The Danish communication style is concise, straightforward, and unpretentious. This is not just apparent in verbal communication, but also in written communication, when writing emails and letters in Danish for instance.
Danish people (myself included) are fairly opinionated when it comes to the proper way of writing emails and letters in Danish.
This article is meant to serve as a guide to Danish email and letter writing etiquette. Hopefully it will help non-native Danish speakers avoid embarrassing mistakes or “faux pas”.
It will teach you how to choose the proper opening and closing phrases, depending on the context and to whom the email or letter is addressed. I will also show you what you should avoid writing if you wish to be respected by your peers.
In Danish there is no formal “you” pronoun like in French or Spanish. However when writing an email in Danish we still have to be careful of using the proper level of formality depending on the context.
The tone of emails is very important to Danish people. Many Danes have strong opinions about this matter.
Here are two examples showing a formal tone and an informal tone:
If the email is work related, for example to a colleague, a professor, or an attorney, then the email needs to be written as formally as possible.
But there are grey areas and there are discrepancies to this rule. For example, if the email is addressed to a client/customer or a potential customer, then the email could be much less formal. (This is because in some cases it can help build rapport with customers.)
Naturally for friends and family members it can be more casual, without the recipient losing faith in the message.
Danish cultural norms related to email etiquette are visible in the Danish education system. The Danish textbook “Ind i Dansk” states that an email should:
The two first points may seem obvious but we want to emphasize the 3rd point: Conciseness in writing is important in Danish culture. When writing to Danes, get straight to the point.
The proper way to start an email or a letter in Danish is to use an initial greeting which conveys an appropriate level of formality, based on the recipient and our relationship towards them.
The initial greeting establishes the tone of the entire email message and shows what level of formality is involved.
When writing an email to a friend or a family member, the usual Danish greeting is ´Hej’ (lit. Hi) or `Kære’ (lit. Dear) – if there is any initial greeting at all.
If it is a formal letter, then the greeting can be:
It should be mentioned that the Danish language has become less formal in recent decades, and many Danish people use the email greeting ´Hej’ even when writing to authority figures.
The most obvious reason for this is that `Hej’ has become a neutral greeting in the last couple of decades, whereas ´Kære’ is viewed by some Danes as somewhat archaic, or only suited for loved relatives.
One thing to be mindful of is that Danish people above 50 will often start an email with the greeting `Kære’ while Danes below 50 will often use ´Hej’ instead.
When writing letters in Danish (as opposed to email) `Kære’ is much more common. Some Danes consider an email to be like a letter so they use `Kære’to start emails. Other Danes view email as a text messaging medium, and those people use ´Hej’ instead.
Below is a list of different ways of ending an email (or letter) in Danish. Next, we'll explain each one in detail, and indicate in what context it is most appropriate.
Just like the initial greeting «Kære», the ending «Kærlig Hilsen» has traditionally been the go-to ending of an email or letter. However, as the language has changed, so have the connotations of «Kærlig Hilsen».
Today most Danes would find it either archaic or way too affectionate if the email was addressed to an authority figure. Amongst the older generation, however, this is still the go-to.
If the email or letter is addressed to a close friend or a family member, then ´Kærlig Hilsen’ would seem archaic or distant at best. Unless the email was from a grandparent.
The most common ending among people younger than fifty years is «Venlig Hilsen». At least when addressing authorities. It conveys a formal but respectful distance between the writer and the recipient.
A lot of people also think that this is the most professional ending to an email, as shown in a study from Dansk Sprognævn in 2020. Dansk Sprognævn is the Danish department of language, and their research is based on numerous surveys. ()
Typically used by people under 50, but not as common as «Venlig Hilsen».
This one is generally used when addressing a group, for example a teacher addressing students or their parents.
When it comes to `De bedste hilsner’ (lit. Best Regards) most Danes would avoid it. The arguments are generally that it sounds like an anglicism or that it sounds archaic. Danes would want to avoid sounding like an outdated version of themselves or sounding like the English.
A curious finding from the Dansk Sprognævn study was that Danish women are more inclined to use phrases of affection rather than men. 70% of the women asked would use `Kærlig Hilsen’ whereas only 53% of the men would use it.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways of ending an email. Examples like ´Knus’ (lit. Hugs) or ´Kys’ (lit. Kisses) are also used frequently. However, where the use of ´Kære’ is debatable, no one would or should use ´Knus’ or ´Kys’ when writing to people outside their inner circle.
When stating the purpose of your email, remember that Danish people value conciseness, so go straight to the point.
The following is not as commonly used as in English. Often this does not appear in a Danish email.
As Danish people value conciseness, these are not used as often as in English.
These are widely used in Danish emails.
In this section, we’ll show some examples of what you should avoid writing if you wish to be respected by your peers.
We have seen that Danish people value a communication style which is concise, straightforward, and unpretentious.
Email phrases which are redundant, roundabout, or conceited, should be avoided as they risk being perceived as rude.
Here are 12 examples of phrases to avoid when writing an email in Danish:
These examples should give you a feel for what to avoid when writing an email in Danish.
This is an example Danish email from an insurance company, and it is very formal. Here the greeting «Hej» is used as a neutral greeting and «Venlig hilsen» is used as a neutral way to end the mail.Hej Anne Andersen
PS: you can use our free language tool, VocabChat to create and record your own Swedish vocabulary and phrase lists.