Norwegian Noun Phrases Posted by on Apr 30, 2014 in Language

Fuglen synger. Toget går. (The bird is singing. The train is leaving.) An awful lot of phrases consist of a noun phrase + a verbal phrase. Norwegian verbal phrases are a piece of cake: Er, for example, means both am, is and are; prater can be translated as chat, chats, and am/is/are chatting. Noun phrases are slightly more complex…

Is my noun-of-choice hankjønn (masculine), hunkjønn (feminine) or nøytrum/intetkjønn (neuter)? In Norwegian, that’s the first thing you need to know. All the common nouns of the language have one of those three genders. Even sexless things like fjords and mountains!

The gender of a noun is often revealed when you translate an or a ”something” from English: an ice-cream > en iskrem, a cat > en katt, a million > en million – those are hankjønn; an eye > et øye, a problem > et problem, a life > et liv – those are nøytrum. It must be said, though, that hunkjønn words may be introduced by either ei or en, so they may sometimes be mistaken for hankjønn words: ei/en hytte (a cabin). Unfortunately, there are no good rules to tell the gender of a noun; you have to learn it by heart. Fortunately, the majority of nouns are hankjønn, so stick to en whenever you’re in doubt! 🙂

Is my noun phrase more like a general example, or is it pointing at something concrete? In English, you can easily turn an indefinite noun phrase such as ’a car’ into a definite one: the car, this car, that car, Ola’s car, my car… In Norwegian, there is a bit more variation: bilen, denne bilen, den bilen, Olas bil, min bil/bilen min. (Hunnkjønn words such as bok, book, behave in the same way as hannkjønn words, except that they may optionally get an -a ending instead of -enboka/boken, denne boka/boken, Olas bok, min bok/mi bok/boken min/boka mi.) With a neuter word like hus (house), it becomes: huset, dette huset, det huset, Olas hus, mitt hus/huset mitt.

The definite-indefinite thing becomes really important when you want to throw in an adjective or two in your Norwegian noun phrase. Singular, neuter nouns generally infect their adjectives with a t ending: boka er rød (the book is red) > huset er rødt (the house is red); en rød bil (a red car) > et rødt hus (a red house).

However, as soon as an indefinite noun phrase is made definite (a car > this car), any built-in adjective gets an e ending, no matter the noun’s gender: en rød bil > Karis røde bil (Kari’s red car), ei rød bokdenne røde boka (this red book), et rødt hus > det røde huset mitt (my red house).

Now you know the basics of Norwegian noun phrases. But how about the plurals? Most of them end in -er. Some of them have no ending. As with the gender the specific plural form of each word has to be learnt separately.

The vast majority of adjectives receive an e ending in the plural, no matter whether they describe something definite or indefinite. Note, though, the word små, which is an irregular plural of liten (little, small): glade, ville, små gutter (happy, wild, small boys); disse glade, ville, små guttene (these happy, wild, small boys).

Norsk er faktisk ganske lett, ikke sant? (Norwegian is actually quite easy, isn’t it so?)

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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. 台灣大樂透:

    Wonderful article, thanks a lot !!

  2. Gordon Karpen:

    Thank you!