Nouns, adjectives, and pronouns all change their form depending on what’s happening to them in a sentence. There are four such cases in Icelandic:
- The first case is the nominative case (nefnifall, nf.). It indicates being. The main word of the sentence is usually always in this case.
- The second case is the accusative case (þolfall, þf.). It indicates suffering.
- The third case is the dative case (þágufall, þgf.). It indicates having. It shows that the word has something or is being given something.
- The fourth case is the genitive case (eignarfall, ef.). It indicates belonging, showing that the word belongs to something.
These cases are always shown in the same order, and you should follow this order when studying words. (If you have studied languages such as German, Latin, or Russian, note that they use a different order for their cases).[a]
Some words, like “lamb”, don’t change that much:
But other words, like “cat”, change a lot:
The nominative case (the first case) is the default case and is the one that is shown in dictionaries.
Comparison to English
The Icelandic cases can be compared to the different forms that English pronouns have. In the sentence “He took his book with him”, the word “he” appears three times, but is different each time, indicating what function the word has in the sentence. “He” is analogous to the nominative case (the first case), “him” is analogous to both the accusative (the second case) and the dative (the third case), and “his” is analogous to the genitive case (the fourth case).