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Old Norse morphology

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Old Norse morphology

Old Norse has three categories of verb (strong, weak, & present-preterite) and two categories of noun (strong, weak). Conjugation and declension are carried out by a mix of inflection and two nonconcatenative morphological processes: umlaut, a backness-based alteration to the root vowel; and ablaut, a replacement of the root vowel, in verbs.

Nouns, adjectives and pronouns are declined in four grammatical cases – nominative, accusative, genitive and dative, in singular and plural. Some pronouns (first and second person) have dual number in addition to singular and plural. The nouns have three grammatical genders – masculine, feminine or neuter - and adjectives and pronouns are declined to match the gender of nouns. The genitive is used partitively, and quite often in compounds and kennings (e.g.: Urðarbrunnr, the well of Urðr; Lokasenna, the gibing of Loki). Most declensions (of nouns and pronouns) use -a as a regular genitive plural ending, and all declensions use -um as their dative plural ending.

All neuter words have identical nominative and accusative forms,[1] and all feminine words have identical nominative and accusative plurals.[2]

The gender of some words' plurals does not agree with that of their singulars, such as lim and mund.[V 1]


Conditioned sound changes can cause some forms of a word to mismatch, or match in some words but not others. When speakers can't determine these conditions, but the effects remain, they are re-analyzed by speakers as rules for changing sounds during inflection, the morphophonology of the language. In this way, the history of a language affects its speakers.

During Proto-Germanic

Verner's law shifted Proto-Germanic /*h/ > /*g/ after an unstressed syllable. Afterwards, stress shifted to the first syllable in all words.[3]:1 In many Old Norse verbs, a lost /g/ reappears in the forms of some verbs, which makes their morphology abnormal, but remain regular because the forms containing /g/s are the same for each verb they appear in.

ex.: Proto-Germanic *slōhúm > *slōgúm (we struck) had an unstressed first syllable, but the corresponding singular, *slṓh (I struck), had only a stressed syllable. These became Old Norse slógum and sló.[3]:1

Before Old Norse

Umlaut was originally an assimilation of root vowels to suffixes having the front phonemes /i, j/ (i-umlaut) and the back phonemes /u, w/ (u-umlaut) in Proto-Germanic. The suffixes were not on all forms of the same words, so when the suffixes underwent syncope during the transition into Old Norse, the remaining umlaut of the vowel indicated what the suffix had before. From then on speakers would alternate the vowel as an act of inflection.


Verbs are conjugated in person and number, in present and past tense, in indicative, imperative and subjunctive mood. There are elements of repetition and minor variation in the inflections, but the type of verb also determines which patterns are present. The subjunctives show the largest and widest spread pattern among the inflections, with both strong and weak classes ending subjunctives (past and present) with ek/þú/þat -a/-ir/-i, vér/þér/þau -im/-ið/-i, except for a minor variation in the 3rd and 4th strong conjugations.

The active participle is used to form a gerund or a verbal noun[V 2]:2 with weak masculine singulars but strong masculine plurals in r,[4] or else with weak neuter declension. As a plain participle, it is a weak adjective.[V 3] The participle appears in two genders within the same verse in Hávamál: "gínanda úlfi / galandi kráku."[5] The general sense of the noun is of the English suffix -er or of being able to perform the action.[V 2]:3 The plural as a prefix, ęndr-, is equivalent to the English and Latin prefix re-.

The case of the object of an Old Norse verb is lexically assigned, meaning that the case is determined on a per-verb basis. Most verbs take an accusative object, but some, such as gefa (give) have primary and secondary objects in the accusative and dative, while still others have nominative, genitive, or dative direct objects.

Strong verbs

Strong verbs, unlike weak verbs, are conjugated by ablaut, a process that replaces, rather than modifies, their root vowel. The English sing uses ablaut to conjugate to sang in the past tense and sung as the past participle. Like weak verbs, strong verbs use inflections and umlaut, but they rely on them much less to distinguish forms and conjugations. While the strongs' umlaut and inflectional patterns are largely the same from verb to verb, there are different sets and numbers of vowels involved in ablaut, and so their patterns are used to classify the strong conjugations.

If there are 2 vowels in the pattern (as in the 6th & some 7th conjugation patterns), the 2nd is used for all the past forms. If there are 3, the 2nd vowel is used for the indicative past singulars, & the 3rd for the other past tenses. The 1st vowel is used for the remaining forms: the infinitive, present forms, and imperative, and usually the past participle of 3-vowel words. However, some 3-vowel words have a 4th vowel appearing only in the participle.

The past participle of strong verbs follows the pronominal declension of hit,[V 4] though unlike the definite suffix the participle is inherited from Proto-Germanic.

í, ei, i, i/e
au, u, (o)
rísa (í, ei, i, i) (rise) bjóða (jó, au, u, o) (bid)
Inf rís-a Imp rís Pr P rís-andi Inf bjóð-a Imp bjóð Pr P bjóð-andi
Pa P Pa P
N ris-it M ris-inn F ris-in N boð-it M boð-inn F boð-in
ek þú þat vér þér þau ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind rís rís-s rís-um rís-ið rís-a býð býð-r bjóð-um bjóð-ið bjóð-a
Subj rís-a rís-ir rís-i rís-im rís-i bjóð-a bjóð-ir bjóð-i bjóð-im bjóð-i
Pa T Ind reis reis-t reis ris-um ris-uð ris-u bauð baut-t bauð buð-um buð-uð buð-u
Subj ris-a ris-ir ris-i ris-im ris-ið ris-i byð-a byð-ir byð-i byð-im byð-ið byð-i

The 3rd, 4th and 5th conjugations have an i, rather than an a, in the 1st person subjunctive past ending. Third conjugation words ending in n, g, or k have a u for their past participles' root vowel. The jas of the 3rd conjugation are due to breaking. The 4th and 5th conjugations are identical except in the past participle, where the 4th conjugation normally has o and the fifth conjugation e. Generally, 3rd conjugation stems have two consonants following the vowel; 4th conjugation stems have a single sonorant consonant (l, r, m or n) following the vowel; and 5th conjugation stems have a single consonant that is not a sonorant.

i/e/ja, a, u, (u/o)
e/o, a,
á, (u/o/ó)
e/i, a,
á, (e)
brenna (e, a, u, u) (burn) bera (e, a, á, o) (bear/carry) gefa (e, a, á, e) (give)
Inf brenn-a Imp brenn Pr P brenn-andi Inf ber-a Imp ber Pr P ber-andi Inf gef-a Imp gef Pr P gef-andi
Pa P Pa P Pa P
N brunn-it M brunn-inn F brunn-in N bor-it M bor-inn F bor-in N bor-it M gef-inn F gef-in
ek þú þat vér þér þau ek þú þat vér þér þau ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind brenn brenn-r brenn-um brenn-ið brenn-a ber ber-r ber-um ber-ið ber-a gef gef-r gef-um gef-ið gef-a
Subj brenn-a brenn-ir brenn-i brenn-im brenn-i ber-a ber-ir ber-i ber-im ber-i gef-a gef-ir gef-i gef-im gef-i
Pa T Ind brann brann-t brann brunn-um brunn-uð brunn-u bar bar-t gaf bár-um bár-uð bár-u gaf gaf-t gaf gáf-um gáf-uð gáf-u
Subj brynn-i brynn-ir brynn-i brynn-im brynn-ið brynn-i bær-i bær-ir bær-i bær-im bær-ið bær-i gæf-i gæf-ir gæf-i gæf-im gæf-ið gæf-i

The 6th conjugation is cognate with English's take/took/taken conjugation. The 7th conjugation is a heterogenous category. Its ablaut patterns include a/á, e/é; au, jó; a, jó, jo; and ý, jó, ú.

a, ó
fara (a, ó) (go) gráta (á, é) (weep)
Inf far-a Imp far Pr P far-andi Inf grát-a Imp grát Pr P grát-andi
Pa P Pa P
N far-it M far-inn F far-in N grát-it M grát-inn F grát-in
ek þú þat vér þér þau ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind fęr fęr-r fǫr-um far-ið far-a græt græt-r grát-um grát-ið grát-a
Subj far-a far-ir far-i far-im far-i grát-a grát-ir grát-i grát-im grát-i
Pa T Ind fór fór-t fór fór-um fór-uð fór-u grét grét-st grét grét-um grét-uð grét-u
Subj fœr-a fœr-ir fœr-i fœr-im fœr-ið fœr-i grét-a grét-ir grét-i grét-im grét-ið grét-i

Verbs in -ra

The -ra conjugation consists of strong verbs with weak preterites[4] that use an r rather than a dental in their inflection. These arose as contractions of reduplicated verbs.[6] They correspond to modern Icelandic ri-verbs. When the pre-contraction form of the verb contained a velar, it persisted in the past indicative plurals, past subjunctives, and past participle, and the verb assumed the characteristics (ablaut, inflection) of normal strong conjugation. Alternate, regularized past-tenses for these were also in use in some dialects, with an -ø-r or -e-r format.[V 5] Verbs like kjósa and snúa follow the ú/jú/jó, au, u, (o) ablaut pattern, and verbs like slá follow the a, ó ablaut.[V 6]:3

-ra snúa (turn)[7][V 7][8]
Inf snú-a Imp snú, snúðú Pr P snú-andi
Pa P
N snú-it,
M snú-inn
F snú-in
ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind sný sný-r, snýrðu sný-r snú-m snú-ið snú-a
Subj snú-a snú-ir snú-i snú-im snú-i
Pa T Ind snø-ra snø-rir snø-ri snø-rum snø-ruð snø-ru
Subj snø-rim snø-rið snø-ri

The forms of slá without the g have absorbed said consonant, lengthening the vowel in the process. When this process is taken into account, the conjugation can be seen as that of a regular verb with an a, ó ablaut pattern. The -ø-r past tense forms were used in some dialects, with sløri and sløru as attested forms, but was rare in writing.[V 5][V 6]:3

Velar stem
slá (a, ó) (strike, slay)[V 5][V 8][9]
Inf slá Imp slá, sláðú Pr P slá-ndi
Pa P
N slęg-it M slęg-inn F slęg-in
ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind slæ slæ-r slá-(u)m slá-ið slá
Subj slá slá-ir slá-i slá-im slá-i
Pa T Ind sló sló-(tt-(ú)) sló slóg-um slóg-uð slóg-u
Subj slœg-a slœg-ir slœg-i slœg-im slœg-ið slœg-i

Weak verbs

Weak verbs distinguish the tenses of the indicative and subjunctive primarily by adding a suffix with a dental (t, d, or ð). This is the primary mode of distinction of tenses, in contrast with the radical vowel changes characteristic of the strong verbs. Preceded by the dental, the subjunctive past tense endings take the form of their present tense endings, changing the inflectional vowel to i in the plural. The indicative forms take the subjunctive forms, changing the inflectional vowel to u in the plural. The dental is preceded by an a in some verbs, causing the past tenses to become trisyllabic.

There are three primary conjugations, corresponding approximately to the first three classes of weak verbs in Gothic. The Proto-Germanic and Gothic Class IV weak verb, with a *-n(ō)- suffix, has been incorporated into the second conjugation in Old Norse.

First conjugation

The first weak conjugation has an -i/j- suffix, which triggers i-umlaut of the stem. As in other Germanic languages, there are two subclasses, depending on whether the stem is short (consisting of a short vowel followed by at more one consonant) or long (containing a long vowel or diphthong, or followed by two or more consonants). The differences are due to Sievers' law, which caused the suffix to assume the form *-j- after short syllables but *-ij- after long syllables. The long *-ij- suffix subsequently disappeared when followed by a vowel that remained in Old Norse (except after k, g or a vowel, as in fylgja "to follow"), but betrays its former presence by i-umlauting the stem syllable.[V 9]:2

When the stem was directly followed by a consonant, it was vocalized, becoming *-i- after short syllables and *-ī- after long syllables. Short *-i- was lost early on in many circumstances, before the operation of i-umlaut; as a result, short-stem verbs lack i-umlaut in the indicative past and the past participle. Umlaut does occur in the subjunctive past of the short-stem verbs, either as a result of the -j/ī- that originally occurred in the subjunctive endings or by analogy with the strong verbs. (Contrast Gothic, where the -i- stem is still preserved, and Old English, where i-umlaut operated early enough that all first-weak verbs, both short and long, have consistent i-umlaut throughout the paradigm.)

Many 2nd conjugation verbs are derived by i-umlaut of the second ablaut form of a strong verb, often serving as a causal equivalent to it. (This derives directly from the Proto-Indo-European causative-iterative construction.) For example, bręnna — to make burn derives from brenna (ek brann, þau brunnu) — to burn; be burning.[V 9]:2 The -ing & -ingr suffixes are added to a finite form of some of these verbs to derive feminine and masculine nouns from them.[10]:3 The -ning & -ningr can also be used to derive feminine and masculine nouns in short-stem verbs, and are added to a non-umlauted form of the verbs, e.g. spurning "a question" from spyrja "to ask".[10]:3

Short-stem verbs
glęðja (ða, ðr) (gladden) spyrja (ða, ðr) (ask)
Inf glęð-ja Imp glęð Pr P glęð-jandi Inf spyr-ja Imp spyr Pr P spyr-jandi
Pa P Pa P
N glat⁠-t M glad⁠-dr F glǫd⁠-d N spur⁠-t M spur⁠-ðr F spur⁠-ð
ek þú þat vér þér þau ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind glęð glęð⁠-r glęð-⁠jum glęð⁠-ið glęð⁠-ja spyr spyr⁠-r spyr-⁠jum spyr⁠-ið spyr⁠-ja
Subj glęð⁠-ja glęð⁠-ir glęð⁠-i glęð⁠-im glęð⁠-i spyr⁠-ja spyr⁠-ir spyr⁠-i spyr⁠-im spyr⁠-i
Pa T Ind glad-da glad-dir glad⁠-di glǫd-dum glǫd-duð glǫd⁠-du spur-ða spur-ðir spur⁠-ði spur-ðum spur-ðuð spur⁠-ðu
Subj ględ-da ględ-dir ględ⁠-di ględ-dim ględ-dið ględ⁠-di spyr-ða spyr-ðir spyr⁠-ði spyr-ðim spyr-ðið spyr⁠-ði
Long-stem verbs
dœma (da, dr) (judge) fylgja (ða, t) (help)
Inf dœm-a Imp dœm Pr P dœm⁠-andi Inf fylg-ja Imp fylg Pr P fylg-jandi
Pa P Pa P
N dœm⁠-t M dœm⁠-dr F dœm⁠-d N fylg⁠-t
ek þú þat vér þér þau ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind dœm⁠-i dœm⁠-ir dœm⁠-um dœm⁠-ið dœm⁠-a fylg⁠-i fylg⁠-ir fylg⁠-jum fylg⁠-ið fylg⁠-ja
Subj dœm⁠-a dœm⁠-ir dœm⁠-i dœm⁠-im dœm⁠-i fylg⁠-ja fylg⁠-ir fylg⁠-i fylg⁠-im fylg⁠-i
Pa T Ind dœm-da dœm-dir dœm⁠-di dœm-dum dœm-duð dœm⁠-du fylg-ða fylg-ðir fylg⁠-ði fylg-ðum fylg-ðuð fylg⁠-ðu
Subj dœm-dim dœm-dið dœm⁠-di fylg-ðim fylg-ðið fylg⁠-ði

Second conjugation

The second conjugation is marked by a consistent -a- suffix, with no i-umlaut. It contains a class of derivates with characteristic suffixes: inchoatives in -na, such as vakna;[11] causals in -ga from adjectives in -igr; causals in -ka; iteratives in -sa; verbs in -la, a kind of diminutive; and verbs in -ja, -va, and -ra.[V 9]:1 The -n suffix is applied to the infinitive of some of these verbs to derive feminine nouns from them.[10]:3 The inflections containing ǫð (see table) may spell and pronounce the ǫ as a reduced u or an a depending on the dialect.
boða (að) (bode) kalla (að) (call)
Inf boð⁠-a Imp boð⁠-a Pr P boð⁠-andi Inf kall⁠-a Imp kall⁠-a Pr P kall-andi
Pa P Pa P
N boð⁠-at M boð⁠-aðr F boð⁠-ǫð N kall⁠-at M kall⁠-aðr F kǫll⁠-ǫð
ek þú þat vér þér þau ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind boð⁠-a boð⁠-ar boð⁠-um boð
-ið (-it)
boð⁠-a kall⁠-a kall⁠-ar kǫll⁠-um kall-ið kall⁠-a
Subj boð⁠-ir boð⁠-i boð⁠-im boð⁠-i kall⁠-ir kall⁠-i kall⁠-im kall⁠-i
Pa T Ind boð-aða boð-aðir boð-aði boð-ǫðum boð-ǫðuð boð-ǫðu kall-aða kall-aðir kall-aði kǫll-ǫðum kǫll-ǫðuð kǫll-ǫðu
Subj boð-aðim boð-aðið boð-aði kall-aðim kall-aðið kall-aði

Third conjugation

The third conjugation is generally marked by an -i- in the present tense, and no suffix in the past tense. This -i- does not trigger i-umlaut, as it derives from Proto-Germanic *-ai-. However, subjunctive preterites do have i-umlaut, either as a result of the *-j/ī- that originally occurred in the subjunctive endings or by analogy with the strong verbs.
vaka (ta, tr) (be awake) duga (ða, at) (help)
Inf Imp Pr P Pa P Inf Imp Pr P Pa P
vak-a vak(-i) vak-andi N vak-at dug-a dug(-i) dug-andi N dug-at
ek þú þat vér þér þau ek þú þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind vak⁠-i vak⁠-ir vǫk⁠-um vak⁠-ið vak⁠-a dug⁠-i dug⁠-ir dug⁠-um dug⁠-ið dug⁠-a
Subj vak⁠-a vak⁠-ir vak⁠-i vak⁠-im vak⁠-i dug⁠-a dug⁠-ir dug⁠-i dug⁠-im dug⁠-i
Pa T Ind vak-ta vak-tir vak-ti vǫk-tum vǫk-tuð vǫk-tu dug-ða dug-ðir dug-ði dug-ðum dug-ðuð dug-ðu
Subj vęk-ta vęk-tir vęk-ti vęk-tim vęk-tið vęk-ti dyg-ða dyg-ðir dyg-ði dyg-ðim dyg-ðið dyg-ði

Present-preterite verbs

Present-preterite, or present-in-past, verbs form their present tenses using the ablaut patterns of strong verbs' past tenses. Their past tenses are formed like weak verbs'.

  The Verb Substantive
vera (e, a, á, e) (be)
Inf ver-a Pr P ver-andi Pa P N ver-it
ek þú þat vér þér þau
Imper ver ver-tu ver verit
Pr T Ind em er-t er er-um er-uð er-u
Subj sé-r sé-m sé-ð
Pa T Ind va(r/s) var-t va(r/s) vár-um vár-uð vár-u
Subj vær-a vær-ir vær-i vær-im vær-ið vær-i
Ten verbs with Present in Preterite form.
INDIC. Pres. Sing. 1. á kná skal kann mun (mon) man þarf ann veit
2. á-tt kná-tt má-tt skal-t kann-t mun-t man-t þarf-t ann-t veiz-t
3. á kná skal kann mun man þarf ann veit
Plur. 1. eig-um kneg-um meg-um skul-um kunn-um mun-um mun-um þurf-um unn-um vit-um
2. eig-uð kneg-uð meg-uð skul-uð kunn-uð mun-uð mun-ið þurf-ið unn-ið vit-uð
3. eig-u kneg-u meg-u skul-u kunn-u mun-u mun-a þurf-a unn-a vit-u
Pret. Sing. 1. á-tta kná-tta má-tta   kunn-a mun-da mun-da þurf-a unn-a vis-sa
  as regular weak verbs  
IMPERAT. eig       kunn   mun   unn vit
SUBJ. Pres. Sing. 1. eig-a kneg-a meg-a skyl-a kunn-a myn-a mun-a þurf-a unn-a vit-a
  as regular weak verbs  
  Pret. Sing. 1. ætt-a knætt-a mætt-a skyl-da kynn-a myn-da myn-da þyrf-ta ynn-a vis-sa
  as regular weak verbs  
INFIN. Pres.     eig-a   meg-a skyl-u kunn-a mun-u mun-a þurf-a unn-a vit-a
Pret.       knáttu   skyl-du   mun-du        
PART. Act.     eig-andi   meg-andi   kunn-andi   mun-andi þurf-andi unn-andi vit-andi
PART. Pass. Neut.   á-tt   má-tt   kunn-at   mun-at þurf-t unn-(a)t vit-at

Suffixes and clitics

The reflexive pronoun's accusative, sik, is contracted and suffixed to the verb as -k, -sk, or -zk in order to form the reflexive suffix.[12][13] This suffix is often referred to as Old Norse's "middle voice." In the early 13th century, the suffixes became -z and -s, and later -zt and -zst.[12] As a middle voice, it can be thought of as passivizing an action without using passive voice syntax. This usage of reflexivity is paralleled in English with sentence pairs such as "he sat down" and "he sat himself down."

  Reflexive/reciprocal suffix or middle voice
On a Weak Verb: kalla (að) (call) ([4])/[V 10] On a Strong Verb: láta (let) [V 10]
ek þú þat vér þér þau ek/þú/þat vér þér þau
Pr T Ind kǫllu-mk/
kalla-sk kǫllu-m(s)k kalli-sk kalla-sk læzk látu-mk láti-zk láta-sk
Subj kǫllu-mk/
kalli-sk kalli-m(s)k kalli-(s/z)k kalli-sk láti-sk láti-mk láti-zk láti-sk
Pa T Ind kǫlluðu-mk/
kall(i/a)ði-sk kallaði-sk kǫlluðu-m(s)k kǫlluðu-(s/z)k kǫlluðu-sk lézk létu-mk létu-zk létu-sk
Subj kallaði-sk kallaði-m(s)k kallaði-(s/z)k kallaði-sk léti-sk léti-mk léti-zk léti-sk
Pa P N kalla-zk Pa P N láti-zk
Verbs with the Negative Suffix.
  Pres. Pret. Pres. Pret. Pres. Pret. Pres. Pret.
INDIC. Sing. 1. em-k-at var-k-at(vas-k-at) skal-k-at skyldi-g-a mon-k-a mundi-g-a hyk-k-at átti-g-a
2. ert-at-tu vart-at-tu skalt-at-tu skyldir-a mont-at-tu mundir-a hyggr-at áttir-a
3. er-at (es-at) var-at (vas-at) skal-at skyldi-t mon-at mundi-t hyggr-at átti-t
Plur. 3. eru-t váru-t skulu-t skyldu-t monu-t mundi-t hyggja-t áttu-t
IMPERAT.   ver-at-tu (be not thou!), lát-at-tu (let not thou!), grát-at-tu (weep not thou!), etc.


Old Norse and other Germanic languages had two types of regular declension. They are called the strong and weak declensions by analogy with the strong and weak conjugations. These declensions are further subdivided into stem classes: groups of nouns distinguished by the historical or present morphophonological characteristics that the nouns of each class's stems share(d). Their names take after their Proto-Germanic or PIE ancestors, and refer to the suffixes present on those older nouns. Because umlaut was caused by these suffixes, there is a strong correlation between the phonetic characteristics of the suffix and the type of umlaut seen among stems of a class. Besides the latter classification, the stems may be grouped into the root noun, consonant stem, and vocalic stem declensions, in Proto-Germanic terms.

In Proto-Germanic, the neuter stems modeled their nominative/accusative singulars after masculine accusative singulars, while their nominative/accusative plurals were modeled after the nominative singular of the corresponding feminine declension.[11]:3.3.1

Strong nouns

Old Norse has 2 strong neuter declensions, and 3 strong masculine and feminine declensions. The masculine and feminine declensions may be referred to as the a, i, and r declensions, after their nominative plural inflections of -ar, -ir, and -r respectively.

Though the a-declension masculines tend towards a genitive -s, and the i- and r-declension words towards -ar, many words are found going against the norm. Grautr, skógr, and hǫfundr, for example, are a-declension nouns with -ar for a genitive singular. The -i of the dative singular is frequently dropped from many words, particularly in the i-declension. Bisyllabic proper names in -arr (Einarr) or -urr (Gizurr) do not contract as hamarr does before an inflectional syllable, due to differing etymologies. The following words demonstrate two PIE o-stem reflexes, one bisyllabic, a yo-stem reflex, and an iyo-stem reflex.[11] The latter stem type consists mainly of poetic words.[V 11]

Masculine a declension
  armr (arm) hamarr (hammer) hęrr (a people)[V 12] hęllir (cave)
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative arm-r arm-ar hamar-r ham'r-ar hęr-r hęr-jar hęll-ir hęll-ar
Accusative arm arm-a hamar ham'ra hęr hęr-ja hęll-i hęll-a
Genitive arm-s arm-a hamar-s ham'ra hęr-jar hęr-ja hęll-is hęll-a
Dative arm-i ǫrm-um ham'r-i hǫm'r-um hęr-i hęr-jum hęll-i hęll-um

Among the i-declension masculines are the wa-stem reflexes. These have a u-umlauted root caused by a radical v.

The strong feminines descend from PIE ā stems.[11]3.3 PIE developed into PGmc. and finally Proto-Norse -u,[11]3.3.1 leading to the singulars of these words being u-umlauted under that inflection's influence. Their plurals are the same as those of the analogous masculine declension, except for the nominative and accusative being the same. The ending -ir of the i-stems, as in tíð - tíðir, while not exemplified in the table below, is in fact more common in feminines than the ending of ō-stems -ar, and has become increasingly so by analogy; thus the example gjǫf in the table in later texts replaces its old plural form gjafar with gjafir. A dative singular u inflection is found in some nouns, most noticeably in the i-declension where it is sometimes accompanied by an accusative singular u.[V 11] Some nouns, prominently among nouns in the same declension as ęrmr, carry a nominative singular r inflection;[V 11] surprisingly, these are the descendants of the Proto-Germanic ijō-stems (i.e. long -stems, as opposed to the short counterpart seen below in the example Hęl), which historically lacked that ending; it seems that they have acquired it through confusion with the i-stems such as tíð, which did originally have it. Conversely, the i-stems have lost the nominative -r ending through analogy with ō-stem feminines.[14] Finally, many nouns do not have any inflectional distinctions among the singulars except from the genitive. Under these circumstances the case system aligns with that of most English nouns. e.g.: "A mouse's (G) mouse (N) gave a mouse (A) to a mouse (D)."

Feminine a declension
  gjǫf (gift) Hęl ęrmr (arm/sleeve) ǫr (arrow)
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative gjǫf gjaf-ar Hęl Hęl-jar ęrm-r ęrm-ar ǫr ǫr-var
Accusative ęrm-i
Genitive gjaf-ar gjaf-a Hęl-jar Hęl-ja ęrm-ar ęrm-a ǫr-var ǫr-va
Dative gjǫf gjǫf-um Hęl-ju Hęl-jum ęrm-i ęrm-um ǫr-u ǫr-um

The neuter declensions' genitive and dative mirror the masculine a declension's.[11]:3.3.1 The nom./acc. plural is u-umlauted from the singulars, but this only alters nouns with a as their root, leaving number indistinct in many strong neuters for these cases. PGmc -ja stem reflexes, such as nęs and klæði, are umlauted without regard to stem weight.[15]

Neuters with masculine a singulars
  barn (baby) nęs (ness) klæði (cloth) ríki (power)
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nom. & Acc. barn bǫrn nęs klæði ríki
Genitive barn-s barn-a nęs-s nęsi-a klæði-s klæð-a ríki-s ríki-a
Dative barn-i bǫrn-um nęsi nęsi-um klæði klæð-um ríki ríki-um
Neuters with masculine i singulars
  tré (tree)[V 13] hǫgg (strike)
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nom. & Acc. tré hǫgg
Genitive tré-s trjá hǫgg-s hǫggu-a
Dative tré trjá-m hǫggu-i hǫgg-um

Weak nouns

One main feature of weak nouns is that they do not distinguish the non-nominative singular cases from each other. This effectively forms a nominative-oblique case dynamic confined to the weak singulars. Historically, the Proto-Germanic weak nouns were characterized by a nasal suffix applied as a case marker. These were mostly absorbed by their preceding vowels by the time Old Norse developed, with the main exceptions being those suffixes in the weak feminine and neuter declensions' genitive plurals.[V 14]:1 As a result, weak nouns are referred to as the n stems, a consonant stem class.

The plural inflection of the weak masculine declension is that same as the strong masculine a declension. The weak declension contains the endings -ingi and -yrki/-virki, as well as some weak versions of strong masculine nouns, names, and endings.[V 14]:1

Masculines in -i
  bogi (bow) bandingi (prisoner)
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative bog-i bog-ar band-ing-i band-ing-jar
Accusative bog-a bog-a band-ing-ja band-ing-ja
Genitive bog-a band-ing-ja
Dative bog-um bǫnd-ing-jum

The weak feminines with the -a ending vary greatly in the genitive plural, but most fall into a few groups: Nouns with -na as ending; nouns with no genitive plural; nouns that form the genitive plural by attaching the definite article's genitive plural to the nominative singular; nouns whose genitive singular is used collectively.[V 14]:2

Feminines in -a
  varta (wart) saga (story) gyðja (goddess)
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative vart-a vǫrt-ur sag-a sǫg-ur gyði-a gyði-ur
Accusative vǫrt-u sǫg-u gyði-u
Genitive vart-na   gyði-a-nna
Dative vǫrt-um sǫg-um gyði-um

As the nominative of neuter words is also the accusative, and as weak nouns have the same dative and genitive as accusative in the singulars, all of the singular forms are the same for the weak neuters. One subset of the neuter declension contains 6 nouns for parts of the body. Another contains words for objects, forming no genitive plural.[V 14]:4

Neuters in -a
  auga (eye) síma (rope)
Case Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nom. & Acc. aug-a aug-u sím-a sím-u
Genitive aug-na -
Dative aug-um sím-um

The Indeclinable Feminines are an additional class of weak noun which originally had a word stem with the ending -in of which in Old Norse only the -i remains. They are conceptual in meaning, and because of this have no plurals and do not differentiate case.[V 14]:3 The word lygi[16] "lie" however has a plural. They may, in charts, be included with the feminines in -a, in which case said chart becomes:

Indeclinable Feminines
  ævi (life) gleði (happiness)
Case Singular Singular
N., A., D., & G. æu-i gleð-i
The word "lygi" (lie)
Case Singular Plural
Nom. & Acc. lyg-i lyg-ar
Genitive lyg-a
Dative lyg-um

Pronouns and adjectives

Pronouns and adjectives are generally separate in declension. However, in semantic and syntactic usage, the boundary is less clear-cut.[17] Adjectives may be used as in English, to modify a noun (e.g., gótt vatn, good water), or may stand alone as a de facto pronoun (e.g., gótt, a good thing). The only difference in their declensions is the masculine accusative singular ending, which is -n in pronouns and -an in adjectives. Genitive and dative plurals are indistinct in gender for all pronominal and adjectival declensions. The nominative and accusative neuter singular ends in -t when the word's root vowel is short, and -tt when long.[V 4]


The interrogatives include hvat "what", hví "why", and hvess "what sort", derived from þat, hvar "where" and hveim "whom", derived from þar, hvárt "which of two, each," and hvęrt, "whether, which of many."

There are two relative particles, er or es and sem, which can also be used as relative pronouns or adverbs. Both are completely indeclinable. The former carries the relative (non-interrogative) senses of the words which, who, when, where, and that. The latter corresponds to as, as if, alike, same as, or about the same time as, and may take on any function of er as well.

Some pronouns, such as hvárr,[18] hvęrt,[18] nekkvęrt,[V 15] and sá,[19] have adjectival function. This usage generally requires a different translation than their pronominal one.

Personal and possessive

Þat's singulars follow the pronominal declension irregularly, and with different lemmata for each gender. Its plurals follow the declension of the cardinal numbers irregularly, and are especially similar to tvau's forms. Variants of hánum include honum and hǫnum.

For the 1st and 2nd person, actions with one's self as an object simply use mik, þik, etc.. For the 3rd person, a separate reflexive pronoun is used, which follows the declension of the 1st and 2nd personal pronouns' singulars.

Personal Pronouns
  1st 2nd 3rd rflx. 3rd
Number Case   Neuter Masc. Feminine
Singular Nominative ek þú   þat han-n hón (hon)
Accusative mik þik sik han-a
Genitive mín þín sín þess han-s hęn-nar
Dative mér þér sér því hán-um hęn-ni
Dual Nominative vit (þ)it As sing. None*
Accusative okkr ykkr
Genitive okkar ykkar
Dative okkr ykkr
Plural Nominative vér (þ)ér þau þei-r þæ-r
Accusative oss yðr þá
Genitive vár yð(v)ar þei-rra
Dative oss yðr þei-m

* Tvau "two" or bœði "both" may be used as substitute for a true 3rd personal dual.

The possessive pronouns are derived from the genitives of the personal pronouns. They are mitt, þitt, sitt, okkart, ykkart, várt, and yðart. The í of those derived from the singulars is shortened before nn or tt.

Possessive Pronouns[19]
  mitt (mín) yð(v)art (yð(v)ar) várt (vér)
Number Case Neuter Masc. Feminine Neuter Masc. Feminine Neuter Masc. Feminine
Singular Nominative mi-tt min-n mín yð(v)ar-t yð(v)ar-r yður vár-t vár-r vár
Accusative mín-a yð(va)r-an yð(va)r-a vár-(a)n vár-a
Genitive mín-s min-nar yð(v)ar-s yð(var)-rar vár-s vár-rar
Dative mín-u mín-um min-ni yð(u)r-u yð(u)r-um yð(var)-ri vár-u vár-um vár-ri
Plural Nominative mín mín-ir mín-ar yð(v)ar yð(va)r-ir yð(va)r-ar vár vár-ir vár-ar
Accusative mín-a yð(va)r-a vár-a
Genitive min-na yð(v)ar-ra vár-ra
Dative mín-um yð(u)r-um vár-um


The comparative and superlative forms are formed by inserting -r- and -st- or -ar- and -ast- between the uninflected form of the adjective and a strong or weak ending.[V 4] In the strong adjectives, the definite and superlative are strong when indefinite, weak when definite. The comparatives are weak when both definite and indefinite, and are declined like the active participle. Some strong adjectives i-umlaut their root vowel in their comparatives and superlatives, so that stórt hús (a large house) becomes stœrst (a house most large). The past participles of weak verbs decline as strong adjectives.


As the definite article, hit appears before a definite adjective and suffixed to a noun.[V 16] Double definiteness occurs when hit/hinn/hin or the other definite article, þat/sá/sú, is used before a definite noun or adjective, e.g. "sá konungrinn," "inn hvíti."[20] This type of construction persists to some extent in all modern North Germanic languages, though not generally in Icelandic.[21][22][23][24][25] When suffixed, it gives the nouns pronominal declension (like itself). The h is always dropped, and the root i is replaced by any vowel at the end of the noun.[V 4] The expected dative plural *umnum is contracted to unum.[V 4] In other uses, it can appear before an adverb, after a pronoun, between two nouns, or between an adjective and a pronoun (including another adjective).[V 16]

The hit originally appeared always as a separate word, hit/hinn/hin, it/inn/in, or et/enn/en,[V 16] placed before or after a noun or adjective, with the /h/ elided due to the word appearing unstressed in most or all positions. In the late 14th century (particularly in Old Norwegian), an indeclinable form was popular, inu or hinu, but at no other time.[V 16]

A related word, hitt, should not be confused with hit, as they are distinct in meaning and stress, and in that the h can never be dropped from hitt.[V 17]

Hit and -it suffix nouns
  hit (the) hundrinn (the hound) eyrat (the ear)
Number Case Neut. Masc. Fem. Masc. Neut.
Singular Nominative hi-t hin-n hin hundr-inn eyra-t
Accusative hin-a hund-inn
Genitive hin-s hin-nar hunds-ins eyra-ns
Dative hin-u hin-um hin-ni hundi-num eyra-nu
Plural Nominative hin hin-ir hin-ar hundar-nir eyru-n
Accusative hin-a hunda-na
Genitive hin-na hunda-nna eyra-nna
Dative hin-um hundu-num eyru-num

Strong declension

Jarpt demonstrates the general case for declension. Gótt displays dental assimilation, while nekkvęrt demonstrates pronominal declension. The comparative and superlative follow the weak declension.

Strong Adjectival Declension
  jarpt (brown) gótt (good) nekkvęrt (indefinite pronoun)
Number Case Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine
Singular Nominative jarp-t jarp-r jǫrp gót-t góð-r góð nekkvęr-t nekkvęr-r nekkvęr
Accusative jarp-an jarp-a góð-an góð-a nękkvęr-n nekkvęr-a
Genitive jarp-s jarp-rar góð-s góð-rar nekkvęr-s nekkvęr-rar
Dative jǫrp-u jǫrp-um jarp-ri góð-u góð-um góð-ri nekkvęr-u nekkvęr-um nekkvęr-ri
Plural Nominative jǫrp jarp-ir jarp-ar góð góð-ir góð-ar nekkvęr nekkvęr-ir nekkvęr-ar
Accusative jarp-a góð-a nekkvęr-a
Genitive jarp-ra góð-ra nekkvęr-ra
Dative jǫrp-um góð-um nekkvęr-um

Weak declension and weak inflection of active participles

The singulars of the weak adjectival declension are modelled after those of the weak noun declensions (-an- and -on-stems), and likewise have a nominative-oblique case dynamic.

The active participle and comparative only have a weak declension and are in masculine and neuter modelled after the weak nouns with roots in -an-stems, but in feminine and plural modelled after the weak nouns with roots in -in-stems. The comparative form as in Latin, other Germanic languages etc. is also corresponding to the agent noun-ending, which in Old Norse has a weak declension with roots in -an-stem inflection as well.

The plurals are not distinguished in gender, nor in case except the dative.

Weak Adjectival Declension
  þriðja (third) Active participle Comparative
Number Case Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine
Singular Nominative þriði-a þrið-i þriði-a -and-a -and-i -and-i -(a)r-a -(a)r-i -(a)r-i
A., G., & D. þriði-a þriði-u -and-a -(a)r-a
Plural N., A., & G. þriði-u -and-i -(a)r-i
Dative þriði-um -ǫnd-um -(ǫ)r-um


The indeclinable adjectives end in -i, -a or -s. They are not comparable. They originated either from regular weak adjectives, with the different endings marking gender; or adjectives with a noun ending in genitive plural or singular, as they originally were nouns.


Eitt (one) follows the pronominal declension, and hundrað is a strong neuter noun.

Tvau, bæði, þrjú, and fjǫgur have only plural, and their declension is given below. The background of the inflection tveimr and þrimr in the dative case as seen below is the Proto-Germanic noun and adjective dative and instrumental plural ending -maz and -miz. Those endings are still used in contemporary Icelandic today. All other cardinal numbers are indeclinable.

The distributives and multiplicatives are all strong adjectives. The ordinals are weak, except for annat "the second", which is strong and fyrst "the first", which can be both.

Cardinal Numbers
  bæði (both) tvau (two) þrjú (three) fjǫgur (four)
Case Neut. Masc. Fem. Neut. Masc. Fem. Neut. Masc. Fem. Neut. Masc. Fem.
Nominative bæð-i báð-ir báð-ar tvau (tvǫ) tvei-r tvæ-r þri-ú þri-r þri-ár fjǫg-ur (fjug-ur) fjór-ir fjór-ar
Accusative báð-a tvá þri-á fjór-a
Genitive bę-ggja tvę-ggja þri-ggja fjǫg-urra
Dative báð-um tvei-m (tvei-mr) þri-m (þri-mr) fjór-um

See also

Footnotes and References



  1. ^ Old Norse for Beginners: Grammar Reference - Neuter nouns
  2. ^ Old Norse for Beginners: Grammar Reference - Feminine nouns
  3. ^ a b The Nordic Languages; 202. The typological development of the Nordic languages I: Phonology. 1. Proto-Nordic: 1853. 2. Common Nordic: 1855. 3. Old East Nordic: 1856, 1859. 4. Old West Nordic: 1859
  4. ^ a b c Sweet's Old Icelandic Primer
  5. ^ Beyond Weird: Hávamál Verse 85
  6. ^ UT Old Norse Online - Krause, Slocum - Lesson 1, 4.1. Strong Verb Classes
  7. ^ UT Old Norse Online - Krause, Slocum - Lesson 8, 36. The Seventh Strong Conjugation
  8. ^ Hákonar Saga Hákonarsonar. Snúa forms: vér snúim [...] gangim
  9. ^ Þorkelsson, Jón. Beyging sterka sagnorða islensku. Slá forms: Flá; flæ, flá; flǫ́m, flaem; fló, flœga; flógom, flœgem; flegenn
  10. ^ a b c Vigfússon, Powell; An Icelandic prose reader: with notes, grammar, and glossary; #: Chapter
  11. ^ a b c d e f A Grammar of Proto-Germanic; Winfred P. Lehmann, Jonathan Slocum, ed.; §III. Inflectional Morphology
  12. ^ a b A. J. Johnson Company, Johnson's Universal Cyclopedia: a New Edition, pgs. 336, 337, 338; 1895 D. Appleton and company & A. J. Johnson company
  13. ^ James Hadley, George Lyman Kittredge, A Brief History of the English Language, G. & C. Merriam co., 1913; General Features of the Teutonic Languages..., § 20. Voices, "But for this s the Old Norse has sk, which is plainly the reflexive pronoun sik (self, selves) shortened and added to the active verb."
  14. ^ E.g. Heusler, Andreas. 1962. Altisländisches Elementarbuch. Heidelberg. Paragraph 214. For more citations and discussion, see also [ The Germanic (i)jō-stem declension. Origin and development by Sverre Johnsen (2005, p.62)]
  15. ^ Iverson, Gregory K.; Salmons, Joseph C.; "The Conundrum of Old Norse Umlaut: Sound Change versus Crisis Analogy;" Journal of Germanic Linguistics (2004) 16.1 pp. 77–110
  16. ^ Etymology and cognates of the word "lie" in English.
  17. ^ Old Norse for Beginners Lesson 4
  18. ^ a b Zoëga's @ Norrœn Dýrð: Letter H
  19. ^ a b UT Old Norse Online Lesson 3
  20. ^ Jan Terje Faarlund, The syntax of Old Norse - Treating article + adjective as doubly definite
  21. ^ Strahan, Tania E. "Sjå på han mannen! On the definiteness and specificity of Scandinavian pronoun demonstratives," Nordic Journal of Linguistics, 2008, vol. 31, pp. 193-226
  22. ^ The Nordic languages - Ulf Teleman, The standard languages and their systems in the 20th century IV: Swedish
  23. ^ Determination and Double Definiteness in Faroese
  24. ^ Merete Anderssen, "The Acquisition of Compositional Definiteness in Norwegian," Working Papers on Language and Liguistics 34:3 (2007) pp. 252-75
  25. ^ Jorge Hankamer & Line Mikkelsen, "Definiteness marking and the structure of Danish pseudopartitives," Journal of Linguistics 44:2 (2008), pp. 317-346

Notes from Cleasby-Vigfússon:

  1. ^ References to words labelled heterogeneous in gender: Lilja-Linditre; Muna-Mundr
  2. ^ a b Formation by way of inflexions, Pages: 1; 2; 3
  3. ^ Adjectives, Remarks on the Weak Declension
  4. ^ a b c d e Remarks on the Adjectives: Page 1: Assimilation/Dropping; Page 2: Comparison, Definiteness
  5. ^ a b c Slá: skörungskapr-slá, slá-sléttr
  6. ^ a b Irregular Verbs; Page 1 - 1: The Verb Substantitive, 2: The Verbs with Present in Preterite Form, 3: The Verbs with the Preterite in -ra, 4: General Remarks on the Strong and the Irregular Verbs; Page 2 - 4: (cont.) General Remarks on the Strong and the Irregular Verbs, 5: Modern Changes
  7. ^ Snúa forms: Snúa, þeir snöri: snorri-snyðja; Kjósa, ek kjöra, kjörit/keyrit (alt. kosit), keyrinn (alt. kosinn): kitlur-kjósa; Frjósa, frjósanda: friðsæla-frost; Gnístan - goð quoth: at þú sitir mjótt ok gnúir saman lærum þínum
  8. ^ Slá forms: Outlines of Grammar - rýja-svimma; Þvá, þógum, þógut: þúsund-þvál; Flá, flegin: fjörgamall-fleinn
  9. ^ a b c Weak Verbs; #: Remarks on the #th Conjugation
  10. ^ a b Verbs §C.-E.; C.: Irregular Verbs, D.: Verbs with the Reflexive or Reciprocal Suffix, E.: Verbs with the Negative Suffix
  11. ^ a b c Strong Nouns, Pages: 1, 2, 3
  12. ^ Hęrr
  13. ^ Tré
  14. ^ a b c d e Weak Nouns; 1: Masculine, 2: Feminine: Remarks on the 1st Declension, 3: Remarks on the Indeclinable Feminine, 4: Neuter
  15. ^ Nokkurnig - Nema, "[...] but nekkvert, nokkvort, nokkurt (answering to hvert), as an adjective."
  16. ^ a b c d Hit/hinn/hin: Hillingar-Hinn; Hinn
  17. ^ Hitt/hinn/hin: Hinn; Hinn-Hitta

External links

  • Alaric's Magic Sheet paradigm chart.
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