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The morphology of Irish is in some respects typical of an Indo-European language. Nouns are declined for number and case, and verbs for person and number. Nouns are classified by masculine or feminine gender. Other aspects of Irish morphology, while typical for a Celtic language, are not typical for Indo-European, such as the presence of inflected prepositions and the initial consonant mutations. Irish syntax is also rather different from that of most Indo-European languages, due to its use of the verb–subject–object word order.
- 1 Syntax
- 2 Nouns
- 3 Articles
- 4 Adjectives
- 5 Verbs
- 6 Pronouns
- 7 Prepositions
- 8 Numbers
- 9 Phonology
Word order in Irish is of the form VSO (verb–subject–object) so that, for example, "He hit me" is Bhuail [hit-past tense] sé [he] mé [me].
One distinctive aspect of Irish is the distinction between is, the copula (known in Irish as an chopail), and tá. Is describes identity or quality in a permanence sense, while temporary aspects are described by tá. This is similar to the difference between the verbs ser and estar in Spanish and Portuguese (see Romance copula), although this is not an exact match; is and tá are cognate respectively with the Spanish es and está.
- Is fear é. "He is a man." (Spanish Es un hombre, Portuguese É um homem)
- Is fuar é. "He is a cold(hearted) person." (Spanish Es frío, Portuguese É frio)
- Tá sé/Tomás fuar. "He/Thomas is cold" (= feels cold) (Alt. Tá fuacht air [= "Cold is on him"]). (Spanish Tiene frío – in this case Spanish uses 'tener' (to have) instead of 'estar' (to be), Portuguese Está com frio)
- Tá sé ina chodladh. "He is asleep." (Spanish Él está durmiendo, Portuguese Ele está dormindo)
- Is maith é. "He is good (a good person)." (Spanish Es bueno, Portuguese É bom)
- Tá sé go maith. "He is well." (Spanish Está bien, Portuguese Está bem)
Irish is an inflected language, having, in its standard form, the following cases: common (the old nominative and accusative), vocative and genitive. In Munster dialects a dative form persisted, though this has been largely discarded by younger speakers. The present inflectional system represents a radical simplification of the grammar of Old Irish.
Irish nouns may be masculine or feminine (the neuter having disappeared). To a certain degree the gender difference is indicated by specific word endings, -án and -ín being masculine and -óg feminine. While it has disappeared from vocabulary, the neuter gender is still to be seen in various place names in Ireland.
The Irish definite article has two forms: an and na. An may cause lenition, eclipsis, or neither. Na may cause eclipsis, but the only instance of lenition with na is with the genitive singular of the word céad meaning first. An is used in the common case singular for all nouns, and lenites feminine nouns. In the genitive singular, an with lenition is used with masculine nouns, na with feminine nouns. In the dative singular, an may cause lenition or eclipsis depending on the preposition preceding it and on regional norms (in Ulster usage, lenition is standard with all prepositions, while in other regions eclipsis is used with many). Na is the only plural form of the article; it causes eclipsis in the genitive for both genders, and no mutation in other cases.
There is no indefinite article in Irish; the word appears by itself, for example: Tá peann agam. - "I have a pen", Tá madra sa seomra. - "There's a dog in the room".
Irish adjectives always follow the noun. The adjective is influenced by the case, number and gender of the noun preceding it.
- An cailín beag
- An bhean bhocht
- Na buachaillí óga
Adjectives in Irish have two morphological degrees of comparison: the positive (Irish: bunchéim), e.g. Tá an buachaill cairdiúil "the boy is friendly", and the comparative (Irish: breischéim), e.g. Tá an cailín níos cairdiúla ná an buachaill "the girl is nicer than the boy". A superlative (Irish: sárchéim) sense is rendered by the comparative in a relative clause, e.g. Is é Seán an páiste is cairdiúla den triúr "Seán is the nicest child of the three".
There are two conjugations and 11 irregular verbs. Tenses or moods are formed by inflecting the stem, and in the past and habitual past tenses and the conditional mood also by leniting any initial consonant. The inflected tense and mood forms are: present indicative, present habitual indicative (differs from present only in the verb bí "to be"), future, past indicative, past habitual indicative, conditional, imperative, present subjunctive, and past subjunctive. Verbs also have a verbal noun and past participle, and progressive constructions similar to those using the English present participle may be formed from the verbal noun and an appropriate tense of bí. Examples of tense conjugations: (all third person forms without subject pronoun):
- 1st conjugation: Fág "to leave" – d'fhág (past) – fágann (present) – fágfaidh (future) – d'fhágfadh (conditional) – d'fhágadh (habitual past) – fága (subjunctive) – fágadh (imperative)
- 2nd conjugation: Ceannaigh "to buy" – ceannaigh (past) – ceannaíonn (present) – ceannóidh (future) – cheannódh (conditional) – cheannaíodh (habitual past) – ceannaí (subjunctive) – ceannaíodh (imperative)
- Irregular: Téigh "to go" – chuaigh (past) – téann (present) – rachaidh (future) – rachadh (conditional) – théadh (habitual past) – té (subjunctive) – téadh (imperative)
There is no passive proper in Irish, but there is an impersonal form of the verb, termed the saorbhriathar or "autonomous verb".
Verbs can be conjugated either synthetically (with the personal pronoun included in the verb inflection) or analytically (with the verb inflected for tense only and a separate subject). However, the official standard generally prescribes the analytic form in most person-tense combinations, and the synthetic in only some cases. The analytic forms are also generally preferred in the western and northern dialects, except in answer to what would in English be "yes/no" questions. For example, the following are the standard form, synthetic form and analytical form of the past tense of rith "to run":
|1st sing||rith mé||ritheas||rith mé|
|2nd sing||rith tú||rithis||rith tú|
|3rd sing||rith sé||rith||rith sé|
|1st plural||ritheamar||ritheamar||rith sinn / rith muid*|
|2nd plural||rith sibh||ritheabhar||rith sibh|
|3rd plural||rith siad||ritheadar||rith siad|
|*muid is non-standard but is the usual 1st person plural pronoun in the western and northern dialects.|
Personal pronouns in Irish do not inflect for case, but there are three different sets of pronouns used: conjunctive forms, disjunctive forms, and emphatic forms (which may be used either conjunctively or disjunctively)
The form muid in the 1st person plural is not used in the standard language, but is very common in western and northern dialects. The standard and southern dialects have no subject pronoun in the 1st person plural, using the synthetic verb ending -imíd (alt -imid) instead.
Irish has no T–V distinction, i.e. it does not differentiate between formal and familiar forms of second person pronouns. The difference between tú and sibh is purely one of number.
There is no equivalent to the English "it", either "sé" or "sí" are used depending on whether the thing the speaker is referring to is a masculine noun or a feminine noun. The exception is the pronoun ea, used in impersonal copula phrases, particularly in the phrases is ea (> 'sea) "yes", "so", "that is so", ní hea (the opposite of is ea), nach ea? "is that not so?", an ea (Kerry am b'ea) "Is that so?", fear is ea é "it's a man", and so on.
If a pronoun is not the subject or if a subject pronoun does not follow the verb (as in a verbless clause, or as the subject of the copula, where the pronoun stands at the end of the sentence), the so-called disjunctive forms are used:
In Munster dialects the form thú is either (a) archaic (replaced by tú) or (b) is only found after words ending in a vowel.
- Buailim thú ("I hit you", present tense), Bhuail mé thú ("I hit you", past tense)
- Dialect type (a)
- Buailim tú, Bhuail mé tú
- Dialect type (b)
- Buailim tú, Bhuail mé thú
Irish also has intensive pronouns, used to give the pronouns a bit more weight or emphasis.
The forms thusa, eisean and ise are disjunctive forms, while tusa, seisean and sise are conjunctive forms.
The word féin (/fʲeːnʲ/ or /heːnʲ/) "-self" can follow a pronoun, either to add emphasis or to form a reflexive pronoun.
- Rinne mé féin é. "I did it myself."
- Ar ghortaigh tú thú féin? "Did you hurt yourself?"
- Sinn Féin is thus "We Ourselves"
The possessive determiners cause different initial consonant mutations.
mo "my" lenites; m’ precedes vowels
do "your (sg.)" lenites; d’ (or t' in many dialects) precedes vowels
a "his" lenites
a "her" takes the radical of a consonant and adds an h to a vowel
ár "our" eclipses
bhur "your(pl.)" eclipses
a "their" eclipses
The forms a and ár can also blend with certain prepositions:
|de & do||dá chara "from/to his friend"
dá feirm "from/to her farm"
dár n-athair "from/to our father"
dá n-athair "from/to their father"
|faoi||faoina chara "about his friend"
faoinár n-athair "about our father"
|i||ina feirm "in her farm"
inár bhfeirm "in our farm"
|le||lena n-athair "with their father"
lenár bpáiste "with our child"
|ó||óna bhean "from his wife"
ónár dtaighde "from our research"
|trí||trína cos "through her foot"
trínár dteach "through our house"
The object of a verbal noun is in the genitive case:
- Tá sé ag plé a rothair. "He's discussing his bicycle" (lit.: He is at the discussing of his bicycle)
Similarly, if the object of the verbal noun is a pronoun, then it is a possessive pronoun:
- Tá sé á phlé. "He's discussing it." (lit.: He is at its (i.e. the bicycle's) discussing)
- Tá sí do mo bhualadh. "She's hitting me."
- Tá siad do do phlé. "They are discussing you."
- Tá sé á pógadh. "He's kissing her."
- Tá tú dár mbualadh. "You're hitting us."
- Tá mé do bhur bplé. "I'm discussing you(pl.)."
- Tá sibh á bpógadh. "You(pl.) are kissing them."
Interrogative pronouns introduce a question, e.g. the words who, what, which. The Irish equivalents are:
- cé "who?, which?"
- cad or céard "what?"
- cá "which?"
- Cé a rinne é? "Who did it?"
- Cé a chonaic tú? "Who did you see?"
- Cé ar thug tú an leabhar dó? "Who did you give the book to?"
- Cad atá ort? "What's wrong (with you)?" (lit. "What is on you?")
- Céard a dúirt tú? "What did you say?"
- Cá hainm atá ort? "What's your name?" (lit. "Which name is upon you?")
- Cá haois tú? "How old are you?" (lit. "Which age are you?")
As the object of a preposition, a pronoun is fused with the preposition; one speaks here of "inflected" prepositions, or, as they are more commonly termed, prepositional pronouns.
There are three kinds of cardinal numbers in Irish: disjunctive numbers, nonhuman conjunctive numbers, and human conjunctive numbers.
|0||náid||13||a trí déag|
|1||a haon||14||a ceathair déag|
|3||a trí||21||fiche a haon|
|11||a haon déag||100||céad|
|12||a dó dhéag||1000.||míle|
These numbers are used for example in arithmetic, in telling time, in telephone numbers and after nouns in forms like bus a trí déag "bus 13" or seomra a dó "room 2".
Nonhuman conjunctive numbers
These numbers are used to count nouns that do not refer to human beings, e.g. capall "horse"
|1||aon chapall amháin;
|13||trí chapall déag|
|2||dhá chapall||20||fiche capall|
|3||trí chapall||21||capall is fiche|
|4||ceithre chapall||22||dhá chapall is fiche|
|5||cúig chapall||30||tríocha capall|
|6||sé chapall||40||daichead capall|
|7||seacht gcapall||50||caoga capall|
|8||ocht gcapall||60||seasca capall|
|9||naoi gcapall||70||seachtó capall|
|10||deich gcapall||80||ochtó capall|
|11||aon chapall déag||90||nócha capall|
|12||dhá chapall déag||100||céad capall|
"One" as a pronoun is rendered with ceann (lit. "head") when it concerns things and animals, e.g.:
- Tá cúig chapall agam; tá ceann acu breoite. "I have five horses; one of them is sick."
Human conjunctive numbers
These numbers are used to count nouns that refer to human beings, e.g. páiste 'child'
|1||aon pháiste amháin;
|2||beirt pháistí||8||ochtar páistí|
|3||triúr páistí||9||naonúr páistí|
|4||ceathrar páistí||10||deichniúr páistí|
|5||cúigear páistí||11||aon pháiste déag|
|6||seisear páistí||12||dáréag páistí|
"One" as a pronoun is rendered with duine (lit. "person") with people. The other "personal" numbers can also be used pronominally, e.g.:
- Tá cúigear páistí agam; tá duine acu breoite. "I have five children; one of them is sick."
- Tá seisear sa seomra. "Six people are in the room."
Higher numbers are done as with the nonhuman conjunctive numbers: trí pháiste déag, fiche páiste, etc.
|1st||an chéad chapall||13th||an tríú capall déag|
|2nd||an dara capall||20th||an fichiú capall|
|3rd||an tríú capall||21st||an t-aonú capall is fiche|
|4th||an ceathrú capall||22nd||an dóú chapall is fiche|
|5th||an cúigiú capall||30th||an tríochadú capall|
|6th||an séú capall||40th||an daicheadú capall|
|7th||an seachtú capall||50th||an caogadú capall|
|8th||an t-ochtú capall||60th||an seascadú capall|
|9th||an naoú capall||70th||an seachtódú capall|
|10th||an deichiú capall||80th||an t-ochtódú capall|
|11th||an t-aonú capall déag||90th||an nóchadú capall|
|12th||an dóú capall déag||100th||an céadú capall|
A notable feature of Irish phonology is that consonants (except /h/) come in pairs, one "broad" (velarized, pronounced with the back of the tongue pulled back towards the soft palate) and one "slender" (palatalized, pronounced with the middle of the tongue pushed up towards the hard palate).
Diphthongs: /iə/, /uə/, /əi/, /əu/.
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