Norwegian Language Blog

False friends Posted by on May 26, 2009 in Language

As in other languages, one can find in Norwegian words that appear or sound similar to words in English, but differ in meaning.  These are called false friends.  I always thought these were called false cognates, but I was mistaken.  False cognates are pairs of words in different languages that have similar meaning, but lack a common linguistic root. 

False cognates are especially tricky for beginners of a language because your brain wants the words that look familiar to you to mean what you familiarize them with.  If I see a word in Portuguese, of which I know only several words that looks similar to a word in English, I assume that the word means the same as the English word, unless I am specifically told differently.  You can usually tell from the context, of course, if the words truly mean the same thing, but sometimes it is difficult to distinguish.  For instance, there is a word in Norwegian that is a perfect example of such confusion: appelsin.  It is a fruit.  What kind of fruit would you guess it is?  An apple, right?  Because it basically has the word apple in it.  Can you see why it would be difficult to know that appelsin means something other than apple even if you know the context is about fruit?  The word appelsin actually means ‘orange;’ ‘apple’ is eple, which is more similar in pronunciation than in appearance.  ‘Eple’ is pronounced epp-luh and appelsin is pronounced ah-pell-seen.  It’s en appelsin and et eple

The following is a brief list of other words to watch out for-they don’t mean what you probably expect them to mean!

full means drunk, not full (full is mett)

gravid means pregnant (nothing to do with graves…)

et bord means a table (not a board or bored)

en gris means a pig (not grease even though that’s how it is pronounced)

mugg means mildew/mold (not a mug)

en grad means a degree (not grade or an abbreviation for a graduate)

en perm means a notebook (not perm, as in a curly hair permanent)

Can you think of other words in Norwegian that you thought meant the same as the English word that it looks like?


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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


  1. Lydia:

    “Time” is a funny one. 🙂

  2. FoxJudsf:

    Good, interesting article, but where took information?

  3. Kari:


  4. Andrew:

    There’s a very interesting story behind the word appelsin (orange).

    This applies to all European languages and has to do with the origins of the orange. Unlike other European languages English does not reflect this in the name of the fruit.

    In Dutch the word for orange is “sinaasappel” or China-apple. Norwegian simply picked up the alternate form from Dutch appel-sin.

  5. Natasha_TLadmin:

    It is “apelsin” in Russian as well.

  6. renkath:

    Gravid also means pregnant in English.

  7. Daniel J.:

    Hey! I know this is an old post but another perfect example of this is ‘Skum’.

    It is Norwegian for Foam (Barber Skum is shaving cream, they call bubbles in a bathtub ‘Skum’.

    Was very confused when my girlfriend requested lots of Skum in our bubblebath! haha!