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Definite determiners in Norwegian

This page relates to the application A Norwegian Grammar Sparrer, see A Norwegian Grammar Sparrer.

On clicking on the icon below, you will come to the Sparrer:


Instructions for its use are found at Classroom:Norwegian Grammar Checking

Main principles

The occurrence of a Noun without a determiner, or Adj + Noun without a determiner, is in principle allowed in Norwegian, but with two restrictions, one very sharp, and one less sharp.

The sharp restriction is:

      A  definite (also called 'weak') adjective has to be preceded by a definite article or a demonstrative.

This means that strings like the following are ungrammatical (the asterisk means 'ungrammatical'):

  • svarte katten ('black cat')

(correct: den svarte katten' ('the black cat')')

  • gale avgjørelsene ('wrong decisions')

(correct: de gale avgjørelsene)

(Note that since plural strong adjective and weak adjective are of the same form, a lone-occurring form like svarte or gale, although ungrammatical as a weak form, can in principle have a plural interpretation.)

The less sharp restriction is:

       A singular indefinite noun with countable interpretation (with or without an adjective preceding it) 
       is often not felicitous without a determiner preceding it.

The exact conditions for when felicity obtains are not easy to pin down, and the topic is much discussed, under the heading ‘Bare Singulars’.

Another tendency to be aware of is that the pattern of a demonstrative preceding an indefinite form, as in den svarte katt', is best used with abstract reference or referring to types, whereas in a discourse context where referents are known and concrete, a definite form of the noun is preferred together with the demonstrative, as in den svarte katten' (i.e., a pattern called 'double definiteness').

The Determiner system

One often talks as if there is just one determiner per NP. However, the determiner system constitutes a whole field of items, strictly ordered and with some restructions on cooccurrence.


Numerals are non-inflected items, occurring generally before adjectives but after any of the other items standardly counted as definite determiners. Numerals themselves are neutral with regard to definiteness. Possible sequences are thus

tre små griser 'three little pigs'

de tre små grisene 'the three little pigs'

disse tre små grisene 'these three little pigs'

alle de tre små grisene 'all the three little pigs'

alle disse tre små grisene 'all these three little pigs'

Possible are also de tre små griser, disse tre små griser, alle de tre små griser, alle disse tre små griser.

The illformedness of

  • tre (små) grisene

shows the existence of a restriction analogous to the one above:

   A numeral preceding a definite noun has to be preceded by a definite determiner.

Genitives - possessive NPs and possessive pronouns

The term 'genitive' here subsumes possessive pronouns and NPs with an -s attached at the end (without apostrophe). Possessive pronouns come in three patterns, one comprising min ('my'), din ('your'), sin (reflexive 'his', 'her'), another comprising hans ('his'), hennes ('her'), dens ('its', masc and fem.), dets ('its', neut.), dennes ('this one's', masc and fem.), dettes ('that one's', neuter), deres (your', plur., and 'their', plur.), and the third comprising vår ('our'). The words in the second group do not inflect (being essensially the personal pronoun plus -s), while the first group inflects much like adjectives, exemplifying with min:

with a masculine singular noun:  min
with a feminine singular noun: mi
with a neuter singular noun: mitt
with a plural noun, any gender: mine

Vår has the pattern

with a masculine singular noun:  vår
with a feminine singular noun: vår
with a neuter singular noun: vårt
with a plural noun, any gender: våre

Genitives occupy the position otherwise held by the definite article, and they may be said to induce a definiteness effect in that they require the weak form of the adjective. Contrary to the definite article, however, the ensuing noun has to be in indefinite form (parenthesis indicating that the well- or illformedness indicated for the example prevails in the presence of either of the parenthesized words):

mine (tre) (små) griser ('my (three) (small) pigs')
min (lille) gris ('my (little) pig')
*min (lille) grisen
*mine (tre) (små) grisene
den rike bondens (tre) (små) griser ('the rich farmer's (three) (small) pigs')
den rike bondens (lille) gris
*den rike bondens (tre) (små) grisene

For possessive pronouns, another position of occurrence is immediately after the noun, which then has to be in definite form:

grisen min
*gris min
den lille grisen min
de tre grisene mine
*den lille gris min
*lille grisen min
*tre grisene mine

The last two examples show that also for this use of definite nouns, the requirements above imposed by preceding weak adjectives and numerals hold.

Related pages

The Noun Phrase - Norwegian

Agreement in Norwegian noun phrases

Possessive constructions in Norwegian

Gender in Norwegian nouns

Coordination marking in Norwegian

Sentence syntax - Norwegian

Subject-Verb Inversion in Norwegian

Sentence adverbials in Norwegian

Verb Complementation - Norwegian

Infinitives in Norwegian

Past and Perfective patterns in Norwegian

Personal pronouns in Norwegian

Reflexives - Norwegian

Reflexive verbs in Norwegian

Verb - Preposition expressions in Norwegian

--Lars Hellan (talk) 21:03, 27 December 2015 (CET)