Mixing up í and fyrir, when talking about time, is an extremely common pitfall for second language learners of Icelandic. And little wonder: they’re false friends. False friends, or false cognates, are word pairs which sound the same (like í and in, or fyrir and for), but which don’t mean the same thing. And they’re annoying as all hell.
For a deep-dive into fyrir, you can take a look at my article on Point-Relative Timing. But, y’know, open that in another tab and come back to it. Finish this first. Don’t leave í and fyrir hanging.
The trick to sorting out false friends like í and fyrir is to think about meaning, not translation. Í translates as in, sure, and fyrir as for, but thinking of those translations is what got you confused in the first place. Just remember that í indicates duration, and fyrir really means ago, and you’ve got it. Let me say that again, but louder, for the people in the back:
Let’s look at some examples.
Should you rephrase that second example to use for, like “I have been in Iceland for four years”? Yeah, of course - it sounds wonky as hell as is - but we’re focusing on meaning, not translation! Why would you insist on using the confusing version when during is perfectly clear? In the following examples, focus on the meaning, not the translation.
Sometimes, you’ll see the word síðan accompanying fyrir. It is optional and doesn’t change anything about the meaning. Keep it or don’t, it really doesn’t matter.
As is usual with case, it’s easy to summarise but hard to internalise. Simply put:
I’ve put some of the most common time increments into tables for easy reference. For the love of god, don’t try to memorise this; it’s a reference.
You might notice that some people will use tveim and þrem, instead of tveimur and þremur. There is no difference: tveimur and þremur are much more common, but Icelanders don’t seem to notice any difference between the forms. Interestingly, absolutely no one ever says fjór instead of fjórum.
This may be the easiest summary ever.