Notes on conditionals in Norwegian

Ok, so this is about "If.... then" sentences. The Duolingo course already has some notes. But here's my take, mostly based on Mysteriet Om Nils Part 2 and on Norsk Grammatikk by Kristi Mac Donald.

Disclaimer: There might well be mistakes in what's written below. If anyone disagrees with anything, don't hold back -- just leave a comment.

Anyway, here goes...


  • If something is a genuine possibility that might be true, or a logical consequence (like "If A.... then B"), I'll call it an "open condition".
  • If something is purely hypothetical and can't be true, I'll call it a "hypothetical condition", like, "If there were a bear here (but there's not), I'd be running for my life".
  • I'll call the first part of a conditional clause (the "if" part) the "protasis", and the second part (the "then" part) the "apodosis". Apologies for the funny grammar terms (which also might be not quite accurate when applied to Germanic languages), but it's easier to write things out using those words.


  • In Norwegian, the protasis is treated as a subordinate clause, and the apodosis as a main clause. So if the protasis is first in the sentence, the word order in the apodosis inverts, just like when you put any other sort of subordinate clause or adverb first in a sentence: "Hvis du er her, er jeg der", not "jeg er der". And if the protasis comes after the main clause, then you don't invert the word order (in fact, there is some reason to believe that a protasis at the end of a sentence is more common in Norwegian than English).
  • The word for "if" is usually "hvis" or "om". But there are other ways to introduce a protasis also, like "dersom", "så sant", "på bettingelse av at", "i tilfelle", "i fall" and "så framt". I think they all function in the same way, with not all that much difference of meaning.
  • Nils claims, "You can use om instead of hvis, but today one seldom does this." But I'm not sure that's true. In the Norwegian I've read/heard so far, both "hvis" and "om" seem pretty common. Perhaps a native can comment. [Edit: someone has told me that perhaps “hvis” is slightly more “skriftlig”, and “om” slightly more “muntlig”.]
  • You have to use "om" if it's not a conditional at all, but an indirect question following a verb like "å vite" or "å spørre", translatable by the English word "whether": "Jeg vet ikke om du kan svømme der", "I don't know if/whether you can swim there".
  • If you want to say "unless" or "if not", you can say "med mindre", "uten å" or "uten at", or just use "ikke" with one of the ways to say "if" above. Eg: "Vi rekker det ikke, med mindre vi tar fly" ("We won't reach it unless we take a plane"), "Med mindre de ber oss, kan vi ikke komme" ("Unless they ask us, we can't come"), "De kommer ikke uten at du inviterer dem" ("They are not coming unless you invite them"), "De kommer ikke uten å bli invitert" ("They are not coming without being invited"), "Hvis du ikke kommer, blir hun skuffet" ("If you do not come, she will be disappointed"), "Hvis/om ikke du kommer, blir hun skuffet" (same as before, but you can put "ikke" in a different position).
  • It's also possible to leave out the "If" word completely, in which case you invert word order in the protasis. For instance, this explains the expression "er du snill" (for vaer så snill) -- it's equivalent to "hvis du kan være så snill". English can sometimes do the same thing: instead of "If you hadn't come, I would have been sad", you can say, "Had you not come, I would have been sad".
  • You can use "så" for "then" in the apodosis: "Hvis du bare gjør din del, så klarer vi det", "If you just do your part, then we will manage it."
  • You will sometimes find an apodosis without an explicit protasis: "Kunne jeg få en vaffel?", "Could I get a waffle?".

Open conditions

  • For open conditions applying to the present, just use present tense in both protasis and apodosis. "Hvis jeg er Sokrates, så er jeg en mann."
  • Open conditions applying to the future usually also use present tense in both protasis and apodosis, though English uses a future tense in the apodosis. "Hvis du er hjemme, besøker jeg deg" ("If you are home, I shall visit you"); "Jeg vet at en dag om vi fortsatt husker så er det bare vagt" ("I know that one day, if we still remember, then it will be just vaguely", Siri Nilsen).
  • However, it's also possible to use a future tense in the apodosis, just like English. "Hvis du kommer i morgen, skal jeg dra til Sverige" ("If you come tomorrow, I shall go to Sweden").
  • Open conditions applying to the past use past tense in both clauses: "Hvis han var der, var han gal" ("If he was there (which might be true), he was crazy").
  • You can also mix tenses: "Hvis hun spiste det, blir hun syk", "If she ate that, she'll be sick".

Hypothetical conditions applying to the present

  • You have basically two options. Firstly: can use past tense in protasis and "ville" + infinitive in apodosis: "Hvis du var hjemme, ville jeg besøke deg" ("If you were home (but you're not), I would visit you/I would be visiting you"). This is very similar to English.
  • Can also use other modal verbs as well, like "kunne", "skulle", "måtte", etc, just like in English.
  • Second option: can use pluperfect in both protasis and apodosis. "Hvis du hadde vaert hjemme nå, hadde jeg besøkt deg nå", "If you had been home now, I would be visiting you now".
  • Third option, sort of... Nils teaches that hypothetical conditions applying to the present can use past tense in both protasis and apodosis (instead of "ville" in the apodosis). But native speakers I've tested this on find it confusing. "Hvis du var hjemme nå, besøkte jeg deg nå." Possibly, it's an old-fashioned way of talking. I think one used to be able to do the same thing in English: "Were I a king, you were a queen" (instead of "would be a queen").

Hypothetical conditions applying to the past

  • It's always pluperfect in the protasis, but you have two options for the apodosis. Firstly, can just use pluperfect: "Hvis du hadde vaert hjemme i går, hadde jeg besøkt deg", "If you had been home yesterday, I would have visited you".
  • Option 2: "ville" + (ha) + past participle in the apodosis. This is much the same as in English, except that the "ha" is optional. "Hvis du hadde vaert hjemme, ville jeg (ha) besøkt deg", "If you had been home, I would have visited you".
  • Since the pluperfect can also express a hypothetical applying to the present, it's context (or words like "nå" and "i går") that tells you whether the speaker means past or present when you’re translating from Norwegian to English.
July 7, 2019


Sorted by top post

Very good. I have only a few comments.

About 'om' instead of 'hvis'. It's definitely not out of use, but it may be more common in some dialects than others. ("Om det ikkje går buss dit du skal", it's from 1981 but this would be worded the same way today).

"Hvis du ikke kommer, blir hun skuffet" vs "Hvis ikke du kommer, blir hun skuffet" The last variant would not be that common, mostly because there's a nuance there. The simplest description would "hvis du ikke": if you DON'T vs "hvis ikke du": if YOU don't.

"er du snill" is not equivalent to "hvis du er snill". "er du snill" is a short form of "hvis du kan være så snill", in other words, "please". "hvis du er snill" means "if you behave", which is not what's meant here. That's something you would maybe say to a child: "Du kan se på TV hvis du er snill".

I'm not sure I understood your question about using future tense in what you call "Open condtions". But you can say "Hvis du er hjemme, kommer jeg til å besøke deg" as an equivalent to "Hvis du er hjemme, besøker jeg deg".

In the sentence "hvis han var der, var han gal" I would use ".. , så var han gal", but some people will drop 'så' everyhwhere it's possible, so both are OK.

The sentence "Hvis du var hjemme nå, besøkte jeg deg nå." is grammatically correct, but, as you say, probably confusing for many people because it translates to something like "Imagine that even though the two of use are talking (in this place or over the phone, whatever), if you had actually been at home at this moment, then I would also be there, visiting you". It's a bit of a handful because the listener would wonder about what the speaker is really thinking about. Thus confusing.

July 9, 2019

I live in Norway and did a course there. Norwegian is also the language I use at work. There is actually a difference between om and hvis and both are in use. Hvis is more conditional, "if he comes he can join in" "Hvis han kommer kan er være med." Om shows a certain level of uncertainty. "Jeg vet ikke om han kommer eller ikke." "I dont know if he is coming or not".

I also checked this with my norwegian boyfriend just to be sure. Hope it helped!

July 9, 2019

Although if you are Norwegian and disagree with me let me know lol I did try to check I'm not chatting BS but you never know lol

July 9, 2019

Hi, thanks for the comment!

I think you’re right. I sort of touch on this in the post, but you’ve alerted me to a mistake there. I wrote “introduce an indirect statement after å vite, å spørre, etc”. But I think it’s an indirect question, not statement.

Have now edited. Thanks!

July 9, 2019

" Jeg vet ikke om han kommer eller ikke." "I dont know if he is coming or not".

Good example. That's a sentence where 'hvis' can't be used, you can only use 'om'. But it's harder to come up with a definite grammatical rule for this, but I'm sure an actual linguist could provide one.

July 19, 2019
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