A Quick And Easy Guide To Icelandic

Liam Davies

(Updated: )
5 min read
A Quick And Easy Guide To Icelandic

After reading this blog post, you will be an expert on the Icelandic language... well, not really. But you will know some of the basic greetings and manners.

It is quite common for tourists to have a fascination with the Icelandic language due to its history and difficulty, but don't worry! Not every Icelandic word is as difficult as the volcano 'Eyjafjallagodpleasehelpmetopronouncethisword... '

Icelanders still chuckle at how bad reporters were pronouncing Eyjafjallajökull back when it erupted in 2010. But hey! At least they tried, right? You have to give people credit for trying sometimes.

Plus, it gives Icelanders some hysterical videos to watch whilst waiting for the bus or sharpening their hunting knives inside their Igloos (Yes, I have been asked if Icelanders live in Igloos. I wish I was joking).

So... Lets get down to it!

Thank You - Takk/Takk Fyrir!

We'll start with something simple. Thanking someone is universally polite, and Icelanders consider thanking someone to be of high importance. 'Takk Fyrir' is Icelandic for 'Thank You', and is a basic for any tourist!

Takk (which is also ok, basically means 'thanks') is fairly easy to pronounce. But, 'Fyrir' might be a little tough for some tourists. It requires you to 'roll the R's'. But don't worry if you can't pronounce it correctly, no one would judge you. Remember! We're giving credit to people for trying!.

Now, for those of you that are language experts (I have a low tolerance for those people. HOW DO PEOPLE LEARN A LANGUAGE IN A SINGLE MONTH?) there is 'Takk Kærlega' or 'Thank you very much'.

When I first heard this I thought people were saying 'Tackle her'. But before I could put down my milkshake and begin my sprint, I was informed of the correct meaning and that it's pronounced similar to 'Takk Kerla'. My mistake...

Good Morning/Good Day - Góðan Daginn!

Góðan daginn. My first few months in Iceland, I started to believe this was the only phrase Icelanders used, and that it had multiple functions.

But no! I turned out to be wrong. Very, very wrong. Anyway! 'Góðan daginn**' means 'Good day' in English,** and is a phrase that's used very often. Be it, passing on the street, in the office or greeting the customer service at Hagkaup (supermarket).

If you're like me and were raised in a country where people don't often greet each other, then this will come as a great surprise to you. EVERYONE greets each other, and I kind of like it.

This world needs more Góðan daginn's... I just realised I'm talking about a phrase like it's a person... Iceland does this to you...

Similarly, this word has a very confusing pronunciation. I shall attempt to spell it out for you. It's kind of like: 'Govan dyin'... that's right... dyin'. I don't think I need to explain how confused I was this time.

So when you come to Iceland and someone greets you with 'Góðan daginn´, you now know it means 'Good day' and not that someone is dying. Again.. My mistake.

Gott Kvöld - Good Evening!

If you are German then this phrase will be easy for you to pronounce. If you are American or British, then may god have mercy on your soul.

The letter 'Ö' is my worst nightmare. It doesn't look difficult, it looks fairly simple,but the pronunciation is a mighty challenge. Or maybe I'm just dumb? Stop judging me! That's not a debate for this current time.

Luckily, most Icelanders don't care too much about the pronunciation. If it's close enough then they will know what you are trying to say. 'Ö' is pronounced similar to the 'U' in 'Urgent'. (I'm sat here giggling, because I know most of you will be repeatedly saying 'urgent' right now).

'Gott' is exactly how it reads, whilst 'Kvöld' is the more challenging aspect of the phrase.

Remember to try and apply the 'U' sound from 'Urgent' and you should be ready!.

Já/Nei - Yes/No

Most of you will already know these. The 'J' in 'Já' is pronounced like a 'Y', whilst the 'Á' is pronounced like the 'ou' in 'shout'.

'Nei' is pronounced 'Nay'. There's actually a song in Iceland called 'NeiNei' by a group called 'Áttan'. It's a great piece of music... if you listen without the volume on.

Jú - Yes (Somewhat)...

So now we all know that 'Já' is Icelandic for 'Yes', and therefore it's easy to draw conclusions that 'Jú' also means 'Yes'. If you think this, then you would be correct! Well, sort of... Most Icelanders have a tough time explaining the correct use of 'Jú'. But I (A Brit) will give it a go!.

'Jú' can be used in response to a question that contains a negative:

1: Ætlarðu ekki að fara í bíó í kvöld? (Aren't you going to the cinema tonight?)
2: Jú! (Yes, I am not-not going)

But if it's:

1: Ætlarðu að fara í bíó í kvöld? (Are you going to the cinema tonight?)
2: Já (Yes)

Get it? No? Me neither! So lets move on!


Takk fyrir mig - We already went over the Icelandic phrase for 'Thank you', which was 'Takk fyrir'. However, Icelanders have a very confusing and damn right weird phrase for thanking someone after eating. 'Takk fyrir mig' directly translates to 'Thanks for me'.

I told you it was weird.

So you are thanking someone for cooking for you, by being thankful for yourself?.. I've been tryng for 18 months to work it out. I've finally got to the point where I just embrace it.

Afsakið - This means 'Excuse me'. You may not have an occasion where you need to use this word, but it may be good to know for those of you that want to learn. You can use it to get someone's attention, to ask them to move out of your way or after sneezing. Pronounced: 'Afsakiv'.

Ég tala ekki íslensku - I don't speak Icelandic. I've always found it kind of silly using this phrase, because I'm telling someone I don't speak Iceland.. in Icelandic. Kind of defies it's meaning right?

You probably won't need to use this, but it's still fun to know! Plus, there's a store based on Laugavegur (the main shopping street) that is called 'Ég tala ekki Íslenska' and now you know what it means!
Pronounced: 'Yeg tala ekki e-slenska'. The 'Í' at the start of 'Íslenska' is pronounced like the letter 'e'.

So there you have it! You are now Icelandic.

Takk fyrir Mig! - I told you I was embracing it.