You are on page 1of 29

Old Norse-Icelandic Grammar

A Basic Course
By Jayne Carroll and Judith Jesch

I. Introduction

II. Strong Nouns

A. Case
B. Number
C. Gender
D. Additional paradigms
1. Strong masculine
2. Strong feminine
E. Mutations
1. U-mutation
2. I-mutation

III. Weak Nouns and the Suffixed Definite Article

A. Weak nouns
B. The suffixed definite article
1. Strong nouns with the suffixed definite article
2. Weak nouns with the suffixed defninite article

IV. Personal Pronouns

A. First person pronouns
B. Second person pronouns
C. Third person pronouns
1. Masculine
2. Feminine
3. Neuter
D. Reflexive pronouns

V. Verbs
A. An introduction
B. Weak verbs, present tense
C. Weak verbs, past tense
D. Strong verbs, present tense
E. Strong verbs, past tense

VI. Adjectives
A. Strong adjectives
B. Weak adjectives
C. Past participles
I. Introduction

The language which is outlined in this booklet is known here as Old Norse-Icelandic
(sometimes abbreviated ON-I below), but it is sometimes called just Old Norse or
Old Icelandic. The reasons for these different terms will be a subject of seminar

The term as used here is applied primarily to the language that we find in the
manuscripts of the sagas, and of eddic and skaldic poetry, and other documents.
Most of these manuscripts were produced in medieval Iceland, but some were
written in Norway, and others survive only in post-medieval manuscripts. The
majority of the manuscripts were written in the fourteenth century or later, but some
of the texts preserved in these manuscripts are thought to be older than that, in
some cases considerably older. This will also be a topic of seminar discussion. In
general, though, it is fair to say that the term Old Norse-Icelandic covers the
language and literature from around 1100-1500 AD.

Manuscripts are not our only source for this language, as it is also found in runic
inscriptions, some of which are contemporary with the manuscripts, but many of
which go back much earlier, to about 800 AD. The majority of runic inscriptions are,
however, not found in Iceland, but in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and elsewhere
in the Viking diaspora. Thus, the term Old Norse is more appropriate for them.
(There are also runic inscriptions going back to at least 160 AD, but we give the
language of these inscriptions a different name, usually Common Scandinavian).

Although the sources for Old Norse-Icelandic are in general several hundred years
later than the sources for Old English, you could say that the structure of Old Norse-
Icelandic is roughly at the same stage of development as Old English, before the
massive changes that occurred in English around the time of and after the Norman
Conquest in 1066. Thus, you will find your knowledge of the structure of Old English
very useful in understanding how Old Norse-Icelandic works, and much of the
grammatical terminology is the same.

The writing of Old Norse-Icelandic was influenced by the writing practices of the
Anglo-Saxons, and so we find some of the same letters used, e.g.:

As in Old English, vowel length is marked, but with an accent rather than a macron,

There are two further letters you wont have encountered in Old English:

The second of these (usually known as hooked o) is unique to Old Norse-Icelandic
and is not found in any other language, including Modern Icelandic. In the modern
language, both of these have been replaced, by and by . It is OK for you to
do the same if you have trouble getting a font with . All the other letters are easily
available in computer fonts.

Finally, a note on pronunciation. It helps to have some idea of how words sound,
though you wont actually be expected to speak Old Norse-Icelandic (phew!). There
are two schools of thought on this, one is to reconstruct what we think the medieval
pronunciation was like, the other is to use a pronunciation that approximates that of
modern Icelandic as spoken today. The latter is advocated here, on several grounds,
but not least because you will have learned a useful 21st-century skill, which is how
to pronounce the names of Icelandic volcanoes, pop stars and footballers. We will
practise in seminars, but you might also like to check out a CD called Selected
Readings from A New Introduction to Old Norse (Hallward AudioCD PD2235.S4).

II. Strong Nouns

We begin by looking at nouns and the way they behave according to their functions
in the sentence.

Nouns in Old Norse-Icelandic, as in Old English, decline according to case, gender

and number.

A. Case:

Old Norse-Icelandic, like Old English, has four cases: nominative, accusative,
genitive, and dative. Therefore each noun has (potentially) eight forms when
declined according to case and number (singular or plural), e.g.:

konungr m. king (a masculine strong noun)

sing. pl.
nom. konung-r konung-ar
acc. konung- konung-a
gen. konung-s konung-a
dat. konung-i konung-um

Case expresses the function that the noun has in the sentence (e.g. subject, direct
object, possession, indirect object, etc.).
Examples (the ON-I is followed by a literal word-for-word translation, then by a
translation into fluent PDE in bold):

Konungr tk skipit.
King ( took ship-the.
The king took the ship.

Menn s konunga (

Men saw kings.
Men saw (the) kings.

Konungs ( skip var mikit.

Kings ship was big.
The kings ship was big.

Grettir gaf skipit konungi (

Grettir gave ship-the to-king.
Grettir gave the ship to the king.

Certain verbs and prepositions are followed by particular cases. You will learn about
this in later grammar sections.

B. Gender:

Grammatical gender is inherent in Old Norse-Icelandic nouns. Every noun is one of

three grammatical genders (as in Old English): masculine, feminine, or neuter. E.g.
konungr king is masc., skip ship is neut., and sveit troop; district is fem.
Gender affects the ways in which these nouns decline.

Compare the ways in which these three strong nouns, of different gender, decline:

str.masc. str.neut. str.fem.

konungr king skip ship sveit troop; district
sg. pl. sg. pl. sg. pl.
nom. konung-r konung-ar skip- skip- sveit- sveit-ir
acc. konung- konung-a skip- skip- sveit- sveit-ir
gen. konung-s konung-a skip-s skip-a sveit-ar sveit-a
dat. konung-i konung-um skip-i skip-um sveit- sveit-um

You should see that masculine and neuter strong nouns decline in very similar ways,
particularly in their genitive and dative forms. Feminine strong nouns are rather
different, but nevertheless share and forms with masc. and neut.
You should attempt to learn these basic declensions. Start with the easy forms (e.g.
-s is, -um is; just as in Old English). There are variations on these
(i.e. some strong masculine nouns do not decline exactly like konungr, but usually
in quite similar ways). You will see some of these variations shortly.

C. Number:

You'll be delighted to know that theres not much to say about noun number, except
that you must learn to recognise whether a noun is singular or plural.

There are various ways of doing this. Sometimes it will be obvious from the
inflexional endings: e.g. konung-ar, skip-um. Neuter nouns in the nom. and acc.
cases provide more of a challenge: singular and plural forms can be identical: e.g.
skip can be sg. or pl. (and in fact nom. or acc.). You will learn to use the context of
the noun to determine its number. For example, if it is followed by the plural form of
a verb, then it must be plural itself. Forms of the articles and adjectives associated
with the noun can also help in this way.

If you have learned the konungr, skip, and sveit paradigms, and understand some
of the ways in which the four cases function, you are well on the way to a good
understanding of ON-I grammar.

D. Additional paradigms:

You do not need to learn the following additional paradigms (DO NOT LEARN
THEM!), but you do need to know that they exist.

1. Strong masculine nouns:

The basic paradigm that you have learned is konungr. Many strong masculine
nouns end in -r in the, and most (not all) of these decline just as konungr
does. For example, flokkr group and hestr, horse:

sing. pl. sg. pl.

nom. flokk-r flokk-ar hest-r hest-ar
acc. flokk- flokk-a hest- hest-a
gen. flokk-s flokk-a hest-s hest-a
dat. flokk-i flokk-um hest-i hest-um
Some masculine nouns end in -nn or ll, such as kyrtill tunic and steinn stone:

sing. pl. sg. pl.

nom. kyrtil-l kyrtl-ar stein-n stein-ar
acc. kyrtil- kyrtl-a stein- stein-a
gen. kyrtil-s kyrtl-a stein-s stein-a
dat. kyrtl-i kyrtl-um stein-i stein-um

With the exception of the forms in -l and -n rather than -r, the
inflexional endings are identical to those of konungr (and hestr and flokkr,
etc.). That is why you do not need to bother learning them separately.

(You may have noticed that the medial -i- in kyrtill disappears when the ending
adds a further syllable to the word. This is simply an example of contraction: people
stopped pronouncing the medial -i- in these circumstances, just as some people
pronounce PDE opera as 'opra'. This loss is reflected in the ON-I spelling, but not in
the PDE spelling.)

More significantly different are strong masculine nouns with -ar, and
-ir, e.g. hlutr thing, part and kostr choice, option:

sing. pl. sing. pl.

nom. hlut-r hlut-ir kost-r kost-ir
acc. hlut- hlut-i kost- kost-i
gen. hlut-ar hlut-a kost-ar kost-a
dat. hlut-i hlut-um kost-i kost-um

There are more similarities than differences between konungr and hlutr, but do
note the differences, particularly the -ar and -ir.

2. Strong feminine nouns:

The basic paradigm that you have learned is sveit. Many strong fem. nouns decline
just as sveit does. For example, gisting lodging and t time:

sing. pl. sing. pl.

nom. gisting- gisting-ir t- t-ir
acc. gisting- gisting-ir t- t-ir
gen. gisting-ar gisting-a t-ar t-a
dat. skemtun- gisting-um t- t-um
Some feminine nouns have and in -ar. This is the only difference
in their inflexional endings! E.g. hr period of time; sk cause; (law)suit:

sing. pl. sing. pl.

nom. hr- hr-ar sk- sak-ar
acc. hr- hr-ar sk- sak-ar
gen. hr-ar hr-a sak-ar sak-a
dat. hr- hr-um sk- sk-um

You will see why we find both -a- and -- in the stem of sk in the next grammar
section: u-mutation.

E. Mutations:

Many nouns are affected by conditioned sound changes called u-mutation or

labial mutation, and i-mutation or front mutation.

1. U-mutation:

Look at the way in which the neuter strong noun land land declines:

land land
sg. pl.
nom. land- lnd-
acc. land- lnd-
gen. land-s land-a
dat. land-i lnd-um

Notice that land shares all its inflexional endings with skip. However, you will also
notice that in certain circumstances, the a of the stem changes to (sometimes
written ). The reasons for this alternation a are easiest to understand if you
consider the form lndum. The -u- of the inflexional ending (an unstressed
syllable) has affected the way that the stem vowel (original -a-) is pronounced. This
-a- has taken on some of the characteristics (the rounding, for those of you who
know some phonetics) of the following -u-, and has become --. The good news is
that this is entirely predictable. You will never find an -a- when you have -
u- in the following unstressed syllable. This holds true for ALL classes of words
(e.g. the adj. allr all has the form llum; the vb. hafa to have produces
vr hfum we have, etc.). That much is straightforward! But there is no
observable reason why we should have lnd in the and these forms
do not have -u- in their endings ... any more. The answer is that they used to have
them: *land-u > *lnd-u > lnd-. The original -u ending caused the a to
mutate, but was subsequently lost. (The asterisks indicate that these are
reconstructed earlier forms of the word).

Feminine strong nouns are also affected by this invisible u-mutation. Look again at
the paradigm for the fem. strong. noun sk cause, (law)suit:

sk cause
sg. pl.
nom. sk- sak-ar
acc. sk- sak-ar
gen. sak-ar sak-a
dat. sk- sk-um

Notice that the stem vowel in this paradigm also alternates between -a- and --.
We have the predictable sk-um, but also and forms
with --. Again, the reason for this is lost inflexional endings containing -u- affecting
the original stem vowel a-.

So, what should you take away from this? You DO NOT have to learn these
paradigms, but try to remember the following points:

neuter strong nouns which have -a- in their stems show u-mutation in and forms, despite the lack of following -u-.
feminine strong nouns with -- in their,, and forms
have unmutated forms with -a- in their stems.

2. I-mutation:

Just as some strong nouns are affected by u-mutation, others are affected by i-
mutation, or front mutation. Just as some stem vowels are affected by a -u- in
the following unstressed syllable (which is sometimes historic, i.e. not always
present in the ON-I form), some are affected by an -i- or a -j- in the following
unstressed syllable. Look at the following paradigm for bk book (str.fem.):

bk book
sg. pl.
nom. bk- bk-r
acc. bk- bk-r
gen. bk-ar, bk-r bk-a
dat. bk- bk-um

The back vowel -- is fronted (i.e. pulled forward in the mouth) to -- by an

historic -i- in the and inflexional endings. This -i- is now lost.
Only back vowels are affected by this mutation (front vowels cannot be 'pulled' any
further to the front of the mouth).

(If youre wondering about the two forms: bkr is historically correct,
showing the result of i-mutation, while bkar has come about by a process linguists
call analogy. As the cause of the i-mutation has disappeared, speakers of the
language regularise the vowel to match the other sg. forms. Analogy causes havoc
in paradigms, as you can imagine!).

You do not need to worry too much about i-mutation at this stage, but it will be
helpful for you to recognise its effect on forms like ntt nightntr nights and
ft footftr feet (in fact the latter word shows exactly the same process
happening in English). The following table gives the back vowels and their i-mutated

unmutated i-mutated example

a e dagr m. day; degi (
gs f. goose; gss pl. (cf. English geese)
o hnot f. nut; hntr pl.
bk f. book; bkr pl.
u y dyrr doors; dura
br f. bridge; brr pl.
au ey eyrir m. ounce of silver; aurar pl.

Do not worry if this seems complicated. You will encounter i-mutation again with
other word classes and will soon learn to recognise it at work.

III. Weak Nouns and the Suffixed Definite Article

If you have taken time to learn the basic strong noun paradigms (konungr m., skip
n., sveit f.), you will find the following easy.

A. Weak nouns:

You have seen how strong nouns decline in ON-I. Weak nouns are much less
wk.masc. wk.fem.

skli hall, house stofa living room

sg. pl. sg. pl.
nom. skl-i skl-ar stof-a stof-ur
acc. skl-a skl-a stof-u stof-ur
gen. skl-a skl-a stof-u stof-na
dat. skl-a skl-um stof-u stof-um

Notice how little variation there is in the sg. case forms: all oblique case
forms have the ending -a; all oblique case forms have the ending -u.
(The term oblique refers to all the cases other than the nominative). forms are identical to those of the strong konungr: nothing new to
learn here! are slightly different, but nevertheless easily identifiable (e.g.
the ubiquitous -um ending).

There are very few neuter wk. nouns, but they decline in the following way:

auga eye
sg. pl.
nom. auga aug-u
acc. auga aug-u
gen. auga aug-na
dat. auga aug-um

B. The suffixed definite article:

One of the ways in which ON-I expresses the definite article (the) is by attaching it
as a suffix to nouns. This is a rather special characteristic of ON-I and its
descendants, the modern Scandinavian languages:

konungr king, a king

konungr-inn king-the, i.e. the king

You will not be surprised to learn that the suffix has different forms which agree with
the gender, number, and case of the noun in question.
konungr-inn m. the king
skip-it n. the ship
sveit-in f. the district

Each of the nouns above is in the nominative case, but each has a different form of
the corresponding to its gender (-inn m.; -it n.; -in f.)

In the accusative case we find the following forms:

konung-inn m. the king (acc.)

skip-it n. the ship (acc.)
sveit-ina f. the district (acc.)

The sentences below contain examples of the suffixed article 'in action':

Konungrinn s skipit.
King-the ( saw ship-the (
The king saw the ship.

Marinn gaf skipin konungunum.

Man-the ( gave ships-the ( kings-the (
The man gave the ships to the kings.

Konan tekr barnit heim.

Woman-the ( takes child-the ( home.
The woman takes the child home.

Hann kemr til hssins.

He comes to house-the (; til to + gen.).
He comes to the house.

1. Strong nouns with suffixed definite article:

The previous section introduced you to the idea of a suffixed definite article and
gave you a few examples. Here you will find konungr, skip, and sveit declined in
full, each with the appropriate suffixed definite article:

konungr-inn m. the king:

sing. pl.
nom. konungr-inn konungar-nir
acc. konung-inn konunga-na
gen. konungs-ins konunga-nna
dat. konungi-(i)num konungu(m)-num
Notice the form and forms:

konungi + inum results in loss of one of the medial is.

konungum + num results in loss of medial m.

skip-it n. the ship:

sing. pl.
nom. skip-it skip-in
acc. skip-it skip-in
gen. skip-ins skipa-nna
dat. skipi-(i)nu skipu(m)-num

Notice the and forms, which have undergone a similar process to the
corresponding masc. forms.

sveit-in fem. the district:

sing. pl.
nom. sveit-in sveitir-nar
acc. sveit-ina sveitir-nar
gen. sveitar-innar sveita-nna
dat. sveit-inni sveitu(m)-num

If you have already learned the forms of the strong nouns themselves, you should
be able to recognise them with the suffixed article without much difficulty.

2. Weak nouns with suffixed definite article:

Here you will find skli, stofa, and auga declined in full, each with the suffixed
definite article. The letters within brackets are lost when the article is added, as a
result of contraction:

skli m. hall, house

sg. pl.
nom. skli-(i)nn > sklinn sklar-nir
acc. skla-(i)nn > sklann skla-na
gen. skla-(i)ns > sklans skla-nna
dat. skla-(i)num > sklanum sklu(m)-num > sklunum
stofa f. living room

sg. pl.
nom. stofa-(i)n > stofan stofur-nar
acc. stofu-(i)na >stofuna stofur-nar
gen. stofu-(i)nnar > stofunnar stofna-nna
dat. stofu-(i)nni > stofunni stofu(m)-num >stofunum

auga n. eye

sg. pl.
nom. auga-(i)t > auga-t augu-(a)n > augun
acc. auga-(i)t > auga-t augu-(a)n > augun
gen. auga-(i)ns > augans augna-(a)nna > augnanna
dat. auga-(i)num > auganum augu(m)-num > augunum

Again, if you have already learned the forms of the weak nouns themselves, you
should be able to recognise them with the suffixed article without much difficulty.

IV. Personal Pronouns

In your reading of the set texts, you will already have encountered ON-I words for
he, she, they, you etc. Just like nouns, they have nom., acc., gen., and dat.
forms. The can also occur in both singular and plural, and the first and second
person pronouns also have a dual form, just as in Old English.

A. First person pronouns:

ek I (sg.); vit we two (dual); vr we (pl.)

sg. dual pl.

nom. ek I vit we two vr we
acc. mik me okkr us two oss us
gen. mn my okkar of us two vr our
dat. mr me okkr us two oss us


Ek var heima.
I was at home.
Hann gaf mr rina.
He gave me ( arrow-the.
He gave the arrow to me.

Hestrinn kom til mn.

Horse-the came to me (; til to + gen.).
The horse came to me.

Vr vrum stofunni.
We were in living room-the.
We were in the living room.

s eir okkr.
Then saw they us-two.
Then they saw the two of us.

B. Second person pronouns:

you (sg.); it you two (dual); r you (pl.)

sg. Dual pl.

nom. you it you two r you (pl.)
acc. ik you ykkr you two yr you (pl.)
gen. n your ykkar of you two yvar your (pl.)
dat. r you ykkr you two yr you (pl.)

Notice how similar these are to the first-person forms you have just seen. E.g.:

vart hsinu.
You (sg.) were in house-the.
You were in the house

Hon gaf yr skipin.

She gave you ( ships-the.
She gave the ships to you (lot).

Hestrinn bar ik heim.

Horse-the carried you ( home.
The horse carried you home.

komi it eldahsit.
Then come you two into kitchen-the.
Then you two come into the kitchen.
Hann kom til yvar.
He came to you (

C. Third person pronouns:

hann he (, eir they (; hon she (, r

they (; at it (, au they (

While the first and second person pronouns are gender-neutral, the third person
pronoun indicates masc., fem. or neut. gender, just as in PDE. In ON-I, this extends
to the plural forms as well as the singular.

1. Masculine: hann he eir they

sg. pl.
nom. hann eir
acc. hann
gen. hans eira
dat. honum eim


Hann var leiinni.

He was on the path.

gfu eir honum skipin.

Then gave they ( him ( ships-the.
Then they gave him the ships.

Hann st milli eira.

He stood in between them (; prep. milli + gen.)

Vinr hans heitir Egill.

Friend of-him is called Egill.
His friend is called Egill.

gr s ek hann.
Yesterday saw I him.
I saw him yesterday.
2. Feminine: hon she r they

sg. pl.
nom. hon r
acc. hana r
gen. hennar eira
dat. henni eim


Hon signdi sik.

She crossed herself.

Hon mundi drepa hana.

She might kill her.

...ok undruu menn um ferir hennar.

...and people wondered about her journeys.

...ok dttir hennar me henni.

... and her daughter with her.

Hann greip r upp bir.

He picked them ( up both.

3. Neuter: at it au they

sg. pl.
nom. at au
acc. at au
gen. ess eira
dat. v eim


Hrossit heitir Sleipnir; at er grtt ok hefr tta ftr.

Horse-the is called Sleipnir; it ( is grey and has eight legs.
The horse is called Sleipnir; it is grey and has eight legs.

eir spuru at.

They heard that.
Loki r v.
Loki caused it (ra w.dat.)

Smalamar ok grikona rku f ... fru au heim.

The shepherd and the serving-woman were herding cattle ... they ( went

Note that in the plural, the neut. forms indicate a group of two or more of mixed

D. Reflexive pronouns:

When a third-person pronoun in the accusative, genitive or dative refers to the same
entity as the subject (or other nominative form) in the sentence, a reflexive pronoun
is used instead of the various forms of the third person pronoun. This does not apply
in the first and second person, where the same forms function as reflexive and non-
reflexive (e.g. mik can be translated as myself or me according to the context).

The same form of the reflexive pronoun is used regardless of the gender and
number of the entity referred to. Only case is distinguished:

acc. sik
gen. sn
dat. sr


eir lgu me sr fristefnu.

They established between themselves (dat.) peace conference.
They established a peace conference between themselves.

buu essir dvergar til sn jtni.

Then invited these dwarves to their own (gen.) a giant.
Then these dwarves invited a giant to their place.

Bear in mind that the possessive pronoun is used like any other possessive, i.e.
when used as a possessive adjective, it agrees with the noun it modifies in case,
gender and number, e.g.:

Dvergarnir rttu skip sitt.

Dvarves-the straightened up ship their own (possessive form of the reflexive
pronoun agreeing with the noun it modifies in case -accusative-, gender -neuter-
and number -singular-).
The dvarves straightened up their (own) ship.
mlti hann vi Galar brur sinn.
Then spoke he with Galar brother his own (possessive form of the reflexive
pronoun agreeing with the noun it modifies in case -accusative-, gender -masculine-
and number -singular-).
Then he spoke with his (own) brother Galar.

V. Verbs

Old Norse-Icelandic verbs can be quite complex. For this reason, the next sections
are all concerned with introducing their basic forms and functions: its perfectly
possible to gain a sound understanding in a short period of time by taking your time
and gradually familiarising yourself with the way verbs behave.

A. Introduction:

The form of a verb changes according to person (who, or what, is the subject of the
verb), and tense (whether the verb is describing an action in the present or the
past). For example, kalla to call has the first person singular present tense
(1sg.pres.) form ek kalla I call and the third person present tense (3sg.pres.) form
hann kallar he calls. If you transpose the calling to the past, the forms become ek
kallaa I called and hann kallai he called.

There are two main types of verb in ON-I: strong and weak. Just as in Old English,
strong verbs form their past tense by changing the root vowel (as in PDE
drink~drank) and weak verbs by adding a dental suffix (as in PDE call~called). You
should be able to see from the forms given above that kalla, like its English
cognate, is a weak verb.

Later on you will learn about mood, in particular about subjunctive forms, but the
next few grammar sections are all about weak and strong verbs and the ways in
which they decline in the present and past tense in the indicative (unmarked,
normal) mood.

We will start with the present tense of weak verbs, using examples from your set

B. Weak verbs, present tense:

There are three main types of weak verb:

Type 1:

present tense of vekja wake, rouse

singular plural
1. ek vek vr vekjum
2. vekr r veki
3. hann/hon/at vekr eir/r/au vekja

Like vekja is spyrja ask, question; hear.

Type 2:

present tense of svara answer

singular plural
1. ek svara vr svrum
2. svarar r svari
3. eir/r/au svara

Notice the form svrum: why has the -a- changed to --? If you dont know the
answer to this question, you should return to and reread the section on u-mutation

Like svara are hluta draw lots, kasta throw, cast, tla intend, think.

Type 3:

present tense of segja say, speak

singular plural
1. ek segi vr segjum
2. segir r segi
hann/hon/at eir/r/au
segir segja
Like segja are ora dare, leggja lay, place.

There is less to learn here than might seem the case. Although there are three
types, all three share certain characteristics. The following are key identifying

within all three types, the you (sg.) and he/she/it forms are the same
(and all end in -r)
-um = we form (
-i = you (pl.) form (
infinitive and they form ( are always the same.

Remembering these features is enough for the moment! They will prove enormously
useful for the following grammar sections.

C. Weak verbs, past tense:

In the previous section, you learned about the three main types of weak verb. Here
their past tenses are given in full.

Type 1:

past tense of vekja wake

singular plural
1. ek vaka vr vkum
2. vakir r vku
3. hann/hon/at vaki eir/r/au vku

Like vekja is spyrja ( spuri) ask, question. Notice how the inflexional
endings with -u- have affected the stem vowel in the plural forms.

Type 2:

past tense of svara answer

singular plural
1. ek svaraa vr svruum
2. svarair r svruu
3. hann/hon/at svarai eir/r/au svruu
Notice that the plural forms here have also been affected by u-mutation. The stem
vowel -a- has changed to --; the unstressed second -a- has also been affected: it
has changed to -u- (i.e. ek svaraa but vr svruum).

Like svara are hluta draw lots, kasta throw, cast, tla intend, think.

Type 3:

past tense of segja say, speak

singular plural
1. ek saga vr sgum
2. sagir r sgu
3. hann/hon/at sagi eir/r/au sgu

Like segja are ora dare, leggja lay, place.

The past tense in weak verbs is easy to recognise owing to the presence of the
dental suffix (-- in all the verbs declined above). If you have familiarised yourselves
with their present tense endings, you will see that the inflexional endings of the past
tense forms are in many cases very similar.

Before we move on to strong verbs, there is one more thing to note. The dental
suffix -- is sometimes realised as -d- or -t- within particular phonetic contexts.

after -n- we find -d-

-- > -dd-
after unvoiced consonants (p,t,k) we find -t-

Obviously, this excludes all type 2 weak verbs (we always find -- after -a-).

-d- examples:

brenna 'to burn' (brenn- + - > brennd-)

past tense of brenna burn

singular plural
1. ek brennda vr brenndum
2. brenndir r brenndu
3. hann/hon/at brenndi eir/r/au brenndu
kla clothe, get dressed (kl- + - > kldd-)

past tense of kla clothe, get dressed

singular plural
1. ek kldda vr klddum
2. klddir r klddu
3. hann/hon/at klddi eir/r/au klddu

-t- examples:

bleikja bleach (unvoiced -k- + t(<)-)

past tense of bleikja bleach

singular plural
1. ek bleikta vr bleiktum
2. bleiktir r bleiktu
3. hann/hon/at bleikti eir/r/au bleiktu

You do not need to learn these -d- and -t- paradigms separately: you will recognise
them as weak verbs in the past tense if you are familiar with the regular --

D. Strong verbs, present tense:

Strong verbs present slightly more of a challenge than weak verbs do, although not
in their inflexional endings (these are more or less the same for both weak and
strong verbs in the present tense). You might like to reread the section on i-
mutation before you proceed (II.E.2, above).

Strong verbs are distinguished from weak verbs in the way that they form their past
tense (with a change in stem vowel rather than the addition of a dental suffix).
However, they share almost identical inflexional endings in the present tense.
grpa, vb. (3sg. pa. greip) grasp:

present tense of grpa grasp

singular plural
1. ek grp vr grpum
2. grpr r grpi
3. hann/hon/at grpr eir/r/au grpa

If you compare grpas inflexional endings with those of weak verb vekja, you will
see that they are identical. All strong verbs take these endings in the present

However, strong verbs do present a small potential difficulty in the present tense.
Those which have back vowels in their stems are subject to i-mutation in the present
tense singular (i.e. the ek, and hann/hon/at forms). As grpa has a front
vowel in its stem, it is not affected by i-mutation. If you are scratching your head
because you can't remember what i-mutation is, go back to the explanatory section

An example of a strong verb affected by i-mutation:

falla, vb. ( fell) fall:

present tense of falla fall

singular plural
1. ek fell vr fllum
2. fellr r falli
3. hann/hon/at fellr eir/r/au falla

Notice that it is only the singular forms that are affected: the plural forms have the
same stem vowel as the infinitive (fllum shows u-mutation).

In the section on i-mutation, you were given a table of back vowels with their i-
mutated equivalents. Here it is again, this time expanded, and with examples from
strong verbs:

unmutated i-mutated example

a e falla fall, fellr
f receive, fr
o >e koma come, kmr, kemr
ra row, rr
sna turn, snr
hggva strike, hew, hggr
au ey hlaupa run, leap, hleypr
j fljta float, fltr
j fljga flee, take flight, 3sg.pres.t. flgr

Don't forget: these changes in vowel are totally regular and therefore predictable.

As you encounter strong verbs in your set texts you will become more and more
familiar with the forms that they take. There is no need to memorise the vowel
gradation series: seeing them in action is much more valuable and, ultimately, a
better route to recognition and understanding.

E. Strong verbs, past tense:

Strong verbs are distinguished from weak verbs in the way that they form their past
tense (with a change in stem vowel rather than the addition of a dental suffix).
Simple idea!

You have already seen how the strong verb grpa conjugates in the present tense.
Here it is in the past:

grpa, vb. (3sg. pa. greip) grasp:

past tense of grpa grasp

singular plural
1. ek greip vr gripum
2. greipt r gripu
3. hann/hon/at greip eir/r/au gripu

You'll see that the singular endings are very different from those of weak verbs,
even discounting the lack of dental suffix. However, the plural endings (-um, -u, -
um) are identical and easily recognisable, and the singular forms, although
unfamiliar, do not present much of a challenge.

Youll also see that we are dealing with not one vowel change, but two:

inf. (and pres. forms) grpa greip- grip-
eii (remember, and i are different vowels).

But of course not all strong verbs have -- in the infinitive; there are different vowel
gradation series. The main difficulty that strong verbs in the past tense present to
beginning ON-I students is that of identification. When presented with a form such
as hann drakk, how does a beginner know to look drekka to drink up in the
dictionary? For this reason, it is useful to be familiar with the various different vowel
series. These are set out below, with examples (in the format infinitive
1& and s/he, it)

pres. examples

(1) ei i rareiriu ride
(2) j/j au u bjabaubuu offer
(3) e a u drekkadrakkdrukku drink
(4) e a berabarbru carry
(5) e a drepadrapdrpu kill
(6) a akakku drive

VI. Adjectives

As in OE, there are two types of adjective in ON-I: strong and weak. This vocabulary
can be rather confusing, as it is also used for verbs and nouns. A verb, or a noun, is
either strong or weak, and this refers to the ways in which it consistently behaves
(conjugating or declining in particular patterns). Adjectives, however, have both
strong and weak forms. Whether an adjective takes a weak or strong form depends
upon the context in which it appears.

This is simpler than it sounds! Adjectives decline to agree with the noun that they
qualify: i.e. if a noun is masculine, accusative, singular, then the adjective which
qualifies it must be too.

A. Strong adjectives:

illr evil, bad


singular plural
nom. ill-r ill-ir
acc. ill-an ill-a
gen. ill-s ill-ra
dat. ill-um ill-um

singular plural
nom. ill- ill-ar
acc. ill-a ill-ar
gen. ill-rar ill-ra
dat. ill-ri ill-um


singular plural
nom. ill-t ill-
acc. ill-t ill-
gen. ill-s ill-ra
dat. ill-u ill-um

There are a number of variations on these paradigms, but if you recognise these
basics the variations are usually easy to decipher. For example, daur dead has a form dautt dau+t > dautt.

Adjectives decline strong (i.e. according to the above paradigms) in noun phrases
without determiners, e.g. the definite article -inn etc., ess this etc. and where
they are used predicatively, e.g.:

illr mar [an] evil man

marinn var illr the man was evil

B. Weak adjectives:

illr evil, bad


singular plural
nom. ill-i ill-u
acc. ill-a ill-u
gen. ill-a ill-u
dat. ill-a ill-um

singular plural
nom. ill-a ill-u
acc. ill-u ill-u
gen. ill-u ill-u
dat. ill-u ill-um


singular plural
nom. ill-a ill-u
acc. ill-a ill-u
gen. ill-a ill-u
dat. ill-a ill-um

Adjectives, strong and weak, are subject to u-mutation just as nouns are. Therefore,
if the adjective has -a- in the stem, this will change to -- if followed by one of the
many -u endings.

Adjectives decline weak (i.e. according to the above paradigms) in noun phrases
with determiners, e.g. the definite article -inn etc., essi this etc., e.g.:

illi marinn / hinn illi mar

evil man-the / the evil man

ga hrossit / hit ga hross

good horse-the / the good horse

C. Past Participles:

You have been introduced to ON-I verb forms and you have seen how (most) ON-I
adjectives decline. This section grammar outlines a verb form which often behaves
as if it were an adjective: the past participle. You should compare these forms with
the adjective declensions you have already learned.

Past participles not only agree in gender with the noun or pronoun they are
qualifying, but also in case and number. All strong verbs have past participle ending
in -inn ( Most weak verbs are like kalla, with -ar past participles

1. Past Participles inn:

falla fall


singular plural
nom. fallinn fallnir
acc. fallinn fallna
gen. fallins fallra
dat. fllnum fllnum


singular plural
nom. fallin fallnar
acc. fallna fallnar
gen. fallinnar fallra
dat. fallinni fllnum


singular plural
nom. fallit fallin
acc. fallit fallin
gen. fallins fallra
dat. fllnu fllnum
2. Past Participles ar:

kalla call


singular plural
nom. kallar kallair
acc. kallaan kallaa
gen. kallas kallara
dat. klluum klluum


singular plural
nom. kllu kallaar
acc. kallaa kallaar
gen. kallarar kallara
dat. kallari klluum


singular plural
nom. kallat kllut
acc. kallat kllut
gen. kallas kallara
dat. klluu klluum