Icelandic Language Blog

Forsetningarliðir + þolfall, prepositions + accusative Posted by on Aug 25, 2012 in Icelandic grammar

Fréttin barst um allt landið. (= The news spread around the country.)

It’s often difficult to tell exactly which case should be used in which context. At times Icelandic students face having to learn huge chunks of case-related grammar by heart, or gamble between two or more choices depending on the situation. Therefore it’s lucky that at least some parts of the grammar go by strict rules, for example certain pronouns always get a certain case after them. Today I’m going to talk about a couple of them that always get a þolfall (= accusative): um, kringum, gegnum, umhverfis, bak við and fyrir -an.


Translates roughly as: “about”, “concerning”, “moving through something”, “across”, “by way of”, “via”, “during certain time”, “for”, “in” or “at”. This is a very usual preposition as you can guess by the many ways it can be translated as, and one that you’ll both see and need to use often.

Ég ætla að horfa út um gluggann. (= I’m going/planning to look out of the window.)

Þeim þykir vænt um þig. (They’re fond of you.) Frítt knús means “a free hug”.

(Í) kringum, (í) gegnum

The first one translates as “around” and the second one as “through”. Note though that both mean travelling physically around or through something. For example:

Jules Verne skrifaði ‘Í kringum jörðina á 80 dögum’. (= Jules Verne wrote ‘Around the World in 80 days’.)

Hann hjólaði í gegnum göngin. (= He bicycled through the tunnel. Note that the word tunnel, göng, is plural by default in Icelandic.)


This one also translates as “around” but unlike kringum, umhverfis is more vague. Our grammar professor suggested thinking of kringum as circling something (talking of seasons can also use kringum because time can be thought of as going in circles), umhverfis as just regularly going about your surroundings – going through the house looking for something, walking in the area near the house etc. but not necessarily actually going around it. To make things a little more confusing though – you can also use it to mean circling the house…

Umhverfis húsið. (= About/around the house.)

Bak við

This one’s easier in use: it simply means “behind”.

Við keyrðum bak við hann. (= We drove behind him.) We really did.

Fyrir -an

This one stands for any combination of fyrir and another word that ends with -an. Fyrir utan (= outside), fyrir innan (= inside), fyrir ofan (= above), fyrir neðan (= below), fyrir austan (= on the east side), fyrir sunnan (= on the south side) and so on. Note that this rule only stands for fyrir that has that other, defining word with the -an ending. However, when it’s alone and used to state past time it takes þagufall (= dative) instead.

Höllin fyrir austan sól og vestan mána. (= The palace on the east side of the sun and the west side of the moon, or as the name of this Norwegian folktale is usually translated, East of the Sun and West of the Moon.)

Hálka fyrir utan Faktóry. (= Slippery ice outside of Faktóry. Faktóry is a night club in Reykjavík and the video is a short collection of the best falls that all happened during the same night on the same spot.)

The case rules of Icelandic are indeed difficult, but don’t worry about them too much. Try to apply them to daily usage as much as possible, it’ll help you remember them. They will eventually begin to make sense and may even help with those situations where there are no exact rule as to which case or pronoun should be chosen, and even if you happened to get them wrong… it’s alright. Icelanders usually think foreigners trying to learn the language are somewhat praiseworthy by default and that the mistakes we make only make us sound cute/funny. Complaining about the difficulty will earn you extra sympathy points and a great many Þetta kemur (= It’ll come) from them. You may also get a free language lesson as the listeners then try to figure out the rules of their mother tongue to better explain you why something can only be said in a certain way – Icelanders aren’t always that knowledgeable of the rules themselves either!

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!