Irish: Lesson Twelve
Motion / Location
There are two Irish words for "in" and and two for "out", corresponding to the distinction in English between "inwards" and "inside" and "outwards" and "outside", respectively. One describes the motion of going in or out, and the other describes the location of being in or out:
A similar distinction holds for "up" and "down":
In addition to these, there are also the specialized words "anuas" and "aníos". Anuas means "down (from above)" and aníos means "up (from below)":
The Case System
In the last lesson it was shown how a thing or person that was being directly addressed was said to be in the "vocative case" and underwent a spelling change. Standard Irish has three cases -- the nominative, or default, case, the vocative, and the genitive, which we'll look at in a moment. There is also an important case used in the dialects of Irish and in pre-Standard writing called the dative case, which dealt with nouns that followed prepositions. When we eclipse nouns that come after "ag an" or "ar an" (e.g. ag an mbanc, "at the bank", etc.), that is a remnant of the dative case. But in Standard Irish this case doesn't officially exist, so we'll leave it aside for now.
The genitive case has a number of different functions, but the most common is to show possession by something of something else. It is often used where in English the word "of" would be found, or where a noun would take apostrophe plus "s". For instance, if the English sentences "a glass of beer", "the king's men", or even "straw man" were translated into Irish, the words "beer", "king", and "straw" would be in the genitive case ("straw man" is also "man of straw"). Now, finding the way in which a noun changes from the nominative to the genitive in Irish is one of the great difficulties in that language's grammar, along with finding out how to turn a singular noun into a plural. There are a number of different methods that are used. As a defensive measure grammarians have come up with the idea of "declensions", groups of nouns that are roughly similar in the way they form the genitive, the vocative, and the plural. There are five declensions and they may make the necessary changes a little clearer.
The First Declension
Nouns of the first declension are all masculine and all end with a broad vowel (a, o, or u). This includes most names of men in Irish, such as Ciarán, Micheál, Peadar, Séamas, Seán, etc., as well as a great number of common masculine nouns for objects. Nouns in this declension form their genitive case the same way as they do their vocative -- by the process called "slenderization", which is either adding a slender vowel (e or i) to the noun, or changing broad vowels in the noun into slender ones. Last lesson we saw how someone named "Seán" would be addressed as "a Sheáin" and someone named "Breandán" as "a Bhreandáin". These are examples of slenderization, because the slender vowel "i" is being added to the names. We do the same to first declension nouns in the genitive:
However, as mentioned earlier some words instead of simply adding "i" change one or more of their vowels to "i":
The definite article of a masculine noun in the genitive case is still "an", but it aspirates the noun following (unless it begins with "d" or "t"), and adds "t" to a noun beginning with "s". Nouns beginning with d, t, l, n, r, or a vowel are unaffected by "an":
Note that in Irish when we have a sentence expressing "the X of the Y", for instance "the name of the boat" or "the life of the saint", the first noun never has an article, even if it does in English -- "name" and "life", respectively, are left indefinite.
The nominative plurals of many, but not all, first declension nouns are the same as their genitive singular:
However there are quite a few irregulars which form plurals by adding "a", "ta", "tha", "aí", "anna", or "ra", which is quite different from how they form their genitive, and these have to be memorized separately. A few common ones are given here.
Some of these nouns before they add a plural suffix lose their final vowel:
Nouns of the second declension are all feminine, with only three exceptions: im ("butter"), sliabh ("mountain"), and teach ("house"). The article before a feminine noun in the genitive case is "na"; this adds "h" to a noun beginning with a vowel.
The genitive singular in this declension is formed in one of three ways:
i) Adding -e to nouns ending in a slender vowel:
ii) Slenderizing and then adding -e to nouns ending in a broad vowel:
iii) Changing an ending "-ach" into "-aí" and "-each" into "-í":
Plurals are generally formed by adding "-a":
But there are the usual exceptions, for instance plurals ending in "-eanna" -- these are all of one syllable and end in a slender vowel:
... or those ending in "-acha" or "-eacha":
... or in "-te", "-ta", or "-tha":
The genitive case and, to a greater extent, the formation of plurals are indeed a wretched business in Irish, but when you start to read Irish you'll at least be able to recognize the word for what it is no matter what case it's in, and over time get used to seeing that word with its distinctive case-endings. A good dictionary, like the new Collins Gem Irish, lists the declension number after every noun and gives irregular genitive and plural forms in brackets, and in general attempts to make it easier to handle these things. So although we have another three declensions to learn, whatever grammar doesn't kill us can only make us stronger.