Irish Lesson 4.

Adverbs -- Clarification

In the previous lesson it was mentioned that many adjectives can be turned into adverbs by putting "go" before them, e.g. réidh (steady) ---> go réidh (steadily). However, I neglected to mention that the adjectives "maith" (good) and "dona" (bad) require "go" before them when they are used with a form of "tá", even though they are being used as adjectives, not as adverbs:

Tá sin go maith. That is good.
Beidh seo go dona. This will be bad.

(I've seen this happen with "deas" (nice) as well). With verbs other than "tá" (such as the ones you'll be learning in upcoming lessons) these behave like normal adjectives and drop the "go".

Direct Object Pronouns + Verbal Noun

In Lesson One the verbal noun was introduced using such sentences as "Tá sé ag dul" (he is going) and "bhí siad ag rith" (they were running). Verbs like "going" and "running" are known as intransitive verbs, in that they do not take a direct object -- they don't act upon something. But just as many verbs are transitive, and do act upon a direct object. When a personal pronoun like "mé, tú, sé, sí", etc., becomes the object of a verbal noun, it changes its form. Unlike in English, where we say "He is meeting me" or "I am seeing her", in Irish the direct object pronoun comes before the verbal noun, not after. In addition, the "ag" that normally forms part of the verbal noun is dropped. The direct object pronoun forms used with a verbal noun are:

--> do mo (do m' before a vowel)
--> do do (do d' before a vowel)
--> á
--> á
muid --> dár
sibh --> do bhur
siad --> á

As you may have noticed, these forms bear a strong resemblance to the possessive. And in fact they behave like possessives as well -- except instead of possessing a noun (like "mo chóta" or "do theach") they act as if they possess the verbal noun instead. Here's an example using the verbal noun "ag bualadh" -- beating:

Bhí sé do mo bhualadh -- he was beating me

As we can see, the word "me" in the above English sentence is rendered in Irish by "do mo" coming before the verbal noun. But "do mo" also acts like a possessive and, in this case, aspirates the verbal noun just as the regular possessive pronoun "mo" aspirates a noun. All the other forms listed above -- do do, á, dár, do bhur -- act like their possessive counterparts. Just as the possessive "a" can mean either "his", "her", or "their", with the only noticeable difference being the effect they have on the following word (e.g. "a" meaning "his" aspirates a word, "a" meaning "her" doesn't, and "a" meaning "their" eclipses a word), so too the object pronoun "á" can mean either "him", "her" or "them" and have the same effects on the verbal noun:

Bhí sé á bualadh -- he was hitting her (note: no aspiration)
Bhí sí á bhualadh -- she was hitting him (note: aspiration)
Tá muid á mbualadh -- we are hitting them (note: eclipsis)

But we can take a break from all this violence and form a reflexive verbal noun if we like. A reflexive verb is one in which something acts upon itself: "I shave myself", "he puffs himself up", etc. In Irish we can use the same object pronouns as above and add "féin" (self) on the end as a finishing touch. Consider the verbal noun "ag náiriú" (disgracing, shaming):

Bhí tú do do náiriú féin. -- You were disgracing yourself.
Tá siad á náiriú féin. -- They are disgracing themselves.

Now we can leave such unseemly goings-on and proceed to the...

Emphatic Pronouns and Particles

One of the more agreeable things in Irish is its propensity for making emphatic statements sound beautiful. Whereas in English we can only stress a word in a sentence to make it sound important -- "No, dummy, I want to use the car tonight" or "it's my life, dammit" -- in these situations Irish uses modified and very pleasant forms so that you do not have to strain your voice.

a) Pronouns

--> mise (I)
--> tusa (you)
--> seisean (he)
--> sise (she)
muid --> sinne (we)
sibh --> sibhse (you [plural])
siad --> siadsan (they)

These emphatic pronouns replace the regular pronouns when emphasis or contrast is needed:

Tá mé réidh. -- I am ready. (plain statement of fact)
Tá mise réidh. -- I am ready. (i.e. as opposed to someone else)


Care has to be taken not to overuse the emphatic pronouns, which is one of the most common learner's mistakes in both kinds of Gaelic. The temptation to say "mise mise" as Joyce did on the first page of Finnegans Wake is understandably very great.

b) Emphatic Particles

These are little suffixes that are attached to a word that is to be emphasized; "e" after "nn", "sa" after a broad consonant (a consonant found after a broad vowel), and "se" after a slender consonant (a consonant found after a slender vowel). If we consider this with reference to the "ag + pronoun" forms we learned in the last lesson (agam, agat, etc.), we come up with contrastive sentences like:

Tá teach againne, ach tá árasán acusan.

-- "We have a house, but they have an apartment".

"Ar" -- "on"

The preposition representing the English word "on" is "ar", but like some other Irish prepositions "ar" is useful far beyond its literal meaning.

a) "on"

"Ar" before an unqualified noun (one without a definite article) aspirates where possible:

ar chrann -- on a tree (crann, [m.])
ar bhád -- on a boat (bád, [m.])

"Ar" before a qualified noun (one with a definite article) causes eclipsis where possible, except on nouns beginning with "d" or "t" (this was the same rule used for "ag" in the last lesson):

ar an gcrann -- on the tree
ar an mbád -- on the boat


ar an talamh -- on the ground (talamh, [m.], ground, earth)
ar an droichead -- on the bridge (droichead, [m.])

According to the Christian Bros. there are some folks who aspirate, not eclipse, the word following "ar an" or "ag an" -- e.g. they say "ar an bhád" or "ag an bhanc" instead. Either way is OK.

b) Prepositional Pronouns

Like "ag", "ar" also combines with the pronouns to form those miracles of grammar, the prepositional pronouns:

ar + mé = orm (on me)
ar + tú = ort (on you)
ar + sé = air (on him)
ar + sí = uirthi (on her)
ar + muid = orainn (on us)
ar + sibh = oraibh (on you)
ar + siad = orthu (on them)

c) Emotions / Conditions

Usually in English we don't say that something is "on" someone unless it is unwelcome -- a fly, for example, or a stain. But in Irish there is a very useful and sometimes poetic range of expressions dealing with emotions and conditions that are "on" people. This often takes the place of the English "I feel..."

English Irish Keyword
I'm hungry tá ocras orm ocras, [m.] "hunger"
you're cold tá fuacht ort fuacht, [m.] "coldness"
we are thirsty tá tart orainn tart, [m.] "thirst"
they were tired bhí tuirse orthu tuirse, [f.] "tiredness"
he was afraid bhí eagla air eagla, [f.] "fear"
you'll be sorry beidh brón ort brón, [m.] "sadness"
I am happy / delighted tá áthas orm áthas, [m.] "happiness"
Ní bheidh áthas ar Seán. Sean won't be happy.
An bhfuil tuirse ar Niall? Is Neil tired? (tá!)

Note that "tá brón orm" is one way in which to say "Sorry" in Irish, despite its dramatic literal meaning.

d) Improvement / Excellence

To say something is improving you say there is improvement on it -- "improvement" being given by the masculine noun "feabhas":

Tá feabhas ar an aimsir. The weather is improving. (aimsir, [f.])
Tá feabhas ort. You're getting better.

Or alternatively:

Tá sé ag dul i bhfeabhas -- It is improving
(lit. "it is going into improvement")


Tá feabhas ag teacht air -- It is improving
(lit. "improvement is coming onto it")

The phrase "ar fheabhas" just means "excellent":

Tá an leabhar seo ar fheabhas -- "This book is excellent".

e) "ar" with verbs

Some verbs require "ar" after them to complete their sense. A few examples will suffice for the moment -- the verbal nouns "ag féachaint" (watching), "ag freastal" (attending), "ag iarraidh" (asking):

Beidh mé ag freastal ar léacht. -- I'll be attending a lecture.
Beidh mé ag iarraidh ar Seán. -- I'll be asking Sean.

In examples like these the "ar" is absolutely necessary, just as in English we need prepositions in verbs like "to look at", "to think of", "to prepare for" etc., since their omission would change the meaning of the verb.

Where this really becomes enjoyable is when you can use "ag" and "ar" at the same time. You can express the idea of knowing or being acquainted with somebody, having a question for somebody, being fond of something, remembering something, hating something or someone, loving something or someone or respecting someone. The basic construction is "Tá" + [noun] + "ag" + person A + "ar" + person B, where the noun can be "acquaintance", "love", remembering, etc., where person A is the subject, and person B the object, e.g.:

eolas ag Seán ar an teach sin
[noun] [subject] [object]

= "Sean knows that house" -- literally, "knowledge is at Sean on that house". The masculine noun "eolas" means knowledge.
Another example:

aithne agam ar Liam.
[noun] [subject] [object].

= "I am acquainted with Liam" -- literally, "acquaintance is at-me on Liam".
Or again:

grá aici ar Pheadar.
[noun] [subject] [object]

= "She loves Peter" -- "love is at-her on Peter".

The straightforward romantic phrase "I love you" is therefore "tá grá agam ort" -- love is at-me on-you.
(There are other ways of saying it, but this is simplest).

The other examples, all following this basic pattern, run as follows:

Tá ceist agam ort. I have a question for you.
(ceist, [f.] -- question)
Bhí cion aige ar Nuala. He was fond of Nuala.
(cion, [m.] -- love, affection)
An bhfuil cuimhne aig Seán uirthi? Does Sean remember her?
(cuimhne, [f.] -- memory)
Bhí fuath againn ar an mbaile sin. We hated that town.
(fuath, [m.] -- hatred)
Nach bhfuil gráin ag Liam ar fhíon? Doesn't Liam hate wine?
(gráin, [f.] -- disgust)
Tá meas mór agam oraibh. I have great respect for you.
(meas, [m.] -- respect)

And even now we have not exhausted the uses of "ar"...
but more on that next lesson.

Return to Gaelic lessons index - Home