Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for

Is Norwegian a Language of Love?

Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for

When people tell me “I loooovve French, it’s such a romantic language” it is obvious these people didn’t understand that our conversation was just about going down to the shop to buy a broccoli and oignons.

I believe there is no such thing as one language being the language of love. In Norwegian, like in every other language, you will find many words to express love, longing, desire and so have you. Here are a few language tips for those who want to understand the Norwegian language of love. This post was requested by Mathilde before Valentine’s day to have to words to say to her loved one!

Now as Norwegians have some difficulty and shyness in expressing such strong feeling as love, there are of course complicated subtleties here.

Three ways to express love
There are three ways to express likeness or love in Norwegian: Jeg liker deg, Jeg er glad i deg, Jeg elsker deg.

Apparently the first one is the weakest one (jeg liker deg/ham/hun) but also the one used the most. One uses it to talk about a not so strong feeling for not so close people. It can be a famous person you’ve actually never met before. A song, a band.

Jeg er glad i deg is something you can say to people who are close to you: your close friends, your partner (easier to say than Jeg elsker deg). The exact line between the use of Jeg liker deg and Jeg er glad i deg is still quite unclear to me. According to a friend of mine Jeg er glad i deg is used in the same way than I love you in English.

And this is where problems start. If you thought that Jeg elsker deg had the same meaning than I love you, you were fooling yourself. Jeg elsker deg in Norwegian is something one says very seldom and for extremely strong feelings which are not even close to being covered by a simple I love you. Especially in the way some English native speakers use it (a lot).

How do you know then that someone loves you? “Du burde vite det” (You should know) is the general answer. Great. Love in Norway is based on the assumption that others know you love them and they love you in return. I believe this is an easy excuse for people to keep strong feelings buried deep inside instead of trying to express them in any way. Why would I need to tell you I love you when I tapped you on the back, which should have been enough of a sign for you to be sure? (or a blink of an eye, or the quiver of a moustache, see Weird things Norwegians do).

Who should you say Jeg elsker deg to?
In England I remember being at Tesco’s and the 55 year old plumpy lady telling me “Hi love, what can I do for you?”. Hva i helvete? LOVE? I don’t even know you. Somehow Norwegians can use the word love in a different way than elske, but that is because you only elske those you are so close to your heart you could die for them: your wife, husband and your kids. Full stop. (sorry, the cashier from Rimi is not in that list).

But even those who really elske each other do not say it that often, that is also a little strange. Apparently a joke is going around in Norway that when a woman complains to her husband/samboer that he doesn’t say Jeg elsker deg enough to her, he answers “I said it to you once, and will let you know if that comes to change in the future”. How to kill the romance in half a sentence? Call a Norwegian.
Based on this only, it is hard to defend that Norwegian, or at least bokmål, is the language of love.

Other ways to say I love you
But then again, many words show there are some feelings going on here: kjærlighet (love, the noun), følelser (feelings), å ønske (desire), å være forelska (to be in love), kjærlighet ved første blikk (love at first sight), omhet (tenderness), kjæreste (boyfriend/girlfriend). Å være kjæreste in Norway is a much stronger relationship than a boyfriend or girlfriend in France for example. In Norway being kjæreste is very serious. That is why it can take ages before it actually happens, and then it can take 2 months only before you go from kjæreste to samboer status.

Another funny one: the use of kjære. You could think Kjære means Dear like you would say “Dear Anna” at the beginning of a letter and translate that by “Kjære Anna”. But actually kjære is also a word used for your dearest ones. Writing an email to your lawyer and starting with kjære in Norwegian is super strange.

How to love in nynorsk?
Then, in nynorsk, love is not kjærlighet but kjærleik (words love and play together). Nynorsk might be more the language of love than bokmål. Then again, all those men at sea for long months, God knows how much longing and desire there has been during centuries on the coasts of Norway.

A connected word is hugleik, which is translated to fantasy or mindgames, but often is understood to be a nynorsk word for love. Apparently there has been a lot of fun about the sentence “eg hugleikar deg av heile mi blodpumpe”, the same as “eg elskar deg av heile mitt hjarte” (I love you with all my heart – in nynorsk literally translated by something like: I fantasise you with all my bloodpump). This is one of the reasons, among others, that makes me think that nynorsk is much more a language of love than bokmål. Nynorsk always seems to have very colourful and illustrative ways of saying things, giving more space for creativity and wordplay. Then again, that’s just me, and I am far from being a nynorsk expert.

Little names Norwegians call each other
I was also wondering what Norwegians in love call each other, here is a sample: pus or kosepus (like the little cat), nuss (like the little kiss), elskling, hjertet mitt (my heart), lille venn (little friend), and my favorite: snuppa, although I don’t really remember what it means.

Kjerring seems to be the most controversial, some women thinking it’s nice, others thinking it is a horrible name to call a woman. Apparently it depends where you live and your dialect. Again, complicated.

In French, people call each other mon amour, mon coeur, mon bébé (but you have to have a blue and pink unicorn tattoo and a flashy car with written Harry all over it to call each other bébé), mamour. People very very seldom say “Je t’aime”. Maybe not as seldom as Norwegians, but not everyday either. French women usually complain their man never says it, and then when he is drunk says it every 5 minutes. “At least he said it to you!” would be her friend’s answer.

To conclude, Norwegian is not less or more the language of love than any other language. Okay maybe it is not the most romantic language in the world, but that really depends how much people actually use the words available to them. The real question is: are Norwegians romantic? For another blogpost.

P.S: I hope you love Ole Johnny Hansen’s illustration as much as I do (yes, I said love). And by the way, I have a new website, welcome! This article was published on under the title: Er norsk et kærlighetsspråk?

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

31 thoughts on “Is Norwegian a Language of Love?

  1. hei !
    Thank you so much for this explanation ! It would have helped me when I was in a relationship with a norwegian guy ! J’aurais effectivement été avertie de ce manque de “chaleur” ou d’engagement dans ces mots. Merci pour ce blog qui est un guide nécessaire à la survie d’un français en Norvège et qui m’a permis de comprendre un petit peu mieux cette culture qui est tellement différente de la notre que l’on se retrouve dans des situations parfois désarmantes. Grâce à ce blog j’ai appris à apprécier la culture norvégienne et à rire de leurs travers comme des nôtres !
    Bonne continuation !

  2. It’s so much fun reading about my own language on this blog. And it’s so accurate! I think the norwegian language of love is somewhat mystical, and that’s what makes it beautiful. We save the best for last, even though some people save it a little too long 😉

    1. I am half Norwegian, but my older generation who spoke Norwegian are now deceased. One aunt used to call her daughter, “Tupi” (sp). I was told it meant little sweetheart. Is this correct? Do you know of such a word and can you tell me how to spell it?

      1. I haven’t heard «Tupi» with an i, but it could very well be a dialect version, Was your aunt from the West coast of Norway? I think the bokmål version of this word would be “tuppe”, which means something like “young girl”, sometimes in a negative way. But it can very well be translated to “little sweetheart” (mostly about girls) if you use it in a loving way, especially with some version of “little” in front. So versions I’ve heard are «lille tupp(a)», «litjtuppa», «vesletuppa» and so on.

  3. I don’t know which fjord you are stranded in, and I am sure they even say “du burde å vite det”, but you should know that this is a grammatically wrong construction, somewhat like saying “you should TO know that”. The correct term is “Du burde vite det”, and that’s what you’re going to hear just about everywhere – except maybe in your fjord.

  4. I’d say that “Å ønske”, is more like “to wish”, while “begjær” is closer to desire, especially in this setting, talking about love.

  5. The difference between “Jeg liker deg” and “Jeg er glad i deg” can be explained with a difference in strenght of feelings. To like someone is informal, basically the same as saying you think they’re cool. It depends on the way you say it, though, if you say it to someone in private, in a low voice, it is much more intimate and means much more than saying you like this or that band or football team. But most of the time it is basically branding someone as cool/nice people, which is why tou can also say to people that you like their friend/boyfriend/wife/father/mother without them finding it inaproppriate.

    “Jeg er glad i deg”, on the other hand, equals “I have strong feelings of affection/fondness for you”. Which is why it is something you only say to people you care about strongly.

    1. Hmm, I mostly agree, but not completely 🙂

      “Jeg liker deg” can be informal, but it can also be a LOT more serious than “Jeg er glad i deg” in certain situations.
      If hanging out with someone you like in a serious setting and you tell them “Jeg er glad i deg” it is mostly cozy, friendly feeling, while if you say “Jeg liker deg” while looking them in the eyes it means “I am in love with you and want to date you” 😛

      I say “glad i deg” to most of my friends and relatives.

      To take one comment more general for foreign people:
      I use “elsker” a lot more loose than explained in the main text. I’ve told 3 of my best friends that I love them, but add “in a friendly way”. And I use it the same was as in english in many ways, such as “I love this song!” i say “Jeg elsker denne sangen!”. It has the same meaning as english used that way. (Same as “I love my job/jeg elsker jobben min”).
      But as a serious “Jeg elsker deg”, I’ve only told 1 person in my life. Out of 5(?) boyfriends, I only had that deep feelings for 1 of them, and yes, I lived with him. 😛

  6. This is interesting. In English, I obviously love my parents and my siblings and my friends, but I would never say that I “elsker” them in Norwegian. In my experience, the use of the word in its literal meaning is restricted to (serious) romantic relationships. You wouldn’t say “jeg elsker deg” to someone you’ve been dating for a few weeks, for example. Conversely and confusingly, however, the word can also be used (much more freely) for things you like/enjoy rather than love: ie “jeg elsker fotball” or “jeg elsker lutefisk”. A final comment on the nynorsk word “hugleik”: While “fantasy” or “mindgames” are acceptable English translations, the actual meaning of the word is a little more complex and almost untranslateable. “I experience great pleasure while thinking about you and therefore think I might actually love you” is probably the closest you’ll get. (In a way, I think this embodies both the complexity of the Norwegian language and the difficulty most Norwegians experience when trying to express their feelings.)

    Your blog is excellent, by the way. As a Norwegian living abroad, I enjoy it both for the perspective it brings on my own homeland and the reflection it provokes when it comes to being a foreigner. Keep it up!

  7. Hi, I think you are wrong. When I got my current job, my boss-to-be wrote me: “Kjaere Sara….”. We had just met once (in the interview) and I’m very sure we were not in a relationship and that he was not in love with me (and he is 100% norwegian).
    Nevertheless, nice blog.

    1. Kjære… Can be normal in several situations, it can be used the same way as “dear”.
      In that way you recieved it, it was ment as a “dear” 🙂

      Many people also say “Kjære deg..” in a sad tone if they feel sorry for you, even if you don’t know their name.

      Mothers, friends and co-workers can say “Men kjære deg” in a bit of a harsh voice which is negatively loaded. It pushes you down compared to them and is usually used if they think you made a fool of yourself. Or a bit more playful tone as a sweet way of making fun of you.

      “Kjære” from a man to his girlfriend/wife is a nickname, like babe or all those weird nicknames men got for their wives in TV series 🙂

  8. Hei!
    What is the significance of tapping someone on the back to show affection? Tried searching for it, but couldn’t find anything about it. How is it done? Would someone miscontstrue your intentions if you were in a crowd and you tapped them on the back to let them know they dropped something?
    Loving the blog, by the way. Such a fascinating, and beautiful culture.
    Ha det bra!

    1. Really late, so you probably know this by now, but …
      Tapping with a finger = “may I get your attention” and then you follow with “Unnskyld meg, du mistet …”
      You would always tap with just fingers and keep bodily distance in this situation.

      To show affection it’s mostly backslapping (most often a half-hug and flat-hand slapping like you see on sports) among boys/men that know eachother form earlier occations.

  9. Very funny blog you have! I’m enjoying your posts very much. 🙂

    BTW, do you know how to torture a french man? Tie his hands and ask him to explain something to you … And why is it forbidden to talk on some narrow french sidewalks in the rush hour? Because it’s dangerous to push people into the street. Haha.

  10. I would like to explain the word “kjerring” because I used to think it had a negative meaning until I asked my mom’s uncle after he called his wife kjerring. He told me that he calls her kjerring because he cares about her (glad i henne) and he explained that the word is put together by “kjær” and “ing” where “kjær” means “glad i”. If you look it up in a dictionary the meaning of the word will be married woman. 🙂

  11. Det er enkelt å forklare forskjellen mellom jeg liker deg og jeg er glad i deg. Dere har jo det samme på fransk.
    Jeg liker deg- je t’aime bien (tu me plait)
    Jeg er glad i deg – je t’aime bcp (men dette kan du også si til familie og veldig nære venner)
    Jeg elsker deg- je t’aime

  12. Seriosuly, french is riddicolously pretty. I`m norwegian and french to me sounds like a dream. I have joked before about if a french girl walks up to me and says something in french, I`m done. I`ll just hand her my wallet and everything and say “do what you want with me”. And I dont even understand what she says. 🙂 It`s the sound, it`s wonderful. I want to visit France but I dont think I should because I might never leave. I would be known as `that weird foreigner who walks around with a stupid smile on his face`.

  13. Love Your blog. Its funny. And all the ” kronikk “. I think Freng, English and Spanish is the Language of love… The sweedish have more nicknames than us Norwegians. ” bruderna, gubbe, posan, gumman, søtnos, kompis, bror ” etc… It`s funny. And more open culture than the Norwegian. Every culture have to side of the medal, the front and the back.

  14. Hi
    Thank you so much for sharing such precious information about Norway and Norwegian.
    I love your blog and enjoy it very much! I like to visit you someday and meet you in person.
    Keep writing!

  15. Ha! I have lived in France for the past five years, and one of the absolutely funniest things I’ve heard was…. a whole bunch of French endearments. Starting from “ma puce” = my flea, “ma cocotte” = my pot??, and my favourite “ma p’tite crévette” = my little shrimp! Granted, I was in Brittany (Bretagne) when I first heard these, and they might have some endearments of their own, but still, I found that French endearments can be truly funny!

    I do want to congratulate you for your blog. I am not Norwegian myself, but I am married to one, and I can recognize some of the things you mention. It’s very enjoyable to read your posts !

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