Pronouns are a vital feature of all Indo-European languages. They allow efficient transmission and inclusion of known information within a sentence and conforming to the basic grammatic structures that define the language family (which, although bearing significant differences, are basically consistent across the group). Icelandic, thus, has a highly developed system of pronouns. While other aspects of the language can be radically different, in this respect Icelandic and English are fairly similar. Pronouns are inflected according to their function in the sentence, taking different forms depending on their relation to the verb and other nouns in the sentence. While it does not do so with nouns, English pronouns reflect a case system of Nominative, Genitive, and Accusative (or Oblique). Nominative pronouns, like I, he, who, and they serve as the subjects of sentences. Genitive pronouns like my, his, whose, and their, indicate possession. Accusative pronouns, like me, him, whom, and them, serve as the direct and indirection objects of sentences, as well as being used in prepositional phrases. The relative complexity of English pronouns in comparison to the simplicity of its nouns belies the language's roots as a much more highly inflected language, Old English.

Icelandic has a likewise inflected system of pronouns, however its history of grammatic conservatism from its Old Norse origins causes it to be somewhat more complex. Icelandic pronouns have Nominative, Genitive, Accusative, and Dative forms. There are also inflectionary systems of possessive and reflexive pronouns that extend through all four cases, much unlike English. In a rare reversal, however, the Icelandic relative pronoun is less flexible and inflected than its English counterparts.

Personal Pronouns

Icelandic personal pronouns are used in the same manner as their English counterparts, with minor idiomatic differences. One can even recognize phonetic similarities that illustrate the languages' shared Germanic origins; for example the similarities between mig and me, þú and thou, þeim and them. The existence of both Dative and Accusative pronouns reflects not only a distinction between the direct and indirect object that does not need to be supplied by word order as in English, but also a more specific preposition system. The overall usage of cases in Icelandic mirrors that of Icelandic nouns.

Icelandic Genitive personal pronouns are not used to show possession like their English counterparts in certain cases. The Genitives of first person singular (mín), second person singular (þín), third person reflexive singular (sín), and first person honorific plural (vor) are only used for prepositions which require nouns in the Genitive case and as objects of verbs. They have possessive pronoun counterparts which have their own whole declension system. The other Genitive pronouns are used for the full range of Genitive functions including possession. They usually follow the noun they possess, for example barnið hennar (her child), but the can precede the noun for stress purposes.

Gender in third person pronouns is important to note. Unlike English, Icelandic has a system of grammatical gender in which inanimate nouns may be feminine, masculine, or neuter. The pronouns by which these nouns are referenced must match in gender. Thus, bók (book), which is feminine, must be referred to using (she) instead of það (it). This can extend to nouns describing living things as well, which can be counterintuitive. For example, barn, child, is neuter, so it must be referred to with það.

Icelandic has a system of honorific plurals similar to those once possessed by English, but no longer used. The first person honorific plurals are only used in elevated writing style and give a sense of haughtiness, while the second person honorific plurals are still used in colloquial conversation. Like in French, German, Dutch, and Spanish, one addresses someone one does not know well or of significantly greater age than you with the honorific plurals. The system is less rigid than Germans du/Sie separation, however. Honorific plurals are the equivalent of addressing someone by hir title and last name in English, whereas standard second person pronouns are the equivalent of being on a first name basis.

This is actually a significant substitution, because Icelandic naming policy results in a system where people are rarely addressed by their last names alone (since last names are patronyms instead of surnames in all but a few historic holdovers from Danish), instead using the full name or just the first name. It is not insulting to address someone you do not know well, even an elder, by hir first name only.

The standard plurals for first and second person were in fact original duals, reserved for situations in which there were only two people. The honorific plurals referred to three or more. As Icelandic lost its dual class (a transformation English also underwent), the pronouns shifted alignment.

1st person

      Sg.   Pl.     H. Pl.
Nom.| ég  | við   | vér
Acc.| mig | okkur | oss
Dat.| mér | okkur | oss
Gen.| mín | okkar | vor
2nd person
      Sg.    Pl.     H. Pl.
Nom.| þú  | þið   | þér
Acc.| þig | ykkur | yður
Dat.| þér | ykkur | yður
Gen.| þín | ykkar | yðar
3rd person
Singular

      Masc.   Fem.     Neut.
Nom.| hann  | hún    | það
Acc.| hann  | hana   | það
Dat.| honum | henni  | því (þí)
Gen.| hans  | hennar | þess

Plural

      Masc.     Fem.     Neut.
Nom.| þeir   | þær    | þau (þaug)
Acc.| þá     | þær    | þau (þaug)
Dat.| þeim   | þeim   | þeim
Gen.| þeirra | þeirra | þerra

Reflexive Pronouns

These are used to refer to an object that is also the subject of a sentence, similar to its use in English. Many more verbs than in English require the reflexive pronoun in Icelandic, therefore it's a more important aspect of regular language. In the third person, the Genitive forms are used to designate an object possessed by the subject, as opposed to an object possessed by some other person. For example, in Hún tók hattinn sín (She took her hat), the woman is taking her own hat, whereas in Hún tók hattinn hennar (She took her hat), the woman is taking some other woman's hat. There are only separate reflexive forms in third person, the reflexive forms for second and first person are simply the Accusative, Dative, and Genitive cases.
      Sg.   Pl.
Nom.| --  | --
Acc.| sig | sig
Dat.| sér | sér
Gen.| sín | sín

Possessive Pronouns

While the Genitive case presents a relatively simple method of indicating possession for the second and third person, the first person is far more complicated. The unique possessive pronouns for first person behave more like Icelandic adjectives than nouns. They must match the noun that they possess in not only case and number, but also gender. Thus they have a complex declension system. They are not substituted for Genitive pronouns in prepositional phrases and as the objects of verbs. In the tables below, the second series of cases refers to the plural forms of those cases (in the case where the noun being possessed is plural instead of singular).
First person singular

      Masc.    Fem.     Neut.   
Nom.| minn   | mín    | mitt
Acc.| minn   | mína   | mitt
Dat.| mínnum | minni  | mínu
Gen.| míns   | minnar | míns
Nom.| mínir  | mínar  | mín 
Acc.| mína   | mínar  | mín 
Dat.| mínum  | mínum  | mínum 
Gen.| minna  | minna  | minna

First person honorable plural

      Masc.   Fem.     Neut.
Nom.| vor   | vor    | vort
Acc.| vorn  | vora   | vort
Dat.| vorum | vorri  | voru
Gen.| vors  | vorrar | vors
Nom.| vorir | vorar  | vor
Acc.| vora  | vorar  | vor
Dat.| vorum | vorum  | vorum
Gen.| vorra | vorra  | vorra

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns, like possessive pronouns, actually modify nouns. They usually don't stand alone. Thus, they have to match the inflections of the nouns they modify and will coincide in case, number, and gender. This is not such a foreign concept to English, as when using a demonstrative with a singular object we say this thing or that thing, but with plural objects the demonstrative pronoun inflects to these things or those things. There are three in Icelandic, which can translate as either this or that, þessi which translates as this here, and hinn which translates as that or that one. Hinn is also the masculine definite article and declines exactly the same (except that the Nominative and Accusative singular neuter forms are both hitt), so its declension is listed in Icelandic noun cases and declensions.

      Masc.     Fem.       Neut.
Nom.| sá     | sú      | það
Acc.| þann   | þá      | það
Dat.| þeim   | þeirri  | því (þí)
Gen.| þess   | þeirrar | þess
Nom.| þeir   | þær     | þau (þaug)
Acc.| þá     | þær     | þau (þaug)
Dat.| þeim   | þeim    | þeim
Gen.| þeirra | þeirra  | þeirra

&Thorn;essi

      Masc.       Fem.       Neut.
Nom.| þessi    | þessi    | þetta(ð)
Acc.| þenna(n) | þessa    | þetta(ð)
Dat.| þessum   | þessari  | þessu
Gen.| þessa    | þessarar | þessa
Nom.| þessir   | þessar   | þessi
Acc.| þessa    | þessar   | þessi
Dat.| þessum   | þessum   | þessum
Gen.| þessara  | þessara  | þessara

Relative Pronouns

The Icelandic relative pronouns buck the trend of complex inflection shown through the other classes of pronouns. They have only one form, the equivalent of which is that or which in English. They must begin a clause, and they can never be preceded by a preposition. The result of these limitations is that ending a clause with a preposition (for example, húsið, sem hann bjó í - The house that he lived in) is not only common, but in fact standard grammar in even in formal writing. Icelandic also does not differentiate between persons and inanimate objects, they're all covered under the same relative pronouns. The relative pronoun cannot be dropped from the clause as in English, and it must always be preceded by a comma (these two restrictions are standard in other Germanic languages). The colloquial relative pronoun is sem, it's colloquial written counterpart is er. and are literary and only used in certain idiomatic phrases.


Sources used:

Einarsson, Stefán. Icelandic. The Johns Hopkins Press: Baltimore, 1945.

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