Verbs are the core of a sentence in Icelandic. In other words, Icelandic sentences almost always are built around a verb🇮🇸 sögn:
Hvað heitir þú?
Kötturinn skríður undir borðinu.
Mælst er til þess að gestir yfirgefi laugina 10 mínútum eftir lokun.
A sentence can even consist of a lone verb:
Icelandic verbs inflect (change their endings) for:
- Tense (present🇮🇸 nútíð, past🇮🇸 þátíð)
- Person and number (first🇮🇸 fyrsta persóna, second🇮🇸 önnur persóna, third🇮🇸 þriðja persóna; singular🇮🇸 eintala, plural🇮🇸 fleirtala)
- Mood (indicative🇮🇸 framsöguháttur, subjunctive🇮🇸 viðtengingarháttur)
- Voice (active🇮🇸 germynd, middle/mediopassive🇮🇸 miðmynd)
In addition to these various forms, verbs also have:
- Infinitive🇮🇸 nafnháttur – The form you’ll find in the dictionary. Most end in -a (tala, sofa, gala), but there is also a small group ending in -á (fá, gá, spá). One ends in -o (þvo) and two end in -u (munu, skulu). The particle að is often used before the infinitive – this depends on the context.
- Present participle🇮🇸 lýsingarháttur nútíðar – Always ends in -andi. The present participle is rarely used as a true verb (barnið er sofandi í vöggunni) – it appears more frequently as an adjective or adverb (for example, ég fer hjólandi í vinnu).
- Supine🇮🇸 sagnbót – Used after hafa or vera to form the perfect (for example, ég hef farið til Grikklands), and after certain modal verbs like geta. All verbs except munu and skulu have a supine form. The supine is identical to the neuter form of the past participle, but not all verbs have a past participle. For rules on forming the supine, see Past participle.
- Imperative🇮🇸 boðháttur – Used to give a command or instruction. The imperative has three forms: singular (komdu), plural (komið) and bare (far, used very rarely). See Imperative for rules.
If you’re familiar with grammatical terms such as present tense, third person and subjunctive, you can skip the rest of this page.
Icelandic verbs have two true tenses: present🇮🇸 nútíð and past🇮🇸 þátíð. These are the only tenses that are indicated with endings. Some grammar guides include “tenses” constructed with modal verbs like munu or hafa, but strictly speaking these are not tenses and are therefore not included here. See Modal verbs for a discussion of these.
Different verb groups form tenses in different ways. For example:
|að tala||ég tala||ég talaði|
|að keyra||ég keyri||ég keyrði|
|að velja||ég vel||ég valdi|
The verbs in this table are all weak. We can tell this because they form their past tense with a dental suffix. All this means is that they add an ending containing a dental consonant, one of d, ð or t, in the past tense.
Other verbs form their past tense using a vowel change known as umlaut. These are called strong verbs.
|að bíta||ég bít||ég beit|
|að bjóða||ég býð||ég bauð|
|að detta||ég dett||ég datt|
Person and number
Icelandic verbs have three persons, each of which has various singular and plural forms:
- First – singular: the ég form; plural: the við form
- Second – singular: the þú form; plural: the þið form
- Third – singular: the hann/hún/hán/það form; plural: the þeir/þær/þau form
For a discussion on how to use these various pronouns, see Personal pronouns.
This means there are six possible endings to reflect the various combinations of person and number:
|1st||ég prjóna||við prjónum|
|2nd||þú prjónar||þið prjónið|
|3rd||hún prjónar||þær prjóna|
The endings above are for group 1 weak verbs. Taken together these form a paradigm. Other verb groups have different paradigms.
Within each group, there are different paradigms for the different tenses and voices. See the pages on weak and strong verbs for an explanation of these.
Icelandic verbs have two moods: indicative🇮🇸 framsöguháttur and subjunctive🇮🇸 viðtengingarháttur. “Mood” is a grammatical term and has nothing to do with the emotions of the speaker.
Within each mood, there are present and past tense paradigms.
The indicative is the default mood and the one you learn first. It’s used for factual statements:
Það eru margar kindur uppi í sveit.
Lilja ætlar að fara í sund á morgun.
Ferðamenn hata hákarl.
The subjunctive is used to indicate some kind of hypothetical situation, thought, belief, wish, desire, hope or obligation:
Það væri betra ef það rigndi ekki.
Krakkarnir halda að mamma komi heim í fyrramálið.
Ég óska þess að hann væri enn á lífi.
Mikilvægt er að gluggarnir séu lokaðir.
For a full discussion, see Subjunctive.
Icelandic verbs have two voices that are marked with inflection: active🇮🇸 germynd and middle🇮🇸 miðmynd (also known as mediopassive). The middle voice is a unique feature of the language.
The active voice is the default voice.
Bryndís kaupir nýtt hús.
Icelandic also has a passive voice, but this is formed using vera and a past participle, rather than a simple ending. See Passive voice for an explanation.
Nýtt hús var keypt.
The middle voice has a number of functions. It can mark reciprocity (mutual action), reflexivity (something performing an action on itself) or be used instead of the passive voice. Some verbs have a different meaning altogether in the middle voice. Others exist only in the middle voice.
Við sjáumst í næstu viku!
Hermaðurinn meiddist í stríðinu.
Refurinn sést ekki í myrkrinu.
Mér finnst bókin skemmtileg.
Bartosz og Paweł ferðuðust um allt landið.
All middle voice forms end in -st, which makes them easily identifiable.
For more on forming the middle voice and using it, see Middle voice.