Grammatiske kjønn og bøyning
“Grammatical genders and inflection”
In Norwegian there are three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Genders affect the inflection of nouns, and of adjectives and pronouns applied to them.
Certain dialects may combine the masculine and feminine genders into a ‘common’ gender, mostly due to the fact that Danish was considered the mark of an elite education (much like French in England following the Norman invasion), which influenced Norwegian as a result. Certain books I’ve read claim that there are only two genders in Bokmål, but this is an oversimplification — constructions like «jenten min» will sound awkward to most natives. So I will use three genders, and you can choose to reduce this to two, if you feel the need.
All nouns are considered to have one of these three genders. There is no real pattern, so you will have to learn the nouns’ genders by rote. You’ll want to learn nouns in their full indefinite singular form (see below). By far the most frequent gender is the masculine.
Nouns of each gender have different inflections for indefinite singular (“a ___”), definite singular (“the ___”), indefinite plural (“___s”), and definite plural (“the ___s”). In the following table the inflection patterns are emboldened:
|“a ___”||“the ___”||“___s”||“the ___s”|
|Neuter||year||et år||året||år||årene / åra|
There are, as always, exceptions to these rules, but they are very widely applicable: cut off any trailing ‘e’, and add the correct suffix. (Indefinite plural neuter nouns are unchanged.) You may also see «en uke» and «uken», which are valid in certain dialects. Likewise, «årene» and «åra» are dialectal variants.
One of the most common exceptions is that if a gendered (masculine or feminine) noun already ends in ‘-er’, such as en lærer (“a teacher”), the indefinite and definite plurals are «lærere» and «lærerne» respectively, presumably to keep things from getting too out of hand. Another exception is that gendered nouns ending in ‘-el’ drop the ‘e’, such as en sykkel (“a bicycle”), which pluralises to «sykler» and «syklene». The second ‘k’ is dropped to avoid the ugly ‘kkl’ consonant cluster.
Adjectives are also inflected differently according to the gender of the noun to which they are applied. The general pattern is thus:
An adjective applied to a neuter or plural will be inflected with ‘-t’ or ‘-e’, respectively. If the adjective ends in a vowel the neuter suffix will be ‘-tt’, as in ny (“new”), which inflects to «nytt». An adjective is not inflected for neuter nouns if it ends in ‘-ig’ or ‘-lig’, or if it ends in ‘-sk’ and is either polysyllabic, has a consonant that is not ‘r’ before the suffix, or is a nationality.
An adjective ending in ‘-er’ or ‘-en’ applied to a plural noun drops the ‘e’, such as makaber (“macabre”), which becomes «makabre», and lunken (“lukewarm”), «lunkne».
Liten (“little”) is one exception that inflects differently even for masculine and feminine nouns, as shown in the table below.
The third word class gender affects is that of personal pronouns. The word for “it” depends on the thing’s gender, and possessives depend on the gender of the possession.
|I / me||jeg||meg||meg||min||mi||mitt||mine|
|he / him||han||ham||seg||hans||hans||hans||hans|
|she / her||hun||henne||seg||hennes||hennes||hennes||hennes|
|we / us||vi||oss||oss||vår||vår||vårt||våre|
|they / them||de||dem||seg||deres||deres||deres||deres|
You’ll probably want to commit this table to memory.
Den, det, and de can also be used as articles when an adjective is applied to a definite noun. However, when the noun is definite the plural form of the adjective is used instead. For example, one might talk about «den lange uka» (“the long week”), or «det store toget» (“the big train”), or indeed «de grammatiske kjønnene» (“the grammatical genders”).
As you learn Norwegian you’ll probably make a good few mistakes with regards to gender, especially with all the exceptions. (God knows I do.) But it’s worth keeping these rules in mind, and it’ll no doubt sink in eventually. One website I have found invaluable in learning Norwegian grammar is Bokmålsordboka, from the University of Oslo, which lists all the words’ inflections so you can check you’re using the right ones.
Hope that helps. :)