Future, intent or necessity

In this article we demonstrate something quite simple - but VERY useful - two certain verbs in Norwegian. Learn how to “slim down” your sentences by using “SKAL” and “MÅ” like the Norwegians do...  

SKAL - VIL - MÅ - Future, intent or necessity

Most Norwegian learners I have met use the verbs: SKAL, VIL and MÅ to express FUTURE, INTENT, or NECESSITY.

Jeg SKAL reise til Spania i ferien
I AM GOING TO Spain for the holidays  
Vi VIL gjerne kjøpe ny bil
We WOULD very much LIKE TO buy a new car  
Jeg MÅ jobbe sent i kveld
I HAVE TO work late tonight


In all three examples, SKAL, VIL and MÅ are MODAL VERBS or MODAL AUXILIARY VERBS as some linguists still call them.

In all three sentences above, the modal verbs are used to express either:

future tense or an intent to do something.


It is ANOTHER verb, the MAIN verb (called “hovedverb” in Norwegian), which gives information about the actual action we intend to undertake.

(skal) REISE (vil)    KJØPE (må)  JOBBE


Many Norwegian students fail to notice that the verbs SKAL, VIL and MÅ often stand alone in Norwegian sentences. Here are a few examples of these three verbs appearing as MAIN verbs, not MODAL verbs.



One of the best ways to get really good at a something is to do less. With speaking a language, saying more with fewer words is regarded as more elegant and efficient. So let’s get elegant!

Check out these sentences:

Hvor SKAL du? - Jeg SKAL til Spania
Where are you going? - I’m going to Spain
Hva SKAL du med den? - Jeg vet ikke
What do you need it for? - I don’t know
Hvem SKAL du til? - Jeg skal til moren min
Who are you going to visit? - I’m going to visit my mother
MÅ vi virkelig det?
Do we really HAVE to?
Vi MÅ ingenting…
We don’t have to do ANYTHING
Beklager, jeg MÅ på do…
I’m sorry, I need to go to the bathroom
Hva VIL du?
What do you WANT?
Jeg VIL ikke!!!
I don’t want to!!!

  - So what is going on here?



So, you may ask, what’s wrong with saying: Jeg skal reise til Spania. Nothing is wrong. It’s even likely that you’ve learned to use exactly this phrase in Norwegian classes. It’s not wrong, but it’s not great either.

They (we) taught you to construct a sentence this way because we wanted you to be able to easily create Future tense. But what the majority of Norwegians would say is: Jeg SKAL til Spania...

That’s shorter and snappier:

The thought is that it is obvious that you need to TRAVEL (reise, dra) to get there. What we are really discussing is WHERE do you PLAN to go/ WHAT you plan to DO...


Notice that f.ex Jeg MÅ på do (or “toalettet” if you want to show some manners…) does not give away what exactly it is you need to DO while you are “på do” :-)

With MÅ as main verb, it’s the necessity or urgency that is expressed. The preposition "ut" follows.

Other examples:

Dere MÅ ut.

Vi MÅ hjem.

Jeg MÅ bort.



This word ( to want) is very much expressing intent, and VIL does behave similarly to MÅ and SKAL.

VIL it’s a little different, however, even when it stands alone. VIL almost always refers to a main verb that is understood from the context.


Hva SKAL du i ferien?

Now please tell us where you’re going this summer in the comment window!

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