Irish conjugation

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Irish verb forms are constructed either synthetically or analytically.

Synthetic forms express the information about person and number in the ending: e.g., molaim "I praise", where the ending -aim stands for "1st person singular present". In this case, a pronoun is not allowed: * molaim mé is ungrammatical.

Analytic forms are those whose endings contain no information about person and number, and a pronoun is necessary: e.g., molann sibh "you (pl.) praise", where the ending -ann expresses only the present tense, and the pronoun sibh "you" (pl.) must accompany it in order to express "2nd person plural".

In addition to the three persons, Irish also has an impersonal form (also called the "autonomous" form), which is used in forming passives and can conveniently be translated with "one" or "someone" as the subject. Shown below are the distribution of synthetic and analytic forms in the standard language; in the dialects, other patterns may be found.

See Irish orthography for a discussion of how verb endings are pronounced.

Regular verbs[edit]

There are two conjugation classes of regular verbs, as illustrated below. Note that in the "historical" tenses (the imperfect, preterite, and conditional), a consonant-initial stem undergoes lenition, while a vowel-initial stem is prefixed by d’. A stem beginning with f plus vowel takes both, e.g., fan "wait", d'fhan sé "he waited". (Exception: the preterite impersonal [example needed] neither undergoes lenition nor receives d’.)

First conjugation[edit]

Present[edit]

In the present tense of the 1st conjugation, endings are added directly to the root. Only the 1st person singular and plural and the impersonal have synthetic endings. Otherwise the analytic ending -(e)ann is used in combination with a pronoun.

Endings "praise" "understand"
1sg -(a)im molaim tuigim
1pl -(a)imid molaimid tuigimid
Impersonal -t(e)ar moltar tuigtear
Analytic -(e)ann molann tuigeann

Forms like molann muid and tuigeann muid instead of molaimid or tuigimid are frequently encountered but do not technically belong to the standard language. On the other hand, Munster Irish uses molair and molaid instead of molann tú and molann siad.

Imperfect (habitual past)[edit]

Synthetic endings are used except in the 3rd person singular, 2nd person plural, and impersonal. Otherwise the analytic form is used in conjunction with a pronoun.

Endings "used to praise" "used to understand"
1sg -(a)inn mholainn thuiginn
2sg -t(e)á mholtá thuigteá
1pl -(a)imis mholaimis thuigimis
3pl -(a)idís mholaidís thuigidís
Impersonal -t(a)í mholtaí thuigtí
Analytic -(e)adh mholadh thuigeadh

Preterite[edit]

The analytic form, used together with a pronoun for all persons except the 1st person plural and the impersonal, has a zero ending.

Endings "praised" "understood"
1pl -(e)amar mholamar thuigeamar
Impersonal -(e)adh moladh tuigeadh
Analytic mhol thuig

Future[edit]

The future stem is formed by adding f (pronounced [h] except in the impersonal) to the root. Synthetic endings exist only for the 1st person plural and impersonal.

Endings "will praise" "will understand"
1pl -f(a)imid molfaimid tuigfimid
Impersonal -f(e)ar molfar tuigfear
Analytic -f(a)idh molfaidh tuigfidh

Conditional[edit]

The conditional is formed by taking the stem of the future tense (f, pronounced /h/ except in the 2nd person singular and the impersonal) and adding endings similar to the imperfect.

Endings "would praise" "would understand"
1sg -f(a)inn mholfainn thuigfinn
2sg -f(e)á mholfá thuigfeá
1pl -f(a)imis mholfaimis thuigfimis
3pl -f(a)idís mholfaidís thuigfidís
Impersonal -f(a)í mholfaí thuigfí
Analytic -f(e)adh mholfadh thuigfeadh

Imperative[edit]

Singular: simple root Plural: root + -(a)igí
mol! "praise!" (sg.) molaigí! "praise!" (pl.)
tuig! "understand!" (sg.) tuigigí! "understand!" (pl.)

Second conjugation[edit]

Present[edit]

In the second conjugation, the present stem ends in -(a)í-, to which are added the synthetic or analytic endings. Roots ending in a slender consonant (e.g., inis "to tell") undergo syncope before the addition of -í-.

  • The root beannaigh "to bless" has the present tense stem beannaí-
  • The root inis "to tell" has the present tense stem insí-

The endings are the same as in the 1st conjugation, but without the -(a)i- vowel found there.

Endings "bless" "tell"
1sg -(a)ím beannaím insím
1pl -(a)ímid beannaímid insímid
Impersonal -(a)ítear beannaítear insítear
Analytic -(a)íonn beannaíonn insíonn

Imperfect (habitual past)[edit]

The endings of the imperfect (again the same as in the 1st conjugation, but without the -(a)i- vowel) are added to the present stem.

Endings "used to bless" "used to tell"
1sg -(a)ínn bheannaínn d'insínn
2sg -(a)íteá bheannaíteá d'insíteá
1pl -(a)ímis bheannaímis d'insímis
3pl -(a)ídís bheannaídís d'insídís
Impersonal -(a)ítí bheannaítí d'insítí
Analytic -(a)íodh bheannaíodh d'insíodh

Preterite[edit]

As in the first conjugation, the bare root is used as the analytic form. The synthetic forms of the 1st plural and the impersonal attach their ending to the present stem.

Endings "blessed" "told"
1pl -(a)íomar bheannaíomar d'insíomar
Impersonal -(a)íodh beannaíodh insíodh
Analytic bheannaigh d'inis

Future[edit]

The future stem consists of the root followed by the suffix -ó-/-eo-. This -ó-/-eo- replaces the -(a)í- of the present tense. The endings are almost as in the 1st conjugation. Synthetic endings are found only in the 1st person plural and the impersonal.

Endings "will bless" "will tell"
1pl -óimid/-eoimid beannóimid inseoimid
Impersonal -ófar/-eofar beannófar inseofar
Analytic -óidh/-eoidh beannóidh inseoidh

Conditional[edit]

As in the 1st conjugation, the conditional is formed by adding endings similar to those of the imperfect to the future stem.

Endings "would bless" "would tell"
1sg -óinn/-eoinn bheannóinn d'inseoinn
2sg -ófá/-eofá bheannófá d'inseofá
1pl -óimis/-eoimis bheannóimis d'inseoimis
3pl -óidís/-eoidís bheannóidís d'inseoidís
Impersonal -ófaí/-eofaí bheannófaí d'inseofaí
Analytic -ódh/-eodh beannódh d'inseodh

Imperative[edit]

Singular: simple root Plural: present stem + ending -gí
beannaigh! "bless!" beannaígí! "bless!" (pl.)
inis! "tell!" insígí! "tell!" (pl.)

Irregular verbs[edit]

There are eleven irregular verbs in Irish. Most of them are characterized by suppletion, that is, different roots are used to form different tenses. Analytic forms are indicated by the symbol +. The preterites of many irregular verbs take the nonpreterite forms of preverbal particles, e.g., an (interrogative particle) and (negative particle), instead of ar (pret. interrogative particle) and níor (pret. negative particle). Some verbs have different independent and dependent forms in certain tenses; the independent forms are used when no particle precedes the verb, and also after "if" (open conditional) and the direct relative particle a, while the dependent forms are used after all other particles.

abair "to say"[edit]

The d- in this verb is not lenited.

Present deir +, deirim, deirimid, deirtear
Imperfect deireadh + etc.
Preterite dúirt (an ndúirt/ní dúirt) +, dúramar, dúradh
Future déarfaidh + etc.
Conditional déarfadh + etc.
Imperative abair, abraigí
Verbal noun

beir "to catch"[edit]

Present beireann + etc. (regular)
Imperfect bheireadh + etc. (regular)
Preterite rug +, rugamar, rugadh. (ar/níor rug + etc.)
Future béarfaidh + etc.
Conditional bhéarfadh + etc.
Imperative beir, beirigí
Verbal noun beirthe

"to be"[edit]

Present independent tá +, táim (also tá mé), táimid, táthar
dependent1 fuil +, fuilim (also fuil mé), fuilimid
Habitual present bíonn +, bím, bímid, bítear
Imperfect bhíodh +, bhínn, bhíteá, bhímis, bhídís, bhítí
Preterite independent bhí +, bhíomar, bhíothas
dependent (an/ní) raibh +, rabhamar, rabhthas
Future beidh +, beimid, beifear
Conditional bheadh +, bheinn, bheifeá, bheimis, bheidís, bheifí
Imperative bí, bígí
Verbal noun bheith

1The negative particle lenites fuil to fhuil; the two are then fused to form níl +; cf. also nílim, nílimid, and níltear.

clois/cluin "to hear"[edit]

Present cloiseann + etc. (regular)/cluineann + etc. (regular)
Imperfect chloiseadh + etc. (regular)/chluineadh etc. (regular)
Preterite chuala +, chualamar, chualathas. (ar/níor chuala + etc.)
Future cloisfidh + etc. (regular)/cluinfidh + etc. (regular)
Conditional chloisfeadh + etc. (regular)/chluinfeadh + etc. (regular)
Imperative clois, cloisigí/cluin, cluinigí
Verbal noun cloisteáil/cluinstin

déan "to do, to make"[edit]

Present déanann + etc. (regular)
Imperfect dhéanadh + etc. (regular)
Preterite independent rinne +, rinneamar, rinneadh
dependent dearna +, dearnamar, dearnadh (an ndearna/ní dhearna + etc.)
Future déanfaidh + etc. (regular)
Conditional dhéanfadh + etc. (regular)
Imperative déan, déanaigí
Verbal noun déanamh

faigh "to receive, to find, to get"[edit]

The f- in this verb is eclipsed rather than lenited after .

Present faigheann + etc. (regular)
Imperfect d'fhaigheadh + etc. (regular)
Preterite fuair +, fuaireamar, fuarthas. (an/ní bhfuair + etc.)
Future independent gheobhaidh +, gheobhaimid, gheofar
dependent faighidh +, faighimid, faighfear (an/ní bhfaighidh + etc.)
Conditional independent gheobhadh +, gheobhainn, gheofá, gheobhaimis, gheofaí
dependent faigheadh +, faighinn, faighfeá, faighimis, faighfí (an/ní bhfaigheadh + etc.)
Imperative faigh, faighigí
Verbal noun fáil

feic "to see"[edit]

Present feiceann + feicimid. (regular)
Imperfect d'fheiceadh + etc. (regular)
Preterite independent chonaic +, chonaiceamar, chonacthas
dependent faca +, facamar, facthas (an bhfaca/ní fhaca)
Future feicfidh + feicfimid. (regular)
Conditional d'fheicfeadh + etc. (regular)
Imperative feic, feicigí
Verbal noun feiceáil

ith "to eat"[edit]

Present itheann + etc. (regular)
Imperfect d'itheadh + etc. (regular)
Preterite d'ith + etc. (regular) (ar/níor ith + etc.)
Future íosfaidh + etc.
Conditional d'íosfadh + etc.
Imperative ith, ithigí
Verbal noun ithe

tabhair "to give, to bring"[edit]

Present tugann + etc.
Imperfect thugadh + etc.
Preterite thug + etc. (ar/níor thug)
Future tabharfaidh + etc.
Conditional thabharfadh + etc.
Imperative tabhair, tugaigí
Verbal noun tabhairt

tar "to come"[edit]

Present tagann + etc.
Imperfect thagadh + etc.
Preterite tháinig +, thángamar, thángthas (ar/níor tháinig)
Future tiocfaidh + etc.
Conditional thiocfadh + etc.
Imperative tar, tagaigí
Verbal noun teacht

téigh "to go"[edit]

Present téann +, téim, téimid, téitear
Imperfect théadh +, théinn, théiteá, théimis, théidís, théití
Preterite independent chuaigh +, chuamar, chuathas
dependent deachaigh +, deachamar, deachthas (an ndeachaigh +/ní dheachaigh + etc.)
Future rachaidh +, rachaimid, rachfar
Conditional rachadh +, rachainn, rachfá, rachaimis, rachaidís, rachfaí
Imperative téigh, téigí
Verbal noun dul

Verbal nouns[edit]

Formation of the verbal noun[edit]

Irish has no infinitive and uses instead the verbal noun. The verbal noun can be formed using different strategies (mostly suffixes). The most common of these are:

  • Suffix -adh, e.g., bog "soften" : bogadh
  • Suffix -áil, e.g., fág "leave" : fágáil
  • Suffix , e.g., ardaigh "lift" : ardú
  • Suffix -amh, e.g., caith "spend" : caitheamh
  • Suffix -t, e.g., cosain "defend" : cosaint
  • Suffix -úint, e.g., lean "follow" : leanúint
  • Slender consonant is made broad, e.g., coisc "prevent" : cosc
  • Suffix -ach, e.g., ceannaigh "buy" : ceannach
  • Suffix nothing, e.g., ól "drink" : ól
  • Suffix -cht, e.g., dúisigh "awake" : dúiseacht
  • Suffix -e, e.g., rinc "dance" : rince

Usage of the verbal noun[edit]

The verbal noun is used as the infinitive would be used in English.

D'iarr sé orm imeacht. "He asked me to go."
B'fhearr liom fanacht. "I would rather stay."

A progressive can be expressed with the preposition ag and is equivalent to the English present participle.

Tá Seán ag obair. "Seán is working."
Bhí Máire ag caint. "Máire was speaking."

A perfect tense can be formed with either of the compound prepositions tar éis or i ndiaidh and the verbal noun.

Tá sí tar éis baint an fhéir. "She has (just) mowed the grass." (cf. Hiberno-English "She is after cutting the grass.")
Bhí sé i ndiaidh ní na gcupán. "He had (just) washed the cups." (cf. Hiberno-English "He was after washing the cups.")

Preverbal particles[edit]

Irish uses a number of preverbal particles to modify the meaning of a sentence. In a positive statement, no particle is used and the verb comes first (except in Munster Irish where "Do" is placed before verbs in the past, habitual past and conditional, leniting the verb that follows). This is still seen in the Standard Language in said tenses, prefixed to verbs beginning with vowels, e.g., D'ól mé (D'ólas in Munster Irish) meaning "I drank":

  • Tuigeann Seán Gaeilge. "Seán understands Irish."
  • Thuig Seán Gaeilge. "Seán understood Irish."
  • Thuigfeadh Seán Gaeilge. "Seán would understand Irish."

Negative particles[edit]

To negate a statement, the particle is used, which causes lenition; a d’ before a vowel or lenited f is omitted:

  • thuigeann Seán Gaeilge. "Seán doesn't understand Irish."
  • thuigfeadh Seán Gaeilge. "Seán wouldn't understand Irish."
  • ólfadh Séamas an bainne. "Séamas would not drink the milk." (cf. D'ólfadh Séamas an bainne. "Séamas would drink the milk.")
  • fhanfadh Úna liom. "Úna would not wait for me." (cf. D'fhanfadh Úna liom. "Úna would wait for me.")

In the preterite, the particle níor is used . There is lenition but no d’.

  • Níor thuig Seán Gaeilge. "Seán didn't understand Irish."
  • Níor ól Séamas an bainne. "Séamas didn't drink the milk." (cf. D'ól Séamas an bainne. "Séamas drank the milk.")
  • Níor fhan Úna liom. "Úna didn't wait for me." (cf. D'fhan Úna liom. "Úna waited for me.")

(In Ulster, the negative particles cha(n), pret. char are also used)

Interrogative particles[edit]

To pose a simple yes/no question, the particle an is used, which causes eclipsis (no eclipsis of vowels, because an already ends with n). In the preterite ar (+ lenition) is used. The prefix d’ is omitted:

  • An dtuigeann Seán Gaeilge? "Does Seán understand Irish?"
  • An dtuigfeadh Seán Gaeilge? "Would Seán understand Irish?"
  • An ólann Séamas bainne? "Does Séamas drink milk?"
  • An bhfanfadh Úna liom? "Would Úna wait for me?"
  • Ar thuig Seán Gaeilge? "Did Seán understand Irish?"
  • Ar ól Séamas an bainne? "Did Séamas drink the milk?"
  • Ar fhan Úna liom? "Did Úna wait for me?"

These particles are also used to introduce an indirect question:

  • Níl a fhios agam an dtuigeann Seán Gaeilge. "I don't know if Seán understands Irish."
  • Ní mé ar ól Séamas an bainne. "I wonder if Séamas drank the milk."

Negative interrogative particles[edit]

To pose a negative yes/no question, the particle nach is used, which causes eclipsis (in preterite: nár + lenition):

  • Nach dtuigeann Seán Gaeilge? "Doesn't Seán understand Irish?"
  • Nach dtuigfeadh Seán Gaeilge? "Wouldn't Seán understand Irish?"
  • Nach n-ólfadh Séamas an bainne? "Wouldn't Séamas drink the milk?"
  • Nach bhfanfadh Úna liom? "Wouldn't Úna wait for me?"
  • Nár thuig Seán Gaeilge? "Didn't Seán understand Irish?"
  • Nár ól Séamas an bainne? "Didn't Séamas drink the milk?"
  • Nár fhan Úna liom? "Didn't Úna wait for me?"

(In Munster is used instead of nach.)

Wh-interrogative particles[edit]

To pose a wh-question, one of the interrogative particles , cad a/céard a, cathain a, cé a, conas a etc. is used.

  • gcuirfidh tú an litir? "Where will you put the letter?"
  • Cad/Céard a cheapfaidh na comharsana? "What will the neighbors think?"
  • Cathain a dhíolfaidh sibh bhur dteach? "When will you sell your house?"
  • Cé a sheasfaidh i m'aice? "Who will stand next to me?"
  • Conas a ghlanfaidh tú an gúna? "How will you clean the dress?"

Subjunctive Mood[edit]

The subjunctive covers the idea of wishing something and so appears in some famous Irish proverbs and blessings. It's considered an old-fashioned tense for daily speech (except in set phrases) but still appears often in print.

The subjunctive is normally formed from "Go" (which eclipses, and adds "n-" to a verb beginning with a vowel), plus the subjunctive form of the verb, plus the subject, plus the thing being wished for. For instance, the subjunctive form of "teigh" (go) is "té":

  • Go dté tú slán. -- May you be well.

(lit: may you go well)

Or again, the subjunctive of "tabhair" (give) is "tuga":

  • Go dtuga Dia ciall duit. -- May God give you sense.

Or to take a third example, sometimes the wish is also a curse, like this one from Tory Island in Donegal:

  • Go ndéana an Diabhal toirneach de d'anam in Ifreann. -- May the Devil make thunder of your soul in Hell.

The subjunctive is generally formed by taking the present indicative tense of the verb and adding on the appropriate subjunctive ending depending on broad or slender, and first or second conjugation. For example, the present tense first person singular of bog (to move) is bog mé and its subjunctive in the same person is boga mé:

1st Conjugation:

mol (to praise) mola mé mola tú mola sé/sí molaimid mola sibh mola siad
bris (to break) brise mé brise tú brise sé/sí brisimid brise sibh brise siad

2nd Conjugation:

beannaigh (to bless) beannaí mé beannaí tú beannaí sé/sí beannaímid beannaí sibh beannaí siad
bailigh (to collect) bailí mé bailí tú bailí sé/sí bailímid bailí sibh bailí siad

E.g., "go mbeannaí Dia thú" -- May God bless you.

There is also some irregularity in certain verbs in the subjunctive. The verb (to be) is the most irregular verb in Irish (as in most Indo-European languages):

Present Indicative tá mé/táim tá tú tá sé/sí tá muid/táimid tá sibh tá siad
Present Subjunctive raibh mé raibh tú raibh sé/sí rabhaimid raibh sibh raibh siad

The Irish phrase for "thank you" -- go raibh maith agat—uses the subjunctive of "bí" and literally means "may there be good at-you".

Please note that some verbs don't follow the conjugation of the subjunctive exactly as conjugated above. These irregularities apply to verbs whose stem ends already in a stressed vowel and thus due to the rules of Irish orthography and pronunciation, can't take another. For example:

Present Indicative Present Subjunctive
téigh (to go) téann tú té tú
sáigh (to stab) sánn tú sá tú
luigh (to mention; cite) luíonn tú luí tú
*feoigh (to decay; wither) feonn tú feo tú
  • Although, feoigh doesn't have a fáda (accent), the 'o' in this position is stressed (pronounced as though it is ó) and thus the subjunctive is irregular.

It is important to note that where the subjunctive is used in English, it may not be used in Irish and another tense might be used instead. For example:

  • If I were (past subjunctive) you, I would study for the exam tomorrow. -- Dá mba (past/conditional of the copula) mise tusa, dhéanfainn (conditional) staidéar ar don scrúdú amárach.
  • I wish *(that) you were (past sub.) here. -- Is mian liom go raibh (present sub.) tú anseo.
  • It is important that he choose (present sub.) the right way—Tá sé tábhachtach go roghnaíonn (present indicative) sé ar an mbealach ceart.
  • **When you're older (present ind.), you'll understand—Nuair a bheidh (future ind.) tú níos sine, beidh tú a thuiscint.
  • *Note that in English, the relative pronoun that can be omitted, in Irish the corresponding go must be retained.
  • **Note that in English, the present tense is often used to refer to a future state whereas in Irish there is less freedom with tenses (i.e. time is more strictly bound to the appropriate tense, present for present, past for past, future for future). In this particular example, you will be older and it is then that you will understand.