Icelandic: "Síðan" or "þá" to mean "then"

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by Septembers, Mar 12, 2013.

  1. Septembers New Member

    American English

    I have recently begun to learn Icelandic. I have noticed that the words "síðan" and "þá" can both be used to mean "then", but I'm not sure what the difference is. I know that "síðan" also means "since" and that "þá" is also a pronoun. My best guess is that one is used in the past tense and one is used in the present. My second-best guess is that the words are interchangeable.
    I would really appreciate an explanation of this, and an example of two sentences where the words would be used.

    Thank you!
  2. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Hi Septembers,

    Well, try to think of the difference as one being a more general word and another a bit more specific meaning "and then".
    Síðan (and English 'since' which came out of the word sithenes) originally come from síð ðan which means 'after that' and you still have the adverb síð in Icelandic to mean late which is semantically similar. So, when you're telling a story or reporting something and you come to a sequence of events, then síðan is what you want to use.

    Þá on the other hand, can be confusing because it's part of the plural masculine pronoun (plural accusative) and the accusative singular determiner for feminine nouns, but if you see the word and can rule out this meaning (it does come with practice) then you've got a more general sort of 'then'. Let's say you want to set up a hypothetical scenario and you want to say "at that specific time/on that specific condition...THEN" is where you would use þá - and also in many other ways.

    The best way I'd suggest learning these two words with such a translation, is to treat þá as the default and restrict síðan to talking about consequential actions. Note that you can use þá in the same way as síðan. They're not mutually exclusive in this regard (in the meaning of 'then'). Here are two example sentences to hopefully give a better impression of what I mean:

    Ég vaknaði um morguninn og fékk mér morgunmat síðan fór ég og tannburstaði mig síðan fór ég í skólann.
    I woke up in the morning and had breakfast then I brushed my teeth then I went to school.

    Ef ég er sofandi, þá er ég með augun lokuð.
    If I am sleeping, then my eyes are closed.

    So, you can see one can be more of a theoretical 'then', on the basis of something happening, which is basically one of the many ways it can be used (really quite similar to how we use it in English) and the first one is a description of events, not 'really' compatible with the sort of hypotheticals where you would use þá. If in doubt, use þá - more than often you'll be right. If you see "síðan þá" it will be 'since then'. So if you wanted translate: "What's that then?" - you know that it couldn't be síðan because it's not a description of ongoing actions, it'd be - Hvað er það þá?
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2013
  3. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hi Alxmrphi,

    Thanks for taking the time to write this explanation. I'm curious about one of the terms you used:

    When you say "consequential", do you mean "causally connected (to a previous action)"? I ask because your example sentence with síðan seems more like an example of actions that follow one another without being causally connected:

    I think I would use a term like "successive" or "subsequent" to describe this chain of actions.

    On the other hand, "consequent(ial)" seems like an appropriate word to describe your sentence with þá, since "ég er með augun lokuð" follows from "ég er sofandi".
  4. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Oops! For síðan I meant to write sequential, not con-sequential.
    Thanks for picking up on that.
  5. Septembers New Member

    American English
    Thank you so much for helping! That was exactly what I needed to know. :)

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