Traditionally, the term adverb🇮🇸 atviksorð has been used as a bit of a catch-all category for words that don’t quite fit into other classes like noun, verb or adjective. In Icelandic, adverbs can be used:
- with a verb, to give more information about when, where or how an action is performed,
- with an adjective, to strengthen, weaken or otherwise modify the meaning of the adjective,
- with another adverb, to modify its meaning.
We can divide adverbs into roughly 3 groups based on their meaning:
- 🕒 adverbs of time and frequency, like núna, í dag, oft,
- 🏠 adverbs of place and direction, like hér, þangað, norður,
- 🎩 adverbs of manner, like vel, illa, mjög, rólega.
Here we are using the term “adverb” to refer to both single words and phrases. Many adverbs, like á morgun and sem betur fer, are phrases that can be broken down into individual words, but they function as a single unit in the sentence.
Many of the most commonly used adverbs in Icelandic don’t have any common ending, for example vel, oft, nú, ekki, strax.
That said, adverbs that are formed from adjectives very often end in -a. Specifically, adjectives that end in -legur get the ending -lega when they are turned into adverbs:
rólegur → rólega
viðbjóðslegur → viðbjóðslega
This ending is like the -ly ending for adverbs in English.
Other adjectives can be turned into adverbs by just using the neuter form, which ends in -t:
hraður → hratt
geðveikur → geðveikt
grófur → gróft
Even then though, there is a tendency to add the ending -lega to some of these adjectives, giving for example gróflega instead of gróft.
Adverbs aren’t inflected for case, number or tense. But they can be inflected for degree:
Like with adjectives, some adverbs have an irregular inflection of degree:
It can be tricky to know where in a sentence to place an adverb. The exact word order depends on whether you’re using it with a verb, adjective or another adverb. It can also depend how long or “heavy” the adverb is.
Short adverbs go right after the main verb in the sentence. An easy way to remember this is:
- Put a short adverb in the same place as you would put ekki.
If the sentence already has ekki, put the other adverb right after that. Let’s look at some examples:
Bartosz talar ekki íslensku.
Lilja syngur vel.
Ég fer oft í bankann.
We can stack a few small adverbs together after the main verb:
Georg syngur ekki svo vel.
Þú prjónar ekki það oft.
Longer adverbs, particularly phrases, often get pushed to the end of the sentence:
Við ætlum að fara til Akureyrar á morgun.
Þau hafa búið þar í mörg ár.
These longer adverbs are sometimes described as being too “heavy” to sit right after the verb, as they can push the object of the verb further down the sentence and make it harder to keep track of what’s happening.
At the start of a sentence
Often, adverbs are placed right at the start of a sentence to give them more emphasis:
Í dag ætla ég bara að hvíla heima.
Á Íslandi eru margar tegundir fugla.
You have to be careful here, because this triggers a process known as inversion or the V2 rule.
The verb always wants to be the second element in a sentence.
With adjectives and adverbs
Adverbs that modify adjectives and other adverbs come right before the adjective or adverb. An easy way to remember this is:
- Put the adverb in the same place as you would put mjög.
Konan er mjög falleg.
Þetta var ofboðslega auðvelt.
Mér finnst fjallgöngur svo sjúklega leiðinlegar.
Here it doesn’t matter how “heavy” the adverb is, it will always come before the adjective or adverb it modifies.