One Word - Two Different Meanings

Updated: Apr 13


Have you ever noticed how often you hear a Norwegian word used differently than you're used to and you ask yourself "Wait! I thought dyr meant animal??" The Norwegian language reuses a lot of words. These reused words are called homonyms. So, let’s talk about them for a bit... What is a homonym, you ask? Simply put, homonyms are different words that are spelled the same or sound the same.


Every language has homonyms and they can be tricky in your own native language, especially when you’re writing (English speakers the world over still confuse too, to, and two). But homonyms can be incredibly confusing when you’re learning a new language. Read on to learn more some of the more commonly confused Norwegian homonyms, and how to be a homonym pro.



First things first. Not all homonyms are the same. There are different kinds of homonyms, the two main ones being homophones and homographs.


Homophones are a type of homonym that sound the same but are spelled differently. For example:


1.


Hjul, with an "h" means "wheel", while jul is "Christmas".



2.


Gjerne, with a G means "gladly" or "with joy", and hjerne with an H is "brain".



3.


Quebec has a Q in it. Not a ku.



4.


And you might want to put sjy, which is "gravy" on your meat, and not sky which is "cloud".




Other common Norwegian homophones are:


å bli (to become) – blid (friendly, joyous)

bord (table) – bor (reside)

eks (ex) – X

seks (6) – sex (sex)

sett (seen) – Z

tjære (tar) – kjære (dear)

å vite (to know) – hvite (whites)




And then there are homographs. Homographs are homonyms that look the same but mean different things. For example:


5.


Bokser, is one word that sounds exactly the same but can mean three different things: the boxer athlete, the plural for box, and boxer shorts. There is also "boxer" which is a homophone of this group. It sounds the same, but is spelled with an X and is the boxer dog breed.



6.


One such homonym you never want to confuse is gift. One the one hand, it means "married". On the other, it's "poison".



7.


While your car's gas tank may be full ("full"), you still can't drive it if you're full ("drunk").



8.


You eat porridge out of a skål, but you also use it to toast or say "cheers" when having a drink.



Other common Norwegian homographs are:


bær (carry) – bær (berry)

ball (ball [football, basketball, etc.]) – ball (ball [party])

blad (leaf) – blad (magazine)

bryter (wrestler) – bryter (electrical switch)

dyr (animal) – dyr (expensive)

fire (4) – å fire (to lower)

fjær (feather) – fjær (spring; metal coil)

fyr (guy) – fyr (lighthouse)

kart (map) – kart (unripe fruit)

kort (card) – kort (short)

kran (tap, faucet) – kran (crane; construction machine)

mål (goal) – mål (dimensions) –

regning (arithmetic) – regning (bill)

stamme (tree trunk) – stamme (tribe)

å stamme (to stammer) – å stamme fra (to originate from)

tak (roof) – tak (ceiling) – ta tak! (get a grip!)

tilhenger (supporter) – tilhenger (trailer)

tre (3) – tre (tree)

vår (our) – vår (spring season)



How are homophones used?

From language to language, how homophones work, and their cultural importance, varies. But one thing is for certain, without homophones, dad jokes (pappavitser) just wouldn't be the same... What would puns be without homonyms?


Take for example:

Hjort er gjort sa hjorten og hoppet i elven og ble rein.

(Deers are done said the deer and he jumped into the river and became clean/a reindeer.)


Hahaha. Get it? Ok, so while it’s not ROFL funny, the very thing that makes the joke “amusing” is the thing that makes it difficult to understand for brand new Norwegian learners: the homonym.


If you’re speaking or reading something in Norwegian and a word seems out of place, it may just be a homonym. Take a second to look it up. Grasping the complexities of homophones can be tricky, but it’s a crucial part of truly becoming fluent in a new language.



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