Why are Icelandic Words So Long?

The Icelandic language is known for its long, complex words, which can be fascinating and, at times, challenging for those learning or encountering the language. A key reason behind the length of Icelandic words is the tendency to combine smaller words into larger ones to describe a specific object or concept. This is in contrast to English, where separate words are often used to convey the same meaning.

For example, the longest word in Icelandic is “Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúrslyklakippuhringurinn” which translates to “the key ring to the tool work shed in the road works of Vaðlaheiði, a mountain road in North Iceland”. This linguistic feature is not exclusive to Icelandic, as similar word formations can be found in languages such as German and Welsh. Nevertheless, the extensive length of Icelandic words remains an intriguing aspect of the language.

Icelandic Language Origin

The Icelandic language has a rich history, dating back to the 9th century, and its unique characteristics are closely intertwined with its origins. In this section, we will explore the Old Norse influence on the Icelandic language and its strong ties to the Germanic language family.

Old Norse Influence

When settlers from western Norway arrived in Iceland during the late 9th and early 10th centuries, they brought with them Old Norse, a dialect that would later become the basis for Icelandic. In fact, the oldest preserved texts in Icelandic, which include Íslendingabók and Landnámabók, were written around the beginning of the 12th century, showcasing the language’s roots in Old Norse. Over the centuries, the language has changed relatively little due to Iceland’s isolation, allowing for a strong preservation of its Old Norse origins.

Germanic Language Family

Icelandic belongs to the West Scandinavian group of North Germanic languages, which also includes Norwegian and Faroese. As a member of the Germanic language family, Icelandic shares many linguistic characteristics with other Germanic languages, such as German, English, and Dutch. Despite these similarities, Icelandic stands out for its language purism, with an active policy in place to create new compound words from Icelandic derivatives rather than adopting foreign terms. This practice not only preserves the original Icelandic vocabulary, but also results in the characteristic long words for which the language is known.

The combination of a strong Old Norse influence and adherence to the Germanic language family has shaped the distinctive linguistic features of Icelandic. Its origins and development have contributed to the complex, long words that make the language both intriguing and challenging for learners and speakers alike.

Long Icelandic Words Formation

Long Icelandic word formations can seem quite daunting to people unfamiliar with the language. However, there is a systematic approach to word formation in Icelandic that contributes to the formation of these long words. This section explores the role of Compound Words and Inflection in the creation of long Icelandic words.

Compound Words

One primary cause of long Icelandic word formations is the extensive use of compound words. Icelandic, like other Germanic languages, frequently combines multiple roots or existing words to create new words. This practice often results in long and complex words.

For example, the current longest Icelandic word (Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúrslyklakippuhringurinn), has a specific meaning: “the key ring to the tool work shed in the road works of Vaðlaheiði, a mountain road in North Iceland.” It demonstrates how several smaller words are connected to create a larger, more intricate word.


Another factor contributing to long Icelandic words is the language’s inflection. Icelandic is an inflected language, meaning its nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs change their form according to various grammatical cases, numbers, and genders. This characteristic requires the addition of various affixes to roots, further lengthening the words.

Although this might seem overwhelming at first, an understanding of Icelandic’s systematic approach to word formation will make comprehending and using these long words much more manageable for language learners.

Maintaining Language Purity

The Icelandic language is known for its lengthy words, with many of them a result of efforts to maintain the purity of their language. Maintaining linguistic purity in Icelandic involves creating new words from Old Icelandic and Old Norse roots, rather than adopting foreign words. This policy helps preserve the rich history and culture of Iceland for future generations.

Icelandic Language Committee

One important institution that is working towards maintaining the purity of the Icelandic language is the Icelandic Language Committee. Their goal is to develop new Icelandic words and preserve the unique linguistic characteristics of the language. The committee is also responsible for guiding Icelanders on correct usage and adherence to established linguistic principles when adopting new words or phrases.


Neologisms play a crucial role in the preservation of the Icelandic language. These new words are created from existing Icelandic and Old Norse word elements, which results in the formation of long compound words. This approach allows for better adaptation to modern concepts and technology, while still retaining the essence of the Icelandic language.

One example of an Icelandic neologism is “tölva,” which combines the Old Norse word for number, “tala,” and the word for seeress, “völva.” Together, they form the equivalent of the English word “computer.” By creating this new word with familiar language elements, Icelanders are able to adopt and incorporate new technology without diluting their language.


Ultimately, Icelandic words are long primarily due to the language’s tendency to combine multiple words into a single, compound word. This linguistic feature is not unique to Icelandic, as it can be observed in languages such as German and Welsh as well.

The Icelandic language has remained relatively unchanged since the time of its Old Norse origins, allowing it to preserve its structure and vocabulary. While the length of Icelandic words might seem overwhelming to non-native speakers, they provide a more precise and efficient means of conveying meaning within the language.

In conclusion, Icelandic’s long words can be attributed to its structure and history, as well as its preference for compounding words for clarity and precision. This linguistic trait contributes to the richness and uniqueness of the Icelandic language, making it an intriguing subject of study for language enthusiasts.