The word „að ætla“ usually means “to intend, to plan to”. In old Icelandic it also had the alternative meaning of “to believe / to assume” which is today only used to say “I wonder if”. Students usually find it to be a bit counter-intuitive, but learning it well is worth it.
Have a look at this sentence:
- Ætli þú viljir koma í heimsókn?
Ætli is in the subjunctive form, showing that this is a hypothetical situation. Ætli therefore means “should it be assumed?” or “I wonder if?”. The sentence can be translated as any of the following:
- Should it be assumed that you want to come for a visit?
- Do you suppose you want to come over for a visit?
- I was wondering if you wanted to come over for a visit?
Using ætli in this way is quite common. It is a polite way to suggest something to someone, or a polite way to say “I wonder if?”. Instead of asking someone directly if they want something, we say that we were wondering if it should be assumed that they want something – it is therefore much less presumptuous and is useful when you don’t want to impose on someone else.
- Ætli kakan sé tilbúin? – I wonder if the cake is ready. / Do you suppose the cake is ready?
- Af hverju ætli hún sé í svona vondu skapi? – I wonder why she’s in such a bad mood.
- Ætli sundlaugin sé opin? – Do you suppose the pool is open?
- Ætli ég geti komið og sótt símann minn á eftir? – I was wondering if I could come and fetch my telephone later.
Ætli það ekki.
Related to the above, there also exists the possibility to ask questions with the word ekki, similar to the English:
- Wouldn’t you like to come?
- Wouldn’t that be nice?
- Don’t you think this is a bit much?
Certain sentences on this form (such as “Wouldn’t that be nice?”) are rhetorical questions that don’t require an answer.
Think a bit about what the difference between the following is:
- Ætli þú viljir koma í heimsókn?
- Ætli þú viljir ekki koma í heimsókn?
The difference is:
- Ætli þú viljir koma í heimsókn? – “I was wondering if you wanted to come over for a visit?”
- This is a polite, unassuming offer. It is rather timid. An emoji equivalent would be 🥺
- Ætli þú viljir ekki koma í heimsókn? – “Don’t you think you want to come over for a visit?”
- This is also polite, but it is more presumptuous (in a friendly manner) than the above. The default answer for the respondent is “yes”. Emoji equivalents would be 🤠😎
Sentences that use “ætli ... ekki” can mean any of the following:
- I guess that ...
- It’s likely that ...
- Don’t you think that ...
- Wouldn’t you ...
When used to mean “I guess that...”, it implies that you’re shrugging your shoulders, the tone is somewhat defeatist.
By far the most common sentence that uses this form is:
- Ætli það ekki. – “I guess so.”
It means “Should that not be assumed?”. This is a rhetorical question – the implied answer is “yes that should be assumed”. The sentence is therefore an implied statement of fact, and the meaning of the sentence is “I guess so.”
- Hvar er Gísli? – Ætli hann sé ekki enn úti með hundinn.
- Where is Gísli? – I guess he’s still outside with the dog.
- Ætli það væri ekki ódýrara að kaupa árskort? – Jú, örugglega.
- Wouldn’t you assume that it would be cheaper to buy a year’s pass? – Yes, probably.
Exercise – Translate from English to Icelandic
I was wondering if there was some space in your car.
Don’t you think we can borrow her car?
I guess so.
When do you think the movie starts?
I’m thinking about going downtown later.
Well then, I guess I’ll show up tomorrow.
I guess the cake is ready.
I wonder if the cake is ready.
Has anyone here encountered my phone?
I guess that will have to wait until a later time.
I was wondering if you wanted to come over for a visit.
Do you think that you might have gotten a fever, by any chance?
I reckon that you’ve just gotten a fever.
Do you suppose the pool is open?
I was wondering if I could come and fetch my telephone later.
I can probably come and fetch my telephone later.
I was wondering if you were free tomorrow.
Do you think they’re still mad at us?
Don’t you think they’re still mad at us?
Which of the two would you like, an apple or an orange?