Icelandic: Strange use of Hvert!

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by ShakeyX, Jul 7, 2013.

  1. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    So I was watching simpsons with icelandic subtitles. Mr. Burns was trying to withdraw some money from an ATM and says...

    Hvert er lykilorðið mitt?

    I've never seen it used like this, why not Hvað? as the normal... mmm question pronoun (not sure of the proper word)

  2. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Hvað is a normal interrogative pronoun (that's the word you were looking for) when it's not restricted to / linked by another specific noun.
    When it is linked to a specific noun, you need to make it link in gender and number with the original hver.
    Hvað comes from hver, it's the default neuter form (notice there are two) and used in a general sense when there is no need to have agreement.

    Now, lykilorð is a neuter word so you need to pick hvert in this case.
    In the same respects, you use hver for masculine and feminine nouns -> Hver er niðurstaðan? (What's the result?) / hver er maðurinn? (What is the man?)
    Note that we'd translate that final 'what' as 'who' in English. Icelandic covers both meanings with 'hver'.

    You also have it agree in the plural, too.

    Hverjar eru líkurnar á að...? (What's the likliehood that...?)
    Hverjir eru kostirnir og gallarnir? (What are the pros and cons?)
    Hver eru tengslin? (What are the links?)

    So, when you've got a noun to link to, you make it agree in all the usual ways you need to.
    When you don't have that (which is the majority of the time) you use the more independent neuter form of hver, which is hvað.
  3. ShakeyX Senior Member

    British English
    But surely by that logic Hvað er þetta? should become Hvert er þetta? but I've never seen it used like that before.

    Is it then only if it is linked to something that is a known object and it's sex happens to still be neutral?
  4. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Well, the fact is that þetta in that sense is still a default unknown thing (and is a pronoun not a noun referring to anything meaningful).
    If you are asking the question 'What is it?' then that's showing you don't know what the thing is, so you can't know the gender of it to make agreement.
    -> Hence default uses.

    If you add a noun in and say "What is this thing?" where thing (hlutur) is masculine, it becomes: hver er þessi hlutur?
    You'd be much more likely, however, to just say: hvað er þetta? though.

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