Norwegian Language Blog

Norwegian Compound Words Posted by on Nov 22, 2011 in Language

Menneskerettighetsorganisasjoner (human rights organizations) is one of the longer compound words in Norwegian.  Others include sannsynlighetsmaksimeringsestimator (maximum likelihood estimator), and En mMidsommernattsdrøm (A Midsummer Night´s Dream).

The Norwegian language has quite a few compound words in it.  In my experience as a new student of the Norwegian language, as well as as an instructor, compound words can be difficult for new learners.  Especially at the beginning, it can be difficult to separate the individual words within compound words.  You may have just learned the word menneske (person) but when you see it with rettighetsorganisasjoner, it looks completely different and you might not notice it right away.  It becomes even more difficult when the word you may know is in the middle of a compound word, i.e. natt in midsommernattsdrøm. The word natt kind of gets lost.


Although it may be difficult, learning compound words is important in understanding and speaking Norwegian.  The reason for this is because compound words are words themselves separately and you can severely mislead or misunderstand your audience if you use compound words by themselves.  An example of this is: lammekoteletter (lamb chops) broken up into lamme koteletter (lame or paralyzed chops).  Another example is røykfritt (smoke-free) or røyke fritt (smoke freely), the exact opposite of the intended meaning.  The reason these easy-to-make errors exist is because usually one word is a noun and one word a verb or an adjective so the tense of the words can change as well as involve an action.

I think compound words are a fun part of the language to learn about because you learn about several different words in one and it quickly teaches you to pay attention to detail.  It is also important to stress the right syllable in compound words (i.e. stress lamme in lammekotelleter).

And to name a few more:

smult ring (lard ring) and smultring (doughnut)

klippfisk (clipfish) and klipp fisk (cut fish)

århundre (century) and år hundre (year one hundred)

sommerfugl (butterfly) and sommer fugl (summer bird)

I like compound words.  They´re fun.


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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. Åse:

    And “Smådyr klinikk” can be translated: “Quite expensive clinic”, while “Smådyrklinikk” means clinic for small animals.