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EXPLAINED: When to use 'bli' and 'være' in Norwegian

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: When to use 'bli' and 'være' in Norwegian
Before moving on to more complex aspects of usage, Norwegian language students should learn to differentiate between using 'bli' and 'være' as main verbs or auxiliary verbs. Photo by Richard Kemp on Unsplash

Often used interchangeably, mastering the nuances between the verbs 'bli' and 'være' is often challenging for prospective Norwegian speakers.


Understanding the nuances of using verbs is fundamental in mastering any language, and Norwegian is no exception.

Two commonly used verbs, 'bli' and 'være,' often pose a challenge for Norwegian learners due to their overlapping meanings and contexts.

READ MORE: How long does it take to learn Norwegian living in Norway?

Indeed, 'bli' and 'være' are often used interchangeably, but 'bli' is seen as the more dynamic, while 'være' is predominantly viewed as a static form.

There are several other aspects of their usage that you should know, with usage as main or auxiliary verbs and combining a predicative to a subject being particularly important.

The key differences between 'bli' and 'være'

Before moving on to more complex aspects of usage, Norwegian language students should learn to differentiate between using 'bli' and 'være' as main verbs or auxiliary verbs, Norwegian language professor Josip Janeš of the language school Skandikum told The Local.

Main verbs

"The first thing we should distinguish between is whether we are using 'bli' and 'være' as main verbs (hovedverb) or auxiliary verbs (hjelpeverb). 'Være' as main verb means to reside somewhere, e.g., Torunn er hjemme i dag. (Torunn is home today) or to exist: Det er over 270,000 innbyggere i Bergen. (There are over 270,000 inhabitants in Bergen).

"'Bli' as the main verb means to continue to be or stay somewhere, e.g., Hvor lenge skal han bli her i Norge? (How long is he staying in Norway?) or Kan du ikke bli her litt til? (Can't you stay here a little longer?). In both sentences, we could have likewise used 'være' without a major difference in meaning," Janeš said.


He pointed out that students should be more careful when combining a predicative to a subject.

"Take a look at the following sentences: Sigrid er lærer (Sigrid is a teacher). Anders vil også bli lærer (Anders also wants to become a teacher). Here, 'være' expresses a state or condition while 'bli' marks a change or transition. Anders is not a teacher yet, but he might become or 'change' into one in the future. Another example is Kari er syk (Kari is syk) and Hun ble syk i ferien (She got sick during the holiday)," the language teacher explained.

READ MORE: Modal verbs: When to use ‘vil’ and ‘skal’ in Norwegian

Auxiliary verbs

"Let us take a look at the auxiliary verbs. 'Være' can, interestingly enough, be used instead of 'ha' as an auxiliary in both perfektum and pluskvamperfektum with verbs denoting a transition, e.g. Hun er reist allerede (She has already left) or Da jeg kom hjem, var han sovnet. (When I came home, he had already fallen asleep).

"In the passive 'være' is, as previously mentioned, used to describe a permanent state, e.g. Norge er omgitt av hav på tre kanter (Norway is surrounded by the sea on three sides) or Forfatteren er godt likt (The author is well-liked)," Janeš said.


On the other hand, 'bli' as an auxiliary verb is commonly employed in the passive voice across all tenses.

"'Bli' as an auxiliary is predominantly used in the passive in all tenses: Barna blir fulgt til skolen hver dag (The children are accompanied to school every day), Hunden ble overkjørt (The dog was run over), Huset har/er blitt solgt (The house has been sold), and so forth," Janeš said.

It should be noted that 'bli' and 'være' can often be used interchangeably, but whereas 'bli' is seen as the more dynamic form signifying a change or transition, 'være' is predominantly viewed as a static form describing a state or condition – with the exception of the auxiliary usage in perfektum and pluksvamperfekum, Skandikum's Norwegian language professor explained.

Did you find this Norwegian grammar explainer useful? What other aspects of Norwegian grammar would you like to see explained? Let us know if you’d like more similar content in the comments below.


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