Icelandic Language Blog

Personal Pronouns Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 in Icelandic grammar

Here is a topic for complete beginners, something called “personal pronouns”. Words like “our”, and “yours” are also types of pronouns, but we’ll cover those later.

*m (male), f (female), n (neuter).

“Þið” is used as “you (multiple people)”, just as you would use “you guys/you all” in English. When talking to an individual, unknown audience in English, such as a TV host talking to viewers who are watching at home, an announcement on the main page of a website, or a politician giving a speech to a crowd (but trying to talk as if they’re speaking to you as an individual), in English we often use “you” instead of “you all”. I have also seen Icelandic people use “þú” in the same manner, and especially seen it used online in the same way, but I have never been taught any rules about this so if someone could enlighten me as always I would appreciate it. Sometimes you have to be careful because while some people do certain things in Icelandic grammar-wise, or pronounce things in a certain way (such as v and w, or s), it may not actually be correct and it might just be influence from other languages.

In Icelandic you refer to people as their actual gender when not just calling them by their names. “Hún” is “she” and refers to a single girl, “þær” is “they” and refers to multiple girls. If you have five girls in a group and are talking about them in third person (meaning you’re saying “those girls, they…” instead of “hey, you girls!”) you would have to use þær. Similarly, if it were a group entirely of men, you would use þeir. “Þau” is for a mixed group, for example one girl and three guys.

In the sentence “It is the cat’s, it belongs to her, give it back!” in English we refer to the cat by its actual gender, meaning the cat itself is female. If the cat were male we would say “him” instead, and if we didn’t know the gender we might assume one or just say “it”. With select other objects, such as countries, we have more or less set genders – most countries are referred to as if they were female or neuter in English. It’s not uncommon to hear something like “She’s a beauty!” when talking about a fancy vehicle, even though in other cases you may always refer to a boat as “it”. I’m giving you these examples so you can see how flexible and inflexible our genders in English are.

If you see the post about nouns or if you’ve read a little bit about Icelandic, you’ll notice that nouns all have set genders. “Kaffi – coffee” is neuter gender, and so you will refer to coffee as “it” (það) just like in English (“We’re out of coffee? No one remembered to buy it?”). If you have a feminine-gender noun, such as “bók – book” you would refer to it as “she – hún” in Icelandic instead of “it”. It would sound like “My book, I’ve lost her!” in English, instead of “I’ve lost it”. You can tell that while this sounds more poetic/funny than anything, it’s still actually possible to say this in English. If you tried replacing that with a masculine pronoun (My cup [bolli – masculine], I’ve broken him!” – instead of “I’ve broken it!”) it sounds wrong because we just don’t often do that with the masculine pronouns.

In Icelandic that is all entirely correct – you need to refer to the object by he/she/it based on the gender of the noun. If you are talking about multiple objects and they have differing genders, then you would use “þau – they” just as if you were talking about a group of people. So if you see “she is…” it could also mean “it is…” in Icelandic and you just know by context if they’re talking about a person or an object/concept/et cetera. You may also hear Icelanders slip up in English and say “he/she” instead of “it” when talking about something.

Another special thing that you can do with personal pronouns in Icelandic is that you can use “we (name)” instead of “us”, for example. I don’t know the term for this so if someone could tell me so I can edit it in and read more about it, that would be really great.

Við means “we”, but if it directly precedes a name or a noun then it can mean “me and (so-and-so)”. “Hlynur – maple” is a male name.
Við Hlynur (literally, We Hlynur) can be used instead of “Ég og Hlynur” (I and Hlynur).
Þið Hlynur (You guys Hlynur) can be used instead of “Þú og Hlynur” (You and Hlynur).
You can replace Hlynur with a noun such as “amma – grandma” and that would mean “me/you and grandma”. If you know definite articles you can tack one on and then say “me/you and the grandmas”, too. You can do this even if “you” and “we” need to be in another case than nominative/dictionary form. I’m not sure how often this actually occurs in Icelandic or in what types of Icelandic (poetic, everyday speech, older writing, etc.) it happens most.

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About the Author: sequoia

I try to write about two-thirds of the blog topics on cultural aspects and one-third on the language, because there's much more out there already on the language compared to daily life information. I try to stay away from touristy things because there's more of that out there than anything else on Iceland, and I feel like talking about that stuff gives you the wrong impression of Iceland.