Old Norse -> Lessons -> Lesson Eight

Old Norse for Beginners - Lesson Eight

by skar Gulaugsson and Haukur orgeirsson
  1. Grammar
    1. Present-Preterite Verbs
    2. Assimilative Nouns and Adjectives
    3. Bisyllabic Stems
  2. Vocabulary
    1. Nouns
    2. Pronouns
    3. Adjectives
    4. Verbs
    5. Adverbs
    6. Prepositions
    7. Conjunctions
    8. Phrases
  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

1. Grammar

1.1 Present-Preterite Verbs

ON has a small group of verbs that conjugate in a special way. English has the same phenomenon, but less noticeable. The verbs are called "present-preterite", because their conjugation for the present is imitative of the preterite (= past) conjugation. This has to do with a development or shift that is believed to have happened early on in the ancestral Proto-Germanic language. To put this all into context we will state that the Germanic languages have three kinds of verbs. They are all still represented in English.

Strong verbs

  1. Preterite formed with ablaut (certain type of vowel change)
  2. Certain endings in the present (in English an 's' in third person)

Weak verbs

  1. Preterite formed with a dental suffix (in English 'd' or 't')
  2. Certain endings in the present (in English an 's' in third person)

Present-preterite verbs

  1. Preterite formed like the preterite of a weak verb
  2. Present formed like the preterite of a strong verb
We'll demonstrate by comparing a present-preterite verb ('can') with your garden-variety strong ('come') and weak ('love') verbs.
I come came
you come came
he comes came
I love loved
you love loved
he loves loved
I can could
you can could
he can could
Comparing the actual conjucations with the blurbs above we see that 'can' does not add an 's' in the third person of its singular present tense; just like the other verbs don't have an 's' in their preterite. We also see that it forms its preterite with a 'd'; just like the weak verb. The Old Norse cognate of 'can', 'kunna', is also present-preterite.
While the English difference in conjugation is minor, ON present-preterites are more divergent. We have learnt two irregular verbs whose conjugation is somewhat similar to this class of verbs, 'vera' and 'vilja'; they are not historically present-preterites but it may be practical to speak of them in the same context:
Sg. Pl.
1p em erum
2p ert eru
3p er eru
Sg. Pl.
1p vil viljum
2p vilt vili
3p vill vilja
The present-preterite verbs are some of the most useful and common in the language so you should be careful to learn their conjugation by heart.
The first verb we'll look at is the auxiliary 'skulu' which is the cognate of English 'shall' and similar in meaning.
Sg. Pl.
1p skal skulum
2p skalt skulu
3p skal skulu
The change of vowels from 'u' to 'a' is not our everyday umlaut but something even more arcane called 'ablaut'. We'll look at that again later.
Our next auxiliary verb does not have an English cognate but it is most similar in meaning to English 'will'. One of its primary uses is to indicate the future.
Sg. Pl.
1p mun munum
2p munt munu
3p mun munu
Note the anomalous infinitives, with ending -u instead of -a. The verbs 'skulu' and 'munu' are the only verbs in the language with this infinitive ending.
In the Vlusp we have a lot of 'munu' where the seeress is speaking of the future. One example is "Baldr mun koma" which is easily translated as "Baldr will come".
By now you may have noticed something characteristic about present-preterites; in the singular, the only endings are -t in the 2nd person. In the plural, they have -u and -u in the 2nd and 3rd persons.
Our next verb has the same ablaut as 'skulu' but now our normal infinitive is back.
Sg. Pl.
1p kann kunnum
2p kannt kunnu
3p kann kunnu
The meaning of 'kunna' is related to that of its cognate 'can' but there are some differences. While English 'can' means to be able to do something either through ability or circumstances, ON describes only ability. Also, English 'can' is always an auxiliary, while 'kunna' can be a main verb with a simple direct object:
Ek kann at.I know [how to do] it, I can do it
One more verb for now, 'eiga' (own):
Sg. Pl.
1p eigum
2p tt eigu
3p eigu
You should already be familiar with its 3p sg form, '', which has been used already. The vowel change between '' and 'ei' is actually neither ablaut nor umlaut but don't worry about it (it has to do with a phenomenon called Verner's law).
The verbs 'skulu', 'munu', and 'kunna' from above are some of the most common auxiliaries in the language, just as they are in English (substitute English 'will' for 'munu'). Just as in English, no infinitive marker is used with them when they are used as auxiliaries:
You will go. but not **You will to go
munt koma. but not ** munt at koma

1.2 Assimilative Nouns and Adjectives

It often happens in languages that a consonant assimilates to a neighbouring consonant. We have already seen some examples of this in the etymological ponderings:
*benkr -> bekkr (bench) (the 'n' has been assimilated to the 'k')
*hta -> tta (eight) (the 'h' has been assimilated to the 't')
One type of assimilation is important in declensions; their nominative -r has been assimilated by the final consonant of the stem. This happens with three consonants, 's', 'l' and 'n', and only when the vowel of the stem is long. Let's look at some examples:
*sr -> ss (ice)
*hlr -> hll (hill)
*steinr -> steinn (stone)
The complete declension of those nouns is as follows:
nom ss hll steinn
acc s hl stein
dat si hli steini
gen ss hls steins
nom sar hlar steinar
acc sa hla steina
dat sum hlum steinum
gen sa hla steina
Quite simply, the nominative -r is replaced by one of the other consonants. Nothing else happens.
Then there are adjectives with the same feature, declining thus in masculine indefinite:
nom hss hll groenn
acc hsan hlan groenan
dat hsum hlum groenum
gen hss hls groens
nom hsir hlir groenir
acc hsa hla groena
dat hsum hlum groenum
gen hssa hlla groenna
Take special notice of the genitive plural, where the assimilation occurs.
Remember that the assimilation only occurs in words with long-vowel stems, but not stems of short vowels:
nom gulr vanr
acc gulan vanan
dat gulum vnum
gen guls vans
nom gulir vanir
acc gula vana
dat gulum vnum
gen gulsa vanla

1.5 Bisyllabic Stems

Some strong masculine nouns have a bisyllabic stem; observe their pattern of conjugation:
hamarrhammer (stem: hamar)
himinnsky (stem: himin)
sg pl
nom ham-ar-r ham-r-ar
acc ham-ar ham-r-a
dat ham-r-i hm-r-um
gen ham-ar-s ham-r-a
sg pl
nom him-in-n him-n-ar
acc him-in him-n-a
dat him-n-i him-n-um
gen him-in-s him-n-um
First off, 'himinn' is assimilative. What is happening in these nouns is that whenever there is an ending with a vowel in it, the vowel of the second stem syllable is deleted:
(sg dat) hamar + i > *hamari > hamri
Note that bisyllabic names, such as Ragnarr or Einarr, completely ignore this rule and decline normally.
Some adjectives are bisyllabic; they commonly have assimilation:
gamallold (stem: gamal)
sg pl
nom gam-al-l gam-l-ir
acc gam-l-an gam-l-a
dat gm-l-um gm-l-um
gen gam-al-s gam-al-la

2. Vocabulary

2.1 Nouns

ssace, god, one of the sir
vagnwagon, chariot
jtunnettin, giant (mythological)
drottinnlord (or usually, "the Lord")
hringrring, circle
ningrvillain, oppressor
rrThor, the thundergod
rshamarrThor's hammer
sgarr Asgard, the world of gods (sir)
Migarr Midgard, the world of men
Migarsormr Midgard's Serpent (the serpent that encircles Midgard)
Jtunheimr Gianthome (the mythological home of the giants)
Vestrvegr "Westway" (west across the North Sea; the British Isles)

2.2 Pronouns

annarrother, another
hverr?who, what (masc)?
hinnthe other
'Annarr' is a bisyllabic pronoun, with an irregular declension:
sg pl
nom ann-ar-r a-r-ir
acc ann-an a-r-a
dat -r-um -r-um
gen ann-ar-s ann-ar-ra
As happens in 'mar', the sequence 'nnr' becomes 'r'. The main irregularity in the word is its sg acc form, 'annan', where we'd expect '*aran'.
'Hverr' declines like an adjective with j-insertion:
sg pl
nom hverr hverir
acc hvern hverja
dat hverjum hverjum
gen hvers hverra
An alternative (old) form of sg. acc. is the more regular 'hverjan'.
'Hverr' is the interrogative that refers to masculine nouns or persons. It can also mean 'each':
"Hverr eira segir rum..." Each of them then says to another...
sg pl
nom hinn hinir
acc hinn hina
dat hinum hinum
gen hins hinna
Declines just like the article ending; in fact, it is just a modification of the pronoun from which the article is derived.

2.3 Adjectives

heillwhole, healthy, "hail" (greeting)

2.4 Verbs

gjra, gjrido
aka, ek + datdrive
hringa, hringawind around (as serpents do)
hjlpa, helphelp
ra, roe row (a boat)
leia, leiilead
vernda, verndaprotect
reka, rekdrive out, drive sth forward from behind (such as cattle)
vera, verr + nombecome
'vera' is followed by a compliment, i.e. a noun in nominative.
The object of 'aka' is in dative rather than accusative.

2.5 Adverbs

v nstthen, thereafter, subsequently

2.6 Prepositions

vi + acc by, next to
um + acc about, around, through
af + dat off
yfir + dat over
gegn + dat against, in front of
hj + dat by, with, in the company of
til + gen to

2.7 Conjunctions

at that
sv at so [that]
"sv at" is sometimes contracted to "svt"

2.8 Phrases

[It seems to me that some modern phrases have crept into skar's text; I'll check on this later. - Haukur]
standa samanstick together, stand united
standa me + datstick with someone, help someone
gefa sikgive in, surrender

3. Exercises

3.1 Translate the phrases into English

  1. eir ganga saman um van vang.
  2. eir sj menn standa vi forsinn.
  3. Annarr spyrr, "Hverir standa ar, vi forsinn?"
  4. svarar hinn, "eir kalla sik Eirk ok Hauk, ok eru norskir."
  5. "Hvat gjra slkir menn hr?", spyrr annarr hinn.
  6. Jarlar Noregs eigu marga hunda ok rla rska.
  7. Noregi er oft ss vgum, sv at vsir menn sigla ar eigi.
  8. Hann gengr til groenna skga, ar er lfarnir ba.
  9. eir ganga saman hlum si, en falla eigi.
  10. "Hr er hll ss. Ek vil eigi ganga hr um."

3.2 Translate the phrases into Old Norse

  1. "Lord, protect us," an Irish man says.
  2. "I am lord here, and protect you," says the earl.
  3. "[The] Lord in Heaven ("Drottinn himni") will not help."
  4. "[The] Lord himself is with us," another Irish man says.
  5. "But is he not in Heaven? (" himni?")", the earl asks.
  6. [The] Lord in Heaven protects the men while they sail.
  7. The earl calls (says) himself the lord of the slaves.
  8. Icelandic men protect themselves ("vernda sik sjlfa") against Norwegian kings.
  9. They take (go with) an old man to the boat.

3.3 Translate the texts into English

rr heitir ss, ok er sterkr mjk ok oft reir. Hann hamar gan. rr ferr oft til Jtunheima ok vegr ar marga jtna me hamrinum. rr ok vagn er flgr. Hann ekr vagninum um himininn. ar er rr ekr, er stormr.
rr kennir orm, er menn kalla Migarsorm. Ormrinn er langr ok hringar sik allan um heim manna, Migar. rr vill veia orminn ok vega hann, v at hann er illr.
rr kennir ok jtun er bt. rr tekr vagninn ok ekr. Hann ekr vagninum r sgari ok um himininn. Hann ferr til jtunsins. Er hann finnr jtuninn kallar hann til hans, "Jtunn, skalt taka btinn er tt ok hjlpa mr. Vit munum fara ok veia sjlfan Migarsorm." Jtunninn er mjk hrddr, ok svarar, "Ek skal gjra sem br, rr, v at ef ek gjri eigi sv, vegr mik. En ormrinn mun eta okkr ba, v at hann er strr ok illr." En rr er ss bi djarfr ok reir ok vill fara gegn Migarsormi.
v nst ra eir saman bti jtunsins. kmr slkr stormr, at jtunninn verr hrddr mjk. Er rr sr hann sv hrddan, mlir hann, "Sj, jtunn, hr er hamarrinn er vegr ik ef roer eigi," ok snir hnum reir hamarinn.

lfr kallar sik konung alls Noregs. Jarlar Noregs skulu ok kalla hann konung. Ef jarl gjrir eigi sv, ferr lfr konungr gegn hnum ok rekr hann r Noregi. En margir jarlar vilja eigi kalla lf konung, sv at eir standa saman gegn hnum.
Jarl heitir Ragnarr, er kallar lf eigi konung. lfr konungr foerir marga menn gegn hnum ok segir: "Heill, Ragnarr jarl. Kalla mik Drottin, ea ek mun reka ik r Noregi." Sv br konungr jarli (translate: "the earl"). Ragnarr svarar, "Heill, lfr. Vit skulum eigi leia sv marga menn hverja gegn rum. Ek skal n fara ok leia alla er standa me mr. Vr skulum sigla brott btunum ok vr skulum eigi koma aftr til Noregs, mean lifir. En ek mun eigi kalla ik konung, lfr, v at ert eigi gr mar ok munt eigi gr konungr vera."
Hinir jarlarnir standa eigi me Ragnari gegn lfi. Konungrinn hefir sv marga menn, at Ragnarr gefr sik hnum ok ferr. Hann segir mnnunum er eru me hnum: "Vr skulum n fara, v at ningrinn lfr leiir marga menn gegn oss, ok hinir jarlarnir standa eigi me oss. lfr gefr oss gri, sv at vr skulum sigla brott ok finna oss njan heim." Margir menn fara me hnum btana, en sumir gjra eigi sv. eir fara til lfs konungs, v at eir eru norskir menn ok vilja ba Noregi.

Kormkr heitir rll ok Svartr annarr. Kormkr er rskr mar. Svartr er danskr, ok ungr mjk ok sterkr. Kormkr er gamall mar ok spakr.
Jarl br n bi Kormki ok Svarti at fara skginn ok finna vi. Viinn skal brenna hj jarli.
eir fara n bir skginn. Vi skginn er strr hll, ok hll ss vangi. Svartr segir vi Kormk ("to Cormack"), "Vit skulum ganga yfir sinn." Kormkr mlir Svarti, "Eigi skal at sv, v at yfir s sv hlan, sem sr ar, skal eigi ganga. ar falla menn sinn, ok deyja. Kom me mr, ok gngum vr n hlinn."
Ganga eir sv hlinn ok af hnum skginn. Kormkr mlir, " skgum eru oft illir vargar. En ver eigi hrddr, v at Drottinn himna verndar okkr." Svartr segir , "himna-drottin kenni ek, er hefir hamar gan ok flgr vagni um himininn. Sj, Kormkr, hr hefi ek rshamar, en mean ek hefi hann mun rr vernda okkr ba." Kormkr segir, "Eigi verndar okkr rr n hamarrinn; Drottinn himni er me okkr, ok mun vernda okkr gegn illum vrgum." Finna eir n viinn ok foera hann jarli.

3.4 Translate the text into Old Norse

Ragnar now leads many vikings into the boats and sails away. "We have no slaves, for Olaf the Oppressor takes them all. We shall go and find Irish slaves, in Westway. Then we shall find another homeland and live there." The vikings say "You shall lead us, Earl Ragnar, to Westway (" Vestrveg"), and we will do as ("sv er") you bid."
As they sail away, out of the cove, they see many green meadows, broad cascades, and forests wide. Ragnar speaks, "Evil is the oppressor Olaf, to ("at") drive us out of Norway, with such green meadows and forests. We will not find such cascades in another home."

4. Looking at real texts

4.1 Half a strophe from rymskvia

Loki suggests the following to rr:
Mun ek ok me r
ambtt vera.
Vit skulum aka tvau
Notice the plural of 'Jtunheimr'.
ambttfemale slave
Notice the difference between 'munu' and 'skulu'. The first is a statement of fact (as far as a statement about the future can be) while the second is more like a suggestion. But in reality the verbs could be interchanged here with no real change in meaning. Thorpe, for example, translates both with 'will':
I will with thee
as a servant go:
we two will drive
to Jtunheim.

4.2 An answer from Gylfaginning

Hr segir: "at eru tveir lfar, ok heitir s er eftir henni ferr Skoll. Hann hrisk hon ok hann mun taka hana. En s heitir Hati Hrvitnisson er fyrir henni hleypr ok vill hann taka tunglit, ok sv mun vera."
Remember the feminine pronoun, 'she':
nom. hon
acc. hana
dat. henni
gen. hennar
eftir + datbehind, after
fyrir + datin front of
tunglitthe moon
sthe one
ferrgoes, fares