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Irish nominals

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The nominals of Irish include the nouns, the definite article, and the adjectives. The declension of these forms is discussed on this page. (For pronouns, see Irish morphology.)

Contents

Nouns

Gender

Nouns in Irish are divided into two genders, masculine and feminine. While gender should be learned when the noun is learned, there are some rules that can be followed:

In general, words ending in a broad consonant are masculine, while words ending in a slender consonant are feminine.

There are some exceptions, mostly dealing with specific endings and affixes, e.g. words ending in -óir/-eoir and -ín (with a slender [r´] and [n´] respectively) are masculine, while words ending in -óg/-eog (with a broad [g]) are feminine. This leads to some unexpected gender assignments, such as cailín 'girl' (masculine), and gasóg 'boy scout' (feminine).

Case

Irish has four cases: common (nominative), vocative, genitive, and dative.

Nominative

The nominative is used in the following functions:

1. Sentence Subject
Tá an cat ag ól. 'The cat is drinking.'
2. Sentence Object
Bhris Seán an fhuinneog. 'Seán broke the window.'
3. The Copula Predicate
Is amadán é. 'He is an idiot.'
4. The object of the prepositions gan 'without' and go dtí 'up to'
gan an t-airgead 'without the money'
go dtí an t-am 'up to the time'

Vocative

The vocative is used in direct address, and is always preceded by the particle a, which triggers lenition. (In spoken Irish this particle is often omitted, especially before a vowel sound.) The first declension is the only declension in which the vocative is distinct from the nominative.

Cá bhfuil tú, a mhic? 'Where are you, son?'
A Sheáin, tar anseo! 'Seán, come here!'

Genitive

The genitive indicates possession and material of composition:

hata an fhir 'the man's hat'
clann na mná 'the woman's children'
coinnleoirí an easpaig 'the bishop's candelabra'
fáinne óir 'a ring of gold, a golden ring'
bróga leathair 'shoes of leather, leather shoes'

The object of a verbal noun also requires the genitive:

ag caitheamh airgid 'spending money'

The object of a compound preposition is in the genitive. Formally, these prepositions are actually prepositional phrases.

ar chúl an dorais 'behind the door' (lit. 'on the back of the door')
ar feadh míosa 'one month long' (lit. 'for the duration of one month')
ar son na hÉireann 'for Ireland's sake'

Dative

The dative is used with the object of most simple prepositions except gan and go dtí. In the standard language, the dative of a noun is identical to the nominative, but some dialects have distinct datives in the second and fifth declensions. Even in the standard language, Éire 'Ireland' has a distinct dative: Éirinn.

ag an athair 'at the father'
as an teach 'out of the house'
ar an arán 'on the bread'
in oráiste 'in an orange'
go hifreann 'to hell'
leis an airgead 'with the money'
ó Éirinn 'from Ireland'

Declension

There are five recognized declensions in Irish. The makeup of the declensions depends on three factors: 1) the gender of the noun 2) the formation of the genitive singular 3) relation of genitive singular to nominative plural

The following chart describes the characteristics of each declension class:

Nom. Sing. ends with: Gen. Sing. ends with: Gender
First declension broad consonant slender consonant masculine
Second declension broad or slender consonant -e/-í feminine
Third declension slender or broad consonant -a masculine or feminine
Fourth declension vowel or -ín (no change) masculine or feminine
Fifth declension vowel or slender consonant broad consonant mostly feminine

First

The first declension is made up of masculine nouns. The nominative singular ends in a broad consonant, which is made slender in the genitive singular. The most common formation of the plural has the opposite pattern: the nominative ends in a slender consonant, the genitive in a broad consonant.

bád 'a boat' Singular Plural
Nominative/Dative bád [ba:d] báid [ba:d´]
Vocative a bháid [ə wa:d´] a bháda [ə wa:də]
Genitive báid [ba:d´] bád [ba:d]

When [x] in the Gen. Sing. and Nom. Pl. of a polysyllabic word is made slender, it also becomes voiced, thus:

[x] > [x´] > [j]. [əj] becomes [i:], and is written -(a)igh.
marcach 'a horseman' Singular Plural
Nominative/Dative marcach [markəx] marcaigh [marki:]
Vocative a mharcaigh [ə warki:] a mharcacha [ə warkəxə]
Genitive marcaigh [marki:] marcach [markəx]

Some nouns undergo a vowel change before the slender consonant of the genitive singular/nominative plural:

ball, baill [ba:l, bail´] - an (internal) organ, component part
bonn, boinn [bu:n, bi:n´] - a sole, coin
ceann, cinn [k´a:n, k´i:n´] - a head
fear, fir - a man
iasc, éisc - a fish
mac, mic [mak, m´ik´] - a son (NB The first consonant is made slender in the gen.sg./nom.pl. as well!)
poll, poill [po:l, pail´] - a hole

Many words of this declension form the plural with one of the endings -(a)í, -ta, -tha, -anna. These are known as "weak plural" endings, which means the genitive plural is identical to the nominative plural. Some examples:

aonach, Gen. Sg. aonaigh, Pl. aontaí - a fair
bealach, Gen. Sg. bealaigh, Pl. bealaí - a way
carr [ka:r], Gen. Sg. cairr [ka:r], Pl. carranna [karənə] - a car
glór, Gen. Sg. glóir, Pl. glórtha - a voice
leanbh, Gen. Sg. linbh, Pl. leanaí - a child
néal, Gen. Sg. néil, Pl. néalta - a cloud
rós, Gen. Sg. róis, Pl. rósanna - a rose
samhradh, Gen. Sg. samhraidh, Pl. samhraí - a summer
scéal, Gen. Sg. scéil, Pl. scéalta - a story
toradh, Gen. Sg. toraidh, Pl. torthaí - fruit

Some nouns have a strong plural (a plural where the genitive is different from the nominative) in -a:

ceart, Gen. Sg. cirt, Nom. Pl. cearta, Gen. Pl. ceart - a right
cleas, Gen. Sg. clis, Nom. Pl. cleasa, Gen. Pl. cleas - a trick
úll, Gen. Sg. úill, Nom. Pl. úlla, Gen. Pl. úll - an apple

Other weak plural formations are found in:

bóthar, bóthair; bóithre - road
breitheamh, breithimh; breithiúna - judge
briathar, briathair; briathra - verb
cloigeann, cloiginn; cloigne - skull
doras, dorais; doirse - door
ollamh, ollaimh; ollúna - professor
solas, solais; soilse - light

Second

The second declension is made up of mostly feminine nouns, and features a nominative singular form that can end in either a broad or a slender consonant. The genitive singular ends in a slender consonant followed by -e. The most common plural form has a broad consonant followed by -a in the nominative, and a broad consonant alone in the genitive. The vocative is the same as the nominative, as is the dative in the standard language.

bróg 'a shoe' Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative bróg [bro:g] bróga [bro:gə]
Genitive bróige [bro:g´ə] bróg [bro:g]
deoir 'a tear' Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative deoir [d´o:r´] deora [d´o:rə]
Genitive deoire [d´o:r´ə] deor [d´o:r]

In Connacht it is often the case that all nouns of the second declension in the Nom. Sg. end with a slender consonant (e.g. bróig 'a shoe').

In some Munster varieties as well as the old literary language, the dative singular is distinct and ends in a slender consonant alone (in effect the dative sg. is formed by dropping the -e from the genitive sg.), e.g. i mbróig 'in a shoe'. (Historically, Connacht nominative forms like bróig are descended from the old dative.)

When [x] in the Gen. Sing. is made slender, it is also voiced, so [x] > [x´] > [j]. [əjə] becomes [i:], and is written -(a)í.

girseach 'little girl' Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Std. dative girseach [g´irs´əx] girseacha [g´irs´əxə]
Genitive girsí [g´irs´i:] girseach [g´irs´əx]
(Alt. dative) girsigh [g´irs´i:] girseacha [g´irs´əxə]

Polysyllabic words that end with a slender consonant take a weak plural in :

eaglais 'church' Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative eaglais [agləs´] eaglaisí [agləs´i:]
Genitive eaglaise [agləs´ə] eaglaisí [agləs´i:]

Many words in this declension form a weak plural with one of the endings -t(h)a,-te, -(e)acha or -eanna:

áit, áite, áiteanna - place
coill, coille, coillte [kail´, kel´ə, kail´t´ə] - forest
iníon, iníne, iníonacha - daughter
obair, oibre, oibreacha - work
spéir, spéire, spéartha - sky
tír, tíre, tírthe - country
tonn, toinne, tonnta [tu:n, tin´ə, tu:ntə] - wave
ubh, uibhe, uibheacha - egg

Other weak plural formations are found in:

fiacail, fiacaile; fiacla - tooth
gualainn, gualainne; guaillí - shoulder
scian, scine; sceana - knife (NB irregular genitive singular)
sliabh, sléibhe; sléibhte (m.) - mountain (NB irregular genitive singular and masculine gender)

Third

The third declension is made up of masculine and feminine nouns. It is characterized by the genitive singular in -a. The majority of nouns in this class form the plural in -(a)í. The final consonant of the stem may be broad or slender: it retains its quality in the plural, but is always broad in the genitive singular.

Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative broad or slender cons. -(a)í
Genitive broad cons. + -a -(a)í
bádóir (m.) 'boatsman' Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative bádóir [bado:r´] badóirí [bado:r´i:]
Genitive bádóra [bado:rə] badóirí [bado:r´i:]
rás (m.) 'race' Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative rás [ra:s] rásaí [ra:si:]
Genitive rása [ra:sə] rásaí [ra:si:]

Feminine nouns in -áint and -úint lose their t in the Gen. Sg.; those in -irt have -th- instead of -t- in the Gen. Sg.

bagairt, bagartha, bagairtí (f.) - threat
canúint, canúna, canúintí (f.) - dialect

Many words in this declension form the plural with one of the endings -anna or -acha:

am, ama, amanna (m.) [a:m, amə, amənə] - time
anam, anama, anamacha (m.) - soul
droim, droma, dromanna (m.) [dri:m´, drumə, drumənə] - back
loch, locha, lochanna (m.) - lake
troid, troda, troideanna (f.) - fight, struggle

Fourth

The fourth declension is made up of masculine and feminine nouns. It is characterized by a genitive singular that is identical in form to the

nominative/vocative/dative singular. The singular may end in a vowel or a consonant (usually the diminutive suffix -ín). The most

common plural ending is -(a)í.

Singular Plural
All cases Vowel or consonant (usually -ín) -(a)í
balla (m.) 'wall' Singular Plural
All cases balla [balə] ballaí [bali:]
comhairle (f.) '(piece of) advice' Singular Plural
All cases comhairle [ko:rl´ə] comhairlí [ko:rl´i:]
cailín (m.) 'girl' Singular Plural
All cases cailín [kal'i:n'] cailíní [kal'i:n'i:]

Many words of this declension form the plural with the following endings -tha/-t(h)e, -((e)a)nna or -((e)a)cha:

ainmhí; ainmhithe (m.) - animal
aturnae; aturnaetha (m.) - attorney
baile; bailte (m.) - village
bus; busanna (m.) - bus
cliamhain; cliamhaineacha (m.) - son-in-law
cneá; cneácha (f.) - wound, sore
cnó; cnónna (m.) - nut
cró; cróite (m.) - outhouse; eye of a needle
dlí; dlíthe (m.) - law
dosaen; dosaenacha (m.) - dozen
ga; gathanna (m.) - ray, radius
gé; géanna (f.) - goose
léine; léine, léinte (f.) - shirt
rá; ráite (m.) - saying
rí; ríthe (m.) - king
sloinne; sloinnte [slin´ə, slin´ə, sli:n´t´ə] (m.) - last name
teanga; teangacha (f.) - language, tongue
tine; tinte (f.) - fire

Other weak plural formations are found in:

ainm; ainmneacha (m.) - name
airí; airíona (m.) - characteristic, symptom
aithne; aitheanta (f.) - commandment
bruach; bruacha (m.) - bank (of river etc.)
cine; ciníocha (m.) - race, tribe
duine; daoine (m.) - person, human being
gabha; gaibhne (m.) - blacksmith
gnó; gnóthaí (m.) - business
oíche; oícheanta (f.) - night
teanga; teangacha (f.) - tongue, language

One noun in this class has a strong plural:

bó, bó; ba, bó (f.) - cow

Fifth

The fifth declension is made up mostly of feminine nouns and is characterized by a genitive singular that ends in a broad consonant that has

been added to the nominative/vocative/dative singular. The most common plural is weak, formed by adding -a to the genitive singular.

Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative Vowel or slender consonant Gen. Sg. + -a
Genitive broad consonant Gen. Sg. + -a
pearsa 'person' Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative pearsa [p´arsə] pearsana [p´arsənə]
Genitive pearsan [p´arsən] pearsana [p´arsənə]
cathair 'city' Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative cathair [kahər´] cathracha [karəxə]
Genitive cathrach [karəx] cathracha [karəxə]

In some Munster varieties as well as the old literary language, the dative singular is distinct and ends in a slender consonant (in effect the dative sg. is formed by palatalizing the genitive sg.), e.g. do phearsain 'to a person', ón gcathraigh 'from the city'. In Éire, Éireann 'Ireland' the dative Éirinn is still used in the standard language.

Some words form the genitive singular by changing the final consonant of the nominative singular to broad. The plural is then weak -eacha.

abhainn, abhann, aibhneacha [aun´, aun, av´n´əxə] - river
athair, athar, aithreacha (m.) - father
deartháir, dearthár, deartháireacha [d´r´aha:r´, d´r´aha:r, d´r´aha:r´əxə] (m.) - brother
máthair, máthar, máithreacha - mother

Other weak plural formations are found in:

bráthair, bráthar; bráithre (m.) - brother (monk), friar
cara, carad; cairde [karə, karəd; ka:rd´ə] (m.) - friend
namhaid, namhad; naimhde (m.) - enemy
Nollaig, Nollag; Nollaigí - Christmas

Some nouns have strong plurals; here the genitive singular and genitive plural have the same form:

caora, caorach; caoirigh, caorach - sheep
lacha, lachan; lachain, lachan - duck

Verbal nouns

The most productive verbal nouns end with -(e)adh (1st conjugation) or -(i)ú (2nd conjugation). These originally belonged to the

third declension, but synchronically are best regarded as separate declensions.

The 1st conjugation verbal noun in -(e)adh has a genitive singular in -te/-ta and a plural in -t(a)í.

briseadh, briste; bristí - breaking
moladh, molta; moltaí - praising; recommendation

The 2nd conjugation verbal noun in -(i)ú has a genitive singular in -(a)ithe and a plural in -(u)ithe. These endings are

pronounced the same regardless of the spelling distinction.

scrúdú, scrúdaithe; scrúduithe - examining, examination
síniú, sínithe; sínithe - stretching

Irregular nouns

The following nouns are declined irregularly:

bean, mná; mná, ban (f.) - woman
deirfiúr, deirféar; deirfiúracha (f.) [d´r´ef´u:r, d´r´ef´e:r, d´r´ef´u:rəxə] - sister
deoch, dí; deochanna [d´ox, d´i:, d´oxənə] (f.) - drink
Dia, Dé; déithe (m.) - God
lá, lae; laethanta (m.) - day
leaba, leapa; leapacha (f.) - bed
mí, míosa; míonna (f.) - month
muir, mara; mara (f.) - sea
olann, olla (f.) - wool
talamh, talaimh (m.) or talún (f.); tailte - land
teach, tí; tithe (m.) - house

Article

The definite article has two forms in Irish: an and na. Their distribution depends on whether the noun is singular or plural, the case of the noun, and the initial sound of the noun.

Singular preceding a consonant Masculine Feminine
Nominative an cat an bhróg
Genitive an chait na bróige
Dative (i) den chat don bhróg
Dative (ii) ag an gcat faoin mbróg

Dative (i) is used with den 'from the', don 'to the', and sa(n) 'in the'. Dative (ii) is used with other prepositions.

Singular preceding a vowel Masculine Feminine
Nominative an t-éan an eaglais
Genitive an éin na heaglaise
Dative san éan, ag an éan den eaglais, tríd an eaglais
Plural Both genders
Nominative/Dative (do) na cait; (leis) na héin; (ar) na bróga; (s)na heaglaisí
Genitive na gcat; na n-éin; na mbróg; na n-eaglaisí

There is no indefinite article in Irish, so depending on context cat can mean 'cat' or 'a cat'.

Adjective

Almost all adjectives in Irish can be used either predicatively or attributively. A predicative adjective is one that forms a part of the predicate, like red in the sentence The car is red. An attributive adjective directly modifies a noun, as in the red car.

A predicate adjective in Irish does not inflect:

  • Tá an fear sin beag. 'That man is small.'
  • Tá na fir sin beag. 'Those men are small.'
  • Tá an bhean seo beag. 'This woman is small.'
  • Tá na mná seo beag. 'These women are small.'

A predicate adjective expressing a value judgment is often precded by the particle go. This particle attaches an h to a following vowel.

  • Tá mé go maith. 'I'm fine' (lit.'I am good.')
  • Tá an scéal go holc. 'The story is bad.'
  • Bhí an aimsir go hálainn. 'The weather was beautiful.'

An attributive adjective mostly follows the noun and is inflected:

  • an fear beag 'the small man'
  • an fhir bhig 'of the small man' (gen.)

There are three classes of declension of adjectives in Irish, which correspond to the first four declensions of nouns:

Nom. sg. ends with: Gen. sg. masc. ends with: Gen. sg. fem. ends with:
1st/2nd decl. slender or broad cons. slender consonant slender consonant + -e
3rd decl. slender cons. (mostly -úil) slender consonant broad consonant + -a
4th decl. vowel = nom. sg. = nom. sg.

First/Second declension

bocht 'poor' Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative bocht bhocht b(h)ochta
Genitive bhoicht boichte bocht(a)
bacach 'lame' Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative bacach bhacach b(h)acacha
Genitive bhacaigh bacaí bacach(a)
ciúin 'quiet' Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative ciúin chiúin c(h)iúine
Genitive chiúin ciúine ciúin(e)

Third declension

misniúil 'brave' Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative misniúil mhisniúil m(h)isniúla
Genitive mhisniúil misniúla misniúil, -úla
cóir 'just' Masc. Sg. Fem. Sg. Plural
Nominative cóir chóir c(h)óra
Genitive chóir córa cóir, córa

Fourth declension

This declension does not inflect.

crua 'hard' Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative crua chrua c(h)rua
Genitive chrua crua crua

Irregular adjectives

Masc. sg. nom. & gen. Fem. sg. nom. Fem. sg. gen. Pl. nom./gen. Gloss
álainn álainn áille áille 'beautiful'
breá bhreá breátha b(h)reátha 'fine'
deacair dheachair deacra d(h)eacra 'difficult'
gearr ghearr giorra g(h)earra 'short'
socair shocair socra s(h)ocra 'still'
tapaidh thapaidh thapaí t(h)apaí 'fast'
te the te t(h)eo 'hot'
tirim thirim tirime t(h)iorma 'dry'

Notes

  • The nominative plural undergoes lenition only if the noun ends with a slender consonant: cait bhacacha 'lame cats'.

Otherwise, the adjective in the nominative plural does not lenite: táilliúrí bacacha 'lame tailors'.

  • The long form of the genitive plural (e.g. bochta, bacacha, ciúine) is used when the noun has a weak plural, e.g.

máithreacha bacacha 'of lame mothers'. The short form (e.g. bocht, bacach, ciúin) is used when the noun has a strong plural, e.g. cat bacach 'of lame cats'.

  • The dative has the same form as the nominative.
  • The vocative has the same form as the nominative except in the masculine singular of the 1st/2nd declension, where it has the same form as the genitive.

Comparative

Irish adjectives have a comparative form equivalent to the comparative and to the superlative in English. The comparative does not undergo inflexion and is the same as the feminine singular genitive in regular and many irregular adjectives.

Regular formation

Base form Comparative form Gloss
álainn áille 'beautiful/more beautiful'
bacach bacaí 'lame/lamer'
bocht boichte 'poor/poorer'
ciúin ciúine 'quiet/quieter'
cóir córa 'just/more just'
crua crua 'hard/harder'
deacair deacra 'difficult/more difficult'
gearr giorra 'short/shorter'
misniúil misniúla 'brave/braver'
socair socra 'still/stiller'
tapaidh tapaí 'fast/faster'
tirim tirime 'dry/drier'

Irregular forms

Base form Comparative form Gloss
beag 'small/smaller'
breá breátha 'fine/finer'
dócha dóichí 'possible/more possible'
fada faide 'long/longer'
fogus foisce 'near/nearer'
furasta fusa 'easy/easier'
iomaí lia 'many/more'
maith fearr 'good/better'
olc measa 'bad/worse'
te teo 'hot/hotter'
tréan tréine or treise 'strong/stronger'
mór 'big/bigger'

Syntax of comparison

There are two constructions to express the comparative:

1) Copula + comparative form + subject + ('than') + predicate. The preterite of the copula causes lenition, while the present tense does not.

Ba thréine Cáit ná Cathal. 'Cáit was stronger than Cathal.'
Is airde Seán ná mise. 'Seán is bigger than me.'
B'óige an madra ná an cat. 'The dog was younger than the cat.'
Is fearr Gaeilge bhrise ná Béarla clise. 'Broken Irish is better than clever English.'

2) níos/níb(a) + comparative + + predicate. Níos is used if the sentence is in the present or future tense.

Níb(a), which triggers lenition, is used if the sentence is in the past tense. Níb is used before words starting with vowels and níba before those starting with consonants.

Tá an ghrian níos gile ná an ghealach. 'The sun is brighter than the moon.'
Beidh Peadar níos saibhre ná a athair. 'Peadar will be richer than his father.'
D'éirigh Peadar níba shaibhre ná a athair. 'Peadar became richer than his father.'
Bhí Seán níb airde ná mise. 'Seán was bigger than me.'

A superlative is expressed as a relative clause: noun + is/ba/ab + comparative form.

an cailín is tréine 'the strongest girl' (lit. 'the girl who is the strongest')
an cailín ba thréine 'the strongest girl' (lit. 'the girl who was the strongest')
an buachaill is óige 'the youngest boy' (lit.'the boy who is the youngest')
an buachaill ab óige 'the youngest boy' (lit.'the boy who was the youngest')

See also

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