Norwegian language

Norwegian language
Pronunciation [nɔʂk]
Spoken in
 Norway (4.8 million),
 Denmark (150,000)
Region Kingdom of Norway, Kingdom of Denmark, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Native speakers 4.6 million  (no date)
Language family
Standard forms
Nynorsk (official)
Bokmål (official) / Riksmål (unofficial)
Writing system Latin (Norwegian alphabet)
Official status
Official language in Norway
Nordic Council
Regulated by Norwegian Language Council (Bokmål and Nynorsk)
Norwegian Academy (Riksmål)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 no – Norwegian
ISO 639-2 [[ISO639-3:nor – Norwegian
nnoNynorsk|nor – Norwegian
ISO 639-3 nor – Macrolanguage
individual codes:
nob – Bokmål
nno – Nynorsk
Linguasphere 52-AAA-ba to -be &
52-AAA-cf to -cg
Eidsvoll riksraad 1814.jpeg

Part of a series on


Architecture · Art · Cinema · Cuisine
North Germanic language spoken primarily in Norway, where it is the official language. Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional variants (see Danish language).

These Scandinavian languages together with the Faroese language and Icelandic language, as well as some extinct languages, constitute the North Germanic languages (also called Scandinavian languages). Faroese and Icelandic are hardly mutually intelligible with Norwegian in their spoken form, because continental Scandinavian has diverged from them.

As established by law and governmental policy, there are two official forms of written Norwegian – Bokmål (literally "book language") and Nynorsk (literally "new Norwegian"). The Norwegian Language Council is responsible for regulating the two forms, and recommends the terms "Norwegian Bokmål" and "Norwegian Nynorsk" in English. Two other written forms without official status also exist: Riksmål ("national language"), which is to a large extent the same language as Bokmål, but somewhat closer to the Danish language, is regulated by the Norwegian Academy, which translates it as "Standard Norwegian". Høgnorsk ("High Norwegian") is a more purist form of Nynorsk that rejects most spelling reforms from the 20th century, but is not widely used.

There is no officially sanctioned standard of spoken Norwegian, and most Norwegians speak their own dialect in all circumstances. The sociolect of the urban upper and middle class in East Norway can be regarded as a de facto spoken standard for Bokmål because it adopted many characteristics from Danish when Norway was under Danish rule.[1] This so-called standard østnorsk ("Standard Eastern Norwegian") is the form generally taught to foreign students.

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 the unofficial Høgnorsk more conservative than Nynorsk.

Norwegians are educated in both Bokmål and Nynorsk. 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.[2] 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 it also had strongholds in many rural parts of Trøndelag (Mid-Norway) and the south part of Northern Norway (Nordland county). Today, not only is Nynorsk the official language of 4 of the 19 Norwegian counties (fylker), but also of many municipalities in 5 other counties. The Norwegian broadcasting corporation (NRK) 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, Nynorsk in 8% (2000).[citation needed]

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 their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable to any interpretation or translation costs.[3][4]



From Old Norse to Scandinavian languages

The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century:
   Old West Norse dialect
   Old East Norse dialect
   Old Gutnish dialect
   Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility

The languages now spoken in Scandinavia developed from the Old Norse language, which did not differ greatly between what are now Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish areas. In fact, Viking traders spread the language across Europe and into Russia, making Old Norse one of the most widespread languages for a time. According to tradition, King Harald Fairhair united Norway in 872. Around this time, a runic alphabet was used. According to writings found on stone tablets from this period of history, the language showed remarkably little deviation between different regions. Runes had been in limited use since at least the 3rd century. Around 1030, Christianity came to Norway, bringing with it the Latin alphabet. Norwegian manuscripts in the new alphabet began to appear about a century later. The Norwegian language began to deviate from its neighbors around this time as well.

Viking explorers had begun to settle Iceland in the 9th century, carrying with them the Old Norse language. Over time, Old Norse developed into "Western" and "Eastern" variants. Western Norse covered Norway and overseas settlements in Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Shetland Islands, while Eastern Norse developed in Denmark and south-central Sweden. The language of Iceland and Norway was practically the same up until the 14th century, when they started to deviate from each other.

The language phase traditionally dated to 1350–1525 is known as Middle Norwegian and is seen by many as a transitional period from Old Norwegian to Modern Norwegian. The reason for this is that although most languages are in a state of constant change, Norwegian phonology, morphology and syntax changed considerably during this time.[5] The use of grammatical case, and a great portion of the conjugation of verbs was lost and replaced by a more fixed syntax, use of prepositions and a greater use of auxiliary based verb forms. During the late Old Norse period and this period there was also a considerable adoption of Middle Low German vocabulary. Similar development in grammar and phonology happened in Swedish and Danish, keeping the dialect continuum in continental Scandinavia intact, but with greater dialectal variation. This process did not, however, occur in the same way in Faroese and Icelandic. These languages remain conservative to this day, when it comes to grammar and vocabulary, so mutual intelligibility with continental Scandinavia was lost.

Danish and Swedish rule

Flag of Norway.svg

This article is part of the series on:
Norwegian language

Official: Bokmål | Nynorsk
Unofficial: Riksmål |
Norwegian language struggle
Norwegian dialects


Other topics:
Norwegian literature
Norwegian Sign Language
Norwegian Language Council

This box: view · talk · edit

In 1397, the Kalmar Union unified Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and from 1536 Norway was subordinated under the Kingdom of Denmark–Norway. Danish became the commonly written language among Norway's literate class. Spoken Danish was gradually adopted by the urban elite, first at formal occasions, and gradually a more relaxed variety was adopted in everyday speech. The everyday speech went through a koinéization process, involving grammatical simplification and Norwegianised pronunciation. When the union ended in 1814 the Dano-Norwegian koiné had become the mother tongue of a substantial part of the Norwegian elite, but the more Danish-sounding solemn variety was still used on formal occasions.

Norway was forced to enter a new personal union with Sweden, shortly after the end of the former one with Denmark. However, Norwegians began to push for true independence by embracing democracy and attempting to enforce the constitutional declaration of being a sovereign state. Part of this nationalist movement was directed towards the development of an independent Norwegian language. Three major paths were available: do nothing (Norwegian written language, i.e. Danish, was already different from Swedish), Norwegianise the Danish language, or build a new national language based on Modern Norwegian dialects. All three approaches were attempted.

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 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 self-taught linguist, began his work to create a new Norwegian language at the age of 22. He traveled around the country, comparing the dialects in different regions, and examined the development of Icelandic, which had largely escaped the influences Norwegian had come under. 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 through 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 Dano-Norwegian for Bokmål lost in parliament by a single vote. The name Nynorsk, the linguistic term for Modern Norwegian, was chosen for contrast to 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 one language, called "Samnorsk" (Common Norwegian). 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 uses a more conservative standard called Høgnorsk. The Samnorsk policy had little influence after 1960, and was officially abandoned in 2002.


The sound system of Norwegian is similar to Swedish. There is considerable variation among the dialects, but the variant generally taught to foreign students is Standard Østnorsk.


Consonant phonemes of Eastern Norwegian
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ɳ ŋ
Plosive p b t d ʈ ɖ k ɡ
Fricative f s ʂ ʃ ç χ ʁ h
Approximant ʋ l ɭ j
Flap ɾ ɽ
Trill r

The post-alveolar consonants only appear in East-Norwegian dialects as a result of Sandhi, combining -ɾ with d, l, n, s, and t.

The pronunciation of the letter r varies according to dialect. In East-Norwegian dialects, it is a flap ɾ, whereas it in Western and Southern Norway, and for some speakers also in Eastern Norway is rendered more gutturally as χ or ʁ. The dialects of North-Western Norway use a post-alveolar trill r in this position.


Vowel phonemes of Standard Østnorsk
Orthography IPA Description
a /ɑ/ Open back unrounded
ai /ɑɪ̯/
au /æʉ/
e (short) /ɛ/, /æ/ open mid front unrounded
e (long) /e/, /æ/ close-mid front unrounded
e (weak) /ə/ schwa (mid central unrounded)
ei /æɪ/, /ɛɪ/
i (short) /ɪ/ close front unrounded
i (long) /i/ close front unrounded
o /u, o, ɔ/ close back rounded
oi /ɔʏ/
u /ʉ/, /u/ close central rounded (close front extra rounded)
y (short) /ʏ/ close front rounded (close front less rounded)
y (long) /y/ close front rounded (close front less rounded)
æ /æ/, /ɛ/ near open front unrounded
ø /ø/ close-mid front rounded
øy /øʏ/
å /ɔ/ open-mid back rounded


Norwegian is a pitch accent language with two distinct pitch patterns, just 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 tone 1, while "bønner" (beans or prayers) uses tone 2. Though the differences in spelling occasionally allow the words to be distinguished in written language, 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/focus and which 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 that is so 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 which makes it fairly easy to distinguish from other languages. Interestingly, accent 1 generally occurs in words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, and accent 2 in words that were polysyllabic.

Written language


The Norwegian alphabet has 29 letters.

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z æ ø å

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, and the proper Norwegian spelling for taxi is taksi. 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. In Nynorsk, ì and ù and are occasionally seen as well. 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). Loanwords may be spelled with other diacritics, most notably ü, á and à.

Bokmål and Nynorsk

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.

Wikipedia has a separate version for each of the written varieties.


Map of the official language forms of Norwegian municipalities as of 2007
Areas where Norwegian is spoken, including North Dakota (where 0.4% of the population speaks Norwegian) and Minnesota (0.1% of the population) (Data: U.S. Census 2000).

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.


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; there is, however, a renewed interest in preserving distinct dialects.

Norwegian by country

Norwegian in the United States

U.S. communities with high percentages of people who use the Norwegian language

U.S. cities with high percentages of people who use the Norwegian language are:[6]

  1. Blair, Wisconsin 8.54%
  2. Westby, Wisconsin 7.67%
  3. Northwood, North Dakota 4.41%
  4. Fertile, Minnesota 4.26%
  5. Spring Grove, Minnesota 4.14%
  6. Mayville, North Dakota 3.56%
  7. Strum, Wisconsin 2.86%
  8. Crosby, North Dakota 2.81%
  9. Twin Valley, Minnesota 2.54%
  10. Cooperstown, North Dakota 2.21%

U.S. counties with high percentages of people who use Norwegian language

U.S. counties with high percentages of people who use Norwegian language are:[6]

  1. Divide County, North Dakota 2.3%
  2. Griggs County, North Dakota 2.0%
  3. Nelson County, North Dakota 2.0%
  4. Norman County, Minnesota 2.0%
  5. Traill County, North Dakota 2.0%
  6. Vernon County, Wisconsin 1.8%
  7. Steele County, North Dakota 1.6%
  8. Trempealeau County, Wisconsin 1.6%
  9. Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota 1.5%
  10. Pennington County, Minnesota 1.0%

Norwegian language by state

Percentage of Norwegian population in the U.S. (2000)
Norwegian language[7] Percent
 United States 55,311 0.0%
 Minnesota 8,060 0.1%
 California 5,865 0.0%
 Washington 5,460 0.0%
 New York 4,200 0.0%
 Wisconsin 3,520 0.0%
 North Dakota 2,809 0.4%
 Florida 2,709 0.0%
 Texas 2,209 0.0%
 New Jersey 1,829 0.0%
 Illinois 1,389 0.0%
 Iowa 1,150 0.0%
 Colorado 1,110 0.0%
 Oregon 1,105 0.0%
 Arizona 1,069 0.0%
 Utah 1,055 0.0%

Norwegian in Canada

Norwegian language by province

Norwegian language[8] Percent
 Canada 7,710 0.02%
 British Columbia 3,420 0.08%
 Alberta 1,360 0.04%
 Ontario 1,145 0.00%
 Saskatchewan 895 0.09%
 Quebec 370 0.00%
 Nova Scotia 175 0.01%
 Manitoba 160 0.01%
 Newfoundland and Labrador 95 0.01%
 New Brunswick 80 0.01%
 Yukon 10 0.03%
 Northwest Territories 0 0.00%
 Nunavut 0 0.00%
 Prince Edward Island 0 0.00%


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

Language Phrase
I come from Norway What is his name? This is a horse The rainbow has many colors
Bokmål Jeg kommer fra Norge Hva heter han? Dette er en hest Regnbuen har mange farger
Riksmål Regnbuen har mange farver
Danish Hvad hedder han?
Nynorsk Eg kjem frå Noreg Kva heiter han? Dette er ein hest Regnbogen har mange fargar/leter
Regnbogen er mangleta
Høgnorsk Regnbogen hev mange leter
Regnbogen er manglìta
Old Norse Ek kem frá Noregi Hvat heitir hann? Þetta er hross/Þessi er hestr Regnboginn er marglitr
Icelandic Ég kem frá Noregi Hvað heitir hann? Þetta er hross/Þessi er hestur Regnboginn er marglitur
Faroese Eg komi frá Noregi/Norra Hvat eitur hann?/Hvat heitir hann? Hetta er eitt ross/ein hestur Ælabogin hevur nógvar litir/ Ælabogin er marglitur
Swedish Jag kommer från Norge Vad heter han? Detta är en häst Regnbågen har många färger
Old English Ic cume fram Norwegan Hwat hatþ he? Þis is hors Se regnboga hæfð manige hiw
German Ich komme aus Norwegen Wie heißt er? Dies ist ein Pferd/Ross Der Regenbogen hat viele Farben
Dutch Ik kom uit Noorwegen Hoe heet hij? Dit is een paard (ros) De regenboog heeft veel kleuren
Afrikaans Ek kom van Noorweë af Hoe heet hy? Dit is 'n perd Die reënboog het baie kleure
West Frisian Ik kom út Noarwegen Hoe hjit er? Dit is in hynder/happe De reinbôge hat mannich kleuren



Norwegian nouns are inflected or declined in definiteness (indefinite/definite) and number (singular/plural). In some dialects, definite nouns are furthermore declined in case (nominative/dative).

As in most Indo-European languages (English being one of a few exceptions), nouns are classified by gender, which has consequences for the declension of agreeing adjectives and determiners. Norwegian has three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter, except the Bergen dialect which has only two genders: common and neuter. Riksmål and conservative Bokmål traditionally have two genders like Danish, but more modern language has three genders, especially in its spoken form.

Noun forms
båt (boat) in Bokmål
Singular Plural
Indefinite Definite Indefinite Definite
en båt båten båter båtene

The declension of regular nouns depends on gender. Some dialects and variants of Nynorsk furthermore have different declension of weak and strong feminines and neuters.

m. en gutt
(a boy)
(the boy)
(the boys)
f. ei/en dør
(a door)
(the door)
(the doors)
n. et hus
(a house)
(the house)
(the houses)

As of June 5, 2005, all feminine nouns can be written as masculine nouns (bokmål only), giving the written language only two genders – common and neuter.

m. ein gut
(a boy)
(the boy)
(the boys)
f. ei sol
(a sun)
(the sun)
(the suns)
ei kyrkje/kyrkja
(a church)
(the church)
(the churches)
n. eit hus
(a house)
(the house)
(the houses)
eit hjarta/hjarte
(a heart)
(the heart)
(the hearts)


Norwegian adjectives have two inflectional paradigms. The weak inflection is applicable when the argument is definite, the strong inflection is used when the argument is indefinite. In both paradigms the adjective is declined in comparison (positive/comparative/superlative). Strong, positive adjectives are furthermore declined in gender and number in agreement with their argument. In some southwestern dialects, the weak positive is also declined in gender and number, with one form for feminine and plural, and one form for masculine and neuter.

In Norwegian, a definite noun has a suffixed article (cf. above). Noteworthy, however, when a definitive noun is preceded by an adjective (or a numeral), a definite article is placed in front of the adjective in addition to the suffixed article of the noun, double definiteness. (In Bokmål, though, the suffixed article may be dropped in these cases, due to its Danish origin.) Example in Nynorsk: huset - det grøne huset (the house - the green house).

Weak adjective forms
grønn (green) in Bokmål
Positive Comparative Superlative
grønne grønnere grønneste
Strong adjective forms
(grønn (green) in Bokmål)
Positive Comparative Superlative
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
grønn grønn grønt grønne grønnere grønnest
Weak adjective forms
grøn (green) in Nynorsk
Positive Comparative Superlative
grøne grønare grønaste
Strong adjective forms
(grøn (green) in Nynorsk)
Positive Comparative Superlative
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
grøn grøn grønt grøne grønare grønast


Norwegian finite verbs are inflected or conjugated in mood: indicative/imperative/subjunctive. The subjunctive mood is constrained to a handful of verbs. The indicative verbs are conjugated in tense, present / past. In Bokmål and Standard Østnorsk, the infinitive and present tense also has a passive form, whilst Nynorsk only has a passive infinitive (which is used less frequently than its Bokmål counterpart). In a few dialects, indicative verbs are also conjugated in number. Conjugation in person is lost in Norwegian.

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 has no further declension, but the perfective participle is declined in gender (not in Bokmål and Standard Østnorsk) and number like strong, positive adjectives. The definite form of the participle is identical to the plural form.

As with other Germanic languages, Norwegian verbs can be either weak or strong.

Verb forms in Nynorsk
leva (to live)
Finite Non-finite
Indicative Subjunctive Imperative Verbal nouns Verbal adjectives (Participles)
Present Past Infinitive Imperfective Perfective
Active Passive Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural/Def
lever levde leve lev leva levast levande levd levd levt levde
Verb forms in Bokmål
leve (to live)
Finite Non-finite
Indicative Subjunctive Imperative Verbal nouns Verbal adjectives (Participles)
Present Past Infinitive Imperfective Perfective
Active Passive Active Passive Singular Plural/Def
lever leves levde/ levet leve lev leve leves levende levd levde/ levet


Norwegian personal pronouns are declined in case, nominative / accusative. 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. As with nouns, adjectives must agree with the gender and number of pronoun arguments.

Other pronouns have no inflection.

The so called possessive, demonstrative and relative pronouns are no longer regarded to be pronouns.

Pronouns are a closed class.

Examples of pronouns in Bokmål
Nominative Accusative English equivalent
jeg meg I, me
du deg you (singular)
han ham/han he, him
hun henne she, her
den den it (masculine/feminine)
det det it (neuter)
vi oss we, us
dere dere you (plural)
de dem they, them
Examples of pronouns in Nynorsk
Nominative Accusative English equivalent
eg meg I, me
du deg you (singular)
han han/honom he, him or it (masculine)
ho ho/henne she, her or it (feminine)
det det it (neuter)
me/vi oss we, us
de dykk you (plural)
dei dei they, them

Bokmål, like English, has two sets of 3rd 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 (m.), ho (f.) and det (n.)) for both personal and impersonal references. 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.


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
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
egen egen eget egne
Determiner forms
eigen (own) in Nynorsk
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
eigen eiga/eigi eige/eigi eigne

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.

Compound words

In Norwegian compound words, the head, i.e. the part determining the compound's class, is the last part. Only the first part has primary stress. For instance, the compound tenketank (think tank) has primary stress on the first syllable and is a noun (some sort of tank).

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 organisations). Another example is the title høyesterettsjustitiarius (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, originally a combination of supreme court and the actual title, justiciar). Note also the translation En midtsommernattsdrøm (A Midsummer Night's Dream).

If they are not written together, each part will naturally be read with primary stress, and the meaning of the compound is lost. 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 (no smoking, lit. "smoke free") becomes røyk fritt (smoke freely).

Other examples include:

  • Terrasse dør ("Terrace dies") instead of Terrassedør ("Terrace door")
  • Tunfisk biter ("Tuna bites", verb) instead of Tunfiskbiter ("Tuna bits", noun)
  • Smult ringer ("Lard is calling", verb) instead of Smultringer ("Doughnuts")
  • Tyveri sikret ("Theft guaranteed") instead of Tyverisikret ("Theft proof")
  • Stekt kylling lever ("Fried chicken lives", verb) instead of Stekt kyllinglever ("Fried chicken liver", noun)
  • Smør brød ("Butter bread", verb) instead of Smørbrød ("Sandwich")
  • Klipp fisk ("Cut fish", verb) instead of Klippfisk ("Clipfish")
  • På hytte taket ("On cottage roof") instead of På hyttetaket ("On the cottage roof")
  • Altfor Norge ("Too much Norway") instead of Alt for Norge ("All for Norway", the royal motto of Norway)
  • Forsiktig hetstradisjon ("Careful tradition of abuse") instead of Forsiktighetstradisjon ("Tradition of carefulness").

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:

  • stavekontroll (spellchecker) or stave kontroll (spell checker)
  • kokebok (cookbook) or koke bok (cook book)
  • ekte håndlagde vafler (real handmade waffles) or ekte hånd lagde vafler (real hand made waffles)


By far the largest part of the modern vocabulary of Norwegian dates back to Old Norse. The largest source of loanwords is Middle Low German, which had a huge influence on Norwegian vocabulary from the late Middle Ages onwards partially even influencing grammatical structures, such as genitive constructions. At present, the main source of new loanwords is English e.g. rapper, e-mail, catering, juice, bag (originally a loan word to English from Old Norse). However, Norwegian is considered to be less influenced by English than, for instance, Swedish, or particularly, Danish.

Some loanwords have their spelling changed to reflect Norwegian pronunciation rules, but in general Norwegianised spellings of these words tend to take a long time to sink in: e.g. sjåfør (from French chauffeur) and revansj (from French revanche) are now the common Norwegian spellings, but juice is more often used than the Norwegianised form jus, catering more often than keitering, service more often than sørvis, etc.

See also



  • Olav T. Beito, Nynorsk grammatikk. Lyd- og ordlære, Det Norske Samlaget, Oslo 1986, ISBN 82-521-2801-7
  • Jan Terje Faarlund, Svein Lie, Kjell Ivar Vannebo, Norsk referansegrammatikk, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo 1997, 2002 (3rd edition), ISBN 82-00-22569-0 (Bokmål and Nynorsk)
  • Rolf Theil Endresen, Hanne Gram Simonsen, Andreas Sveen, Innføring i lingvistikk (2002), ISBN 82-00-45273-5
  • Arne Torp, Lars S. Vikør (1993), Hovuddrag i norsk språkhistorie (3.utgåve), Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS 2003

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Norwegian language — North Germanic language of the West Scandinavian branch, spoken by some five million people in Norway and the U.S. Old Norwegian became a separate language by the end of the 12th century. Middle Norwegian became the tongue of most native speakers …   Universalium

  • Norwegian language conflict — This article is part of the series on: Norwegian language Variants: Official: Bokmål | Nynorsk Unofficial: Riksmål | Landsmål/Høgnorsk Norwegian language …   Wikipedia

  • Norwegian language struggle — The Norwegian language struggle ( målstriden , språkstriden or sprogstriden ) is an ongoing controversy within Norwegian culture and politics related to spoken and written Norwegian. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Danish was the standard… …   Wikipedia

  • Norwegian Language Council — The Norwegian Language Council (Norwegian: Norsk språkråd, 1972–2004) was the regulation authority for the Norwegian language. It has been superseded by The Language Council of Norway (Norwegian: Språkrådet). The council had 38 members, and… …   Wikipedia

  • List of Norwegian language radio stations — This is a list of Norwegian radio stations or stations that broadcast for a Norwegian language audience. Radio stations Major analogue radio stations Digital Radio Stations * NRK 5.1 * NRK Alltid Nyheter 24/7 news * NRK Båtvær 24/7 weather… …   Wikipedia

  • Norwegian literature — By category Norwegian language List of writers Norwegian authors Writers Novelists Playwrights Poets Essayists …   Wikipedia

  • Norwegian Dakotan — Total population 312,697 21.4% of the Dakotan population [1] Regions with significant populations …   Wikipedia

  • Norwegian Canadian — Norsk kanadiere Melody Anderson · Melyssa Ford · Natassia Malthe · …   Wikipedia

  • Norwegian romantic nationalism — was a movement in Norway between 1840 and 1867 in art, literature, and popular culture that emphasized the aesthetics of Norwegian nature and the uniqueness of the Norwegian national identity. A subject of much study and debate in Norway, it was… …   Wikipedia

  • Norwegian Army — Active 1628 present Country Norway …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”