Icelandic Prepositions

Icelandic prepositions are small words that indicate the relationship between things and play a crucial role in the language’s grammar system. Examples of prepositions include “from,” “about,” “below,” and “through,” among others. As in many languages, prepositions in Icelandic cause words to have a particular case, such as accusative, dative, or genitive. It is important to note that a preposition will never cause the nominative case (first case) in Icelandic.

Understanding Icelandic prepositions requires learning each of them individually, as they often have different meanings and contexts than their English counterparts. There is a set of prepositions that govern each of the three non-nominative cases. For example, some prepositions governing the accusative case include “um” (about), “gegnum” (through), and “kringum” (around). Meanwhile, prepositions such as “að” (towards) and “frá” (from) govern the dative case, while genitive case prepositions include “til” (to) and “án” (without).

Using the appropriate prepositions in Icelandic is critical for conveying the correct meaning and ensuring proper grammar. It may involve a significant amount of practice and memorization, but mastering the prepositions will enable learners to communicate effectively and accurately in Icelandic.

Icelandic Prepositions Overview

Icelandic prepositions serve to indicate the relationship between words or phrases in a sentence. They are an essential part of the language’s grammatical structure, and understanding their basic functions and classification can greatly improve one’s ability to form coherent sentences in Icelandic.

Basic Functions

Prepositions in Icelandic primarily convey spatial and temporal relations, such as location, direction and time. They can link nouns, pronouns and phrases, providing context to the overall meaning of a sentence. For example, the preposition “í” can be used with both the dative and accusative cases to indicate “in” and “into” respectively. Similarly, the preposition “á” can be used with the dative case to indicate “on” and with the accusative case to indicate “onto”.


Icelandic prepositions can generally be divided into two categories: simple and compound prepositions. Simple prepositions are single words, while compound prepositions consist of multiple words functioning together. Icelandic has a rich inventory of prepositions, and unlike in some languages, they do not inflect.

Some common Icelandic prepositions and their functions are:

  • Í: followed by dative case for “in”; followed by accusative case for “into”
  • Á: followed by dative case for “on”; followed by accusative case for “onto”
  • Undir: followed by dative case for “under”; followed by accusative case for “going under”
  • Með: followed by dative case for “with” in an instrumental sense; followed by accusative case for “with” as in bringing

These prepositions often overlap in meaning with their English counterparts, which can make learning to use them more accessible for English speakers.

Common Icelandic Prepositions

Icelandic prepositions are essential for expressing relationships between words, such as location, direction, and time. In this section, we will explore some common Icelandic prepositions and their usage.

Á (On)

Á is a widely-used preposition in Icelandic, denoting the idea of “on” or “upon” in English. It governs both the dative and accusative cases, which vary depending on the context:

  • Á + dative: Refers to a stationary position, as in “á borðinu” (on the table).
  • Á + accusative: Refers to movement or direction, as in “á borð” (onto the table).

Í (In)

The preposition í is used to express “in” or “inside” in Icelandic. Similar to á, it governs both the dative and accusative cases:

  • Í + dative: Indicates a stationary position, as in “í götunni” (in the street).
  • Í + accusative: Denotes movement or direction, as in “í götu” (into the street).

Af (Of, From)

Af is a preposition in Icelandic that can mean “of” or “from” when expressing a relationship between words or phrases. It is generally used with the dative case:

  • Af + dative: Shows origin or source, as in “af háskólanum” (from the university).

Til (To)

In Icelandic, til functions as the preposition “to” when indicating direction, destination, or purpose. It is used with the genitive case:

  • Til + genitive: Suggests movement towards a destination, as in “til Íslands” (to Iceland).

Frá (From)

The preposition frá in Icelandic translates to “from” in English, and is used to express a starting point or departure. It governs the dative case:

  • Frá + dative: Indicates a point of departure or origin, as in “frá Reykjavík” (from Reykjavik).

Governed Cases

When using Icelandic prepositions, it is important to understand how the various noun cases are governed by these prepositions. In this section, we will discuss the four cases in Icelandic grammar – nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive – and how prepositions interact with them.


The nominative case is the basic form of a noun and is typically used as the subject of a sentence. In general, prepositions do not govern the nominative case. However, it is essential to be aware of the nominative form when encountering the other cases, as they often depend on the nominative form as a base for inflections.


The accusative case is primarily used to indicate the direct object of a verb or the object of certain prepositions. Some prepositions governing the accusative case are:

  • í (into)
  • á (onto)
  • undir (going under)

For example, the preposition í requires an accusative noun when expressing movement, such as “Gunnar fór í bókasafnið” (Gunnar went to the library).


The dative case is used to indicate indirect objects, as well as the objects of certain prepositions. Some prepositions governing the dative case are:

  • í (in)
  • á (on)
  • undir (under)

For example, the preposition í requires a dative noun when expressing location, such as “Gunnar er í bókasafninu” (Gunnar is in the library).


The genitive case indicates possession or certain relationships between nouns. Some prepositions governing the genitive case are:

  • til (to)
  • án (without)
  • milli (between)
  • vegna (because of)

For example, the preposition til requires a genitive noun when expressing purpose, such as “Gunnar fór til Íslands” (Gunnar went to Iceland).

Positional Prepositions

Positional prepositions can be divided into two subcategories: temporal and spatial.

Temporal Prepositions

Temporal prepositions in Icelandic help to express time-related concepts, such as when or how long an event occurs. Some common temporal prepositions include:

  • á (on): used with days of the week, e.g., á mánudag (on Monday)
  • um (around, about): used with time expressions, e.g., um klukkan átta (around eight o’clock)
  • frá (from) and til (to): used together to express a duration, e.g., frá mánudag til miðvikudag (from Monday to Wednesday)

Spatial Prepositions

Spatial prepositions in Icelandic indicate the position or location of an object in a sentence. There are various prepositions to describe specific spatial relationships:

  • fyrir (in front of): e.g., fyrir húsinu (in front of the house)
  • bak (behind): e.g., bak við tréð (behind the tree)
  • undir (under): e.g., undir borðinu (under the table)
  • yfir (over, above): e.g., yfir götunni (over the street)

It is worth mentioning that some spatial prepositions may cause changes in the case of the noun following it, such as the accusative, dative, or genitive cases. Understanding the proper use of temporal and spatial prepositions in Icelandic can greatly enhance communication and clarity in the language.

Double Prepositions

In the Icelandic language, some prepositions are formed by combining two or more prepositions. These prepositions, known as double prepositions, provide a more specific way to convey relationships between words or phrases. Many Icelandic double prepositions exist, some of which are listed below:

  • Fyrir utan (þf) = except
  • Bak við (þf) = behind
  • Fyrir aftan (þf) = behind
  • Fyrir framan (þf) = in front of
  • Fyrir neðan (þf) = under (you can also use undir, but then it’s þf for movement and þgf for what’s stationary)

These double prepositions are particularly useful when dealing with complex or less common relationships. For example, while the preposition “undir” indicates both movement and stationary situations, using “Fyrir neðan” for stationary situations can add precision to your sentences.

It is important to note that some prepositions can govern either the accusative or the dative cases, depending on the presence or absence of movement. This versatility in the language allows for a richer expression of relationships between words and enhances the overall communicative power of Icelandic.

Challenges and Best Practices

Common Mistakes

When learning Icelandic prepositions, there are several common mistakes that learners may encounter. One major challenge is that prepositions in Icelandic can cause words to have a particular case, unlike in English. This means that learners need to be aware of which case the governed noun should take for each preposition, which can be complex and confusing for beginners.

Another common mistake is related to the usage of prepositions that take either the accusative or dative case, depending on the context. For example, the prepositions í, á, yfir, and undir take the accusative when they indicate motion towards a location, and the dative when they do not indicate motion towards a location.

Tips for Learning

Here are some tips to help overcome the challenges when learning Icelandic prepositions:

  • Memorize the prepositions in groups based on the case they govern. This can help solidify the relationship between prepositions and the cases they affect. For example:
    Accusative Dative um, (í) gegnum, kringum í, á, yfir, undir (when not indicating motion towards a location)
  • Practice sentences that use prepositions with different cases to understand the subtle differences in meaning. For example, compare Helga hljóp í vinnuna (Helga ran to work) and Helga hljóp í vinnunni (Helga ran around at work).
  • Use mnemonic devices or associations to remember which prepositions are connected to specific cases. For example, associate the preposition “um” (about) with the accusative case by thinking of “um” as “a sentence about something.”