The Supine

May 11, 2024
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The Icelandic supine (or sagnbót, in Icelandic) is equivalent to the English past participle. In English, that’s the verb form that follows have (have walked, have taken, have been); in Icelandic, the supine follows both:

  1. hafa (have), and
  2. geta (can, be able to)

Here are a few examples.

  • Ég get ekki sofið > I can’t sleep.
  • Getur forsetinn bannað ananas á pítsu? > Can the president ban pineapple on pizza?
  • Hefurðu aldrei brotið bein? Það er subreddit fyrir það > Have you never broken a bone? There’s a subreddit for that.
  • Þær hefðu mætt, en það rigndi froskum > They would have come, but it rained frogs.

The supine is a very frequently used verb form, and one of the simplest to learn, so it’s a good investment of time, for sure. Now, let’s make the supine a little easier!

Rule of Thumb

Basically, it works like this:

-a verbs really are that simple.

-i verbs can also sometimes take -að or -ið. They’ll take -ið if they have no infinitive ending, and only a few exceptions take -að.

Strong verbs need to be learned through their principal parts because of their stem changes.

Supine of -a Verbs

-a verbs are simple, but tables are always nice, so here’s a table of some of the most common -a verbs.

Supine of -i Verbs

For -i verbs, the supine ending can actually be one of three options.

  1. -t (nearly always)
  2. (if the infinitive ends in -á)
  3. -að (only a few exceptions)

Most -i verbs by far take the -t ending: about 91% of them, in fact. It’s actually kind of misleading of me to give equal representation of the -ð and -að endings in the table, but it just looks silly if I give 9 examples of the -t ending and half an example each of the others.

-i verbs with no infinitive ending (verbs like skrá, spá, tjá, þjá, and dá) always take the -ð ending.

Only a few -i verbs take the -að ending, and they just have to be memorised. Here are some of the most common. They’re not that important, so if the idea of memorising them is daunting, feel free to just, like…not.

  1. lifa > live
  2. trúa > believe
  3. brosa > smile
  4. vaka > be awake
  5. duga > suffice
  6. þola > withstand, weather
  7. þora > dare
  8. blasa (við) > be evident

Finally, some pronunciation adjustments may be necessary. You may have noticed in the table above that the supine of ræða is not strictly ræð + t = ræðt. That’s because that would be unpronounceable in Icelandic, and since Icelandic is a spoken language (citation needed), it has to be pronounceable. So we just change it a little bit to make it pronounceable. This happens sometimes.

Supine of Strong Verbs

The strong verbs, unsurprisingly, are the biggest challenge to conjugate in the supine. That’s because they frequently involve an unpredictable stem change. The only real way to know how the stem changes is by memorising principle parts. Lots and lots of principal parts.

At least the ending is easy and consistent!*

*Of course there’s an exception or two: geta (be able to) and heita (be named) have an -að ending while geta (guess, mention, beget) and heita (vow) have an -ið ending. 

Be able to and be named are by far the most common meanings, so focus on those.


-a verbs take an -að ending.

-i verbs nearly always take a -t ending. If they have no ending in the infinitive they take -ð, and a few exceptions take -að.

You’ll need to learn the stem changes of strong verbs through their principal parts. They nearly always take an -ið ending.