Icelandic/Grammar/Nouns

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Nouns

Nouns are words that describe a person, place, thing, or idea.

For example:

  • Sarah ran away.
  • Reykjavík is beautiful.
  • Cars pollute, but are essential.
  • When you are sad, think of good memories.

In Icelandic, these take on endings and inflections like verbs and personal pronouns do in English.

GenderEdit

In Icelandic, like most other Indo-European languages (but not English), nouns have a gender. A noun can be either masculine, feminine, or neuter. A noun's gender rarely has anything to do with biological gender, except in words for male or female people, animals, etc.; nouns used for non-living things like furniture have gender too. The gender of nouns can usually be determined by the ending it has (or does not have). This is not a guaranteed rule, but it does usually work. Memorization, however, is the only way to really know the gender of a noun.

All nouns are classified as "strong" or "weak". This does not affect their semantic function; it only affects their declension.

Typical noun endingsEdit

Gender/Strength Strong masculine Weak masculine Strong feminine Weak feminine Strong neuter Weak neuter
Endings
-ur, -ll, or -nn
-i
-ing, -un, or has no ending
-a, -i
Has no ending, or final vowel is accented
-a
Examples
hestur, stöll, steinn
lampi, nemandi
spurning, byrjun, rós
taska, fræði
hótel, bakarí
auga
Meanings
horse, stool, stone
lamp, student
question, beginning, rose
bag, studies
hotel, bakery
eye

Definite vs. Indefinite ArticleEdit

There is no indefinite article in Icelandic. What would be "a" or "an" in English is "built into" Icelandic nouns, so to speak. Hestur translates to a horse, for example. The definite article (equivalent to English the) can be formed in two ways in Icelandic, either by adding an ending to a noun or using a definite article before it.

Definite Article EndingsEdit

Masculine Feminine Neuter
-(i)nn
-(i)n
-(i)ð

These are added to the end of a noun of the corresponding gender. With the previous example of hestur, saying "the horse" would be hesturinn. If the noun ends in a vowel that is not accented, the i is dropped from the ending before being added. As an example, herbergi (a room) becomes herbergið with the definite ending. Bakarí would become bakaríið, because the final vowel is accented.

If using a definite article before the adjective, the definite article is formed by adding the appropriate ending to the letter h (i.e. hinn, hin, and hið). This usage is largely poetic, and is rare in normal conversation.

Adjective PlacementEdit

With a Definite ArticleEdit

Just the same as in English, adjectives come after the definite article and before the noun.

Hið góða bakarí er í Reykjavík.
The good bakery is in Reykjavík.

With a Definite EndingEdit

If an ending has been used to form the definite then the adjectives come after the noun and the noun usually begins the sentence.

Góði dagurinn er búinn.
The good day is over.

Although this section is about nouns, notice the difference in spelling of góða and góði. Both mean the same thing, but adjectives must also be in the correct form according to the gender of the noun.