For a short essay assignment (650 word limit), I'm writing about how my experiences with learning Norwegian shaped me as an individual with the underlying idea centered around how sharing a common language can break barriers between two people. In order to adequately describe how my Norwegian language learning odyssey affected my life, I've had to repeat the word "Norwegian" and "Norway" way too many times because I had trouble finding a suitable synonym for these words. In my short essay of 618 words, I counted 13 instances of the word Norwegian and 6 instances of the word Norway in contexts such as these:

  • Norwegian (referring to a person): I was talking to a Norwegian girl (there are Swedes and Danes, but nothing unique for Norwegians)

  • Norwegian (language, both adjective and noun): the Norwegian textbook / Why are you learning Norwegian?

I've considered writing something such as "The intricacies of the language of the Vikings never failed to confuse me...", but that sounds kind of cheesy (I'm not sure though). I briefly touched on my interest for Norwegian history and culture (and how that was my main motivation when I chose which language to learn), so that could fit in, but it's also not the main focus of my essay.

Also, sometimes I write "the language" instead of "Norwegian"; for example: "My interest in Norwegian culture drew me to learn the language", but I already use the word "language" to talk about how it breaks barriers and unites people, so that word has been overused too. There aren't many synonyms for "language" that I can find; I did write "obscure tongue" at one point, but the writing doesn't feel natural to me when I use that word.

Those are the two solutions I've come up with, but they both aren't very great. Can someone suggest any other way I could avoid repeating these words in my writing?

  • 3
    13 Norwegians and 6 Norways seems reasonable to me in an essay about your experience learning the language. What makes you think it's too many? Too many for what? Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 2:40
  • The vikings didn't speak Norwegian, as far as I know, but Old Norse, which is best preserved in Icelandic. What Anglo-Saxon sources call "vikings" are Danes, not Norwegians. In Old Norse itself the term denoted seafaring warriors from all Scandinavia. So calling Norwegian "the language of the Vikings" is most certainly wrong. And Norwegian isn't an "obscure" language. It's a language spoken by millions!
    – user5645
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 6:41
  • 1
    It's hard for me to give advice on word repetitions without seeing the whole piece. Just knowing how many times the word "Norwegian" is used isn't enough to allow me to comment.
    – ewormuth
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 2:11

2 Answers 2


Yes, there's a general rule against repeating a word, but like many rules, it must be applied reasonably. If you're writing about Norway and the Norwegian language, it's likely you'll have to repeat "Norway" and "Norwegian" a fair number of times. While common words can often be replaced with synonyms, proper nouns usually cannot.

I would definitely NOT look for poetic phrases to replace "Norway". I've read things where the writer comes up with alternate phrases like "that snowy land", "the far-northern nation", and so on, and usually that is more distracting than repeating "Norway". As @what notes, referring to Norway as Viking this or that is likely to introduce technical inaccuracies that would be distracting to the more knowledgeable reader.

If the only country you're talking about is Norway, then you could often replace "Norway" with simple words like "it", "there", "that country", and so on. In some cases any reference to the place might be left out as assumed. Similarly for references to the people and the language. Like to take a deliberately extreme example, if my first draft of a sentence said, "When I arrived in Norway I found that Norway is a beautiful country and that Norway has many forests and a long coastline", I'd probably rewrite that to something like, "When I arrived in Norway I fount that it is a beautiful country with many forests and a long coastline."

Without seeing your text it's hard to say how awkward or natural it sounds. 19 uses of "Norway" or "Norwegian" in 618 words means about once per 30 words, or maybe once every 2 sentences or so? That seems high, but not ridiculous. It's not like you're writing "Norway" 3 times per sentence.


A word repeated too many times in close confines can sound trite, but look at the would-be repetition as an opportunity to exercise your creativity. Instead of looking for a synonym, consider the places where you would repeat Norwegian as opportunities to provide more information about the subject.

To learn more about Norwegian, I meet with Dr Bångun Ølufsėn, a professor of his country's language at the national university. "Ya, sure," the Oslo native says, "sure looks like snow. But you gonna be ready if you have the blood of our people in your veins. This country's landscape is blanketed in snow more often than it is not. You have to be ready, and our traditions make virtues of preparedness for this part of the world's weather."

In this short example I've marked in bold several instances that I might have used the word Norwegian but used some other construct instead.

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