Indefinite And Definite Articles In Norwegian

Introduction

This article is about indefinite and definite articles in Norwegian. After reading this article you will know what the difference is between indefinite and definite articles, the most common Norwegian articles (or determiners), and how to use them correctly when speaking or writing Norwegian.

What are indefinite and definite articles?

Before we discuss Norwegian articles and their usage, it’s important that we understand what indefinite and definite articles are and what the difference between them is. An indefinite article is in English a or an and it’s used when referring to a noun that is non-specific, and not known from the context. We can for instance have a football. This football isn’t a specific or known football –  it’s just a football.

The definite article is in English the and is used when you refer to something specific and known that has been mentioned earlier. You can for instance say the football if you talk about a specific and known football – not just any football. In short, the indefinite introduces the referent into the context, while the definite refers to an entity that is already known.

Indefinite articles in Norwegian

So, now we know the meaning of indefinite and definite articles. Let’s look at Norwegian articles (=determiners) and see some examples of how you can use them. The most common articles in the Norwegian language is en, ei and et which you place before nouns according to their gender (note that for feminine Norwegian nouns you can choose to use ei or en). These are all examples of indefinite articles in Norwegian and are the equivalents of the English a or an.  Here are some examples of how they can be used in Norwegian sentences:

Example 1: I bought a new bicycle because the old one I had was so bad – Jeg kjøpte en ny sykkel fordi den gamle jeg hadde var så dårlig.

Example 2: I got this watch from a girl I know – Jeg fikk denne klokka av ei jente jeg kjenner.

Example 3: It costs a lot of money to buy a nice house – Det koster veldig mye penger å kjøpe et fint hus.

As you can see, the indefinite articles in Norwegian and in English are quite similar – both languages have articles put before the noun in singular.

Definite articles in Norwegian

On the other hand we have definite articles.  In contrast to the English definite article, Norwegian does not have a definite article to put before the noun (in English: the), to express that something is in definite form. Norwegian uses on the other hand the suffix (ending) of the noun to express this form. Let’s compare two identical examples in English and Norwegian:

Example 4: The house was very nice – Huset var veldig fint.

Example 5: The car was driving past us – Bilen kjørte forbi oss.

Example 6: Have you closed the door? – Har du lukket døra?

The reason for the different endings in the nouns above is that the Norwegian nouns have to be inflected according to its gender (read: How to inflect Norwegian nouns).

It isn’t always the inflection of the nouns you use to express that something is in definite form though. A very common definite article, called a demonstrative, in Norwegian is the word det/den (depends on the gender of the noun – you use det in front neuter nouns and den in front of masculine and feminine nouns). Det/den is the same as that in English. Let’s look at an example where you use det as a demonstrative in Norwegian:

Example 7: That house was very nice – Det huset var veldig fint.

There are several interesting things to note about the example above. Firstly, it’s relevant to quickly explain the difference in meaning between saying Huset var veldig fint and Det huset var veldig fint. When you use det instead of just the suffix (-et in this case), you say that house instead of the house. It’s evident that when you’re using det, it becomes more clear that you think that house was very nice and not another house. Therefore it is called a demonstrative article (determiner).

Secondly, example 7 also illustrates an interesting aspect with the Norwegian language if you add an adjective in front of huset (for instance: det store huset var veldig fint). In English you can say the red house and you might therefore think that you can say røde huset in Norwegian. This is however not the case. The fact is that when you refer to a noun in definite form with an attributive adjective in front of it, you have to use the demonstrative det/den in Norwegian. Here are two examples of this:

Example 8: The happy boy – Den glade gutten.

Example 9: The high tree – Det høye treet.

Also keep also in mind that in the Norwegian spoken (norsk talemål) and written language, it’s common to use the so-called double determination, dobbel bestemmelse. Both example 7, example 8 and example 9 are examples that illustrate this phenomenon. The double determination, dobbel bestemmelse, means that you have a demonstrative article and an adjective in front of a noun with a suffix attached to it in definite form.

It is however also permitted to write den glade gutt and det høye tre (you write with enkel bestemmelse instead of dobbel bestemmelse) if you’re writing in bokmål (not very common though). This marks a difference between bokmål and nynorsk, considering that simple determination, enkel bestemmese, isn’t allowed in nynorsk.

Note however that den glade gutten with double determination is also the most common expression in bokmål.

Conclusion

In this article you have learned what indefinite and definite articles are and how they determine the nouns. You have got an insight into some of the most common articles in the Norwegian language and you’ve seen examples of the usage of these articles.

In the next lesson we are going to learn the most common question words in Norwegian. Let’s go!

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Peder B. Helland
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