary church tax. When you are a member, you do not pay the church for a wedding or burial.

This is why many people in Denmark are members, as well as wanting to support the maintenance of the church buildings, some of which date as far back as the Middle Ages. 

At least one of the couple must be a member of the Danish church to be married there. You can usually only be buried with the presence of a priest if you are a member of the church when you die.

You cannot vote in or run for parish council elections unless you are a church member.

How do I become a member of the church?

You become a member of the Danish church, Folkekirken when you are baptised. If you are a member of an Evangelical Lutheran church abroad, you automatically become a member when you take up residence in Denmark. 

If you’re baptised from another church, you can become a member by filling in a form at your local church.

You don’t need to be a Danish citizen to become a member of the church, but you cannot be a member of both the Evangelical Lutheran Church and another religious community at the same time.

Young people aged 15 and over decide themselves whether to be baptised and become church members or leave the church.

READ ALSO: The complete guide to confirmation in Denmark

Denmark is divided into parishes, and each parish has its own church. If you wish to belong to a church in another parish, you contact the priest at the parish that you would like to join.

You can find your parish church here.

How does it affect my taxes?

Once the church has confirmed you as a member, it is updated on the national record, the central person’s register (CPR) and your church tax will automatically be drawn from your monthly salary and appear on your payslip as kirkeskat. The exact rate depends on the municipality but according to Folkekirken, it averages at 0.87 percent. It is calculated based on your total income.

Children and young people who do not pay tax do not pay for membership.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to understand your Danish payslip

Denmark has around 2,400 churches and 2,000 cemeteries. The church tax covers the running and maintenance of the churches in the municipality. It ensures that a service is held every Sunday in local churches across the country, as well as other events and community services.

What if I want to end my church membership?

You can decide at anytime to end your church membership and church tax. You can do this by submitting a form to your parish church. This can be done in person or in writing and you can find your local parish here.