On the Street Where You Live…

My grammar lesson today had some very practical and useful information about the common suffixes used for street names in Icelandic. This is a good example of that “basic but new and helpful” kind of lesson that I have been getting lately, and I thought I’d share.

There are a number of typical suffixes that are used for street names, and besides often indicating whether a byway is a “road,” or “street,” or something basic like that, these suffixes also often indicate something about the general landscape. When giving a street name as a location, you use either the preposition á or the preposition í, but either way, the street name that follows is in the dative case.

So how do you know whether to use á or í, you ask? The suffix determines it!

Here’s a short list of common street suffixes, their meanings, and which preposition they take:

í +

  • -bær: town
  • -gerði: fence/hedge
  • -fell: (an isolated) hill
  • -heimur: world? (this one seems a bit broad to me)
  • -hlíð: slope
  • -holt: hillock
  • -leiti: hill
  • -múli: cape
  • -mýri: swamp, moorland
  • -stræti: street, road
  • -sund: channel, alley, lane
  • -tún: hayfield

á+

  • -braut: course, way
  • -gata: street, path
  • -grandi: isthmus
  • -hagi: pasture
  • -melur: gravel bed (?)
  • -nes: cape, peninsula
  • -stígur: path, sheep track
  • -teigur: piece of grassland
  • -vegur: road, way

So, okay: maybe you don’t think this is the most interesting grammatical lesson that I have ever tried to give here (if there have been any, I suppose), but when you start considering just how many place names in Iceland include these suffices, I think the value of knowing these becomes pretty clear.

I, for one, tend to take place names here a bit for granted. I see the street name “Sæbraut” and don’t actually think of it as meaning anything—I just see it as a somewhat meaningless word, a name that doesn’t actually designate anything beyond a familiar bus route. This is, of course, simply because I don’t recognize the words in Icelandic names all the time yet, because I certainly don’t miss the opportunity to point out the meanings of Spanish street names to Mark whenever we’re in Arizona (my childhood home was on Camino de Oeste–Street of the West.”) But perhaps if I am a little more attentive to these Icelandic suffices, I can be just as irritating about place names here. So:

  • Sæ-braut: Sea-Way
  • Snæ-fells-nes: Snow(y?)-Mountain-Peninsula
  • Kópa-vogur: Seal pup-Cove
  • Bauga-nes: Circular-Peninsula
  • Hverfis-gata: Neighborhood-Street
  • Tún-gata: Hayfield-Street
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