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Preteritum – Norwegian past tense

Preteritum is one of the two most important tenses in Norwegian. In this article you will learn how we create it, how to deal with the verb conjugation and find answers to frequently asked questions.

preteritum norwegian past tenses

When do we use the preteritum time?

Simply put, when you talk about the past. And if you need a more comprehensive answer, use it when you need it:
  • you indicate when an event took place in the past,
  • you focus on the events of the past, not their effects (or any other connection to the present – that’s what a perfektum is for),
  • you’re talking about unreal situations in hvis/da construction,
  • you want to be very polite (instead of Jeg vil… you can tell Jeg ville…).

A few examples:

John kom til Norge i 2016.
Sigrun ble født i Bodø, men da hun var 30 år gammel, flyttet hun til Tromsø.
Hvis jeg var deg, ville jeg ikke selge dette huset.
Kunne du bringe papirene fra kontoret?

What is the difference between preteritum and perfektum?

Perfektum focuses on the effect, and the preteritum focuses on the fact that something happened and possibly when it happened. Perfektum emphasizes that something lasts or has lasted from the past to the present. Preteritum points to the finished actions.

a person + a verb transformed into a preteritum

Creating the Norwegian past tense is easy and the construction itself is rarely difficult. If you remember the sentence order, everything will be fine.

The problem (as always in language learning) is to remember the variety of verbs. Fortunately, Norwegian verbs do not change by persons or numbers. So there are only two forms to remember: preteritum and perfektum partisipp.

How do we conjugate verbs?

Many of the Norwegian verbs have an irregular variation. Even if they receive the same endings as other verbs, there may be a change of vowels in the word.

So before you start analyzing groups, think about whether you need it. Remembering all these rules is a lot of work, and I know from my teaching experience that they are quickly forgotten.

What is my proposal?

First, treat all verbs as if they were irregular. Learn in threes:

infinitive – preteritum – perfektum partisipp

You don’t need to learn them together with presens form, because you know how to create them, and there are few exceptions and you probably already know them.

å se – så – sett
å bo – bodde – bodd
å komme – kom – kommet

Read them rhythmically, one to three. They sound better this way and are easy to remember.

One more remark. Many people learn the form of perfektum partisipp together with the verb har. Don’t do it. It’s an extra word that spoils the rhythm and also takes up unnecessary space in your notes – think about the environment.

In addition, har is not the only verb you can use together with perfektum partisipp. It might as well be er, var, blir or ble. So don’t limit yourself to har.

Groups of Norwegian verbs
Are you ready to learn the rules related to groups? Here we go.

Group 1

The subject of the verb
Each verb consists of a theme and an ending. In Norwegian, the theme of a verb is the same as its commanding form: without the -e ending (if it has one). Therefore, as a rule, we do not double “e” in the verbs.

This is the largest group of Norwegian verbs. It includes weak (regular) verbs whose subject matter:

It ends with a double consonant – it can be two identical consonants, or two different consonants,
ends with a single consonant: -d or -t.
To change a verb, you need to add an ending to the verb subject. I will give them in the order of preteritum, perfektum.

Ends: -et, -et

Some Norwegians also use ends: -a, -a.

They belong to this group:

å slutte – sluttet – sluttet
å miste – mistet – mistet
å arbeide – arbeidet – arbeidet

Group 2
In this group you will find verbs whose subject matter:

ends with a single consonant,
ends with two consonants, which we pronounce as one sound: -ld, -lg,-nd, -ng,
ends up with two of the same consonants: -mm, -nn, -ll, -rr.
Ends: -te, -t

For example:

å smile – smilte – smilt
å lese – leste – lest
å høre – hørte – hørt

If the verb topic ends with two identical consonants, one of them will be reduced:

å spille – spilte – spilt
å begynne – begynte – begynt

In some verbs there may be an exchange of vowels in the subject matter:

å spørre – spurte – spurt
å selge – solgte – solgt
å telle – talte – talt

Group 3

Some verbs may belong to several groups at the same time. They change in different ways and all of them are correct.

This group includes verbs whose subject matter:

ends with a single consonant: -v, -d, -g,
ends in a diphthong – a double vowel: -ie, -ye, -øy, -ei, -ai, -au.
Ends: -de, -d.

Here you will find verbs such as:

å øve – øvde – øvd
å pleie – pleide – pleid
å klage – klagde – klagd

Group 4
The last group consists of verbs whose subject matter:

is a single-syllabic ending in a vowel.
Endings: -dde, -dd.

Among these verbs are:

å bo – bodde – bodd
å bry – brydde – brydd
å skje – skjedde – skjedd

Frequently asked questions about preteritum

Can I use the Norwegian past tense like English?

If you talk about the past, there is nothing left to do but to use preteritum. I have already mentioned more than once that in Norway there are actually two tenses: the present and the past. Within these times, there are different constructions. The most basic of these is the preteritum.

Problems arise when the past has a close connection with the present. In English we mix then the past and the present, and in Norwegian the perfektum (which in fact is in the present tense) appears in this place.

How can I use the past tense in dependent speech?

I often see people working on the succession of time and the use of preteritum perfektum (pluskvamperfektum). This is a big topic for a separate article. Fortunately, it is much simpler than it seems.

I think that preteritum perfektum is only needed in very specific situations. In everyday communication you may not use it at all. At this point all doubts disappear. Whether the superior sentence is in time presens (Jeg sier at…) or in preteritum (Jeg sa at…), the past tense in the subordinate sentence remains unchanged.

That’s right, and how is it compatible with the consistency of tense?

I’m glad you asked, because it’s an often overlooked issue. There are, in fact, two variants here.

If you speak in the present tense and in the context of the present, you can use all the times (except maybe preteritum perfektum),
When you talk about events from the past or speak in the context of the past, then you should not usually use the present tense and turn all constructions into their equivalents into preteritum.
In the latter case, I speak as a rule, because you will always find the context when the present tense is correct. If you are not sure, use the past tense – it will be correct and understandable, even if it does not sound good in English.

Do I have to learn 3 forms at the same time?

Of course you don’t have to, but look at it in the long run. Now that you start learning the past tense, it may seem too much. But once you start using the perfective time, you’ll be grateful that you don’t have to go back to learning the same verbs again. In short, invest time now to make it easier for you in the (near) future.

What kind of structures do we use in the past tense?

preteritum perfektum
preteritum futurum
preteritum futurum perfektum

To sum up
Norwegian tenses grammar
The Norwegian past tense has some of its intricacies. The construction itself is simple, but vocabulary often becomes a barrier. To feel confident, you will need to spend some time on verbs and practicing their use in speech. Even the best “forged” list is useless when you don’t know how to construct a sentence at the right time.

Start with simple exercises for a change of verb from head to toe. You can use cards for this, or build simple sentences in the journal. Then go on to change the time of the whole text.

Finally, there is the distinction between preteritum and perfektum, and the smooth application of these times in your utterances.

Remember that all this comes with time. Therefore, take a deep breath and think that step by step you will reach your goal. Just a moment a day is enough, and soon you will be able to speak easily during preteritum.

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