Category Archives: Language blog

This is meant to be a blog for people learning Norwegian, or those who are thinking about starting to learn our small language, only spoken by 5 million people.

In this blog I will give you examples of challenges in Norwegian, how to be aware of them and how to cope with them.

Synes, tror or tenker?

Three small, innocent words, but often a source to frustration. If you look them up in a dictionary, you understand why. These three words have one translation in common: to think.

Since tenke  is the word most similar to think, it is not a huge surprise that this is the most frequently used word by English speaking persons. The only problem is that in Norwegian we only use tenke to describe brain activity…. Jeg skal tenke på det./ I´ll think about it . In addition we use tenke in the meaning of have planned to do something. Jeg har tenkt å gjøre det i morgen. / I have planned to do it tomorrow.

Consequently, almost every time you want to use tenke , you are probably supposed to choose between synes  or tror.

Synes  is used when you have actually experienced what you are talking about. Jeg syns filmen er god./ I think the film is good. (I have seen the film and know it for sure.)

Tror  is used when you really don’t know by experience. Jeg tror filmen er god./ I think the film is good.(maybe you have read a review or talked to someone who has already seen it.)

As a rule of thumb: Synes  is used when you have an opinion based on first-hand experience. If you have to base your opinion on information not experienced by your self,tror  is the word to choose.

If you don`t have any information at all? Well, then I normally prefer to say: Jeg vet ikke! (I don`t know!)

Good luck:)

“Hvis” or “Om”?

A very common mistake made by foreigners speaking Norwegian is that they are mixing up hvis and om . Something that is fully understandable!

Hvis is a conjunction of condition. Om is also a conjunction of condition, but in additionom is used as a subordinated conjunction without expressing any condition, and as a preposition as well.

Expressed in a more general language, this means that to be able to use hvis something has to happen as a result of something else.

Hvis du spiser opp all fisken, får du en is.” (If you eat up all the fish, you will get an ice cream.)

“Jeg kommer kl 18:00 hvis jeg rekker toget” (I arrive at 6pm if I catch the train.)

If something is not a result of something else, you have to use om .

“Jeg lurer på om han kommer kl 18:00” (I am wondering if he arrives at 6.)

A general rule is that whenever “whether” can replace “if” , om is the correct preposition to use. If you are starting a sentence with om /hvis  they are normally interchangeable, but in the moment you use the word in the middle of a sentence you probably have to do with a subordinated conjunction, and the correct word will be om .

Confused? You are not the first one:)

Another simple way to solve this problem is to forget about the word hvis . Om works as three different things (just like a Kinder egg) and can always be used instead of hvis. You may not achieve a perfect academic language that way, but you definitely avoid daily mistakes.

A small glance at the Norwegian world of compound words.

Compound words are a common part of Norwegian vocabulary. We have thousands of them, made of two or three words and never written separately. In Norwegian a compound word is always written in one word!

Besides, some combinations are more frequently used than others. A word we really appreciate is the word “små” in a lot of different combinations.

Actually it was a student of mine who asked if I had ever noticed how often this specific word is in use. I had to admit that I had never paid any attention to it, but of course he is correct. We do use it a lot. In the meaning of little, slightly etc

Instead of saying: “Det er litt kaldt ute” (It is a little cold outside) you can say: “Det er småkaldt ute” A film might be “småmorsom”, and if you do not feel completely well you might tell that you are “småsyk”

What ever you do, please remember:  a compound word is always written in one word. It is absolutely a difference between “småmorsomme historier”  (a slightly amusing stories) and  små, morsomme historier (small, funny stories.)

“I feel about the meeting”

It is hardly a big surprise that one can feel a lot of different things during a meeting, but this was probably not what the speaker had in mind. Most likely he has used the wrong word for to know….

In Norwegian we have to different words that both means to know: vite  and kjenne. What is totally logical for Norwegians may cause you a bit of trouble.

Å kjenne  have two basic meanings: to be familiar with someone or to describe a physical sense of feeling. This is the only word for to know that you can use about a person.

Han kjenner  Lise. (He knows Lise)
Hun kjenner  kulden. (She feels the cold.)

Å vite  means to have knowledge about something or be aware of something. This verb is never used for knowing a person.

Jeg vet  hvem hun er, men jeg kjenner  henne ikke. (I have information about her, but I do not know her personally.)

Regardless your feelings when you attend meetings; the correct headline should be:
Jeg vet om møtet. (I am aware of the fact that it will be a meeting.)

Yesterday bought I a new jacket

This sounds a bit funny, doesn’t it?  Only because two small words have changed place. In a perfect world it would have been sufficient to have the correct amount of sentence elements to build a sentence without bothering about where to place them. Who said life is supposed to be easy….

In a Norwegian main sentence a verb in present or past will always be in the second place in the sentence. Just like in this headline. (If it’s a compound verb like present perfect it might be divided by a sentence adverbial)

If you compare these two sentences: I bought a new jacket yesterday/ Jeg kjøpte en ny jakke i går   the sentence structure is identical. However; if you choose to start the sentence with the adverbial, suddenly they will no longer have the same structure:Yesterday I bought a new jacket/ I går kjøpte jeg en ny jakke.  The simple reason is that the Norwegian verbal is not able to leave its position; it is bound to be in the second place forever.

Whatever you want to express, remember: the Norwegian verbal is a prisoner, judge to life imprisonment in the second place in a main sentence.

“The Norwegian trick of dropping every G in sight when they pronounce”

This headline is borrowed from one of my students and describes what he finds especially frustrating with our language.

Norwegian has a lot of silent letters (letters that are written but not pronounced) and the letter G is one of them. The main problem is that this G is not always silent, but if it appears in the end of a word, it is probably not pronounced. (at least not in standardized Norwegian called bokmål)

Many Norwegian adjectives end in a G, and you are not supposed to pronounce it. Words like “hyggelig” (nice) and “lykkelig”(happy) are pronounced “hyggeli” and “lykkeli” . Even when they are declined and get a plural ending, you will not hear the G. If you want to tell about some nice persons: “hyggelige personer” the correct way to pronounce it will be: “hyggelie personer” .

Last weekend I walked to Paris :-)

Many foreigners in Norway seem to be in amazingly good shape and able to walk everywhere. Or perhaps we should look for another explanation?

The two small words to go/å gå  is the source of the confusion. One upon a time they were closely related, like twins, before they gradually went in different directions. Sometimes they still meet in phrases related to attend something (go to the cinema/gå på kino ) but most of the time they express different activities.

Å gå  means to walk in Norwegian, not to travel. When someone tries to translate I went to Paris with Jeg gikk til Paris , they are actually saying that they walked to Paris. Hopefully they had a nice trip.

Instead of using gå  when you want to tell where you have been or are planning to go, you ought to use dra  or reise.  A rule of thumb is to use reise  if you are talking about a long journey and dra   if it?s just a short distance. (Jeg reiste til Paris/I went to Paris but Jeg dro ned til byen /I went downtown ) Since the word dra  is more flexible and can be used both for short and long distances, you can choose to concentrate on that and forget about reise.

Have a nice trip!