Norwegian is the language spoken in Norway. It's closely related to Danish and Swedish, and most speakers of the three languages can understand each other without much difficulty. Norwegian is also historically closely related to Icelandic, but the two are no longer mutually understandable. Written Norwegian is virtually identical to Danish and phrasebooks for the two languages can for most purposes be used interchangeably. Most of Norway's 5 million citizens speak Norwegian. Norwegian is written with the Latin alphabet and three additional vowels (ø, æ, å).
Because Norwegian is a Germanic language, learning a decent form of Norwegian shouldn't be too hard if you already speak English, German and/or Dutch. Norwegian grammar is similar to English and relatively easy compared to German. For example, the role of a word is determined by its place in the syntax, rather than by morphology. Norwegian basically only has two grammatical cases: Nominative and genitive - genitive differs from nominative by an "s" at the end of the noun (like English but without the apostrophe). Verbs are not conjugated according to person. Adjectives are (like in English) placed before the noun. Norwegian has three grammatical genders, and nouns are inflected according to their grammatical gender. Plural form of noun is often expressed with the suffix "-r" or "-er", for example "en katt, katter" = "a cat, cats".
Although modern Norwegian is relatively easy to understand and practice at a superficial level, learning Norwegian a hundred percent fluently is exceptionally difficult. There are several reasons to this: The first thing worth mentioning is that there is a wide range of dialects in Norwegian, that could differ significantly to the standard written form. Due to the country's geography, being mountainous and sparsely populated and also extremely long and narrow, these dialects have had the opportunity to develop over time. There is no standard spoken Norwegian, and it is fully socially accepted (even highly regarded) to use your local dialect whatever the context or situation. Politicians and news reporters all do this. Norwegian has a number of idioms, many of which are used regularly but hardly make any sense to an outsider (they just have to be learned). Many idioms originate from playwright Henrik Ibsen, from the ancient sagas (compiled by Icelander Snorre Sturlason), or from the Bible, as well as from popular culture, both Norwegian and international and both young and old. The weak Norwegian verbs could also have one of five different endings.
There are two official variations of written Norwegian: Bokmål and Nynorsk. The differences are small, but important to a lot of Norwegians. Bokmål (previously referred to as riksmål) is by far the most common, and evolved from Danish. Nynorsk is a reconstructed standard written form, developed by Ivar Aasen, a teacher and linguist. Aasen traveled through most of the country, except for the eastern parts, because he felt those parts had been too heavily influenced by Danish language. Between 1848 and 1855, Aasen published grammar, lexicon, dialect samples, and a set of readings as he developed Nynorsk (called then landsmål).
In 2003, approximately 15% of primary school pupils were in school districts that taught Nynorsk as the primary written standard.
Numbers, time and dates
Note that Norwegians use comma as the decimal sign, for instance 12,000 means 12 (specified with three decimal places) not 12 thousand, whereas 12.000 means 12 thousand. Norwegians use both the 24 and 12 hour time system, with spoken often being the 12 hour system and the 24 hour system often used in writing. Norwegians don't use PM/AM to indicate morning or afternoon. Dates can be abbreviated in a number of ways, but the order is always DATE-MONTH-YEAR, for instance 12.07.08 is July 12, 2008.
Other notable features:
Unlike some Germanic neighbors, in Norwegian the definite article is postfixed (a suffix) while the indefinite article is a separate word like in English (a house = et hus; the house = huset).
Verbs are not conjugated according to the person.
Capital letters reserved for names of persons or places as well as beginning of sentences.
Norwegian has three unique vowels: æ, ø, å (more below)
Norwegian has fewer French/Latin words than English, but still enough "international" words (usually adopted from English, French, Latin or Greek; and besides there many from German and the other Scandinavian languages) that are understandable for most visitors. For instance: information = informasjon, telephone = telefon, post/mail = post, tourist = turist, police = politi.
Unlike English, Norwegian words are compounded to form new nouns. There is in principle no limit to the number of new nouns that can be created, unless these are "decomposed" some of these may not be found in dictionaries or phrasebooks.
Each vowel can be pronounced either as "long" or "short". A "short" vowel will almost always be followed by a double consonant (i.e. two similar consonants, such as ll or tt). A long vowel is not.
For example, in Norwegian "it" will be pronounced as in eet, whereas "itt" will be pronounced as English it.
(There are some exceptions to this rule: if the consonant is followed by another consonant, it does not always need to be doubled to make the vowel short.)
The Norwegian vowels are pronounced in almost the same way as in German. The Norwegian alphabet has three letters more than the English alphabet, vowels æ (Æ), ø (Ø), and å (Å). Here's the full list:
like 'a' in "father"
like 'e' in "where" (but like æ if it is followed by an 'r')(some exceptions, see below)
like 'i' in "pin"
mostly like 'o' in how the British say "Ox", rendering it a short 'å'; but in a few cases simply a short "oo", just like a short 'u'
similar to 'oo' in "fool"
(long) similar to "ewwwww!"
(short) same sound as a long 'o' only short (much like the English "put")
like 'i' in "pin" (but narrower; y doesn't correspond to any sound in English. English speakers may have difficulty distinguishing Norwegian's i and y. It's similar to German ü or French u.) Halfway between "ee" and "ewwww".
like 'a' in "mad"; almost always long. A short "ær" sound is spelled 'er'.
like 'u' in how the British say "burn" ("bu:n"). One starts with e and rounds one's lips to produce ø.
like 'o' in how the British say "lord" (Note: in older texts or names written as "aa"); it is long unless followed by a double consonant.
The letters 'o' and 'u' may give you the most trouble. Some examples to help clarify:
egg (egg or edge) has a short "e" because of the double consonant;
elg (moose) also has a short "e"; the 'lg' qualifying as a doubling;
ed (oath) has a long "e";
er (is) has a long "æ", as does her (here) and der (there).
erke (arch) has a short "ær";
eller (or) starts with a short "e" and ends in a short unaccented 'er' where the "e" is reduced to a short "uh" -- "EL-uhr";
fil (file) has a long 'i' ("ee" in English);
fille (rag) has a short 'i';
komme (to come) has a short "å" sound ("aw!");
for (for) also has a short "å" sound; therefore -
fôr (animal feed or food) is often given the ^ accent to convey its long "oo";
mor (mother), jord (earth), and sol (sun) all have a long "oo" (the 'd' in jord is silent);
hjort (deer) has a short "å" sound;
onkel (uncle) has a short "oo" very similar to a Scouse pronunciation;
kum (manhole) has a short "oo" just like 'onkel' (an '-mm' ending is not allowed);
jul (xmas) has a long 'u' ("ewww");
ugle (owl) has a short 'u' (like "ewh!");
ære (honor) has a long 'æ'
Some exceptions: The following words have a long "e" despite the 'er' convention:
ber, ler, ser, skjer, ter -- note that these are present-tense forms of verbs that end in -e: be, le, se, skje, te.
like 'c' in "cat" (mostly foreign words, no function in Norwegian)
same as 'k' or 'kk' (Christian = "kristian"; Bache = "bakke")
like 'd' in "dog", silent at end of syllable or at end of word. (In eastern dialects d, t, and n are pronounced with the tongue touching the front teeth, producing a "flatter" sound than in English)
like 'f' in "face"
like 'g' in "good", but like 'y' in "yes" before i or j, silent at the end of some words
like 'h' in "hat", silent before j or v
like 'y' in "yes"
like 'k' in "keep", but like 'ch' in German "ich" before i or j (IPA: [ç])
like 'l' in "late" (some variation, see below)
like 'm' in "mouse"
like 'n' in "nice"
like 'p' in "push"
like 'q' in "quick" (mostly foreign words)
like 'tt' in "kitty" (many different variations ranging from Spanish to French sounding, in west Norway typically powerfully pronounced)
like 's' in "sun", unless followed by an 'l' or following an 'r' when it becomes "sh"
like 't' in "top"; silent at the end of the word "det" and in determinate neuter nouns (e.g. "huset")
a quick rap of the tongue, starting with the tip upward behind the hard palate (start saying "tch" but stop before you get to the "sh"); no native English equivalent (but heard in some Indian accents)
like 'v' in "viper"
most often, like 'v'; the letter only appears in names (e.g. Waldemar, Wenche, or the unit Watt); other than that, it may appear in foreign loan words and names where the pronunciation generally follows the original language (see below for more examples)
like 'x' in "box" (mostly foreign words); words with this sound are generally spelled with 'ks' ('x' has no real function in Norwegian)
like 'z' in "zip" (officially), but usually pronounced like 's' in "sun" (mostly foreign words, no function in Norwegian)
More on the letter L:
There are three basic ways of pronouncing the letter 'L'. Generally speaking, if you stick with #1 or #2 below, you will never be misunderstood. #3 typically appears in eastern dialects but even there it may be considered informal and is avoided by many. The consonants b, f, g, k, and p, plus the vowel 'ø' take either L #1 or #3 as outlined further below, and the vowel 'å' takes L #2 or #3. (Note that this is an unoffical numbering.)
L #1: a thin-sounding 'l' where the tip of the tongue is on the hard part of the palate, not touching the front teeth, and slightly farther back than in English;
L #2: a thicker, flatter sounding 'l' with the tip of the tongue firmly against the back of the front teeth;
L #3: a flap of the tongue with the tip farther back in the mouth than with an 'r'.
(Some dialects use a 4th pronunciation where the middle of the tongue is on the soft palate; as a novice you should probably disregard this)
L #1 is what you will hear in the beginning of words: Lillehammer, lakk, lese, ligge, lomme, løpe...
- after 'i' and 'y' (both short and long): ille, spill, vil, vill, hvil, fil, fille, fyll, fylle, syl, sylte...
- after short 'u': full, gull, hull, kull, null, pulje, tull, rulle...
- after 'e': fjell, fjel, sel, tele, telefon, vel...
- after short 'yk': sykle, Myklebost...
- after 'g' or 'k' if followed by a long 'e': glede, klebe...
- after 't': atlas, Atle
- after 'd': middel, midler, seddel, sedler...
- after 'r' (the 'r' becomes silent): farlig, Berlin, berlinerkrans, særlig, herlig...
- after some 'ø's (long or short): føle, følge, føll, sølv, Sølve...
- after 's' (note that the 's' then becomes "sh"):
(all of the preceding examples of L #3 can also take L #1)
- after 'æ': pæle, sæle, fjæl, gæli, tæl, tæle
(these never take L #1 but are rather replaced by other forms that do: pele, sele, fjel, galt, tel, tele)
- in the word 'dårlig'
- overlapping the use of L #2 for the following words (i.e. you may hear either one, with little or no consistency):
mål, måle, kål, såle, stål (but not the name Ståle), trål, tråle, tral, tåle, påle (but not the name Pål)
Certain factors have a softening effect on the 'l' in 'kl' and 'pl' combinations. Look for long 'a' or 'o', words of non-Germanic origin, or stress on the second or third syllable. The following examples all have L #1 and should never take L #3:
Some words that belong in "high society" are ideally given L #1 in the eastern dialects even if conventional wisdom would expect L #3: flygel, klimpre
The following words usually have L #1 even in eastern dialects:glede, gløde, nitroglyserin, globoid
More on the letter W:
"Watt" as a unit is pronounced like "vatt" but the name James Watt would still be pronounced as in English;
"William" can sound like "Villiam" or the English "William" depending on his nationality;
"Wien", being (linguistically) German, is pronounced "veen".
like 'a' in Cockney or Australian pronunciation of "babe" (æ-i)
like 'i' in "pine" (a-i)
similar to 'ow' in "how" (æ-u)
like 'oy' in "boy" (å-y)
like the 'u' in "burn" followed by the 'y' in "yet" (ø-y)
like 'sh' in "shirt"
like 'sh' in "shirt"
like 'ch' in the German word "ich"
like 'y' in "yes"
like 'y' in "yes"
like 'v' in "victory"
the 'l' is silent if in the beginning of a word (e.g. "ljå": "yaw")
like 'ain' in "rain"
old form of 'å'
The letter 'j' often disappears if either of the letter combinations 'skj', 'kj' or 'gj' is used in front of diphthongs. There is also a convention that the letter 'j' cannot be followed by an 'i' or 'y'. Examples:
skøyte (skate) is "shøite";
kylling (chicken) is "chylling";
kiste (coffin) is "chisste";
gi (to give) is "yee" [note that 'gir' as the present tense of "gi" is pronounced "yeer" but the word for "gear" is still pronounced "geer" even though it is also spelled 'gir']
Hyggelig å treffe deg. (Hygg-e-li å treff-e dei) Hyggjeleg å møte deg ("Hyggj-eleg å mø-te deg")
Vær så snill. (...)(you may hear "væh shaw snil")
Tusen takk. (...)
Bare hyggelig. (Bar-e hygg-e-li) More like the English: my pleasure Berre hyggjeleg ("ber-e hyg-eleg")
Yes (in reply/opposition to a no in a discussion).
Jo. (yoo) Jau. ("Ja-u")
Excuse me. (getting attention)
Unnskyld (meg). (Unn-shill mei) Orsak meg ("Or-sak meg")
Excuse me. (begging pardon)
Unnskyld (meg). (Unn-shill mei) Orsak meg ("Or-sak meg")
I'm sorry. (for a slight mistake)
Beklager (be-klag-er) Beklagar ("Be-kla-gar")
I'm sorry. (I really didn't mean it)
Jeg beklager så mye (Jei be-klag-er så mye) Eg er lei for det ("Eg er leih for det")
Jeg er lei meg. (Jei ær lei mei) Not used nearly as often as in English, this sincerely means you are sorry, or can even be interpreted to mean you are sad (usually not associated with guilt). Eg er lei meg ("Eg er leih megh")
Ha det bra! (Ha de bra) Farvel ("far-vel")
It was nice seeing/meeting you. Goodbye.
(bm) Det var hyggelig å treffe deg. Ha det bra! (De var hygg-e-li å treff-e dæi. Ha de bra!)
(nn) Det var hyggjeleg å treffe deg. Ha det bra! (De var hyg-yeh-lehg aw treff-eh dehg. Hah deh bra!
Jeg/eg kan bare/berre litt norsk (Jei kan ba-re litt nåsjk)
Excuse me. Do you know how to speak English?
Unnskyld, kan du snakke engelsk? (Unn-skyll, kan du snakk-e eng-elsk?)
Is there someone here who speaks English?
Er det noen/nokon som kan snakke engelsk her? (Ær de no-en såm kann snakk-e eng-elsk hær?)
God morgen/morgon. (Go må-årn) See hello above
God kveld. (Go kvell) See hello above
God natt. (Go natt) Never used as a greeting, unless you you want to make a joke. This is potentially troublesome. If you must greet someone at night, use Hallo, Hei, or Hyggelig å møte deg (Nice to meet you), or even God dag (even though it's in the middle of night).
Kunne jeg/eg låne pennen din? (Kuhn-ne jæi lå-ne pennen din?)
Are there any good sights in the area?
Finnes/Finst det noen/nokon gode severdigheter/sjåverdegheiter i området? (Fin-nes deh non god-he seværdi-het-er i åm-råde)
You are not Norwegian unless you know five names for different textures of snow
Man/Ein er ikke/ikkje norsk med mindre man/ein kan navngi/namngje fem typar snø. (Mann ær ikke nåshk me mindre mann kann navnji femm typ-er snø)
Are they joking about these prices?
Skal jeg/eg tolke disse/dei her prisene/prisane som en/ein spøk? (Skall jei tålke dis-se pris-ene såmm en spøk)
Where can I purchase a viking helmet?
Hvor/Kvar kan jeg/eg kjøpe en/ein vikinghjelm? (Vohr kann jei ch[German: Chemie]ø-pe en vi-kingyelm)
Does this bus take me to Hafrsfjord?
Kjører denne bussen til Hafrsfjord? (ch[German: Chemie]ører den-ne buss-en til Hafrs-fjoord?)
In Norway it is also common to say "thank you for today/this evening" when you part - "takk for i dag/ i kveld" to say you have enjoyed the experience. You also say "thank you for last time" "takk for sist" when you meet them again, or preferably "thanks for yesterday" "takk for i gaar" if it was indeed yesterday.
It will be considered rude if you dont say "thank you for the meal" "takk for maten" if someone served you a meal (this doas not apply in restaurants or if you have bought a meal)
You also say "thank you for having me over" "takk for meg" when leavig the house of someone.
"thank you for now" " takk for naa" is a nice way of saying you enjoyed your time and will return some time.
Kan du (være så snill å) la meg være alene. (...) Note: være så snill å means be so kind as to, directly translated, but there are no direct replacement for please. The English word is sometimes used if said imparatively or beggingly.
Don't touch me!
Ikke rør meg! (...)
I'll call the police.
Jeg ringer politiet. (...) Note: This really means dial the police on the phone. Since there aren't many street cops in Norway, if it's really an emergency, it would make more sense to simply cry Hjelp! (Help), and hope a random person will come to your rescue.
Politi! (...) See above...
Stopp tyven! (...)
I need your help.
Jeg trenger din hjelp. (...) Might sound too strong. See below for a more reasonable alternative...
May I ask you for a little assistance?
Kan jeg spørre deg om litt hjelp
It's an emergency.
Det er et nødstilfelle. (...)
Jeg har gått meg bort. (...) Even though this is under the problems section, this phrase comes out sounding like you have wandered the woods for days without food or rest, having no idea where you are or where to go (in which case it would be obvious anyway). Either that, or you're 5 year old, in which case getting lost from your parents is equally serious. See below for a more reasonable alternative. More neutral is "Jeg har gått meg vill"
Can you tell me where I am?
Kan du si meg hvor jeg er? (...)
Can you tell me the way to ___?
Kan du si meg veien til ___? (...)
I lost my ___.
Jeg har mistet ___ [min (sg. m./f.)/mitt (sg. neu.)/mine (pl.)]. (...) While almost any kind of carry-on item can be called bag in English, in Norwegian it means a duffle bag. You usually have to be more specific, here are a few alternatives, as part of this sentence, you should also read the part in parenthesis to get the grammar right.
* luggage = baggasje(n)
* suitcase = koffert(en)
* backpack = ryggsekk(en)
* duffle bag = bag(en)
* shoulder bag = skulderveske(-a)
* handbag = håndveske(-a)
* plastic bag = plastikkpose(n)
* computer bag = data bag(en)
* wallet = lommebok(a)
* child/children = barn(et)/barn(a) (I certainly hope not)
* cell phone = mobiltelefon (-en)
Larger numbers than twenty can be written several ways in Norwegian. Sometimes each word is written separately. Sometimes hyphens are used. And sometimes, the whole number is written as one large word; there are two ways of counting from 21-99.
The old counting system is slightly more illogical, but still quite a few people use it. Its popularity increases with the age of the speaker. Most people will probably revert to the new counting system if they realize the speaker is not fluent in Norwegian, but here it is for completeness (In English this system has been used in the past, but a change analogous to the new system in Norwegian occurred a long time ago, so few realise this now, although the reminders exist in the teen numbers and the Four and twenty blackbirds nursery rhyme).
There is no universal AM/PM usage in norway. If people are not familiar enough with English to understand you saying the time in English, they will probably not understand AM or PM either. To disambiguate time, you can look at the section called Time (morning, evening, etc). It can be hard to choose the correct preposition/grammar to use for these (which depends a lot on context, past, future, etc), so the easiest is to simply append it after having said the time.
Taxi! (...) Cultural note: Shouting or whistling for a taxi is considered rude in Norway, and drivers are likely to ignore you if you do. Wave your hand at, phone or simply walk up to one with a lighted sign on the roof.
Take me to _____, please.
Kan du kjøre meg til _____. (...)
How much does it cost to get to _____?
Hvor mye vil det koste å kjøre til _____? (...) Note: Unless it's a really long (several hours) and thus ridiculously expensive drive where you can make a special deal with the driver, it's gonna cost as much as the meter shows. Expect an approximate reply if any.
Kan jeg få se kjøkkenet? (...) Note: This is usually a grave insult. If you feel that bad about eating there, go somewhere else instead.
Is there a house specialty?
Hva er spesialiteten deres? (...)
Is there a local specialty?
Er det en lokal rett jeg bør smake på? (...)
Jeg er glutenintolerant / Jeg har cøliaki (...)
I'm a vegetarian.
Jeg er vegetarianer. (...)
I don't eat pork.
Jeg spiser ikke svinekjøtt. (...)
I only eat kosher food.
If this is a concern, try another country. Shechita is forbidden in Norway, and meat needs to be specially imported. Try to order fresh fish ("fersk fisk") or something vegetarian instead. Tell the waiter you are an orthodox jew ("ortodoks jøde"), and try to reach an understanding. You will have to compromise, as you can't expect the cook to keep a separate set of pans/knives/etc just for you. If it is a large expensive restaurant, they might be able to do so, but if you are very pedantic about this, you should prepare your own food from carefully selected food in grocery shops.
I'm on a diet. Can you make it "lite", please? (less oil/butter/lard)
Jeg slanker meg. Kan jeg få så lite fett som mulig? (mindre olje/smør/fett) (...)
dagens rett (...)
a la carté
a la carté (...)
kaffe og kaker (...) The Norwegian equivalent of tea as a meal is kaffe og kaker – coffee and cakes. You could of course still order tea, if you prefer that.
Ville du godtatt _____? (...) Note: Bargaining or haggling prices will in most cases get you nothing but puzzled looks and/or angry vendors. The price is on the tag, and unless the item you want is damaged or highly overpriced (higher than usual in Norway) haggling will usually not get you anywhere.
I can't afford it.
Jeg har desverre ikke råd. (...)
I don't want it.
Nei, jeg trenger den ikke. (...)
(I think) You're cheating me.
(Jeg synes) Du lurer meg. (...) This is what you would say right before you call the police.
I'm not interested.
Desverre, jeg er ikke interresert. (..)
OK, I'll take it.
OK, jeg tar den. (...)
Can I have a bag?
Kan jeg få en pose? (...)
Do you ship to ____?
Kan du sende ting til ___? (...)
Jeg trenger... (...)
...en tannbørste. (tann-bøsj-te)
...pain reliever. (e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen)
...smertestillende. (f.eks Dispril eller Ibux) (...)
...hostesaft. (...) translates back to cough lemonade. If that doesn't come close to what you need, go to a doctor.
...???. (...) Go to a drugstore (Norwegian: "apotek"), or doctor (Norwegian: "lege"), and explain your condition.