The Multifaceted Nature of “Etter” in Norwegian: Bridging Time and Space


In the intricate tapestry of Norwegian grammar, prepositions serve as essential threads, weaving together concepts of time and space to create a rich linguistic fabric. Among these crucial connectors, the preposition “etter” stands out for its remarkable versatility and depth of meaning. While often simplistically translated as “after” in English, “etter” encompasses a far more expansive spectrum of meanings and applications, reflecting the nuanced way Norwegian speakers conceptualize relationships between events, objects, and ideas.

For those embarking on the journey of learning Norwegian, understanding the complexities of prepositions like “etter” is crucial. If you’re looking to deepen your grasp of Norwegian grammar and usage, consider enrolling in classes at the NLS Norwegian Language School. With expert instructors and comprehensive courses, NLS can help you navigate the intricacies of Norwegian prepositions and much more. Visit to explore their group class options and take your Norwegian language skills to the next level.

This article aims to delve deep into the world of “etter,” exploring its temporal and spatial uses, its grammatical functions, and how it compares to similar prepositions in both Norwegian and English. By understanding the multifaceted nature of “etter,” language learners and enthusiasts can gain not only a better grasp of Norwegian grammar but also insight into the Norwegian worldview as expressed through language.

The Fundamental Meaning of “Etter”

Temporal Succession: The Core Concept

At its most basic level, “etter” primarily indicates temporal succession, mirroring the English “after.” In its fundamental application, it denotes that one event or action follows another in time. This usage forms the cornerstone of “etter’s” meaning and is perhaps its most straightforward application.


  • “Barna går til sengs etter kveldsmat.” (The children go to bed after supper.)
  • “Etter eksamen dro studentene på ferie.” (After the exam, the students went on vacation.)
  • “Vi skal møtes etter arbeidstid for å feire.” (We’ll meet after work hours to celebrate.)
  • “Etter en lang dag på stranden, nøt familien en deilig middag.” (After a long day at the beach, the family enjoyed a delicious dinner.)

In these sentences, “etter” clearly establishes a temporal sequence, with one event occurring subsequent to another. This usage aligns closely with the English “after” and serves as the foundation for understanding the more complex applications of “etter.”

Grammatical Considerations

When used in its temporal sense, “etter” typically precedes a noun or noun phrase indicating the reference event. In Norwegian grammar, this construction is known as a preposition phrase (preposisjonsuttrykk). The noun or noun phrase following “etter” is in the indefinite form unless it’s a proper noun or a definite concept.

For example:

  • “Etter middag” (After dinner) – indefinite form
  • “Etter den lange dagen” (After the long day) – definite form with adjective
  • “Etter jul” (After Christmas) – proper noun, no article needed
  • “Etter den siste konserten” (After the last concert) – definite form with superlative adjective

It’s worth noting that when “etter” is used with a clause rather than a noun phrase, it becomes a subordinating conjunction, introducing a dependent clause:

“Vi skal møtes etter at filmen er ferdig.” (We’ll meet after the movie is finished.) “Hun bestemte seg for å reise etter at hun hadde fullført studiene.” (She decided to travel after she had completed her studies.)

In these cases, “etter at” functions as a compound subordinating conjunction, linking the main clause to the dependent clause that specifies the time reference.

Locational Uses of “Etter”

Spatial Succession: Beyond Static Positioning

While the temporal use of “etter” is straightforward, its spatial applications add layers of complexity that reflect the intricate relationship between time and space in Norwegian conceptualization. When used in a locational context, “etter” often implies not just physical positioning but also a sense of succession or following, blending spatial and temporal concepts.

Consider these examples:

  • “Etter brannbilen fulgte flere politibiler.” (After/Behind the fire truck followed several police cars.)
  • “Barna gikk etter foreldrene gjennom den travle gaten.” (The children walked after/behind their parents through the busy street.)
  • “Skipet seilte etter fyrtårnet langs kysten.” (The ship sailed after/following the lighthouse along the coast.)

In these sentences, “etter” conveys both a spatial relationship (the objects or people are physically behind or following) and a sequential aspect (they are moving in succession). This dual meaning adds depth to the spatial relationship, suggesting movement and order rather than just static positioning.

The Nuances of Movement and Sequence

The use of “etter” in spatial contexts often implies movement, especially in a procession or sequence. This differs from purely static spatial prepositions and reflects a dynamic understanding of spatial relationships.

For instance:

  • “Syklisten kom etter bussen.” (The cyclist came after/behind the bus.)
  • “Elevene gikk i rekke etter læreren på skoleturen.” (The students walked in a line after the teacher on the school trip.)
  • “Løperne strømmet etter lederen gjennom mållinjen.” (The runners streamed after the leader through the finish line.)

These sentences not only indicate the position relative to another object or person but also suggest a temporal aspect – the subject arrived or passed by after the reference point. This blending of spatial and temporal concepts is a key feature of “etter” in its locational use.

Comparison with “Bak”: Unveiling Subtle Differences

To fully grasp the nuances of “etter” in its locational use, it’s illuminating to compare it with the more strictly spatial preposition “bak,” which translates directly to “behind” in English. This comparison reveals subtle but significant differences in meaning and usage:

  • “Bak brannbilen sto flere politibiler.” (Behind the fire truck stood several police cars.)
  • “Katten gjemte seg bak sofaen.” (The cat hid behind the sofa.)

While both “etter” and “bak” can be used in some contexts, there are important distinctions:

  1. Movement and Sequence: “Etter” implies a sense of following or succession, suggesting that the objects or people are not just positioned behind but are actively following. “Bak” focuses more on the static spatial relationship without necessarily implying movement or sequence.


  • “Hun gikk etter ham på stien.” (She walked after him on the path.) – Implies following
  • “Hun sto bak ham i køen.” (She stood behind him in the queue.) – Static positioning
  1. Temporal Aspect: “Etter” retains a hint of its temporal meaning even in spatial contexts, suggesting that the subject arrived or started moving after the reference point. “Bak” lacks this temporal component, focusing solely on spatial positioning.


  • “Ambulansen kom etter politibilen til ulykkesstedet.” (The ambulance came after the police car to the accident site.) – Implies both spatial and temporal sequence
  • “Ambulansen parkerte bak politibilen ved ulykkesstedet.” (The ambulance parked behind the police car at the accident site.) – Only spatial relationship
  1. Context Dependency: The choice between “etter” and “bak” often depends on the broader context of the situation being described. If the emphasis is on the procession or sequence of movement, “etter” might be preferred. If the focus is purely on spatial positioning without implying movement or sequence, “bak” could be more appropriate.


  • “Barna marsjerte etter fanebæreren i paraden.” (The children marched after the flag bearer in the parade.) – Emphasizes procession
  • “Barna sto bak fanebæreren før paraden startet.” (The children stood behind the flag bearer before the parade started.) – Static positioning
  1. Cognitive Framing: The use of “etter” in spatial contexts reflects a cognitive framing that links spatial and temporal concepts more closely than in some other languages. This interconnection between space and time in Norwegian grammar offers insight into how Norwegian speakers conceptualize and express relationships between objects and events.

Extended Applications of “Etter”

Pursuit and Search: Dynamic Spatial Relationships

The locational use of “etter” extends beyond simple positioning to contexts of pursuit and search, further emphasizing its dynamic nature:

  1. Pursuit or Chase:
    • “Katten løp etter musa gjennom hele hagen og inn i skogen.” (The cat ran after the mouse through the entire garden and into the forest.)
    • “Politiet jaktet etter den mistenkte i flere timer.” (The police chased after the suspect for several hours.)
    • “Barna lekte sisten og sprang etter hverandre rundt huset.” (The children played tag and ran after each other around the house.)

    In these examples, “etter” conveys both the physical act of following and purposeful pursuit. This usage highlights the preposition’s ability to capture motion and intent, not just static positioning.

  2. Searching or Seeking:
    • “Han lette etter den tapte ringen i gresset i flere timer uten hell.” (He searched for the lost ring in the grass for several hours without success.)
    • “Forskerne har i årevis søkt etter svar på universets gåter.” (Researchers have for years searched for answers to the mysteries of the universe.)
    • “Turisten lette etter den berømte statuen i byens smale gater.” (The tourist looked for the famous statue in the city’s narrow streets.)

    In these contexts, “etter” implies the act of searching, combining ideas of “following a trail” and “coming after” the desired object. This usage demonstrates how “etter” can be used in contexts where the object of the preposition is not physically present but is being sought.

Abstract and Figurative Uses: Expanding the Conceptual Realm

“Etter” also finds application in more abstract or figurative senses, showcasing its versatility in expressing complex relationships:

  1. Imitation or Modeling:
    • “Hun maler etter naturen med en imponerende nøyaktighet og følsomhet.” (She paints from nature with impressive accuracy and sensitivity.)
    • “Skuespilleren formet karakteren sin etter historiske kilder.” (The actor shaped his character after historical sources.)
    • “Arkitekten designet bygningen etter klassiske greske templer.” (The architect designed the building after classical Greek temples.)

    This usage suggests following or imitating a model or example, extending the concept of “following” from physical to conceptual realms.

  2. According to or Following:
    • “Vi handler etter din anbefaling og er svært fornøyde med resultatet av investeringen.” (We act according to your recommendation and are very satisfied with the result of the investment.)
    • “Prosjektet ble gjennomført etter planen, til tross for uventede utfordringer.” (The project was carried out according to plan, despite unexpected challenges.)
    • “Legen behandlet pasienten etter de nyeste medisinske retningslinjene.” (The doctor treated the patient according to the latest medical guidelines.)

    Here, “etter” indicates adherence to a guideline or suggestion, further demonstrating its use in abstract contexts of following or succession.

  3. Hierarchical or Ordinal Relationships:
    • “Norge er rangert som nummer fem etter Finland i den årlige lykkekåringen fra FN.” (Norway is ranked fifth after Finland in the UN’s annual happiness ranking.)
    • “I den olympiske medaljestatistikken kommer Sveits rett etter Nederland.” (In the Olympic medal statistics, Switzerland comes right after the Netherlands.)
    • “På bestselgerlisten ligger hennes bok etter den populære kokebok-serien.” (On the bestseller list, her book is placed after the popular cookbook series.)

    These examples show how “etter” can indicate succession in non-physical, hierarchical contexts, bridging the gap between spatial, temporal, and abstract ordering.

Temporal Nuances of “Etter”: Beyond Simple Succession

While the spatial uses of “etter” offer rich territory for exploration, its temporal applications extend far beyond simple succession, revealing subtle nuances in how Norwegian expresses time relationships:

  1. Duration:
    • “Vi møtes en time etter solnedgang ved havnen for å se på stjernene.” (We’ll meet an hour after sunset at the harbor to look at the stars.)
    • “Forelesningen begynner femten minutter etter at dørene åpnes.” (The lecture starts fifteen minutes after the doors open.)
    • “Effekten av medisinen inntreffer vanligvis tretti minutter etter inntak.” (The effect of the medicine usually occurs thirty minutes after intake.)

    This usage specifies a duration following a reference point, combining a precise time measurement with a natural event or action as a temporal anchor.

  2. In Pursuit of (Temporal):
    • “Hun er etter i arbeidet sitt og må jobbe overtid for å ta igjen forsinkelsen.” (She is behind in her work and must work overtime to catch up on the delay.)
    • “Studenten lå etter med innleveringene og risikerte å ikke få bestått kurset.” (The student was behind with submissions and risked not passing the course.)
    • “Prosjektet er tre uker etter skjema på grunn av uforutsette problemer.” (The project is three weeks behind schedule due to unforeseen problems.)

    This figurative use combines temporal and pursuit aspects, demonstrating how “etter” can express a lag or delay in abstract contexts.

  3. Following a Pattern or Schedule:
    • “Toget går etter ruten, selv om det ofte er forsinket om vinteren på grunn av snøfall.” (The train runs according to schedule, even though it’s often delayed in winter due to snowfall.)
    • “Festivalen arrangeres hvert år etter den tradisjonelle kalender.” (The festival is organized every year according to the traditional calendar.)
    • “Flyavgangene er planlagt etter tidssoner for å minimere jetlag.” (Flight departures are planned according to time zones to minimize jet lag.)

    Here, “etter” indicates adherence to a temporal structure, showcasing its use in contexts of regularity and planning.

  4. Subsequent State or Condition:
    • “Etter regnet var luften frisk og ren, og blomstene så ut til å blomstre på nytt.” (After the rain, the air was fresh and clean, and the flowers seemed to bloom anew.)
    • “Etter den lange tørkeperioden var bøndene lettet over å se grønne marker igjen.” (After the long drought, the farmers were relieved to see green fields again.)
    • “Etter den intense treningsøkten følte atletene seg både utmattet og oppløftet.” (After the intense training session, the athletes felt both exhausted and uplifted.)

    This usage highlights how “etter” can introduce a state or condition that follows a preceding event, emphasizing the consequences or results of the earlier occurrence.

Grammar Deep Dive: “Etter” in Various Constructions

Prepositional Phrases

When used in prepositional phrases, “etter” can modify verbs, nouns, or entire clauses, providing temporal or spatial context:

  • Modifying a verb:
    • “Hun kom etter meg til festen.” (She came after me to the party.)
    • “Bussen kjørte etter lastebilen gjennom tunnelen.” (The bus drove after the truck through the tunnel.)
  • Modifying a noun:
    • “Dagen etter festen var stille og rolig i nabolaget.” (The day after the party was quiet and peaceful in the neighborhood.)
    • “Ukene etter eksamen var fylt med avslappende aktiviteter.” (The weeks after the exam were filled with relaxing activities.)
  • Modifying a clause:
    • “Etter at han hadde spist, gikk han en lang tur i parken.” (After he had eaten, he went for a long walk in the park.)
    • “Etter at regnet stoppet, kom regnbuen frem på himmelen.” (After the rain stopped, the rainbow appeared in the sky.)

Compound Prepositions

“Etter” can combine with other prepositions to form compound prepositions, adding nuance to its meaning:

  • “Etter hvert” (Gradually, eventually):
    • “Etter hvert ble han vant til den nye jobben og trivdes godt.” (Gradually, he got used to the new job and enjoyed it.)
    • “Etter hvert som dagen gikk, ble været bedre og bedre.” (As the day progressed, the weather got better and better.)
  • “Rett etter” (Immediately after):
    • “Hun ringte meg rett etter møtet for å dele de gode nyhetene.” (She called me immediately after the meeting to share the good news.)
    • “Rett etter solnedgang begynte fyrverkeriet.” (Right after sunset, the fireworks began.)
  • “Like etter” (Shortly after):
    • “Like etter at filmen startet, kom det en gruppe forsinkede gjester inn i kinosalen.” (Shortly after the movie started, a group of late guests entered the cinema.)
    • “Han ankom like etter at festen hadde begynt.” (He arrived shortly after the party had begun.)

Idiomatic Expressions

“Etter” appears in various idiomatic expressions, further expanding its usage:

  • “Etter min mening” (In my opinion):
    • “Etter min mening er dette den beste løsningen på problemet.” (In my opinion, this is the best solution to the problem.)
    • “Etter min mening burde vi investere mer i fornybar energi.” (In my opinion, we should invest more in renewable energy.)
  • “Etter tur” (In turn):
    • “De presenterte ideene sine etter tur foran juryen.” (They presented their ideas in turn before the jury.)
    • “Barna fikk velge is etter tur, fra eldst til yngst.” (The children got to choose ice cream in turn, from oldest to youngest.)
  • “Etter sigende” (Allegedly, reportedly):
    • “Etter sigende skal hun flytte til utlandet for å starte en ny karriere.” (Allegedly, she’s moving abroad to start a new career.)
    • “Etter sigende har forskerne gjort et banebrytende gjennombrudd.” (Reportedly, the researchers have made a groundbreaking breakthrough.)
  • “Etter behov” (As needed):
    • “Ta medisin etter behov, men ikke mer enn tre ganger daglig.” (Take medicine as needed, but no more than three times daily.)
    • “Vann plantene etter behov, avhengig av værforholdene.” (Water the plants as needed, depending on weather conditions.)
  • “Etter hverandre” (One after another):
    • “De tre søstrene ble gift etter hverandre i løpet av samme sommer.” (The three sisters got married one after another during the same summer.)
    • “Løperne krysset mållinjen etter hverandre med bare sekunder mellom.” (The runners crossed the finish line one after another with only seconds between them.)

Advanced Usage and Linguistic Insights

The versatility of “etter” in Norwegian reflects a deep interconnection between spatial and temporal concepts in the language. This connection offers insights into the cognitive frameworks underlying Norwegian expression:

  1. Conceptual Blending: The use of “etter” in both spatial and temporal contexts suggests a conceptual blending in Norwegian thinking. Time and space are often conceived as interrelated, with temporal sequences frequently described in spatial terms.
  2. Aspectual Nuances: In some uses, “etter” can convey aspectual nuances, indicating not just sequence but also the manner or quality of following:
    • “Hun fulgte nøye etter lærerens instruksjoner.” (She closely followed the teacher’s instructions.) Here, “etter” implies both sequence and adherence.
  3. Cultural Perspectives: The various idiomatic uses of “etter” can offer insights into Norwegian cultural perspectives on time, order, and social interactions. For instance, the common use of “etter tur” reflects a cultural value placed on fairness and orderly progression.
  4. Linguistic Economy: The multifaceted nature of “etter” demonstrates linguistic economy in Norwegian, where a single preposition can convey complex relationships that might require multiple words or phrases in other languages.

Practical Applications and Learning Strategies

For learners of Norwegian, mastering the various uses of “etter” is crucial for achieving fluency and natural expression. Here are some strategies to enhance your understanding and usage:

  1. Contextual Learning: Pay attention to how “etter” is used in various contexts in Norwegian media, literature, and everyday conversations. Notice the subtle differences in meaning based on context.
  2. Comparative Analysis: Compare the use of “etter” with similar prepositions in your native language. This can help highlight nuances and prevent direct translation errors.
  3. Practice with Collocations: Learn common phrases and collocations involving “etter” to internalize its various uses:
    • “gå etter” (to go after, to follow)
    • “se etter” (to look after, to look for)
    • “spørre etter” (to ask for)
  4. Visualization Techniques: For spatial uses of “etter,” try visualizing the scenes described. This can help reinforce the connection between the preposition and its physical meaning.
  5. Temporal Mapping: For temporal uses, practice mapping out sequences of events using “etter” to describe their relationships.

Conclusion: The Linguistic Bridge of “Etter”

The preposition “etter” in Norwegian exemplifies the intricate relationship between spatial and temporal concepts in language. Its ability to convey both physical positioning and sequential ordering, often simultaneously, makes it a uniquely versatile tool in Norwegian expression. From simple temporal succession to complex spatial relationships and abstract concepts, “etter” bridges the gap between time and space in ways that challenge simple translation and reveal deep insights into Norwegian cognitive framing of relationships.

Understanding the multifaceted nature of “etter” not only enhances one’s grasp of Norwegian grammar but also offers profound insight into how languages conceptualize and express the interconnected notions of time and space. As learners and speakers of Norwegian navigate the rich landscape of prepositions, “etter” stands out as a prime example of how a single word can encapsulate a wealth of meaning, bridging the realms of when and where in the Norwegian linguistic world.

This exploration of “etter” underscores the importance of approaching language learning not just as a matter of vocabulary and rules, but as a window into cultural and cognitive patterns. The nuanced use of prepositions like “etter” reflects centuries of linguistic evolution, shaped by the unique experiences and worldview of Norwegian speakers. By mastering the subtleties of such linguistic tools, learners gain not just proficiency in a language, but a deeper understanding of the culture and mindset it represents.

For those inspired to delve deeper into the intricacies of Norwegian language and culture, the NLS Norwegian Language School offers an excellent opportunity to enhance your skills. Their experienced instructors can guide you through the nuances of prepositions like “etter” and many other aspects of Norwegian grammar and usage. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to refine your advanced skills, NLS provides tailored courses to meet your needs. Visit to explore their group class options and take the next step in your Norwegian language journey.

In the end, “etter” serves as more than just a preposition; it is a linguistic bridge connecting concepts, a tool for expressing complex relationships, and a key to unlocking the Norwegian way of perceiving and describing the world. Its study rewards the curious language learner with both practical skills and philosophical insights, making it a fascinating subject for anyone interested in the depths of language and cognition. As you continue to explore the Norwegian language, remember that each word, like “etter,” holds within it a world of meaning waiting to be discovered.

If you want to learn Norwegian, you can register for classes here. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you become fluent in Norwegian.

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