Auxiliary Verbs and “að”

June 18, 2024
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So many people keep making the mistake of adding after auxiliary verbs where it doesn't belong, like ég vil að læra íslensku (I want to learn Icelandic, only it sounds silly).

But you're not going to be one of those people! Because you're gonna read this article. About not making that mistake. Good on ya!

Auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs, because that's exactly what they do: they “help” another verb in the sentence. The other verb is called the main verb.

Helping verbs help by indicating desire (“I want to break free”), necessity (“but I have to be sure when I walk out that door”), or the past (“God knows I have fallen in love”), among many other things.

In Icelandic, it can be hard to see which helping verbs take að + infinitive and which ones take a bare infinitive, which is the infinitive with no .

  • Ég ætla læra íslensku = I'm going to learn Icelandic (with 'að')
  • Ég vil læra íslensku = I want to learn Icelandic (no 'að')

In this article we'll figure out when to use with a helping verb.

Rule of Thumb

Basically all helping verbs take að + infinitive, except

Most Helping Verbs Take

In general, Icelandic helping verbs take .

If you're not sure if a word takes or not, just throw an in there. Even if you're wrong, it won't change the meaning of what you say. It just sounds a bit silly (like saying “I should to learn Icelandic”).

  • Æ kommon, ég VAR að skúra! = Oh come on, I JUST mopped the floor!
  • Hvenær byrjaðirðu að taka í nefið? = When did you start taking snuff?
  • Þú verður að horfa á Steven Universe = You have to watch Steven Universe (no, seriously, go watch it, it'll make you a better person)

The Exceptions

Two small groups of helping verbs don't take :

  • vilja, mega, munu, skulu; and
  • geta, hafa

Vilja, mega, munu, skulu

These verbs take a bare infinitive - the infinitive without . Here they are with their English equivalents.

That'll look something like this.

  • Ég vil læra íslensku = I want to learn Icelandic.
  • ég nota klósettið? = May I use the bathroom?
  • Þetta mun aldrei ganga = This will never work
  • Ég skal sýna þér mitt ef þú sýnir mér þitt = I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

Of these four verbs, the most frequent mistake among Icelandic learners is undoubtedly saying ég vil að. Just remember to skip the with vilja, and you'll be okay.

Geta, hafa

Unlike most helping verbs, these words don't take the infinitive at all, but the supine.

  • að geta = to be able to, can
  • að hafa = have

That'll look something like this.

  • Ég get hjálpað þér að losna við álana um helgina = I can help you get rid of the eels this weekend.
  • Hefurðu séð svifnökkvann minn einhversstaðar? = Have you seen my hovercraft anywhere?


Basically all helping verbs take að + infinitive, except

  • vilja, mega, munu and skulu, which take a bare infinitive, and
  • geta and hafa, which take the supine.