This guide will teach you how to write an email or a letter in Icelandic . It will cover the relevant cultural norms and provide you with plenty of example phrases.
In case you didn’t know, Icelanders are very laid-back. The unofficial Icelandic motto is: “Þetta reddast” which translates to: “It’ll work out (somehow).”
Icelanders address one another not by official titles or last names, but by each other’s first names! (Yes, even teachers, members of Parliament, and the president).
When writing an email in Icelandic, it’s important for you to know about the cultural conventions common to Icelanders. Otherwise you run the risk of coming off tone-deaf.
Making an effort to address people in a way that’s familiar to them will in fact help them open up and receive your message in the best possible light.
The most common way to start an email or letter in Icelandic is simply with the opening: “Sæl/Sæll” followed by the recipient's name.
This translates to “greetings” in English, but be aware of the distinction of the single “l” and the double “ll”.
“Sæll” or “sæl” is a simple greeting, which is suited as an opener to an email that’s not super formal - but also not informal.
There are two main types of lines you can use to open a formal email or letter. These are:
1) « Komdu sæl/l » roughly translates to “how do you do?” and is a slightly more elevated and formal version of the simpler « sæl/l ».
Use « komdu sæl » (with one 'l') when addressing a female reader and « komdu sæll » (with two l’s) when addressing a male reader.
2) « Kæra/i…, » followed by the intended reader’s first name, translates to “Dear…”.
Use « Kæra… » (with an “a”) when addressing a female reader, and « Kæri… » (with an “i”) when addressing a male reader.
A single “hæ” (Icelandic for “hi”) is informal and endearing. A double “hæ, hæ” is doubly endearing (and still informal).
The single or double ”hæ” is usually followed by the reader's name. For example:
It bears mentioning again that Icelanders are very informal on the whole, and this has only increased as time goes on.
You could start addressing someone using “hæ” within a relatively short period of meeting them. Even if the person being addressed is an authority figure of some sort.
The most formal way to end an email or letter is with « Virðingarfyllst » followed by your name. For example:
« Virðingarfyllst » literally means “respectfully”, and in the context of a letter is roughly equivalent to the English “sincerely”.
Here are some examples of when the Icelandic « Virðingarfyllst » sign-off would be used:
The most common way to end a formal or relatively formal email or letter in Icelandic is with « Bestu kveðjur » followed by your name. This sign-off is equivalent to the English “best regards.”
Icelanders use a number of variations of « Bestu kveðjur ». These include:
Closing an email with any of these greetings signals respect for the reader.
The most common way to end any email, whether formal or informal, is with “Bestu kveðjur” followed by your name. As we saw above, “bestu kveðjur” is roughly equivalent to the English “best regards.”
“Bestu kveðjur” is appropriate for any kind of email. However, the following sign-offs should only be used when closing an informal email, usually to someone you know well.
“Heyrumst!” means “We’ll be in touch!” You can wrap up an email like this when you and the recipient have something to figure out or you’ll need to get back in touch about.
“Sjáumst!” means “see you!” and implies that you will see each other sometime soon. Maybe you’ve made plans to get together for coffee or dinner - in this case “sjáumst!” is in keeping with what comes next.
You can also end an informal email with a phrase like “Takk kærlega,” which means “thanks a lot,” or “Takk fyrir mig,” which means “thank you”.
Let’s touch on some of the most common Icelandic phrases used in emails.
In order to state the purpose of an email or letter, you could start like this:
This is a great way to start off an email. You write “Ég skrifa þér í tengslum við…” and then you can touch on what it is that the email is regarding. “I am writing to you in regards to…”
There are a couple of ways you can let your reader know about an attachment…
And here are some other phrases that you might find useful when writing an email or letter:
You might find it necessary at some point to write a thank you note. A simple one might look like this:
And a more formal letter might look something like this:
Here is an example of what a relaxed birthday card to a friend might read like:
And then there’s the slightly more formal one, maybe it’s a BIG birthday (something with a zero at the end!):
For a wedding card you can’t go wrong with short and simple. Wishing the newlyweds a long and happy life together.
Here are some examples of the types of phrases which you can use when you write an Icelandic wedding card:
Let’s look at a couple of examples of short informal and formal letters:
Icelanders are a nation of informal and laid-back people, who are not terribly worried about being very formal at all. This is sometimes something we do to a fault.
Like most people, however, we have the best intentions and it has more to do with not making other people feel weird or awkward - and nothing to do with a lack of respect.
The laid-back-ness of Icelanders (in print and in person) speaks to their feeling that we’re all, more or less, equals.
Iceland is a tiny nation, and very few people beyond Icelanders actually speak the language. Writing an email or letter in Icelandic is something that will no doubt impress most Icelanders.