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Classification: Indo-European, Germanic, North Germanic. The other languages in this branch are Swedish, Danish, Icelandic and Faroese.

Overview. Norwegian is a continental Scandinavian language like Danish and Swedish to which is closely related. Norwegian is unique in having two written standards, Bokmål (Book Language) and Nynorsk (New Norwegian), a consequence of the lengthy period of political union between Norway and Denmark lasting from 1380 to 1814. At that time, the written language was Danish and only in the 19th century it was adapted to Norwegian in the form of Bokmål. At the same time, Nynorsk was created by the effort of a single linguist (Ivar Aasen), based on the spoken dialects and with less Danish influence.

    In its lexicon, Norwegian is very similar to Danish but its pronunciation is more akin to Swedish. Its morphology has been greatly reduced compared with Proto-Germanic as shown by the complete collapse of the case system and the disappearance of personal marking in the verb.

Distribution and Speakers. It is spoken in Norway by nearly 5 million people.

Status: Bokmål and Nynorsk are both official languages and are used in government and education in Norway.

Varieties. Of the two written standards, Bokmål, is the more popular being employed by more than 80% of the population of Norway. Nynorsk is favored in the west coast and in rural districts of the southern interior. There are, besides, many spoken dialects which are mutually intelligible; none of them is officially recognized but they can be used also in formal circumstances.

Oldest Documents. The earliest written records in Scandinavia are runic inscriptions in a Proto-Germanic language, dating back to 200 CE and originating in the Danish peninsula of Jutland. Literature in modern Norwegian starts only in the 19th century.

Phonology (Bokmål)

Vowels. Norwegian has a relatively rich vowel inventory including nine short and nine long vowels plus several diphthongs. Front-high and front-mid vowels have contrasting rounded and unrounded varieties.

  1. a) Monophthongs (18):


  1. b) Diphthongs (5): ei, øy, ai, aʉ, oi

Consonants (23). Voiceless stops are aspirated except before s. The alveolar rhotic is a trill (rolled r-sound) and the retroflex one a flap (weak r-sound). [h] occurs only at the beginning of a word. Consonant clusters occur both in syllable-initial and syllable-final position.


Stress and Tones. Stress falls usually on the first syllable in native Germanic words but in loanwords stress may fall on other syllables. Main stress is combined with two contrasting tones in bi- and polysyllabic words. Tone 1 has a steadily rising pitch in most dialects while Tone 2 has a delayed rising pitch. Tonal opposition is evident in words like tanken which with Tone 1 means "the tank" and with Tone 2 "the thought".

Script and Orthography

Norwegian is written in the Roman alphabet with three new letters placed at its end to notate additional vowel sounds. Below each letter, its equivalence in the International Phonetic Alphabet is shown between brackets.



  1. short vowels are followed by a single consonant while long vowels are followed by double consonants or a consonant cluster.

  2. retroflex stops are represented by digraphs whose first element is r: rt, rd.

  3. [ʂ] is rendered as sj or sk.

  4. [ç] is written k before some vowels, and kj before others.

  5. [ʝ] is rendered as k, g, hj or gj depending on the following vowel.

  6. the velar [ŋ] nasal is written ng.

Morphology. The following summary is that of Bokmål morphology except where reference to Nynorsk is made.

  1. Nominal. Nouns are inflected for number and definiteness. Adjectives agree with their nouns in gender and number.

  1. case:  only the genitive is marked in nouns by adding an -s at its end:

  1. den gamle mannens bil

  2. the     old        man's   car

  1. Pronouns have subject and object forms (see below).

  1. gender: masculine, neuter, feminine.

  2. Dano-Norwegian had a two-gender system distinguishing a common gender and a neuter gender. In Bokmål the feminine gender was reintroduced in the reforms of the 20th century; in general it is employed in colloquial expressions while the common gender is reserved for more formal ones. On the other hand, in Nynorsk the three-gender system is firmly rooted due to its presence in the dialects.

  1. number: singular, plural. Pluralization is marked by suffixes accompanied frequently by a vowel change in the stem. Plural suffixes for indefinite nouns are different from those of definite nouns (see below).

  1. articles: indefinite, definite. The indefinite article has only a singular form: masculine en, feminine ei. Definiteness expression is linked with plural formation but the remote demonstrative pronouns can be used as a definite determiner when the noun is preceded by an adjective: singular common gender den, singular neuter det,  plural de/dei.

  1. definiteness: indefinite, definite. Indefinite nouns in the singular are usually marked by the indefinite article or, sometimes, left unmarked. Plural nouns have specific indefinite and definite suffixes; the indefinite ones are -er, -e, -r;  the definite ones are -(e)ne, -rne.


  1. pronouns: personal, possessive, demonstrative, interrogative, relative, indefinite.

  2. Personal pronouns are the only nominal category to show a case distinction. They have subject or nominative forms and accusative or oblique forms. The accusative serves both for the direct and indirect object. Possessive pronouns are a mixed system in which forms for certain persons are adjectival (and thus declined for gender) while forms for certain others are a sort of genitive marked by -s.


  1. Demonstrative pronouns distinguish near from distant: ‘this’ (denne, dette, desse), ‘that’ (den, det, dei).

  1. Interrogative pronouns: kven (‘who?’), kva (‘what?’).

  1. Relative pronoun: the invariable som (‘who,whom, which, that’).

  1. Verbal. There are strong and weak verbs. Strong verbs undergo vowel alternations in the stem (in the past) while weak verbs do not.

  1. person and number:  verbs are not inflected for person and number.

  1. tense: present, past, perfect, pluperfect, future, future perfect, conditional present, conditional past.

  2. The present and past are the only tenses formed without an auxiliary verb. In weak verbs the past tense is expressed by adding an alveolar suffix to the stem: -t, -te, -de. The present is formed by adding -r to the stem.

  1. The perfect and pluperfect are formed, respectively, with the present and past of ha ('have') + the past participle. The future and conditional use, respectively, the present and past of the auxiliaries skulle ('shall') or ville ('will'). In the simple future and present conditional combined with the infinitive; in the future perfect and past conditional combined with the infinitive of ha + the past participle.




  1. mood: indicative, imperative. The latter is formed by omitting the infinitive ending.

  1. voice: active, passive.

  1. non-finite formsinfinitive, present participle, past participle.

  2. The present participle is formed by adding -ende to the verb stem (-ande in Nynorsk). The formation of the past participle depends on the verb class (see above); in Bokmål it is invariable but in Nynorsk it is inflected like an adjective.


Independent and subordinate clauses have a fixed Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order. The subject is always required. In questions the order of subject and verb is inverted. The auxiliary verb is located between the subject and the main verb.

  1. 1)SVO

  1. Mannen kjøper geita.

  2. the man buys the goat

  1. 2)S-Aux-Participle-O

  1. Mannen har kjøpt geita.

  2. the man has bought the goat

When the object is topicalized the verb comes after it:

  1. 3)O-V-S

  1. Geita kjøper mannen.

  2. the goat buys the man

  1. The goat, is what the man buys.

  1. 4)O-Aux-S-Participle

  1. Geita har mannen kjøpt.

  2. the goat has the man bought

  1. The goat, is what the man has bought.

Adverbials are located in the middle or at the end of the sentence.

There are two main types of passive constructions. Thus, the sentence ‘The goat is bought by the man today' may be expressed as:

1. Periphrastic passive (with an auxiliary verb):

  1. Geita blir kjøpt (av mannen) i dag.

  2. the goat becomes bought (by the man) to day

2. Reflexive passive (with the genitive marker):

  1. Geita kjøpes (av mannen) i dag.

  2. the goat-buy-s (by the man) to day

There are two types of interrogative clauses:

1. yes/no questions, posed by putting the finite verb in initial position.

2. specific questions with an interrogative pronoun or adverb in initial position.


A considerable part of Bokmål's vocabulary is shared with Danish; in contrast Nynorsk is more purist rejecting large numbers of words of Danish or German origin.

Basic Vocabulary

one: en

two: to

three: tre

four:  fire

five: fem

six: seks

seven: sju, syv

eight: åtte

nine: ni

ten: ti

hundred: hundre

father: far

mother: mor

brother: bror

sister: søster

son: sønn

daughter: datter

head: hode

face: ansikt

eye: øye

hand: hånd

foot: fot

heart: hjerte

tongue: tunge

Key Literary Works (forthcoming)

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

-'Norwegian'. J. O. Askedal. In The Germanic Languages, 219-270. E. König & J. van der Auwera (eds). Routledge (1994).

-Norsk referanse-grammatikk. J. T. Faarlund, S. Lie & I. K. Vannebo. Universitetsforlaget (1997).

-Norsk grammatikk. O. Næs. Fabritius (1972).

-Norwegian: An Essential Grammar. Å-B. Strandskogen & R. Strandskogen. Routledge (1994).

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