When the dead wash buses.

Posted on 21. Jan, 2015 by in Icelandic grammar


Zombie Apocalypse by Stephen Dann at Flickr.com.

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 Flick.com.

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 Flickr.com.

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 Flickr.com.

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 Flickr.com.


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 Flickr.com

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 Flickr.com.

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 Flickr.com.

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 Flickr.com.

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 Flickr.com.


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

Keeping that Icelandic-learning resolution.

Posted on 07. Jan, 2015 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs, Icelandic grammar, Icelandic history

Study by Judit Klein on Flickr.com.

Hello again, dear readers, and welcome to the year 2015! It’s time to make some resolutions for the year – or maybe you’ve already made some? Any language learning -related ones? Anyone up to studying a rare Nordic language that’s about as close to Old Norse as can get? ;)

A new year’s resolution, nýársheit, that I’ve made is to speak Icelandic every day. This time I’m not going to take the easy route: just saying hello to the bus driver or typical answering litany to a store clerk will not do, it will have to be a discussion on a topic. So far I’ve done quite well. Yesterday I chatted with the SO’s mother about a new coffee maker and how to use it, the day before did my best at a party discussion about veganism and the day before that I discussed a PS3 game with the SO. The last one was mostly very rude language as I was simultaneously playing the game, but it still counts!

Maybe this could be a resolution you could adopt too in some form? If actually discussing things with an Icelander is not a possibility, how about adding one piece of Icelandic to your daily schedule instead? It might be fun to do this a little bit differently every day, one day maybe listen to a piece of news in Icelandic, translate a news article, study one chapter on Icelandic online, or listen to a song by an Icelandic band and try to listen to the lyrics. It’s not cheating either if you look at the lyrics while you listen, and if you sing along you’re actually practicing your pronunciation.

This blog might help you out a little as well. The tags will easily lead you to the type of content you’re most interested in, but besides that here are some blog posts that you could start with.


It Looks Insoluble by David Goehring on Flickr.com.


Maybe your resolution was to start learning Icelandic, in which case welcome! Here’s something that can help you get over some early hurdles:

The helpful helping verbs. They will get you a long way in basic discussion skills, just see that they don’t also trip you here and there.

With with, with or with? The differences of three prepositions that all translate as “with” explained with the kind help of Haraldur hárfagri (Harald Fairhair).

Similarly, Hafa, eiga, vera með: to have, have or have?

Holy genitive case in Icelandic Batman! The basics of one case, and just a little teaser it’ll soon be followed by the accusative and dative which both get a post of their own. I’ll be linking all three together for easier browsing. Meanwhile also check Prepositions + accusative for prepositions that always want an accusative after them.

Here, there, trolls everywhere! Quick, where is the troll and can you escape? The Icelandic words of direction often tell you not only which way to look but also how far the object is and whether it’s currently moving towards you or not. Icelandic trolls eat humans, you might want to run.


Here are some blog posts about more complicated language issues for those who already have a good grasp on the basics:

Subjunctive mood, parts 1, 2 and 3.

Suffix to say don’t panic. All of a sudden your vocabulary skills have more than doubled – but why?

Icelandic horses for courses and… courses. Horses with a side dish of pro-forms and how to use them.

No Problem by Chris Hunkeler at Flickr.com.


Yup, it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible if you know what to look out for.

Getting understood in Iceland, parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

A 5 step guide to rhythm, my personal favourite. Learning the correct rhythm will go miles to helping you get understood (also remember to speak slowly).

Drop it like it’s Ð, G, H, Þ or a vowel: sounds to omit, or more typically sounds that the Icelanders omit while they speak. If the rhythm post helps Icelanders to understand you, this one helps you understand the Icelanders.

The funnies

Just something to entertain you in between the more difficult Icelandic lessons.

Personal pronouns, or how polite can be rude. Very important if you want to avoid being offensive while trying very, very hard to be polite. Politeness codes are very different from language to language, and between English and any Nordic language the differences can be fatal both ways. Similarly You say hello, I say excuse me I’m a woman addresses another important detail of avoiding big mistakes. ;)

Staving off a disaster; magical tattoos. Read before going under the needle!

The wisdom of the vikings – Hávamál; let Óðinn himself teach you some tips to good conduct (and language learning).

Ok, so you’re thoroughly frustrated by the Icelandic language. I know the feeling. Here, Swearing in Icelandic may help you alleviate some stress. :D

The best of luck with your language studies in 2015!