Icelandic: hefði getað verið ég

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by ShakeyX, Jul 20, 2013.

  1. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    „Trayvon Martin hefði getað verið ég,“ sagði Barack Obama Bandaríkjaforseti á blaðamannafundi í dag."

    Just reading this online and the sentence seems very odd to me.

    Hefði (past subjunctive of hafa)
    getað (sagnbót, I guess it could be getið also)
    verið (sagnbót, been)
    ég me.

    I know the english is going to be (...could of been me) but I was just looking for some reasoning behind the construction... Would have - Could - Been - Me..?

    Finding it difficult to understand
  2. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Think of it like this:

    Hefði verið ég - Would have been me

    What you need here is to add the nuance of 'could' and for this you need 'geta'.
    So, you put 'geta' (getað) in, and it'd be in the sagnbót form, correct, because it's after hefði.
    Then if it was any other verb this would mean verið goes back to the infinitive.
    BUT, you know that geta has its complement in the sagnbót also.
    So, it remains as it is.

    It is possible to switch the order around and say "getur hafa verið ég" but this type of usage is more for when you want to say 'could have' where you're deducing a possibility, while the other way is more generalised and in this case it's completely devoid of deduction of possibility so the "hafa+geta+supine" form is used.

    Please also note it's never could of although it sounds the same.

    If I could only express right now how insane this construction made me feel when learning. It was one of the most annoying, frustrating, mind-boggling struggles I came across.
    Now, it's so simple that I don't know why it was ever a problem. I guess that's what happens when things have logic, but coming to get used to it, it really was the bane of my life for a good few weeks. So, if you find yourself feeling that way, know I had the same problem. Then again, I had no one to explain to me really so I hope it's easier for you. That's the good thing about pooling together experiences in this forum, though.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2013
  3. Silver_Biscuit

    Silver_Biscuit Senior Member

    English - UK
    I didn't even know you could say "geta hafa verið" (wouldn't it have to be "geta haft verið" though?), I'm so used to it being the "wrong" way round! :)

    Another phrase that is just the same and you should also watch out for is "should have". Icelandic puts the verbs the "wrong" way round for this as well, so "I should have gone to the party" is "Ég hefði átt að fara í partýið" and not "Ég ætti að hafa farið í partýið", which is what you'd expect as a native English speaker.
  4. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    It's odd, isn't it!
    Yeah, it's believed to be a standardised innovation modelled on kunna (hann kann að hafa...) but the logic of following supine form would lead anyone to presume 'geta haft'.
    BUT in fact, interestingly, a new supine form of hafa has been reported in the last few years specifically relating to this new modelling of 'geta hafa' directly because of native speakers' temptation to have some sort of supine form but it's not haft - rather hafað. If anything, this is just a perfect example of how languages are constantly figuring out ways to change and conform/break from their historical roots. And then all the caveats that come with innovation (initial prescriptive abhorrence) but descriptively speaking, these things are happening.
    It's probably best to stick to teaching standard forms to new learners, though.

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