How many words are there in Icelandic?

Asked By

Ingvar Arnarson
Lilja Kristín


It is impossible to say exactly how many words there are in Icelandic. Words are made every day, some of which may only be used once. These are usually compound words that are made because some event or object has to be instantly described, and there are no suitable existing words to choose from. Such words, which often never appear in print, are called augnablikssamsetningar in Icelandic (which means that they were assembled in a moment).

Many words were used in early centuries that that are now considered archaic and are mostly forgotten. They are nevertheless part of the Icelandic vocabulary. The same applies to local words which refer to words used in a particular area of the country but not elsewhere. Though much work has been done on collecting and studying local words at The University Dictionary, there is a long way to go before they are all registered.

About ten years ago a study was conducted to determine the number of words in the written language archives of the University Dictionary. This source included all words that had appeared in printed texts from 1540 and up the mid eighties. This study can be used as an indication of the number of words in the language, with the caveat that quite a number of words have been added since, including various compound words and new words, variously introduced by vocabulary committees or directly from popular usage, as the need arose. There were more than 610,000 in the collection. Of these words there were 43,000 root words, that is to say words that had neither a prefix (e.g. and-vari, til-brigði), suffix (e.g. góð-legur, breyt-ing) nor were compound (e.g. snjó-bretti, hjóla-skauti). Compounds words were a little under 519,000 of which half only occurred once in the Dictionary source.

Words from the Dictionary's collection of the spoken word are not included in these figures. The collection of spoken words is compiled, not from written sources but from evidence from individuals. That collection contains more than 50,000 words of which one third will not be found in the collection of written words.

Translated by Paul Richardson.

Further answers in English:

Um þessa spurningu


Published 5.3.2005


Answers in English


Icelandic words


Guðrún Kvaran. „How many words are there in Icelandic?“. The Icelandic Web of Science 5.3.2005. (Skoðað 26.5.2024).


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