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Old Norse/Pronouns

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In this chapter, the following concepts are explained:

  • personal pronouns and declension
  • the reflexive pronoun
  • possessive pronouns
  • demonstrative pronouns and declension

It is important to point out that in Old Norse, the indication of possession is not made using the genitive forms of pronouns but rather with possessive pronouns.

Personal pronouns and declension[edit]

In Old Norse, there were duals - personal pronouns used to refer to two things.

There were only two dual personal pronouns: the first person dual vit and the second person dual þit. These two duals were used like English "we" and "you" to refer to two people, thus can be translated into English "we two" and "you two".

First person pronouns[edit]

There were three first person pronouns, whose nominative forms were ek, vit and vér.

First person pronouns ek, vit and vér
case singular dual plural
nominative ek vit vér
genitive mín okkar vár
dative mér okkr oss
accusative mik okkr oss

Second person pronouns[edit]

There were three second person pronouns, whose nominative forms were þú, (þ)it and (þ)ér.

Second person pronouns þú, (þ)it and (þ)ér
case singular dual plural
nominative þú (þ)it (þ)ér
genitive þín ykkar yð(v)ar
dative þér ykkr yðr
accusative þik ykkr yðr

Third person pronouns[edit]

The genders of a pronoun must match with that of the object the pronoun refers to.

Third person pronouns
masculine feminine neuter
case singular plural singular plural singular plural
nominative hann þeir hon þær þat þau
genitive hans þeir(r)a hennar þeir(r)a þess þeir(r)a
dative honum þeim henni þeim þ(v)í þeim
accusative hann þá hana þær þat þau

Along with the reflexive possessive pronoun sinn, the genitive forms of the third person pronouns hans, hennar, þess, þeir(r)a are used to express possession in the third person.

The reflexive pronoun[edit]

The reflexive pronoun is used to refer to the subject of a verb.

When a third person pronoun is used in a sentence where the subject is also in the third person, the reflexive pronoun comes into use as the speaker must clarify whether the pronoun refers to another thing or the subject itself. Consider the following English sentences:

Olaf killed him.

It is unclear whether Olaf committed suicide or killed some other man. In Old Norse, the former is meant by using a reflexive pronoun instead of a third person pronoun:

  • Óláfr drap sik. Olaf killed himself.
  • Óláfr drap honum. Olaf killed some other thing.
The reflexive pronoun
case singular
accusative sik
genitive sín
dative sér

The usage of the genitive form sín must not be confused with that of the reflexive possessive pronoun sinn.

Possessive pronouns[edit]

Possessive pronouns decline like strong adjectives with one different ending -n in the masculine accusative singular.

First person pronouns[edit]

There were three first person possessive pronouns: minn "my", okkarr "our (dual)" and várr "our (plural)".

In the declension of minn, a short -i- appears before a doubled consonant, elsewhere the long -í- appears.

Declension of minn "my"
masculine feminine neuter
case singular plural singular plural singular plural
nominative minn mínir mín mínar mitt mín
genitive míns minna minnar minna míns minna
dative mínum mínum minni mínum mínu mínum
accusative minn mína mína mínar mitt mín

Okkarr follows the rule of syncope, i.e. the vowel in its second syllable is reduced when the ending contains a vowel.

Second person pronouns[edit]

There were three second person possessive pronouns: þinn "your", ykkarr "your (dual)" and yð(v)arr "your (plural)".

Reflexive possessive pronoun sinn[edit]

The reflexive possessive pronoun sinn is used when the noun in possession is possessed by the same noun, which was referred to in the third person previously. Otherwise, the genitive form a third personal pronoun is used to indicate possession. Consider the following sentences, and notice how sinn declines by the case and number of fjándi "foe":

  • Óláfr sló sína fjánda. Olaf slayed his own foemen.
  • Óláfr sló hans fjánda. Olaf slayed some other one's foemen.