Norwegian Language Blog

Lying, sitting, standing Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

Baldr dead by Eckersberg

This was the only 100% free image I could find of people standing, sitting, lying… It even has a Norwegian connection. It shows the killing of the god Balder (from Norse mythology).

Do you know teatersport? It’s basically a kind of unscripted theatre, where you and your mates pick an øvelse (exercise) or ”set-of-rules” and use it to make a scene that’s totally improvised. I love to take part in creative collaborations like that, and one øvelse always makes me think about Scandinavian languages… It’s called sitte, ligge, stå (sit, lie, stand). You’re three persons on the floor. You can say or do whatever you want – but there should always be one person standing, one sitting, and one lying. The fun, of course, starts when the person lying suddenly feels an urge to stand up, or the person standing takes a chair…

In a Scandinavian language like Norwegian, there are so many things beside mennesker (humans) that sitter, ligger or står. Basically, you use the words to tell where something or someone is located. But, how do you go about?

  • STÅR (past tense sto, past perfect har stått)

This is used for objects in an upright position.


De står i kø til konserten. They’re standing in line for the concert.


Bøkene står i hylla. The books are in the shelf.

Juletreet står i stua. The Christmas tree is in the living-room.

It’s even used when talking about letters or words. (I guess they’re somehow ”standing” on a line!)

Hva står i brevet? ”What stands in the letter?” What does the letter say?

Det står at… It says that…


  • SITTER (past tense satt, past perfect har sittet)

Okay, you know when someone is sitting. The fun thing is that the word’s also sometimes used when something smaller is attached to something bigger, or is located inside it:

Knappen sitter på baksida. The button’s on the backside.

Hvor sitter blindtarmen? Where is the appendix located?


  • LIGGER (past tense , past perfect har ligget)

This is used for objects in a horizontal or flat position.


De ligger og sover. ”They’re lying and sleeping.” They’re sleeping.


Boka ligger på bordet. The book’s lying on the table.

Treet ligger på jorda. The tree’s lying on the ground.

It’s also used to tell where something is on the map:

Norge ligger i Europa. Norway is in Europe.


Ever since I started to learn other languages, I’ve wondered why people in Scandinavia are so busy with positions. It’s often quite impossible to avoid the sitte-ligge-stå thing!

If somebody’s in the living-room, you could say Han er i stua (He is in the l-r). But in case he’s most probably sitting on the couch, for example, you’d automatically go for Han sitter i stua (He’s sitting in the living-room).

If some people are doing the dishes in the kitchen, you say

De står i kjøkkenet og vasker opp (They’re standing in the kitchen and doing the dishes).

If they’re eating at the same place, you say

De sitter i kjøkkenet og spiser (They’re sitting in the kitchen and eating).

Leaving out sitter and står in these sentences sounds just as weird as removing the -ing form would do in English.

So, Norwegians always keep an eye on whether you’re standing, sitting or lying! I think this is one of the strangest things about the language. However, all of you who didn’t grow up with Norwegian might see things better than me:

What makes Norwegian strange to you? What’s the oddest, weirdest, most bizarre, most fascinating thing about Norwegian?

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Thomas:

    Is it possible to use the norwegian verb “to sit” to suggest motion (i.e. move into a sitting position), or is this just restricted to set-oneself constructions?

    In a norwegian sentence equivalent to “he sat at the bar,” is it unambiguous that he was stationary, or could it also mean that the subject moved into a sitting position at the bar?

    One final question: do regular nouns have case marking, or just the pronouns? Do objects of prepositions have case marking?

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Thomas Hei Thomas!

      1. In Norwegians there are the verbs ”å sitte” and ”å sette”. The first (satt in the past) is stationary, while the second implies moving something into a sitting position. So, ”Han satt i baren” can only be stationary. ”Han satte seg i baren”, using the past tense of ”å sette”, means ”He sat down in the bar”. I hope this answered your question?

      2. No, no nouns have case markings, neither do objects of prepositions. There is the possesive ending -s, though, but that’s hardly a case ending: hesten ”the horse”, hastens navn ”the horse’s name”.

  2. Natali:

    Dear Bjørn A. Bojesen,
    Thank you for the article!
    It is not only about Norwegian. Russian is pretty similar in this respect. We are concerned about the position of a person quite a bit! =)For example, we also say “He’s sitting in the kitchen and eating” or “They’re standing outside and talking”.
    When I was studying Norwegian I was taught that there is no Continuous tense in it, but this is the very way to express it. Is it really so or was it just the way our teacher tried to make us understand things? =)

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Natali Dear Natali,
      thank you for the feedback! 🙂 I don’t know anything about Russian, so that was really interesting!
      I would say your teacher is right.
      There is no proper continuous tense in Norwegian – but you can achieve a similar meaning with other means.
      So, ”jeg tenker” means both ”I think” and ”I’m thinking”, depending on context.
      You could, however, say ”jeg sitter og tenker” = ”I’m (sitting and) thinking”.

      Lykke til! Good luck with your studies!

  3. Natali:

    Tusen takk for svaret! =)