Norwegian language


Velkommen – Welcome

Norwegian belongs to the East Scandinavian group of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family (Ethnologue). It is closely related to Swedish and Danish. The three languages developed from Old Norse which was spoken in the areas of mapScandinavia that are now Norway, Denmark and Sweden. To this day, Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes can communicate with each other, although Norwegians tend to understand Danish and Swedish more readily than Danes and Swedes can understand Norwegian. Despite the high degree of mutual intelligibility it would incorrect to call them dialects because Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes see these languages as standardized official languages of their countries with separate norms for speaking and writing.



Norwegian is the official language of Norway, where it is spoken by 4,640,000 people (Ethnologue). It is also spoken in the U.S., Canada, and Sweden. There are 4,741,780 speakers of Norwegian worldwide.



Norwegian has two official standardized spoken and written varieties. The two varieties are used in public administration, religious services, and in the media. Newspapers, magazines and books are published in both varieties that have undergone a number of reforms throughout the 20th century. A movement to merge them into one standard was not successful.

    • Bokmål (‘book language’)
      Norwegians learned to write Danish during four centuries of domination by Denmark (c. 1380-1814). However, their spoken language developed independently along different lines. After the Norwegians won their independence from Denmark, they were left with a standardized spoken language which, although written like Danish, differed from it in its sound system and vocabulary. This language is known today as Bokmål. Bokmål is the written language used by a vast majority of Norwegians. It is based on the Eastern and Western varieties of Norwegian. Most Norwegian schoolchildren are taught in Bokmål.
    • Nynorsk (‘New Norwegian’)
      Nynorsk was created as a written language by the language scholar Ivar Aasen during the mid-19th century. It is based primarily on the dialects of the western and central rural districts. Nynorsk had undergone several reforms, and today, about 15% of Norwegian schoolchildren receive their education in it.

Bokmål and Nynorsk differ from each other in many instances as far as their grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation are concerned. Both written varieties are not correated with either geography or the with the spoken dialects.

In addition, Norwegian has many local dialects which are usually divided into four major groups:

    • North (Nordnorsk)
    • Central (Trøndnorsk)
    • West (Vestnorsk)
    • East (Østnorsk)




Sound system

The sound system of Norwegian Bokmål has many similarities to those of Swedish and Danish. There are many differences in the pronunciation among the various dialects of Norwegian. The description below is based on Norwegian Bokmål.



Bokmål has an inventory of nine long and nine short vowels with some variation among the dialects. Vowel length makes a difference in word meaning, e.g., tak with a long [a] means ‘roof’, while takk with a short [a] means ‘thank you’. In addition, there are three diphthongs /oi/, /ei/, /au/. In the table below length is indicated by a colon after the vowel. Rounded vowels are produced with protruded lips.

i, i:
y, y:
ʉ, ʉ:
u, u:
e, e:
œ, œ:
ɔ, ɔ:
æ, æ:
ɑ, ɑ:

/æ/ = a in cats
/y/ has no equivalent in English
/œ/ has no equivalent in English
/ʉ/ exists only in some dialects of English
/ɔ/ = o in dog
/ɑ/ = o in hot



The consonant system of Norwegian differs considerably from dialect to dialect. Voiced consonants become voiceless at the end of words, e.g., tag ‘day’ is pronounced as [tak].

voiced ʁ
Rhotic (trill) Flap
Semivowels ʋ

/ʈ, ɖ, ʂ, ɳ, ɭ, ɽ/ are retroflex consonants pronounced with the tongue curled so that its back touches the roof of the mouth. Most of the dialects in eastern and central Norway use the retroflex consonants. Most western and northern dialects do not have them.
/ʃ/ = sh in shop
/ç/ is close to ch in the German pronunciation of Ich ‘I’
/ŋ/ = ng in song
/ʋ/ has no equivalent in English
/X/ has no equivalent in English
/ʁ/ has no equivalent in English



Stress in native Norwegian words normally falls on the first syllable. Loanwords may have other stress patterns.


Pitch accent

In most forms of Norwegian and Swedish, pitch differences are regularly associated with primary stress. The difference is significant in polysyllabic words. There are significant variations in pitch accent among dialects, and some varieties of Norwegian have by now lost the tonal accent opposition altogether.



Norwegian grammar is similar to the grammar of other Germanic languages. However, due to the lack of a single standard, rules vary from one dialect area to another.


Nouns, adjectives, and pronouns

Gender and number are conflated into one ending.

    • In Bokmål, masculine and feminine have merged into a common gender with the endings of the masculine. The feminine is retained in Nynorsk. Genders are marked by accompanying modifiers and referential pronouns, and by the forms of the plural, e.g., Bokmål: dag ‘day’ — dager ‘days’, Nynorsk: dag — dagar.
    • There are two numbers: singular and plural.
    • The definite and indefinite articles agree with the noun in gender and number in the singular, e.g., Bokmål: en dag, Nynorsk: ein dag ‘a day’; Bokmål: dagen ‘the day’, Nynorsk: dagene ‘the days’.
    • There are no case markings, except for the possessive –s, e.g., dags ‘day’s’.
    • Adjectives have no case endings but are marked for definiteness, gender, and number.
    • The pronominal system is very much like that of English. However, there is a distinction between the informal 2nd person singular du, and the formal De.


The verb system of Norwegian has the following basic characteristics:

    • Verbs are not marked for person or number.
    • Verbs can be weak or strong. Weak verbs add endings to the root of the verb to form the preterit. Strong verbs undergo a vowel change in the root, often with no ending added. There are 7 classes of strong verbs.
    • The perfect and pluperfect tenses are formed with the auxiliary har ‘have’, e.g., har sett ‘have seen’, hadde sett ‘had seen’.
    • There are three moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.
    • There are three voices: active, middle, and passive.


Word order

The normal word order in declarative sentences is Subject-Verb-Object. In questions, the order is Verb-Subject-Object.



Most Norwegian words are of common Germanic stock, supplemented by borrowings. Norwegian has borrowed from German (particularly Low German), French, and English. Much of the scientific terminology has Greek and Latin roots. Words are frequently formed by compounding native elements, e.g., verdemserkæringene ‘universal declaration’. This, as you can see, can result in very long words.

Hello, good day Hallo, god dag
Good bye Farvel, ha det bra, ha det
Thank you. Takk
Please Vær så snill
Excuse me Unnskyld
Yes Ja
No Nei
Man Menneske
Woman Kvinne


Norwegian numerals 1-10.

en, ein



The oldest records of Norwegian are runic (Futhark) inscriptions dating back to the 9th 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.

Norwegian uses the standard 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, plus three additional vowels æ, ø, å which are listed at the end of the alphabet. The letters c, q, w, x and z are used almost exclusively in borrowings and foreign names. There are 9 vowel and 20 consonant symbols. The same alphabet is used for writing Danish.

A a
B b
C c
D d
E e
F f
G g
H h
I i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
O o
P p
Q q
R r
S s
T t
U u
V v
W w
X x
Y y
Z z
Æ æ
Ø ø
Å å


Take a look at the text of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Bokmål and Nynorsk.

Verdemserklæringen om menneskerettighetene
Artikkel 1.
Alle mennesker er født frie og med samme menneskeverd og menneskerettigheter. De er utstyrt med fornuft og samvittighet og bør handle mot hverandre i brorskapets ånd.
Den internasjonale frasegna om mennesker ettane
Artikkel 1.
Alle menneske er fødde til fridom og med same menneskeverd og menneskerettar. Dei har fåt fornuft og samvit og skal leve med kvarandre som brør.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Did You Know?

English has borrowed some words from Norwegian. Below are a few of them.

English from Norwegian (Old Norwegian)
fjord fiord
floe flo ‘layer, slab’
husband husbondi ‘master of the house’, from hus ‘house’ + bondi ‘householder, dweller, freeholder, peasant’
krill kril ‘small fry of fish’
lemming lemming, ‘small arctic rodent’
ski ski, ‘snowshoe’, literally ‘stick of wood’
slalom slalam ‘skiing race,’ literally’sloping track,’ from sla ‘slope’ + lam ‘track’
steak steik ‘roast meat’
window literally. ‘wind eye,’ from Old Norwegian vindauga, from vindr ‘wind’ + auga ‘eye.’



Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Norwegian?
Norwegian is considered to be a Category I language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.