N-rule (Icelandic language)

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In Icelandic orthography, the n-rules are rules for determining when one letter n or two consecutive n's should be written, a difference that sometimes affects the pronunciation.

Compound words[edit]

If an element of a compound word that is not the final element ends with one or two n's, the number of n's is the same as in the original word from which that element is derived, of which it is a possibly modified and usually shortened form. For example:

Spergilkál er ekki banvænt. (ban+vænt, where ban stems from the word bani)
Er svertingi bannorð? (bann+orð, where bann stems from the word banna)
Þessi mynd er kynngimögnuð! (kynngi+mögnuð, where kynngi stems from the word kunnugur; in this case u gets changed to y)
Skálinn okkar er kyngifenntur. (kyngi+fenntur, where kyngi stems from the word kyngja)

It can be hard to find related words to determine whether one or two n's should be written. One way is to search for possible origin words with two n's in their stem. If no such words are to be found, the use of one n is plausible. The example with kynngi, with a changed vowel, shows this is not a straightforward matter.

For example:

Elísu vantar krans.

Function words[edit]

Below are rules about the number of n’s in function words, which do not decline nor conjugate. Various function words which indicate movement end with –an and never –ann.

Examples:

Hvaðan, austan, vestan, sunnan, norðan, innan, utan, ofan, neðan, framan, aftan, handan, undan, héðan, þaðan, meðan, áðan, saman, síðan, jafnan, jafnharðan, sjaldan.

Adverbs[edit]

In the adverbs “þanneiginn” (þann + veginn) and “hinseginn” two n’s are written.

Enn and en[edit]

One is supposed to write “enn” – meaning "still" – whenever it's possible to use “enn þá” instead without changing the meaning of the sentence. In every other case, “en” is used. “En”, which can mean different things, is often used when comparing. “En” can also be a conjunction.

Examples with two n's:

Ég er enn ungur og myndarlegur. - "I'm still young and beautiful"
Ég er enn þá ungur og myndarlegur.
Ertu enn skólastjóri? - "Are you still headmaster of the school?"
Ertu enn þá skólastýra?

Examples with one "n":

Stúlkan er hærri en pilturinn. - "The girl is taller than the guy"
Er blár fallegri litur en rauður? "Is blue a more beautiful colour than red?"
En hvað finnst þér? "And what do you think?"
Ég vildi bláan bíl en hún vildi rauðan. "I wanted a blue car, but she wanted a red one."

Definite article[edit]

The definite article always uses the same number of n's, therefore it does not matter whether it is added as a suffix to the word or written as a separate word.

Example:

Separate word: Hin skemmtilega kona. - "The funny woman"
Suffixed: Skemmtilega konan.

Example:

Separate word: Hinn hávaxni maður. - "The tall man"
Suffixed: Hávaxni maðurinn.

Two n's are used whenever a possessive pronoun has an "i" (minni, minnar, minn, minna..).

One "n" is used whenever a possessive pronoun has an "í"; that is, an "i" with an acute accent, not a tittle (mínum, míns, mína, mín..).

The number of n's in a possessive pronoun always corresponds to the number of n's in the definite article of the same form:

Example:

Hesturinn. → Minn hestur. - "The horse" → "My horse" (Nom. Sg. Masc.)
Hestinum. → Mínum hesti. - "To the horse" → "To my horse" (Dat. Sg. Masc.)
Ákvarðananna. → Minna ákvarðana. - "Of the choices" → "Of my choices" (Gen. Pl. Fem.)

Nouns without articles[edit]

Masculine nouns[edit]

Rule one[edit]

Masculine nouns ending in -ann, -inn and -unn in nominative singular, are written with one "n" in all other cases (accusative, dative and genitive).

Examples:

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
morgunn morgunn [um] morgun [frá] morgni [til] morguns
drottinn drottinn [um] drottin [frá] drottni [til] drottins
himinn himinn [um] himin [frá] himni [til] himins
arinn arinn [um] arin [frá] arni [til] arins

Other words which decline this way:

Skarphéðinn, Héðinn, Þórarinn, Huginn, jötunn, Kristinn, Þráinn, Muninn, Auðunn, Auðun (beygist eins og Auðunn nema i nefnifalli), Óðinn, Reginn.

The words Huginn, Reginn and Muninn don't change in the accusative and dative case (Hugin, Munin og Regin).

The word aftann (which means evening) is the only word in modern Icelandic that declines this way,[disputed (for: conflict with examples cited above) ] and is used mostly in compounds like aftansöngur (evening mass) or aftanbjarmi (evening light).

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
Aftann aftann [um] aftan [frá] aftni [til] aftans

Rule two[edit]

Some names which originated in Irish and end with -an in the nominative case, end with a single "n" in all cases. The names Kiljan, Kamban, Kjarvan, Kvaran, Kjartan, Natan etc. are examples of such names.

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
Natan Natan [um] Natan [frá] Natan [til] Natans
Kjartan Kjartan [um] Kjartan [frá] Kjartani [til] Kjartans

Feminine words[edit]

Rule one[edit]

The first n-rule for feminine nouns, the so-called Þórunnarregla, states that Icelandic feminine names which come from the name unnur (like Þórunn, Jórunn, Iðunn, Ingunn, Ljótunn, Dýrunn, Sæunn), have two n's in all cases.

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
Jórunn Jórunn [um] Jórunni [frá] Jórunni [til] Jórunnar
Iðunn Iðunn [um] Iðunni [frá] Iðunni [til] Iðunnar

Rule two[edit]

The second n-rule for feminine nouns, the so-called miskunnarregla, states that the four feminine nouns which come from the noun kunna and kenna (einkunn, vorkunn, miskunn and forkunn) have two n's in all cases.

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
miskunn miskunn [um] miskunn [frá] miskunn [til] miskunnar
vorkunn vorkunn [um] vorkunn [frá] vorkunn [til] vorkunnar

Rule three[edit]

The third n-rule for feminine nouns, the so-called verslunarregla, states that feminine nouns ending with -un or -an in the nominative case, and come from the infinitive mood of verbs, should be spelled with a single "n" in all cases.

Examples:

mengun (að menga)
skömmtun (að skammta)
sönnun (að sanna)
verslun (að versla)
líðan (að líða)
skipan (að skipa)
...etc