When to use the conjunctions “da” and “når” in Norwegian?

A teacher explaining the difference between da and når in Norwegian language

In the last few posts, we have focused quite a lot on helping you expand your Norwegian vocabulary. New year, new topic, so let us take a short break from all the words and phrases and turn our attention back to a bit of Norwegian grammar instead. ✨

In this short lesson, we will cover a subject that causes a lot of confusion among the learners of the language: the conjunctions da og når – which conveniently (or not 😏) both mean when in English.

Don’t be discouraged though, you are not alone, as even Norwegians tend to mix these up relatively often. However, with a few simple rules, you will get the hang of it in no time and be able to give the natives a run for their money. 😀

What are da and når?

The first thing to mention is that both words can have several meanings and roles in Norwegian.

  • Da can be both an adverb (that introduces main clauses) or a conjunction (that introduces subordinate clauses).
  • Our other little troublemaker here, når, can be either an interrogative word (with the verb in second place as in English) or a subjunction.

In this lesson, we are focusing on their role as conjunctions that introduce subordinate clauses, as that is where the confusion usually lies. 😉

A quick rule to remember

Before we delve deeper, here’s a very easy rule to remember that children in Norway are taught from an early age at school:

Den dag da, hver gang når.

In English, this would translate to ‘That day when, every time when.’ I know, I know, the English just makes things more confusing. 😵

What this little rule is trying to tell us is that we have to use da when we are talking about things that happened only one time or over continuous periods in the past, and når in all other cases. Is it a bit clearer now? 🤔

So, let’s take a closer look at this.

How to use da og når correctly?

  1. When we talk about something that happened only once in the past, we use da:
  2. Da jeg reiste til England, kunne ikke vennen min bli med.

(When I traveled to England, my friend couldn’t join me. – I traveled to England once in the past)

  • Da foreldrene mine giftet seg, feiret de sammen med hele familien.

(When my parents got married, they celebrated with the entire family. – my parents got married once in the past)

  • When you want to talk about something that happened over a continuous period in the past, you have to use da:
  • Da jeg studerte på universitetet, hadde jeg mer tid for meg selv.

(When I was studying at university, I used to have more time for myself. – I was a university student over a period a several years in the past)

  • Da pappa var ung, bodde han i Sverige.

(When my dad was young, he used to live in Sweden. – he used to live in Sweden over a longer, continuous period in the past)

  • However, and this is an important exception: when we are talking about repeating actions that happened in the past, we use når. Remember? When it is a singular event that happened in the past, we must use da. So, naturally, the opposite is true for repetitive events – for those we use når. 🙀 Let’s look at some examples:
  • Besteforeldrene mine ble alltid veldig glade når vi besøkte dem om sommeren.

(My grandparents were very happy when we used to visit them during the summer. – we visited them repeatedly, year after year.)

  • Hans reiste alltid til syden når han hadde råd til det.

(Hans always traveled to the South when he could afford it. – he did this repeatedly in the past, whenever he could afford it)

  • When we are talking about the future, we use når:
  • Når Ingrid får vitnemålet sitt, vil hun flytte til Amerika.

(When Ingrid gets her diploma, she wants to move to America. – future plans)

  • Når jeg blir rik, vil jeg hjelpe så mange dyr jeg kan. 🐾

(When I get rich, I want to help as many animals as I can. – future plans)

  • And lastly, we use når when we are talking about habits.
  • Når mamma lager mat, synger hun Disney-sanger.

(When mum is making food, she sings Disney songs. – habit)

  • Jeg kan ikke sove når jeg er stresset.

(I cannot sleep when I am stressed. – habit)

Test your knowledge

Ready to practice what you have learned today? Take this little quiz to put your knowledge to the test. 👀

Fill out the following sentences with da or når.

Let us know in the comments if you found this article useful. If you are up for a few more lessons in Norwegian grammar, check out this article about Norwegian adverbs, or this one that explains how to use the adjective ‘small’ in Norwegian. 🤓

6 thoughts on “When to use the conjunctions “da” and “når” in Norwegian?”

  1. I don’t understand why number 1 is når. While going to Greece every year is a repetitive event, being small is surely a completed event in the past?

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300 most frequently used words in the Norwegian language

300 most used words in Norwegian
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