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Old Norse Online

Lesson 1

Todd B. Krause and Jonathan Slocum

Viking Expansion

Although the Scandinavians enter the records of Western Europe sometime around 790 AD, which therefore marks the beginning of the so-called 'Viking Age', these northern peoples had in fact begun a process of expansion some two or three generations before. The first waves of expansion originated in Sweden and Gotland in roughly 700, leading to colonies in modern-day Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. In grave sites near Libau (in Latvia), we find signs of a community of traders from Gotland accompanied by women. We also find signs of another community of Swedes, but here only males and accompanied solely by battle gear.

The famous attacks of almost a century later were spearheaded by the Norwegians, the most notable early attack being on Lindisfarne in 793. There the Norwegians landed and seized livestock, plundered the monastery, and killed several clergy. It was the desecration of the holy sites which set panic in the hearts of Western Europe as such raids continued in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and northern England.

These raids were nevertheless accompanied by true expansion in the form of colonies. The earliest Norwegian colonies were established around 800 on the Orkney and Shetland islands. Although raids were likely part of their economic input, remains from these settlements show that the inhabitants subsisted on the products of farming, fishing, and seal-hunting. Raids in Ireland increased over the ensuing decades until finally the first Scandinavian settlement was founded at Dublin in 836. Over the next few years the Norwegians strengthened their hold on this harbor under the authority of Thorgisl, whose wife gave prophecies at the altar of the monastery. There is little evidence that the Scandinavians attempted to push their settlements farther inland. They seem content to have secured a few ports, which served as launching points for expeditions to colonize the Isle of Man, Scotland, and other regions. Although most early colonization led to the expulsion of any indigenous population, the settling of the Isle of Man seems to have resulted in a blending of Scandinavian and Celtic culture, illustrated most acutely in the art. Some of the images clearly represent Norse mythology, interfused with Celtic designs and workmanship.

It was not until roughly 860-870 that the Scandinavian seafarers pushed west all the way to Iceland. The first expeditions encountered Irish hermits, but settlement did not start until sometime later. Colonization proceeded for some 60 years, at the end of which the population probably neared 20,000 inhabitatants. The process of settlement is described in Egils saga, whereby the leader of a group of settlers would lay claim to a great expanse of land and delimit the borders by beacons or boundary markers. After exploring the land for some time, they would then erect a permanent farmstead.

The earliest colonizing expeditions came from Norway, where the growing population made land scarce on the mainland. But they were soon followed in large numbers by Danes and Swedes. Though the Danes were preoccupied for most of the early 9th century with raids in England and France, by roughly 870 focus turned toward colonizing the northeast portion of England. Settlements became so numerous that they occupied large portions of Mercia, Northumbria, and East Anglia. Eventually Alfred, in a treaty, officially recognized much of this as Danish territory, the so-called Danelaw. The question remains open as to whether the lion's share of the settlements was established through occupation by large Danish military forces campaigning in those regions, or by smaller forces and more attendant settlers following in their wake. Between 880 and 920 there was also large-scale settlement on the Continent, in the area of Normandy. Though the leader Rollo is said to have been Norwegian, the sources of the place-names suggest that a large number of the settlers were Danes.

In England there was peace for some 50 years, but in the 980s the Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes combined forces and proceeded to raid the English coasts. In 994 one party attacked London, but ceased when they were paid off at a sum of 16,000 pounds of silver. In 1002, Ethelred the Unready ordered the massacre of all Danes south of the Danelaw, which had the unfortunate result of inciting King Svein of Denmark to attack England. The invasion was bought off at a price of 36,000 pounds of silver. Svein returned in 1013 to conquer England, in which he succeeded as Ethelred fled to Normandy. Ethelred regained control when Svein died the following year, but Svein's son Cnut wrested control from Ethelred and became ruler of England at the tender age of 20.

At roughly the same time, the Scandinavians made their final push westward. The Icelander Erik the Red rediscovered Greenland in 982, and colonization began a few years later. In time the two main settlements grew to an estimated 3,000 inhabitants. Some homes still survive which were made of turf or stone, as well as a chapel erected in 1001 by Erik's wife. Farming consisted primarily of tending cattle, sheep and goats, but there is some evidence of less than successful attempts to grow grain. The inevitable finding of America may have come at first by accident, discovered by a certain Bjarni in 986. He apparently drifted off his course for Greenland in a fog and sighted an unfamiliar land several times before heading northeast and finally reaching Greenland. Years later, in 1003, Erik's son Leif the Lucky decided to investigate Bjarni's reports further and made his way to the newly dubbed Vinland.

Author Introduction

Ari Þorgilsson (1067-1148) was a meticulous historical researcher whose works laid the foundations for many of the later sagas. He was preoccupied with correctly establishing dates, sifting through evidence and often quoting his sources. The reliability of his research methods is almost unrivalled among later saga writers. His life and works are described in the preface of Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla. From what information can be gathered concerning Ari, it seems he authored Íslendingabók, a work now lost. This contained lives of kings and genealogies. He also authored another work, the Libellus Islandorum, which is often called Íslendingabók. It gives a brief history of the settlement of Iceland. A comment in Landnámabók suggests that he may have assisted in the compilation of this work as well, but it is likely that the contents are merely based on the information of Ari's own works.

Lesson 1 Text

The following passage comes from the Libellus Islandorum. The beginning relates the conditions that led to the work's composition, and its relation to the earlier Íslendingabók. It continues with the first settlement of Iceland in the year 870 AD. The prose style is simple and straightforward, without the literary polish of many later saga writers. Ari is quick to establish the authority of his sources, breaking off in the middle of a sentence to do so at some length. He is also quick to establish dates, anchoring events to the year of a king's reign.

Íslendingabók gørða ek fyrst biskupum várum Þorláki ok Katli, ok sýnda ek bæði þeim ok Sæmundi presti.

  • Íslendingabók -- proper noun, feminine; accusative singular of <Íslendingabók> Book of Icelanders -- the Book of Icelanders
  • gørða -- verb; 1st singular past of <gøra> make, build; write, compose -- composed
  • ek -- pronoun; nominative singular of <ek> I -- I
  • fyrst -- adverb; <fyrst> first -- first
  • biskupum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <biskup> bishop -- for... bishops
  • várum -- possessive adjective; dative plural masculine of <várr> our, of us -- our
  • Þorláki -- proper noun, masculine; dative singular of <Þorlákr> Thorlak -- Thorlak
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • Katli -- proper noun, masculine; dative singular of <Ketill> Ketil -- Ketil
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • sýnda -- verb; 3rd singular past of <sýna> show -- showed (it)
  • ek -- pronoun; nominative singular of <ek> I -- I
  • bæði -- conjunction; <bæði> both -- both
  • þeim -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative plural masculine of <> that -- to them
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • Sæmundi -- proper noun, masculine; dative singular of <Sæmundr> Saemund -- to... Saemund
  • presti -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <prestr> priest -- the priest

En með því at þeim líkaði svá at hafa eða þar viðr auka, þá skrifaða ek þessa of it sama far, fyr útan Ættar-tǫlu ok Konunga-ævi.

  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- but
  • með því at -- conjunction; <með_því_at> inasmuch as, because -- as
  • þeim -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative plural masculine of <> that -- them
  • líkaði -- verb; 3rd singular past of <líka (að)> please, be pleasing -- it pleased
  • svá -- adverb; <svá> so, thus, in this way; also; as, as if -- so
  • at -- preposition; <at> to, towards, against; at, in; from; according to; regarding; concerning; after -- to
  • hafa -- verb; infinitive of <hafa (ð)> have, keep; hold; accept -- have (it)
  • eða -- conjunction; <eða> or; and; but -- or
  • þar -- adverb; <þar> there, in that place -- ...
  • viðr -- preposition; <við> reaching to, against, with; towards, at; in exchange for; by; (together) with, close to; because of -- ... # viðr alternate form
  • auka -- verb; infinitive of <auka> to increase, add -- for (it) to be augmented
  • þá -- adverb; <þá> then -- ...
  • skrifaða -- verb; 1st singular past of <skrifa (að)> write -- have written
  • ek -- pronoun; nominative singular of <ek> I -- I
  • þessa -- demonstrative used as pronoun; accusative singular feminine of <sjá> this -- this one
  • of -- preposition; <of> over; across, through; around, about; concerning; because of; for -- concerning
  • it -- definite article; accusative singular neuter of <inn> the -- the
  • sama -- adjective; weak accusative singular neuter of <samr> same -- same
  • far -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <far> track, subject; conduct, deeds; condition -- topic
  • fyr -- preposition; <fyrir> before, in front of; against; because of, for -- ... # fyr shortened form
  • útan -- preposition; <útan> outside (of); beyond; without -- without
  • Ættar-tǫlu -- proper noun, feminine; accusative singular of <Ættar-tala> genealogy -- the Genealogy
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • Konunga-ævi -- proper noun, feminine; accusative singular of <Konunga-ævi> Life (Story) of the Kings, Kings' Lives -- the Kings' Lives

Ok jók ek því er mér varð síðan kunnara, ok nú er gørr sagt á þessi en á þeirri.

  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- ...
  • jók -- verb; 1st singular past of <auka> to increase, add -- have added
  • ek -- pronoun; nominative singular of <ek> I -- I
  • því -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative singular neuter of <> that -- ...
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- what
  • mér -- pronoun; dative singular of <ek> I -- to me
  • varð -- verb; 3rd singular past of <verða> happen, come to pass; befall; chance to be; become -- became
  • síðan -- adverb; <síðan> afterwards, since then -- later
  • kunnara -- adjective; nominative singular neuter of comparative of <kunnr> known -- more clear
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • -- adverb; <> now -- now
  • er -- verb; 3rd singular present of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- ...
  • gørr -- comparative adverb; <gørr> more fully -- more fully
  • sagt -- past participle; nominative singular neuter of <segja> say, speak; tell, tell of; relate -- it... deals
  • á -- preposition; <á> on, upon; at, in; to, towards; by means of; during; in the manner of -- with
  • þessi -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative singular feminine of <sjá> this -- that (story)
  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- or
  • á -- preposition; <á> on, upon; at, in; to, towards; by means of; during; in the manner of -- ...
  • þeirri -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative singular feminine of <sjá> this -- this

En hvatki er missagt er í frœðum þessum, þá er skylt at hafa þat heldr er sannara reynisk.

  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- and
  • hvatki er -- relative pronoun; <hvatki_er> whatsoever -- whatever
  • missagt -- past participle; nominative singular neuter of <missegja> relate incorrectly -- misstated
  • er -- verb; 3rd singular present of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- is
  • í -- preposition; <í> in, within; among; during; into, onto -- in
  • frœðum -- noun, neuter; dative plural feminine / of <frœði> lore; history -- histories
  • þessum -- demonstrative used as adjective; dative plural feminine /nt. of <sjá> this -- these
  • þá -- adverb; <þá> then -- later
  • er -- verb; 3rd singular present of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- be
  • skylt -- adjective; nominative singular neuter of <skyldr> obliged, obligatory; related to; right -- necessary
  • at -- preposition; <at> to, towards, against; at, in; from; according to; regarding; concerning; after -- to
  • hafa -- verb; infinitive of <hafa (ð)> have, keep; hold; accept -- have
  • þat -- demonstrative used as pronoun; accusative singular neuter of <> that -- that
  • heldr -- adverb; <heldr> rather, any the more -- instead
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- which
  • sannara -- adjective; nominative singular neuter of comparative of <sannr, saðr> true -- more correct
  • reynisk -- verb; 3rd singular present subjunctive middle of <reyna (d)> try, prove -- should prove

Frá Íslands bygð.

  • frá -- preposition; <frá> from; concerning -- on
  • Íslands -- proper noun, neuter; genitive singular of <Ísland> Iceland -- of Iceland
  • bygð -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <bygð> dwelling, settlement -- the Settlement

Ísland bygðisk fyrst ór Norvegi á dǫgum Haralds ins Hárfagra, Hálfdanarsonar ins Svarta, í þann tíð -- at ætlun ok tǫlu þeira Teits fóstra mins, þess manns er ek kunna spakastan, sonar Ísleifs biskups ; ok Þorkels fǫðurbróður mins, Gellissonar, er langt mundi fram; ok Þóríðar Snorradóttur Goða, er bæði var margspǫk ok ólúgfróð -- er Ívarr, Ragnarsson Loðbrókar, lét drepa Eadmund inn Helga Englakonung.

  • Ísland -- proper noun, neuter; nominative singular of <Ísland> Iceland -- Iceland
  • bygðisk -- verb; 3rd singular past middle of <byggja (gð)> dwell, settle; build, inhabit -- was settled
  • fyrst -- adverb; <fyrst> first -- first
  • ór -- preposition; <ór> out of, from; of; with the material of -- from
  • Norvegi -- proper noun, masculine; dative singular of <Norvegr> the north way; Norway -- Norway
  • á -- preposition; <á> on, upon; at, in; to, towards; by means of; during; in the manner of -- in
  • dǫgum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <dagr> day -- the days
  • Haralds -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Haraldr> Harald -- of Harald
  • ins -- definite article; genitive singular masculine of <inn> the -- the
  • hárfagra -- adjective; weak genitive singular masculine of <hárfagri> fair-haired -- fair-haired
  • Hálfdanarsonar -- patronymic; genitive singular masculine of <Hálfdanarson> son of Halfdan -- son of Halfdan
  • ins -- definite article; genitive singular masculine of <inn> the -- the
  • svarta -- adjective; weak genitive singular masculine of <svartr> black -- black
  • í -- preposition; <í> in, within; among; during; into, onto -- at
  • þann -- demonstrative used as adjective; accusative singular masculine of <> that -- that
  • tíð -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <tíð> time -- time # usually of feminine gender, but þann shows it is masc. here
  • at -- preposition; <at> to, towards, against; at, in; from; according to; regarding; concerning; after -- according to
  • ætlun -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <ætlun> estimate, opinion -- the opinion
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • tǫlu -- gerund; dative singular feminine of <tala (að)> talk, speak; (recip.) discuss, converse -- reckoning
  • þeira -- demonstrative used as pronoun; genitive plural neuter of <hann> this one -- ...
  • Teits -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Teitr> Teit -- Teit
  • fóstra -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <fóstri> foster-father; foster-brother; foster-son; fosterling -- foster-brother
  • mins -- possessive adjective; genitive singular masculine of <minn> my, mine, of me -- my
  • þess -- demonstrative used as adjective; genitive singular masculine of <> that -- a
  • manns -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- man
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- ...
  • ek -- pronoun; nominative singular of <ek> I -- I
  • kunna -- verb; 1st singular past of <kunna> know, know how to; be able -- regard
  • spakastan -- adjective; accusative singular masculine of superlative of <spakr> quiet; wise, learned -- very learned
  • sonar -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <sonr> son -- son
  • Ísleifs -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Ísleifr> Isleif -- of... Isleif
  • biskups -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <biskup> bishop -- the bishop
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • Þorkels -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Þorkell> Thorkel -- of... Thorkel
  • fǫðurbróður -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <fǫðurbróðir> father's brother, uncle -- uncle
  • mins -- possessive adjective; genitive singular masculine of <minn> my, mine, of me -- my
  • Gellissonar -- patronymic; genitive singular masculine of <Gellisson> son of Gellir -- son of Gellir
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- who
  • langt -- adverb; <langt> a long way -- a long time
  • mundi -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <muna> remember -- could remember
  • fram -- adverb; <fram> forward, on; away; out -- back
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • Þóríðar -- proper noun, feminine; genitive singular of <Þóríðr> Thorith -- of Thorith
  • Snorradóttur -- patronymic; genitive singular feminine of <Snorradóttir> daughter of Snorri -- daughter of Snorri
  • goða -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <goði> chief (and priest) -- the Chief
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- who
  • bæði -- conjunction; <bæði> both -- both
  • var -- verb; 3rd singular past of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- was
  • margspǫk -- adjective; nominative singular feminine of <margspakr> very wise -- greatly wise
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • ólúgfróð -- adjective; nominative singular feminine of <ólúgfróðr> well-informed in good traditions -- steeped in tradition
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- when
  • Ívarr -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Ívarr> Ivar -- Ivar
  • Ragnarsson -- patronymic; nominative singular masculine of <Ragnarsson> son of Ragnar -- son of... Ragnar
  • loðbrókar -- adjective; genitive singular masculine of <loðbrók> shaggy-breeches -- shaggy-breeches
  • lét -- verb; 3rd singular past of <láta> put, place; let, allow; concede, yield; leave, leave off; lose; cause to be done, command; behave (as if); declare; sound -- ordered
  • drepa -- verb; infinitive of <drepa> smite, strike; knock; kill, slay -- to be killed
  • Eadmund -- proper noun, masculine; accusative singular of <Eadmundr> Eadmund -- Eadmund
  • inn -- definite article; accusative singular masculine of <inn> the -- the
  • helga -- adjective; weak accusative singular masculine of <heilagr> holy, sacred -- saint
  • Englakonung -- proper noun, masculine; accusative singular of <Englakonungr> king of the Angles -- king of the Angles

En þat var dccclxx vetra eptir burð Krists, at því er ritit er í sǫgu hans.

  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- and
  • þat -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative singular neuter of <> that -- that
  • var -- verb; 3rd singular past of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- was
  • dccclxx -- numeral; nominative plural of <sjau hundruð ok þrír tigir> eight hundred seventy -- 870
  • vetra -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <vetr> winter -- years
  • eptir -- preposition; <eptir> after, behind; for, to obtain; along; according to; in succession to -- after
  • burð -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <burðr> birth -- the birth
  • Krists -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Kristr> Christ -- of Christ
  • at því er -- relative; <at_því_er> how; as -- as
  • ritit -- past participle; nominative singular neuter of <ríta> cut runes; write -- written
  • er -- verb; 3rd singular present of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- is
  • í -- preposition; <í> in, within; among; during; into, onto -- in
  • sǫgu -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <saga> story; history -- story
  • hans -- demonstrative used as pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <hann> this one -- his

Ingófr hét maðr Norrœnn, er sannliga er sagt at fœri fyrst þaðan til Íslands, þá er Haraldr inn Hárfagri var xvj vetra gamall, en í annat sinn fám vetrum siðar.

  • Ingófr -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Ingófr> Ingolf -- Ingolf
  • hét -- verb; 3rd singular past of <heita> to call, name; promise; be called, be named -- was called
  • maðr -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- man
  • Norrœnn -- proper adjective; nominative singular masculine of <Norrœnn> Norwegian -- The Norwegian
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- who
  • sannliga -- adverb; <sannliga> truly -- actually
  • er -- verb; 3rd singular present of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- it's
  • sagt -- past participle; nominative singular neuter of <segja> say, speak; tell, tell of; relate -- said
  • at -- preposition; <at> to, towards, against; at, in; from; according to; regarding; concerning; after -- ...
  • fœri -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <fara> fare, happen, turn out; go, move, travel -- had... travelled
  • fyrst -- adverb; <fyrst> first -- first
  • þaðan -- adverb; <þaðan> thence -- from there
  • til -- preposition; <til> in; of, concerning; on; as, for, to obtain; until, to, up to the time -- to
  • Íslands -- proper noun, neuter; genitive singular of <Ísland> Iceland -- Iceland
  • þá er -- relative adverb; <þá_er> when -- when
  • Haraldr -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Haraldr> Harald -- Harald
  • inn -- definite article; nominative singular masculine of <inn> the -- the
  • hárfagri -- adjective; weak nominative singular masculine of <hárfagri> fair-haired -- fair-haired
  • var -- verb; 3rd singular past of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- was
  • xvj -- numeral; undeclined form <sextán> sixteen -- sixteen
  • vetra -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <vetr> winter -- years
  • gamall -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <gamall> old -- old
  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- and then
  • í -- preposition; <í> in, within; among; during; into, onto -- on
  • annat -- adjective; accusative singular neuter of <annarr> other, another; second, next; one (of two) -- another
  • sinn -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <sinn(i)> time, occasion -- journey
  • fám -- adjective; dative singular masculine of <fár> few -- a few
  • vetrum -- noun, masculine; dative plural of <vetr> winter -- years
  • siðar -- adverb; comparative of <síð> late -- later

Hann bygði suðr í Reykjarvík.

  • hann -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hann> this one -- he
  • bygði -- verb; 3rd singular past of <byggja (gð)> dwell, settle; build, inhabit -- settled
  • suðr -- adverb; <suðr> southwards -- south
  • í -- preposition; <í> in, within; among; during; into, onto -- in
  • Reykjarvík -- proper noun, feminine; accusative singular of <Reykjarvík> Bay of Smoke, Reykjavik -- Reykjavik

Þar er Ingólfshǫfði kallaðr, fyr austan Minþakseyri, sem hann kom fyrst á land ; en þar Ingólfsfell fyr vestan Ǫlfossá, er hann lagði sína eigu á síðan.

  • þar -- adverb; <þar> there, in that place -- the place
  • er -- verb; 3rd singular present of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- is
  • Ingólfshǫfði -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Ingólfshǫfði> Ingolf's Head -- Ingolf's Head
  • kallaðr -- past participle; nominative singular masculine of <kalla> call, cry out; name; say, declare -- called
  • fyr -- preposition; <fyrir> before, in front of; against; because of, for -- ...
  • austan -- adverb; <austan> from the east; east (of); bearing to the east -- east of
  • Minþakseyri -- proper noun, feminine; accusative singular of <Minþakseyrr> Minthak's Shoal -- Minthak's Shoal
  • sem -- relative particle; <sem> as; as if, that; while; when; where -- where
  • hann -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hann> this one -- he
  • kom -- verb; 3rd singular past of <koma> come, arrive; reach; obtain; occur -- came
  • fyrst -- adverb; <fyrst> first -- first
  • á -- preposition; <á> on, upon; at, in; to, towards; by means of; during; in the manner of -- to
  • land -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <land> land -- land
  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- and
  • þar -- adverb; <þar> there, in that place -- ...
  • Ingólfsfell -- proper noun, neuter; nominative singular of <Ingólfsfell> Ingolf's Fell -- Ingolf's Fell
  • fyr -- preposition; <fyrir> before, in front of; against; because of, for -- ...
  • vestan -- adverb; <vestan> from the west; west (of); bearing to the west -- west of
  • Ǫlfossá -- proper noun, feminine; accusative singular of <Ǫlfossá> Ale-Force (foaming waterfall) River -- Ale-Force River
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- which
  • hann -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hann> this one -- he
  • lagði -- verb; 3rd singular past of <leggja> lay, place, put; put down, lay down; move, bring; thrust, throw; make; give -- took
  • sína -- possessive adjective; accusative singular feminine of <sínn> own, one's own -- ...
  • eigu -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <eigu> possession -- possession
  • á -- preposition; <á> on, upon; at, in; to, towards; by means of; during; in the manner of -- of
  • síðan -- adverb; <síðan> afterwards, since then -- later

Í þann tíð var Ísland viði vaxit í miðli fjals ok fjǫru.

  • í -- preposition; <í> in, within; among; during; into, onto -- at
  • þann -- demonstrative used as adjective; accusative singular masculine of <> that -- that
  • tíð -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <tíð> time -- time # usually of feminine gender
  • var -- verb; 3rd singular past of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- was
  • Ísland -- proper noun, neuter; nominative singular of <Ísland> Iceland -- Iceland
  • viði -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <viðr> tree; beam; forest; wood -- with forest
  • vaxit -- past participle; nominative singular neuter of <vaxa> wax, grow, increase -- covered
  • í -- preposition; <í> in, within; among; during; into, onto -- ...
  • miðli -- adverb; <miðli, milli, millum> between, among -- between
  • fjals -- noun, neuter; genitive singular of <fjall> mountain, fell -- mountain
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • fjǫru -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <fjara> ebb-tide, fore-shore, beach -- beach

Þá váru hér menn Kristnir þeir er Norðmenn kalla papa.

  • þá -- adverb; <þá> then -- ...
  • váru -- verb; 3rd plural past of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- were
  • hér -- adverb; <hér> here -- in this place
  • menn -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- men
  • Kristnir -- proper adjective; nominative plural masculine of <Kristinn> Christian -- Christian
  • þeir -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <hann> this one -- ...
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- whom
  • Norðmenn -- proper noun, masculine; nominative plural of <Norðmaðr> Norwegian -- the Norwegians
  • kalla -- verb; 3rd singular present of <kalla> call, cry out; name; say, declare -- call
  • papa -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <papi> Irish monk, Culdee -- papas

En þeir fóru síðan á braut, af því at þeir vildu eigi vera hér við heiðna menn, ok létu eptir bœkr Írskar ok bjǫllur ok bagla : at því mátti skilja at þeir váru menn Írskir.

  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- but
  • þeir -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <hann> this one -- they
  • fóru -- verb; 3rd plural past of <fara> fare, happen, turn out; go, move, travel -- went
  • síðan -- adverb; <síðan> afterwards, since then -- later
  • á -- preposition; <á> on, upon; at, in; to, towards; by means of; during; in the manner of -- on
  • braut -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <braut> road -- (their) way
  • af því at -- conjunction; <af_því_at> because, for -- since
  • þeir -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <hann> this one -- they
  • vildu -- verb; 3rd plural past of <vilja> will, wish, be willing; intend -- did... want
  • eigi -- adverb; <eigi> not -- not
  • vera -- verb; infinitive of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- to stay
  • hér -- adverb; <hér> here -- here
  • við -- preposition; <við> reaching to, against, with; towards, at; in exchange for; by; (together) with, close to; because of -- with
  • heiðna -- adjective; accusative plural masculine of <heiðinn> heathen -- heathen
  • menn -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- men
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • létu -- verb; 3rd plural past of <láta> put, place; let, allow; concede, yield; leave, leave off; lose; cause to be done, command; behave (as if); declare; sound -- left
  • eptir -- adverb; <eptir> after, behind; for, to obtain; along; according to; in succession to -- behind
  • bœkr -- noun, feminine; accusative plural of <bók> book -- (their)... books
  • Írskar -- proper adjective; accusative plural feminine of <Írskr> Irish -- Irish
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • bjǫllur -- noun, feminine; accusative plural of <bjalla> bell -- bells
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • bagla -- noun, masculine; accusative plural of <bagall> episcopal staff, crozier -- croziers
  • at -- preposition; <at> to, towards, against; at, in; from; according to; regarding; concerning; after -- in
  • því -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative singular neuter of <> that -- this way
  • mátti -- verb; 3rd plural past of <mega> be able to, can; may -- they were able
  • skilja -- verb; infinitive of <skilja (ð, d)> divide, separate; disband; understand, perceive -- to determine
  • at -- conjunction; <at> that -- that
  • þeir -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <hann> this one -- they
  • váru -- verb; 3rd plural past of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- were
  • menn -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- men
  • Írskir -- proper adjective; nominative plural masculine of <Írskr> Irish -- Irish

En þá varð fǫr manna mikil mjǫk út hingat ór Norvegi, til þess unz konungrinn Haraldr bannaði, af því at honum þótti landauðn nema.

  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- ...
  • þá -- adverb; <þá> then -- ...
  • varð -- verb; 3rd singular past of <verða> happen, come to pass; befall; chance to be; become -- there was
  • fǫr -- noun, feminine; nominative singular of <fǫr> journey, expedition -- a... migration
  • manna -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- of people
  • mikil -- adjective; nominative singular feminine of <mikill> great, large, big; severe -- extensive
  • mjǫk -- adverb; <mjǫk> much; very -- very
  • út -- adverb; <út> out; from abroad -- out
  • hingat -- adverb; <hingat> hither -- to here
  • ór -- preposition; <ór> out of, from; of; with the material of -- from
  • Norvegi -- proper noun, masculine; dative singular of <Norvegr> the north way; Norway -- Norway
  • til -- preposition; <til> in; of, concerning; on; as, for, to obtain; until, to, up to the time -- up to
  • þess -- demonstrative used as pronoun; genitive singular neuter of <> that -- the point
  • unz -- conjunction; <unz> until -- when
  • konungrinn -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <konungr> king + definite article; nominative singular masculine of <inn> the -- king
  • Haraldr -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Haraldr> Harald -- Harald
  • bannaði -- verb; 3rd singular past of <banna (að)> prohibit, forbid -- banned (it)
  • af því at -- conjunction; <af_því_at> because, for -- since
  • honum -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative singular masculine of <hann> this one -- to him
  • þótti -- verb; 3rd singular past of <þykkja (þótti)> seem, be thought -- it seemed
  • landauðn -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <landauðn> depopulation -- depopulation
  • nema -- verb; infinitive of <nema> take; take possession of; catch, strike against; amount to -- to amount to

Þá sættusk þeir á þat, at hverr maðr skyldi gjalda konungi fimm aura, sá er eigi væri frá því skiliðr, ok þaðan fœri hingat.

  • þá -- adverb; <þá> then -- then
  • sættusk -- verb; 3rd plural past middle of <sætta> reconcile -- settled
  • þeir -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <hann> this one -- they
  • á -- preposition; <á> on, upon; at, in; to, towards; by means of; during; in the manner of -- on
  • þat -- demonstrative used as pronoun; accusative singular neuter of <hann> this one -- this
  • at -- conjunction; <at> that -- that
  • hverr -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <hverr> who, which, what; each, every -- each
  • maðr -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- man
  • skyldi -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <skulu> shall, must, ought -- should
  • gjalda -- verb; infinitive of <gjalda> pay, repay; redeem -- pay
  • konungi -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <konungr> king -- the king
  • fimm -- numeral; undeclined form of <fimm> five -- five
  • aura -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <eyrir> ounce of silver -- ounces of silver
  • sá er -- relative pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <sá_er> whoever -- whosoever
  • eigi -- adverb; <eigi> not -- not
  • væri -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- (and) he should... be
  • frá -- preposition; <frá> from; concerning -- from
  • því -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative singular neuter of <> that -- this
  • skiliðr -- past participle; nominative singular masculine of <skilja (ð, d)> divide, separate; disband; understand, perceive -- exempt
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- ...
  • þaðan -- adverb; <þaðan> thence -- from there
  • fœri -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <fara> fare, happen, turn out; go, move, travel -- would journey
  • hingat -- adverb; <hingat> hither -- here

En svá er sagt at Haraldr væri lxx vetra konungr, ok yrði áttrœðr.

  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- and
  • svá -- adverb; <svá> so, thus, in this way; also; as, as if -- so
  • er -- verb; 3rd singular present of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- it is
  • sagt -- past participle; nominative singular neuter of <segja> say, speak; tell, tell of; relate -- said
  • at -- conjunction; <at> that -- that
  • Haraldr -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Haraldr> Harald -- Harald
  • væri -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- was
  • lxx -- numeral; nominative plural masculine of <sjau tigir> seventy -- 70
  • vetra -- noun, masculine; genitive plural of <vetr> winter -- years
  • konungr -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <konungr> king -- king
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • yrði -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <verða> happen, come to pass; befall; chance to be; become -- reached
  • áttrœðr -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <áttrœðr> eighty years old -- eighty years old

Þau hafa upphǫf verit at gjaldi því er nú er kallat landaurar.

  • þau -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative plural neuter of <hann> this one -- these
  • hafa -- verb; 3rd plural present of <hafa (ð)> have, keep; hold; accept -- have
  • upphǫf -- noun, neuter; accusative plural of <upphaf> beginning -- the basis
  • verit -- verb; supine of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- become
  • at -- preposition; <at> to, towards, against; at, in; from; according to; regarding; concerning; after -- for
  • gjaldi -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <gjald> payment; tax -- tax
  • því -- demonstrative used as pronoun; dative singular neuter of <> that -- the
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- which
  • -- adverb; <> now -- now
  • er -- verb; 3rd singular present of <vera> be; stay; be done; happen -- is
  • kallat -- past participle; nominative singular neuter of <kalla> call, cry out; name; say, declare -- called
  • landaurar -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <landaurar> land-dues; a tax paid by Icelanders to the king upon arrival in Norway -- land-dues

En þar galzk stundum meira, en stundum minna, unz Óláfr inn Digri gørði skýrt at hverr maðr skyldi gjalda konungi hálfa mǫrk, sá er fœri á miðli Norvegs ok Íslands, nema konur eða þeir menn er hann næmi frá.

  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- ...
  • þar -- adverb; <þar> there, in that place -- ...
  • galzk -- verb; 3rd singular past middle of <gjalda> pay, repay; redeem -- were paid
  • stundum -- adverb; <stundum> sometimes -- sometimes
  • meira -- comparative adjective; nominative singular neuter of <meiri> more, bigger -- more
  • en -- conjunction; <en> but, and; than -- ...
  • stundum -- adverb; <stundum> sometimes -- sometimes
  • minna -- comparative adjective; nominative singular neuter of <minni> less -- less
  • unz -- conjunction; <unz> until -- until
  • Óláfr -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Óláfr> Olaf -- Olaf
  • inn -- definite article; nominative singular masculine of <inn> the -- the
  • digri -- adjective; weak nominative singular masculine of <digr> big, stout; thick; deep -- thick
  • gørði -- verb; 3rd singular past of <gøra> make, build; write, compose -- made
  • skýrt -- adjective; accusative singular neuter of <skýrr> clear, manifest -- definite
  • at -- conjunction; <at> that -- that
  • hverr -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <hverr> who, which, what; each, every -- each
  • maðr -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- man
  • skyldi -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <skulu> shall, must, ought -- should
  • gjalda -- verb; infinitive of <gjalda> pay, repay; redeem -- pay
  • konungi -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <konungr> king -- the king
  • hálfa -- adjective; accusative singular feminine of <hálfr> half -- a half
  • mǫrk -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <mǫrk> mark (of silver) -- mark
  • sá er -- relative pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <sá_er> whoever -- whoever
  • fœri -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <fara> fare, happen, turn out; go, move, travel -- would travel
  • á -- preposition; <á> on, upon; at, in; to, towards; by means of; during; in the manner of -- ...
  • miðli -- adverb; <miðli, milli, millum> between, among -- between
  • Norvegs -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <Norvegr> the north way; Norway -- Norway
  • ok -- conjunction; <ok> and, also; but, though -- and
  • Íslands -- proper noun, neuter; genitive singular of <Ísland> Iceland -- Iceland
  • nema -- conjunction; <nema> unless; except -- except
  • konur -- noun, feminine; nominative plural of <kona> woman; wife -- women
  • eða -- conjunction; <eða> or; and; but -- or
  • þeir -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative plural masculine of <hann> this one -- those
  • menn -- noun, masculine; nominative plural of <maðr> man, person; husband; henchman -- men
  • er -- relative particle; <er> who, which; when -- whom
  • hann -- demonstrative used as pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <hann> this one -- he
  • næmi -- verb; 3rd singular past subjunctive of <nema> take; take possession of; catch, strike against; amount to -- should exempt
  • frá -- preposition; <frá> from; concerning -- ...

Svá sagði Þorkell oss Gellisson.

  • svá -- adverb; <svá> so, thus, in this way; also; as, as if -- so
  • sagði -- verb; 3rd singular past of <segja> say, speak; tell, tell of; relate -- told
  • Þorkell -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Þorkell> Thorkel -- Thorkel
  • oss -- pronoun; dative plural of <ek> I -- us
  • Gellisson -- patronymic; nominative singular masculine of <Gellisson> son of Gellir -- son of Gellir

Lesson Text

Íslendingabók gørða ek fyrst biskupum várum Þorláki ok Katli, ok sýnda ek bæði þeim ok Sæmundi presti. En með því at þeim líkaði svá at hafa eða þar viðr auka, þá skrifaða ek þessa of it sama far, fyr útan Ættar-tǫlu ok Konunga-ævi. Ok jók ek því er mér varð síðan kunnara, ok nú er gørr sagt á þessi en á þeirri. En hvatki er missagt er í frœðum þessum, þá er skylt at hafa þat heldr er sannara reynisk.

Frá Íslands bygð.

Ísland bygðisk fyrst ór Norvegi á dǫgum Haralds ins Hárfagra, Hálfdanarsonar ins Svarta, í þann tíð -- at ætlun ok tǫlu þeira Teits fóstra mins, þess manns er ek kunna spakastan, sonar Ísleifs biskups ; ok Þorkels fǫðurbróður mins, Gellissonar, er langt mundi fram; ok Þóríðar Snorradóttur Goða, er bæði var margspǫk ok ólúgfróð -- er Ívarr, Ragnarsson Loðbrókar, lét drepa Eadmund inn Helga Englakonung. En þat var dccclxx vetra eptir burð Krists, at því er ritit er í sǫgu hans.

Ingófr hét maðr Norrœnn, er sannliga er sagt at fœri fyrst þaðan til Íslands, þá er Haraldr inn Hárfagri var xvj vetra gamall, en í annat sinn fám vetrum siðar. Hann bygði suðr í Reykjarvík. Þar er Ingólfshǫfði kallaðr, fyr austan Minþakseyri, sem hann kom fyrst á land ; en þar Ingólfsfell fyr vestan Ǫlfossá, er hann lagði sína eigu á síðan. Í þann tíð var Ísland viði vaxit í miðli fjals ok fjǫru.

Þá váru hér menn Kristnir þeir er Norðmenn kalla papa. En þeir fóru síðan á braut, af því at þeir vildu eigi vera hér við heiðna menn, ok létu eptir bœkr Írskar ok bjǫllur ok bagla : at því mátti skilja at þeir váru menn Írskir.

En þá varð fǫr manna mikil mjǫk út hingat ór Norvegi, til þess unz konungrinn Haraldr bannaði, af því at honum þótti landauðn nema. Þá sættusk þeir á þat, at hverr maðr skyldi gjalda konungi fimm aura, sá er eigi væri frá því skiliðr, ok þaðan fœri hingat. En svá er sagt at Haraldr væri lxx vetra konungr, ok yrði áttrœðr. Þau hafa upphǫf verit at gjaldi því er nú er kallat landaurar. En þar galzk stundum meira, en stundum minna, unz Óláfr inn Digri gørði skýrt at hverr maðr skyldi gjalda konungi hálfa mǫrk, sá er fœri á miðli Norvegs ok Íslands, nema konur eða þeir menn er hann næmi frá. Svá sagði Þorkell oss Gellisson.

Translation

I composed the Book of Icelanders first for our bishops Thorlak and Ketil, and I showed it both to them and to the priest Saemund. But as it pleased them to have it so or for it to be augmented, I have written this one concerning the same topic, without the Genealogy and the Kings' Lives. I have added what later became more clear to me, and it now deals more fully with this or that story. And whatever is misstated in these histories, it should later be necessary to have that instead which should prove more correct.
On the Settlement of Iceland
Iceland was settled first from Norway in the days of Harald the Fair-Haired, son of Halfdan the Black, at that time -- according to the opinion and reckoning of my foster-brother Teit, a man I regard as very learned, son of the bishop Isleif; and of my uncle Thorkel, son of Gellir, who could remember a long time back; and of Thorith, daughter of Snorri the Chief, who was both greatly wise and steeped in tradition -- when Ivar, son of Shaggy-Breeches Ragnar, ordered Saint Edmund, king of the Angles, to be killed. And that was 870 years after the birth of Christ, as it is written in his story.
The Norwegian man was called Ingolf, who it's said had actually first travelled from there to Iceland, when Harald the Fair-Haired was 16 years old; and then on another journey a few years later. He settled south in Reykjavik. The place is called Ingolf's Head, east of Minthak's Shoal, where he first came to land; and Ingolf's Fell west of Ale-Force River, which he afterwards took possession of. At that time Iceland was covered with forest between mountain and beach.
There were Christian men in this place, whom the Norwegians called "papas". But they later went on their way, since they did not want to stay here with heathen men, and they left behind their Irish books and bells and bagals: in this way they were able to determine that they were Irish men.
There was a very extensive migration of people out to here from Norway, up to the point when king Harald banned it, since it seemed to him to amount to a depopulation. Then they settled on this, that each man should pay the king five ounces of silver, and he should not be exempt from this, whosoever would journey here from there. And so it is said that Harald was king 70 years, and reached eighty years old. These have become the basis for the tax which is now called land-dues. Sometimes more were paid, sometimes less, until Olaf the Thick made definite that each man should pay the king a half mark, whoever would travel between Norway and Iceland, except women or those men whom he should exempt. So Thorkel, son of Gellir, told us.

Grammar

1. The Alphabet

The earliest records of the Old Norse (ON) language are found in runic inscriptions. A literary language began to emerge around 1100 AD, whose manuscripts are written in an alphabet adopted from the English literary tradition. The letters of the Old Norse alphabet are given below, along with a rough guide to their pronunciation in the "classical period", ca. 1150-1350 AD. The numbers indicate that several consonants had differing pronunciations depending on their phonetic environment. These differences are indicated in the last column.

Letter   Pronunciation   Environment
         
á   a as in 'father', long    
a   a as in 'father', short    
b   b as in 'boy'    
c   c as in 'call'    
d   d as in 'day'    
ð   th as in 'this'    
é   é as in French 'été', long    
e   é as in French 'été', short    
f   (1) f as in 'far'   initial position
    (2) v as in 'very'   medial or final position
g   (1) g as in 'goal'   initial position; immediately following n
    (2) ch as in Scots 'loch'   immediately preceding s or t
    (3) ch as in Scots 'loch', but voiced   otherwise
h   h as in 'have'    
í   ee as in 'feet', long    
i   ee as in 'feet', short    
j   y as in 'year'    
k   (1) c as in 'call'   all environments other than (2), below
    (2) ch as in Scots 'loch'   immediately before s or t
l   (1) l as in 'leaf'   initially; standing next to d, n, l, r; following an unaccented vowel
    (2) l as in 'leaf', but voiceless   immediately following h at the beginning of a word; at the end of a word when following a voiceless consonant; between voiceless consonants
    (3) le as in 'people'   otherwise
m   m as in 'home'    
n   (1) n as in 'sin'   all environments other than (2) or (3), below
    (2) n as in 'sin', but voiceless   immediately following h at the beginning of a word; at the end of a word when following a voiceless consonant; between voiceless consonants
    (3) ng as in 'sing'   immediately preceding g or k
ó   o as in 'vote', long    
o   o as in 'vote', short    
p   (1) pp as in 'happy'   all environments other than (2), below
    (2) f as in 'far'   immediately before s or t
q   c as in 'call'   only in digraph qu, usually written kv
r   r as in 'rather', but trilled    
s   s as in 'this'    
t   t as in 'boat'    
ú   oo as in 'droop', long    
u   oo as in 'droop', short    
v   b as in Spanish 'saber'    
w   w as in 'win'    
x   chs as in Scots 'lochs'    
ý   ue as in German 'Muenchen', u in French 'tu', long    
y   ue as in German 'Muenchen', u in French 'tu', short    
z   ts as in 'bits'    
þ   th as in 'thin'    
æ   a as in 'cat', long    
ǫ́   au as in 'naught', long    
ǫ   au as in 'naught', short    
ø   eu as in French 'feu'    
œ   eu as in French 'feu', long    

Doubled consonants, e.g. kk or nn, were held twice as long as their corresponding individual counterparts. This is similar to the contrast in Modern English between n in 'run away' and in 'run now'; in the second instance the n is held longer than in the first. Similarly the k-sound in 'book end', compared with 'book case'. Likewise, if a short vowel is thought to occupy one musical beat, then a long vowel occupies nearly two musical beats. The difference between long and short vowels, at least in the era leading up to the classical period, was one of quantity and not quality.

The letters q and w are encountered chiefly in texts of East Norse. They are generally treated as equivalent to k and v respectively.

The letter ǫ́, representing a long back rounded vowel, does not actually appear in ON texts of the classical period. It seems to have existed in an earlier stage of the language, and some editors use the symbol.

There were also three diphthongs. They are listed below, along with their pronunciation.

Diphthong   Pronunciation
     
au   ow as in 'now'
ei   ay as in 'hay'
ey   combination of ON e+y

By far the most extensive literature written in Old Norse comes from Iceland. For this reason is it quite common to refer to Old Norse as Old Icelandic. Moreover, the grammar and orthography have changed relatively little in the intervening centuries between the documents of Old Icelandic and Modern Icelandic. It is therefore customary to pronounce ON documents according to Modern Icelandic pronunciation. Below is a rough guide to the modern pronunciation.

Letter   Pronunciation   Environment
         
á   ow as in 'now'    
a   (1) a as in French 'mal'   all environments other than (2) or (3), below
    (2) ow as in 'now'   immediately preceding ng
    (3) y as in 'my'   immediately preceding gi
b   p as in 'spin'    
c   (see k below)    
d   t as in 'stop'    
ð   th as in 'this'    
é   ye as in 'yes'    
e   (1) e as in 'let'   all environments other than (2), below
    (2) ay as in 'hay'   immediately preceding ng, gi, or gj
f   (1) f as in 'far'   initial position; before l followed by a voiceless consonant
    (2) v as in 'very'   medial or final position; before l followed by a voiced consonant
    (3) b as in 'buy'   before l or n followed by a vowel; fn sounded as m before voiced consonant
g   (1) g as in 'goal'   initially before back vowels (á, a, ó, o, ú, u, ǫ, au) and ø, and before consonants; medially before l or n; after consonants when followed by a or u; finally after consonants
    (2) ck y as in 'back yard'   initially before front vowels and glides (e, í, i, ý, y, æ, œ, ei, ey, j); medially after consonants when followed by i or j
    (3) y as in 'year'   after vowels when followed by i or j
    (4) ch as in Scots 'loch'   immediately preceding s or t
    (5) ch as in Scots 'loch', but voiced   after a vowel when followed by a, u, r, ð; finally after vowels
h   (1) h as in 'have'   all environments other than (2) or (3), below
    (2) h as in 'huge'   immediately preceding é or j
    (3) c as in 'call'   immediately preceding v
í   ee as in 'feet'    
i   (1) i as in 'pit'   all environments other than (2), below
    (2) ee as in 'feet'   immediately preceding ng or gi
j   y as in 'year'    
k   (1) c as in 'call'   all environments other than (2) or (3), below
    (2) ck y as in 'back yard'   before front vowels and glides (e, í, i, ý, y, æ, œ, ei, ey, j)
    (3) ch as in Scots 'loch'   immediately before t
l   (1) l as in 'leaf'   initially; following an unaccented vowel
    (2) l as in 'leaf', but voiceless   immediately following h at the beginning of a word; at the end of a word when following a voiceless consonant; between voiceless consonants
m   m as in 'home'    
n   (1) n as in 'sin'   all environments other than (2) or (3), below
    (2) n as in 'sin', but voiceless   immediately following h at the beginning of a word; at the end of a word when following a voiceless consonant; between voiceless consonants
    (3) ng as in 'sing'   immediately preceding g or k
ó   oa as in 'roam'    
o   (1) aw as in 'law'   all environments other than (2), below
    (2) oy as in 'boy'   immediately preceding gi
p   (1) pp as in 'happy'   all environments other than (2), below
    (2) f as in 'far'   immediately before k, s or t
q   (see k above)    
r   (1) r as in 'rather', but trilled   all environments other than (2), below
    (2) rt as in 'cart'   after a vowel and immediately preceding l or n in final position or before a vowel
s   s as in 'this'    
t   t as in 'boat'    
ú   oo as in 'droop'    
u   (1) oo as in 'droop'   immediately preceding ng
    (2) wee as in 'sweet'   immediately preceding gi
    (3) u as in 'cute'   otherwise
v   v as in 'very'    
w   (see v above)    
x   chs as in Scots 'lochs'    
ý   ee as in 'feet'    
y   i as in 'pit'    
z   s as in 'this'    
þ   th as in 'thin'    
æ   y as in 'my'    
ǫ́   eu as in French 'peur'    
ǫ   (1) eu as in French 'peur'   all environments other than (2), below
    (2) oei as in French 'oeil'   immediately preceding ng or gi
ø   eu as in French 'peur'    
œ   y as in 'my'    

Since c, q, and w only appear in manuscripts with distinctly regional characteristics in the classical period, they have no "modern" pronunciation as such.

Doubled consonants, as in the classical pronunciation, are usually held longer than their individual counterparts. The doubled consonants kk, pp, tt are pre-aspirated in Modern Icelandic. This means that the same puff of air which follows p in American English 'pot' actually precedes kk, pp, or tt in the modern pronunciation. The consonants k, p, and t are also preaspirated when they immediately precede l, m, or n. The double consonant ll has a peculiar pronunciation. Many speakers articulate this as the cluster tl, but where the l is unvoiced. Thus there is a dental or alveolar tap followed by lateral expulsion of air around the tongue, but without any of the vocal chord vibration an English speaker normally associates with l. When consonant clusters exceed two, alteration or deletion may occur, so that, e.g., rigndi is pronounced more like "rindi", barns more like "bass".

The diphthongs too are pronounced differently from their presumed classical values. Their pronunciations are listed below.

Diphthong   Pronunciation
     
au   oei as in French 'oeil'
ei   ay as in 'hay'
ey   ay as in 'hay'

After the classical period, Icelandic developed an epenthetic vowel, u, which appeared between a consonant (not r) and r. It is most commonly found before such an r in final position. Thus classical maðr is represented by modern maður, classical bindr by modern bindur.

2. Sound System

The sections below discuss the sound system of Old Norse in the classical period, to the extent that it can be reconstructed. This should not be confused with the sound system of Modern Icelandic, which differs from that of Old Norse in several respects.

2.1. Consonants

The sounds of ON may be characterized according to their manner of articulation. The following chart represents the articulation of consonants.

        Labial   (Alveo-)Dental   Velar
                 
Stops                
    Voiceless:   p   t   k
    Voiced:   b   d   g
Continuants       f   þ   h
Sibilant           s    
Nasals       m   n    
Liquids                
    Continuant:       l    
    Trilled:       r    

The above, of course, is an idealization, since Section 1 makes quite clear that the phonemes of ON and the letters are by no means in one-to-one correspondence. The chart places the letters of ON in the position of their most common phonetic value. For example, the position of f in the chart above corresponds only to pronunciation (1) in the preceding section. Likewise, the placement of p in the chart follows from its own pronunciation (1), since its pronunciation (2) is already represented by f. The letter ð is not phonemically (although it is phonetically) distinct from þ and is therefore not included explicitly in the chart. Note also that z is orthographic shorthand for t+s or ð+s, and x for k+s.

2.2. Vowels

The chart below similarly organizes the vowels of ON by their manner of articulation. In each pair, the first member is the short vowel, the second the corresponding long vowel.

    Front       Back    
    Unrounded   Rounded   Unrounded   Rounded
High   i, í   y, ý       u
Mid   e, é   ø, œ       o, ó
Low   -, æ       a, á   ǫ, (ǫ́)

The basic vowels a, e, i, o, u all have long variants. The other vowels are derived from these by either i-umlaut or u-umlaut depending on phonetic environment. This led to the asymmetric system shown above.

There were also two semivowels in ON, v and j (v seems originally to have been a semivowel, only later taking on the characteristics of a bilabial fricative). They could not carry the peak of sonority in a syllable, but they could effect umlaut in the vowel of a preceding syllable.

2.3. Syllables and Stress

There are various monosyllabic words in ON, such as á, til, at. In polysyllabic words, when they are not compounds of more than one word, it is customary to divide syllables before a vowel, e.g. far-a, kall-a, gǫrð-um, gam-all-a, hundr--a. In compound words, syllable division occurs at the boundary of the compounded elements, e.g. vápn-lauss, vík-ing-a-hǫfð-ing-i (< víkinga + hǫfðingi). Syllable length is an important factor in the operation of many phonological rules, and within this scheme there are the following types of syllables:

    Type   Description   Examples
             
1   Short   (short vowel) + (short consonant)   bað
2   Long   (short vowel) + (consonant group)   rann, ǫnd
3   Long   (long vowel) + (short/no consonant)   hús, , gnúa
4   Overlong   (long vowel) + (consonant group)   nótt, blástr

Though it is traditional, a few important grammars of ON do not follow the above method of syllable division and long/short classification. Alternatively, syllables are divided so that non-initial syllables begin with a consonant, e.g. fa-ra, kal-la, gǫr-ðum, ga-mal-la, hund-ra-ða. (This agrees with syllable division in the classical languages, Latin and Greek.) In this scheme, the long/short distinction follows the principle:

    a short syllable is one that
    ends in a short vowel or
    ends in a long vowel followed by a weakly-stressed short vowel.

For example, the initial syllables of geta, konungr, búa, róa are short. All other syllables are thus long. The fact that a long vowel such as ú is shortened before the following short vowel parallels the shortening of the o of do in a phrase like 'do it!' (This is not the same as in Latin and Greek.) Under the traditional length scheme, grammatical and metrical length differ. Thus bað, under the first scheme, is a grammatically short syllable. In poetry, however, this syllable may be counted as metrically long. The second scheme does in fact count this syllable as long. (The situation is complicated by the fact that different types of poetry employ different rules for determining vowel length.)

Weakly stressed syllables may only contain the short vowels a, i, u. Short vowels may not immediately precede short vowels within a word-form; in situations where this would arise through morphological changes, the first vowel is dropped. For example, lifi- plus the ending -r yields lifir, but with the ending -um gives lifum.

Primary stress falls on the first syllable of a word stem. In compounds of two words, primary stress falls on the first syllable of the first word stem, and secondary stress is given to the first syllable of the second word stem. In triple compounds, the first word receives primary stress, the last word secondary stress, and the middle word tertiary stress, all in accordance with the above-mentioned placement of stress on the word stem. In the following examples, ' precedes the syllable with primary stress, '' the syllable with secondary stress, ''' the syllable with tertiary stress:

Simplex   Duplex   Triplex
         
'út out        
'ganga course   'út-''ganga exit    
'dyrr door       'út-'''gǫngu-''dyrr exit door
         
'land land        
'nám seizure   'land-''nám land-settlement    
'maðr man       'land-'''náms-''maðr settler
2.4. Umlaut

The process of umlaut, or mutation, is pervasive in ON morphological paradigms. Umlaut refers to what might otherwise be called vocalic assimilation. Specifically, the articulation of a vowel in a given syllable may be changed by the speaker's anticipation of the vowel in the following syllable. Because of this anticipation, the articulation of the following vowel colors the articulation of the given vowel, producing in essence a new vowel with features of both. In ON, i and u most commonly trigger such changes in a preceding vowel, a process called i- and u-umlaut, respectively.

Although pervasive, i- and u-umlaut are no longer productive in ON. The learner of ON must view the process as having already occurred and stopped by the time of the ON texts. Not every i or u in a syllable will cause umlaut in the preceding vowel. Rather the results of i- and u-umlaut have been regularized and should be viewed as yielding vocalic alternations which are frozen within verbal and nominal paradigms. Beyond those vocalic alternations found in paradigms, no other umlaut functions (regularly) in the ON texts. Often the i or u which caused umlaut in a given form will have subsequently been lost, so that the reason for umlaut within a given paradigm may not be apparent on the surface.

In i-umlaut, or front mutation, a following i or j causes a preceding primary stressed vowel to be fronted, while the vowel's roundness remains unaffected. This produces the following correspondences.

    Underlying Vowel   Result of i-umlaut
         
    a   e
    á   æ
    o   ø
    ó   œ
    u   y
    ú   ý

Examples of where this process does not occur are the following: the i in case endings of masculine and neuter nouns; the thematic i of noun declensions; the thematic i of certain weak verbs. At the time i-umlaut was productive in ON, these vowels were e, and the shift e > i occurred after i-umlaut stopped being an automatic process.

In u-umlaut, or back mutation, a following u or v causes a preceding primary stressed vowel to be rounded, while its backness/frontness remains unaffected. This produces the following correspondences.

    Underlying Vowel   Result of u-umlaut
         
    a   ǫ
    á   (ǫ́) > á
    e   ø
    é   œ
    i   y
    í   ý
         
    unstressed a   u

Presumably u-umlaut caused the mutation of the long á to a long back rounded vowel ǫ́, but this seems to have merged with á at an early stage and is not found in texts of the classical period. The u-umlaut of long and short i and e is marginal compared to the u-umlaut of a. Remember that only a, i, u may occur in unstressed syllables, and of these, a shifts to u in the process of u-umlaut.

The sounds o and y also alternate in ON. Originally, u and y alternated as a result of i-umlaut. In certain environments no longer systematic in ON, u lowered to o and left an alternation between o and y.

2.5. Consonant Changes

Consonant changes regularly occurred under several specific circumstances. The most notable of these are given below.

Gemination

The sounds -t or -r geminated (doubled) when attached to a stem ending in a long stressed vowel, e.g. - + -t > nýtt; - + -ri > fárri.

Simplification

A double consonant is simplified when preceded by another consonant, e.g. akr- + -r > akrr > akr; fagr- + -rar > fagrrar > fagrar; jarl- + -r > jarll (see assimilation, below) > jarl.

Assimilation

The were five important situations for consonant assimilation:

  • -r assimilates to preceding l, s, or n in a long syllable, e.g. sæl- + -r > sæll; væn- + -r > vænn; fús- + -r > fúss.
  • -ð- assimilates to preceding ð-, yielding -dd-, e.g. eyða 'lay waste' > eyddi (past 3rd sing.). -ð- assimilates to preceding -t- or -s- (and sometimes -k-), yielding -tt-, -st- (-kt-), e.g. setja 'to set' > setti (past 3rd sing.); kyssa 'to kiss' > kyssti; kneikja 'to bend back' > kneikti; but merkja 'to mark' > merkði, rekkja 'to go to bed' > rekkði.
  • -ð- or -d- assimilate to following -t, yielding -tt, e.g. kald- + -t > kaltt > kalt; harð- + -t > hartt > hart.
  • -nn- occasionally becomes -ð before -r, e.g. mann- + -r > maðr; ann(a)r- + -ar > aðrar; but munnr remains unchanged.
  • -k- + -ð- sometimes yields -tt-, e.g. sœkja 'to seek' > sótti (past 3rd sing.); þykkja 'to seem' > þótti; but compare the second rule above.

Devoicing

A final consonant cluster is devoiced, and assimilated, in the second principal part of certain Class III and Class VII strong verbs: -nd > -tt; -ng > -kk; -ld > -lt. For example, binda 'to bind' > batt (past 3rd sing.); stinga 'to sting' > stakk; gjalda 'to pay' > galt; ganga 'to go' > gekk; halda 'to hold' > helt.

Consonant Loss

An -n- or -l- occasionally drops before final -t in an unstressed short syllable, e.g. mikil- + -t > mikit; búin- + -t > búit; but gamal- + -t > gamalt.

3. Strong Declension

There are three grammatical genders in ON -- masculine, feminine, neuter. These have no bearing on sexual gender, but when the referent has a distinct sexual gender, the noun representing it typically has the grammatical gender of the same name (but not always). The gender of compound nouns was that of the final element. There are two numbers, singular (one of a thing) and plural (more than one of a thing), except for the personal pronouns, which also display forms for the dual (two of a thing). There are four nominal cases -- Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative. A noun in the nominative case acts as the grammatical subject of its clause, or specifies something predicated to the subject. A noun in the accusative acts as a direct object, or displays the terminus of directed motion, be the motion spatial or temporal (e.g. 'for several miles' or 'for several days' could be expressed by accusative forms, without the need for prepositions). A noun in the genitive marks a general sphere of relation; this relation could be so specific that it connotes possession ('John's book'), but it might be more general ('a day's journey'). A noun in the dative denotes the indirect object of its clause, or more generally a party interested in the action. Grammatical cases inherently connote what in English would usually require a preposition, so that prepositions are not strictly necessary. But to elicit certain nuances, prepositions are commonly used in ON.

All nouns in ON decline according to strong or weak declensions. This is a property of the noun; a noun declines according to one or the other, not both. The declension must be learned for each noun. The terms 'strong' and 'weak' are historically due to J. Grimm; the terminology is no longer deemed insightful and no import should be read into the names. One might just as easily use 'first' and 'second' for the declensions, but inertia keeps the traditional nomenclature in place. The nominative singular of most strong nouns ends in a consonant; the nominative singular of all weak nouns ends in a vowel. The designations of the declensions follow the thematic vowel of the noun stem, which usually shows itself in ON in the accusative plural of strong masculine nouns. The nominative and accusative forms of neuter nouns are always identical.

3.1. a / ja / wa-Stems

The a / ja / wa-stem nouns are generally masculine or neuter. The endings are as follows.

    Masculine   Neuter
         
N Sg.   -r   -
A   -   -
G   -s, -r   -s
D   -i   -i
         
N Pl.   (thematic) + -r   (u-umlaut)
A   (thematic) + -   (u-umlaut)
G   -a   -a
D   -um   -um
         

There is no ending in the masculine accusative, singular and plural. The thematic vowel shows itself in the masculine plural nominative and accusative. There is no ending for the neuter nominative and accusative, both singular and plural. The historical presence of u in the neuter nominative and accusative plural causes the vowel of the last stem syllable to undergo u-umlaut; the u itself, however, was subsequently dropped and does not occur in texts of the classical period.

The masculine nouns harmr 'sorrow' and himinn 'heaven', and the neuter nouns barn 'child' and kné 'knee', illustrate the a-stem declension.

    Masculine       Neuter    
                 
Stem   harm-a-   himin-a-   barn-   kné-
                 
N Sg.   harmr   himinn   barn   kné
A   harm   himin   barn   kné
G   harms   himins   barns   knés
D   harmi   himni   barni   kné
                 
N Pl.   harmar   himnar   bǫrn   kné
A   harma   himna   bǫrn   kné
G   harma   himna   barna   knjá
D   hǫrmum   himnum   bǫrnum   knjám, knjóm

Note the u of the dative plural ending causes u-umlaut of the preceding vowel, as one would expect. The u causing umlaut in the neuter nominative and accusative plural, however, no longer remains. Note also the appearance of a glide j within the paradigm of kné.

Disyllabic nouns generally declined like himinn. The vowel of the last stem syllable dropped before endings beginning with a vowel, or before the thematic vowel itself. The common name Gunnar, D sg. Gunnari, is a notable exception. Some words, such as ketill and lykill, whose first vowel is a result of umlaut brought on by the second syllable, revert to the non-umlauted vowel in syncopated forms, e.g. D sg. katli and lukli.

The masculine nouns niðr 'kinsman' and hirðir 'herdsman', and the neuter nouns ríki 'kingdom', kyn 'kin' and kvæði 'poem', illustrate the ja-stem declension.

    Masculine       Neuter        
                     
Stem   niðj-a-   hirðj-a-   ríkj-   kynj-   kvæðj-
                     
N Sg.   niðr   hirðir   ríki   kyn   kvæði
A   nið   hirði   ríki   kyn   kvæði
G   niðs   hirðis   ríkis   kyns   kvæðis
D   nið   hirði   ríki   kyni   kvæði
                     
N Pl.   niðjar   hirðar   ríki   kyn   kvæði
A   niðja   hirða   ríki   kyn   kvæði
G   niðja   hirða   ríkja   kynja   kvæða
D   niðjum   hirðum   ríkjum   kynjum   kvæðum

The nouns niðr and kyn illustrate the declension of so-called short stems; the rest illustrate long stems.

The masculine nouns sǫngr 'song' and sær 'sea', and the neuter noun hǫgg 'strike', illustrate the wa-stem declension.

    Masculine           Neuter
                 
Stem   sǫngv-a-   sæv-a-       hǫggv-
                 
N Sg.   sǫngr   sær   sjór   hǫgg
A   sǫng     sjó   hǫgg
G   sǫngs   sævar   sjóvar   hǫggs
D   sǫngvi   (vi)   sjó(vi)   hǫggvi
                 
N Pl.   sǫngvar   sævar   sjóvar   hǫgg
A   sǫngva   sæva   sjóva   hǫgg
G   sǫngva   sæva   sjóva   hǫggva
D   sǫngum   (v)um   sjóvum   hǫggum
                 

The w (v in the orthography) of the stem remained only when it followed a short syllable, a g, or a k, and preceded a or u.

3.2. ō / / -Stems

The ō / / -stem nouns are feminine. The stems are so-named for historical reasons; the stem vowel does not appear as ō by the time ON is written down. The declensional endings are as follows.

    Feminine
     
N Sg.   (u-umlaut), -r
A   (-u), -
G   -ar
D   (-u), -
     
N Pl.   (thematic) + -r
A   (thematic) + -r
G   -a
D   -um

The vowel of the final stem syllable undergoes u-umlaut in the N sg. The nominative ending -r appears only on long -stem nouns. The A D sg. ending -u is optional; it generally does not occur with monosyllabic stems. The A D sg. are subject to u-umlaut, even if the u-ending does not appear.

The feminine nouns grǫf 'hole', fjǫðr 'feather', á 'river', and Ingibjǫrg 'Ingeborg' illustrate the ō-stem declension.

    Feminine            
                 
Stem   graf-a-   fjaðr-a-   á-a-   Ingibjarg-a-
                 
N Sg.   grǫf   fjǫðr   á   Ingibjǫrg
A   grǫf   fjǫðr   á   Ingibjǫrgu
G   grafar   fjaðrar   ár   Ingibjargar
D   grǫf   fjǫðr   á   Ingibjǫrgu
                 
N Pl.   grafar   fjaðrar   ár    
A   grafar   fjaðrar   ár    
G   grafa   fjaðra   á    
D   grǫfum   fjǫðrum   ám    

Note that the r in the N sg. of fjǫðr is part of the stem, not the alternate N sg. ending. Also note the appearance of the -u ending in the A D sg. of Ingibjǫrg. Though the -u ending does not always appear in the A D sg. of o-stem nouns, u-umlaut still occurs.

The feminine short stem nouns ben 'wound' and ey 'island', and the long stem heiðr 'heath', illustrate the -stem declension.

    Feminine        
    Short   Long    
             
Stem   benj-a-   eyj-a-   heiðj-a-
             
N Sg.   ben   ey   heiðr
A   ben   ey   heiði
G   benjar   eyjar   heiðar
D   ben   eyju   heiði
             
N Pl.   benjar   eyjar   heiðar
A   benjar   eyjar   heiðar
G   benja   eyja   heiða
D   benjum   eyjum   heiðum

Note the ending -r in the N sg. of the long stem nouns. The differences between ō / -stems parallel those between a / ja-stems.

The feminine noun ǫr 'arrow' illustrates the -stem declension.

    Feminine
     
Stem   ǫrv-a-
     
N Sg.   ǫr
A   ǫr
G   ǫrvar
D   ǫr(u)
     
N Pl.   ǫrvar
A   ǫrvar
G   ǫrva
D   ǫrum
4. Strong Conjugation

As with nouns, there were two types of verbs, strong and weak. These labels bear no relation to the same terms applied to nouns. Again the terminology could just as well be replaced with 'Type I' and 'Type II', since the adjectives 'strong' and 'weak' have no real connotation.

There were two tenses in ON, present and past; and three moods, indicative, subjunctive, and imperative. The tenses might more properly be termed past and non-past, inasmuch as the present forms filled the role of both present and future. Compare Modern English 'I am going to the store later', where the present tense has future meaning, equivalent to 'will go'. Likewise, the past forms in ON may have the connotation of several different tenses in Modern English, such as the simple past 'did', perfect 'has done', and pluperfect 'had done'. The latter may be expressed, as in English, by periphrastic constructions. The moods were built off of either the past or present stems, except for the imperative, which only employed the present stem. Generally the past subjunctive forms denoted potential completed actions, whereas the present subjunctive would have no such implication of completion. This parallels somewhat Modern English 'might have done' vs. 'might do'. Sometimes there seems to be little distinction between the two.

4.1. Strong Verb Classes

Strong verbs were characterized by ablaut, or vowel gradation. This process still survives in Modern English, cf. sing-sang-sung-song. Ablaut refers to the meaning- or function-specific alternation of vowels within a single verb's system. As in the example above, the s-ng base gives present verb forms with insertion of i, past verb forms with a, a past participle with u, and a derived noun with o. Not every verb which employs ablaut employs the same ablaut; take for example hang-hung-hung, where present forms are built from the a-form, past from the u-form, past participle from the u-form, and no extant noun derived through ablaut.

There are seven classes of strong verbs, based for the most part on the sequence of vowels in an ablaut system. To illustrate the possible vowel changes within a system, a selection of principal parts of verbs is made. For the study of ON, the usual choice is infinitive, present indicative (pres. 3rd sg.), past indicative (past 3rd. sg.), past indicative (past 3rd pl.), past subjunctive (past subj. 3rd. sg.), past participle. This gives six principal parts in all, from which the remaining forms of the verb may be derived. Note that the past indicative is built from two stems, one employed in the singular, the other in the plural. The principal parts used are certainly not universal, and some grammars make do with fewer; any slack is compensated for by an increased number of phonological rules.

The verbs bíta 'bite', skjóta 'shoot', bresta 'burst', bera 'bear', reka 'drive', and fara 'go' illustrate the principal parts of the first six strong verb classes. Optional principal parts are in parentheses.

Class   Infinitive   (3 Sg. Pres.)   3 Sg. Past   3 Pl. Past   (3 Sg. Past Subj.)   Past Ptcple
                         
I   bíta 'bite'   bítr   beit   bitu   biti   bitinn
II   skjóta 'shoot'   skýtr   skaut   skutu   skyti   skotinn
III   bresta 'burst'   brestr   brast   brustu   brysti   brostinn
IV   bera 'bear'   berr   bar   báru   bæri   borinn
V   reka 'drive'   rekr   rak   ráku   ræki   rekinn
VI   fara 'go'   ferr   fór   fóru   fœri   farinn

For the seventh class, it is convenient to quote additional principal parts: 3rd pl. pres. indic., 3rd sg. pres. subj.. These principal parts are listed in brackets. The seventh class historically comprised reduplicated verbs. The verbs róa 'row' and snúa 'turn' illustrate the seventh class.

Class   Infinitive   (3 Sg. Pres.)   [3 Pl. Pres.]   [3 Sg. Pr. Subj.]   3 Sg. Past   3 Pl. Past   (3 Sg. Pa. Subj.)   Pa. Ptcple
                                 
VII   róa 'row'   rœr   róa   rói   reri / røri   røru / reru   reri / røri   róit
    snúa 'turn'   snýr   snúa   snúi   sneri / snøri   snøru / sneru   sneri / snøri   snúit

A few common verbs are idiosyncratic enough to warrant special mention. Though not reduplicated, some grammars place these verbs in the seventh class. Their ablaut series do not fit conveniently into the above classes, and so they are listed below.

Class   Infinitive   (3 Sg. Pres.)   3 Sg. Past   3 Pl. Past   (3 Sg. Past Subj.)   Past Ptcple
                         
(VII)   falla 'fall'   fellr   fell   fellu   felli   fallin
    gráta 'cry'   grætr   grét   grétu   gréti   grátinn
    hlaupa 'leap'   hleypr   hljóp   hljópu   hlýpi   hlaupinn
    leika 'play'   leikr   lék   léku   léki   leikinn
4.2. Active Paradigm

The active endings of the strong verb paradigms are as follows.

Strong Verbs   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
Present            
1 Sg.   -   -a    
2   -r   -ir   -
3   -r   -i    
             
1 Pl.   -um   -im   -um
2   -   -   -
3   -a   -i    
             
Past            
1 Sg.   -   -a    
2   -t   -ir    
3   -   -i    
             
1 Pl.   -um   -im    
2   -   -    
3   -u   -i    

The mark "-" represents a form whose ending is zero; a blank space represents the complete absence of any such form.

The conjugation of the second class verb rjúfa 'break' illustrates the endings.

Strong Verbs   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
Present            
1 Sg.   rýf   rjúfa    
2   rýfr   rjúfir   rjúf
3   rýfr   rjúfi    
             
1 Pl.   rjúfum   rjúfim   rjúfum
2   rjúfið   rjúið   rjúfið
3   rjúfa   rjúfi    
             
Past            
1 Sg.   rauf   ryfa    
2   rauft   ryfir    
3   rauf   ryfi    
             
1 Pl.   rufum   ryfim    
2   rufuð   ryfið    
3   rufu   ryfi    
             
Infinitive   rjúfa        
             
Pres. Ptc.   rjúfandi        
             
Past Ptc.   rofinn        

These forms are derivable from a minimal set of four principal parts, namely the principal parts not in parentheses in the chart of the preceding section. Specifically, these are the following principal parts:

  • infinitive: rjúfa;
  • 3 (or 1) sg. past indic.: rauf;
  • 3 (or 1) pl. past indic.: rufu (rufum);
  • past participle: rofinn (neuter sg. rofit).

The procedure for arriving at the verb forms is this:

  • present indic. sg. forms: take the infinitive stem rjúf-, apply the rule pres. sg. indic. forms of strong verbs with back vowels undergo front mutation, add endings.
  • present indic. pl. / pres. subjunct. (all): take infinitive stem rjúf-, add endings.
  • past indic. sg.: take second principal part rauf, add endings.
  • past indic. pl.: take stem of third principal part ruf-, add endings.
  • past subjunct. (all): take stem of third principal part ruf-, apply rule past subjunct. forms of strong verbs with back vowels undergo front mutation, add endings.
  • imperative (all): take infinitive stem rjúf-, add endings.
  • present participle: take infinitive stem rjúf-, add endings.
  • past participle: take fourth principal part stem rof-, add endings.

Note however that a non-back vowel in a given principal part may undergo back mutation before the ending -um. Labelling the principal part stems as (1), (2), (3), (4), this gives the following schematic representation.

Strong Verbs   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
Present            
1 Sg.   (1) + (i-mut.) + -   (1) + -a    
2   (1) + (i-mut.) + -r   (1) + -ir   (1) + -
3   (1) + (i-mut.) + -r   (1) + -i    
             
1 Pl.   (1) + (u-mut.) + -um   (1) + -im   (1) + (u-mut.) + -um
2   (1) + -   (1) + -   (1) + -
3   (1) + -a   (1) + -i    
             
Past            
1 Sg.   (2) + -   (3) + (i-mut.) + -a    
2   (2) + -t   (3) + (i-mut.) + -ir    
3   (2) + -   (3) + (i-mut.) + -i    
             
1 Pl.   (3) + (u-mut.) + -um   (3) + (i-mut.) + -im    
2   (3) + -   (3) + (i-mut.) + -    
3   (3) + -u   (3) + (i-mut.) + -i    
             
Infinitive   (1) + -a        
             
Pres. Ptc.   (1) + -andi        
             
Past Ptc.   (4) + -inn        
4.3. Middle Paradigm

The concept of voice deals with the manner in which agent and patient play a role in a given statement. The agent is the logical performer of an action; the patient is the logical recipient, or object, of an action. The agent may or may not be the grammatical subject of its clause, and likewise the patient may or may not be the direct object of its clause. A statement is active when the agent is also the grammatical subject; in this situation, if the patient is expressed, it is the direct object. An example is 'the dog bites the man'. The dog is the logical performer of the action, the agent, and is also the grammatical subject of the verb 'bites'. The statement is therefore active; the patient, 'the man', is the direct object. A statement is passive when the the patient is the grammatical subject. We may recast the same sentiment as before in the fashion 'the man is bitten by the dog'. Again the logical performer of the action is 'the dog' -- this remains the agent. It is no longer, however, the grammatical subject; rather the patient, 'the man', is the grammatical subject of the verb 'is bitten', making this a passive statement.

The middle voice, as its name would imply, occupies a position somewhere between active and passive, and is typically less precisely defined. The middle voice is used for expressing actions which have some sort of effect back on the subject, either by simple reflexive action ('I washed myself'), by personal benefit ('I had a sacrifice performed'), by internal process ('I called to mind what he said'), or a number of other nuances. In ON, the sense of the middle voice often overlaps with the passive.

The endings of the middle voice are given below. For the most part they are simply the active endings with a post-posed -sk (-mk in the 1st pers. sg.), and attendant sound changes.

Strong Verbs   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
Present            
1 Sg.   -umk   -umk    
2   -sk   -isk   -sk
3   -sk   -isk    
             
1 Pl.   -umsk   -imsk   -umsk
2   -izk   -izk   -izk
3   -ask   -isk    
             
Past            
1 Sg.   -umk   -umk    
2   -zk   -isk    
3   -sk   -isk    
             
1 Pl.   -umsk   -imsk    
2   -uzk   -izk    
3   -usk   -isk    

As above, the conjugation of the second class verb rjúfa 'break' illustrates the endings.

Strong Verbs   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
Present            
1 Sg.   rjúfumk   rjúfumk    
2   rýfsk   rjúfisk   rjúfsk
3   rýfsk   rjúfisk    
             
1 Pl.   rjúfumsk   rjúfimsk   rjúfumsk
2   rjúfizk   rjúizk   rjúfizk
3   rjúfask   rjúfisk    
             
Past            
1 Sg.   rufumk   ryfumk    
2   raufzk   ryfisk    
3   raufsk   ryfisk    
             
1 Pl.   rufumsk   ryfimsk    
2   rufuzk   ryfizk    
3   rufusk   ryfisk    
             
Infinitive   rjúfask        
             
Pres. Ptc.   rjúfandisk        
             
Past Ptc.   rofizk        

As in the preceding section, a non-back vowel in a given principal part may undergo back mutation before the ending -umk. This gives the following schematic representation.

Strong Verbs   Indicative   Subjunctive   Imperative
Present            
1 Sg.   (1) + (u-mut.) + -umk   (1) + (u-mut.) + -umk    
2   (1) + (i-mut.) + -sk   (1) + -isk   (1) + -sk
3   (1) + (i-mut.) + -sk   (1) + -isk    
             
1 Pl.   (1) + (u-mut.) + -umsk   (1) + -imsk   (1) + (u-mut.) + -umsk
2   (1) + -izk   (1) + -izk   (1) + -izk
3   (1) + -ask   (1) + -isk    
             
Past            
1 Sg.   (3) + (u-mut.) + -umk   (3) + (i-mut.) + -umk    
2   (2) + -zt   (3) + (i-mut.) + -isk    
3   (2) + -sk   (3) + (i-mut.) + -isk    
             
1 Pl.   (3) + (u-mut.) + -umsk   (3) + (i-mut.) + -imsk    
2   (3) + -uzk   (3) + (i-mut.) + -izk    
3   (3) + -usk   (3) + (i-mut.) + -isk    
             
Infinitive   (1) + -ask        
             
Pres. Ptc.   (1) + -andisk        
             
Past Ptc.   (4) + -izk        

The present participle middle is declined like the active, with -sk added after the declensional endings. The past participle is formed analogously, but is only found in the neuter.

5. Word Order and Concord

The basic word order of a declarative statement in ON was

    Subject + Verb (+ Adverb) (+ Object),

where Subject and Object may stand for nouns and attendant modifiers, or even whole clauses; Adverb may stand for a single element or adverbial phrase; and Verb stands for a finite verb form. For example, Bǫðvarr gengr nú til þess rúms 'Bothvar goes now to the place...' When the Adverb comes first, it is usually followed by the Verb and Subject,

    Adverb + Verb + Subject (+ Object),

e.g. Nú kømr jóla-aptann 'Now comes Christmas Eve'. Word order is fluid enough that VSO and OVS word orders are chosen when particular emphasis or stylistic variation is desired. When two clauses are joined, the normal word order is followed in each clause. The common conjunction ok 'and', however, is always followed by the verb of the second clause. Thus,

    S + V (+ Adv) (+ O) + ok + V + S (+ O).

For example, hann lætr Hǫtt fara með sér, ok gørir hann þat nauðugr ok kallaði hann sér stýrt til bana 'He commanded Hott to go with him; and he did so unwillingly, and said it would be his death.' The word order of dependent clauses is the same as that for simple declarative main clauses:

    Relative (+ Subject) + Verb (+ Adverb) (+ Object), or
    Relative (+ Adverb) + Verb (+ Subject) (+ Object).

If the subject is simply a lone relative pronoun, then one finds either

    Rel.Pron. + Verb (+ Adverb) (+ Object), or
    Rel.Pron. + Adverb + Verb (+ Object).

Statements of existence of the sort 'there is...', 'there are...' place the subject or topic first, with no blank pronoun or adverb as in Modern English. Thus Margar sagnir eru... means 'There are great stories...'. Contrast Þar er nú hǫfuðstaðr... 'There is the capital...'; þar always has a specifically locative connotation and is not equivalent to 'there' in Modern English existential 'there is/are...' constructions. Truly impersonal constructions arise in the order

    Verb (+ Adverb) + Object.

The subject is not expressed; such constructions are often equivalent to a passive in Modern English: Skal hér nefna suma þeira ('Shall here name some of them') 'Here some of them shall be named.'

An adjective may either precede or follow the noun it modifies. They agree in gender, case, and number. A plural adjective or pronoun referring to two nouns of different gender is put in the neuter, e.g. vit skulum aka tvau 'we two (Thor (masc.) and Freya (fem.)) shall drive together'. An emphatic adjective generally precedes the noun, but this practice varies quite frequently for stylistic reasons, especially to avoid repetitive constructions. A possessive pronoun generally follows the noun it governs, e.g. skip hans 'his ship'; the alternate hans skip places emphasis on the pronoun. Though there is a definite article in ON, it typically does not modify a noun governed by a genitive, e.g. jarlar konungs 'the earls of the king'. The genitive itself, however, may take a definite article: konungr landsins 'the king of the land'.

When a plural subject follows the verb, a preceding pronoun or noun referring to the subject might be put in the singular. The verb may be singular, though usually plural: þat eru nú fjǫrur kallaðar 'that's now called the fore-shore(s).'