Irish Lesson 2.

A Little Review

The four ways of using "tá" that we learned were:

Tá Seán tinn. John is ill.
Níl Seán tinn. John is not ill.
An bhfuil Seán tinn? Is John ill?
Nach bhfuil Seán tinn? Isn't John ill?

Now we will leave John the invalid behind in the present tense where he is most comfortable and pass on to other things, such as the...

Verbal Noun

The verbal noun is a construction equivalent to the English form of a verb that ends with "-ing" (e.g. "running", "jumping") and which describes continuing action. In Irish, this is formed of two words, the first of which is always "ag", and the second of which is the verbal noun form of the particular verb itself. (The word "ag" means "at"; you can imagine this as being like the old English form "he is at playing" or "seven lords a' leaping"). The verbal noun is used with a form of "tá", for example:

ag dul            going

which gives us --

tá mé ag dul I am going
níl siad ag dul they are not going
nach bhfuil tú ag dul ansin? aren't you going there?
an bhfuil sí ag dul inniu? isn't she going today?

Some other common verbal nouns are:

ag ithe eating
ag ól drinking
ag léamh reading
ag scríobh writing
ag obair working
ag canadh singing
ag imeacht going away
ag éisteacht listening
ag féachaint looking
ag caint talking
ag déanamh doing
ag fáil getting
ag tabhairt giving
ag teacht coming
ag rá saying
ag foghlaim learning
ag fanacht staying
ag pógadh kissing
ag tosú beginning
ag smaoineamh thinking
ag siúl walking
ag rith running
ag gáire laughing
ag gol crying

Past Tense of "tá"

The past tense of "tá" is "bhí". The negative form is "ní raibh". As with "tá" these forms do not vary by pronoun (although in some places "bhíomar" will be seen instead of "bhí muid").

Bhí mé sona. I was happy.
Ní raibh sé dorcha. It wasn't dark.

The positive question form is "an raibh...?" ("was/were there...?") and the negative question form is "nach raibh...?" ("wasn't/weren't there...?")

An raibh Peadar ansin inné? Was Peter there yesterday?
Nach raibh Máire ansin inné? Wasn't Mary there yesterday?

As with the present tense, the answer to a question is a repetition of the verb. A yes answer to the above questions would just be "Bhí." A no answer would be "Ní raibh."

As "bhí" is just a form of "tá", the verbal noun can be used quite handily here, for example:

Bhí Peigí ag obair. Peggy was working.
Nach raibh siad ag fanacht i bParas? Weren't they staying in Paris?

(Remember that "i" means "in" and causes eclipsis. "i" before a vowel becomes "in", e.g. "in Arizona").

Future Tense of "tá"

The future tense form of "tá" is "beidh" and the negative future tense form is "ní bheidh". The question form is "an mbeidh?" and the negative question form is "nach mbeidh?" (Notice that "an" and "nach" cause eclipsis while "ní" causes aspiration).

Beidh mé ansin. I'll be there.
An mbeidh Ciarán tuirseach? Will Ciaran be tired?
Nach mbeidh siad sona? Won't they be happy?
Ní bheidh sin maith. That won't be good.

And now, since you may be thoroughly sick of "tá" at the moment we'll move along and take up the rest of it later.

Specific Questions

Two useful question words are "cé?", who, and "conas", how:

Cé tá ag caint? Who is talking?
Cé tá ag teacht inniu? Who is coming today?
Conas tá tú? How are you?

Different from above is the word "cá", meaning "where", which is used with the relative form of the verb "tá", "bhfuil". (I've referred to in the past to "bhfuil", "raibh" etc. as the "question" form of the verb but they are usually referred to as the "relative" form, as they have other uses besides asking a question). A sentence with "cá" would therefore look like

Cá bhfuil tú? Where are you?

... which is a question you can use when it's "dorcha" outside.

Definite Article

The normal definite article (equivalent to "the") in Irish is "an". The question word "cé" used with the article becomes "cén", e.g.:

an fáth the cause; the reason
cén fath? why? (literally: what the reason?)

Gender of Nouns

Irish nouns are either masculine or feminine. While some nouns predictably fall into one category or the other, many are random and their gender has to be memorized.

However, it's generally the case that nouns denoting males are masculine:

buachaill boy
tarbh bull
mac son

... and that ones denoting females are feminine:

baintreach widow
bean woman
iníon daughter

But there are exceptions even to this, most notably that the word "cailín" (young girl, origin of the word "colleen") is masculine.

According to the Christian Bros. the following are mainly feminine: names of languages; nouns to two or more syllables ending in -acht; and all nouns ending in -óg.

Article + Noun

When "an" comes before a noun the noun itself can be changed slightly. The most important thing is that all aspirable feminine nouns coming after "an" are aspirated, except those beginning with d, s, and t. So:

an bhean the woman
an bhaintreach the widow
an chathair the city
an deoch the drink
an eagla the fear
an fhuinneog the window
an Ghaeilge the Irish language
an litir the letter
an mhí the month
an nimh the poison
an oifig the office
an phingin the penny
an réalta the star
an tír the country

But feminine nouns beginning with "s" have "t" added in front:

sráid (street) --------> an tsráid (the street)

Masculine nouns are not aspirated after "an" but have "t-" added in front when they begin with a vowel:

an t-arán the bread
an bóthar the road
an ceol the music
an doras the door
an t-eolas the information
an fear the man
an gnó the business
an leanbh the child
an múinteoir the teacher
an nuachtán the newspaper
an t-ocras the hunger
an páiste the child
an rang the class
an seomra the room
an teach the house

The above forms of the nouns and their articles are used when the nouns are the subject or direct object of a sentence.


ach but
agus and
áit [f.] place
amárach tomorrow
amuigh outside
ar ais back [as in, "he's not back yet"]
árasán [m.] flat, apartment
ard tall
aréir last night
arís again
baile [m.] town
bia [m.] food
blasta tasty
bliain [f.] year
bocht poor
bog soft
cara [m.] friend
cinnte certain, certainly
crua hard
duine [m.] man
fada long
fios [m.] knowledge
fós still, yet
freisin also
idir between
istigh inside
lá [m.] day
leabhar [m.] book
luath quick
mall slow
máthair [f.] mother
nua new
oíche [f.] night
rud [m.] thing
sásta satisfied
sean old
sláinte [f.] health
teanga [f.] language
uaireanta sometimes
uisce [m.] water

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