Norwegian Language Blog

On On and In Posted by on Nov 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

(Illustration by the blogger.)

(Illustration by the blogger.)

It’s time to address some of the real utfordringer (challenges) that many of you face as Norwegian learners. (Thank you, by the way, for all the great feedback you left on this topic!) Først ut (first in line) are … the prepositions i (in) and (on…)! Both are used in answering hvor (where) questions. I think the basic idea is this:

You’re en fjelltopp (on a peak). You’re i en dal (in a valley). In the first example, you’re standing on top of a limited area (the peak). In the second example, you’re the one being limited; you’re surrounded by something else (the valley).

That’s why you say i universet (in the universe) but på jorda (on earth), i skapet (in the cupboard) but på bordet (on the table). It’s a matter of perspective. That’s also why you use i with cities and countries and continents – but with islands. Think about being surrounded by a city or a country, but ”on top” of an island: i Oslo, i Norge, i Europapå Svalbard, på Utøya. Of course, it gets a little strange with huge islands: på Madagaskar.

I AM REALLY SORRY TO WRITE THIS, BUT HERE THE LOGIC ENDS! Once upon a time, I guess there was a rational explanation for everything. Maybe the Norwegians who decided to say they were i huset (in the house) but på hytta (in the cabin) felt that in hytta they were really lords and ladies on top of the world – even when not literally sitting on the cabin roof! 🙂

Well, actually, there’s more to it. Sometimes you’re going on holiday on Friday… Think about it as climbing a ”staircase of experiences”. You’re treading on steps, and each step is an activity or state: Han er på jobb (he’s working/at work), de drar på ferie i morgen (they go on holiday tomorrow), en natt på byen (a night out in town). Okay, this is getting philosophical, but maybe if you think of being ”på hytta” as an activity it makes more sense! 🙂

Hvor er Pål? (Where’s Paul?) – Han er hjemme/på hytta/på ferie. (He’s at home/”on” cabin/on holiday.)

Hvor er brillene? (Where are the glasses?) – De er (inne) i huset/(inne) i hytta. (They’re in[side] the house/the cabin.)

Det er kjedelig hjemme./Det er gøy på hytta. (It’s boring at home./It’s fun at the cabin.) Det er tre rom i huset/i hytta. (There are three rooms in the house/cabin.)

Of course, there are plenty of strange expressions you have to memorise – just to make life a bit challenging! 🙂

Here are a few ones. Feel free to add your own observations in the comments section:

Jeg tenker på deg. (I’m thinking of you.)
Venter du på meg? (Are you waiting on/awaiting me?)
Det er synd på deg. (I’m sorry for you, literally ”It’s pity on you.”)
Hva heter det på norsk? (What’s that in Norwegian?)
Stol på meg! (Trust in me!) 
Det driter jeg i! (I don’t give a cr*p about that!)
De vandret i mange dager. (They were trekking for many days.)

is a very popular preposition, and sometimes Norwegians tend to overuse it. For example, many people would say jeg gjorde det bare for gøy (I did it just for fun), but some will say jeg gjorde det bare gøy. In fact, has become a kind of ”dummy preposition” (variously translatable as ”in”, ”on”, ”at”, ”for”, etc.). If you’re in doubt which preposition to use, there’s a fair chance that the correct one might be ! 😉

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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. Mona Randem:

    Norwegian is a great language! The easiest way to learn it is to start as a baby and then grow up there☺️