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The Noun Phrase - Norwegian

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The Noun

Norwegian common nouns undergo two types of inflection: for number, and for definiteness. The inflection for number reflects a distinction singular vs. plural, and resides in a suffix for plural vs. no marking for singular. The inflection for definiteness reflects a distinction ‘definite’ vs. ‘indefinite’, and resides in a suffix marking definiteness vs. no marking in the case of indefiniteness. When a noun is both definite and in plural, this is marked by a single suffix expressing the two values in combination. There are thus four possible forms of a common noun in Norwegian:

No inflection signifying 'indefinite singular’
Single suffix signifying ‘indefinite plural’
Single suffix signifying ‘definite singular’
Single suffix signifying ‘definite plural’.

(A note on terminology: when characterizing something in quotes in the above list, like saying ‘indefinite plural’, we refer to grammatical concepts, or grammatical features, independently of how the grammar expresses these features. Thus, ‘indefinite' and 'plural’ are features, and also the general parameters ‘number’ and ‘definiteness’. The smallest units of expression are generally called morphs, dividing into segmental and suprasegmental morphs, the latter residing in tone, stress, and length, the former in words and affixes. Of affixes there are in general four types: prefix, suffix, infix and circumfix. Of these types, in Norwegian, the noun features under consideration materialize only as suffixes when expressed in the noun.)


See also Gender in Norwegian nouns.

Inherently, common nouns in Norwegian belong to a gender. There are three genders for nouns in Norwegian, ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’ and ‘neuter’, and a noun generally belongs to one of them. (In some versions of Norwegian there are only two genders, the marking of feminine having disappeared or nearly disappeared. In these versions, one sometimes refers to the remaining non-neuter gender as ‘common gender’. Here we will assume the three-gender system.) The gender of a noun reveals itself in the form of the inflections for number and definiteness; typical forms of the suffixes are as indicated below:

noun suffixes sorted by definiteness, number and gender
feature masculine feminine neuter
indefinite plural er er Ø (zero)
definite singular en a et
definite plural ene ene ene or a


See also Agreement in Norwegian noun phrases

The morphological shape of the noun sets its stamp on its environment, inside of the noun phrase (henceforth: NP) but also on adjectives connected to the NP via a copula. This ‘stamp-setting’ is standardly referred to as agreement, or concord. We first describe the NP internal patterns of agreement.

In an NP in Norwegian, the ordering of determiner, adjectives and nouns is strictly as follows:

I   Det		Adj		N

Both the determiner and the adjective agree partly with the noun with respect to the factors mentioned above, thus reflecting the gender of the noun, its number and its definiteness. While number and gender agreement occur in many languages, definiteness agreement is rarer, in Norwegian choosing one or the other of these patterns:

IIa    Det [Definite]	Adj [Definite]		N [Definite]
IIb    Det [Indefinite]	Adj [Indefinite]	N [Indefinite]


Determiners as a category comprise articles, demonstrative pronouns and quantifiers. Some of these items are listed below, in the required forms relative to the specification of the noun:

Occurring with a masculine noun

when ‘indefinite singular’: en (article), noen (quantifier, countable), noe (quantifier, non-countable), hver (univ. quantifier), all (quantifier, non-countable)

when ‘indefinite plural’: noen (quantifier), alle (univ.quantifier), ), begge (univ. quantifier for two), disse (demonstrative)

when ‘definite singular’ : den (article or demonstrative), all (quantifier, non-countable), denne (demonstrative)

when ‘definite plural’.: de (article or demonstrative), alle (univ.quantifier), begge (univ. quantifier for two), disse (demonstrative)

Occurring with a feminine noun

– same as for masculine, except for using indefinite singular ei rather then en.

Occurring with a neuter noun

when ‘indefinite singular’: et (article), noe (quantifier, countable), noe (quantifier, non-countable), hvert (univ. quantifier), alt (quantifier, non-countable)

when ‘indefinite plural’: noen (quantifier), alle (univ.quantifier), ), begge (univ. quantifier for two), disse (demonstrative)

when ‘definite singular’ : det (article or demonstrative), alt (quantifier, non-countable), dette (demonstrative)

when ‘definite plural’.: de (article or demonstrative), alle (univ.quantifier), begge (univ. quantifier for two), disse (demonstrative)

The constellations where a (definite) article or demonstrative occurs together with a definite form of the noun (singular or plural) is generally referred to as ‘double definiteness’. Since these manifestations of 'definiteness' can in principle occur independently of each other, we need to distinguish between noun-definiteness and det-definiteness, the former residing in the definite noun suffix, the latter in a definite article, a demonstrative or - to be seen below - a genitive.


When an adjective occurs in the ‘definite’ pattern, it has a so-called weak form, ending in –e.

In the strong form, i.e., when occurring in the indefinite pattern, the adjective has the following inflections:

with a masculine singular noun:

with a feminine singular noun: or –a

with a neuter singular noun: -t

with a plural noun, any gender: -e

(As may be be noted, weak form and strong plural form are identical.)

Syntactic patterns

Nouns can normally be omitted (given a context where they may be inferred), so that a Det or Det + Adj can constitute the nominal constituent.

Noun, or Adj + Noun, without a determiner are also normally allowed, but with two restrictions, one very sharp, and one less sharp.

The sharp restriction is:

III       A  definite (i.e., weak) adjective has to be preceded by a definite article or a demonstrative.

This means that strings like the following are ungrammatical:

* svarte katten  

(correct: den svarte katten)

* gale avgjørelsene 

(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:

IV    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 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 (i.e., a pattern of 'double definiteness').

The Determiner system

We have so far talked 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
de tre små grisene
disse tre små grisene
alle de tre små grisene
alle disse tre små grisene

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:

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

Genitives - possessive NPs and possessive pronouns

See also Possessive constructions in Norwegian.

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
min (lille) gris
*min (lille) grisen
*mine (tre) (små) grisene
den rike bondens (tre) (små) griser
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 III and V above imposed by preceding weak adjectives and numerals hold.


Quantifiers can be grouped according to two criteria: whether they cooccur with definite determiners and/or nouns or not, and whether they express universal or existential quantification. Inside of this four-ways classification, further contrasts obtain according to whether what is quantified over is countable or a mass, and if countable indicated by a plural or singular noun, and if singular, by a masc/fem vs. neuter noun:

alle       univ   unrestr  def/ind  count  pl
all        univ   unrestr  def/ind  mass   masc/fem
alt        univ   unrestr  def/ind  mass   neut
begge      univ   two      def/ind  count  pl
samtlige   univ   unrestr  def/ind  count  pl
hele       univ   unrestr  def      mass   sg
hver       univ   unrestr  indef    count  masc/fem
hvert      univ   unrestr  indef    count  neut
noen       exist  unrestr  indef    count  pl
noe        exist  unrestr  indef    mass   sg
mange      exist  pos      indef    count  pl
         exist  neg      indef    count  pl
mye        exist  pos      indef    mass   sg
litt       exist  neg      indef    mass   sg
lite       exist  neg      indef    mass   sg

The quantifiers marked as 'def' can precede all of the items occurring in the definite patterns:

alle (mine) (tre) (små) griser
alle den rike bondens (tre) (små) griser

In such sequences, even a demonstrative can occur between the quantifier and the genitive, as in

alle disse mine atten små griser

In contrast, quantifiers listed as 'indefinite' can normally just precede an adjective and the noun in a direct sequence (but may take partitive phrases containing definite NPs, as in

hver av mine tre griser

Summarizing, the maximal patterns that can occur with the 'definite' quantifiers are as indicated below:

VI   Maximal definite patterns:
                               UnivQuant  DefArt    Num  Adj  N
                               UnivQuant  Dem  Gen  Num  Adj  N

Personal pronouns, articles and demonstratives

See also Personal pronouns in Norwegian.

Personal pronouns divide by person, some by number, some by inherent gender, and some by case, as the only instances where a case distinction - nominative vs. accusative - plays a role in Norwegian. Reflexive use of a personal pronoun is restricted to accusative forms, obligatory for one form, namely seg in 3rd person, optional for the accusative forms in 1st and 2nd person, and impossible for the other forms in 3rd person (see further in Reflexives - Norwegian).

jeg    1p  sg            nominative
meg    1p  sg            accusative   reflexive_or_non-reflexive
du     2p  sg            nominative
deg    2p  sg            accusative   reflexive_or_non-reflexive
han    3p  sg   masc     nominative
ham    3p  sg   masc     accusative   non-reflexive
hun    3p  sg   fem      nominative
henne  3p  sg   fem      accusative   non-reflexive
den    3p  sg   masc/fem 
det    3p  sg   neut
seg    3p                accusative   reflexive_only
vi     1p  pl            nominative
oss    1p  pl            accusative   reflexive_or_non-reflexive
dere   2p  pl                         reflexive_or_non-reflexive
de     3p  pl            nominative
dem    3p  pl            accusative   non-reflexive

The forms den, det and de are homophonous to the definite articles.

The forms den, det, de and dem also have uses where they may be called demonstratives, here in a group with denne, dette and disse distinguished along a dimension of proximity (in space, discourse or attention):

den    3p  sg   masc/fem    non-proximate
det    3p  sg   neut        non-proximate
denne  3p  sg   masc/fem    proximate
dette  3p  sg   neut        proximate
de     3p  pl   nominative  non-proximate
dem    3p  pl   accusative  non-proximate
disse  3p  pl               proximate 

Related pages

Agreement in Norwegian noun phrases

Definite determiners in Norwegian

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

--Lars Hellan (talk) 20:17, 27 December 2015 (CET)