/ Icelandic

Icelandic: Contractions

Today I learned how to build contracted forms when using the pronoun þú. These contractions in Icelandic are used when forming questions.

There are two simple rules to follow where þú is either reduced to -ðu or just -u.

  • Verbs ending with an r get -ðu
  • Verbs ending with ð or t get -u

Examples:

  • Hvað heitir þú? (What is your name?) becomes Hvað heitirðu?
  • Hvaðan ert þú (Where are you from?) becomes Hvaðan ertu?.

I later realized that we do something very similar in some parts of Germany (Hessian and Swabian dialect come to mind) when we contract du (engl. "you", informal), er/sie (engl. "he/she"), es (engl. "it"), wir (engl. "we") and Sie (engl. "you", formal or engl. "they") into the preceding verb.

Here are the rules for German:

  • Verb + du -> Verb + e
  • Verb + er -> Verb + er
  • Verb + es -> Verb + 's
  • Verb + sie/Sie -> Verb + se
  • Verb + wir -> Verb + wer/wa (regional difference, the latter is more comon around Berlin)

Taking the above sentences, we would get:

  • Wie heißt du? ("What is your name?") becomes Wie heißte?
  • Wie heißen Sie? ("What is your name?" - formal) becomes Wie heißense?
  • Wie heißt sie? ("What is her name?") becomes Wie heißtse?
  • Wie heißt er? ("What is his name?") becomes Wie heißter?

Some more examples:

  • Macht es Spaß? - ("Is it fun?") becomes Macht's Spaß?
  • Wollen wir los? - ("Shall we go?") becomes Wollnwer los?

There are however definitely differences in usage. The German forms are colloquial speech that you normally wouldn't find in books (apart from es -> 's). The third form (Sie -> se) is tricky because sie has three different meanings (she, they, formal you) and can be used for all three. Personally, I think it would often be inappropriate to use the contracted form when addressing someone formally.

While the use of contractions in Icelandic seems to be restricted to questions, this isn't true for German. Here the contractions can often be used in answers as well (depending on the word order).

  • Backense heute Brot? - ("Do they bake bread today?")
  • Machense - ("Machen sie", engl. "they do")

Note: If you're learning German this can be quite confusing. The question here can have different meanings.

  • The first and obvious meaning is, that you address a person formally asking "Do YOU bake bread today?".
  • The second meaning is that by "sie" you are asking a single person (e.g. the cashier) whether "they" (the store, the bakery you're in) will bake bread today. Here the answer could be Machenwer ("Machen wir", engl. "we do")
  • The third meaning comes from a different context where you are in a store and ask another customer whether if he knows whether "they" (the store) will bake bread today. Here the answer is Machense ("Machen sie", engl. "they do")

The rules described here for Icelandic are straight out of a text book while I wrote down the German rules myself and they may not always apply. As mentioned before, the Icelandic forms seem to be more generally accepted and can be found in textbooks, while the German counterparts can rarely be found in written text. In both languages, it seems that you would use the non-contracted form when stressing the pronoun.