Until now, we have been working with two opposing cases: nominative and accusative.
By now you should understand clearly the concept behind them and the difference
between them. Consider this English sentence,
John tells a story.
That's complete. It's clear to you that John is the subject and the story is the
object; if it were ON, John would be in nominative form and the story would
be in accusative form.
John tells a story to Mary.
John's still the subject, the story's still the object; but the new participant, Mary,
serves an as yet unidentified role. Let's consider the following incomplete sentence,
John gives the dog...
As stated above, the sentence is not complete; we need to know to whom John gives
the dog. So,
John gives the dog to Mary.
Again, Mary's a third participant in the sentence; but how does Mary relate do John and the dog? Again, before we answer that, let's consider what word order has to do with it;
John gives to Mary the dog.
To Mary the dog gives John.
The first version is not obviously incorrect, merely unconventional; the second one is wrong, especially for our purposes, because it makes it seem like the dog is giving John away, and thereby being the subject.
In any case, it is clear that Mary has a different role from the dog, and John clearly
has a different role from both of them. We know that John is the subject and the dog
is the object, so what does that make Mary? She's an object all right, but not in the
same way as the dog. The dog's a direct object; it's being directly affected by John.
Mary is an indirect object; she's merely being affected by John's actions involving
The bottom line is, Mary's role is special, and it is practical to mark this role in a separate way. How does English mark this role? Usually, in sentences like the ones above, by fixing "to" to the indirect object. Note how the "to" would stay with Mary no matter how the word order got arranged.
You might have figured out by now that we're dealing with a new case. You might also have guessed that ON marks this case with special endings, not merely with words like "to" and a special word order. This case is called the dative case; the "da" part of the word is the stem of the Latin word "give", which is the logic behind the term for the primary usage of the dative case is to mark the receiver of a "gift" (note, though, that "gifts" can also be thrown, shoved, transmitted, told, etc to their receivers).
1.2 Dative Case: Forms
Now that you understand the basic idea behind the dative, you require only the ON endings to start using it.
First, the strong masculine noun declension:
The -i ending there is characteristic of the dative in the strong masculine; some words in this declension don't have it (i.e. they are the same in acc and dat), e.g. "matr", but you should not worry about it now. The -um in the dative plural is characteristic of all declensions; it is thus important that you learn to recognize it.
Next, the pronouns:
You may find it disconcerting that "hánum" has an -um ending (coupled with a minor stem change), similar to the plural of nouns; that is however characteristic of masculine pronouns in general. Since the article is originally a pronoun, its masculine form also features this, see a strong masculine word declined with the article attached:
The main anomaly here is the plural dative form; you might, systematically speaking, expect something like "dvergumnum". Roughly speaking, that's the original form, but a combination like "mn" in that position would very easily get simplified to a more convenient "n"; which is what happened.
Finally, adjectives in masculine:
Again, same pattern as with the pronouns, since the boundary between pronouns and adjectives is often not that clear in ON.
As you have seen happen with verbs, endings like -um that have an u in them, will modify any a in the immediately preceding syllable, changing it to ö. This is called u-umlaut, or u-mutation ("umlaut" is a German term; "um" is a preposition meaning "about/around", while "laut" means "sound" - "sound-about" if you like). Practically speaking, this means that you must take care with words containing an "a" in the root. For example,
Note the "a > ö" changes where the -um ending is present (always in dative plural and In dative singular of masculine adjectives and pronouns).
1.3 Word Order: Indirect Objects
The most conventional order in ON prose, is to put the indirect object *before* the direct object.
Maðrinn gefr konunginum bátinn.
You should stick to this word order, though you can expect just about any word order to appear in skaldic poetry.
1.4 Verb Imperative
We commonly command or suggest for people to do something:
Leave, find the car and then bring it here.
All the verbs there are in "imperative". English verbs do not have any separate form for the imperative. ON verbs do not have any endings for the imperative, but rather the infinitive stem is used without the -a ending. For example,
Veg þú orminn ok tak bauginn er hann hefir.
An exception is verbs that end with -a in 1st person singular present, "kalla". Those keep their a in the imperative.
Kalla þú mik Hauk!
(From the verb infinitives "vega" and "taka")
As can be seen, the pronoun "þú" (or "þit" or "þér") may be inserted and usually is, especially in spoken language. It need not be repeated for the following imperative verbs, though it may be done ("...ok tak þú bauginn...").
To command more than one person, the "-ið" ending (as in the verb active) is used:
Vegið þér orminn ok takið bauginn er hann hefir.
The imperative is seen in some greetings:
Ver (þú) heill!
be whole/healthy (plural)
go well (fare well)
But "negative commands" are also used, as in English
In ON, this is simply expressed by adding a negative adverb such as "eigi".
Far þú eigi!
1.5 Pronoun trick - We Olaf slay a worm
In English we can say sentences like this:
Olaf and I are slaying a worm.
Old Norse has an idiomatic way of expressing the same:
Vit Óláfr vegum orm.
We could also have:
Vér Óláfr vegum orm.
Olaf, I, and some other people are slaying a worm.
Svartr spyrr, "Hví gefr þú mér eigi ost, Kormákr?"
Kormákr svarar, "Ek gef þér eigi ost, því at ek hefi hann eigi."
Kormákr etr allan ostinn en gefr Svarti hann eigi.
Konungrinn foerir Norðmönnunum knífa ok geira.
Þá gefa Norðmenninir hánum langan bát ok gylltan baug.
Maðrinn gefr hánum hatt góðan.
3.2 Translate the phrases into Old Norse
Then they give a golden ring to an evil king.
The dwarves bring the king a golden ring.
The king says "You are good dwarves."
The king takes the ring and gives the dwarves a big cheese.
The dwarves don't want any cheese, but they take it and go.
"Why do I give them cheese which they don't eat?" King Olaf asks the ghost.
The ghost replies "Olaf, you're a good man. But do not give cheese to dwarves."
3.3 Translate the text into English
Óláfr gefr Svarti hatt, kníf ok hest góðan. Hann segir, "Far þú nú, Svartr,
ok finn bauginn er dvergarnir Fjalarr ok Gandálfr hafa." Svartr svarar, "En
Óláfr, hví gefr þú mér eigi mat? Ek em svangr ok vil mat eta."Óláfr gefr
hánum ost, graut, ok fisk ok segir, "Hér hefir þú mat. Far nú ok finn bauginn."
Svartr etr matinn er Óláfr gefr hánum. Hann segir, "grautrinn er þú gefr mér
er góðr, Óláfr. Þú ert góðr konungr."
Svartr ferr nú ok finnr dvergana er hafa bauginn. Hann segir, "Dvergar, gefið
mér bauginn. Óláfr konungr vill hann." Dvergarnir svara, "Vit viljum eigi
gefa Óláfi konungi bauginn. Hann er illr konungr." Svartr er reiðr ok segir,
"Gefið mér bauginn eða ek veg ykkr!" Dvergarnir eru eigi hræddir. Þeir
hlæja ok Fjalarr segir, "Þú ert ragr maðr, Svartr. Þú vegr okkr Gandálf eigi.
Vit gefum ykkr Óláfi eigi bauginn, ok far þú nú!" Svartr hefir eigi brand.
Hann hefir kníf, en knífrinn er eigi stórr. Hann vegr eigi dvergana ok foerir
Óláfi eigi bauginn.
3.4 Translate the text into Old Norse
Eric, a thief, sees some men eat. They eat good porridge, many fish, and a
big cheese. Eric wants the food, for he is hungry. He says "Hail, I am hungry.
Will you (use "þér") give some good food to a hungry man?" They
reply "Take some food. We give it to you. But the elves are hungry too. Take
some porridge and give it to them. Eric finds some elves. He brings hungry
elves food, for he is a good man.
4. Looking at real texts
4.1 A stanza from the Höfuðlausn
Again we practice our etymology but in a less verbose manner than before.
A stanza from the Höfuðlausn:
Beit fleinn floginn
þá var friðr loginn
var álmr dreginn
varð úlfr feginn.
The main etymological lesson here is that g inside a word is
gone in modern English; resulting in a change of the original
elm (bows were made of elm)
stózk (middle voice)
bit (bíta = bite)
yelled (Old English "geall", the 'g' is pronounced as 'y' in ME)
edge (Old English "ecg" was pronounced "edge")
Words without English cognates:
I have included most of the cognates in this translation
but enclosed them in quotation marks when they didn't
seem to fit the context.