Irish: Lesson Seven

The Demonstrative Adjectives

As you already know, "seo" means "this" and "sin" means "that". The third demonstrative pronoun is "siúd", which means "that" when the thing referred to is far away -- like the old English word "yonder". When any of these words qualify a noun, it comes after the noun like other adjectives and the noun itself is always definite:

an teach seo  --  this house
an eaglais sin  --  that church
an baile siúd  --  that town, yonder town

Demonstrative adjectives in "tá" sentences often are accompanied by a subject pronoun, e.g.

Tá sé sin go maith.  --  That is good.

-- "sé sin" is the subject even though we would expect to see "sin" on its own.

The Many Uses of "is"

The copula can be used in conjuction with the preposition "le" (with) to form several common Irish idioms.

i) Ability

There is no verb in Irish corresponding to English "can" or "be able to". To say that someone or something "can" do something in Irish we use the construction "Is féidir le..." followed by the subject of the sentence and an infinitive form of another verb. For example, "Liam can swim" in Irish would be:

Is féidir le Liam snámh. ---- (lit: it's a possibility with Liam to swim.)

The infinitive, you'll recall, was formed from the verbal noun. "Ag snámh" means swimming, so dropping the "ag" we get the infinitive "snámh", to swim.

"Le", as usual, combines with the personal pronouns where necessary:

Is féidir liom canadh.  --  I can sing.  (ag canadh -- singing)
Is féidir leo dul.  --  They can go.  (ag dul -- going)

The normal negative and question forms of the copula apply here:

Ní féidir leat tiomáint.  --  You can't drive.  (ag tiomáint -- driving)
An féidir leí léamh?  --  Can she read?  (ag léamh -- reading)


The "yes" answer to a question beginning "An féidir le...?" is "Is féidir." The "no" answer is "Ní féidir."

ii) Likes

There is no verb "to like" in Irish either. Again, the copula and "le" do the work instead. In this case the construction is "Is maith le.." followed by the subject and then by a noun that the subject likes.

Is maith le Niall ceol claisiceach.  Neil likes classical music.
Is maith le Peadar bia Indiach.  Peter likes Indian food.
(bia [m.] "food")
An maith leat filíocht?  Do you like poetry?
(filíocht [f.])
Ní maith linn iománaíocht.  We don't like hurling.
(iománaíocht [f.])

Related expressions are created with "breá" (fine) and "fuath" (hatred):

Is breá liom é sin.  That's fine with me.
Is fuath liom snagcheol.  I hate jazz.

iii) Ownership

Ownership of something by someone is expressed by saying that the thing owned is "with" someone:

Is le Seán an carr sin.  That car belongs to Seán.
An leatsa an rothar seo?  Does this bike belong to you? (rothar, [m.])
Ní leis an léine.  The shirt doesn't belong to him. (léine, [f.])

The question "who does... belong to?" in Irish is "Cé leis...?"

iv) Preference

A preference is stated by using the phrase "Is fearr le..." (It is better with...") followed by the subject and then the thing preferred:

Is fearr liom uisce beatha Éireannach.  I prefer Irish whiskey.
Is fearr le Síle beoir.  Sheila prefers beer.

To make a comparison between two objects you put "ná" (than) between them, e.g.

Is fearr liom uisce beatha ná beoir.  I prefer whiskey to beer.
(literally: it is better with-me whiskey than beer)
Is fearr le Máire tae ná caifé.  Mary prefers tea to coffee.
(literally: it is better with Mary tea than coffee)

v) Indifference

To say that someone is indifferent or doesn't care about something, you use "is cuma le..."

Is cuma liom faoi sin. ---- I don't care about that. (faoi, "about")

Copula, Past Tense

The positive past tense form of the copula is "ba", which causes aspiration:

Ba rí Cormac.  --  Cormac was a king.  (classification)
Ba mhúinteoir í.  --  She was a teacher.  (classification)
Ba é Brian an Rí.  --  Brian was the king.  (identification)
Ba mise é.  --  I was him.  (identification)
Ba bhreá an lá é.  --  It was a lovely day.  (adjectival)

This becomes "b'" ("b" followed by an apostrophe) before "fh" or a vowel:

B'Éireannach é.  --  He was Irish.
B'iontach an fear é.  --  He was a wonderful man.
B'fheidir liom scríobh.  --  I was able to write.

However, "ba" is normally written in full before "ea", "é", "í", and "iad".

A copula question in the past tense is asked by "ar", which also causes aspiration.

Ar mhaith leat é? ---- Did you like it?

"Ar" before a vowel or "fh" becomes "arbh":

Arbh fearr leat é?  --  Did you prefer it?
Arbh é Brian an Rí?  --  Was Brian the King?

The negative form of "ba" is "níor", which becomes "níorbh" before a vowel or "fh":

Níorbh é Brian an Rí.  --  Brian was not the King.
Nior mhaith liom é.  --  I didn't like it.

In the previous lesson it was explained how classification sentences can be answered "yes" by "Is ea" (sometimes abbreviated to "Sea") or "no" by "Ní hea":

An múinteoir é?  Is ea.  --  Is he a teacher?  Yes.
An dochtúir é?  Ní hea.  --  Is he a doctor?  No.

The past tense of these forms are "ba ea" and "níorbh ea".

Using "ba" as a conditional

"Ba" used in a sentence like "B'fhearr liom..." or "Ba mhaith liom..." can either mean "was" or "would", depending on the context. When it is used to express a desire for something, it is more like "would" in English:
B'fhearr liom tae.  --  I would prefer tea. (i.e. to something else)
Arbh fhearr leat caifé?  --  Would you prefer coffee?
Ba mhaith liom é sin.  --  I would like that.
Ba bhreá linn é sin.  --  We would love that.


"Do" is a preposition (not to be confused with the possessive "do" meaning "your") and used in a variety of different contexts to mean "to" or "for". It aspirates the following noun, and combines with "an" to form "don":

ag imeacht do Fhrainc  --  leaving for France
leabhar do ghasúr  --  a book for a child
ag tabhairt an t-airgead don bhocht  --  giving the money to the poor

Book dedications in Irish commonly use "do...", e.g. Antoine Ó Flatharta's play "Gaeilgeoirí" is dedicated "do mo mhuintir", i.e. "to my parents".

The prepositional pronouns with "do" are as follows:

do + mé  dom
do + tú  duit
do + sé 
do + sí  di
do + muid  dúinn
do + sibh  daoibh
do + siad  dóibh

One of the simplest uses of "do" is with the copula to show possession by saying that someone is something "to" someone else.

Is cara dom é.  --  He is a friend of mine. (cara [m.], "friend") 
Ní deirfiúr dó í.  --  She is not his sister. (deirfiúr [f.], "sister") 

It is used to mean "for" in phrases like "is necessary for", "is right for", "is good for", etc.:

B'éigean dom imeacht.  --  I had to leave. (lit: it was necessary for-me to leave).
Tá sé maith di.  --  It's good for her.
Ba cheart dom dul.  --  I should go. (lit: it would be right for-me to go)

Perhaps most noticeably "do" and its forms are employed in common expressions involving wishes:

Lá breithe sona duit.  --  Happy birthday to you.
Nollaig Shona daoibh!  --  Merry Christmas (to you!)
Dia duit!  --  Hello! (lit.: "God to you")

"Dia duit" is also sometimes seen as "Dia dhuit". You may also have heard "Dia is Muire duit", God and Mary to you. The word "is" (not to be confused with the copula "is") is used to mean "and" when you're joining two items that normally go together, like "bread and water", etc.

This is will be the last Irish lesson before the new year, so Nollaig Shona daoibh.

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