Old Norse -> Lessons -> Lesson Four

Old Norse for Beginners - Lesson Four

by Haukur orgeirsson and skar Gulaugsson
  1. Grammar
    1. Dative Case: Giving & Receiving
    2. Dative Case: Forms
    3. Word Order: Indirect Objects
    4. Verb Imperative
    5. Pronoun trick - We Olaf slay a worm
  2. Vocabulary
    1. Nouns
    2. Adjectives
    3. Verbs
    4. Adverbs
  3. Exercises
    1. Translate the phrases into English
    2. Translate the phrases into Old Norse
    3. Translate the text into English
    4. Translate the text into Old Norse
  4. Looking at real texts
    1. A stanza from the Hfulausn

1. Grammar

1.1 Dative Case: Giving & Receiving

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 dog.
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:
Sg Pl
Nom dvergr dvergar
Acc dverg dverga
Dat dvergi dvergum
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:
Sg Du Pl
Nom ek vit vr
Acc mik okkr oss
Dat mr okkr oss
Sg Du Pl
Nom it r
Acc ik ykkr yr
Dat r ykkr yr
he it they (masc) they (neut)
nom hann at eir au
acc hann at au
dat hnum v eim eim
You may find it disconcerting that "hnum" 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:
Sg Pl
Nom dvergrinn dvergarnir
Acc dverginn dvergana
Dat dverginum dvergunum
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:
Sg Pl
Nom reir reiir
Acc reian reia
Dat reium reium
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 . 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,
(Example noun)
Sing Pl
Nom mar menn
Acc mann menn
Dat manni mnnum
(Example adjective)
Sing Pl
Nom glar glair
Acc glaan glaa
Dat glum glum
(Example pronoun)
Sg Pl
Nom allr allir
Acc allan alla
Dat llum llum
Note the "a > " 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.
Marinn gefr konunginum btinn.
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 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 mik Hauk!
(From the verb infinitives "vega" and "taka")
As can be seen, the pronoun "" (or "it" or "r") 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 bauginn...").
To command more than one person, the "-i" ending (as in the verb active) is used:
Vegi r orminn ok taki bauginn er hann hefir.
The imperative is seen in some greetings:
Ver () heill!be whole/healthy
Veri heilir!be whole/healthy (plural)
Far vel!go well (fare well)
But "negative commands" are also used, as in English
Don't go!
In ON, this is simply expressed by adding a negative adverb such as "eigi".
Far 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 lfr vegum orm.
We could also have:
Vr lfr vegum orm.
Olaf, I, and some other people are slaying a worm.
Some more examples:
eir lfr vega orm.
it lfr vegi orm.
r lfr vegi orm.

2. Vocabulary

2.1 Nouns

Fjalarr (dwarf-name)
Gandlfr (dwarf-name)

2.2 Adjectives

glarhappy, glad
gylltrgolden, gilted

2.3 Verbs

gefa, gefgive
foera, foeribring
finna, finnfind
hlja, hllaugh

2.4 Adverbs


3. Exercises

3.1 Translate the phrases into English

3.2 Translate the phrases into Old Norse

3.3 Translate the text into English

lfr gefr Svarti hatt, knf ok hest gan. Hann segir, "Far n, Svartr, ok finn bauginn er dvergarnir Fjalarr ok Gandlfr hafa." Svartr svarar, "En lfr, hv gefr mr eigi mat? Ek em svangr ok vil mat eta."lfr gefr hnum ost, graut, ok fisk ok segir, "Hr hefir mat. Far n ok finn bauginn."
Svartr etr matinn er lfr gefr hnum. Hann segir, "grautrinn er gefr mr er gr, lfr. ert gr konungr."
Svartr ferr n ok finnr dvergana er hafa bauginn. Hann segir, "Dvergar, gefi mr bauginn. lfr konungr vill hann." Dvergarnir svara, "Vit viljum eigi gefa lfi konungi bauginn. Hann er illr konungr." Svartr er reir ok segir, "Gefi mr bauginn ea ek veg ykkr!" Dvergarnir eru eigi hrddir. eir hlja ok Fjalarr segir, " ert ragr mar, Svartr. vegr okkr Gandlf eigi. Vit gefum ykkr lfi eigi bauginn, ok far n!" Svartr hefir eigi brand. Hann hefir knf, en knfrinn er eigi strr. Hann vegr eigi dvergana ok foerir lfi 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 "r") 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 Hfulausn

Again we practice our etymology but in a less verbose manner than before.
A stanza from the Hfulausn:
Beit fleinn floginn
var frir loginn
var lmr dreginn
var lfr feginn.
Stzk flk-hagi
vi fjr-lagi
gall -bogi
at egg-togi.
The main etymological lesson here is that g inside a word is gone in modern English; resulting in a change of the original vowel.
floginn flown
loginn lied
dreginn drawn
feginn fain
lagi (dative) lay
Other cognates:
lmr elm (bows were made of elm)
stzk (middle voice) stood
beit bit (bta = bite)
gall yelled (Old English "geall", the 'g' is pronounced as 'y' in ME)
egg- edge (Old English "ecg" was pronounced "edge")
- yew-
Words without English cognates:
fleinn arrow
frir peace
fjr life
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.
A flown arrow bit
then peace was "lied" [broken]
the elm [bow] was drawn
the wolf became fain.
The folk-leader stood against
a "lay" [blow] to his life
a yew bow "yelled" [twung]
at the "tow" [pull] of edges.