Norwegian language

Last updated

Pronunciation [ˈnɔʂːk] (East, Central and North)
[ˈnɔʁsk] (West and South)
Native to Norway
Ethnicity Norwegians
Native speakers
4.32 million (2020) [1]
Early forms
Standard forms
Latin (Norwegian alphabet)
Norwegian Braille
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by Language Council of Norway (Bokmål and Nynorsk)
Norwegian Academy (Riksmål)
Ivar Aasen-sambandet (Høgnorsk)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 no
ISO 639-2 nor
ISO 639-3 nor – inclusive code
Individual codes:
nob   Bokmål
nno   Nynorsk
Glottolog norw1258
Linguasphere 52-AAA-ba to -be;
52-AAA-cf to -cg
Norwegian language map.svg
Areas where Norwegian is spoken, including North Dakota (where 0.4% of the population speaks Norwegian), western Wisconsin (<0.1% of the population), and Minnesota (0.1% of the population) (Data: U.S. Census 2000).
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Norwegian (Norwegian: norsk [ˈnɔʂːk] ) is a North Germanic language spoken mainly in Norway, where it is an official language. Along with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a dialect continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional varieties; some Norwegian and Swedish dialects, in particular, are very close. These Scandinavian languages, together with Faroese and Icelandic as well as some extinct languages, constitute the North Germanic languages. Faroese and Icelandic are not mutually intelligible with Norwegian in their spoken form because continental Scandinavian has diverged from them. While the two Germanic languages with the greatest numbers of speakers, English and German, have close similarities with Norwegian, neither is mutually intelligible with it. Norwegian is a descendant of Old Norse, the common language of the Germanic peoples living in Scandinavia during the Viking Age.


Today there are two official forms of written Norwegian, Bokmål (Riksmål) and Nynorsk (Landsmål), each with its own variants. Bokmål developed from the Dano-Norwegian language that replaced Middle Norwegian as the elite language after the union of Denmark–Norway in the 16th and 17th centuries and then evolved in Norway, while Nynorsk was developed based upon a collective of spoken Norwegian dialects. Norwegian is one of the two official languages in Norway, along with Sámi, a Finno-Ugric language spoken by less than one percent of the population. Norwegian is one of the working languages of the Nordic Council. Under the Nordic Language Convention, citizens of the Nordic countries who speak Norwegian have the opportunity to use it when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable for any interpretation or translation costs. [3] [4]



The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century:
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Old West Norse dialect
Old East Norse dialect
Old Gutnish dialect
Old English
Crimean Gothic
Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility Old norse, ca 900.svg
The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century:
  Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility

Like most of the languages in Europe, Norwegian derives from Proto-Indo-European. As early Indo-Europeans spread across Europe, they became isolated from each other and new languages developed. In northwest Europe, the Germanic languages evolved, further branching off into the North Germanic languages, of which Norwegian is one.

Proto-Norse is thought to have evolved as a northern dialect of Proto-Germanic during the first centuries AD in what is today Southern Sweden. It is the earliest stage of a characteristically North Germanic language, and the language attested in the Elder Futhark inscriptions, the oldest form of the runic alphabets. A number of inscriptions are memorials to the dead, while others are magical in content. The oldest are carved on loose objects, while later ones are chiseled in runestones. [5] They are the oldest written record of any Germanic language.


East Germanic languages

West Germanic languages

Old Norse
Old West Norse




Old East Norse



Around 800 AD, the script was simplified to the Younger Futhark, and inscriptions became more abundant. At the same time, the beginning of the Viking Age led to the spread of Old Norse to Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Viking colonies also existed in parts of the British Isles, France (Normandy), North America, and Kievan Rus. In all of these places except Iceland and the Faroes, Old Norse speakers went extinct or were absorbed into the local population. [5]

The Roman alphabet

Around 1030, Christianity came to Scandinavia, bringing with it an influx of Latin borrowings and the Roman alphabet. These new words were related to church practices and ceremonies, although many other loanwords related to general culture also entered the language.

The Scandinavian languages at this time are not considered to be separate languages, although there were minor differences among what are customarily called Old Icelandic, Old Norwegian, Old Gutnish, Old Danish, and Old Swedish.

Low German influence

The economic and political dominance of the Hanseatic League between 1250 and 1450 in the main Scandinavian cities brought large Middle Low German–speaking populations to Norway. The influence of their language on Scandinavian is comparable with that of French on English after the Norman conquest. [5]


In the late Middle Ages, dialects began to develop in Scandinavia because the population was rural and little travel occurred. When the Reformation came from Germany, Martin Luther's High German translation of the Bible was quickly translated into Swedish, Danish, and Icelandic. Norway entered a union with Denmark in 1397 and Danish, over time, replaced Middle Norwegian as the language of the elite, the church, literature, and the law. When the union with Denmark ended in 1814, the Dano-Norwegian koiné had become the mother tongue of around 1% of the population. [6]

Danish to Norwegian

From the 1840s, some writers experimented with a Norwegianised Danish by incorporating words that were descriptive of Norwegian scenery and folk life, and adopting a more Norwegian syntax. Knud Knudsen proposed to change spelling and inflection in accordance with the Dano-Norwegian koiné, known as "cultivated everyday speech." A small adjustment in this direction was implemented in the first official reform of the Danish language in Norway in 1862 and more extensively after his death in two official reforms in 1907 and 1917.

Meanwhile, a nationalistic movement strove for the development of a new written Norwegian. Ivar Aasen, a botanist and self-taught linguist, began his work to create a new Norwegian language at the age of 22. He traveled around the country collecting words and examples of grammar from the dialects and comparing the dialects among the different regions. He examined the development of Icelandic, which had largely escaped the influences under which Norwegian had come. He called his work, which was published in several books from 1848 to 1873, Landsmål, meaning 'national language'. The name Landsmål is sometimes interpreted as 'rural language' or 'country language', but this was clearly not Aasen's intended meaning.

The name of the Danish language in Norway was a topic of hot dispute throughout the 19th century. Its proponents claimed that it was a language common to Norway and Denmark, and no more Danish than Norwegian. The proponents of Landsmål thought that the Danish character of the language should not be concealed. In 1899, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson proposed the neutral name Riksmål , meaning 'national language' like Landsmål, and this was officially adopted along with the 1907 spelling reform. The name Riksmål is sometimes interpreted as 'state language', but this meaning is secondary at best. (Compare to Danish rigsmål from where the name was borrowed.)

After the personal union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905, both languages were developed further and reached what is now considered their classic forms after a reform in 1917. Riksmål was, in 1929, officially renamed Bokmål (literally 'book language'), and Landsmål to Nynorsk (literally 'new Norwegian'). A proposition to substitute Danish-Norwegian (dansk-norsk) for Bokmål lost in parliament by a single vote.[ citation needed ] The name Nynorsk, the linguistic term for modern Norwegian, was chosen to contrast with Danish and emphasis on the historical connection to Old Norwegian. Today, this meaning is often lost, and it is commonly mistaken as a "new" Norwegian in contrast to the "real" Norwegian Bokmål.

Bokmål and Nynorsk were made closer by a reform in 1938. This was a result of a state policy to merge Nynorsk and Bokmål into a single language, to be called Samnorsk. A 1946 poll showed that this policy was supported by 79% of Norwegians at the time. However, opponents of the official policy still managed to create a massive protest movement against Samnorsk in the 1950s, fighting in particular the use of "radical" forms in Bokmål text books in schools. In the reform in 1959, the 1938 reform was partially reversed in Bokmål, but Nynorsk was changed further towards Bokmål. Since then Bokmål has reverted even further toward traditional Riksmål, while Nynorsk still adheres to the 1959 standard. Therefore, a small minority of Nynorsk enthusiasts use a more conservative standard called Høgnorsk. The Samnorsk policy had little influence after 1960, and was officially abandoned in 2002.


While the sound systems of Norwegian and Swedish are similar, considerable variation exists among the dialects.


Consonant phonemes of Urban East Norwegian
Labial Dental/
Retroflex Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ( ɳ ) ŋ
Stop p b t d ( ʈ ɖ ) k ɡ
Fricative f s ʃ ( ʂ ) ç h
Approximant ʋ l ( ɭ ) j
Flap ɾ ɽ

The retroflex consonants only appear in East Norwegian dialects as a result of sandhi, combining /ɾ/ with /d/, /l/, /n/, /s/, and /t/.

The realization of the rhotic /ɾ/ depends on the dialect. In Eastern, Central, and Northern Norwegian dialects, it is a flap [ ɾ ], whereas in Western and Southern Norway, and for some speakers also in Eastern Norway, it is uvular [ ʁ ] or [ χ ]. And in the dialects of North-Western Norway, it is realized as [ r ], much like the trilled rr of Spanish.


Vowel phonemes of Urban East Norwegian
Orthography IPA Description
a/ɑ(ː)/Open back unrounded
e (short)/ɛ/, /æ/open mid front unrounded
e (long)/eː/, /æː/close mid front unrounded
e (weak)/ə/schwa (mid central unrounded)
ei/æɪ̯/, /ɛɪ̯/
i (short)/ɪ/close front unrounded
i (long)/iː/close front unrounded
o (short)/ɔ,ʊ/close back rounded
o (long)/uː,oː/close back rounded
u/ʉ(ː)/close central rounded (close front extra rounded)
y (short)/ʏ/close front rounded (close front less rounded)
y (long)/yː/close front rounded (close front less rounded)
æ (short)/æ/, /ɛ/near open front unrounded, open mid front unrounded
æ (long)/æː/, /eː/near open front unrounded, close mid front unrounded
ø (short)/œ/close mid front rounded
ø (long)/øː/close mid front rounded
øy /œʏ̯/
å (short)/ɔ/open-mid back rounded
å (long)/oː/open-mid back rounded


Norwegian is a pitch-accent language with two distinct pitch patterns, like Swedish. They are used to differentiate two-syllable words with otherwise identical pronunciation. For example, in many East Norwegian dialects, the word bønder ('farmers') is pronounced using the simpler tone 1, while bønner ('beans' or 'prayers') uses the more complex tone 2. Though spelling differences occasionally differentiate written words, in most cases the minimal pairs are written alike, since written Norwegian has no explicit accent marks. In most eastern low-tone dialects, accent 1 uses a low flat pitch in the first syllable, while accent 2 uses a high, sharply falling pitch in the first syllable and a low pitch in the beginning of the second syllable. In both accents, these pitch movements are followed by a rise of intonational nature (phrase accent)—the size (and presence) of which signals emphasis or focus, and corresponds in function to the normal accent in languages that lack lexical tone, such as English. That rise culminates in the final syllable of an accentual phrase, while the utterance-final fall common in most languages is either very small or absent.

There are significant variations in pitch accent between dialects. Thus, in most of western and northern Norway (the so-called high-pitch dialects) accent 1 is falling, while accent 2 is rising in the first syllable and falling in the second syllable or somewhere around the syllable boundary. The pitch accents (as well as the peculiar phrase accent in the low-tone dialects) give the Norwegian language a "singing" quality that makes it easy to distinguish from other languages. Accent 1 generally occurs in words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, and accent 2 in words that were polysyllabic.

Written language

Norwegian keyboard with keys for AE, O, and A. Norwegian keyboard by Dell.jpg
Norwegian keyboard with keys for Æ, Ø, and Å.


The Norwegian alphabet has 29 letters. [7]


The letters c, q, w, x and z are only used in loanwords. As loanwords are assimilated into Norwegian, their spelling might change to reflect Norwegian pronunciation and the principles of Norwegian orthography, e.g. zebra in Norwegian is written sebra. Due to historical reasons, some otherwise Norwegian family names are also written using these letters.

Some letters may be modified by diacritics: é, è, ê, ó, ò, and ô. [8] [9] In Nynorsk, ì and ù and are occasionally seen as well.[ citation needed ] The diacritics are not compulsory, but may in a few cases distinguish between different meanings of the word, e.g.: for ('for/to'), fór ('went'), fòr ('furrow') and fôr ('fodder'). [9] Loanwords may be spelled with other diacritics, most notably ï, ü [9] , á and à.[ citation needed ]

Bokmål and Nynorsk

Map of the official language forms of Norwegian municipalities: red is Bokmal, blue is Nynorsk, and gray depicts neutral areas. Malformer i Norge.svg
Map of the official language forms of Norwegian municipalities: red is Bokmål, blue is Nynorsk, and gray depicts neutral areas.

The two legally recognized forms of written Norwegian are Bokmål (literally 'book tongue') and Nynorsk ('new Norwegian'), which are regulated by the Language Council of Norway (Språkrådet). [10] Two other written forms without official status also exist. One, called Riksmål ('national language'), is today to a large extent the same language as Bokmål though somewhat closer to the Danish language. It is regulated by the unofficial Norwegian Academy, which translates the name as 'Standard Norwegian'. The other is Høgnorsk ('High Norwegian'), a more purist form of Nynorsk, which maintains the language in an original form as given by Ivar Aasen and rejects most of the reforms from the 20th century; this form has limited use.

Nynorsk and Bokmål provide standards for how to write Norwegian, but not for how to speak the language. No standard of spoken Norwegian is officially sanctioned, and most Norwegians speak their own dialects in all circumstances. Thus, unlike in many other countries, the use of any Norwegian dialect, whether it coincides with the written norms or not, is accepted as correct spoken Norwegian. However, in areas where East Norwegian dialects are used, a tendency exists to accept a de facto spoken standard for this particular regional dialect, Urban East Norwegian or Standard East Norwegian (Norwegian: Standard østnorsk), in which the vocabulary coincides with Bokmål. [11] [12] Outside Eastern Norway, this spoken variation is not used.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Danish was the standard written language of Norway. As a result, the development of modern written Norwegian has been subject to strong controversy related to nationalism, rural versus urban discourse, and Norway's literary history. Historically, Bokmål is a Norwegianised variety of Danish, while Nynorsk is a language form based on Norwegian dialects and puristic opposition to Danish. The now-abandoned official policy to merge Bokmål and Nynorsk into one common language called Samnorsk through a series of spelling reforms has created a wide spectrum of varieties of both Bokmål and Nynorsk. The unofficial form known as Riksmål is considered more conservative than Bokmål and is far closer to Danish while the unofficial Høgnorsk is more conservative than Nynorsk and is far closer to Faroese, Icelandic and Old Norse.

Norwegians are educated in both Bokmål and Nynorsk. Each student gets assigned a native form based on which school they go to, whence the other form (known as Sidemål) will be a mandatory school subject from elementary school through high school. [13] For instance, a Norwegian whose main language form is Bokmål will study Nynorsk as a mandatory subject throughout both elementary and high school. A 2005 poll indicates that 86.3% use primarily Bokmål as their daily written language, 5.5% use both Bokmål and Nynorsk, and 7.5% use primarily Nynorsk.[ citation needed ] Thus, 13% are frequently writing Nynorsk, though the majority speak dialects that resemble Nynorsk more closely than Bokmål. [14] Broadly speaking, Nynorsk writing is widespread in western Norway, though not in major urban areas, and also in the upper parts of mountain valleys in the southern and eastern parts of Norway. Examples are Setesdal, the western part of Telemark county (fylke) and several municipalities in Hallingdal, Valdres, and Gudbrandsdalen. It is little used elsewhere, but 30–40 years ago,[ as of? ] it also had strongholds in many rural parts of Trøndelag (mid-Norway) and the southern part of northern Norway (Nordland county). Today, Nynorsk is the official language of not only four of the nineteen Norwegian counties but also various municipalities in five other counties. NRK, the Norwegian broadcasting corporation, broadcasts in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, and all governmental agencies are required to support both written languages. Bokmål is used in 92% of all written publications, and Nynorsk in 8% (2000).[ citation needed ]

Like some other European countries, Norway has an official "advisory board" Språkrådet (Norwegian Language Council) that determines, after approval from the Ministry of Culture, official spelling, grammar, and vocabulary for the Norwegian language. The board's work has been subject to considerable controversy throughout the years.

Both Nynorsk and Bokmål have a great variety of optional forms. The Bokmål that uses the forms that are close to Riksmål is called moderate or conservative, depending on one's viewpoint, while the Bokmål that uses the forms that are close to Nynorsk is called radical. Nynorsk has forms that are close to the original Landsmål and forms that are close to Bokmål.


Opponents of the spelling reforms aimed at bringing Bokmål closer to Nynorsk have retained the name Riksmål and employ spelling and grammar that predate the Samnorsk movement. Riksmål and conservative versions of Bokmål have been the de facto standard written language of Norway for most of the 20th century, being used by large newspapers, encyclopedias, and a significant proportion of the population of the capital Oslo, surrounding areas, and other urban areas, as well as much of the literary tradition. Since the reforms of 1981 and 2003 (effective in 2005), the official Bokmål can be adapted to be almost identical with modern Riksmål. The differences between written Riksmål and Bokmål are comparable to American and British English differences.

Riksmål is regulated by the Norwegian Academy, which determines acceptable spelling, grammar, and vocabulary.


There is also an unofficial form of Nynorsk, called Høgnorsk, discarding the post-1917 reforms, and thus close to Ivar Aasen's original Landsmål. It is supported by Ivar Aasen-sambandet, but has found no widespread use.

Current usage

In 2010, 86.5% of the pupils in the primary and lower secondary schools in Norway receive education in Bokmål, while 13.0% receive education in Nynorsk. From the eighth grade onwards, pupils are required to learn both. Out of the 431 municipalities in Norway, 161 have declared that they wish to communicate with the central authorities in Bokmål, 116 (representing 12% of the population) in Nynorsk, while 156 are neutral. Of 4,549 state publications in 2000, 8% were in Nynorsk, and 92% in Bokmål. The large national newspapers ( Aftenposten, Dagbladet , and VG) are published in Bokmål or Riksmål. Some major regional newspapers (including Bergens Tidende and Stavanger Aftenblad ), many political journals, and many local newspapers use both Bokmål and Nynorsk.

A newer trend is to write in dialect for informal use. When writing an SMS, Facebook update, or fridge note, most younger people write the way they talk rather than using Bokmål or Nynorsk. [15] [16]


The map shows the division of the Norwegian dialects within the main groups. Norske Malgreiner.png
The map shows the division of the Norwegian dialects within the main groups.

There is general agreement that a wide range of differences makes it difficult to estimate the number of different Norwegian dialects. Variations in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and pronunciation cut across geographical boundaries and can create a distinct dialect at the level of farm clusters. Dialects are in some cases so dissimilar as to be unintelligible to unfamiliar listeners. Many linguists note a trend toward regionalization of dialects that diminishes the differences at such local levels; [17] there is, however, a renewed interest in preserving dialects.


Below are a few sentences giving an indication of the differences between Bokmål and Nynorsk, compared to the conservative (closer to Danish) form Riksmål, Danish, as well as Old Norse, Swedish, Faroese, Icelandic (the living language grammatically closest to Old Norse), Old English and some modern West Germanic languages:

Modern English I come from NorwayWhat is his name?This is a horseThe rainbow has many colors
Danish Jeg kommer fra NorgeHvad hedder han?Dette er en hestRegnbuen har mange farver
Norwegian Riksmål Hva heter han?
Norwegian Bokmål Regnbuen har mange farger
Norwegian Nynorsk Eg kjem frå NoregKva heiter han?Dette er ein hestRegnbogen har mange fargar/leter
= Regnbogen er mangleta
Norwegian Høgnorsk Detta er ein hestRegnbogen hev mange leter
= Regnbogen er manglìta
Swedish Jag kommer från NorgeVad heter han?Detta är en hästRegnbågen har många färger
Old Norse Ek kem frá NoregiHvat heitir hann?Þetta er hross /
Þessi er hestr
Regnboginn er marglitr
Icelandic Ég kem frá NoregiHvað heitir hann?Þetta er hestur/hrossRegnboginn er marglitur
Faroese Eg komi úr Noregi/NorraHvussu eitur hann?Hetta er eitt ross / ein hesturÆlabogin hevur nógvar litir /
Ælabogin er marglittur
Old English Ic cume fram NorweganHwæt hǣtt hē?Þis is horsRegnboga hæfð manige hīw
German Ich komme aus NorwegenWie heißt er?Das ist ein PferdDer Regenbogen hat viele Farben
Dutch Ik kom uit NoorwegenHoe heet hij?Dit is een paardDe regenboog heeft veel (vele) kleuren
Afrikaans Ek kom van Noorweë (af)Wat is sy naam?
Hoe heet hy? (more archaic and formal)
Dit is 'n perdDie reënboog het baie kleure
Low Saxon Ik kom üüt NoorwegenHo hit e?Dit is een peerdDe regenboge hev völe klören



Norwegian nouns are inflected for number (singular/plural) and for definiteness (indefinite/definite). In a few dialects, definite nouns are also inflected for the dative case.

Norwegian nouns belong to three noun classes (genders): masculine, feminine and neuter. All feminine nouns can optionally be inflected using masculine noun class morphology in Bokmål due to its Danish heritage. [18] In comparison, the use of all three genders (including the feminine) is mandatory in Nynorsk. [19]

All Norwegian dialects have traditionally retained all the three grammatical genders from Old Norse to some extent. [20] The only exceptions are the dialect of Bergen and a few upper class sociolects at the west end of Oslo that have completely lost the feminine gender. [20] [21]

According to Marit Westergaard, approximately 80% of nouns in Norwegian are masculine. [22]

Examples, nouns in Bokmål
Masculineen båtbåtenbåterbåtene
a boatthe boatboatsthe boats
Feminineei/en vognvogna/vognenvognervognene
a wagonthe wagonwagonsthe wagons
Neuteret hushusethushusa/husene
a housethe househousesthe houses

Norwegian and other Scandinavian languages use a suffix to indicate definiteness of a noun, unlike English which has a separate article, the, to indicate the same.

In general, almost all nouns in Bokmål follow these patterns [23] (like the words in the examples above):

Nouns in Bokmål

In contrast, almost all nouns in Nynorsk follow these patterns [19] (the noun gender system is more pronounced than in Bokmål):

Nouns in Nynorsk
Examples, nouns in Nynorsk
Masculineein båtbåtenbåtarbåtane
a boatthe boatboatsthe boats
Feminineei vognvognavognervognene
a wagonthe wagonwagonsthe wagons
Neutereit hushusethushusa
a housethe househousesthe houses

There is in general no way to infer what grammatical gender a specific noun has, but there are some patterns of nouns where the gender can be inferred. For instance, all nouns ending in -nad will be masculine in both Bokmål and Nynorsk (for instance the noun jobbsøknad, which means 'job application'). Most nouns ending in -ing will be feminine, like the noun forventning ('expectation').

There are some common irregular nouns, many of which are irregular in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, like the following:

Irregular noun, fot (foot) [24]
Bokmålen fotfotenføtterføttene
Nynorskein fotfotenføterføtene
Englisha footthe footfeetthe feet

In Nynorsk, even though the irregular word fot is masculine, it is inflected like a feminine word in the plural. Another word with the same irregular inflection is son – søner ('son – sons').

In Nynorsk, nouns ending in -ing typically have masculine plural inflections, like the word dronning in the following table. But they are treated as feminine nouns in every other way. [19]

Nynorsk, some irregular nouns
GenderNouns ending with -ingEnglish
Feminineei dronningdronningadronningardronninganequeen
Plurals with umlaut (these irregularities also exist in Bokmål)
Feminineei bokbokabøkerbøkenebook
ei handhandahenderhendenehand
ei stongstongastengerstengenerod
ei tåtåatærtærnetoe
Plurals with no ending (these irregularities also exist in Bokmål)
Masculineein tingtingentingtingathing

Genitive of nouns

In general, the genitive case has died out in modern Norwegian and there are only some remnants of it in certain expressions: til fjells ('to the mountains'), til sjøs ('to the sea'). To show ownership, there is an enclitic -s similar to English -'s; Sondres flotte bil ('Sondre's nice car', Sondre being a personal name). There are also reflexive possessive pronouns, sin, si, sitt, sine; Det er Sondre sitt ('It is Sondre's'). In both Bokmål and modern Nynorsk, there is often a mix of both of these to mark possession, though it is more common in Nynorsk to use the reflexive pronouns; in Nynorsk use of the reflexive possessive pronouns is generally encouraged to avoid mixing the enclitic -s with the historical grammatical case remnants of the language. The reflexive pronouns agree in gender and number with the noun.

The enclitic -s in Norwegian evolved as a shorthand expression for the possessive pronouns sin, si, sitt and sine.[ citation needed ]

Norwegian (with pronoun)Norwegian (with enclitic 's)English
Jenta sin bilJentas bilThe girl's car
Mannen si koneMannens koneThe man's wife
Gutten sitt leketøyGuttens leketøyThe boy's toy
Kona sine barnKonas barnThe wife's children
Det er statsministeren sittDet er statsministerensIt is the prime minister's


Norwegian adjectives, like those of Swedish and Danish, inflect for definiteness, gender, number and for comparison (affirmative/comparative/superlative). Inflection for definiteness follows two paradigms, called "weak" and "strong", a feature shared among the Germanic languages.

The following table summarizes the inflection of adjectives in Norwegian. The indefinite affirmative inflection can vary between adjectives, but in general the paradigm illustrated below is the most common. [25]

Inflection patterns for adjectives in Norwegian
Affirmative Comparative Superlative
Indefinite Definite
Common Neuter Plural Indefinite Definite

Predicate adjectives follow only the indefinite inflection table. Unlike attributive adjectives, they are not inflected for definiteness.

Adjective forms, examples: grønn/grøn ('green'), pen ('pretty'), stjålet/stolen ('stolen')
Affirmative Comparative Superlative
Indefinite Definite
Common Neuter Plural Indefinite Definite

In most dialects, some verb participles used as adjectives have a separate form in both definite and plural uses, [26] and sometimes also in the masculine-feminine singular. In some Southwestern dialects, the definite adjective is also declined in gender and number with one form for feminine and plural, and one form for masculine and neuter.

Attributive adjectives

Definite inflection

In Norwegian, a definite noun has a suffixed definite article (cf. above) compared to English which in general uses the separate word the to indicate the same. However, when a definite noun is preceded by an adjective, the adjective also gets a definite inflection, shown in the inflection table above. There is also another definite marker, den, that has to agree in gender with the noun when the definite noun is accompanied by an adjective. [27] It comes before the adjective and has the following forms

Determinative den (Bokmål)

Examples of definite affirmative inflection of adjectives (Bokmål):

  • Den stjålne bilen ('The stolen car')
  • Den pene jenta ('The pretty girl')
  • Det grønne eplet ('The green apple')
  • De stjålne bilene ('The stolen cars')

If the adjective is dropped completely, the meaning of the preceding article before the noun changes, as shown in this example.

Examples (Bokmål):

  • Den bilen ('That car')
  • Den jenta ('That girl')
  • Det eplet ('That apple')
  • De bilene ('Those cars')

Examples of definite comparative and superlative inflection of adjectives (Bokmål):

  • Det grønnere eplet ('The greener apple')
  • Det grønneste eplet ('The greenest apple')

Definiteness is also signaled by using possessive pronouns or any uses of a noun in its genitive form in either Nynorsk or Bokmål: mitt grønne hus ('my green house'), min grønne bil ('my green car'), mitt tilbaketrukne tannkjøtt ('my receding gums'), presidentens gamle hus ('the president's old house'). [28]

Indefinite inflection

Examples (Bokmål):

  • En grønn bil ('A green car')
  • Ei pen jente ('A pretty girl')
  • Et grønt eple ('A green apple')
  • Flere grønne biler ('Many green cars')

Examples of comparative and superlative inflections in Bokmål: en grønnere bil ('a greener car'), grønnest bil ('greenest car').

Predicative adjectives

There is also predicative agreement of adjectives in all dialects of Norwegian and in the written languages, unlike related languages like German and Dutch. [29] This feature of predicative agreement is shared among the Scandinavian languages. Predicative adjectives do not inflect for definiteness unlike the attributive adjectives.

This means that nouns will have to agree with the adjective when there is a copula verb involved, like in Bokmål: være ('to be'), bli ('become'), ser ut ('looks like'), kjennes ('feels like') etc.

Adjective agreement, examples
Norwegian (bokmål)English
MasculineBilen var grønnThe car was green
FeminineDøra er grønnThe door is green
NeuterFlagget er grøntThe flag is green
PluralBlåbærene blir storeThe blueberries will be big


Norwegian verbs are not conjugated for person or number, unlike English and most European languages, though a few Norwegian dialects do conjugate for number. Norwegian verbs are conjugated according to mainly three grammatical moods: indicative, imperative and subjunctive, though the subjunctive mood has largely fallen out of use and is mainly found in a few common frozen expressions. [30] The imperative is formed by removing the last vowel of the infinitive verb form, just like in the other Scandinavian languages.

Indicative verbs are conjugated for tense: present, past, and future. The present and past tense also have a passive form for the infinitive.

There are four non-finite verb forms: infinitive, passive infinitive, and the two participles: perfective/past participle and imperfective/present participle.

The participles are verbal adjectives. The imperfective participle is not declined, whereas the perfect participle is declined for gender (though not in Bokmål) and number like strong, affirmative adjectives. The definite form of the participle is identical to the plural form.

As with other Germanic languages, Norwegian verbs can be divided into two conjugation classes; weak verbs and strong verbs.

Verb forms in Nynorsk
leva ('to live') and finna ('to find')
Finite Non-finite
Indicative Subjunctive Imperative Verbal nouns Verbal adjectives (Participles)
Present Past Infinitive Imperfective Perfective
Active leverlevdelevelevlevalevandelevdlevtlevde
finnfannfinnfinna(har) funnefunnenfunne
Passive levestlevdestlevast
finstfanstfinnast(har) funnest
Verb forms in Bokmål
å leve ('to live') and å finne ('to find')
Finite Non-finite
Indicative Subjunctive Imperative Verbal nouns Verbal adjectives (Participles)
Present Past Infinitive Imperfective Perfective
Active leverlevde/levetlevelevlevelevendelevdlevde/levet
finnerfantfinnfinne(har) funnetfunnetfunne
Passive leveslevdesleves
fins/finnesfantesfinnes(har funnes)

Ergative verbs

There are ergative verbs in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, [31] where there are two different conjugation patterns depending on if the verb takes an object or not. In Bokmål, there are only two different conjugations for the preterite tense for the strong verbs, while Nynorsk has different conjugations for all tenses, like Swedish and a majority of Norwegian dialects. Some weak verbs are also ergative and are differentiated for all tenses in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, like ligge/legge, both of which meaning 'to lie down', but ligge does not take an object while legge requires an object. Legge corresponds to the English verb 'lay', while ligge corresponds to the English verb 'lie'. There are, however, many verbs that do not have a direct translation to English verbs.

Ergative verb knekke ('crack')
Norwegian BokmålEnglish
Nøtta knakkThe nut cracked
Jeg knekte nøttaI cracked the nut
Jeg liggerI'm lying down
Jeg legger det nedI'll lay it down


Norwegian personal pronouns are declined according to case: nominative and accusative. Like English, pronouns in Bokmål and Nynorsk are the only class that has case declension. Some of the dialects that have preserved the dative in nouns, also have a dative case instead of the accusative case in personal pronouns, while others have accusative in pronouns and dative in nouns, effectively giving these dialects three distinct cases.

In the most comprehensive Norwegian grammar, Norsk referansegrammatikk, the categorization of personal pronouns by person, gender, and number is not regarded as inflection. Pronouns are a closed class in Norwegian.

Since December 2017, the gender-neutral pronoun hen is present in the Norwegian Academy's dictionary (NAOB). [32] In June 2022, the Language Council of Norway (Språkrådet) [33] [34] started including hen in both Bokmål and Nynorsk Norwegian standards.

Pronouns in Bokmål
Subject form Object form Possessive
Singular1st personjegmegminmimittmine
2nd persondudegdindidittdine
3rd personMale, animate hanham/hanhans
Female, animatehunhennehennes
Neuter, animatehenhenhens
Male/female, inanimatedendens
Neuter, inanimatedetdets
Plural1st personviossvårvårtvåre
2nd personderederes
3rd personNon-reflexivededemderes
Pronouns in Nynorsk
Subject form Object form Possessive
Singular1st personegmegminmimittmine
2nd persondudegdindidittdine
3rd personMalehanhanhans
Neuter, animatehenhenhens
Neuter, inanimatedetdet(dess)
Plural1st personvi/meossvårvårtvåre
2nd personde/dokkerdykk/dokkerdykkar/dokkar
3rd personNon-reflexivedeideira

The words for 'mine', 'yours' etc. are dependent on the gender of the noun described. Like adjectives, they have to agree in gender with the noun.

Bokmål has two sets of third-person pronouns. Han and hun refer to male and female individuals respectively; den and det refer to impersonal or inanimate nouns, of masculine/feminine or neutral gender respectively. In contrast, Nynorsk and most dialects use the same set of pronouns han ('he'), ho ('she') and det ('it') for both personal and impersonal references, like in German, Icelandic and Old Norse. Det also has expletive and cataphoric uses like in the English examples it rains and it was known by everyone (that) he had travelled the world.

Examples in Nynorsk and Bokmål of the use of the pronoun it
Kor er boka mi? Ho er herHvor er boka mi? Den er herWhere is my book? It is here
Kor er bilen min? Han er herHvor er bilen min? Den er herWhere is my car? It is here
Kor er brevet mitt? Det er herHvor er brevet mitt? Det er herWhere is my letter? It is here

Ordering of possessive pronouns

The ordering of possessive pronouns is somewhat freer than in Swedish or Danish. When there is no adjective, the most common word order is the one used in the examples in the table above, where the possessive comes after the noun, while the noun is in its definite form; boka mi ('my book'). If one wishes to emphasize the owner of the noun, the possessive pronoun will usually be placed first. In Bokmål, however, due to its Danish origins, one could choose to always write the possessive first: min bil ('my car'), but this may sound very formal. Some dialects that have been very influenced by Danish also do this; some speakers in Bærum and the west of Oslo may always use this word order. When there is an adjective describing the noun, the possessive pronoun will always come first: min egen bil ('my own car').

Norwegian (Bokmål/Nynorsk)English
Det er mi bok!It is my book! (owner emphasized)
Kona mi er vakkerMy wife is beautiful


The closed class of Norwegian determiners are declined in gender and number in agreement with their argument. Not all determiners are inflected.

Determiner forms
egen (own) in Bokmål
Determiner forms
eigen (own) in Nynorsk


Cardinal numbers from 0 to 12 in Nynorsk and Bokmål
Bokmålnullen, ei, etttotrefirefemsekssju/syvåttenitiellevetolv
Nynorskein, ei, eitsju
Cardinal numbers from 13 to 19 in Nynorsk and Bokmål

Particle classes

Norwegian has five closed classes without inflection, i.e. lexical categories with grammatical function and a finite number of members that may not be distinguished by morphological criteria. These are interjections, conjunctions, subjunctions, prepositions, and adverbs. The inclusion of adverbs here requires that traditional adverbs that are inflected in comparison be classified as adjectives, as is sometimes done.


Adverbs can be formed from adjectives in Norwegian. English usually creates adverbs from adjectives by the suffix -ly, like the adverb beautifully from the adjective beautiful. By comparison, Scandinavian languages usually form adverbs from adjectives by the grammatical neuter singular form of the adjective. This is in general true for both Bokmål and Nynorsk.

Example (Bokmål):

  • Han er grusom ('He is terrible')
  • Det er grusomt ('It is terrible')
  • Han er grusomt treig ('He is terribly slow')

In the third sentence, grusomt is an adverb. In the first and second sentence grusomt and grusom are adjectives and must agree in grammatical gender with the noun.

Another example is the adjective vakker ('beautiful') which exists in both Nynorsk and Bokmål and has the neuter singular form vakkert.

Example (Nynorsk):

  • Ho er vakker ('She is beautiful')
  • Det er vakkert ('It is beautiful')
  • Ho syng vakkert ('She sings beautifully')

Compound words

In Norwegian compound words, the head, i.e. the part determining the compound's class, is the last part. If the compound word is constructed from many different nouns, the last noun in the compound noun will determine the gender of the compound noun. Only the first part has primary stress. For instance, the compound tenketank ('think tank') has primary stress on the first syllable and is a masculine noun since the noun tank is masculine.

Compound words are written together in Norwegian, which can cause words to become very long, for example sannsynlighetsmaksimeringsestimator ('maximum likelihood estimator') and menneskerettighetsorganisasjoner ('human rights organizations'). Other examples are the title høyesterettsjustitiarius ('Chief Justice of the Supreme Court', originally a combination of supreme court and the actual title, justiciar ) and the translation En midtsommernattsdrøm for A Midsummer Night's Dream.

If they are not written together, each part is naturally read with primary stress, and the meaning of the compound is lost. Examples of this in English are the difference between a green house and a greenhouse or a black board and a blackboard.

This is sometimes forgotten, occasionally with humorous results. Instead of writing, for example, lammekoteletter ('lamb chops'), people make the mistake of writing lamme koteletter ('lame', or 'paralyzed', 'chops'). The original message can even be reversed, as when røykfritt (lit. 'smoke-free', meaning no smoking) becomes røyk fritt ('smoke freely').

Other examples include:

These misunderstandings occur because most nouns can be interpreted as verbs or other types of words. Similar misunderstandings can be achieved in English too. The following are examples of phrases that both in Norwegian and English mean one thing as a compound word, and something different when regarded as separate words:


Word order

Norwegian syntax is predominantly SVO. The subject occupies the sentence-initial position, followed by the verb and then the object. Like many other Germanic languages, it follows the V2 rule, which means that the finite verb is invariably the second element in a sentence. For example:

  • Jegspiserfiski dag ('Ieat fish today')
  • Jegvildrikke kaffei dag ('Iwant to drink coffee today')

Exceptions to the rule are embedded clauses and question phrases.


Negation in Norwegian is expressed by the word ikke, which literally means 'not' and is placed after the finite verb. Exceptions are embedded clauses.

  • Hunden kom ikke tilbake med ballen. ('The dog did not return with the ball.')
  • Det var hunden som ikke kom tilbake. ('It was the dog that did not return.')

Contractions with the negation, as is accepted in for example English (cannot, hadn't, didn't) are limited to dialects and colloquial speech. In this case contractions apply to the negation and the verb. Otherwise ikke is applied in similar ways as the English not and general negation.


Adverbs follow the verb they modify. Depending on the type of adverb, the order in which they appear in the phrase is pre-determined. Manner adverbs for example, precede temporal adverbs. Switching the order of these adverbs would not render the phrase ungrammatical, but would make it sound awkward. Compare this to the English phrase "John probably already ate dinner." Switching the adverbs' position (already and probably) to "John already probably ate dinner" is not incorrect, but sounds unnatural. For more information, see Cartographic syntax.

  • Hun sang rørendevakkert. ('She sang touchingly beautiful.')
  • Hun sang utrolighøyt. ('She sang unbelievably loud.')

The adverb may precede the verb when the focus of the sentence is shifted. If special attention should be directed on the temporal aspect of the sentence, the adverb can be fronted. Since the V2 rule requires the finite verb to syntactically occupy the second position in the clause, the verb consequently also moves in front of the subject.

  • I dagviljegdrikke kaffe. ('Today, Iwant to drink coffee.')
  • I dagspiserjegfisk. ('Today, Ieat fish.')

Only one adverb may precede the verb, unless it belongs to a bigger constituent, in which case it does not modify the main verb in the phrase, but is part of the constituent.

  • Hun spiste suppenraskt i går. ('She ate the soup quickly yesterday.')
  • I gårspistehunsuppen raskt. ('Yesterday she ate the soup quickly.')
  • Laget som spilte best, hadde forlatt plassen. ('The team that played the best had left the pitch.')

Attributive adjectives always precede the noun that they modify.

  • De tre store tjukke tunge røde bøkene stod i hylla. ('The three big fat heavy red books stood on the shelf.')
  • Den andre heldigvis lange tynne nøkkelen passet. ('The other fortunately long thin key fit'.)

See also

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