A QUICK LIST OF TOP ICELANDIC PHRASES YOU’LL NEED TO THRIVE DURING YOUR TRAVELS IN ICELAND. FROM JÁ TO ÞETTA REDDAST TO FRÁBÆRT, WE HAVE ’EM ALL!
Roughly: got-than dai-yinn.
Make sure you pronounce the eth letter, ð, as a softly voiced th. The ever-useful Góðan daginn is literally “good day,” and is the standard greeting all over Iceland. The response is typically Góðan dag—but don’t ask anyone why, nobody knows. If you’re on closer terms with someone, say a friend or classmate, you’ll encounter the more common Saell (to a man) or Sael (to a woman).
HVAÐ HEITIR ÞÚ? ÉG HEITI…
Roughly: Kvath heit-eer thu? Yeh hei-tee
“What’s your name?” or the more archaic and epic-sounding phrase, “What are you called?” And its answer: “I’m called…” An Icelander will usually respond with their first name, and occasionally the last name. Icelanders tend to be rather informal, so they call each other by first name in almost any situation—work, dentist’s office, university.
GAMAN AÐ KYNNAST ÞIG / GAMAN AÐ HITTA ÞIG
Roughly: gah-man ath kyn-nast thig / gah-man ath hih-ta thig
After you just meet someone and introduced yourself, follow up with the gold standard phrase Gaman að kynnast þig: “Good to meet you.” If you bumped into someone you already know at the supermarket, though, use the more familiar Gaman að hitta þig. It basically has the same meaning, except the word hitta is “to meet [up]” with the connotation that you already know the person.
Roughly: Tahk fir-ir
This phrase literally means “Thanks for,” and is the most common way to thank someone. You’ll hear it often in the store and on the street. Be sure to add a breath in the takk, like tahhkk. There’s also the more informal takk and the more formalÞakka þér fyrir.
JÁ / NEI
Roughly: jaow / nei
The go-to Yes and No. Icelanders love to say the word já and you’ll hear it just about everywhere. If you really want to sound Icelandic, suck in your breath while you say it. When you’re asking a negative question, use the mutated form Jú. Nei is, simply, “no,” but you can lengthen the word to add emphasis: neiiii.
Gjörðu svo vel
Roughly: Gyur-thu svo vel.
Literally it means “Give you so well,” but to all laymen out there, it’s simply “Here you go.” This phrase I use almost daily in Iceland—when I hand popcorn to my friend or a book to a classmate. This is what a waiter will tell you as he puts down his plate. If you’re talking to more than one person: gerið þið svo vel.
Roughly: Thehh-ta red-ast
An oft-cited phrase, þetta reddast is difficult to translate exactly. The closest definition may be, “It’ll all work out,” and comes straight to the heart of Icelanders. Life (and the weather) can be rough on this small island, where few crops grow and rainfall is a daily occurrence. But rest assured knowing that, despite the difficulties, things will always work out in the end. It’s become such a symbol that some locals (and foreigners!) have it tattooed onto their arms.
ÉG ÆTLA AÐ FÁ…
Roughly: yeh ait-la ath fao
This phrase is useful all around Reykjavik, and you’ll need it in bakeries, restaurants, cafes, pretty much every place with a menu. It means literally “I intend to take…” and gives a clue into the often direct culture of Icelanders. Locals don’t bother with such pansy sentences like “Could I have…?” They jump right in with the taking—that is, if there is payment involved. Of course, you wouldn’t say Ég ætla að fá…if you’re going to get something for free, like a library book or a gift. That would just be rude.
ÉG TALA EKKI ÍSLENSKU
Roughly: yeh ta-la eh-ki ees-lens-ku
Arguably the first sentence a foreigner learns in Icelandic is Ég tala ekki íslensku, which means literally, “I don’t speak Icelandic.” It became so common that Icelanders jokingly printed the phrase on T-shirts, mugs, and all sorts of souvenirs on Laugavegur streets. After this article, however, hopefully you’ll be able to try out a variant: Ég tala ekki íslensku svo vel, meaning “I don’t speak Icelandic very well.”
ÉG ELSKA ÞIG
Roughly: yeh el-ska thig
If you’re lucky on your travels to Iceland, you may find this phrase useful. Ég elska þig, is quite literally “I love you.” Follow up with a ég sakna þin“I miss you” to amp up the romance,and throw in ÁstinorElskan(“beloved”) for good measure.
HVAÐ KOSTAR ÞAÐ?
Roughly: kvath ko-star thath?
There’s no culture of bargaining in Iceland—what you see is what you get. If you want to ask the price for something, you’ll want to try this phrase: “How much does cost?” Það is a tricky one for first-time learners. Make sure you pronounce the þ as an “th” unvoiced, and the ð as a “th” voiced. This sentence becomes quite useful in flea markets especially, when the price isn’t always immediately apparent.
BLESS BLESS / SJÁUMST
Roughly: bless bless / see-owmst
Saying goodbye in Icelandic is usually a bless bless, which comes from the formal vertu blessaður (to a man) vertu blessuð (to a woman). The phrases date back to older Christian days, when it was common to see someone off with a blessing. If you’re talking to your peers, classmates or coworkers, a simple sjáumst(see you) will do.
TAKK FYRIR SÍÐAST
Roughly: tahk fir-ir see-thast
Say you meet up with a friend after a wild night of partying, or a simple dinner gathering. Customarily, Icelanders whip up this sentence: takk fyrir síðast, literally, “thanks for last [time].”
FRÁBÆRT / FLOTT / FÍNT
Roughly: fraow-baert / flohtt / feent
These three words you use quite often in Icelandic—and they all mean “great” or “wonderful” or “nice.”But while Frábærtis closer to “awesome,” with a burst of emphasis, flott andfínt have a calmer feeling. Got an ‘A’ on your language test? Frábært! Caught the latest Marvel movie? Flott!
PHRASE JUST FOR FUN: ÁFRAM MEÐ SMJÖRIÐ
Roughly: aow-vram meth smee-ur-ith
Icelandic has loads of colloquials and fun turns of phrase, which usually speak somehow to the culture or the weather. This particular sentence literally means “on with the butter,” but is an idiom to say: “move your butt, stop dilly-dallying, carry on!”
Frábært! Nú talar þú smá íslensku!
Takk fyrir, Bless bless!
Do you think you’ll give the Icelandic language a shot while you’re traveling? If so, good on ya! If not, I totally get it!
Free Roamer & Travel Writer Extraordinaire