07 April 2010

Sagnir á Íslensku (Verbs in Icelandic)

When I was in the MTC in 1984, our non-Icelandic returned missionary teachers taught us about verbs at one point. I remember being very confused about this (and most other) parts of the lanuage. Að telja (to count) was a weak 1 type of verb. Að kenna (to teach) was a weak 2 type. Að þola (to endure) a weak 3 and að elska (to love) a weak 4. Important verbs, each, when preaching the gospel. Unfortunately, I, and many other missionaries, were never able to really use this framework to our advantage. I just ended up having to memorize how each verb worked and how to use it in present, past and on occasion, subjunctive and future.

I am now teaching this semester of the Icelandic 102 class out of a series of books that were published by Námsflokkar Reykjavíkur or the Educational Association of Reykjavík. The book series is called "Íslenska sem erlent mál – stig 1, 2, 3 og 4" or "Icelandic as a Foreign Language, levels 1, 2, 3 and 4". The students, and I, have been introduced to an entirely new classification system for verbs. In this system there are 5 verb classes, with no mention of weak or strong types. Each verb is classed based on how it conjugates in the ég, þú and hann (I, you, he) positions. Regla 1 verbs (Rule 1) all appear in the ég position as they do in the infinitive. For example, a Rule one verb, að elska (to love) is conjugated the same in the infinite form as it is in the ég (I) form. Then in both the þú and hann postions, you just add an r:

að elska (to love)

ég elska
þú elskar
hann elskar

Rule 2 verbs all end in "i" in the ég postition and then add an r in the þú og hann positions:

að læra (to learn)

ég læri
þú lærir
hann lærir

Rules 3, 4 and 5 have some vowel changes in the stem in the ég, þú and hann postions.

Rule 3 verbs all end in a consonant in the ég position with just the stem of the verb and then add a ur in the þú and hann positions:

að gefa (to give)

ég gef
þú gefur
hann gefur

Rule 4 verbs all end with just the stem of the verb with a vowel change in the stem and without a consonant. Then they add an "rð" in the þú position and just an "r" in the hann position:

að sjá (to see)

ég sé
þú sérð
hann sér

að búa (to live)

ég bý
þú býrð
hann býr

And finally the Rule 5 verbs all end in a consonant with the stem of the verb (and a vowel shift sometimes) in the ég position and then add either an "ð" or an "s" to the stem for the þú position and then take it back for the hann position.

að fara

ég fer
þú ferð
hann fer

að lesa

ég les
þú lest
hann les

These are the five rules for verbs in Icelandic. Once you've got them down, the rest is easy. Okay, that is far from true, but knowing what kind of verb each is makes it much easier to know how to use.

In the we, you (plural) and they positions, the verbs are all the same (something easy in Icelandic? Unheard of):

Við (we) - add "um" to the stem.
Þið (you plural) - add "ið" to the stem
Þeir (they) - use the infinitive of the verb

What could be easier.

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