Icelandic: Við búum í rauninni ekki yfir tæknigetu.


Senior Member
English - USA
I came across this sentence "Við búum í rauninni ekki yfir tæknigetu" in Richards, Olly. Short Stories in Icelandic for Beginners (Teach Yourself) (p. 177). John Murray Press. Kindle Edition.

According to Google Translate, it can be rendered in English as, "We don't really have the technical capability."

I'm guessing there is some idiomatic usage of að búa that supports this.

Is that about right? And would the transliteration here be "We don't really live above the..."?

Thanks in advance!
  • "Búa yfir" is a phrasal verb which means "have (abstract things)". "Búa" on its own can mean "live, have a home" or "have a farm".

    A better translation of the whole sentence is "We don't really have (a) technical capability" unless it continuous something like "til að ..." in which case the English sentence needs the definite article.
    Can the "til að" be implied by the context? Here is the paragraph in which the sentence appears:

    „Mér þykir það virkilega leitt, Aðalheiður,“ byrjar Anton. „En við munum ekki geta unnið verkefnið. Það kostar of mikið. Þetta er risastór fjárfesting. Og nethugbúnaðargerðin er mjög framsækin. Við búum í rauninni ekki yfir tæknigetu.“

    Richards, Olly. Short Stories in Icelandic for Beginners (Teach Yourself) (p. 177). John Murray Press. Kindle Edition.

    So the idea here is that they don't have the technical capability to do the job being discussed, so the "til að" is implied by the context, and so the definite article would be required in the English.

    Does that sound about right?
    It does. Without context the translation is better without the article, with the context it is needed. Continuing the sentence was just the simplest context I could think of which would include the definite article in English.
    It occurs to me that the English idiom "sitting on", might be a good way to translate "búa yfir" in some contexts, though not the one that starts this thread, where I agree that "have (abstract things)" seems to work best, or maybe "possess (abstract things)".

    The following examples come from the entry for "búa yfir" in the online Íslensk Orðabók.

    að búa yfir leyndarmáli - to sit on a secret

    hann býr yfir mikilli þekkingu - he sits on a great deal of knowledge

    I like it because I think the transliteration of "búa yfir" is "live over" and "sit on" expresses a similar relation.

    I guess my main question here is about whether I'm correctly transliterating "búa yfir". Or is there some other nuance?
    I think this a good transliteration of the Icelandic phrase, but I might not know the nuances of the English phrase well enough to know if they are the same as the nuances of the Icelandic phrase.
    How might you describe the nuances in Icelandic? I think in English, there is a suggestion that whatever is being sat on is not generally known, but is somehow a bit of a secret, known mainly by the one sitting on in it. So, "sitting on a secret" would be the most obvious expression of this, but "sitting on a great deal of knowledge" also has this suggestion, the idea being that the knowledge is not generally available to others.