Norwegian: ville være/ville ha vært/ville vært

Harrythegiraffe

New Member
Chinese
Hello guys I know probably it’s a tricky question and difficult to answer…but I came across “ville vært” when reading a children’s encyclopaedia in Norwegian.

I was first confused and after looking it up I found out that “ville vært” is basically the same as “ville ha vært.” 
 But it’s still so confusing, since here it proposes a hypothesis for the present situation: “how life would be,” rather than a situation in the past, so why does the writer use “ville vært,” which literally means “would have been,” instead of “ville være?” 


Besides, is “ville vært” really a truncated version of “ville ha vært?” Because in English the auxiliary “would” is always followed by an infinitive, so I just find it difficult to accept that the “ha” can be easily omitted in Norwegian…

To sum up: I would like to ask if “ville vært” is really equivalent to “ville ha vært,” and if so, why the “ha” is left out. I would also like to know what the difference between “ville vært” and “ville være” is, and how come “ville vært” can be used in a present context.

Sorry I know it’s very lengthy and confusing..I would appreciate it if someome could get around to answering it!

Thank you!! 🌟💙💙

[the passage where “ville vært” shows up is in the picture]

Here this article says that “ville vært” and “ville ha vært” are the same but it doesn’t explain why the “ha” is optional…Ville vært eller ville ha vært?
 

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  • winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I would like to ask if “ville vært” is really equivalent to “ville ha vært,” and if so, why the “ha” is left out. I would also like to know what the difference between “ville vært” and “ville være” is, and how come “ville vært” can be used in a present context.
    The "ha" is optional, and I guess it is handy and unambiguous to leave it out. It's just how the language works. You might rather ask why in English we have to say "would have been", and "would been" is wrong.

    I think "ville vaere" would have been better in the example you gave, but only because the tense switches to the present in subsequent sentences. A careful proofreader should probably have corrected it, but I doubt many people would immediately spot the subtle shift in tense, which must happen all the time in everyday usage. You could even argue that first sentence refers to the past, but right up to the present, and the rest of the paragraph just focuses on the present.

    However, if you wanted to talk about life in the 20th century for example, you would have to say "ville (ha) vært", and the later sentences would need to be in the past too.
     
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    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Because in English the auxiliary “would” is always followed by an infinitive, so I just find it difficult to accept that the “ha” can be easily omitted in Norwegian…
    Well, Norwegian is not English. You can't just apply English grammar in Norwegian.

    I think "ville vaere" would have been better in the example you gave, but only because the tense switches to the present in subsequent sentences.
    You are right, the use of tenses is inconsequent. But I think I would have preferred "ville vært", "ikke fått" and "ikke virket". The way I see it, the use of "ville (ha) vært" makes it clearer that this is a purely hypothetical, unreal situation, while "ville være" doesn't exclude this as a possible future development.
     

    Harrythegiraffe

    New Member
    Chinese
    The "ha" is optional, and I guess it is handy and unambiguous to leave it out. It's just how the language works. You might rather ask why in English we have to say "would have been", and "would been" is wrong.

    I think "ville vaere" would have been better in the example you gave, but only because the tense switches to the present in subsequent sentences. A careful proofreader should probably have corrected it, but I doubt many people would immediately spot the subtle shift in tense, which must happen all the time in everyday usage. You could even argue that first sentence refers to the past, but right up to the present, and the rest of the paragraph just focuses on the present.

    However, if you wanted to talk about life in the 20th century for example, you would have to say "ville (ha) vært", and the later sentences would need to be in the past too.
    Thank you!! Yeah the grammar rules of one language can be highly misleading when applied to another. I should keep that in mind! :D
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    You might rather ask why in English we have to say "would have been", and "would been" is wrong.
    It now occurs to me that even in English the "have" is rather a weak feature of the language.

    It is often pronounced and written "would've been", and then there is the (mainly American I think) colloquial "woulda been". It also seems to be increasingly common to see "would of been", as a misspelling of "would've been", indicating a lack of understanding of the grammar. And sometimes you now hear the "of" clearly pronounced too.
     

    Harrythegiraffe

    New Member
    Chinese
    Well, Norwegian is not English. You can't just apply English grammar in Norwegian.


    You are right, the use of tenses is inconsequent. But I think I would have preferred "ville vært", "ikke fått" and "ikke virket". The way I see it, the use of "ville (ha) vært" makes it clearer that this is a purely hypothetical, unreal situation, while "ville være" doesn't exclude this as a possible future development.
    Thank you!! Yeah, I should try to understand Norwegian in its own way hah! : D
    I also looked through other threads in this forum and figured out that “ville (ha) vært” can indicate both “would be” and “would have been” in English, and it’s good that you point out here the slight difference between “ville være” and “ville ha vært” when applied to the same “would be” meaning!
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    I would have guessed that in written language the form without 'ha' was relatively more common today than 100 years ago, but the n-gram for 'burde ha gjort det' and 'burde gjort det' shows the opposite. There was little difference in their frequency in 1900-1920, but today 'burde ha gjort det' is much commoner in written language.
     

    Harrythegiraffe

    New Member
    Chinese
    It now occurs to me that even in English the "have" is rather a weak feature of the language.

    It is often pronounced and written "would've been", and then there is the (mainly American I think) colloquial "woulda been". It also seems to be increasingly common to see "would of been", as a misspelling of "would've been", indicating a lack of understanding of the grammar. And sometimes you now hear the "of" clearly pronounced too.
    Yeah! it’s really interesting ur discovery hahahah!!!!
    Since I’m better at English one thing I like most when learning Norwegian is how things hidden in English can be manifest in Norwegian and sometimes vice versa!
     

    myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Besides, is “ville vært” really a truncated version of “ville ha vært?” Because in English the auxiliary “would” is always followed by an infinitive, so I just find it difficult to accept that the “ha” can be easily omitted in Norwegian…

    To sum up: I would like to ask if “ville vært” is really equivalent to “ville ha vært,” and if so, why the “ha” is left out. I would also like to know what the difference between “ville vært” and “ville være” is, and how come “ville vært” can be used in a present context.
    The "ha" is optional, and I guess it is handy and unambiguous to leave it out. It's just how the language works. You might rather ask why in English we have to say "would have been", and "would been" is wrong.
    Perhaps a bit of precision is needed here. "Ha" is optional only if what is being expressed is counterfactual.

    a) Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien (ambiguous)
    i. She wanted to have been sick before the holidays
    ii. She would have been sick before the holidays

    b) Hun ville vært syk før ferien (counterfactual, unambiguous)
    i. She would have been sick before the holidays
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    a) Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien (ambiguous)
    i. She wanted to have been sick before the holidays
    ii. She would have been sick before the holidays
    How likely is the meaning "She wanted to have been sick before the holidays"?

    While correct, in English that tense seems so odd that it is unlikely to be used, and even less unlikey to be precisely understood. Either the ambiguity in a simpler tense would be accepted, or more words woudl be used to explain the precise intention.
     

    myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    How likely is the meaning "She wanted to have been sick before the holidays"?

    While correct, in English that tense seems so odd that it is unlikely to be used, and even less unlikey to be precisely understood. Either the ambiguity in a simpler tense would be accepted, or more words woudl be used to explain the precise intention.
    I am not sure how to respond to this. What exacty is the issue here? My not so precise attempt at an English "translation"?
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I am not sure how to respond to this. What exacty is the issue here? My not so precise attempt at an English "translation"?
    My question was quite straightforward, and can be answered independently of the rest of my comment: How likely is the meaning She wanted to have been sick before the holidays? I must admit that my suspicion is that it unlikely to be the intention, so there is in practice not very much ambiguity in Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien. But of course I defer to you as a native speaker, and would be interested in your opinion - and indeed in the opinions of others here.

    The second part of my comment can be taken separately (or just ignored), yet it partly explains my view that meaning (i) would be unlikely in Norwegian. The English translation was literal, and correct. I would not be able to find a better one without using a lot more words that would depend on the context. Yet nevertheless, I think the chances of the sentence actually being used in English are very slight, and if it were used, it probably would not be fully understand. To me the tense sounds very awkward, and yet grammatically corect, and means that she wanted to have been sick with something before the holidays, yet have recovered from it before the holidays started (and it's the same in Norwegian isn't it?). In English you are more likely to say She wanted to be sick before the holidays, or She wanted to have recovered before her holidays, but of course they have different meanings. The other likely alternative is a more wordy explanation.

    (I hope that is clearer - rather than just confising the issue with more words!))
     

    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    a) Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien (ambiguous)
    i. She wanted to have been sick before the holidays
    ii. She would have been sick before the holidays
    I agree that this is an ambigous written sentence. The ambiguity disappears when the sentence is spoken. If "ville" is stressed, the meaning is "wanted to". If it is unstressed, the meaning is "would".

    How likely is the meaning She wanted to have been sick before the holidays?
    I think your question actually is two separate questions. First, this specific example may seem unlikely because most people don't want to be sick. As you write in your post, you need a context where she wanted the illness to happen before her holidays, instead of during the holidays. That is of course possible.

    Second, your main question is whether this tense would be used to express this meaning.
    In English you are more likely to say She wanted to be sick before the holidays
    "Hun ville være syk før ferien" is a likely option also in Norwegian, but I think this has a slightly different time perspective. This seems to describe what she wanted at that time, before the holidays. In contrast, "Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien" describes what she thinks now, looking back at the holidays and the illness.
     

    myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    My question was quite straightforward, and can be answered independently of the rest of my comment: How likely is the meaning She wanted to have been sick before the holidays? I must admit that my suspicion is that it unlikely to be the intention, so there is in practice not very much ambiguity in Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien. But of course I defer to you as a native speaker, and would be interested in your opinion - and indeed in the opinions of others here.
    I will address this part as it is about Norwegian and I will leave the question about the awkwardness of the tense in English aside.

    Ambiguity is not a function of probability. Either something is ambiguous or it isn't. I will grant you that, uttered in isolation without context, a conterfactual interpretation is what I would jump to but that does not remove the ambiguity. If I asked you what a "bank" is, you would probably first think about the financial institution and completely forget that it can also refer to "collection of sand in the landscape". However, it does not affect the inherent ambiguity.

    The ambiguity will generally disappear though, when we look at the larger context. If someone tells me something like:
    A: Han må ha vært der.
    and I, some time later, decide I want to refer to this utterance but since it took place in the past, I would say B and not B':
    B: Han måtte ha vært der.
    B': Han måtte vært der.
    because the latter simply means it didn't happen and I would lose important information from A to B'.

    I did change the modal from ville to måtte because modals are ambiguous in themselves and in their own ways, and it's not always easy to come up with natural sounding examples. The point is nevertheless that the optionality of ha in past tense construction with "modal+ha+past participle" is constrained in a systematic way (it is never optional in the present tense).

    And one last point: you could teach learners of Norwegian that there is a rule such that ha is always optional in the construction at hand. This rule demonstrably leads to errors. If you tell them always to include it (unless they really know what their are doing), the rule will not lead to any errors.
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    In contrast, "Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien" describes what she thinks now, looking back at the holidays and the illness.
    In which case, the best translation for that meaning would I think be She wishes she had been sick before the holidays. You could also translate it as She would that she had been sick before the holidays, but that sounds stilted in modern English. (Anything starting with She wanted would most certainly refer to how she felt in the past.) That has nothing to do with the Norwegian, but the translation with would might help me rationalise and remember.

    Otherwise, I thank you and @myšlenka for your patient explanations. I am not totally sure I understand yet, but I will remember that there is an issue, and reread everything to try become clearer.
     

    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Even though "Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien" is a possible sentence, I agree that this it is not necessarily the best way to express the "wanted to" meaning. An extra word would make the meaning clearer, for example "Hun ville helst ha vært syk før ferien".
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Even though "Hun ville ha vært syk før ferien" is a possible sentence, I agree that this it is not necessarily the best way to express the "wanted to" meaning. An extra word would make the meaning clearer, for example "Hun ville helst ha vært syk før ferien".
    Ah, that was actually a great help. I still need to reread this thread, but now I see better how to interpret the construction.
     
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