Icelandic Verbs: Past Tense

Past Tense of Icelandic Verbs

Conjugations of weak and strong verbs

In Icelandic, verbs can be either strong or weak. Strong verbs form their past tense with a vowel shift (an English example: take becomes took). Weak verbs add an ending to show their past tense (English example: talk becomes talked). There is no way of telling if a verb is strong or weak. This is learned through usage. To form a weak past tense, simply take the infinitive and remove the last letter (with the exception of a group verbs which keep the a) and add the appropriate ending:

-ði 
Ég ætlaði

-ðir 
Þú ætlaðir

-ði 
Hún ætlaði

-ðum 
Við ætluðum (ö shift)

-ðuð 
Þið ætluðuð (ö shift)

-ðu 
Þær ætluðu (ö shift)

If the stem of the verb ends in –s or -t, the ð becomes t. If the stem ends in -l, -m or –n, the ð will change to d. If the stem ends in –ð do not add the extra ð. In weak verbs, there is also a stem vowel shift. E goes to a and y goes to u. Similarly, ý goes to ú.

The past tense of strong verbs are formed with a vowel shift, with only a few forms taking an ending as well. The shift changes are different for singular and plural forms.

stem vowel singular plural example
Í ei i Bíða beið biðum
Jó jú ú au u Fljúga flaug flugum
E a u Drekka drakk drukkum
E a á Gefa gaf gáfum
I a u Finna fan fundum
I a á Sitja sat sátum
a ó ó Fara fór fórum
A é é Falla fell féllum
Á é é Láta lét létum
Ei é é Heita hét héyum
Au u Hlaupa hljóp hlupum

The endings are easy to remember, but the plural ending may trigger ö shift:

Ég (no ending)

Þú –st

Hann, Hún, Það (no ending)

Við –um

Þið –uð

Þeir, Þær, Þau –u

An example: Lesa – read

Ég las

Þú last

Hann, Hún, Það las

Við buðum

Þið buðuð

Þeir, Þær, Þau buðu




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Dr. Jennifer Wagner

PhD in Applied Linguistics, ESL/French teacher, author of two French books, and helping others to learn languages online at ielanguages.com.