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1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set

Section One - Grammar and Spelling

1. Gender and Case: There are 3 genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), and 4 cases (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive). The cases have both singular and plural (though differences in gender are largely lost in the dative and genitive plural).

There is no easy way to identify noun gender or case. Many masculine nouns (incl. men’s names) end in –i in the nominative and –a in other cases, e.g. the name Gylfi; many feminine nouns (incl. women’s names) end in –a in the nominative and –u in other cases, e.g. the name Birta.

There is agreement between nouns and adjectives, determiners and pronouns.

Icelandic makes heavy use of inflections. The following word classes are inflected: nouns, adjectives, pronouns, determiners, verbs.

Variation in noun forms arises also as a result of suffixed definite article, e.g. stúlka (a girl) / stúlkan (the girl), í flugvél (in an aeroplane) / í flugvélinni (in the aeroplane). The definitive article varies according to the gender, case and form of the noun.

Words, including names, can vary radically, e.g. Örn (man's name) > Erni (dative), Arnar (genitive). Additionally, place names, street names, etc. often have suffixed definite article.

2. Plurals: There is no easy way to identify plurals. Plurals are formed in a variety of ways, including zero inflections, inflections and root vowel changes.

3. Unusual spellings: One-letter words: á (several senses), í and possibly others. Triple consonants are possible, e.g. þátttakandi, rassskella, alllangur, grunnnet. Odd consonant clusters occur at both the beginning and the end of words, e.g. hrjóta, fnýkur; smyrsl, högld, nafn.

4. Accents: Upper case characters always retain their accents.

5. Capitalisation: Icelandic capitalisation rules are generally similar to English, e.g. at start of sentence. Names are capitalised, but not words that are not names, e.g. no capitals in equivalents of English (as noun or adjective) ‘Englishman’, ‘Monday’, ‘June’. Capitalisation of titles, headings, etc. is similar to English, i.e. generally the first word and salient words are capitalised and 'small words' not. However, with names made up of more than one word, in running text usually only the first word is capitalised, e.g. Íslenska endurtryggingarfélagið hf. (The Icelandic Re-insurance Co. Ltd),

Sameinuðu þjóðirnar (The United Nations). No use of ‘in-capitalisation’. Only first word of titles of companies, etc. capitalised, but all words within personal names. Titles, e.g. equivalents of Dr., Prof., are usually not written with capitals. Titles are often placed after the name, e.g. Bjarni Jónsson, læknir (Dr Bjarni Jónsson).

6. Pronunciation: As a general rule, all letters are pronounced. Once one knows the rules, it is only in very rare and exceptional cases that the pronunciation is not clear from the spelling.

Section Two - Punctuation

1. Speech Marks: Speech marks, especially single inverted commas, are rarely used; direct speech is usually introduced either by a dash (-) or by nothing.

2. Exclamation and Question Marks: Punctuation such as ? ! , is generally used as it is in English.

3. Colons and semi-colons: Colons and semi-colons are rare; Icelandic conjunction en is often 'translatable' by a semi-colon in English.

4. Speech Marks: Low 99 opening double inverted commas and high 66 double inverted commas are used. Titles and highlighted material are often written as follows:

The book is called „Salka Valka“.
This should be „a real doddle“ if you go about it in the right way.

Occasional use of guillemets for bracketing, e.g. «word»

5. Full stops: As in English, i.e. matter of personal preference, but usually no full stop unless item is syntactically a complete sentence. Even within legal use items in bullet-type lists end with full stops, semi-colons, commas, or nothing.

6. Apostrophes and Ellipsis: Apostrophes are not used. Ellipsis is used as in English.

Section Three - Measurements and Abbreviations

1. Measurement: Metric alone has official status and in general is the only system understood. However, inches are understood by builders, etc., for things like nails and screws.

There are various remnants of older systems, but none are likely to appear except in literary texts, e.g. old rural calendar, old 8-hour days system, ounces, Danish miles. lb (or lib) is found occasionally in recipes in the sense of half a kilo. Weights of new-born babies are given in pints (merkur), equivalent to c. 250 grams.

Time: am = f.h., e.g. 10 am = kl. 10 f.h.; pm = e.h., e.g. 3 pm = kl. 3 e.h.

Dates as English usage, except:
- numbers up to 10 usually have 0 in front
- full stop is more common than slash
- 25/8/99 usually written 25.08.99
NB: names of days and months are not capitalised.

Numbers: varying usage. Full stop is used alongside comma for thousands, millions etc., so, UK 10, 234 generally appears as Icel. 10.234. Spaces are not normally used to separate thousands, etc., even in accounts and the like. Decimal point is called komma and is usually written with a comma, especially in numbers over a thousand, e.g. 1.234,56 but this is not invariably the case. UK 10.6 can be either 10.6 or 10,6. No space before % sign.

The word billjón is strictly the ‘British’ billion, i.e. 10^12; the ‘American’ billion is milljarður.

Abbreviations of measurements: positioning generally as English. kr. (krónur) can come before numbers, like £ sign, or after. Icelandic abbreviations are generally used, e.g. 35 sm. (sentimetrar) alongside cm., 25 ha. for either hectares or horse-power (hestafl). Since Icelandic has its own words for many measurements, their abbreviations will often look unfamiliar.

Symbols £ and $ are generally recognised but little used; Icelandic prefers sterlingspund for the former and bandaríkjadalir for the latter (in both cases after the number).

Spaces: A space is optional before sm (sentimetrar), g (gröm), but no space before degree sign.

2. Abbreviations:

N/a = óviðeigandi, óvið. [no standard abbreviation]
No.= Nr.; nr.
e.g. = t.d.; þ.á.m.; m.a. [all possible, with slightly different meanings]
Q&A = spurningar og svör [no standard abbreviation]
WxLxHxD = no standard abbreviation; would probably have, e.g. 25 x 12 x 8.
Ordinal numbers indicated by full stop after the number, e.g. 2. for ‘second’,
10. for ‘tenth’.

Section Four – Hyphenation

Hyphenation is rare for linking words other than in very special cases - in most cases, words are compounded. Not used after prefixes or before suffixes. Very common for splitting words over lines.

End-of-line hyphenation is very common because of the length of compounded words, especially nouns. The position of the hyphen is always morphemic, which therefore demands a knowledge of the language. To a non-Icelandic speaker, there are no useful rules that might help.

It is best not to use hyphenation so ALWAYS consult a native speaker. The only way you might be able to find the correct position is if part of the word also appears uncompounded in the text, e.g. you might be able to work out that endurtryggingar (re-insurance) hyphenates as endur-tryggingar as the base word trygging- (insurance) might appear elsewhere in the text. Looking for unusual consonant clusters is unlikely to help - Icelandic has many such clusters within ordinary morphs. Double consonants will not help (rass-kinn not *ras -skinn); but triple consonants would always be hyphenated before the third, e.g. þátt-takandi.

Considerable use of dashes in certain styles of writing, particularly long dashes.

Section Five – Miscellaneous Peculiarities

Names and titles: most Icelanders do not have surnames. Thus starting a letter to, for ex ample, Sigurður Einarsson with Kæri Sigurður (Dear Sigurður) is normal and does not imply that the writer knows the recipient. Kæri Hr Einarsson would be very odd. Courtesy titles exist but are rarely used: Hr. ('Herra', Mr), Fr. ('Frú', Mrs), Frk. ('Fröken', Danish for Miss). These might appear on envelopes but not after 'Dear' or in the body of a text.

The ‘second name’ is generally a patronymic. The son of, say, Björn Jónsson, might be called Einar Björnsson and his daughter Ásdís Bjarnardóttir. Therefore it is usual for all members of Icelandic families to have different ‘second names’. For obvious reasons, Icelandic women do not take their husband’s name on marriage.

Even where Icelanders have surnames, they are little used for normal purposes, e.g. a woman called Sigríður Thoroddsen (a surname) would be addressed in the same way (i.e. Kæra Sigríður) as a woman called Sigríður Þóroddsdóttir (a patronymic).

The names of many places (and almost all countries) in any way familiar to Icelanders have their own forms, e.g. Dyflinni (Dublin), Höfðaborg (Cape Town), Bandaríkin (the USA), Þýskaland (Germany).

Section Six – Geographic Distribution

Icelandic is spoken by the 250,000 inhabitants of Iceland. There is a small Icelandic speaking colony on Lake Winnipeg in Canada but the language is rapidly dying there. Icelandic is one of the Scandinavian languages, which form a branch of the Germanic languages, in turn a part of the Indo-European family. Icelandic is remarkably similar to Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, which was brought to Iceland from Norway in the 9th century.

Whereas the other Scandinavian languages have been strongly influenced by those of neighbouring countries, Icelandic, insular and isolated, has remained relatively unchanged in grammar and vocabulary over the centuries. As a result Icelandic schoolchildren today have little difficulty reading the 13thcentury sagas. The language is a sort of parent tongue to the other modern Scandinavian languages. It also has many features in common with Old English.

Another factor behind the purity of Icelandic is the absence of international words for modern ideas and inventions. Icelanders tend to avoid such words, preferring to coin their own purely Icelandic words instead. Thus "telephone" in Icelandic is simi, an old Icelandic word for "thread" or "wire." The word for "radio" is útvarp ("broadcast"). "Automobile" is bill, but may also be bifreið ("moving ride"). "Electricity" is rafmagn ("amber power"). However, where no easily usable Icelandic word has been coined, international words are common, e.g. most people use ‘vidíó’ rather than the semi-official‘myndsegulbandstæki’; similarly ‘kassetta’, etc.

Icelandic's links with Old English are also reflected in the alphabet, which contains the letters ð (eth), the voiced /th/ as in English ‘with’, and the þ (thorn), the unvoiced /th/ as in English ‘think’. It also contains the æ of Danish and Norwegian. The English words saga, geyser and eider are of Icelandic origin.

Icelandic is spoken/used almost uniquely in Iceland, where it has official status. English is widely understood in Iceland, as are Danish/Norwegian/Swedish.

Language Family
Family: Indo-European
Subgroup: Germanic
Branch: North (Scandinavian)

Source: - Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Section Seven – Character Set

[ ] = Alt key codes

a A
a á [0225] A Á [0193]
b B
(c) (C)
d ð [0240] D Ð [0208]
e E
é [0233] É [0201]
f F
g G
h H
i I
í [0237] Í [0205]
j J
k K
l L
m M
n N
o O
ó [0243] Ó [0211]
p P
(q) (Q)
r R
s S
t T
u U
ú [0250] Ú [0218]
v V
(w) (W)
x X
y Y
ý [0253] Ý [0221]
z Z
þ [0254] Þ [0222]
æ [0230] Æ [0198]
ö [0246] Ö [0214]

1. Note: All Icelandic characters are found in the ANSI character set used as standard and by default on US and western European versions of Windows. However, various Icelandic characters, notably þ/Þ, ð/Ð and ý/Ý, are not included in Mac fonts supplied in the USA and the UK; for Icelandic work on Mac systems, therefore, special fonts need to be acquired.

2. Note: Icelandic uses two systems for alphabetisation:

A. Strictly as above. This is now the most usual system. (Note that d/D and ð/Ð are treated as the same letter.)

B. As above, but with the vowels with ‘acute’ accents (á, é, í, ó, ú, ý) included with those without, i.e. á/Á sorted with a/A, etc. Where words are otherwise completely homographic, accented vowels are placed after unaccented one. E.g. hlíð comes after hlið but before hliða. This system is now being superseded by A).


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