is rather different from that of most Indo-European languages
, notably because of its VSO
Normal word order
The normal word order in an Irish sentence is:
- Preverbal particle
- Direct object or predicate adjective
- Indirect object
- Location descriptor
- Manner descriptor
- Time descriptor
Only the verb and subject are obligatory; all other parts are optional (unless the primary or finite verb is transitive, in which case a direct object is required). In synthetic verb forms, the verb and subject are united in a single word, so that even one-word sentences are possible, e.g. Tuigim "I understand."
An example sentence:
|| le Cáit
|| go minic. |
|| with Cáit
|| often |
|| Time |
| "Mícheál speaks Irish with Cáit often."
Questions and answers
Irish has no words for "yes" and "no". The answer to a question contains a repetition of the verb, either with or without a negative particle. For analytic forms, only the verb is given and the subject is not repeated. If a verb has different dependent and independent forms, the dependent form follows the interrogative or negative particle. The independent form is used where there is no particle.
- An éisteann Seán lena mháthair ariamh? "Does Seán ever listen to his mother?"
- —Éisteann. (not: *Éisteann sé) "—Yes."
- —Ní éisteann. (not: *Ní éisteann sé) "—No."
- Nach bhfuil tú ag éisteacht liom? "Aren't you listening to me?"
- —Tá. "—Yes, I am."
- —Níl. "—No."
In a command the imperative
is used, and no subject is given.
|| le do thoil. |
|| to us
|| please |
| "Please give us two glasses of whiskey!"
To express a negative command, the particle ná is used. This particle, which can be roughly translated "don't", causes neither eclipsis nor lenition, but attaches h to a following vowel.
|| t-airgead. |
|| money |
| "Don't lose the money!"
|| leo. |
|| to them |
| "Don't tell it to them!"
Syntax of the verbal noun
A progressive aspect
can be formed by connecting the verbal noun
to the existential verb with the progressive particle ag
|| anois. |
|| now |
| "Mícheál is speaking Irish with Cáit now."
The object of a verbal noun is in the genitive, if it is definite.
|| an nuachtáin. |
|| the newspaper (gen.) |
| "Séamas is reading the newspaper."
If a nonfinite clause forms the complement of the verb, the verbal noun stands alone (without a preposition) in the clause.
|| ar an liathróid. |
| was successful
|| with me
|| on the ball |
| "I succeeded in catching the ball."
The direct object of a verbal noun complement precedes the verbal noun; the leniting particle a "to" is placed between them. Other complements follow.
| Tá brath agam
|| an scian
|| go cúramach
|| ar an mbord. |
| I have intention
|| the knife
|| on the table |
| "I intend to place the knife carefully on the table."
Generally, an object pronoun or a conjugated preposition stands at the end of a sentence in Irish. Compare this sentence:
| D'inis sé
|| an scéal
|| do Bhríd
|| inné. |
| told he
|| the story
|| to Bríd
|| yesterday |
| "He told the story to Bríd yesterday."
with the two following sentences:
| D'inis sé
|| do Bhríd
|| í. |
| told he
|| to Bríd
|| it |
| "He told it to Bríd yesterday."
| D'inis sé
|| an scéal
|| di. |
| told he
|| the story
|| to-her |
| "He told her the story yesterday."
Irish commonly uses the impersonal form (also called the autonomous form) instead of the passive
|| an madra. |
| one beat (pret.)
|| the dog |
| "Someone beat the dog"/"The dog was beaten."
In the perfect tense, the passive voice is formed by using the passive participle with the existential verb.
|| an fhuinneog
|| (ag mo dheartháir.) |
|| the window
|| (by my brother) |
| "The window has been broken (by my brother)."
Some verbs describing the state or condition of a person form a progressive present with the existential verb plus 'in (my, your, his etc.)' plus the verbal noun.
| Tá mé
|| i mo chodladh. |
| I am
|| in my sleep |
| "I'm asleep."
|| bhfuil tú
|| i do chónaí
|| sa Ghearmáin? |
| INTERR. PART.
|| are you
|| in your living
|| in Germany |
| "Do you live in Germany?"
The forms meaning "to be"
Irish, like Spanish
, has two forms that can express the English verb "to be". The two forms perform different grammatical functions.
The existential verb bí
The existential verb is bí
. It is an irregular verb
; see Irish verbs
for its conjugation.
Existence, condition or location
This verb expresses the absolute existence of something, its condition, or its location. When accompanied by the adverb ann
"there" it means "exist" or "there is/are". Otherwise,the verb is complemented by an adjective, an adverb or a prepositional phrase.
|| ann. |
|| there |
| "God exists; There is a God."
|| an bosca
|| folamh. |
|| the box
|| empty |
| "The box is empty."
|| na húlla
|| ar an mbord. |
|| the apples
|| on the table |
| "The apples are on the table."
A noun phrase
alone cannot form the predicate of the existential verb. Instead, the noun complement is preceded by a form meaning "in my, in your, in his" etc.
|| dhochtúir. |
|| in his
|| doctor |
| "Seán is a doctor."
The copula is
The Irish copula
is not a verb, but a particle used to express a definition or identification. It may be complemented by a noun
, a pronoun
, an adjective
, or a topicalized
phrase. Because it is not a verb, it does not inflect for person
, and pronouns
appear in the disjunctive form.
The copula, which has the realis form is, is used for identification and definition:
Definition: X is a Y. Here, the word order is "Is-Y-(pronoun)-X". X is a definite noun or a pronoun.
- Is fear é. "It/he is a man."
- Is Sasanaigh iad. "They're Englishmen/Englishwomen."
Identification: X is the Y. Here the word order is "Is-pronoun-X-Y", or "Is-pronoun-Y-X". Note that there must always be a pronoun between a definite noun and the copula. It would be wrong to say *Is Seán an múinteoir, which would mean "The teacher is a (!) Seán".
- Is é Seán an múinteoir. "Seán is the teacher."
If we want to identify a first or second person pronoun with a definite noun, it is usual to use the longer form of the personal pronoun, which comes immediately after the copula:
- Is mise an múinteoir. "I am the teacher."
- Is tusa an scoláire. "You are the student."
- Is sinne na múinteoirí. "We are the teachers."
- Is sibhse na scoláirí. "You are the students."
The long form of the personal pronoun is very emphatic and stressed, and often knocks out the copula entirely. Thus, in the previous four examples it is possible to leave out the copula, which will then be understood:
- Mise an múinteoir.
- Tusa an scoláire.
- Sinne na múinteoirí.
- Sibhse na scoláirí.
The name of a renowned poem by Patrick Pearse, Mise Éire, is another example.
If we identify a third-person pronoun with a definite noun, it is entirely possible to use the same construction:
- (Is) eisean an múinteoir. "He is the teacher."
- (Is) ise an scoláire. "She is the student."
- (Is) iadsan na saighdiúirí. "They are the soldiers".
However, in the third person this usage is perceived to be much more emphatic than in the first and second persons. The usual way to say "He is the teacher" is
- Is é an múinteoir é.
where the definite noun is flanked by two personal pronouns agreeing with it in gender and number.
When saying "this is", or "that is", seo and sin are used, in which case is is usually dropped:
- Seo í mo mháthair. "This is my mother."
- Sin é an muinteoir. "That's the teacher."
The copula can also be dropped before pronouns:
- Mise Éire. "I am Ireland."
One can also add "that is in him/her/it", especially when using an adjective, when it is desired to emphasise the quality:
- Is fear láidir atá ann. "He's a strong man."
- (Literally: "It is a strong man that is in him.")
- Is cailín álainn atá inti. "She's a beautiful girl."
- (Literally: "It is a beautiful girl that is in her.")
This sometimes appears in Hiberno-English, either translated literally as "that is in it", or as "so it is".
The present tense of the copula can also have future meaning.
- Is múinteoir é. "He is a teacher."
The past tense of the copula can also have conditional meaning.
- Ba mhúinteoir í. "She was a teacher."
The forms is and ba are not used after preverbal particles.
- An múinteoir thú? "Are you a teacher?"
- Níor mhúinteoirí sinn. "We were not teachers."
If the predicate is definite, the copula is followed by a disjunctive personal pronoun, which may be repeated at the end of the sentence.
- Is í Siobhán an múinteoir. "Siobhán is the teacher."
- Is iad na daoine sin na múinteoirí. "Those people are the teachers."
- Is é an múinteoir é. "He is the teacher."
If the predicate is indefinite, it follows the copula directly, with the disjunctive pronoun and subject coming at the end.
- Is dalta mé. "I am a student."
- Is múinteoir í Cáit. "Cáit is a teacher."
The predicate of the copula can also be an adjective; in this case, the subject is a definite noun.
|| an lá
|| é. |
|| the day
|| it |
| 'It's a nice day.'
in Irish is formed by clefting
, i.e. by fronting the topicalized element as the predicate of the copula, while the rest of the sentence becomes a relative clause. Compare Dúirt mise é
"I said it" with Is mise a dúirt é
said it; I'm the one who said it."
Other uses for the copula
There are other set idiomatic phrases using the copula, as seen in the following examples. Here the predicate consists mostly of either a prepositional phrase or an adjective.
- is maith liom "I like" lit. "is good with me"
- ba mhaith liom "I would like" lit. "would be good with me"
- is fearr liom "I prefer" lit. "is better with me"
- is féidir liom "I can" lit. "is possible with me"
- níor cheart "one shouldn't" lit. "would not be right"
- ba cheart "one should" lit. "would be right"
- is fuath liom "I hate" lit. "is hatred with me"
- is cuma liom "I don't care" lit. "is indifferent with me"
- is mian liom "I wish/would like" lit. "is desire with me"
- is cuimhin liom "I remember" lit. "is memory with me"
Also the following constructions:
|| an abairt seo
|| a thuiscint. |
|| this sentence
|| to understand |
| "This sentence is hard to understand."
|| le Cáit
|| an gluaisteán. |
|| with Cáit
|| the car |
| "The car belongs to Cáit."
|| as Baile Átha Cliath
|| Máire. |
|| from Dublin
|| Máire |
| "Máire is from Dublin."
Answering questions with the copula
Since the copula cannot stand alone, the answer must contain either a part of the predicate or a pronoun, both of which follow the copula.
- An é Seán an múinteoir? "Is Seán the teacher?"
- —Is é. "—Yes."
- —Ní hé. "—No."
- An múinteoir é Seán? "Is Seán a teacher?"
- —Is ea. "—Yes."
- —Ní hea. "—No."
Omission of is
In all dialects, the copula is
may be omitted if the predicate is a noun. (Ba
cannot be deleted.) If is
is omitted, the following é, í, iad
preceding the noun is omitted as well.
- (Is) mé an múinteoir. "I am the teacher."
- (Is é) Seán an múinteoir. "Seán is the teacher."
- (Is) dalta mé. "I am a student."
Comparison of the existential verb and the copula
Both the existential verb and the copula may take a nominal predicate, but the two constructions have slightly different meanings: Is dochtúir é Seán
sounds more permanent—it represents something absolute about Seán; it is a permanent characteristic of Seán that he is a doctor. This is known as an individual-level predicate
. In the sentence Tá Seán ina dhochtúir
, one says rather that Seán performs the job of a doctor, that he is a doctor at the moment, that he has become a doctor. This is known as a stage-level predicate
Most complementizers (subordinating conjunctions
) in Irish cause eclipsis
and require the dependent form of irregular verbs. The word order in an Irish subordinate clause is the same as in a main clause. The types of subordination discussed here are: complementation, relative clauses, and wh-questions (which are formed as a kind of relative clause in Irish).
The subordinate clause is a part of the main clause in a purely syntactic complementation. In Irish it is introduced by go
"that" in the positive and nach
"that... not" in the negative.
| Deir sé
|| air. |
| he says
|| upon-him |
| "He says that he's in a hurry."
| Chruthaigh sé
|| ann. |
| he proved
|| that not
|| there |
| "He proved that there was no ghost."
Other examples of complex sentences using complementizers:
- Bhí faitíos roimhe mar go raibh sé taghdach. "People were afraid of him because he was quick-tempered."
- Ní chreidim é cé go bhfeicim é. "I don't believe it although I see it."
- Scríobh sí síos é ar nós nach ndéanfadh sí dearmad air. "She wrote it down so that she wouldn't forget it."
- Fan nó go dtiocfaidh sé. "Wait until he comes."
A conditional clause gives the condition under which something will happen. In Irish there are two kinds of conditional clauses, depending on the plausibility of the condition. The particle má
introduces a conditional clause that is plausible, also called a realis condition
causes lenition and takes the independent form of irregular verbs. Its negated form is mura
and causes eclipsis. Preceding the preterite it is murar
and causes lenition.
If the condition of the clause is hypothetical, also called an irrealis condition or counterfactual conditional, the word dá is used, which causes eclipsis and takes the dependent form of irregular verbs. The negated equivalent is either mura or murach go, meaning roughly "if it were not the case that...". The verb in both clauses is in the conditional.
- Má chreideann sé an scéal sin tá sé saonta go maith. "If he believes that story he is pretty gullible." (realis)
- Murar chaill sé é, ghoid sé é. "If he didn't lose it, then he stole it." (realis)
- Dá bhfágainn agat é ní dhéanfaidh tú é. "If I left it to you, you wouldn't do it." (irrealis)
Other examples of conditionals are:
- Éireoidh leis an bhfiontar i gcleithiúnas go mbeidh cách páirteach ann. "The venture will succeed provided that all take part in it."
- Tig leat é a bhriseadh ar chuntar go n-íocfaidh tú as. "You may break it provided that you pay for it."
There are two kinds of relative clauses in Irish: direct and indirect. Direct relative clauses begin with the leniting relative pronoun a
and the independent form of an irregular verb is used. The direct relative is used when the relative pronoun is the subject or direct object of its clause.
- D'imigh na daoine a bhí míshásta thar sáile. "The people who were unhappy went overseas."
- Sin í an obair a rinne mé. "That's the work that I did."
The direct relative is also used in topicalizations, e.g.:
- Is é Jimmy a chuaigh go Méiriceá. "It's Jimmy who went to America."
The direct relative is also used after the word uair "time":
- an chéad uair a bhí mé ann "the first time that I was there"
Indirect relative clauses begin with the eclipsing relativizer a
(in the preterite with leniting ar
); the dependent form of an irregular verb is used. The indirect relative is used to signify a genitive or the object of a preposition. In these cases, there is a resumptive pronoun
in the relative clause.
- an fear a raibh a dheirfiúr san ospidéal "the man whose sister was in the hospital" (lit. "the man that his sister was in the hospital")
- an fear ar thug a iníon céad punt dó "the man whose daughter gave him a hundred pounds" or "the man to whom his daughter gave a hundred pounds" (lit. "the man that his daughter gave him a hundred pounds")
- an seomra ar chodail mé ann "the room that I slept in" (lit. "the room that I slept in it")
The negative form of a relative clause, direct or indirect, is formed with the eclipsing relativizer nach, or, before the preterite, with the leniting relativizer nár.
- Sin rud nach dtuigim. "That's something I don't understand." (direct)
- bean nach bhfuil a mac ag obair "a woman whose son isn't working" (indirect; lit. "a woman that her son isn't working")
Sometimes a direct relative clause can be ambiguous in meaning, leaving unclear if the relative is accusative or nominative:
- an sagart a phóg an bhean "the priest who kissed the woman" or "the priest whom the woman kissed"
If the accusative reading is intended, one could use an indirect relative with a resumptive pronoun:
- an sagart ar phóg an bhean é "the priest whom the woman kissed" (lit. "the priest that the woman kissed him")
A wh-question begins with a word such as "who, what, how, when, where, why" etc. In Irish, such questions are constructed as relative clauses, in that they can be constructed as either direct or indirect.
Direct relative wh-questions
Questions with "who, what, how many, which, when" are constructed as direct relative clauses.
- Cá huair a tharla sé? "When did it happen?"
- Cé a rinne é? "Who did it?"
- Céard a fuair tú? "What did you get?"
- Cé mhéad míle a shiúil tú? "How many miles did you walk?"
- Cé acu is daoire, feoil nó iasc? "Which is more expensive, meat or fish?"
Indirect relative wh-questions
Questions with prepositions (i.e. "on what?, with whom?") and questions with "why?" and "where?" are constructed as indirect relative clauses.
- Cé aige a bhfuil an t-airgead? "Who has the money?" (lit. "who with him is the money")
- Cá leis ar thóg tú an gluaisteán? "What did you lift the car with?" (lit. "what with it did you lift the car")
- Cad chuige ar bhuail tú é? "Why did you hit him?"
- Cén áit a bhfaca tú an bhean? "Where did you see the woman?"
Clauses introduced by "how"
There are two words for "how" in Irish: the word conas
takes the direct relative clause, the phrase cén chaoi
takes the indirect.
- Conas a tharla sé? "How did it happen?"
- Cén chaoi a mbaineann sin leat? "How does that concern you?/What business is that of yours?"
Complementary subordinate clauses in the form of a relative clause
Some complements in Irish take the form of a relative, in that they end in the relative particle a
; both direct and indirect relative are found.Direct
- Nuair a bhí mé óg, bhí mé i mo chónaí i nDún na nGall. "When I was young, I lived in Donegal."
- Glaofaidh sí chomh luath agus a thiocfaidh sí abhaile. "She will call as soon as she gets home."
- Bhí sé ag caoineadh an t-achar a bhí sé ag caint liom. "He was crying while he was talking to me."
- Seinneadh port ansin, mar a rinneadh go minic. "Then a melody was played, as one often did ."
- Bhog sé a cheann ar nós mar a bheadh sé ag seinm. "He moved his head as if he were playing music."
- Tig leat é a choinneáil fad is a thugann tú aire dó. "You may hold it as long as you are careful with it."Indirect
- Lorg iad mar ar chuir tú iad. "Look for them where you put them."
- Fan san áit a bhfuil tú. "Stay where you are!"
- An t-am ar tháinig sé, bhíodar díolta ar fad. "By the time he came, they were all sold out."
- Inseoidh mé sin dó ach a bhfeicfidh mé é. "I will tell him that as soon as I see him."
- D'fhág sí é sa gcaoi a raibh sé. "She left it as it was."