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

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


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


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!

Elves, fire, explosions: New Year in Iceland

Posted on 30. Dec, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Bonfire night in Iceland by Gúnna at

New Year is fast approaching. For Icelanders it begins tomorrow, or perhaps right after Christmas, depending on whether you use the official definition or the start of the partying. Officially we’re beginning tomorrow, however, the party is already on. We’ve had fireworks every day, some quite flashy since that’s the way the fireworks sellers here advertise their wares. People are being very lax about work and since Christmas is the time of feasting everyone’s been eating really well. The gyms will see a peak of customers in January (and by February things have returned to normal no doubt)!

The partying tomorrow will start by people visiting friends and family, eating heavily and then making their way to the nearest  áramótabrennur (= lit. transl. two years meeting -burning), huge bonfires lit all around the country. In the Reykjavík area you have ten different locations to select from and the city has put together a helpful list of the locations here. They’re also marked for size, although even when they call something lítil brenna (= small burning) you may expect both a large fire and large crowds.

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Áramótabrenna by Sigurdur Jonsson at

Eldur er borinn að köstunum kl. 20:30 á gamlárskvöld á öllum stöðum nema einum, en á Úlfarsfelli er tendrað kl. 14:30 um daginn.   Engin formleg dagskrá er á borgarbrennunum en fólk er hvatt til að rifja upp álfasöngvana og mæta með góða skapið.

Enga skotelda má hafa með á brennurnar.

“Fire is lit at 20:30 on the old year’s evening at every location save one, at Úlfarsfell it’s lit at 14:30 during the day. No arranged schedule (of activities) is (available) for the city bonfires but people are encouraged to strike up elf songs and meet with a good mood.

No fireworks (of the variety that’s sent up) are allowed at the bonfires.”

Elf songs? According to an Icelandic belief elves move house during the New Year’s Eve. If you happen to see large groups of well-clad and wealthy looking people it may be best to pretend they’re not there, they typically get angry if you interact with them while they’re busy moving. For the foolhardy there’s a chance of trying to gain some elven gold by blocking their way at cross roads with an axe in hand, but if you so much as acknowledge their presence you’ll not only lose the gold, you’ve also gambled your sanity away!

“Elf songs is basically just elves being d[censored]s to people or giving them shiny things.”



FLUGELDAR by Christine at

After the bonfires the fireworks begin at earnest. This will continue as crazy non-stop explosions around the town up until exactly half past ten. Then an eerie silence will fall.

There are many locations for getting your fireworks for the night by the way, but none as popular as the Björgunarsveitinn, voluntary rescue units of Iceland who fund their work by f.ex. selling fireworks. People love them and for a good reason, so I would also recommend them for you.


Fireworks by Vala Run at

The silence will then continue for exactly 50 minutes. During this time you’ll only hear sparse explosions if any at all. The reason for this is the annual Áramótaskaupið, a comedy show that puts together the news of the year 2014 in a hilarious and often somewhat cynical light. I’m expecting at least one notion to our Prime Minister going on a holiday right before an important election (link to the news in English) and his secretary reacting in a suitable manner right after the news got out (link, also in English). But all’s well that ends well, later on he received a medal. Secretly. (link)

I wonder if they’ll also mention that some Icelandic doctors have to set their offices in containers (link)? We even have a new word for these – læknagámur, doctors’ containers.

After Skaupið is over the fireworks continue immediately. This will be the absolutely crazy part of the night that’ll end up covering lower areas in thick gun powder cloud, people save their biggest ones for after the Skaup and the noise is amazing. All my sympathy goes to all local dog owners! Besides Icelanders are somewhat lax about sending fireworks, they’re sent from anything that stays mostly upright but accidents do happen every year. Two years ago my SO was almost hit by a skyrocket, last year some group managed to explode a huge one right on top of a neighbour’s house. True to form Icelanders shrug off these near misses; they don’t matter since nothing happened. And if something happens… well, that was some really bad luck. So if you’re spending the Eve here consider wearing safety goggles!


New Year’s Eve 4 by Atli Harðarson at

Farsælt komandi ár!

See you in 2015!

Christmas is almost here.

Posted on 19. Dec, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs, Icelandic history


Heading towards the fourth Advent.

Iceland is expecting Christmas completely decked in white. We had even more snow yesterday and cars were stuck throughout the country, so in case you saw people clad in red pushing them out of the banks (link) those were not Jólasveinar but Björgunarsveitinn, the voluntary rescue units. They don’t give you presents but I bet you’ll still be happy to see them when you need them! Meanwhile we also found out that the Holuhraun volcano – that is still erupting just as strongly as months ago by the way – has taken a festive approach in its lava flow (link).

jol1423Hátíð fer að höndum ein… a beautiful song that’s currently very appropriate (link). It’s also an interesting example of how, once you’ve studied the grammar for years and think you got it it still manages to sneak up behind you. You see:

“Hátíð    fer að höndum    ein.”

Lit. transl. “Celebration/Holiday   goes at hands   one.”

Actual transl. “The Holiday is almost at hand.”

Why? Because the pronoun “einn/ein/eitt” can occasionally be used as an article “the” or “that particular one”. As a confusing additional feature, in poetic Icelandic the word order can be jumbled up almost any which way as long as the conjugation is correct, so although it’s not grammatically correct to throw “ein” to the end (it should be “hátíð ein…”), in a song it’s quite alright. :D

jol1424And here you may see… our Christmas tree and a grill, both waiting for their proper seasons. Well, they’re somewhere under there anyway. It’s becoming a futile task to clear the snow off of the balcony when new piles of it fall in almost daily. The snow ploughs are hard at work too, and like this video reminds you it’s good to let them do their job if you can (although the car owner is heard saying he simply cannot move the car because of all the snow)*.

* I’m going to spoil the fun a little though – the video is staged (link). :D

jol1415If I was asked what’s the most prominent Icelandic Christmas feature, the one that truly heralds the celebration, I would have to go for the decorative lights in and outside of the houses.  After a long, dark and miserable autumn they suddenly pop up everywhere. Some people go quite crazy with them, lighting up the whole house with huge spotlights, creating rainbow stripes along their walls, covering every possible shelf-like structure in Christmas statues with lights inside, just generally throwing on enough lights to light a small city… and they’ll stay on long after Christmas. Some people don’t even get rid of the obvious Holiday items such as the Santa Claus or Christmas angel lamps. Winter is so long and dark that all those lights serve a purpose, lighting the otherwise depressing season.

This is not a new tradition of course. Candles used to serve the same purpose for the Holiday and Icelandic children were often given one as a Christmas present, which is why they often appear in fairy tales regarding Christmas. Candles were a valuable gift back in the day, so a woman giving one to elf children was indeed being kind.

jol1420Another thing would be the Jólasveinar, Yule Lads. Here they are on our Christmas curtain in full mischief, several carrying stolen goods with them – can you recognize them all? The Christmas Calendar will help you out (and don’t forget it’s still going to run several days more, come and meet the Christmas creatures big and small, strange and scary, each day a few new ones).


The Icelandic blog of Transparent Language and Hulda wish you all Happy Holidays!

Gleðileg jól og farsælt komandi ár!