Icelandic: "Adjectives have fixed gender"


Adjectives can be tricky to master but once you are familiar with them, they are very easy to form. Adjectives always come before the noun they qualify. Adjectives have fixed gender. This means that if someone was to say they are weak they would say “ég er slappur” despite the gender of the speaker. However, when qualifying a noun, the gender changes to match that of the noun.
This is the beginning of the lesson found on ielanguages. There are certain parts that I don't understand, I have put them in bold.

  • Adjectives have fixed gender: What does that really mean? Does it imply that slappur is a masculine adjective, always be masculine when describing a person? I did not even know adjectives had a gender.
  • Ég er slappur: So this works for both males and females? And if we wanted to use langur: Ég er langur/löng/langt? How to know which one of the three to use?
  • Despite the gender of the speaker: Are there any occasions where these fixed-gender adjectives are used, other than when describing a speaker?
Thank you!
  • Silver_Biscuit

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    This explanation is poorly written and completely inaccurate. No wonder it has confused you!

    Adjectives in Icelandic don't really have a gender themselves, but most of them do change depending on the gender of the noun(s) they qualify. 'Ég er slappur' only works if you are male. If you are female you say 'Ég er slöpp'. In everyday conversation, this means more 'I am ill' rather than 'I am weak'.

    It doesn't depend on the speaker of course when the adjective is qualifying something else, e.g. you would say 'þessi maður er slappur' whether you personally are male or female.

    There are some adjectives that are 'fixed' and do not decline, mostly I think those that correspond to '-ing' adjectives in English, e.g. gangandi (walking) and loan words / slang such as kúl (cool). There are probably more examples, but most adjectives are not fixed.


    Senior Member
    British English (Yorkshire)
    Hello Silver_Biscuit.
    I hope you don't mind if I ask you directly for more help with adjectives and adjectival phrases. I have just ploughed through some rather confusing posts, namely one about adjectives versus past participles (I think!) and it hasn't helped.
    I would like to know how to use adjectives (lýsingarorð) as opposed to participles (sagnorð í lýsingarhætti).
    I know I can't ask for a whole tutorial here, but I'd be grateful if you could direct me to a web page or a decent grammar book (in English or Icelandic) where I can find a clear explanation. Thank you.


    Senior Member
    Icelandic & Swedish
    I’m not familiar with any book or webpage that explains this thoroughly, but it will be easier to help if you tell us a little bit more about what you have difficulty with. Are you mainly thinking about how to decide whether a specific participle can be used as an adjective?


    Senior Member
    British English (Yorkshire)
    Thank you for your reply. I am doing an exercise in Icelandic Online where we are asked to give noun and adjectival forms of verbs. The nouns are straight forward, but in the last column sometimes an adjective is needed, sometimes a participle (lysingarhattur).I have found pages that explain the participles and I think I understand how to use them, but I don't understand how to choose an adjective as opposed to a participle in the exercise.
    The exercise is here:
    "Orðmyndun" :

    I don't understand this part: sagnorð í lýsingarhætti eða lýsingarorð (í réttu kyni)

    Is it just a question of vocabulary, or a question of voice... or something else? Thank you. :)


    Senior Member
    Icelandic & Swedish
    I understand your problem better now. The thing is that each of the blanks in the last column can be filled with only one specific word, so it’s not like there is a choice in each case between either an adjective or a participle.

    With the exception of breiður, each word to be inserted is the past participle of the corresponding verb in the first column, but some of these participles have transitioned to being used also as adjectives. The way I see it, if a (former or current) past participle can form a comparative and a superlative, it is now (also) an adjective. For example, grýttur forms the comparative grýttari and the superlative grýttastur, while the forms *kosnari and *kosnastur (from kosinn) do not exist.

    It’s no coincidence that past participles that form comparatives and superlatives are normally listed as separated dictionary entries and classified as ‘adjectives’, while those without a comparative or superlative are not. However, based on other criteria, all of these words are sometimes classified as adjectives (see, for example, Beygingarlýsing íslensks nútímamáls).
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