Vil or skal in the Norwegian language? The construction of the future tense.

Vil or skal in the Norwegian language? In this post I show the differences between them.
According to Mac Donald, these are bad sentences students always make:

  1. Vegard skal dø snart
  2. *Jeg skal savne klassen
  3. *Du skal ha nye venner der
  4. *Hvis det skal være pent vær, vi skal dra til stranden
  5. *Hun skal være veldig glad
  6. * Hvis jeg går hjem, jeg kanskje skal bli drept
The use of the verb skal

The modal verb skal is used when someone wants to express a plan, a decision, an intention:

  1. Vi skal flytte.
  2. Skal du ta eksamen?
  3. Hun skal skifte jobb.

Mac Donald states that students tend to use skal too much in the Norwegian langauge. The best way to understand the use of this word is to ask yourself: who has decided that?

There are, however, fixed formulations with skal that one can use without properly making plans for the upcoming action:

  1. Det skal bli deilig å få ferie!
  2. Det skal bli hyggelig!

The author says these two last sentences have much more to do with the contemporary feeling of the speaker. If he or she wanted to express an upcoming event he or she would say: det kommer til å bli hyggelig.

The use of the verb vil

The modal verb vil, in turn, is much more used to express a future one expects to come without making any decision about it:

  1. Økonomien vil bli bedre til neste år.
  2. Oljeprisen vil fortsette å stige

Mac Donald states that it’s also possible in the formal style to use vil in cases where skal should be used:

  1. De vil innkalle til styremøte i neste måned. Jeg vil sende svar i løpet av uka.
The use of the expression kommer til å

But we may consider as well that it’s not always a good solution to use vil when we can not use skal. In order to do that it’s preferred to use kommer til å in expressions where skal is not allowed:

  1. du kommer sikkert til å like deg der
  2. jeg kommer til å lengte hjem.
  3. det kommer til å gå bra

It is also possible use this expression in sentences that denotate an intention or a decision (by substituting skal):

  1. Vi kommer til å flytte.
  2. Kommer du til å ta eksamen?
The use of the verbs in the passive tense

In the passive voice there’s a tendency to use vil or kommer til å in the future of passive voice with bli:

  1. Huset vil bli solgt / huset kommer til å bli sogt
  2. Saken vil bli løst / saken kommer til å bli løst

When the passive voice is formed with the s-passiv it’s most common to use skal:

  1. Huset skal selges
The present tense as a way of making the future tense

Besides, it’s important to know that in the Norwegian language it’s very common to use the present in order to express the future, particularly with verbs that denote a change, a transition or movement:

  1. Toget kommer klokka to
  2. Vi flytter til Bergen
  3. Det blir visst kaldere
  4. Jeg får besøk av mine foreldre

If one uses an adverb which denotes the future, many verbs can be expressed in the present tense:

  1. Jeg gjør oppgaven i morgen
  2. Jeg vasker opp senere

There’s also some clauses on which we have to use the present tense to express the future:

  1. Hvis vi spiser før klokka fem, rekker vi forestillingen
  2. Når du er ferdig, kan vi ta en tur
Other considerations

In some contexts it’s the verb in the main clause that “choose” the verb in the subordinate clause:

  1. De venter til forholdene forandrer seg
  2. De venter på at forholdene skal forandre seg
  3. De håer at forholdene vil/kommer til å forandre seg

The construction skal + infinitiv (very often være or ha) can also have a special meaning, that is, it can express a rumor, something that one has heard from someone else:

Rumor: hun skal være narkoman (I heard she’s a junkie)
Future: hun kommer til å bli narkoman (I think she will probably become a junkie).

Rumor: hun skal ha venner der (I heard she has friends there)
Future: hun kommer til å få venner der (I think she will probably make friends there).

Explaining the wrong sentences above:

The sentences 1 and 2 are wrong because they tell of two events that one can not plan or decide. It’s not natural to ask: hvem har bestemt det? (who decidied it? who decided he is going to die soon?). The verb vil er better, but still too rigid in the context. Therefore, the construction kommer til å is the best way to express it. However, if the sentence 1 is a threat, skal can be used.

The sentence 3 is wrong because there’s no determination that the person is going to make new friends. The better choice is kommer til å. Besides, the verb ha sounds not good in this context and should, therefore, be replaced by, which is used to express a change. The most common way of expression would be du får sikkert nye venner der.

The sentence 4 is wrong because the weather is not so easy to determinate. The best way to write it is: det kommer nok til å bli fint vær or det blir sikkert fint vær. In clauses with hvis the possibilities are even more limited. In this case, it’s more appropriate to use blir rather than er.

The statement 5 is theoretically right if it has to be interpreted as a rumor (jeg har hørt at hun er glad). But in the sense we’re dealing here skal is wrong because no one can decide the feelings of others. Besides, we should write bli instead of være since it’s a transition to a new state: hun kommer til å bli glad; hun blir sikkert glad.

The statement 6 is wrong because it’s impossible to be determined. So kommer til or vil is the best way to express it. The passive voice with bli and the verb skal generally do not mix together.


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