Norwegian Grammar – Verbs: Past Tense, Present Perfect
What is the past tense form of Norwegian
verbs? Well, for the irregular verbs I have a simple answer: you cannot possibly
know. Look at the example here “å gå” – to go. The past tens is “jeg gikk”. There’s no way
of guessing it, you just have to learn it. But there are also regular verbs, and
these regular verbs are divided into four groups according to the past tense
form that they have, and I will show you one example for each group. So the first
example I have here is “å snakke”, and this verb gets the ending -et in the past
tense: “jeg snakket”. The second group “å lære” gets the ending -te (jeg lærte),
the third group is the example “å leve” with the ending -de in the past tense
(jeg levde), and the last group “å bo”- the past tense -dde (jeg bodde).
Now how do we find out which verb belongs itto which group? To be quite
honest you can never be sure but therefore we recommend to learn the past
tense form for every verb, even for the regular verbs, so for example for “to work”
learn “å arbeide – jeg arbeidet”. But there are rules that predict into which
group a verb will belong and they are valid for, say, 90% of all regular verbs. I
will begin with the last group. The last group is a very small group and it
consists of short verbs – only one syllable – and a long vowel like “bo”, “tro”, “bry” – they have all this -dde ending: bodde, trodde, brydde. The second last group is also very small
and it consists of verbs that either end in a -ve, like “leve” or “prøve”, for
example – then we have levde, prøvde – or they have a double vowel, so a diphtong,
like “pleie”, then we also have the ending “pleide”. But most of the verbs, of the
regular verbs, belong either into the first or the second
group, and the difference between them is the following: If you look at “lære”, you
have a single consonant before the -e in the infinitive and there’s the same for
example for “mene” – a single m – “høre” a that single r, and so on.
So when there is a single consonant usually they belong into the second
group: lærte, hørte, mente, and so on, but when you have a double consonant, like
double k in “snakke” or even three consonants like nsk in “ønske”, then
the verbs belong into the first group, so we have snakket, ønsket, and so on. But as I said before these rules don’t work all the time, so it’s really the
best idea to learn the past tense form for every verb, even for the regular ones.
When you know the past tense of a regular verb it’s very easy to know the present
perfect because in the first group the present perfect uses the same form as in
the past tense: it’s “jeg snakket” and “jeg har snakket”, so the difference is only
this “har” which is the same as in English “I have spoken”=”jeg har snakket”. And in all the other three groups the -e of the past tense ending will
vanish, so “jeg lærte” – “jeg har lært” “jeg levde” – jeg har levd”, “jeg bodde – jeg har bodd”. For the irregular verbs of course you also have to learn the form.
There’s no way of guessing that the present perfect of “å gå” is “jeg har gått”. But
some good news: for every verb, if it’s a regular or an irregular, doesn’t
matter, there’s only one form for the past tense and one form for the present
perfect for all the persons. So “jeg har snakket”, “du har snakket”, and “jeg snakket”, “du snakket” – it’s always the same form. What’s
actually the difference in meaning between “jeg snakket” and “jeg har snakket”?
Well basically that’s like in English “I spoke” and “I have spoken”: we use the past
tense when something is over, something happened in the past and there’s no relevance
for the present and maybe it’s important when something
happened, whereas we use the present perfect when there is a relevance for the
present or there’s some result which is still important
now. One last remark: if you use a Norwegian grammar boo, the term for past
tense which you’re going to read there is a “preteritum”, and the one for present
perfect is “presens perfektum” or just “perfectum”.