Icelandic frequently uses personal pronouns in the genitive case (sometimes called the possessive case) to indicate possession. You can think of the genitive case as the possessive form of these pronouns. Check out Basics of Cases if you need a refresher on the cases.
Once a pronoun is in the genitive (possessive), you don’t need to inflect it further. It’s as inflected as it’ll ever be. Yay, simple! Simple is good.
What can be a little tricky is that the thing that’s possessed can sometimes have the definite article (the word the in English) and sometimes not, depending on a number of factors. Let’s make this a little easier.
As a side-note: there are other ways to indicate possession in Icelandic, notably with:
Nope! None of these words ever change, since they’re already inflected to be in the genitive case. Here are some examples with a masculine word in the singular and plural, a feminine word, and then a neuter word.
Notice the word order: it’s not his dog, it’s the dog his. The pronoun comes after. I’ll go into why it’s the dog below.
Instead of replacing the pronoun with a name, like you would do in English (his dog, John’s dog), you simply add the name after the pronoun.
A common challenge for English speakers is that this works well for the plural, which in English can often sound stilted or weird.
You often (but not always) use the definite article (the word the in English) with the thing you possess, and it depends on what type of possession you’re talking about. There are four types of possession.
Possession of body parts is a bit different; ordinarily, you wouldn’t use a pronoun in the genitive with those. You can check out Possession and Body Parts for an in-depth dive into that.
Man, four different types of words being treated differently sounds really complicated. You can make it simpler by just mastering the colloquial style. That’s what you would use in regular day-to-day talk with friends and family. I wouldn’t use it if you’re writing an academic paper or something fancy like that, though.
Notice that the colloquial style basically treats everything like a concrete noun (except relations. They still do their own thing).
Conversely, if you want to be extra formal, you can treat ALL words like abstract nouns and skip the definite article. Don’t do this in casual conversation, though, or you’ll sound stuffy.
If you’re looking to go into academia in Icelandic or something similar, it’s important to master the different levels of formality.
The personal pronouns in the genitive case are:
The definite article plays a role in possession. If you’re a beginner, or if you’re just aiming for spoken fluency, master the colloquial style.
If you have high ambitions, such as for academia or politics, I salute you! Get good at everything.