An Idiot's Guide to Icelandic
This guide is intended to give a basic simplified knowledge of Icelandic to people who can't be bothered
to learn it in depth. Icelandic is a difficult language, and is almost indecipherable when
spoken by natives, however the information contained here should be enough to enable the reader to
speak a few sentences.
Because of the complexities of Icelandic grammar, I will not bother explaining all of it, but only those
parts which are useful to be able to grasp the basics.
Icelandic has 33 letters. These are the standard English alphabet, minus C, Q and W. The following additional
letters also exist in Icelandic: á, é, í, ó, ú, ý, æ, þ, ð, ö. These letters, and all 'unusual' (i.e. non-English)
pronunciations of letter combinations are given below:
á sounds like 'ao', e.g. má sounds like mao
é sounds like 'ye', e.g. ég sounds like yeg
í sounds like 'ee', e.g. lík sounds like leek
ó sounds like 'oa', e.g. bók sounds like boak
ú sounds like 'oo', e.g. nú sounds like noo
ý sounds like 'ee', e.g. ný sounds like nee
æ sounds like 'i' as in bite, e.g. tær sounds like tire
þ sounds like a soft th, as in thin, e.g. þessa sounds like thessa
ð sounds like a hard th, as in rather, e.g. með sounds like meth
ö sounds like a short 'u', as in under, e.g. hönd sounds like hund
j sounds like 'y', e.g. já sounds like yao
au sounds like 'oi' although the actual sound is closer to 'uh-ee', e.g. laugur sounds like loigur
hl and hr have an unusual 'h' sound, sometimes said to sound like a 'k', but is actually more like a sharp exhalation, e.g. hlíð sounds like kleeth, hraun sounds like kroin
hv sounds like 'kv', e.g. hvar sounds like kvar
ll sometimes sounds like 'tl', e.g. gull sounds like gutl, there are no rules for when ll sounds like 'tl' and when it sounds like 'll'
fn sounds like 'pn', e.g. Höfn sounds like hupn
ai, ei and ey sound like 'ay', e.g. nei sounds like nay
rl sounds like 'rdl', and rn sounds like 'rdn', e.g. þarna sounds like thardna
r is rolling, like in Spanish.
g is not fully pronounced if it appears in the middle of a word, and is followed by a, o, or u. Then it sounds more like a gurgling sound, e.g. daginn sounds like da-y-inn.
If you need some practice, watch 'Reykjavik 101', it's in Icelandic with English subtitles. Good film too!
Halló = hello
Góðan daginn (pronounced gothan da-y-in) = good day
Bless = goodbye
Takk fyrir (pronounced tack fir-ir) = thank you
Fyrirgefðu (pronounced fir-ir-geffthoo) = excuse me
Já (pronounced yow) = yes
Nei (pronounced nay) = no
Hvar er... (pronounced kvar er) = where is...
Hvernig gengur? (pronounced kvernig gengur) = how are you?
Hvað segirðu? (pronounced kvath seggerthoo) = how are you? (literally 'what do you say')
Allt fínt (pronounced alt feent) = I'm fine
Hvað heitir þú? (pronounced kvath haiter thoo) = What is your name? (literally 'what name you?')
Ég heiti... (pronounced yeg haiti) = My name is...
Hvaðan ert þú? (pronounced kvathan ert thoo) = Where are you from?
Ég er frá... (pronounced yeg er frow) = I am from...
Ég skil ekki. (pronounced yeg skill ecky) = I don't understand.
Most verbs in Icelandic end in the letter 'a' (except munu and skulu - see below). Some useful verbs are given below, along with
their conjugations. Note that these are all irregular verbs.
vera (to be)
ég er = I am
þú ert = you (singular) are
hann/hún er = he/she is
við erum = we are
þjer eruð = you (plural) are
þið eru = they are
vera (past tense)
ég var = I was
þú varst = you (singular) were
hann/hún var = he/she was
við vorum = we were
þjer voruð = you (plural) were
þið voru = they were
hafa (to have)
ég hef = I have
þú hefur = you (singular) have
hann/hún hefur = he/she has
við hefur = we have
þjer hefur = you (plural) have
þið hefur = they have
ég mun = I will
þú munt = you (singular) will
hann/hún mun = he/she will
við munum = we will
þjer munuð = you (plural) will
þið munu = they will
ég skal = I shall
þú skalt = you (singular) shall
hann/hún skal = he/she shall
við skulum = we shall
þjer skuluð = you (plural) shall
þið skulu = they shall
ég má = I may
þú mátt = you (singular) may
hann/hún má = he/she may
við megum = we may
þjer megið = you (plural) may
þið mega = they may
Future tenses are formed by using munu, e.g. ég mun fara = I will go. Past tenses are formed
by using hafa, e.g. ég hefi fara = I have gone. Actually, the verb conjugation is a lot more
complex than this, but for basic conversation this should be all you need.
There are four different types of regular verb conjugation, but for simplicity here is the most
common one. In a conversation no-one will expect you to get it right, and the differences are
fairly subtle, e.g. an extra vowel sound here or there.
gefa (to give)
ég gef = I give
þú geft = you (singular) give
hann/hún gef = he/she gives
við gefum = we give
þjer gefið = you (plural) give
þið gefa = they give
To ask a question, simply reverse the subject and the verb, e.g. má ég... = may I... When you
do this with þu, it is often attached onto the end of the verb, e.g. hefir þu (have you) becomes
For nouns, there are up to 24 different possible endings, however I would recommend you only learn 4.
The 24 endings come about because there are 2 types (singular and plural), 3 genders (male, female
and neuter) and 4 cases (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive).
As an aside, I'll use the example fiskur (fish) to explain cases.
Nominative: hér er fiskur = here is a fish
Accusative: um fisk = about a fish
Dative: borða fiski = to eat a fish
Genitive: fisks borð = a fish eats
It is, of course, more complex than that, but if you get bogged down in details, you'll never learn anything. Therefore, we will be using only the nominative.
The four endings you should learn are :
fiskur = a fish (masculine)
fisk = a fish (feminine)
fiskt = a fish (neuter - poor fish)
fiskar = fish (plural)
Now, the word fiskur is actually masculine, so you it is always just fiskur. But a similar -ur word which is feminine/neuter/plural would be modified in the way shown above.
In general, if you are in doubt as to the gender of a word, just say the root word (e.g. fisk) and make a sort of grunt afterwards, which could be anything.
There is no word for 'a' in Icelandic. Eg þarf fiskur (I want a fish) does not require it because
the noun fiskur is singular.
'The' has 24 different forms, which correspond to the noun it is related to. However, it is much
easier just to add '-inn' to the end of the noun. E.g. Eg borða hvalurinn = I eat the whale.
In case you come across other endings for 'the', here is what they can look like: -num, -rnir, -nir, -nnar -ið.
For adjectives, use the same four endings as for nouns above.
ríkur = rich (masculine)
rík = rich (feminine)
ríkt = rich (neuter)
ríkar = rich (plural)
Click here for some Icelandic vocabulary.
OK, now you're ready to speak Icelandic. Here are a few sentences in Icelandic and in English.
Translate each of them in turn. You may require a dictionary for some of these, or else you can look
at the vocabulary section which has all these words and more. Answers are given here.
1. Minn fiskur er veikur.
2. Hvað er klukkan?
3. Hún er falleg.
4. Má ég borða þessi fiskur?
5. Hvar er næsta pósthúsið?
6. I can not drink this beer.
7. It is too expensive.
8. How much is this hat? (clue: say 'What cost this hat?')
9. Can you give me two sheep?
10. If you are hungry you can eat my horse.
Back to Iceland guide
Thanks to all the people who have commented or corrected mistakes on this page. Look out for some fresh material coming soon.
If you have any comments on this page, or if I've made any stupid errors (and I probably have),
then you can email me at email@example.com.