Inversion or not? How to make a correct main and subordinate sentence with adverbs in Danish

Elena Sokolova, January 27th 2022

These are probably the questions you have asked yourself while doing a written assignment or even preparing for the exam’s reading part. This blog post will help you feel less annoyed while structuring the Danish phrase (I know it can be even frustrating). You will learn specific rules about treating adverbs properly because they deserve your attention. They serve to express a lot of what you want to say, e.g. your attitude to things, and make it easier for a listener to understand your intention. Moreover, the adverbs are the markers you can use during your exam to indicate that you are explaining, assessing, reasoning, giving arguments for and against. According to the assessment criteria, they also help the examiner assess your presentation or a writing task.

Adverbs are an optional field in the sentence

You have undoubtedly heard about inversion in Danish when the verb comes before the subject in the main clause. The inversion of the verb is a phenomenon that happens in the main clause. The main clause (called hovedsætning in Danish) is a logically complete and independent utterance/phrase (even a one-word utterance), which can be ended with a full stop without confusing the recipient in terms of the pragmatical goal. In most cases - unless it is dialogue - as a minimum, it consists of a subject (a doing person/thing/phenomenon/formal subject/notion of activity) and a verb (activity phrase/action word). Adverbs are an optional field. They are not usually the core of the sentence unless it consists of one adverb only as in spoken language. For example, Måske./Selvfølgelig, again in dialogue, for example.

Coronanedlukningen ændrede (pludselig = suddenly, an adverb of manner) vores hverdag sidste år. = Corona lockdown changed suddenly our day flow.

In this example, pludselig is an adverb in the main clause.

What is an adverb?

An adverb is a word or an expression that describes a verb, adjective, another adverb, a whole clause, even a preposition, or sentence. Adverbs can describe manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., answering questions such as hvordan?, på hvilken måde?, hvornår?, hvor?, and i hvor høj grad?. They may be single words (måske, derfor, nemlig, effektivt) or multi-word adverbial phrases like under alle omstændigheder (=under all circumstances), på den måde (=in that way), på vej til arbejde (=on the way to work), ved at indføre nye regler (=by introducing new rules); på den ene side - på den anden side (on the one-other hand).

Often they extend the verb giving details about modality (a speakers’ attitude to the sentence), e.g. degree of certanty (desværre, ikke, næppe, gerne), time (bagefter, sommetider), place (hertil, deroppe), logical relations (consequense: derfor; reasoning: nemlig); pure manner of action (hurtigt, effektivt, pludselig).

Categories of central adverbs

In the Danish sentence, we should distinguish between free and central adverbs. Free adverbs can appear in the main sentence’s middle, beginning, or end. The central adverbs belong to the fixed place. This place differs depending on whether it is a main or a subordinate clause. We will take both cases. The common central adverbs are:

Der er sikkert (central adverb) mange argumenter for og imod de nye regler for barsel. = There are definitely many arguments for and against new rules for parental leave.

Mange studerende har ofte (central adverb) udfordringer med at klare sig økonomisk. = Many students have often challenges in making two ends meet.

It is easy to conclude that all the other adverbs, which are not central, are free. So learn the list of central adverbs, and you will be safe. If you know, you deal with the central adverbs, do not start a sentence with them.

Free and central adverbs in the main clause: two scenarios

There can be two scenarios of the word order in the main clause where the adverbs (free and central) are optional fields. If we take adverbs out, the supplementary meaning they add to the sentence will be affected, but the core of the sentence will remain the same. So how do we place the adverbs in the main clause? Let’s analyze two possible scenarios.

Scenario 1 for the main clause without inversion: a subject + verb1+ optional field

Anne (subject/doing person/thing) drikker (verb1) altid (adverb) grøn te (object) hver morgen (adverb of time). = Anne drinks always green tea every morning.

This optional field right after the verb can be often immediately filled with an object (grøn te) or an adverb.

Alex (subject) er (verb 1) også/altid/ikke/aldrig/sommetider/nogle gange/derfor (adverb) glad for sine arbejdsopgaver.


Anna (subject) elsker (verb 1) selvfølgelig (adverb) at drikke (verb 2) grøn te (object) om morgenen (free adverbs).

Both free and central adverbs can fill the place of the optional field right of the verb in the formula according to Scenario 1 of the main clause: Subject+Verb1 + optional field. What is special about the central adverbs is that they in scenario 1 only come after the verb 1, while free adverbs may also come later in the sentence. So it is important to know which adverbs are central and come right after the verb 1, and which are free adverbs and more free citizens in the sentence, but often also choose the residence right after the verb 1.

Central adverbs vs. free adverbs in scenario 1

Anne (subject/doing person/thing) elsker (verb1) altid (central adverb)/selvfølgelig(free adverbs) at drikke (verb 2) grøn te (obejct) hver morgen/alene/selvfølgelig (free adverbs, which comes after the optional field).

As you can see, free adverbs in scenario 1 one may be placed:

Man skal derfor (free adverb in the central place) tænke på at finde et studierelevant job tidligt (free adverb) under uddannelsen.

Scenario 2 of the main clause with inversion: inversion trigger + Verb1 + Subject + optional field (central or free adverb) + (optional Verb2) + object

Imagine starting your main sentence not with the subject, but something else, which can be called an INVERSION TRIGGER. The possible inversion triggers are an object, a subordinate clause, a free adverb or an adverbial phrase. Then the sentence will have the following scenario:

INVERSION TRIGGER + Verb1 + Subject + optional field (cenrtal or free adverb) + (optional Verb2) + object

For at få en permanent opholdstilladelse i Danmark (inversion trigger: adverbal phrase of condition/purpose) skal (verb1) man (subject) først (free adverb) bo (verb 2) i landet (free adverb) i nogle år (free adverb). = In order to get a permanent residence permit in Denmark, one should live in the country for some years.

As we are not robots, we may need or wish to start our main sentence with something other than a subject, and this usually triggers inversion - the verb comes before the subject. Inversions happen only in the main clause and depend on the verb’s immediate surroundings.

There are two conditions for inversion to happen:

Free adverbs are inversion triggers

Remember that free adverbs or adverbial phrases, e.g. adverbs/adverbial phrases of time, sequence, result, consequence, attitude, opposition, are common triggers of inversion. The list is very long, but when you know the list of central adverbs, you can safely refer a new adverb you come across to the category of free adverbs.

Examples of free adverbs: måske/selvfølgelig/for eksempel/derfor/til gengæld(=on the contrary & in compensation for smth)/bagefter/på den måde (=in that why/therefore)/på den ene side/på den anden side/derimod (on the contrary/however); dog (however); tværtimod (even on the contrary)…

Look up in the Danish-Danish dictionary, if you are in doubt, whether you deal with an adverb. Especially if you have come across a new word.

Examples of scenario 2:

Selvfølgelig (free adverb as an inversion trigger => choose scenario 2)) har (verb 1) Jens (subject) også (også =central adverb in the optional field)/heldigvis (free adverb) mange gode venner (obejct phrase) i København. = Of course Jens have fortunately many good friends in Copenhagen. The formula here is: free adverb + Verb1 + subject + central adverb/another free adverb +obeject

Folkeskoler tilbyder gratis undervising. Til gengæld (free adverb ‘on the contrary’/while) har private skoler færre elever i klassen. = Municipal secondary schools offer free education. On the contrary, private schools have fewer pupils in a class. The formula for the second main clause here is: free adverb + Verb1 + subject+ object.

På den ene side (free adverb) er det en fordel, at man selv kan bestemme over sine arbejdstider. På den anden side* (free adverb) er der risiko for, at grænsen mellem arbejde og privatliv flyder sammen. = On the one hand it is an advantage, that you can determine your working ours, on the other hand there is a risk that the borders between private life and work will fade.

Dermed (free adverb =with that) kommer der flere udfordringer i forhold til ansættelsesaftaler. = Consequently there come more challenges with eplyoment contracts.

Dog (However) er jeg ikke enig i, at forbud mod biler i centrum kan løse trafikproblemer i store byer. = However, I do not agrre on that a ban on cars in the city center can solve the traffic problems.

Mini exercise: try rephrasing these five sentences above so that the free adverbs, inversion triggers, stay as central adverbs in the main clause. In that case, there will not be an inversion in the main clause.

E.g. Der (subject) kommer (verb1) dermed (free adverb =with that) flere udfordringer i forhold til ansættelsesaftaler. = Consequently there come more challenges with emplyoment contracts.

Adverbs in the dependent clause

What is the dependent clause?

The dependent clause/subordinate clause (called ledsætning in Danish) is a logically incomplete and dependent utterance/phrase, which is often not enough to reach the pragmatical goal of the speaker. A subclause works as a supplement to the main clause, adding or extending the content/pragmatics of the main clause. The main and subclause are logically connected. For example, the main clause may contain information that is only true on the condition that the subordinate clause is true, as is the case with (if-sentences).

Jeg kan fortsætte med at arbejde i samme firma (main clause), hvis (=if conditional conjunction intruducing a subclause=>) jeg (subject) heldigvis (free adverb = fortunately)/også (central adverb) kan få forlænget (=get extended) min kontrakt (subclause ends).

How to detect the subclause?

There are two ways to do that:

Han siger (main clause=>what does he say?=> the answer is in the subclause), at (that-an optional conjuction of additional info, often omitted) han (subject) også/altid/ikke/aldrig/sommetider/nogle gange (free or central adverb) er træt af sine arbejdsopgaver.

The conjunction at can be omitted in spoken and written language, so you can say a question: He says: ‘what’? => then a subclause comes and extends what ‘he says’. So it is dependent on Han siger…, and extends it.

So either learn subclause conjunctions or ask a question from the main clause. That part of a complex sentence that answers the question is the subordinate clause (ledsætning).

Remember only one scenario for word order of the subordinate clause:

Main rules about the subclause and adverbs in them:

The word order of the subclause is almost frozen. Some learners feel it sounds wrong to say fordi jeg gerne vil hjælpe dig, but it means that these learners have automatized the word order of the main clause = Jeg vil gerne/godt hjælpe dig, and they automatically place the words in the subclause as according to the main clause rule (scenario 1).

Turn main clauses into subclauses and see what will happen.

Turn main clauses into subclauses and see what will happen: the adverbs will reside to the place right after the subject; central adverbs always, and free adverbs in most cases, but can be also placed at the end sometimes. But none of the advebs may initiate a subordinate clause, even though it may sound OK for you, because it is a logical accent. Free advebs may only come first, if it is a main clause.

Jeg er kun delvist (adverbs) enig i, at det er effektivt at indføre øremærket barsel. => the first main clause becomes a subordinate clause in the new sentence, where I report the statement. => Peter siger, at han kun delvist (adverb) er enig i, at det er effektivt at indføre barsel.

Besparelser i sundhedsvæsenet kan derfor øge risiko for, at nogle patienter ikke får behandling i tide. => Jeg er enig i, => subclause: at besparelser i sundhedsvæsenet derfor kan øge risiko for, at nogle patienter ikke får behandling i tide.

Preserve or insert conjunction into subclause to place the adverb correctly

Subclauses may or may not have explicit conjunction, so check out whether the conjunction is omitted. The trick about finding a subclause is sometimes that you have to add the missing conjunction.

Han siger (main clause), at (that-an optional conjuction of additional info) han (subject) også/altid/ikke/aldrig/sommetider/nogle gange (free or central adverb) er træt af sine arbejdsopgaver.

At can be omitted, so you can say a question He says: what? => and the part of the sentence that answers that question is a subordinate clause. If you do not do this operation, you may place the adverb in the wrong place.

Jeg har et krævende (=demanding) arbejde [main clause], som (conjunction=which) jeg (subject) nogle gange (free adverb) også (free adverb) kan være (=be) stresset af.

If som is omitted, you may place nogle gange & også wrong, so make sure you have checked whether you deal with a main or subclause.

How to avoid mistakes in the adverb placement in a subordinate clause:

Which example is correct 1a) or 1b):

1a) Det er den mest spændende film, jeg nogensinde har set. or 1b) Det er den mest spændende film, jeg har nogensinde set.

Here both parts of the sentence look identical to scenario 1 of the main clause, so one may think they are both main clauses, but as soon as you insert the omitted som into the second part, you will see that you need to choose the subclause word order scenario S(A)V. It will help you place the adverb correctly if you need to do so by the meaning.

Nogensinde should be after the subject as in 1a). See the full version in 1c).

1c) Det er den mest spændende film, som jeg nogensinde har set.

Further studies

So for further studies, you may need a list of subclause conjunctions to learn them and to distinguish them from adverbs. If you know the central adverbs and the subordinate clause conjunctions - and there are not so many of them, then all the rest ‘logical connectors’ are usually adverbs.

You can learn more about word order, different types of subordinate clauses and the subclause conjunctions in my video-recorded course on sentence formation. Structuring Danish sentence correctly