Við vs. með

June 18, 2024
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Two people are dancing together in a large wedding
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Við and með often both translate to with, so it's no wonder they're frequently confused. Let's try and make it easi(er) to see the difference between við and með.

I've already written articles on each of these words, so check those out for details on each. Here, we'll focus on clarifying these words when they come with a verb, like tala við / tala með. This is where most people have trouble.

Rule of Thumb

Basically, it boils down to this: in the kind of context where you're likely to confuse við and með,

við indicates reciprocity, með doesn't

Is It Reciprocal?

Við is a false friend because it sounds like with but doesn't (usually) translate as with. Með is (usually) the more accurate translation for with.

However, when it stands with certain verbs, the word við can translate as with if it indicates some kind of reciprocal action - that is, I do something to you and you do it to me as well. 

God that sounds convoluted, even though it's pretty simple. Examples!

  • Fríða dansaði við Dýrið = Belle danced with the Beast (and the Beast danced with Belle).
  • Fríða dansaði með stíl = Belle danced with style.

  • Gunnar talaði við sætu stelpuna = Gunnar talked with the cute girl (and the girl talked with Gunnar).
  • Gunnar talar með hreim = Gunnar talks with an accent.

  • Ólöf lék sér við strákinn = Ólöf played with the boy (and the boy played with Ólöf).
  • Ólöf lék sér með tilfinningar hans = Ólöf toyed with his feelings.

Don't Worry About Edge Cases

What if these verbs aren't indicating reciprocity, though? A lecturing teacher may talk AT his students, and an obnoxious guy in Bankastræti Club wearing a fancy suit that cost as much as my rent (paid for by his parents, of course) may dance AT an unwilling lady who just wants to enjoy her drink. Do we still use við?

Eh…maybe? This sort of usage is quite exceptional. Even in English, saying that somebody is talking AT you, and not with you, requires that you stress the AT, and preferably explain further (such as saying “and not with you”) because the naturally expected phrasing would be talking with

It's creative use of language, and that's really beyond the scope of an article like this.


In the kind of context where you're likely to confuse við and með, just remember that

við indicates reciprocity, með doesn't