Level A1

Introduction to cases

Nouns, adjectives, and pronouns change their form depending on what’s happening to them in a sentence. There are four such cases in Icelandic. In this chapter we’ll have a look at the first two cases of one common pattern – the “mamma” pattern.
The nominative case (the first case)[a] is used when the word is the main word in the sentence[b] or when we’re describing something as being.
The accusative case (the second case)[c] indicates that the word is having something done to it. As a general rule, you should use this case if there’s a verb that describes what’s happening to it. A major exception is that “to be” causes the first case.
Comparing the above to English: In the sentence “she took her”, both “she” and “her” are the same word but have different forms to indicate what is happening to it. “She” is the subject of the sentence and would therefore use the Icelandic first case, while “her” is the object of the sentence and would use the Icelandic second case in this context.
This website uses the terms first, second and so on for simplicity’s sake since the four cases are always shown in the same order. All other resources use the actual grammatical terms of the cases.

The “mamma” pattern

There are about 22 basic declension patterns for nouns, out of which five patterns are the most important.
When studying the cases you always have to use helper words to force the word into the correct case. “Hér er” (meaning here is) forces a word into the first case, and “um” (meaning about) forces a word into the second case.
The first two cases of “kona” (a woman) are:[d]
  • hér er kona, um konu
All feminine nouns that end in “-a” (such as “mamma”)[e] follow this pattern. Other examples are:
  • hér er pítsa, um pítsu
  • hér er íslenska, um íslensku
Examples of usage:
  • Pítsa er góð. (Pizza is good. ) – We use the first case since it’s the main word of the sentence.
  • Ég borða pítsu. (I eat pizza.) – The verb “að borða” describes what is happening to the pizza. The pizza is the object of the sentence.
  • Íslenska er falleg. (Icelandic is beautiful.) – First case since it’s the main word.
  • Ég kann íslensku. (I know Icelandic.) – It’s the object of the sentence and the verb “að kunna” applies to it.
  • Ég á konu. (I have a wife.) – Kona is the object of the sentence and the verb “að eiga” applies to it.