A common beginner mistake ‘vil’ vs ‘skal’

Simple Danish Newsletter #18

Hi Friends,

We hope you are all having a wonderful week. This week, we thought we’d keep it short and sweet and focus on one of the most common Danish mistakes.

One of the most common mistakes we see is mixing up ‘vil’ and ‘skal’.

A common mistake for English speakers learning Danish is translating ‘will’ directly to ‘vil’ in all contexts, where ‘skal’ would often be more appropriate. This is a classic case of ‘transference error’ – applying rules from a familiar language to a new one.

Let’s break down the uses of ‘vil’ and ‘skal’ in future contexts to help you avoid this common mistake.

‘Skal’ in Future Contexts

Skal is used to express definite plans for the future. These are events likely marked in your calendar, with a high probability of happening unless something unexpected occurs.


  • Jeg skal ud og løbe efter arbejde = I am going running after work
  • Jeg skal hjem til min familie til jul = I am visiting my family for christmas
  • Vi skal besøge min mor i weekenden = We are visiting my mother this weekend

Key Point: Events with ‘skal’ are planned and have a high certainty of occurring.

‘Vil’ in Future Contexts

Vil is often used to express wishes and intentions, rather than definite plans.

Examples of expressing wishes:

  • Jeg vil gerne have en øl (I want a beer)
  • Jeg vil gerne til Bornholm (I want to go to Bornholm)

When used to express future intentions, ‘vil’ suggests spontaneity or a personal resolve, but without the definite commitment of ‘skal’.

If we swap out ‘skal’ with ‘vil’ in the examples from above we get the following:

  • Jeg vil ud og løbe efter arbejde = I want to go running after work
  • Jeg vil hjem til min familie til jul = I want to visit my family for christmas
  • Vi vil besøge min mor i weekenden = We want to visit my mother this weekend

Key Point: Intentions with ‘vil’ are not typically scheduled and are therefore less certain to occur.


  • Use ‘skal’ for plans and scheduled events.
  • Use ‘vil’ for wishes and intentions, which are less certain and often spontaneous.

By understanding these nuances, you can avoid the typical mistake and use ‘vil’ and ‘skal’ correctly in Danish. Happy learning!

❤️ Our Favourite things

Idiom of the week:At lægge hovedet i blød

To soak your head in water.

Literally to soak your head in water (in the same way you leave your dishes to soak).

At lægge hovedet i blød, means to think deeply or thoroughly about something to find a solution or to get an idea. It is of-course used metaphorically (us Danes don’t have a secret technique for thinking clearly) although, do let us know how it goes if you try it. You can often use the phrase when you are not yet ready to answer something and you need more time to think.

For example: A) Vi skal bruge idéer til hvordan virksomheden kan spare penge. Har du nogle idéer?

B) Jeg bliver nødt til lige at lægge hovedet i blød først.

It can also be used in plural: A) Vi bliver alle sammen lige nødt til at lægge hovederne i blød hvis vi skal komme på en lige så god ferie, som den sidste år.

Word of the week: Tidsoptimist
Literally: Timeoptimist. A time-optimist is someone who always underestimates how long it takes to carry out a certain activity (I for one, fall in that category).

For example:

A) Hvad vil du sige er din største svaghed?

B) Jeg er lidt en tidsoptimist. Det giver lidt et hektisk arbejdstempo nogle gange.

Classic Danish Summer Desert: Koldskål
There really are only few things better than koldskål in the summer. Koldskål is a Danish summer dessert made from sweetened buttermilk (kærnemælk), with vanilla and lemon, served with a biscuit topping called “kammerjunkere.” It’s also really good with fresh berries on top. To make it, the buttermilk is whisked together with cream, vanilla, lemon, and sugar, and then it is chilled. It is a refreshing and light dessert that Danes go crazy for. You’ll see them all over in supermarkets as finished drinks you can buy, but they don’t beat the homemade version (and it is so easy to make..)

P.S we have added a bunch of new songs with Danish Lyrics to our Danish Lyrics only playlist since last week: Have a listen!

That’s all we had for you for this week. Feel free to reply to this email with comments, suggestions or questions, as we read and reply to all emails 

Best regards,

Antonina & Rasmus