Level B1
The present participle (lýsingarháttur nútíðar) is a verb form that describes something that is continually happening. This verb form is relatively rare – in almost all cases it’s better to just use a simpler phrase. It is however one of the easiest verb forms to remember because it never changes forms – it looks the same for everyone.
In English, the present participle looks like “singing” but in Icelandic it looks like “syngjandi”. Let’s look at the two possible translations of the sentence “He is singing”:
  • You can use a regular infinitive form with: Hann er að syngja. This is by far the most common way of translating this. It indicates that the person is singing at this moment.
  • You can use the present participle: Hann er syngjandi. This is much less common. Just like the above, it also indicates the person is singing at this moment but it frames it more like something that is currently happening right this moment but will also be continuing to happen the next second. However, it’s much better to just use “er að syngja” instead.
Cases where the present participle works include:
  • Talandi um það, sástu Gunnar í gær? (Speaking of that, did you see Gunnar yesterday?)
  • Haha sástu GIF-ið af dansandi kettinum?[1] (Haha did you see the GIF of the dancing cat?)
  • Hverjir eru þessir menn sem eru þarna standandi fyrir utan? (Who are these men standing outside?)
  • Ég er vinnandi allar helgar. (I’m working all weekends). “Er að vinna” would also have worked just as well in this context.
  • Ég mæti hjólandi. (I’ll show up bicycling / on a bicycle)

It is much more common that you will see a word that looks exactly like a present participle but is actually considered to be an undeclinable adjective or adverb. You can clearly see that these were originally verbs, but that they have taken on another purpose, they are just describing something but not indicating that something is continually happening. The following are adjectives:
  • Ertu enn smitandi? (Are you still contagious?)
  • Þetta er mjög spennandi. (This is very exciting)
  • Bróðir þinn er pirrandi. (Your brother is annoying)
And these are adverbs:
  • Vonandi kemst ég. (I’ll hopefully be able to come)
  • Það var óviljandi. (It was unintentional)
These are nouns:
  • Ég er nemandi. (I am a student) The word “student” comes directly from “studying”.
  • Hann er eigandi fyrirtækisins. (He is the owner of the company). The word “owner” comes directly from “owning”.