Icelandic Adjectives

Icelandic adjectives, also known as lýsingarorð, are an important aspect of the Icelandic language as they provide descriptive attributes to nouns and pronouns. They take on endings and inflections similar to verbs and personal pronouns in English, making them quite versatile in their usage to convey information about a person, place, thing or idea.

Adjectives in Icelandic agree in gender, number, and case with the nouns they modify. Nouns can have one of three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Adjectives, along with nouns and pronouns, are declined across four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive, both in singular and plural form. This allows for a rich and nuanced system of expression when describing various elements in Icelandic language.

When used before a noun (predicatively), adjectives generally come before it, whereas when used about the subject of the sentence (as a complement), they often follow the verb “to be” (vera). This distinction in adjective placement within a sentence plays a critical role in the construction of Icelandic phrases and the overall communication of ideas.

Icelandic Adjective Basics

Adjectives in the Icelandic language undergo changes in form to agree with the nouns they modify. These changes are based on the gender, case, and number of the noun. In this section, we explore the basics of Icelandic adjective agreement.

Gender Agreement

Icelandic adjectives must agree with the noun they modify in gender. Icelandic has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. The form of the adjective will change accordingly when modifying nouns of different genders. For example, in the phrase “falleg bók” (a beautiful book), the adjective “falleg” agrees with the feminine noun “bók” (book).

Adjectives also have strong and weak forms, which are determined by the presence or absence of a definite article. The strong form is used when the adjective is not modified by a definite article, while the weak form is used when it is.

Number Agreement

Adjectives in Icelandic also agree with the modified noun in terms of number, i.e., whether it is singular or plural. For example, the adjective “litli” (little) will become “litlir” when describing multiple objects, such as in “litlir hundar” (little dogs).

When modifying a plural noun, the adjective may take on different endings depending on the gender, case, and type of noun it describes.

Case Agreement

Finally, Icelandic adjectives must agree with their modified noun in case. Icelandic has four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive, which denote the noun’s grammatical function within the sentence.

Different endings are added to the base form of the adjective to indicate its case. For example, “góður/góð/gott” (good) will take on different forms depending on the noun’s case, such as “góðan” (accusative), “góðum” (dative), or “góðs” (genitive).

Learning the different case endings for adjectives can be challenging, but practice and exposure to Icelandic language resources can help learners become more proficient with Icelandic adjectives.

Degrees of Comparison

In Icelandic, adjectives have three degrees of comparison, similar to English adjectives. These three forms are the positive, comparative, and superlative forms.

Positive Form

The positive form of an Icelandic adjective represents the base form and offers no comparison. It is used when describing a single object or quality, for example: lítil (small), falleg (beautiful), or hæfilega (reasonably).

Comparative Form

The comparative form is used when comparing two objects, using suffixes instead of the English words “more” or “less.” In Icelandic, adjectives can undergo “doubling” to construct comparatives, where the ultimate consonant in a given word is doubled. For example, the comparative form of “strong” (sterkur) becomes “sterkari” (stronger).

Comparatives decline like weak adjectives, taking an -i ending for all masculine and feminine singular, and -a in the neuter.

Superlative Form

The superlative form is used to compare three or more objects and describes the most or least of a particular quality. Icelandic adjectives form the superlative degree with suffixes, just like the comparative form. For example, the superlative form of “strong” (sterkur) becomes “sterkast” (the strongest).

Types of Icelandic Adjectives

Icelandic adjectives can primarily be categorized into two types: attributive adjectives and predicative adjectives. These adjectives play different roles in the sentence, depending on their relationship with the nouns they are modifying.

Attributive Adjectives

Attributive adjectives directly describe a noun and come before the noun in a sentence. In Icelandic, these adjectives are declined for gender, number, and case, providing a close relationship between the adjective and the noun it modifies. Declension adjustments help clearly depict the adjective’s role within the sentence. For example:

  • Rautt blóm (a red flower)
  • Gamalt hús (an old house)

In these examples, “rautt” and “gamalt” are attributive adjectives that establish a direct link with the nouns “blóm” and “hús,” respectively. These adjectives agree in gender, number, and case with the nouns they modify, which is a fundamental feature of Icelandic attributive adjectives.

Predicative Adjectives

Predicative adjectives stand separately from the noun they modify, often used after a linking verb like “to be” to describe the subject or object of a sentence. Unlike attributive adjectives, predicative adjectives typically only decline for gender and number but remain in the nominative case. Here are some examples:

  • Blómin eru blá (The flowers are blue)
  • Safnið er gamalt (The museum is old)

“Blá” and “gamalt” in these sentences function as predicative adjectives, elaborating on the qualities of the subjects “blómin” and “safnið” without being directly attached to them. Icelandic predicative adjectives provide useful information on the subject or object, without being in close proximity to the noun being described.

Common Icelandic Adjectives

In the Icelandic language, adjectives play a crucial role in describing and modifying nouns. In order to have a better understanding of this language, it is beneficial to learn some of the most common Icelandic adjectives.

Some typical Icelandic adjectives are:

  • góður (good)
  • illur (bad)
  • fallegur (beautiful)
  • lítill (small)
  • stór (big)
  • gamall (old)
  • ungur (young)
  • skemmtilegur (fun)
  • langur (long)
  • stuttur (short)

Adjectives in Icelandic agree in gender, case, and number with the nouns they modify. This means that they change their form depending on the context. For instance, the adjective “góður” (good) can have different forms like “gott” and “góð” when describing a neuter or feminine noun, respectively. Moreover, adjectives also inflect in accordance with the grammatical function of the noun they are describing.

Here is a brief example of adjective inflection based on gender:

góður (good)góðurgóðgott
lítill (small)lítilllítillítið
stór (big)stórstórstórt

Learning the most common Icelandic adjectives and their inflections will significantly enhance your understanding and communication in this fascinating language.

Formation of Adjectives

Weak Adjective Formation

Weak adjectives are used when accompanied by the definite article. This is considered the easier declension pattern, and many learners find weak adjectives to be the most straightforward part of Icelandic grammar. Weak adjective endings must be added to the base adjective to match the specific noun group characteristics, such as number, gender, and case. The endings differ for each declension as follows:

Male (Nom.)-i-u
Male (Acc.)-a-u
Female (Nom. and Acc.)-u-u

Strong Adjective Formation

Strong adjectives are used without a definite article and require different endings to be added to the base adjective. In contrast to weak adjectives, strong adjectives have a range of inflectional endings based on gender, case, and number. The basic principle of adjective inflection in Icelandic is to remove the masculine singular nominative ending and add the relevant ending for the form in question. The endings for each declension are as follows:

Male (Nom.)-ur/-r-ir
Male (Acc.)-an-a
Female (Nom.)-/a-ar
Female (Acc.)-a-ar

By understanding these basic principles and inflection patterns, learners can effectively form and use Icelandic adjectives in both weak and strong declensions. These rules are essential for developing a nuanced understanding of the language and constructing accurate sentences.

Irregular Icelandic Adjectives

Irregular Icelandic adjectives do not follow the standard declension patterns and have their unique forms. These adjectives change based on the gender, case, and number of the noun they modify. A few examples of irregular Icelandic adjectives include “gamall” (old), “góður” (good), “illur” (bad), and “sannur” (true).

It is essential to learn the irregular forms of Icelandic adjectives, as they are commonly used in everyday conversation. Practice identifying and using irregular adjectives, bearing in mind the changing forms based on gender, case, and number.


In summary, Icelandic adjectives are a vital aspect of learning this captivating language. As a learner, it’s essential to grasp the concept of the inflections and endings that adjectives take on, as they do affect the meaning of the expression. Once acquainted with the intricacies involved, forming Icelandic adjectives becomes a manageable task.

Understanding the ways adjectives are used to describe, modify, and compare in Icelandic not only showcases the beauty of the language but also unveils its complexities. Mastering adjective agreement and their declensions is key to building a solid foundation in Icelandic and increases a fluency in communication.

While at times it may seem challenging, immersing oneself in practical examples and focusing on grammatical structures such as noun and adjective agreement will facilitate proficiency. Furthermore, drawing connections between similar instances will help to expedite the learning process.

Embracing the characteristics of Icelandic adjectives will equip the learner with the confidence, knowledge, and skill necessary to communicate effectively in this unique and expressive language.

Read More and Sources