Icelandic Grammar

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Note: this information pack on the Icelandic language was referenced in the work of Auður Einarsdottir and his team (Guðrun Theodorstdottir, Maria Garðarsdottir, Sigriður Þorvaldsdottir) in the book "Learning Icelandic" published by Mal og menning.

The Icelandic language is fascinating in the sense that it has changed very little for several centuries. In fact, it is considered to be spoken in 13th century Norwegian.

For all travelers and enthusiasts of this region with its magnificent landscapes, we invite you to access our audio Icelandic course .

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Icelandic Grammar

Here are some aspects of Icelandic grammar that may help you in your study of the spoken language. Indeed, our 100% audio Icelandic course will allow you a real foray into the everyday language as it is spoken in Iceland today. For a better understanding of the mechanisms of the Icelandic language, we invite you to read this short grammar guide.

History of the Icelandic language: When Iceland was first colonized in the 9th century, the vast majority of settlers came from Norway, some of them having taken slaves from Ireland. During the first centuries (from the 9th to the 14th century), the same language was thus spoken as much in Norway as on the current territory of Iceland. Apart from some borrowings from Celtic languages, the language was similar in these two countries. The distinction between the two languages ​​was made in the 14th century: the Norwegian inflections became simpler while the sounds of Icelandic changed. The Icelandic language is often said to be similar to 13th century Norwegian.

The cases in Icelandic: Icelandic has a declination system. In other words, nouns, adjectives as well as pronouns can have 4 different cases (or functions): nominative, accusative (complement of direct object), dative (complement of indirect object) and genitive (complement of noun ). The cases also depend on whether the word is singular or plural. The form in which we find Icelandic words in the dictionary is always in the nominative (also called the subject case).

Nominative in Icelandic: The nominative is the subject function (of the sentence). It is in this form that we find words in the Icelandic dictionary. Here are the words "Icelandic - íslenska "And" French - franska "referring to the language. In the following sentence, it is subject, therefore to the nominative.

  1. Íslenska er fallegt tungumál - Icelandic is a beautiful language.

  2. Franska er fallegt tungumál - French is a beautiful language

Let’s look at two more examples with the words “my friend - vinur minn ” and “my father - faðir minn ” which are both nominative in the following sentences. They are registered since they are subjects of the sentence they begin.

  1. Vinur minn er mjög góður. - My friend is very nice.

  2. Faðir minn er mjög góður. - My father is very nice.

Íslenska , franska , vinur minn and faðir minn are all 4 registered in the previous sentences. Let us now study their transformation when they become a direct object.

Accusative in Icelandic : The accusative answers the question "who, what?" ". Here are 4 examples with the words "Icelandic - íslensku "," French - franska "," my friend - vinur minn "and" my father - faðir minn " and that we have just seen in their nominative form. In the accusative form, here are the same words:

  1. Ég tala íslensku - I speak Icelandic.

  2. Ég tala frönsku - I speak French

  3. Ég heimsæki vinkonu mína - I visit my friend

  4. Ég heimsæki föður minn - I visit my father.


Dative in Icelandic : The dative is the indirect object complement function and answers the question "to whom, to what". To fully appreciate the change of form in the dative, you have to compare it with the same Icelandic words in their nominative form. So here are the following sentences:

  1. Vinur minn er mjög góður. - My friend is very nice. (in registered form: vinur minn )

  2. Faðir minn er mjög góður. - My father is very nice. (in registered form: faðir minn )

  3. Ég tala við vinkonu mína. - I'm talking to my friend. (in dative: við vinkonu mína )

  4. Ég tala við föður minn. - I'm talking to my father. (dative: við föður minn )

Genitive in Icelandic : the genitive case is, in all the languages ​​which use it, that of the complement of the noun. It marks possession and is usually preceded by the word "de" in French. To better understand the genitive case and the transformation it makes Icelandic names undergo, here are two examples with words seen previously: Vinur minn - my friend and Faðir minn - my father.

Faðir vinkonu minnar er mjög góður. - My friend's father is very nice

Vinur föður míns er mjög góður. - My father's friend is very nice

Gender in Icelandic: Whether for nouns or adjectives, they can be masculine, feminine or neutral. On the other hand, no rule makes it possible to establish whether a word is masculine, feminine or neutral. However, male names in Icelandic often end in - ur , - r , - i , - ll or - nn . Feminine names will often see an - a , - ing or a - un at the end of the word. Neutral nouns have no definite ending and the last vowel is usually stressed. Here are some examples of Icelandic words.

Faðir - father Eiginmaður - husband

Sonur - son Stelpa - daughter

Afi - grandfather

Some tips to help you determine the gender of a word (noun) in Icelandic:

  • Generally speaking, in Icelandic, the words masculine and feminine often refer to men and women.

  • In Icelandic, neutral nouns normally refer to non-gendered people or groups (eg children, singles, etc.).

  • In Icelandic, a nominative word ending in - ur is almost always masculine.

  • In Icelandic, a nominative word ending in - a is very often feminine (the neutrals in - a are few)

  • A word that ends in -i is either masculine or neutral. He is never feminine.

Note, however, that exceptions may arise. Words like brúður (wife) ending with a ending normally used in masculine words (- ur ) are nevertheless feminine.

Articles in Icelandic : In Icelandic, names are either defined or undefined. Icelandic does not have, as in French, an indefinite article such as (un, une, de, des). As for the definite articles, they are affixed at the end of the word. Thus, " drengur - a boy" will become " drengurinn - the boy". The neutral word " barn - child" will change to " barið - the child". Here are other examples of articles in Icelandic:

work - vinna work - verkið

book - bók the book - bókinni

teacher - prófessor the teacher - prófessorinn

country - landi the country - landinu

city ​​- borg the city - borgina

Personal pronouns in Icelandic : The same French personal pronouns exist in Icelandic. To this, however, we must add the "they - Þau " to designate neutral things.

I - Eg

You - Þú

He - Hann

She - Hún

This - Það

Us - Við

You - Þið

They - Þeir

They - Þær

They (neutral) - Þau

Icelandic verbs : The Icelandic conjugation distinguishes between strong verbs and weak verbs. Icelandic verbs are always conjugated according to tense, mode, person, number and way. Regarding the way, Icelandic has three: the active, passive and middle (or medial) way. The modes in Icelandic are similar to French which includes the indicative, imperative, conditional and subjunctive. Icelandic tenses are less complicated than in French since we only consider two: the present and the simple past. All others are built using auxiliary.

Negation in Icelandic : In Icelandic, if you want to form a sentence in its negative form, just place " ekki " after the verb. Here are some examples of negative sentences in Icelandic:

  1. Ég læri ekki íslensku með kennara. - I don't learn Icelandic with a teacher.

  2. Þú skilur ekki íslensku. - You don't understand Icelandic.

  3. Ég fer ekki til Reykjavíkur á morgun. - I'm not going to Reykjavik tomorrow.

  4. Við vinnum ekki saman. - We don't work together.

Word order in Icelandic: The word order in Icelandic is generally that which also prevails in most other European languages. Icelandic is therefore, like French, of the SVO type (subject-verb-object) but the highly inflectional character of Icelandic allows it to change this order for poetic or style reasons. Here are some examples of Icelandic sentences. Note the word order, very similar to French:

  1. Ég læri íslensku á hverjum degi með kennara.

I learn Icelandic every day with a teacher.

(subject + verb + circumstantial complement of tense + object)

  1. Þú ferð í skólann. - You go to school.

  2. Þú ferð í skólann í dag. - You're going to school today.

  3. Við lærðum íslensku málfræði. - We learned Icelandic grammar.

For Icelandic adjectives now, read the following examples to better understand the determining order - determined in Icelandic.

  1. an interesting book - fróðleg bók

  2. a nice teacher - ágætur kennari

  3. an audio course in Icelandic - íslenskt hljóðnámskeið

  4. a dangerous region - hættulegt svæði

  5. an Icelandic national park - íslenskur þjóðgarður

  6. an exciting Icelandic course - spennandi íslenskunámskeið

  7. a small village - lítið þorp

  8. a big city - stór borg

  9. an active volcano - virkt eldfjall

  10. an unpredictable geyser - óútreiknanlegur geysir

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