Old Norse for Beginners - Lesson Three
- Adjectives - indefinite form
- Usage - accusative with infinitive
- Usage - auxiliary verbs
- The masculine article
- Translate the phrases into English
- Translate the phrases into Old Norse
- Translate the text into English
- Translate the text into Old Norse
- Looking at real texts
- A strophe from the Völuspá
When the Latin alphabet was introduced to write Old Norse the spelling
used was not very consistent and not very precise. To improve readability the
spelling of the preserved manuscripts is usually "corrected" in modern editions.
For example, there are few manuscripts that distinguish between short and
long vowels but this distinction is, as a rule, made now when Old Icelandic
texts are published.
The spelling used in this course is the standardised spelling used in the "Íslenzk
fornrit" edition of the sagas. That spelling, in turn, is based on
suggestions from a 12th century treatise called The First Grammatical
Treatise, because it is the first of four in its manuscript.
There are two exceptions to this. What we here write as 'ö' should be an
o with a tail and what we here write as 'oe' should be an oe-ligature.
This is due to letter code difficulties.
1.1 Adjectives - indefinite form
In Modern English an adjective, such as 'fresh' will have exactly the same form no matter
what its grammatical context is. This was not so in Middle English.
Let's look at a part of Chaucer's description of the Squire.
|Embrouded was he, as it were a meede|
|Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede.|
|Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al þe day;|
|He was as fressh as is þe monþ of May.|
We see that two forms of the same adjective occur; 'fressh' and 'fresshe'.
The first form goes with 'he' and the second with 'floures'. We could guess,
correctly, that the Middle English adjective has a plural ending of 'e'.
We have more examples of this above. The flowers are 'whyte'
and 'reede' whereas the meadow is 'ful' of them.
After this sidestep it should come as no surprise to you that in Old Norse
adjectives have different forms depending on the number and case of the noun
they describe. Their form also depends on the gender of the noun and whether
it is definite or indefinite (explained below). The masculine indefinite
declension is exemplified here.
The word 'reiðr' means 'angry'. As always you must memorise the table.
We will immediately give examples of the usage. Note that the adjective can
come either in front of the noun or behind it. Both types of usage are natural.
|Hér eru reiðir menn.
||Here are (some) angry people.
|Hann sér reiðan mann.
||He sees an angry person.
|Óláfr er maðr reiðr.
||Olaf is an angry person.
Note carefully, however, that ON has a separate declension for adjectives
that apply to nouns with a definite article. That is called the definite declension, while the one presented here is the indefinite. Be careful thus, not to use
the forms above with a definite noun, for that is (under normal
The definite declension of adjectives is not presented here yet, since it
is modelled on a noun declension not yet introduced (the weak one); the
indefinite forms above, however, are similar to the declensions of strong
masculine nouns and various pronouns, all of which are being presented now.
We will have to make do with only indefinite adjective forms for a while.
1.2 Usage - accusative with infinitive
Having learnt infinitive forms of verbs and accusative forms of some nouns,
we're ready for a very useful sentence construction. First, let's take a look
of the English equivalent.
|I saw him come.|
|He sees it fly.|
This construction, usually with a main verb meaning to see, watch, hear, feel,
sense, etc, indicates that the subject sees/hears/senses the object performing
an action, which is put into the infinitive form (without any marker).
|Ek sé Óláf konung koma.||I see King Olaf come.|
|Vér sjám manninn kalla.||We see the man shout.|
|Hann heyrir drauginn mæla.||He hears the ghost speak.|
Modern English speakers will often say "I see it coming." instead of "come."
The ON construction may be translated either way.
1.3 Usage - auxiliary verbs
ON has much in common with English in its use of auxiliaries. To begin with,
some examples of English auxiliary constructions with infinitive:
|It wants to go.|
|He has to go.|
|The man does see.|
|Birds can fly.|
|The dogs must leave.|
|The beast will sleep.|
The auxiliary verbs are the ones that conjugate, 'want', 'can', etc, always
coming first in an English sentence (but not necessarily in ON). The other
verbs are all in infinitive.
Note how some of the infinitives are marked with 'to', but some not. This
is a feature of English as well as ON. It is inherent in the auxiliaries
themselves, if the following infinitive is marked or not. Among the auxiliaries
above only 'want' and 'have' take a marker. ON verbs that have no infinitive
marker, are easily recognized because they all belong to a special conjugation
group. Below you will learn 'vilja', meaning 'want', which is one of those "special" auxiliaries.
|Konungrinn vill vega mennina.|| The king wants to kill the men.|
|Þeir vilja taka hestinn. || They want to take the horse.|
|Ek vil mæla. || I want to speak.|
|Eta vil ek eigi. || I don't want to eat.|
1.4 The masculine article
It may annoy speakers of many languages that the definite article is attached
to the end of words rather than being a seperate word in front. It may be some
consolation that it is originally a separate word. Its declension
(in the cases and gender we have learnt so far) follows:
When we tack the article on to words it sometimes appears in its full majesty:
|maðr + inn = maðrinn|
|menn + inir = menninir|
But if the noun ends with a vowel or 'r' the 'i' of the article is dropped:
|ormar + inir = ormarnir|
|orma + ina = ormana|
And now a masculine noun from a declension group (the weak one) which
you haven't learnt.
|(nom sg)||hani + inn = haninn|
|(acc sg)||hana + inn = hanann|
Though it is a separate word, 'inn' cannot be freely put in front of a word
as an article; it always follows the noun (with some important exceptions
to be learnt later).
|matr||food (always in singular)|
There is a group of pronouns called 'indefinite' pronouns;
here are two useful ones:
As said above, many pronouns decline like the indefinite
adjectives that have been presented. Thus, 'allr' is declined
Exactly like the adjectives above.
But since 'allr' is available both in singular and plural,
how would each translate in English? The plural form translates
directly to the English cognate 'all', while the singular means
'all of', 'whole'. Examples:
|Allir menninir eru norskir.
||All the men are Norwegian.
|Hann sér allan manninn
||He sees all of the man.
'Margr' declines in the same way. Its singular form means
'one of many', while the plural means 'many'. To explain the
singular, consider this example:
|Margr maðr á hest.||Many a man has got a horse.|
What students should perhaps realize, is that there is little difference
between these so-called pronouns on the one hand, and adjectives on the
other. For other adjectives can stand independently just as these pronouns
|Allir eru glaðir.
||All are happy.
|Hræddir eru ok ragir.
||Scared [ones] are also cowardly.
|Dauðir sjá dauða.
||Dead [ones] see dead [ones].
|Ef blindr leiðir blindan falla báðir í gryfju.|
|If a blind [one] guides a blind [one], both fall into a pit.|
However, traditional grammar defines these so-called pronouns as such,
and other adjectives as such; we will adhere to this system in our
lessons, in order not to confuse students refer to other sources.
Regarding word order, adjectives usually postcede personal pronouns; thus:
|Ek et hann allan.
||I eat all of it.
|dauðr || dead|
|góðr || good|
|hræddr || afraid|
|illr || evil|
|íslenzkr || Icelandic|
|norskr || Norwegian|
|reiðr || angry|
|ragr || cowardly|
|stórr || big (note that the first r is part of the stem)|
|svangr || hungry|
|eta, et || eat|
|veiða, veiði || hunt/fish|
|flýja, flý || flee, run away|
|spyrja, spyr || ask|
|svara, svara || answer|
|kenna, kenni || recognize, know (a person, place, or object)|
|elta, elti || follow, chase|
|heyra, heyri || hear|
|fara, fer || go|
|deyja, dey || die|
Note that ON has different words for the English concept "know"; "kenna"
above indicates familiarity, while "vita", mentioned above, is the
"absolute" knowing, i.e. it means awareness of a fact or event.
An irregular verb - vilja:
This irregular verb, meaning "want", is the second in a small group of
verbs with an anomalous conjugation (the first being "vera"), but also
highly useful meanings. It is a cognate of English "will", and behaves in
similar ways as that English verb (e.g. in auxiliary constructions, see 1.3
above). It conjugates thus:
|Infinitive: (at) vilja|
|hví?||why? (word-order: hví + verb + subject)|
|mjök||very, very much, greatly|
'Mjök', being an adverb, can also be used with verbs, in which case
it means 'very much'. For example,
|Óláfr hatar mjök úlfa.|| Olaf hates wolves very much.|
Another example, from a real text, Völuspá:
|Geyr nú garmr mjök.|| Now [the] dog howls greatly.|
|því at|| because (word-order: því at + subject + verb)|
|er || when|
3.1 Translate the sentences into English
|Ragir menn sjá reiðan úlf koma. |
|"Ek sé svangan mann taka ost." |
|"Hvárt sér þú íslenzka menn koma?" |
|Maðrinn er oft hræddr. |
|Illir menn vilja vega góða menn. |
|Allir vilja bátinn taka því at Óláfr á hann. |
|Íslendingar eru eigi menn ragir. Þeir eru ok góðir en eigi illir. |
|Maðrinn veiðir fisk ok etr hann brátt allan. |
3.2 Translate the phrases into Old Norse
|"Do you two eat the whole cheese?" |
|"We see hungry wolves chase the man." |
|"The ravens want to eat all of him, for they are very hungry." |
|King Olaf sees the thieves take the boat. |
|"I see many thieves! I want to kill them all!" |
|Olaf wants to kill the thieves, but they see him coming. |
|As the thieves hear Olaf speak, they all flee. The king chases them. |
|"Many a thief wants to take the boat." |
3.3 Translate the texts into English
Illr draugr vill vega Óláf konung. Hann eltir konunginn ok er hann sér hann,
kallar draugrinn, "Óláfr, þú ert maðr illr mjök ok ragr. Ek hata þik, því at
þú vegr góða menn." Óláfr er hræddr ok flýr.
Svartr heitir danskr maðr. Hann veiðir oft fiska ok etr þá því at fiskar eru
matr góðr. Svartr ferr ok veiðir marga stóra fiska er hann vill eta. Er Svartr
veiðir fiskana, kømr maðr. Er maðrinn sér Svart veiða fiskana, segir hann,
"Heill, ek heiti Kormákr." Svartr heyrir Kormák mæla ok svarar, "Heill. Svartr
heiti ek ok em danskr maðr." Kormákr spyrr Svart, "Hvárt veiðir þú fiska, Svartr?"
"Marga stóra fiska veiði ek, því at þeir eru góðr matr." Kormákr segir, "Ostr er
ok góðr matr, Svartr. Ek hefi hér ost góðan. Hvárt vilt þú ost eta?" "- Ek vil fisk
ok ost eta, því at ostr er ok góðr matr. Hvárt vilt þú fisk eta, Kormákr?"
"- Fiskr er góðr," svarar Kormákr ok tekr fisk. Svartr tekr ok ost ok etr.
Menninir eru mjök svangir. Þeir eta nú alla fiskana ok allan ostinn, ok eru brátt
glaðir menn en eigi svangir.
3.4 Translate the text into Old Norse
A worm sees a wolf coming. When it sees the wolf, it says, "Sss - wolf,
why do you come? I own the fish here, which you want to take." The wolf
is not scared and replies, "hail worm, I'm a hungry wolf now and I want
to eat fish. You have much fish (many fishes) there, which you aren't
eating (don't eat)." The worm is angry and says, "I own all the fish
there, wolf. Wolves who eat the fish all die (deyja allir)!" Now the
wolf is scared, because an evil worm wants to kill it. "- You are an
evil worm! You fish (hunt) much fish but do not eat it (them) all. We
wolves are very hungry and don't have fish. We also want to eat fish,
worm!" The worm sees the wolf flee. The wolf is very angry and shouts,
"I hate evil worms!" But the worm does not chase the wolf, for it is
happy but not angry.
4. Looking at real texts
4.1 A strophe from Völuspá
In this course we use standardised Old Icelandic spelling, geared to the
13th century. In this format we would give one of the last strophes of
Völuspá like this.
|"Sér hon upp koma|
|jörð ór ægi|
|flýgr örn yfir,|
|sá er á fjalli|
This, however, is not what how the main manuscript of Völuspá, Codex Regius,
reads. The same strophe is spelled in the following way in the manuscript
(I change e with tail to æ and o with tail to ö).
|Ser hon upp koma avðro siNi iord or ægi iþia gröna. falla|
|forsar flygr avrn yfir sa er afialli fisca ueiðir.|
Lots of interesting points.
- The manuscript doesn't distinguish between short and long vowels.
- It sometimes uses capitals for double consonants.
- It does not differentiate between i and j.
- It does not differentiate between u and v.
- It uses c for k.
- The grammatical ending 'u' is written 'o'.
- It does not split the poem into lines.
- It uses capitalisation and punctuation in a way different from ours.
- It divides words in a way different from ours.
- It writes 'ð' as 'þ', 'd' or 'ð'.
- It uses 'av' for 'ö'.
In all those respects Codex Regius is quite normal. Indeed, the standardised
spelling is by no means an average of the spelling systems in the various
manuscripts. Rather, it is intended to write Old Norse in a way that
distinguishes its different sounds.
We can now look at the same strophe respelled into modern Icelandic.
|"Sér hún upp koma |
|öðru sinni |
|jörð úr ægi |
|falla fossar, |
|flýgur örn yfir, |
|sá er á fjalli |
|fiska veiðir." |
Not many changes because the spelling of Old Icelandic and the
spelling of Modern Icelandic are based on the same basic system.
You should note that the ending 'r' has changed to 'ur'.
We have now shown you the same strophe in three different spellings. All of
them are quite plausible and many more. The morale? When you encounter a
text 'in the original Old Norse' be sure to notice which spelling is used.