Icelandic Phrases for Travelers

People walking past a store front, Reykjavik, Iceland

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There is virtually no language barrier for English-speaking visitors to Iceland. Icelandic business executives and government officials are fluent in English and almost all Icelanders speak English to some degree. However, if you want to flatter some Icelanders with a modest attempt at a few words, check out the following common words you might want to use or need on your trip.

Before You Begin

Icelandic is a Germanic language, like other Scandinavian languages, and is closely related to Norwegian and Faroese. Icelandic is more distantly related to German, Dutch, and English. As it shares ancestry with English, there are many cognate words in both languages; which means each has the same or similar meaning and are derived from a common root. The possessive, though not the plural, of a noun, is often signified with the ending -s, as in English.

The vast majority of Icelandic speakers—about 320,000—live in Iceland. More than 8,000 Icelandic speakers live in Denmark. The language is also spoken by about 5,000 people in the United States and by more than 1,400 people in Canada. 

Pronunciation Guide

When trying to pronounce words in Icelandic, some knowledge of a Scandinavian language is useful. Compared to English, the vowels are different, however, most consonants are pronounced similar to English.

The Icelandic alphabet has kept two old letters which no longer exist in the English alphabet: Þ, þ (þorn, modern English "thorn") and Ð, ð (eð, anglicised as "eth" or "edh"), representing the voiceless and voiced "th" sounds (as in English "thin" and "this"), respectively. Below is a guide to pronunciation. 

Letter Pronunciation in English
A "a" sound in father
E "e" sound in bed
I, Y "i" sound in little
U "ü" sound in German für or "u" sound in French tu
Æ "æ" sound in eye
ö "ö" sound in German höher or "eu" sound in French neuf
ð "th" sound in weather (voiced th)
þ "th" sound in thord (unvoiced th)

Common Words and Greetings

Iceland is not a society with many cultural rules, and Icelanders are generally informal with each other even in a business setting. That said, here are some common words any "Outlander" might want to learn:

English Word/Phrase Icelandic Word/Phrase
Yes
No Nei
Thank you Takk
Thank you very much Takk fyrir
You're welcome þú ert velkominn/Gerðu svo vel
Please Vinsamlegast/Takk
Excuse me Fyrirgefðu
Hello Halló/Góðan daginn
Goodbye Bless
What is your name? Hvað heitir þú?
Nice to meet you Gaman að kynnast þér
How are you? vernig hefur þú það?
Good Góður/Góð (male/fem.)
Bad Vondur/Vond (male/fem.)

Words for Getting

Renting a car to see the land is a popular way to sightsee. However, do not drive recklessly or show off your driving skills. The locals will not be impressed. Also, do not drive too slowly as this can also create a dangerous situation. And whatever you do, do not stop in the middle of the road if you want to take a picture. Pull over first.

English Word/Phrase Icelandic Word/Phrase
Where is ...? Hvor er ...?
One ticket to ..., please Einn miða til ..., (takk fyrir).
Where are you going? Hvert ertu að fara?
Bus Strætisvagn
Bus station Umferðarmiðstöð
Airport Flugvöllur
Departure Brottför
Arrival Koma
Car rental agency Bílaleiga
Hotel Hótel
Room Herbergi
Reservation Bókun

Spending Money

Instead of a generic Iceland mug or t-shirt, a nice souvenir from Iceland could be hand-hewn volcanic rock jewelry or a bottle of Brennivin hard liquor. Also, keep in mind that tipping in Iceland is not expected and in some cases can be insulting. Service is factored into the cost already.

English Word/Phrase Icelandic Word/Phrase
How much does this cost? Hvað kostar þetta (mikið)
Open Opið
Closed Lokað
I would like to buy ... Ég mundi vilja kaupa ...
Do you accept credit cards? Takið þið við krítarkortum?
One einn
Two tveir
Three þrír
Four fjórir
Five fimm
Six sex
Seven sjö
Eight átta
Nine níu
Ten tíu
zero núll
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