Old Norse -> Lessons -> Lesson Nine

Old Norse for Beginners - Lesson Nine

by skar Gulaugsson and Haukur orgeirsson
  1. Grammar
    1. Genitive Case: Partition
    2. Dative Case: Instrumental
    3. Verbs with Dative and Genitive
    4. Strong Masculine Declensions
    5. Infinitive Clauses
    6. Clauses of Purpose, Sequences
  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 Genitive Case: Partition

There are some more uses to the genitive case than possession, presented last lesson. This can be seen through observation of the English genitive; in English, this case is marked by 's, for possession exclusively, but more commonly by the preposition 'of'. Examples:
'Norway's king is called Olaf.''The King of Norway is called Olaf.'
'Peter's car is blue.''The car of Peter is blue.'
Using the 's is normal for possession, except in the case of titles, like 'The King of Norway.' But there are other types of genitive, or at least other cases where the 'of' preposition is used abstractively:
'Three of us came over.' 'He saw all of them.'
This is called 'partitive genitive'. There we're using the genitive to mark the whole whence an amount derives; 'hundreds of men.' - from an undefined mass called 'men', 'hundreds' are selected. The genitive would seem logical, as the extracted amount belongs to the original whole.
Luckily, Old Norse uses the genitive in the exact same way. Except, of course, its genitive is marked exclusively through inflection and not by the help of prepositions. So, first an example of the possessive usage we already know:
Btr lfs er langr.
Then, an example of the partitive genitive:
Sumir vr vilja eigi vera lfarsheimi. 'Some of us don't want to be in lfarsheimr.'
Note, by the way, that the verb conjugates in the third person in this example. Though it may seem to be a semantic first person, the verb refers to 'sumir', which is a third group. Remember that verbs always agree to the subject in the sentence, and the subject is always in nominative (like 'sumir', but unlike 'vr').

1.2 Dative Case: Instrumental

As detailed in lesson 5, section 1.1, the dative case in ON originates from a fusion of many different case forms. But the various functions of those originally different cases still remain in the dative case. One of those functions is called "instrumental", and marks the object with which the verb is executed. Examples:
"He slays the dragon with the mighty sword." "He comes to England by ship." "It's a Trial by Fire."
In those sentences, "sword", "ship" and "fire" serve instrumental functions, and are marked in English by the instrumental case prepositions "with" and "by".
In ON, we have until now relied on the preposition "me" + dat, which marks instruments, among other things. But ON can also omit any preposition, relying on the naked dative form to identify the instrumental function. Example:
"rr vegr jtuninn hamri." Thor slays the giant with a hammer.
This function of the dative is not very common, especially not in prose.

1.3 Verbs with Dative and Genitive

So far, we have used only verbs followed by a direct object marked with accusative. However, to complicate matters, the 'patients' of many ON verbs are not marked with accusative, but rather with dative or even genitive (rare), as illogical as it may seem:
"Ek kasta steini." 'I throw a stone.' (dative)
"eir moeta hnum." 'They meet him.' (dative)
"Hon saknar hans." 'She misses him.' (genitive)
The explanation to this phenomenon probably lies in the etymology of the individual verbs; a verb's original meaning may have logically called for such case marking, but then changed meaning while retaining the case use. The compulsory dative marking would in a great many cases stem from instrumental dative usage (see 1.2 above) which has "frozen" (become mandatory). At the same time, other verbs of similar meaning may then have changed to model themselves to the anomalous verb, so that all verbs of a similar "theme" meaning will govern the same case; e.g. all verbs that describe "projectile" meanings (like "kasta" above) tend to govern dative.
In any case, by the time of Old Norse it is no longer practical to consider such (perhaps obscure) historical details; it is most practical to say that the grammatic case governed by an ON verb is one of its inherent variables, to be learnt as soon as one learns the verb itself.
Thus, from now on, verbs will be specifically identified with the case they govern:
vega, veg + acc slay kasta, kasta + dat throw
sakna, sakna + gen miss, feel the loss of
Most verbs learnt so far govern accusative; the only exception is:
sigla, sigli + dat sail
It may be of help to some students, however, to try to assign some minimal logic to some of the abnormal case use, perhaps especially with verbs that govern the genitive case. For example, with the example above of the verb 'sakna', one may assume something like this as an explanation:
"Hon saknar hans." "She misses his [presence]."
But this is only recommended as a mnemonic, for those whom it helps.

1.4 Strong Masculine Declensions

The strong masculine is certainly the most varied declension. Some strong masculines end in -ir in the nominative. They decline quite easily:
hilmir 'king'
The dative cannot be 'hilmii', as 'ii' is not possible in ON.
A very large group of nouns within the declension are declined like this:
star 'place'
Strong masculines of this type are called 'i-stems'; the ones we know so far are called 'a-stems'. To summarize, i-stem declension is different in the following ways:
  1. a) gen sg -ar, not -s
  2. b) nom pl -ir, not -ar
  3. c) acc pl -i, not -a
  4. d) dat sg -, not -i ('' is commonly used to symbolize "no ending")
A few strong masculines' declension is a mix between i-stem and a-stem declension:
That is, i-stem gen sg -ar, but otherwise just like other a-stems. The only such words we have encountered so far are 'skgr' and 'matr'.
Some i-stem nouns have -s in the sg gen.
So, as you'll be thinking by now, how do we keep track of all this? We intend to do so by using a new way to introduce future vocabulary from the strong masculine declension:
hestr, hests, hestarhorse
vinr, vinar, vinirfriend
skgr, skgar, skgarforest
hilmir, hilmis, hilmarking
ss, ss, sirgod
These three case forms are what characterize and identify the different declensions, nom sg (as before), gen sg, and nom pl. From now on, make sure you learn to which declension each strong masculine noun belongs, before you continue. Names will also be presented this way, though not with the plural form, e.g.:
Njll, Njls
Haraldr, Haralds
orvarr, orvarar

1.5 Infinitive Clauses

With verbs like 'claim' or 'believe', English can have full clauses following with all its main verbs in infinitive. In those clauses, the infinitive is always marked with 'to':
I believe him to be passed away.
I claim her to be may legal heir.
I believe it to have happened already.
In ON, such infinitive clauses are even more prolific. The difference to English is that the infinitive marker (at) is never used, and the verb infinitive tends to be idiomatically placed last in the sentence. As in the English example sentences above, the subject of the infinitive clause is not in nominative, but rather in accusative:
"Ek tel hann gan mann vera." I believe him to be a good man.
"Ek segi ik illan konung vera." I claim you to be an evil king.
In lesson 3, section 1.2, infinitive clauses with sense words like 'see' and 'hear' were taught. They are analogous to the clauses presented above:
"Vr sjm ganga um skginn." We see them walking around the forest.
"eir heyra konunginn mla." They hear the king speak.
And as mentioned there, clauses with the word 'vita' (to know):
"Ask veit ek standa." An ash I know standing.

1.6 Clauses of Purpose, Sequences

Some subordinate clauses express purpose:
"They go to find the wood." ("they go - [in order] to find the wood")
In ON, such clauses are connected to the main clause by "til at":
"eir fara til at finna viinn."
Alternatively, one might say:
"eir fara at finna viinn."
This merely indicates a sequence of events, though purpose is strongly suggested. This omission of "til" is quite common.

2. Vocabulary

2.1 Nouns

vinr, vinar, vinirfriend
ss, ss, sirace, god, one of the sir
askr, asks, askarash tree; small wooden pot
sveinn, sveins, sveinaryoung man
peningr, penings, peningarmoney
mttr, mttar, mttirpower
kaupmar, -manns, -mennmerchant
dmr, dms, dmarjudgement, -hood ("state of being" suffix)
rldmr, -dms, -dmarslavery
Kristr, KristsChrist
Mjlnir, MjlnisMjolner, Thor's hammer
Askr YggdrasilsThe Ash of Yggdrasil, the World Tree
tgarrOutgard, alternate name for Gianthome
SurtrSurt, the Fire Giant
Mspellsheimr Muspellsheim, the World of Fire Giants
sa-r"Thor of [the] sir", alternate name for Thor

2.2 Pronouns

Demonstrative pronoun, masculine:
sthat, the one that
Example of the demonstrative "that" function:
"Hvat heitir s mar, er stendr hj jarli?" "What is that man called, who stands by the earl?"
This also serves as a relative pronoun, "the one that"; for example
"S er fiska veiir..." The one who catches fish...
Note how the plural simply uses the masc 3p pl personal pronoun.

2.3 Adjectives

heitr hot
vitr wise
alvitr omniscient, all-knowing
frjls free
sjkr sick
blindr blind

2.4 Verbs

sma, sm craft, make
tra, tri + dat believe; believe in, have faith in
leita, leita + gensearch; search for
kaupa, kaupi buy
halda, held + dathold, keep
velja, vel choose
gjalda, geld + datpay
sigla, sigli + datsail
rsa, rs rise
lkna, lkna heal
And one present-preterite verb:
vitaknow (a fact)
sg pl
1p veit vitum
2p veizt vitu
3p veit vitu
It should be mentioned now that the character 'z' represents a combination of 't','d' or '' + 's', just as 'x' is a combination of 'k' and 's'. This makes the form 'veizt' more understandable, as it essentially the stem 'veit' + the ending '-st'; 'veitst' > 'veizt'. The 'z' was originally pronounced 'ts', but tended to simplify to 's' in later ON and its descendant languages.

2.5 Adverbs

hvaanwhence/where from
aanthence/there from
hanhence/here from
heldrbut rather
tilmore, yet more

2.6 Prepositions

undir + datunder
meal + genamong(st)
fr + datfrom

2.7 Conjunctions

sv semsuch as

3. Exercises

3.1 Translate the phrases into English

  1. "Sumir yvar fara aldregi heim til Noregs."
  2. "Veizt eigi, hvrt menninir skulu sigla brott?"
  3. "Eigi veit ek, hverir mannanna skulu sigla."
  4. "Kristr heitir drottinn s, er verndar oss."
  5. "Ek veit annan, er verndar oss hamri gegn illum jtnum."
  6. "Hvrt mun s rr heita, ok hamarrinn Mjlnir?"
  7. "Eigi hefir s Kristr slkan hamar er Mjlnir er."
  8. "Kristr hefir eigi hamra ea branda, v at hann er gr ok vegr eigi menn n jtna."

3.2 Translate the phrases into Old Norse

  1. There are many villains among Olaf's friends.
  2. "That viking is such a villain, that he never spares good men."
  3. "Thor's might is in the hammer."
  4. "Do you know, slave, whence they come, who they are, and what they call themselves?"
  5. "They come from Westway, and are Irish men. They call themselves free."
  6. "No good men come from there. Take the sword and bring them to me."
  7. "Some of you are thieves, who take horses. Who are they?"
  8. "Those who know, shall bring me the thieves."
  9. "The thieves must give in. If they do not do so, I will kill you all."

3.3 Translate the text into English

Oddr segir vi Ragnar jarl, "Seg mr, jarl, af heiminum, af jtnum ok sum." Ragnarr svarar, "at skal ek, Oddr."
" heimi stendr askr strr er vr kllum Ask Yggdrasils. Vi askinn eru heimar eir er heita Migarr, ar er vr bm; tgarr, ar er jtnar ba, en hann heitir ok Jtunheimr; ok sgarr, ar er sir ba. Undir askinum ba dvergar, er sma bauga ok branda."
"Drottin sa kllum vr in, ok er hann ss mjk spakr. Hann hefir hrafna, er heita Huginn ok Muninn, ok fljga eir hrafnar um heimana. at, er hrafnarnir sj, sr ok inn. v er inn ss alvitr. sgari br ok ss s er rr heitir. rr hefir hamarinn Mjlni ok flgr hann oft til Jtunheims ok vegr me hnum jtna. Margir sir ba sgari, ok vernda eir allir mennina ok heiminn, gegn illum jtnum."
"Surt veit ek ba Mspellsheimi. S er strr ok illr jtunn elds. heimi eim brenna heitir eldar ok mun Surtr leia aan jtna gegn sum. Hann mun vega si eldi ok brandi eim, er hann hefir. Illr er mjk jtunn s."
" Migari bm vr menninir. Um Migar allan veit ek orm hringa sik, er vr kllum Migarsorm. Ormr s er illr. sa-r vill veia ann orm ok vega hann hamrinum."
Oddr mlir n, "Kenni ek n marga si. En sumir segja mr af rum, er eir nefna Krist. Hvrt er s meal sa?" Ragnarr svarar, "S er eigi ss, heldr mar. Menn segja hann lkna sjka ok blinda, rsa aftr daur, ok koma af himnum. Margir norroenna manna tra n hnum, en sjlfr veit ek eigi mtt Krists."

Fara n Ragnarr ok vkingarnir at leita sr rla meal rskra manna. eir kaupa ar Vestrvegi marga unga sveina af norroenum kaupmnnum, er halda sveinunum rldmi. Kaupmar segir, "Sveinarnir eru sterkir mjk, ok s kaupir vel er velr. Tak , jarl, sveina er ar standa, gef ek r annan til."
Ragnarr telr kaupmanninn bja sr vel, ok geldr hnum peningum. Br hann sv rlunum at ganga btana, ok siglir brott.

Er Svartr ok Kormkr foera viinn heim til jarls, spyrr Svartr Kormk, "Hvrt eru allir rskir menn rlar, sem ert, Kormkr?" Kormkr svarar, "Eigi erum vr allir rlar en mrgum vr halda norroenir menn rldmi."

3.4 Translate the text into Old Norse

Many (of) Nordic men believe in (the) sir, but not all of them. Some believe in Christ, Lord of Heaven. Irish men do not believe in the sir, but rather in Lord Christ.
The King of Norway commands all Norwegian men to call himself King. He also commands them not to have faith in the sir, but rather in Christ. Others, such as (the) earls of Norway, say that Thor will slay Christ himself ("segja r munu vega sjlfan Krist..."), with his hammer, Mjolner. Many of (the) Norwegians believe the earls.