The Verbal Group

Morphosyntactic Categories and Conjugation Types The finite verb forms show a morphological opposition between present and preterite (simple past), cf. lever - levde 'live(s) - lived', BM gär - gikk, NN gjeng, gär - gjekk 'go(es) - went'. Norwegian present- and past-tense forms are not morphematically marked for person, number, mood or aspect. An optative ending -e is vestigially present in a small number of more or less phraseological locutions like leve Köngen!, Kongen level. In Bokmäl, this form is always homophonous with the infinitive. In New Norwegian it is in principle morphologically independent of the infinitive, being restricted to the -e- ending, whereas New Norwegian infinitives end in -e or -a.

As a special kind of finite verb form one may also consider the imperative. In Bokmäl it is in general formed by omitting any infinitive ending: arbeid flittig! 'work diligently!' The usual New Norwegian imperative is formed in the same way and is in like manner neutral with regard to the singular-plural opposition. In addition, New Norwegian weak verbs of the kaste/kasta class (see below) allow for an imperative homophonous with the infinitive (kasteH kasta! 'throw!'). A special New Norwegian plural imperative obligatorily ending in -e is also in principle available (k0yre! 'drive!').

On account of the relative paucity of Norwegian finite verb morphology the finite verb forms have a number of functions in addition to that of indicating present or past time reference. The present is often used to denote future time, and the preterite may express hypothetical or counterfactual meaning: BM jeg gjorde det nok hvis jeg var deg 'I'd probably do it if I were you'; or even a kind of emotionally tinged present; det var bra at du kom! 'it's good that you've come!' The verb morphology also provides no formal means to distinguish auctorial and reported speech acts. In indirect speech, the principle of consecutio temporum is applied: BM Per sa: 'Jeg gj0r det' —» Per sa at han gjorde det 'Per said, "I do it."' 'Per said that he did it'.

The infinite verb forms comprise the infinitive(s) and the so-called past and present participles.

There are two kinds of infinitive formations: (a) a small class of suffixless verb stem infinitives like gä 'go', tru 'believe'; and (b) infinitives with a suffixal morpheme, which is in Bokmäl -e. In New Norwegian it is optionally -e (vere 'be', koste 'throw') or -a (vera, kasta). Besides, both New Norwegian and Bokmäl allow for a so-called 'split' infinitive formation where -e and -a are distributed in accordance with Old Norse stem length (vera, koste). Due to differences of syntactic distribution infinitives occur either with or without a preposed particle ä (henceforth: ä- vs 0-infinitive). This particle is ambiguous between a verbal prefix and a subjunctional element. Very often it precedes the verb form directly: BM han hadde klart ikke ä gj0re noen feil 'he had managed not to make any mistakes', but a restricted set of adverbial elements, in particular the sentence negation BM ikke, NN ikkje, may intervene: NN han hadde klara à ikkje gjera nokon feilar. In coordinate structures, the second instance of à is often left out: BM han Ixrte à lese og skrive 'he learnt to read and write'.

The present participle is in all cases formed by adding BM -ende, NN -ande to the verb stem (BM lysende, NN lysande 'shining'). The formation of the past participle depends on the declension class of the verb. There is a general difference between Bokmâl and New Norwegian to the effect that in New Norwegian many participles are in certain constructions inflected according to the agreement rules and declensional class system of adjectives, whereas all Bokmâl verb constructions have an invariant supine form (see below). Bokmâl participial forms showing adjectival agreement are only possible with a restricted number of verbs and are then mainly used in attributive position: BM de nylig ankomme gjestene 'the guests who had recently arrived', Ibsens samlede verker 'the collected works of Ibsen'.

With regard to strong verbs, the Bokmâl inflectional paradigms are characterized by more analogical levelling and a certain influx of Danish forms as compared with the somewhat greater transparency of the Old Norse declensional system in New Norwegian. See Table 8.7. The greater regularity of the Bokmâl paradigms derive from the following facts. First, the present tense ending -(e)r has been generalized in Bokmâl, cf. BM skyter 'shoots', finner 'finds' vs NN skyt, jinn. (The subsidiary NN -er- forms are seldom used.) Second, New Norwegian still has some cases with vowel alternation in the present tense (NN s0v 'sleeps', held 'holds' vs BM sover, holder). Third, New Norwegian has in many cases inflecting participles as against invariant Bokmâl supine forms. In the latter connection it should be noted that the neuter form of the New Norwegian past participle has lost its final ~t which is retained in the corresponding Bokmâl supine, and that Bokmâl supine forms like sovet 'slept', sunget 'sung', coincide with respect to the -^-ending with the supine of the most productive class of weak verbs in traditional Bokmâl (e.g. kastet 'thrown'). Moreover, forms like tatt 'taken', sett, NN sedd 'seen' are examples of participle formations originating with weak verbs (see below). This tendency is far stronger in Bokmâl than in New Norwegian, as is indicated by the numerous Bokmâl supine forms like bitt 'bitten', brutt 'broken', grâtt 'cried' vs NN bite/biti, brote/broti, grâte/grâti. On the whole, more originally strong verbs have become weak in Bokmâl than in New Norwegian, cf. the New Norwegian preterites drap 'killed', las 'read', bles 'blew', togg 'chewed' vs BM drepte, leste, blâste, tygde (RM even tygget), (but BM hjalp 'helped', trajf 'met' vs NN hjelpte, trefte). However, a supine system is now, as a subsidiary option, accepted even in New Norwegian due to its widespread use in the dialects: NN breva er skrivne [skrive] 'the letters have been written'.

The weak verbs inflect in accordance with the following main declension classes:

Table 8.7 Classes of strong verbs in Norwegian

Infinitive Present Preterite

Table 8.7 Classes of strong verbs in Norwegian

Infinitive Present Preterite





BB bite



NN driva/e 'drive'



BM drive




NN bryta/e 'break'






NN fyka/e 'blow'



BM fyke




NN drikka/e 'drink'






NN syngja/e, synga/e




BM synge




NN bera/e 'carry'



BM baere




NN beda/be 'ask'



BM be/bede 'pray'


bad [ba]

NN liggja/e, ligga/e 'lie' ligg


BM ligge


Participle/Supine pp. com. sg. pp. f. sg. pp. n. sgVsup.

biten [biti]

driven [drivi]

broten [broti]

foken [foki]

drukken [drukki]

sungen [sungi]

boren [bori]

beden [bedi]

bite/biti bitne bitt drive/drivi drivne drevet brote/broti brotne brutt foke/foki fokne f0ket drukke/drukki drukne drukket sunge/sungi sungne sunget bore/bori borne bSret bede/bedi/bedt/bedd bedne bedt lege/legi ligget

NN sova/e 'sleep' BM sove

NN hogga/e 'art' BM hogge, hugge ser ser tek [tar, teker] tar graet grater s0v[er] sover h0gg[er] hogger, hugger sâg sedd sett sedde sâ sett tok teken [teki] teke/teki [tatt] tekne tok tatt gret grâte/grâti grât grâtt sov sove/sovi sov sovet hogg hoggen [hoggi] hogge/hoggi hogne hogg hogd, hugd

1 NN infinitive ending -jaZ-je, no present tense suffix, -de as past tense suffix vs BM absence of -y-stem formation, suffix -er in the present tense, -te as past tense suffix, with or without vowel alternation, e.g.: NN telja (inf.) 'count' -tel (pres.) - talde [talte] (past) - tald [tait] (pp. sg. m./f.), talt (pp. sg. n. and sup.) - talde (pp. pi.) vs BM telle (inf.) - teller (pres.) - talteltelte (past) -talt/telt (sup.), NN selja (inf.) 'sell' - sel (pres.) - selde [selte] (past) - seld [selt] (pp. sg. m. f.), selt (pp. sg. n) - selde (pp. pi.) vs BM selge (inf.) - selger (pres.) - solgte (past) - solgt (sup.).

2 Consonantal stems with past tense ending -de or -te according to morphophonemic or lexical rules: NN byggja [bygga] (inf.) 'build' - byggjer [bygger] (pres.) - bygde (prêt.) - bygd (pp. sg. m./f.), bygt/bygd (pp. sg. n. and sup.) [bygd] (sup.), bygde (pp. pi.) vs BM bygge (inf.) - bygger (pres.)

- bygde (prêt.) - bygd (sup.), NN d0mma [d0ma] (inf.) 'judge' - d0mmer [d0mer] (pres.) - d0mde [d0mte] (prêt.) - d0md [d0mt] (pp. sg. m./f.), d0mt (pp. sg. n. and sup.) [d0md/d0mt] (sup.), d0mde (pp. pl.), NN senda (inf.) 'send' - sender (pres.) - sende [sendte] (prêt.) - send (pp. sg. m./f.), sendt (pp. n. and sup.), [send!sendt] (sup.), sende (pp. pi.) vs BM sende (inf.) - sender (pres.) - sendte (prêt.) - sendt (supine), NN lysa (inf.) 'shine' - lyser (pres.)

- lyste (prêt.) - lyst (pp. sg. and sup.), lyste (pp. pi.) vs BM lyse (inf.) - lyser (pres.) - lyste (prêt.) - lyst (sup.).

3 Vowel stems with past tense ending -dde : NN nâ (inf.) 'reach' - nàr (pres.)

- nâdde (prêt.) - nàdd (pp. sg. m./f.), nâtt/nâdd (pp. sg. n. and sup.), nâdde (pp. pi.) vs BM nâ (inf.) - nàr (pres.) - nâdde (prêt.) - nàdd (sup.).

4 Past tense and participle (supine) ending NN -a, BM -et I-a: NN kasta (inf.) 'throw' - kastar (pres.) - kasta (prêt.) - kasta (pp. and sup.) vs BM kaste (inf.)

- kaster (pres.) - kastet/kasta (prêt.) - kastet/kasta (sup.).

Again, New Norwegian has more morphological variation than NN. For instance, in the present tense of weak verbs New Norwegian has the endings -0 in Class I, -er in Class H, -r in Class HI, and -ar in Class IV, whereas Bokmâl with a couple of insignificant exceptions (sp0r 'asks', gj0r 'does') has generalized -er/-r. As with strong verbs, the use of invariant supine forms is now accepted in New Norwegian.

Lexical equivalents in New Norwegian and Bokmâl do not always belong to the same declensional class. Bokmâl (and even more so Riksmâl) tends to have as members of the most productive Class IV certain verbs which in New Norwegian belong to Class II, e.g. festal f este 'fasten'. As a rule, new verbs inflect according to Class IV, the only exception to this being verbs with the affix -ere I-era (galvanisere) which belong to Class H. Class IV is the only class where New Norwegian has neither a dental ending nor morphological variation with regard to number or gender agreement in the participle.

A few verbs constitute exceptions to the inflectional patterns described so far. To these 'irregular* verbs belong the four main modals kunne 'can'; matte 'must'; skulle 'shall'; BM ville, NN vilja 'will'. These have a 0-ending in the present (kan, mä, skal, vil) and a past tense without a dental suffix, but with an -e -ending, and they are thus homophonous with the corresponding Bokmäl infinitives. The past participle in Bokmäl is formed with the -ef-ending of weak verbs of Class IV (Jkunnet etc.), whereas New Norwegian has -a (Jkunna etc.).

Morphologically reflexive verbs constitute an inflectional class of their own. The reflexive suffix in New Norwegian is -st [-$], which entails the -a-ending of the infinitive, and in Bokmäl -s. The -r of the present-tense ending is deleted, thus yielding the following regular patterns: BM m0tes -m0tes - m0ttes - m0ttes 'meet' vs NN m0tast - m0test - m0ttest - m0tst. Special morphophonemic rules give rise to Bokmäl forms like undres (inf., pres., pp.) 'wonder' and undredes (past). Reflexive verbs with the -s(f)-suffix are in general lexicalized, the productive reflexive formation being the construction with a reflexive pronoun: NN eg vaskar meg, du vaskar deg, han/ ho vaskar seg 'I/you/he/she wash(es)'. The -s(t)-verbs form no unitary semantic class, some being reciprocal, like NN m0tastlBM m0tes, others rather 'medial', cf. BM undres 'wonder', and still others have a lexicalized passive meaning, like BM kalles 'be called'.

Apart from its occurrence in lexicalized reflexive verbs, the s(0-suffix also functions as a verbal passive morpheme. It is then inflectionally defective in the modern language. In New Norwegian it is generally only used with infinitives in construction with modals: NN borna mä hentast f0r klokka tre 'the children will have to be picked up before three o'clock'. Bokmäl also has present-tense forms which most often express frequentative aspectual meaning: BM hver dag hentes barna klokken tre 'every day the children are picked up at three o'clock'.

In the domain of verb derivation both prefixal and post-verbal particle formations are to a certain extent productive. Bokmäl and New Norwegian have prefixal verbs with indigenous prefixes, cf. mislike 'dislike', samarbeide 'cooperate', NN vanv0rda 'dishonour'. More specifically in Bokmäl there are a large number of verbs with originally German prefixes, like forstä 'understand', betale 'pay', forekomme 'occur', bifalle 'applaud', anmelde 'report', unnskylde 'excuse', anerkjenne 'recognize'. Traditionally, such verbs have for puristic reasons been disallowed in New Norwegian, but a fair number of them, especially verbs with for- and be-, are now fully integrated elements of New Norwegian vocabulary. Likewise, most composite verbs with a prefixed Norwegian preposition or adverb are translation loans of German verbs with a prefix, e.g. overleve 'survive', etterforske 'investigate', inneholde 'contain'. Traditional New Norwegian reluctance towards such formations seems to be on the wane. More typically and indigenously Norwegian are composite verbs with a prefixed noun or adjective, e.g.

saumfare 'scrutinize', lovfeste 'establish by law', saks0ke 'sue'. The most productive verbal lexeme formation pattern is presumably the combination of a verb and a post-verbal adverbial or prepositional particle, e.g. gi bort 'give away', holde ut 'endure', legge sammen 'add', ta til 'begin', bxre over (med) 'be patient (with)', g& med (pd) 'consent (to)'. Occasionally, a prefixal and a post-verbal particle formation with the same lexical element coexist. Often there is then hardly any semantic difference between the two formations, cf. inndele: dele inn 'classify', utgi: gi ut 'issue', uttenke : tenke ut 'devise'. The particle formation is preferred in New Norwegian cf.: BM de fremsatte/satte fram et forslag vs NN dei sette fram eit forslag 'they made a proposal'. In some verb couplets of this kind the prefixal and the post-verbal particle formation differ semantically, the latter having a more basic and the former a more abstract or metaphorical meaning, e.g. kalle fram 'summon' -framkalle 'produce', bryte av 'break off - avbryte 'interrupt'. New Norwegian has fewer such couplets than Bokmdl/Riksmdl, but compare, for example, BM/NN vende (seg) om 'turn around' - omvende 'convert\f0re ut 'lead outside' - utf0re 'export/carry through'.

Auxiliaries and Periphrastic Constructions

The non-finite verb forms partake of a variety of verbal constructions consisting of a governing finite (or non-finite) verb and a governed non-finite verb form. The present participle occurs only in a small number of rather special cases, and the ¿-infinitive is in general part of a complementation system with governing verbs not having the specialized semantic and grammatical functions of traditional auxiliaries. The past participle and the 0-infinitive are, on the other hand, predominantly found in auxiliary constructions.

Temporal Auxiliaries

The perfect and pluperfect are formed with the present and past, respectively, of ha 'have' or BM vxre, NN vera 'be'. Ha is universally possible, whereas vxre, vera is used optionally with verbs indicating change of state or location: BM han har kj0pt boken 'he has bought the book', de hadde danset lenge 'they had been dancing for a long time', NN dei var nett komne/hadde nett kome til staden 'they had only recently arrived in town'. Bokmdl has the uninflected supine in all perfect constructions. In New Norwegian the perfect with vera is formed with inflecting participles agreeing in gender or number with the subject of the sentence (but the supine is a subsidiary option even here). Just like its counterpart in English, the Norwegian perfect cannot be used for narration and is thus in clear opposition to the past tense. Hence it is in general not combined with adverbials denoting past-tense reference: BM *jeg har gjort det for to uker siden (lit.) *'I've done it two weeks ago'. It is also the natural expression for combined past- and present-tense reference: NN eg har butt her sidan ifjor 'I've been living here since last year'.

Futurity is often expressed by the present tense: NN han kjem nok i morgon 'he'll probably come tomorrow', BM den token kj0per vi senere 'we'll buy that book later'. Auxiliary constructions with the largely desemanticized modals skulle 'shall' and ville 'will' are equally common: du vil like denne boka 'you'll like this book', NN eg skal gjera det seinare 'I'll do it later'. In addition, the deictic verb komme 'come' with the directional prepositional particle til and the ¿-infinitive is an unequivocal, non-modal expression of futurity: NN heile familien kjem til & emigrera til Amerika 'the whole family is going to emigrate to America'. The notion of completion in the future may be expressed by the perfect: NN han har nok skrive brevet f0r du kjem 'he'll have written the letter before you arrive'; or by means offd 'get' with the past participle: BM han f&r gjort det til i morgen 'he'll have it done by tomorrow*; or by the preterite of desemanticized skulle/ville with the infinitive perfect: BM jeg skal/han vil ha ordnet alt f0r neste uke 'I/he'll have it all arranged before next week'; or by corresponding constructions with the present of komme 'come': NN han kjem til d ha/fa gjort arbeidet ferdig f0r neste uke 'he'll have the work completed before next week'. Past future is expressed by the preterite of skulle/ville with the infinitive: BM han sa at han skulle/ville tenke pd det 'he said he'd think about it'. In non-embedded sentences only skulle is used with a prospective sense: det skulle gd mange arf0r han kom 'many years were to pass before he came'. In oratio tecta,fd is used: NN han fekk gjera det seinare 'he'd have to do it later'.


The traditional modals govern the 0-infinitive. Constructions with die infinitive perfect are semantically diverse. With the present tense of the modal, they carry an epistemic (or in the case of skulle, reportive) meaning: han mat skal ha gjort det 'he must/is assumed to have done it'; but when the modal is in the preterite, the meaning switches to deontic counterfactuality: han skulle ha gjort det 'he ought to have done it'. Whereas skulle in counterfactual expressions still retains its basic meaning of obligation, ville is a modally desemanticized marker of counterfactuality: BM det ville ha vxrt fint 'that would have been fine'. Contrary to what is the case in constructions with the present tense of modals and the perfect infinitive, deletion of the auxiliary ha is not only possible, but even highly usual in counterfactual constructions: han skulle (ha) reist dit 'he should have gone there'.

The counterfactual use of the simple preterite with the infinitive present, e.g. BM hadde jeg vinger, skulle jeg fly 'if I had wings, I'd fly', is restricted to present or rather non-past time reference. To express past counterfactuality, the pluperfect or the preterite of a modal in combination with the infinitive perfect or the past participle is used: BM hvis jeg hadde hatt vinger, skulle jeg (ha) fl0yet. It is worth noting that the latter are also freely used with non-past (present or future) time reference.

Modal fd 'get' with the 0-infinitive vacillates between permissive and obligative deontic meaning: BM han f&r slippe den pr0ven 'he'll have to be exempted from that test', han fär gj0re brevet ferdig 'he shall have to finish the letter'. BM beh0ve, trenge, NN trenga, turva with the 0- or &- infinitive function as the negative counterpart of m&tte 'must': BM du beh0ver ikke (&) gj0re det, NN du tarv ikkje gjera det 'you needn't do it'.

Passive Auxiliaries

The usual actional passive auxiliary is bli and in New Norwegian also verta: bilen blir vaska 'the car is being washed', NN huset vart/blei seit 'the house was sold'. The statal passive with BM vxre, NN vera denotes (the result of) a completed action: NN huset er seit 'the house is sold'. The present-tense statal passive is often understood to be temporally equivalent to the perfect active. The distinction between the statal passive and the perfect/pluperfect of the actional passive is also in many cases less than clear-cut: BM han er (blitt) valgt til stortingsmann 'he has been elected a member of parliament'. The Bokmäl passive is formed with the invariant supine form: de ble kj0rt hjem, but New Norwegian has a participle agreeing in gender or number with the subject: dei vart k0yrde heim 'they were driven home' (with the supine construction as a subsidiary option).

Another kind of passive construction is formed with/ä 'get' and the supine or past participle: BM han fikk tilsendt b0kene 'the books were sent to him', or, with another word order which betrays the syntactic origin of the non-finite verb form as a predicative to the object: han fikk b0kene tilsendt. New Norwegian in addition makes a distinction between the supine: han fekk tilsendt b0kene, and the participle: han fekk b0kene tilsende, in accordance with the distributional variation.

New Norwegian also has a passive use of the present participle which is not paralleled in Bokmäl, and for which a variety of Bokmäl counterparts have to be used: compare for example, NN han er ventande heim 'he is expected home' vs BM han er ventet hjem; NN vegen er ikkje gäande 'the road is not fit for walking' vs BM veien er ikke til ägäpä; NN vatnet er drikkande 'the water is fit for consumption' vs BM vannet er drikkelig.


Aspectuality is only of marginal importance in the grammar. However, note should be taken of a common aspectual periphrasis where drive 'drift around' or one of the basic dimensionality verbs gä 'go', stä 'stand', ligge 'lie' is coordinated with another, preferably imperfective verb: NN han dreiv og las 'he was reading', BM hun stod og tenkte 'she stood there thinking'. When coordinate structures of this kind are combined with ingressive bli, NN verta, only the first verb appears as a present participle and the second verb is shifted into the infinitive, whereas og 'and' is retained: BM han ble gäende og tenke 'he kept walking around thinking'.


The pro-verb BM gj0re> NN gjera 'do* is used when a lexical veib is topicalized. A finite lexical verb is then either turned into an infinitive: BM synge gj0r han alltid; or simply retained in finite form: synger gj0r han alltid 'he is always singing'. Correspondingly, even infinitives may optionally change into past participles in accordance with the participle of the pro-verb in the perfect tense: BM syngeIsunget har han alltid gjort.

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