Irish: Lesson Eight


The imperative form of the verb is what you use to order someone to do something. The imperative form of "tá" is "bí":

Bí cúramach!  --  Be careful!
Bí ann!  --  Be there!

The plural of this, used when issuing a command to more than one person, is "bígí":

Bígí ciúin!  --  Be quiet!

These forms are made negative by putting "ná":

Ná bí mímhúinte.  --  Don't be rude.
Ná bígí ag caint!  --  Don't be talking!

As with the other forms of "tá", this one is irregular. But usually the second person singular form of the imperative in Irish, the one used to issue a command to one person, is very important because it can be used to form other tenses of the same verb. This is why it's commonly known as the "root" and is the form used to represent the verb in dictionaries.

For example, the 2nd person imperative form meaning "lift" is "tóg":

Tóg an bosca.  --  Lift the box.

Since "tóg" is the singular command form, it's also the root and we can use it to find out how to say "lifts", "lifted", "will lift", "would lift", etc. In this lesson we will begin to find out how this is done.


All roots in Irish are divided into two broad categories, or "conjugations". The first conjugation consists of all roots that have one syllable. The second conjugation consists of all roots that have more than one syllable and which end in "-igh".

i) The First Conjugation

Some common first conjugation roots are:

bog  -- move  glan  --  clean
bris  -- break  líon  --  fill
buail  -- strike  mol  --  praise
caith  -- throw  ól  --  drink
ceap  -- think  póg  --  kiss
cuir  -- put  scríobh  --  write
éist  -- listen  seas  --  stand
fan  -- wait  stad  --  stop
gabh  -- go, take  tóg  --  build, lift, raise
ith  -- eat  tuig  --  understand

These roots are further subdivided into two kinds -- those whose last vowel is "i" (like "bris" or "cuir") and those whose last vowel isn't. The present tense is then formed from the roots by adding the following endings to them:

mol "praise", "recommend" bris "break"
molaim  --  I praise  brisim  --  I break
molann tú  --  you praise  briseann tú  --  you break
molann sé  --  he praises  briseann sé  --  he breaks
molann sí  --  she praises  briseann sí  --  she breaks
molaimid  --  we praise  brisimid  --  we break
molann sibh  --  you praise  briseann sibh  --  you break
molann siad  --  they praise  briseann siad  --  they break

Notice that the first-person forms don't have "mé" and "muid" after them. This is because, over time, the pronouns have become combined with the verb; you don't need the pronouns for these forms because it's clear who they're referring to.

Here are some examples:

Molaim an leabhar sin.  --  I recommend that book.
Briseann siad an ghloine.  --  They break the glass.
Tuigim an ceacht seo.  --  I understand this lesson.
Seasann an duine ag an doras.  --  The man stands at the door.
"Sceitheann fíon fírinne."  --  "Wine brings out truth." (sceith, "divulge", "betray")

ii) The Second Conjugation

Some common second conjugation roots are:

bailigh  --  gather
beannaigh  --  bless
ceannaigh  --  buy
críochnaigh  --  finish
dúisigh  --  awake
éirigh  --  rise
fiafraigh  --  ask
imigh  --  go
oibrigh  --  work
smaoinigh  --  think
tosaigh  --  begin

These are subdivided into those roots ending in "-igh" and those ending in "-aigh". Note that the present tense is formed by dropping the "-igh" from the root before the endings are added:

beannaigh "bless" bailigh "gather"
beannaím  --  I bless  bailím  --  I gather
beannaíonn tú  --  you bless  bailíonn tú  --  you gather
beannaíonn sé  --  he blesses  bailíonn sé  --  he gathers
beannaíonn sí  --  she blesses  bailíonn sí  --  she gathers
beannaímid  --  we bless  bailímid  --  we gather
beannaíonn sibh  --  you bless  bailíonn sibh  --  you gather
beannaíonn siad  --  they bless  bailíonn siad  --  they gather

Some examples using the above:

Beannaíonn an sagart an teach.  --  The priest blesses the house.
Bailímid connadh sa choill.  --  We gather firewood in the forest. (connadh [m.], "firewood") (coill [f.], "forest")
Fiafraíonn an mac léinn ceist.  --  The student asks a question. (mac léinn [m.], "student")
Tosaíonn sí a turas i mParas.  --  She begins her journey in Paris. (turas [m.] "journey", "trip")

Direct Object Pronoun

The pronouns "sé", "sí" and "siad" when used as the object of a sentence become "é", "í", and "iad":

Beannaíonn sé í.  --  He blesses her.
Bailím iad ag an gcladach.  --  I gather them at the shore.
Molann siad é.  --  They praise him.

The exception to this is when they are the object of a verbal noun, in which case we use the special forms introduced in Lesson Four.

Remember that in sentences using the imperative the subject (you) is not stated but implied.

Tóg an leabhar sin.  --  Lift that book. (i.e. you lift it)
--> Tóg é.  --  Lift it.

Here the only stated pronoun is "é" but it's the object, not the subject, of the sentence.

Object pronouns also tend to get bumped to the end of the sentence in Irish. In the sentence "tóg é" there's nothing between "tóg" and "é", but if we want to add the word "suas" (up) then "é" is pushed aside:

Tóg é.  --  Lift it.
+ suas  --  up
= Tóg suas é.  --  Lift it up.

or, to take another example:

Tóg é.  --  Lift it.
+ go mall  --  slowly
= Tóg go mall é.  --  Lift it slowly.

Present Tense, Negative and Question Forms

Verbs of both conjugations in the present tense form their negative by having the aspirating word "ní" placed in front of them:

Tuigim.  --  I understand.
--> Ní thuigim.  --  I don't understand.
Críochnaíonn sé an obair.  --  He finishes the work.
--> Ní chríochnaíonn sé an obair.  --  He doesn't finish the work.
Molaimid é.  --  We recommend it.
--> Ní mholaimid é.  --  We don't recommend it.

A question is asked using the eclipsing word "an":

Tuigeann sibh.  --  You understand.
--> An dtuigeann sibh?  --  Do you understand?
Ceannaíonn sé an nuachtán.  --  He buys the newspaper.
--> An gceannaíonn sé é?  --  Does he buy it?
Ólann tú caife.  --  You drink coffee.
--> An ólann tú caife?  --  Do you drink coffee?

Relative Pronoun "a"

The pronoun "a", meaning "that", "who", or "which", was introduced briefly in Lesson Five in conjunction with "tá":

an duine atá ann  --  the man who is there
an leabhar atá ar an mbord  --  the book that is on the table

With other verbs "a" doesn't combine like this, but comes before them as a separate word and, where possible, aspirates:

an bhean a bhí ag caint  --  the woman who was talking
an obair a chríochnaím  --  the work that I finish
an ceol a mholann sé  --  the music that he recommends
an t-arán a itheann sibh  --  the bread that you eat [etc.]

The negative form of this is "nach", which eclipses the following verb and adds "n-" to it if it begins with a vowel:

an rud nach dtuigim  --  the thing that I don't understand
fear nach n-aontaíonn liom  --  a man who doesn't agree with me (aontaigh le, "agree with")

These constructions are especially common when used with the copula to give emphasis to a sentence:

Tuigeann Seán an teanga sin.  --  Sean understands that language.
Is é Seán a thuigeann é.  --  It's Sean that understands it. [i.e. rather than someone else]
Nach inniu a thosaímid an ceacht?  --  Isn't it today that we begin the lesson?

Imperative -- Plural

To bring the lesson full circle, the plural form of the imperative (used when issuing a command to more than one person) in the first conjugation adds "-aígí" to a root, or just "-ígí" if the last vowel in the root is "i".

Scríobhaígí arís é.  --  Write it again.
Roinnígí an t-airgead.  --  Divide the money. (roinn, "divide")

For the second conjugation it's slightly different. If the root ends with "-aigh", this is dropped and "-aígí" is added. If it ends with "-igh", this is dropped and "-ígí" is added:

Singular imperative:  Tosaigh anois.  --  Start now.
Plural imperative:  Tosaígí anois.  --  Start now. (tosaígí = tosaigh - aigh + aígí)
Singular imperative:  Smaoinigh arís.  --  Think again.
Plural imperative:  Smaoinígí arís.  --  Think again. (smaoinígí = smaoinigh - igh + ígí)

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