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Icelandic Online Dictionary and Readings

Sverrir Hólmarsson; Sanders, Christopher; Tucker, John / Íslensk-ensk orðabók (1989)

    [p. 21]  

Guide to the use of the dictionary

When reading this guide, if you are in doubt as to which part of speech is which, consult the Grammar, pp. 33–49 where each word class is presented separately in tabular form.

The guide assumes your familiarity with a number of terms. If you are not acquainted with them you may find the following, radically simplified, definitions helpful:

case    the specification of the syntactic function of a noun, pronoun or adjective by means of an inflectional ending. In Icelandic the cases comprise the nominative (for subject and subjective completions, etc.), the genitive (for possession, with certain prepositions, and certain verbs, etc.), the accusative (with many verbs for the direct object, but also with certain prepositions, etc.), and the dative (for indirect object, with certain verbs and prepositions, etc.)
compound    a word composed of two or more words or word elements joined together
inflection    the systematic alteration of word forms (usually by the addition or alteration of an ending) to indicate differences of meaning or syntactic function, as in: I go, she goes; girl, girls; he, him; sing, sang, sung
morphology    the inflectional system of a given word


The lemma contains the headword, information on word class, and morphological details.

  [p. 22]  

1. The Headword

1.1 Order of entries

All headwords are printed in bold and presented in the alphabetical order that is now standard for Modern Icelandic:

a, á, b, d, ð, e, é, f, g, h, i, í, j, k, l, m,
n, o, ó, p, r, s, t, u, ú, v, x, y, ý, þ, æ, ö

This means, for example, that all words beginning with i- are listed before words beginning with í-.


Consequently, when two headwords are distinguished only by the presence or absence of an accent over a vowel, the form without the accent is placed first.

hlið f

hlíð f


When headwords with the same spelling (homonyms) introduce successive entries, they are distinguished by means of superscript numbers.

á·líka adj indecl

á·líka adv

1.2 Presentation of headwords

A headword is often divided into parts: by means of a dot or by means of a slash /.


A dot marks a division of a compound word into constituent parts. Only one such division is noted.



A slash in a headword marks the point at which any inflectional endings given later in the lemma should be added.

borð/a v (acc) (-aði)

indicates that the preterite of borða is borðaði;   [p. 23]  

stelp/a f (-u, -ur)

indicates that the genitive singular of stelpa is stelpu and that the nominative plural is stelpur.


In the case of a compound word whose second segment displays the effects of mutation, this segment is separated from the first by the slash rather than by the dot (see the discussion of inflected forms in section 3 below).

hólm/ganga f (-göngu, -göngur)

1.3 Lemmas that consist of cross-references


A headword can take the form of a reference from an inflected form with a different spelling.

hættir > háttur


A headword can be a reference from a second word with an exactly similar meaning.

einskis·virði adj indecl

= einskisverður

1.4 First elements of compound words

A headword can consist purely of the first element of a compound word followed by suggestions as to how the element is to be understood in compound words that are not included in the dictionary.

meðal- in compounds


2. Word class / Parts of speech

The following main distinctions are commonly made: adj = adjective, adv = adverb, conj = conjunction, interj = interjection, num = numeral, prep = preposition, pron = pronoun, v = verb. Dual function is sometimes indicated as follows:

ótal adj /adv

2.1 Nouns

Nouns are not identified as such. Instead, their gender is given (m for masculine, f for feminine, n for neuter), and where relevant they are given additional   [p. 24]   markers to show that they are registered only in the plural form or are indeclinable.

land n

sifjar f pl

var·kárni f indecl

2.2 Verbs

Verbs are identified by the marker v. Note also v refl for a verb used in the reflexive form, and v impers for a verb that is always used in impersonal constructions.

éta v (acc)

fast/a v

á·girn/ast v refl

lang/a v impers


Case markers. In the preceding example the first instance, éta, has the additional information (acc) after the verb marker. This indicates that the verb in question can be used transitively and that in transitive use the object of the verb is in the accusative case (as opposed to the dative (dat) or genitive (gen)). The absence of a case marker indicates that the verb in question is registered only in an intransitive sense or senses. Case markers are never given for reflexive verb forms, but case usage is usually indicated by an example.

á·girn/ast v refl (-tist, -st)

desire, crave
~~ e-ð
crave sth


Some verbs are frequently used with double objects, one in the accusative (the direct object), the other in the dative (the indirect object). A typical example of this is bjóða e-m e-ð ‘offer sby sth' where in Icelandic the sby (e-m) is in the dative and the sth (e-ð) in the accusative. Verbs of this type are marked (dat+acc).

2.3 Adjectives

Where adjectives are indeclinable this is shown by the marker adj indecl, and when an adjective in origin is the past participle of a verb its source is often identified.

búinn adj

< búa


Where an adjective governs the dative case in its noun phrase, it is shown as follows:

líkur adj (dat)

similar, resembling, like
vera ~ e-m
be like sby

  [p. 25]  

3. Inflected forms

Inflectional endings or inflected forms of nouns, pronouns, verbs and adjectives are given in bold type in round brackets immediately after the indication of word class. In cases where there is mutation the portion of the word that includes the vowel (or the whole of the word) is presented in its entirety in the round brackets.

höll f (hallar, hallir)

fé/lag n (-lags, -lög)

Some words occur with alternative endings for a given case; these are separated by or. Thus in the following example the genitive singular of liður appears both as liðs and liðar.

lið/ur m (-s or -ar, -ir)

3.1 Nouns


For nouns, the endings usually given are the genitive singular and the nominative plural. If only one ending is given it is always the genitive singular, and the absence of the plural form indicates that plural usage is unknown or extremely rare.

and·úð f (-ar)



Where the dative singular of a noun has a vowel change, this form is entered as a headword with a cross-reference.

ketti > köttur

3.2 Verbs


For verbs that belong to the strong declension, the third person singular present (followed by a semicolon) is only given if the vowel differs from the vowel of the infinitive (the headword); otherwise only the third person singular preterite, the third person preterite plural, and the past participle are given, separated by commas.

bjóða v (dat+acc) (býður ; bauð, buðu, boðið)

bera v (acc) (bar, báru, borið)

  [p. 26]  


For most classes of weak verbs only the third person singular preterite and the past participle are given. For the largest and most regular class of weak verbs (Class 1, those marked like borg/a v (-aði)) the past participle is, however, not given, since it is formed completely regularly by the addition of a final to the infinitive (thus borgað, kallað, etc.).


Where the preterite subjunctive of a verb has a vowel change, the form is entered as a headword with a cross-reference.

byði subj

> bjóða

3.3 Adjectives

For adjectives, mutated forms (feminine singular) are given (this form is the same as the neuter plural). Further details on the inflection of adjectives is to be found in the Grammar, p. 38–40.

ban·eitr/aður adj (f -uð)


The primary spelling and usage of the definitions represent standard North American English. Spelling and usage variants in British English are also given, preceded by the marker (UK). These variants are to be regarded purely as the preferred British form, and it is not necessarily implied that they cannot be used in American English. /(UK) introduces a British variant within a phrase.

gefa í botn
step on the gas (UK) accelerate

erfið/a v (-aði)

work hard, toil, labor (UK) labour
það er orðið ~
it has gotten light/(UK) got light

There is a deliberate bias toward everyday speech in the English renderings; thus contracted forms such as ‘couldn't' (rather than ‘could not') are frequently found.

4. Types of definition

4.1 The basic form

The basic form of definition is used for an Icelandic word for which a single meaning is registered and for which one or more English equivalents are provided.   [p. 27]  

háðung f (-ar)

shame, disgrace, ignominy


Within a definition, round brackets may be used to enclose part of an explanation that is optional in English (often dependent on the context).

kyn·þroska adj indecl

(sexually) mature

4.2 Collocations / illustrative phrases

The English equivalents of the Icelandic headword may be supplemented by collocations or illustrative phrases. They are printed in bold type and followed by a translation. Collocations (‘fixed phrases') often demonstrate idiomatic usage;

fanta·brögð n pl

dirty tricks
beita ~um
hit below the belt
illustrative phrases, on the other hand, demonstrate how an Icelandic word is used in one or more of its senses, and the translation shows how the phrase in which it appears can be conveniently rendered into English:

fern adj

four (of a type)
~ar buxur
four pairs of pants/(UK) trousers


Especially in the representation of phrases there is a tendency in this as in any dictionary of Icelandic to use masculine grammatical forms as illustrative material. This is done to avoid introducing variations to the headwords which, where applicable, in accordance with tradition are given in the masculine form. Grammatical gender is arbitrary (its roots are too deeply embedded in the history of language for us to be able to see any logic in it) and it has no sexist connotations.

hugsa um e-n
care for sby, care to sby's needs


Use of the tilde (~). In the Icelandic phrases incorporated in the definitions the sign ~ (single tilde) and ~~ (double tilde) are used as abbreviations for all or part of the headword.

~ is used to represent the whole of a headword that is not broken up by slash.

iðinn adj

diligent, industrious
~ við kolann (= iðinn við kolann)

í·grip n pl

gera e-ð í ~um (= gera e-ð í ígripum)
do sth on the side

~ is also used to represent the part of the headword that precedes the slash.   [p. 28]  

ímugust/ur m

hafa ~ á e-m (= hafa ímugust á e-m)
dislike sby

~~ is used where the headword is broken up by a vertical slash but both parts (the whole of the divided headword) are to be inserted in the example.

kynn/ast v refl (-tist, -st)

~~ e-m
get acquainted with sby, get to know sby


Round brackets are used to enclose part of an Icelandic phrase that is optional and may therefore be missing in a specific occurrence.

þol·rif n pl

reyna (á) ~in í e-m
put sby to the test


The slash is used to indicate alternatives in collocations and phrases.

fisk/ur m (-s, -ar)

e-ð/e-r er ekki upp á marga ~a
sth/sby is not up to much

4.3 Collocations on their own

When use of a headword outside a particular collocation or phrase is not registered in this dictionary, only the collocation itself (introduced by a colon) and its translation are given.

þrándur m

vera e-m ~ í götu
be an obstacle to sby

4.4 Complex entries for words with multiple meanings


Many of the Icelandic headwords in the dictionary have more than one meaning. Where this is the case the different senses are numbered separately, and as a rule the numbered definitions are distinguished from each other for the Icelandic user by means of a semantic indicator written in Icelandic and italicized in parenthesis.

ná·kvæmur adj

1. (áreiðanlegur) exact, precise
2. (gaumgæfilegur) thorough, thoroughgoing
3. (vandlegur) careful


A phrase may also be placed in an individually numbered section.

reynd f (-ar, -ir)

1. (reynsla) experience
2. (veruleiki) reality
í ~
in practice


Where the headword is registered in many phrases, they are grouped   [p. 29]   together in a separate numbered section marked phrases. Within this numbered section, the instances are arranged in roughly alphabetical order, usually according to the prepositions or adverbs incorporated in the phrases.

kast/a v (dat) (-aði)

1. (varpa) throw, fling, hurl
2. (ala afkvæmi) foal
3. phrases
~~ eign sinni á e-ð
claim sth as one's own
~~ kveðju á e-n
greet sby briefly
~~ rýrð á e-ð
belittle sth
~~ af sér vatni
make water, take a leak
~~ aftur
~~ e-u fram
throw out a remark
~~ fram vísu
make up a quatrain on the spot
~~ mæðinni
take a breather
~~ upp
vomit, throw up

4.5 Entries for complex verbs


Numbered divisions in verb entries may be introduced by grammatical markers, such as impers for impersonal, refl for reflexive, pp for past participle, prp for present participle, where meanings or groups of usages are associated with these grammatical forms.

dett/a v (datt, duttu, dottið)

1. (hrapa) fall, drop
2. (missa fótanna) fall, stumble and fall
3. impers
mér ~ur e-ð í hug
sth occurs to me
það datt yfir mig
I was amazed…

Reflexive or middle-voice usages of verbs are often presented in this manner.


2. refl
~~st við



Where a verb changes its meaning in accordance with which grammatical case it governs, the entry is divided accordingly.

ausa v (dat/acc) (eys ; jós, jusu, ausið)

A. (dat) (taka með ausu) scoop, ladle
~ skömmum yfir e-n
pour abuse on sby
B. (acc)

1. (~ bát) bail
~ barn vatni
baptize a child…


The introduction of the division into parts A. and B. may give rise to further grammatical divisions in a manner similar to that described in 4.5.1 above (in the following example C. impers and D. refl).

hen/da v (dat/acc) (-ti, -t)

A. (dat)

1. (kasta) throw
2. (fleygja) throw away, discard
B. (acc)
1. (grípa) catch
~~ e-ð á lofti
catch sth in midair
2. phrases
~~ reiður á e-u
grasp (the significance of) sth
~~ gaman að e-m
make fun of sby
C. impers
það ~ti mig
it happened to me
D. refl dash, rush

  [p. 30]  

4.6 Entries for prepositions

Prepositions in Icelandic usually also function as adverbs. The entries for these words are divided up in a manner similar to that described above for verbs. Thus the structure for the entry for the preposition í is as follows:

í prep /adv

A. prep (acc)
1., etc.
B. prep (dat)
1., etc.
C. adv

5. Restrictive markers

It is the deliberate policy of this dictionary to keep the number of markers and labellings concerning usage to a minimum. English speakers will come to the dictionary with questions occasioned by encountering a given word in a particular context. We expect that this context will supply the information necessary to determine the word's specific application and stylistic level.

5.1 Usage

Some explanation, often concerning sphere of usage, is occasionally given in brackets after the English equivalent.


3. (~~ á taflborði) square (in chess, etc)

5.2 Figurative meanings

Figurative meanings (as opposed to literal) are not usually given a separate marker. A clearly differentiated figurative usage will sometimes be apparent either by the introduction of a new numbered section with its corresponding Icelandic semantic indicator and translation:

yfir·bragð n (-s)

1. (útlit) appearance
2. (yfirskin) pretext, excuse
or by the inclusion of a phrase demonstrating the figurative sense:

tugg/a f (-u, -ur)

chewed mouthful
gömul ~~

5.3 Colloquialisms


Colloquial words and phrases in Icelandic are rendered as far as possible by English equivalents which are equally colloquial. No special marking is given.

  [p. 31]  


Idiomatic or highly colloquial English equivalents of Icelandic phrases (equivalents which are not exact translations but unabashed ‘renderings') are enclosed by single quotation marks.

fíl/a v (acc) (-aði)

~~ e-ð vel, ~~ e-ð í botn
‘be really into sth'

5.4 Slang

No specific marker is used for slang or ‘vulgar' speech.

5.5 Poetic or archaic vocabulary

Poetic or archaic vocabulary is readily incorporated in everyday Icelandic. Such words are marked poet for ‘poetic'.

fold f (-ar)

poet ground, land


The authors and publisher of the dictionary would greatly appreciate written suggestions for later improvements. These should be addressed to: The Concise Icelandic-English Dictionary, Iðunn bókaforlag, P.O. Box 294, Reykjavík, Iceland.

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