An Icelander walked past a bar.

Posted on 29. Jan, 2015 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Laughter by Atli Harðarson at

It happened years ago on an evening in May. I had just met my SO and we were sitting together in a garden swing talking of this and that, and eventually started telling each other jokes. This was the first one he told me.

(To understand the following you’ll have to know that reipi means rope, and að ýta means to push. You can listen to the pronunciation of reipi here and ýta here. Declension key: Ég ýti = I push.)


Ropes by Boudewijn Berends at

A group of American tourists was driving around Iceland. The roads were slippery and at one point they drove off the road and their car got stuck.

Two Icelanders came along and saw the group in trouble, but their school days had been a long time ago and as they had had little chances of speaking English they had almost forgotten the language. Nevertheless they decided to try to explain the tourists that they would attach a rope to tow the car with theirs and then one of them would also push the tourists’ car, so they went over and the other one told them:

“First we’re going to reipi you and then I’m going to ýti you.”

You may want to read that line out loud to figure out where the joke is. Remember that when a word begins with a y it silences the i-ending in spoken language. :D

The joke stuck with me for many reasons. I love puns and jokes where people make fun of themselves, so an Icelander telling an Icelander-joke totally hit the spot. Thirdly… I love horror movies and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre just happens to have Gunnar Hansen (link), an Icelandic actor, starring as Leatherface! Well, admittedly also because I was making heart eyes at the one telling me the joke, but let’s not get too mushy here.


Recreating 101 Reykjavik by jayneandd at

Do we even laugh over here?

Brandari, djók, grín, all three can translate as “joke”. Having said that it’s usually quite hard to know when you’re hearing one because the local sense of humour is very different from anything I’m accustomed to! It’s often self-deprecating, but in a way that leaves you guessing whether the person might actually be serious. No topic is considered too offensive or bizarre – in fact the stranger the situation the funnier the joke. Icelanders use many puns and insider-knowledge, so many jokes may slip past an outsider’s radar either because you didn’t realize the pun was there or did not know the specifics behind the joke. When obviously joking the Icelanders tend toward gallows humour – here’s a few lines that have apparently all been printed in the minningargreinar, obituaries:

Hann var sannur Íslendingur og dó á 17. júní. (= He was a true Icelander and died on the 17th June/national day of Iceland.)

Þeir sem guðirnir elska deyja ungir. Þessi orð koma mér í huga þegar ég minnist afa. Hann var 93 ára þegar hann lést. (= Those that are loved by the gods die young. These words come to my mind when I remember my grandpa. He was 93 when he passed away.)

Hann giftist eftirlifandi eiginkonu sinni og átu þau tvö börn. (= He married his remaining wife and they ate two children.)(This one’s actually a really unfortunate printing error: þau áttu = they had, þau átu = they ate.)(Not too sure about “remaining” either… the SO confirms it sounds odd to him too.)


The Keeper by Antti T. Nissinen at

Laughter as a weapon

You don’t have to actually die to get a joke about you. Here’s one of the type where you have to know something very specific about Iceland to get the joke. Árni Johnsen is a politician from Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (= Independence party), the very party that caused the 2010 collapse of the economy and the depression that followed it. Árni is also known for having served time for using a government account to pay for his personal property.

Hann Árni Johnsen frá Vestmannaeyjum dó og fór til himna. Lykla Pétur stoppaði hann og sagði: “Nei nei hér kemstu ekki inn.” “Jú Jú víst kemst ég inn.” “Það er best að ég nái í Guð og láti hann tala við þig.”

Og Lykla Pétur fór og þegar hann og Guð koma þá er Árni farinn og gullnahliðið líka.

(= Árni Johnsen from Vestmannaeyjar died and went to heaven. St. Peter stopped him and said: “Oh no you’re not getting in here.” “Oh yes of course I’m getting in there.” “It’s best I’ll go get God and have him talk with you.”

St. Peter went away but when he came back with God, Árni was already gone and so were the pearly gates.)


Danger! Ha! I laugh in the face of danger! Ha, ha, ha, ha! by Hans Splinter at

Sense of humour is often a tool for surviving harsh conditions, and for Icelanders this may be exactly so. Perhaps life on this island has been so difficult for so long that unless you learn to laugh about it you don’t stand a chance? Maybe that’s why the Icelandic flavour of comedy feels a little strange at first; it was born to battle these surroundings, darkness, cold, occasional poisonous ash falls, glacier floods, famine and so forth, Icelanders don’t laugh at people, things or situations as much as they laugh despite of everything. I’ll end this post with a poem that has somehow managed to fit a lot of Icelandic-ness into one tight, compact package:

Bros okkur sýnir að hjartað er heima,
hlæðu og láttu þig stressinu gleyma,
lifðu í gleði og lát þig svo dreyma,
lystisemdir sem órofa blað
og hamingju nýturðu á hverjum stað.

~Einar Sigfússon

Our smile shows that the heart’s at home / Laugh and let yourself forget the stress / Live with good cheer and allow yourself to dream / Pleasures as a continuous page / And enjoy happiness everywhere.

When the dead wash buses.

Posted on 21. Jan, 2015 by in Icelandic grammar


Zombie Apocalypse by Stephen Dann at

The funniest traps that the declensions of Icelandic create are the words with different meanings that have a few identical forms. You’ll no doubt see this when you use the BÍN because often when you look up a word you’ll get a long list of different options that all apply, only they rarely mean the same. It’s then that figuring out which one’s the right one become crucial.

It’s not always so easy for Icelanders either, especially when it comes to article titles. Let’s look at a few amusing ones that were meant to mean one thing but actually ended up sounding like something else.


Réttindalaus maður lærbraut konu. (= A man without a driver’s licence broke a woman’s leg.)

(Licence-less     man     breaks the thigh of     a woman)

Réttindalaus typically hints that someone is lacking a driver’s licence, ökuskirteini. However, it can also mean mannréttindi, human rights, therefore the meaning of the sentence can easily turn into “a man with no rights broke a woman’s leg”.

Bændur leita að kindum á fjórhjólum (= Farmers use four-wheelers to look for sheep.)

(Farmers     look     for     sheep     on     four-wheelers)

Sounds good and logical, but with the sentence structure here it’s too easy to make “kindur á fjórhjólum” a thing on its own, therefore you suddenly have farmers looking for sheep on four-wheelers – in both meanings of the sentence (I love it when one of these can actually be translated exactly to English by the way!).


Rustic Privy by Jim Stauffer at

Salerni umhverfisdeildar milli tanna bæjarfulltrúa. ( = The toilet of the office of the environment criticized by town council.)

(Toilet   of the office of the environment     between     teeth     town council)

The toilet of the office on the environment apparently got in between the teeth of the town council. Possibly literally.

Leoncie reið blaðamönnum Víkurfrétta. (= Leoncie mad at the reporters of Víkurfréttir.)

(Leoncie     angry     the reporters     of Víkurfrétt)

First of all, Leoncie is awesome! Secondly reið/ur means angry, but another declension form is in the verb ríða which means “to ride”. That alone would be funny enough but sadly that particular verb also has a third meaning in spoken language: to have sex. :D

Vilja vana kynferðisbrotarmenn.

(Wanting     to castrate     sex offenders)

Oh dear, this one. Vana is a verb and means to castrate, but vanur is an adjective and means experienced. Coupled with the verb vilja (= to want) the sentence can easily become “experienced sex offenders wanted”.

Selur í göngugötunni. (= Selling on the pedestrian walkway.)

(Sells     on     pedestrian walkway)

…or if the selur is a noun and not a verb there’s actually a seal on the pedestrian walkway. :D


Harðfiskur: Dried fish by Ingunn Nielsen at

Skreið til Nígeríu.

(Dry fish     to     Nigeria)

Skreið is dry fish, as long as we’re talking about the noun. However, if we’re talking about the verb skríða (= to crawl) we’re suddenly looking at a piece of news where someone crawled to Nigeria.

Látnir þvo strætó á nóttunni. (= The buses are being washed during the nights.)

(To let     wash     buses     at     nights)

The word látnir is a form of the verb láta, to let; someone has the buses washed. The danger is that if the word is an adjective instead of a verb it becomes látinn, a dead person. Therefore the undead arise to, er, help clean the public transport? But that’s not the worst that could happen with the pesky undead, because –

Fjórir látnir lausir að lokinni krufningu.

(Four     let     loose     at     the end     autopsy)

I’m almost sure the original writer meant “four are let go after the autopsy” but let’s not make that 100% certain. It could after all mean “four dead loose after the autopsy” and since we already know that the Icelandic undead are seriously bad news it might be good to pay attention to your surroundings…!


hulda078Hulda recommends

I can simply not just mention Icy Spicy Leoncie and leave it at that. She’s carved herself an unforgettable place in the hearts of Icelanders and I daresay there aren’t many who wouldn’t know her: born in Goa, India, she’s made her way to becoming one of the most famous celebrities in Iceland. Therefore it’s fitting I introduce her properly via her music!

Invisible Girl (link).

Ást á pöbbnum (= love in a pub) (link).

Hold Me in Your Arms (a duet with Páll Óskar!)(link).

Gay World (link).

Dative in Icelandic: throw that ball!

Posted on 14. Jan, 2015 by in Icelandic grammar


Study study by Lidyanne Aquino at

Genitive was covered in Holy genitive case in Icelandic, Batman! and I touched upon accusative in Prepositions + accusative, so let’s now look at the third one, the dative.

Before we go on, one warning: Icelandic dative does not work exactly as dative is described to. For the most part þágufall closely resembles dative but there are many exceptions which occasionally throw it onto fields usually covered by f.ex. accusative, þolfall. For this reason I prefer using the Icelandic linguistic names for the cases since I’ve found that it helps to avoid some confusion.

For finding the right case declension for any word I warmly recommend BIN here – just remember to type the word exactly right, with right accent marks. If you miss one you may not get a result at all, or worse, you get a wrong one… my favourite example is that mig langar að kaupa lím (= I’d like to buy some glue) will get you glue, mig langar að kaupa lim (= I’d like to buy some penis)… well, probably glue but with a really wide smile! By the way the difference is near impossible to pronounce. :D


4_Breidholt by Gummi at


It’s hard to make any exact rules when it comes to þágufall, especially in comparison with þolfall. There are certain guidelines but be prepared that there may well be exceptions to some of these rules. It may help to think that þágufall is often answering such questions as where, to whom, when/at what time, with what or in what way, f.ex.

Ég bý í Breiðholti. (= I live in Breiðholt.)

Huldu langar að lesa öllum stundum. (= Hulda wants to read all the time.) Note though that you use þolfall to answer the question “for how long” – Huldu langar að lesa allan daginn (= Hulda wants to read all day long), so be careful not to confuse the two.

Hún var stungin sverði. (= She was stabbed with a sword. If the stabbed party is male you’ll have to use stunginn, the male form.)


Hannah in the Air by Tammra McCauley at

1. The case-picking verbs

Most typically there are verbs that only take a þágufall after them. This is the easy part – you pretty much just learn them as they come and can rest assured that there won’t be exceptions. Verbs that will only take þágufall are f.ex. að kasta (= to throw), að loka (= to close), að gleyma (= to forget), að stela (= to steal), að gefa (= to give) and að svara (= to answer).

Stúlkan kastaði boltanum. (= The girl threw the ball.)

Ólafur svaraði henni. (= Ólafur answered her.)

Ég gleymdi símanum mínum. (= I forgot my phone.)

Sometimes Icelandic does something entirely illogical with these verbs as well, as goes with the verbs að opna (= to open) and að loka (= to close). The first one takes þolfall, the latter þágufall, so:

Opnaðu gluggana (þf.) í eldhúsinu en lokaðu gluggunum (þgf.) í svefnherberginu! (= Open the windows in the kitchen but close the windows in the bedroom!)


And I got fish by Hisa Fujimoto at

2. Verbs affecting two words – here’s where it gets weird.

Well, what if there are two substantives or a substantive + pronoun combo after the verb? Some verbs actually demand one case first and the other one after! Gefa is one such verb:

Snorri gefur kettinum (þgf.) fisk (þf.). (= Snorri gives the cat fish.)

While köttur is in þágufall, fiskur is in þolfall! If, when reading poetry or other text where normal word order rules don’t apply you see Snorri gefur fisk kettinum, keep in mind that he’s still giving fish to the cat, not the other way around. :D

Other verbs that demand the first part in þágufall but the latter in þolfall are að selja (= to sell) and að senda (= to send).

Ég sendi þér fingurkoss. (= I’m blowing you a kiss; fingurkoss = “finger kiss”.)

Að hóta (= to threaten), lofa (= to promise) and svara each want a þágufall + þágufall combination.

Hann hótaði honum lífláti. (= He threatened to kill him.)


Olive snarl by Carterse at

3. Verbs affecting personal pronouns

Some verbs will also demand declension for the pronoun that goes before them. Að líka (= to like) and finnast (= to find/to consider/to be of opinion) are examples of this:

Henni líkar það illa. (= She doesn’t like that.)

Mér finnst maturinn ekki góður. (= I don’t think that the food is good.)


One Ring to rule them all by idreamlikecrazy at

4. Prepositions

Besides verbs, prepositions occasionally take only þágufall after them. Prepositions that can only be followed by a þágufall are af (= from/by), frá (= from), úr (= from/out), (= to/toward), hjá (= by/beside/with), handa (= for someone), nærri (= near), nálægt (= near), á móti (= towards), gegn (= towards) and samkvæmt (= according to).

Fróði Baggi tók hringinn úr gulli frá Gandálfi af borðinu og hljóp svo út úr húsinu. (= Frodo Baggins took the golden ring (that he received) from Gandalf from the table and ran outside of the house.) Hann gekk að dyrum Önnu og bad hana að geyma hann handa honum(= He walked to Anna’s door and asked her to keep it for him.) Þá keyrði hann af stað. (= Then he drove out of town.)

There are more prepositions that occasionally want a þágufall, but we’ll look at those more in the next part where I’ll go through þolfall in a bit more detail.


Warning:________ by Jason Eppink at


There’s also a phenomena named Þágufallssýki (= dative illness)! It’s more of a problem for the natives than the learners, but if you don’t know what it is and how to recognize it you may accidentally catch it.

Þágufallssýki was first noticed and named in the 1920’s: it’s a habit of using þágufall where some other case would be correct instead, usually þolfall. Typical mistakes that Icelanders make are f.ex.

Mér hlakka til – correct form: Ég hlakka til (= I’m looking forward to).

Mér langar í – correct form: Mig langar í (= I want).

Mér vantar – correct form: Mig vantar (= I’m lacking sth.)

So if you hear a local þágufall once too often try to not pick up the habit from them. :D