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General tips and notes

(work in progress)


Ham is used

  • after a preposition (Jeg ga den til hamI gave it to him)
  • as direct object (Jeg så hamI saw him)
  • as indirect object (Jeg ga ham sjokoladenI gave him the chocolate)

Ham and han are fully interchangeable in the contexts listed above. This has been the case for nearly eighty years. Distinguishing the two in speech is difficult.

In the course you will often see that only ham is in the best translation. This does not mean that they are not equal. Since we have to limit the number of best translations, we often only include ham. However, if you ever get a typo warning for han in a context listed above, send us a report.

<h1>The missing indefinite article</h1>

In English you always include the indefinite article (except in rare cases and in certain expressions). In Norwegian you can often omit the article for countable nouns. When you should and when you cannot omit the indefinite article is something that is natural for a native speaker, and it can be very tricky for a beginner. The following is a set of rules and guidelines that should help:

  • The indefinite article is omitted when the noun characterises rank, occupation, (social) class, position/job, nationality, religion etc.:
    • Hun er lege
    • Abel ble sauegjeter
    • Han er sosialdemokrat og katolikk
    • De valgte ham til konge
  • However, when the predicate noun characterises a person, attributing him/her, the article is used:
    • Han er en tyv
    • […] en løgner
    • […] et fjols
    • […] et svin
  • Also when you add an adjective, you need to use the article:
    • Han er offiser
    • Han er en tapper offiser – You cannot say "Han er tapper offiser"
  • When the subject is det you need the article:
    • Det var en lege
    • Det var en bedrager

The following pairs should hopefully demonstrate important differences between including and omitting the article:

  • Han er klovn: He is a clown by profession
  • Han er en klovn: He is a clown/oaf

  • Han var lærer for meg: He was my teacher (teacher by profession)

  • Han var en lærer for meg: He was teaching/tutoring me, but he was not necessarily a teacher (by profession)

  • Harald er konge: Harald is a king (a monarch)

  • Bach er en konge i musikken

  • Hun er mor (til fem barn): She is a mother

  • Hun er en mor for dem: She is like a mother to them
<h1>The disagreeing adjective agreement</h1>

In the adjective skill you learned that adjectives must agree with the noun: They receive the suffices -t or -e, depending on gender, number and definite form. That is obviously too easy, so let us look at some exceptions:

Let us start by looking at the following sentences:

  • Gutten er frisk
  • Barnet er friskt
  • Barna er friske

Then let us study these:

  • Vitnet ble usikker
  • Barnet er usedvanlig frekk
  • Geniet var gal

In the latter examples the adjectives were not suffixed with -t. This would normally be the case for neuter nouns, but in these sentences the nouns' natural gender were considered. vitnet (the witness, a man or a woman) is considered male or female, hence the agreement with masculine/feminine. The same goes for barnet (the child, a girl or a boy) and other (neuter) nouns that characterise a person. This rule/exception will probably not be a big problem for a learner, but keep it in mind when declining predicatives.

Expressions and idioms

Adjectives are generally left uninflected when they are part of an expression. This is best illustrated with a series of examples:

  • De var redde – They were afraid
  • De var redd for elgen – They were scared of the moose

  • De var klare – They were ready

  • De var klar over problemet – They were aware of the problem

  • Vi er glade – We are happy

  • Vi er glad i å bade – We love to go swimming
  • Vi er glad i deg – We love you

  • Dyret er trygt – The animal is safe

  • Dyret er trygg for rovdyr – The animal is safe from predators
  • Dyret føler seg tryggThe animal feels safe

  • Hestene var frie/fri – They were free

  • Kvinnene er fri for bekymringer
  • Varene er fri for avgifter

  • Er fengslene sikre? – Are the prisons secure/safe?

  • Er dere sikker på det? – Are you sure about that?

  • Pingvinene var tålmodige – The penguins were patient

  • Pingvinene var tålmodig med fotografen – The penguins were patient with the photographer

  • Søstrene er like – The sisters are alike/similar

  • Barna er lik sin far – The children are like their father

You will find many more expressions like these. There are also many verb + predicative combinations that behave the same way.

Sometimes the difference between the inflected and uninflected form changes the meaning of the sentence:

  • Vi har alltid vært glad i dette huset – We have always liked this house
  • Vi har alltid vært glade i dette huset – We have always been happy in(side) this house

  • Vi er ikke enig – We do not agree (with you) (But we agree with each another)

  • Vi er ikke enigeWe do not agree with each other

  • Ola og Kari er gift – Ola and Kari are married (to each other)

  • Ola og Kari er gifte – Ola and Kari are both married (but not to one another)

Unless choosing the wrong form changes the meaning of the sentence, you will most likely always be understood, even if you make a mistake. It is not uncommon for native Norwegians to make these mistakes. Having access to a good dictionary with extensive lists of expressions and usage examples will be of great help when learning the differences.

Collective nouns

Certain words can refer to numerous people. You may think of the following words as plural, even though they are strictly singular: ektepar, befal, ledelse, styre, personale etc.:

  • Ekteparet var lykkelige
  • Befalet er sinte

Whether words like these are considered singular or plural depends on whether they are considered as one unit or a group of people. Context is also important. Teams, like football teams, are often used as plural:

  • Brann var sjanseløse

(Brann (meaning fire) is a Norwegian football team.)

Jeg og du er flink…e?

When numerous nouns in singular are coordinated, use plural:

  • Ola og Kari er trøtte

However, when referring to the nouns as one, use singular:

  • Håret og skjegget til mannen var langt

Den blå(e)

Adjectives ending with a stressed vowel do not need -e in definite form:

  • en sky hest – den sky/skye hesten – de sky/skye hestene
  • ei rå gulrot – den rå/råe gulroten – de rå/råe gulrøttene
  • en blå blyant – den blå/blåe blyanten – de blå/blåe blyantene

Sunt, godt, populært, dyrt

You may have seen sentences like

  • Sjokolade er godt
  • Røyking er usunt
  • Å gå med briller er populært

These are perfectly fine, yet they do not follow the rules: You would expect Sjokolade er god, since sjokolade is masculine. Certain adjectives, like sunn, god, populær and dyr are written with -t when used like this:

  • Å spise for mye er ikke sunt
  • Elektriske tog er lønnsomt (or Det er lønnsomt med elektriske tog)
  • En ny bil ville ikke være så dumt
  • Grønnsaker er både godt og sunt
May 25, 2015



Ham and han are interchangeable (in those contexts)? Wow, I didn't know that. Thank you for the useful tips! :)


This is actually a fairly recent change in the language, it wasn't until a few years ago that Språkrådet (The Norwegian Language Council, sprakradet.no) made "ham" effectively obsolete. Some of the language purists out there object it furiously! You will also find that "ham" is used pretty commonly among middle-aged people and up, while it's fairly common for young people to just use "han".

  • 243

"ham" can be replaced by "han" in all contexts, when the meaning of "ham" translates to "him" in English.


What about other pronoun pairs? Can we replace dem with de, henne with hun, or oss with vi?

Why has this change happened in 'Norwegian but not in Danish?


I have added another section, this time about adjectives. Next time I will split the sections into separate discussion topics, and link to them from this page.


Thanks! this has been very helpful.


Re. article. if i remember correctly, in English there was also a difference relate to location and purpose. i go to churh (meaning to attend the religious service/ to pray) as differnt from i go to the church (meaning it could also be to visit it). same situation as I go to museum vs. i go to the museum... is this correct?


Hi! As a native English speaker, I definitely agree with you about the "I go to church" vs "I go to the church" distinction-- but just saying "I go to museum" sounds awkward to me.


I agree with Mala, but I'll add that there are definitely some cases where the distinction is made, such as "class," "school," "practice," "jail," "court," "rehab" and "production" (as in, we need to get the budget finalized because we go into production in 4 weeks). The words that take this distinction may vary somewhat between British and other varieties of English.


You can't say I go to museum.


Ah, the missing article was a mystery to me indeed. I was confused when I should/shouldn't apply them. Also sometimes with prepositions like på, I get confused about when I should use them...


"på" indeed deserves a few words. I will put it on my list. Right now I am writing about a different subject.


I thought that han is for 'he' and ham is 'his'. Is this correct?

  • "han": "he" (or "him")
  • "ham": "him"
  • "hans": "his".

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