Norwegian vs English


Norwegian airplaneThis article looks at different aspects of Norwegian compared to English for TEFL teachers with Norwegian students.

It’s often said that Norwegian is closely related to English and if you know one language it is easy to pick up the other. 

However, there are differences and if you are an English teacher in Norway then the kinds of errors you might come across from your students may well look like these.


Like English, Norwegian is a Germanic language so there are many similarities between it and English giving Norwegian students plenty of signposts when reading and understanding an English text.

bread = brød
milk = melk/mjølk
coffee = kaffe/kaffi
tea = te

…to name but a few. However, whilst there are a great many cognates, there are also quite a few false friends‏‎ including:

aktor = prosecutor
bare = only
bra = good
butt = thick, blunt
fag = subject
hell = good luck
late = seem
love = promise
men = but
rape = burp
sky = cloud
slips = man’s tie
smell = bang, pop
time = hour
travel = busy

For a longer list, see here.


Norwegian word order is very similar to English and follows the usual SVO pattern and even with longer sentences Norwegian shows a remarkable similarity to English.

There are other grammatical similarities, too. For example to make the possessive in Norwegian they add an ‘s’ to the end of the word as we do in English:

man = mann
bike = sykkel
man’s bike = manns sykkel

One small issue, however, is with the possessive apostrophe which will have to be carefully explained.

Another common problem you will come across in teaching Norwegian students is the difference between:

it is
there are

Subject-Verb agreement‏‎ errors are arguably the most common grammar mistakes Norwegian students make.


In general, the English verb system‏‎ is more complex than the Norwegian. Time will need to be spent on this aspect of teaching.

For example, forming the passive voice‏‎ is easy in Norwegian but it is more difficult in English and this can sometimes cause issues.

Another problem you may find is when students make a negative. A Norwegian may well say:

* I not like that.

an asterisk at the beginning of a sentence indicates that it is not grammatically correct

Using the auxiliary verb to make the negative will have to be taught well.


In Norwegian grammar, a period or full stop is used after a number so, for example you might see:

we know that World War 2 began in 1939 = vi vet at 2. verdenskrig begynte i 1939.

Just make sure your students know that in English digits are treated essentially as words and are not followed by a full stop unless they’re at the end of a sentence.


Norwegian is very similar to Swedish and Danish; the written form is more similar to Danish, the spoken form more similar to Swedish. (As you can imagine, if political boundaries were different, these 3 languages would probably be as dialects rather than languages).

Image © Leoncio J

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