er, ert, eru…

One of the most common verbs to conjugate in Icelandic is “að vera,” which means “to be.” I’m not going to dive into all of that here right now (there are a million resources on that), but I was struggling to remember a few of the conjugations—so I wanted to review them here.

Specifically, for whatever reason, I had a hard time remembering the differences between er, ert, og eru. Random, I know. The below charts (which cover the same thing, in a couple different ways) helped me sort it out.

Icelandic "to be"
Credit: Complete Icelandic by Hildur Jonsdottir
Screen Shot 2019-04-14 at 11.58.34 AM

Hopefully you won’t forget the e “að vera” words like me. 🙂

When to use “nei” and when “nei” is a nope!…

I learned this weekend that “nei” can only be used as a response rather than used in a sentence.

This learning moment came about when I mistakenly said “nei Íslendingar” in a sentence and my friend corrected me, noting what I should have said is “engir Íslendingar.” Later, I grew curious as to why “engir” (masculine) would be used instead of “engin” (neuter), as saying “engir Íslendingar” implies a general group of people. My tutor later informed me that when you’re speaking about an unspecified person or group, the default is always masculine.

You can say “nei” in a sentence if you’re objecting to something, my friend told me, such as: “Nei, það er ekki rétt.” But that’s about it, it seems.

“Einhver” means someone/somebody, and “enginn” means no one/nobody/none (as a pronoun). The screenshot below explains it in more detail.

enginn engin ekkert
Credit: Colloquial Icelandic by Daisy Neijmann

And with that, I promise to never use “nei” in an Icelandic sentence again! 😛

Þetta er…

I decided that this weekend I wanted to review the Icelandic lesson chapters I already completed with my tutor.

After learning the different uses for þessi or þetta, I grew a tad confused when I saw this easy peasy example from an early lesson:

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 1.06.06 PM

Why is “Þetta er” used here when Adam is male and we know that þetta = neuter?

I asked my Iceland BFF, a bit in a confused panic, and she confirmed my suspicion that essentially “Þetta er” is more for introductions. However, if you’re describing something/someone, then our normal rules for þessi and þetta apply. Example: Þessi er sætur.

My friend also shared these examples:

  • “Þessi stúlka er frænka þín.”
  • “Þessi drengur heitir Adam og er frændi minn.”

So when the word is paired with a noun, then we stick with the þessi form.

(And if the the words stúlka and drengur confuse you like they did me, read this quick post on the differences between stelpa og stúlka, og strákur og drengur.)

My tutor later further explained, “When we’re just saying this on its own as in ‘this thing/person that I am indicating,’ we can just use þetta.”

Perhaps you all were already well aware of this little rule, but it’s one I don’t think I learned—or perhaps I knew it and forgot it. 😉



I received an email from a reader with the following and I thought I’d share here in case other new learners might be wondering something similar:

I’m using both Beginner’s Icelandic and Pimsleur. I like them both, but am focused on Pimsleur. However, I’ve found there are some words in Pimsleur, I can’t find anywhere. For example, “gladly”. I looked it up in my trusty dictionary and it’s not what they use in Pimsleur. What I hear is “enteleya”, but as you know, everywhere else, “gladly” is “gladlega”. Do you have any suggestions? Takk! M.

I relate to your Pimsleur frustrations, M. It’s a wonderful resource (one I still use for practice on my way to work), but I think it’s really best for casual learners who just want to know basics (without having to learn any grammar etc.).

I encountered a similar thing M is describing. I remember asking an Icelandic friend something similar last year. I described it to her as sounding like ant-ee-lega. 🙂 She informed me that endilega is the correct word, which does mean gladly—and she noted that you can also be glaðleg (cheerful).

I do understand the confusion, though, as Google Translate says:

  • endilega = please
  • gladly = gjarna

And if you look here, it says endilega means “absolutely” or “by all means.” Íslensk nútímamálsorðabók also shows endilega as meaning “fyrir alla muni,” aka “by all means.”

I hope this is helpful! These little pieced together definitions should give you a sense as to how it’s used. 🙂


Icelandic Learner Facebook Groups

I already send frequent messages to my Iceland BFF, who has jokingly referred to herself as my full-time native tutor (she’s not wrong…), and my actual Icelandic tutor—but another helpful avenue I use for asking questions are the below Facebook groups:

I love love love using the search function within each of these groups. Sometimes people have already asked similar questions and I get my answers instantly. If no one has asked something similar yet, I can ask in the group and someone always responds within minutes it seems.

So if you don’t have any Icelandic friends or a tutor (or you want to limit your questions to them!), these groups are a great place to start. It’s also helpful if you live in the U.S. like me and are rather impatient (one of my greatest flaws, for sure), and your friends with the answers are fast asleep! 😉

Please let me know if you have other recommendations of Icelandic language learning groups online. 🙂

stelpa or stúlka? strákur or drengur?

I learned today that there are other variations of girl and boy in Icelandic.

We all know that stelpa means girl and strákur means boy, but I didn’t know that stúlka also means girl and drengur also means boy.

Apparently they can be used interchangeably, but my friend informed me that stúlka and drengur are just a bit more proper, and stelpa and strákur are more casual.

I did a bit more Googling and learned via this Reddit thread that stúlka and drengur are really “just less colloquial.”

Quick little fact of the day! 🙂

þessi or þetta?

I got to the below exercise in my Icelandic Online course, and I was totally stumped. So this post is an attempt to teach myself—and remember—the difference between þessi og þetta.

Credit: Háskóli Íslands

It turns out that þessi = feminine (and þessi is also used to describe masculine things) og þetta = neuter.

Mark at Í offers the below explanation about the use of þessi:

“Þessi is typically used for referring to something nearby, something you could point at for instance.”

And Dr. Jennifer Wagner at offers this helpful (and, sure, a bit overwhelming) chart:

this that these
Credit: Dr. Jennifer Wagner

And Mark at Í also offers some fun(?) examples of how to use þessi in other cases:

Ég ætla að kaupa þennan bíl / þessa bíla.
I’d like to buy this car / these cars.
Má ég skoða þessa bók / þessar bækur?
Can take a look at this book / these books?
Er mjög skemmtileg saga í þessari bók.
There is a very entertaining story in this book.
Eru mjög skemmtilegar sögur í þessum bókum.
There are very entertaining stories in these books.
Þau gleyma aldrei þessum degi.
They will never forget this day.
Eigandi þessa húss er ekki heima.
The owner of this house isn’t home.
Rithöfundurinn þessarar bókar / þessara bóka er mjög frægur.
The author of this book / these books is very famous.

Given that þessi seems to be used to describe both masculine and feminine things, then the answer to the above exercise should be þessi lampi!

I finished the rest of the exercise and was able to sort out the below thanks to the above resources.

  • þessi kista (fem)
  • þessi stígur (masc)
  • þetta borð (neuter)
  • þetta lag (neuter)

Such a small little win, but an important one! 🙂

January 2019 Icelandic Goals

I had some pretty specific Icelandic goals for the last quarter of 2018…and I failed miserably at them. Oops.

It turns out working full-time plus teaching in the fall was a bit too much for me; I was too exhausted to focus on much else. 😦 I’ve actually been pretty hard on myself about my slow progress these past few months, as I visited Iceland in October and again for NYE and envisioned to be way more advanced than I was. I knew enough Icelandic to speak with flight attendants, baristas, servers, etc. using basic vocab—but I’m not at a point to have a legit convo in Icelandic with anyone right now. I hoped I might be.

My recent Iceland visits were still full of ample motivational moments though. While I have been disappointed in my slow progress, the Icelanders I practiced with were absolutely lovely and so encouraging.

Okay! So 2019 is here and I’m still a fan of goal setting; although, this time I intend to be a little more flexible and also a bit kinder to myself. 🙂 I’ll take it one month at a time—so in the remaining weeks of January, here’s what I am to tackle:

  • Be able to recite the Icelandic alphabet from memory. 🙂 I think I know it for the most part…
  • Complete all of Pimsleur’s Icelandic Level 1. (There are 30 lessons, and I’ve completed most of them.)
  • Complete a chapter or two in my “Learning Icelandic” workbook.
  • Complete Icelandic Online 1 through the University of Iceland.

I’m genuinely excited to get back at it. Okay! Áfram íslenska! 😀


Practicing Icelandic Through Transcription

One of my coworkers recently told me how she wants to start taking Spanish lessons again. (She, too, has an online language tutor.) I asked her what she felt like one of the most helpful ways to learn Spanish has been for her, and she said transcription because the act of transcribing makes you listen very attentively while also practicing writing/spelling. I had never thought of this as a way to study/practice a language!

My first thought was trying this out with some Icelandic podcast episodes, but first to slow down the playback. My work friend let me know that her tutor advised her to avoid what I thought was a brilliant idea. 😉 Instead, he told her, it’s best to listen to the audio at a normal pace in order to fully grasp the words and sounds in a normal, everyday context.

Icelandic transcription sounded like one of the most difficult things in the world to me at the moment, but I tried it anyway…

My first attempt was with an Icelandic podcast called Í ljósi sögunnar via RÚV that has just one host (as I didn’t want to try transcribing anything with lots of crossover talk) who doesn’t speak too quickly/is easier for me (and I presume, other new Icelandic language learners) to understand than other podcasts. (I learned about Í ljósi sögunnar from a friend. She recommended it when I asked for some podcast recommendations to listen to while running errands to help with some passive learning; lately, I find even just listening to Icelandic is a helpful way to focus on the sounds and rhythm of the language, without the purpose of understanding what’s being said.) Then I tried a short KrakkaRÚV show with brief episodes, only lasting two to three minutes…and while the language felt more manageable given the more basic vocabulary used with children’s content, the music and added sounds made it difficult for me.

Okaaay. So I learned that I’m probably not yet ready for this transcription language learning exercise. What I thought was a slower paced podcast in comparison to others actually felt like the fastest talking podcast host in the world when I attempted to transcribe even just one sentence. 😉

So it turns out that Icelandic transcription is one of the most difficult things in the world for me—at the moment. 🙂 I’m not there yet, but that’s okay. NBD, right? This (too advanced for me) exercise can be something I reach for in the months ahead. Perhaps I’ll become an Icelandic transcribing pro in 2019. 😉


One Week! / Ein vika!

Quick note. Vika (week) is a feminine noun, so the number einn (one) then becomes ein. Einn is the nominative form for one, and ein is the feminine form. Icelandic numbers one through four change based on the gender of the noun being described. Confusing AF, I know. I pretty much always have to look up the gender of nouns and go from there.

Exactly one week from now I’ll be flying somewhere over the North Atlantic Ocean, headed toward Iceland. It will be my third (and not last) trip there this year (well, and my third trip ever there). That’s perhaps a bit excessive—I know—but for me, Iceland is a place where I feel whole in ways I can’t ever seem to properly describe.

A few moments that captured my heart on day one…

  • I remember the first time I saw Hallgrímskirkja in the dark early winter morning. It was my bus drop-off point, next to my Airbnb, and I was in absolute awe at finally seeing this bright tall church I had for so long only seen in photos.
  • I remember walking out of Sandholt after a much needed post-flight cappuccino, seeing the water just a couple of blocks ahead of me and the sun finally rising (much later than I was used to!). I must have stood still outside of Sandholt for a solid couple of minutes, trying to take in my surroundings—still very much in shock.
  • I remember walking up Lækjargata from Harpa after finishing the (very fabulous) CityWalk walking tour during my first afternoon in Reykjavík, with the Prime Minister’s Office in sight ahead of me. I had tears in my eyes, in total disbelief that I had actually made it to Iceland. I felt such overwhelming gratitude that I vividly remember surprising myself a bit when I caught myself audibly saying, “Thank you” in repetition, quietly to myself. It felt as if I quite literally couldn’t contain the immediate joy, gratitude, and love for this seemingly perfect place.
  • I remember trying my best to stay awake my first evening in Reykjavík, after learning it would be my best chance that week to see the northern lights. I did, indeed, manage to stay awake (a miracle) and see the green dancing lights in Þingvellir, a national park just east of Reykjavík. I cried—again—in total wonderment of this land I had for so long desired to visit.

I’ve traveled to a number of countries outside of North America, but nowhere left me feeling like I needed to go back ASAP like my favorite little island country just south of the Arctic Circle. So I lived into that gut feeling—the very week I returned home to the U.S. after my first Iceland adventure in January 2018, I booked another trip for October 2018. (However, I caved by spring and ended up booking a trip in-between trips for July. My heart couldn’t wait until fall, it seems!) I felt (and still do feel) like a human magnet; I’m not sure how much time can pass without me needing to be back in Iceland.

So here I am, with just one weekend separating me from a nation I’ve come to love so deeply, and I’m still full of so much gratitude for the gift that is having experienced Iceland and the added gift of knowing I’ll return in a matter of days.

Skál til Íslands,