Irish: Lesson Nine

Past Tense

The method of forming the past tense is the same for both conjugations of verbs. To form a positive past tense we simply aspirate the root where possible:

root past tense Example:
pós (marry)  -phós  -Phós sé a leannán. (He married his sweetheart.)
críochnaigh (finish)  -chríochnaigh  -Chríochnaigh sí a leabhar. (She finished her book.)
cuir (send)  chuir  -Chuir mé litir abhaile. (I sent a letter home.)
buail le (meet)  -bhuail le  -Bhuail sí le Liam. (She met Liam.)
tóg (build)  -thóg  - Thóg siad teach ann. (They built a house there.)
ceannaigh (buy)  -cheannaigh  -Cheannaigh mé carr nua. (I bought a new car.)

Roots that begin with a vowel take "d'" (d followed by an apostrophe) in the past tense, as do roots beginning with "f":


root past tense Example:
ól (drink) d'ól D'ól muid fíon. (We drank wine.)
ith (eat) d'ith D'ith siad dinnéar. (They ate dinner.)
imigh (leave) d'imigh D'imigh Seán go luath. (Sean left early.)
fan (stay) d'fhan  D'fhan sí i mBaile Átha Cliath. (She stayed in Dublin.)
féach ar (look at) d'fhéach ar D'fhéach siad orm. (They looked at me.)

Naturally, roots that begin with an unaspirable consonant (l, n, r) remain unchanged:
root past tense Example:
léamh (read) léamh Léamh mé leabhar le hÓ Grianna. (I read a book by O Grianna.)
roinn (divided) roinn Roinn sí an t-airgead. (She divided the money.)

A question in the past tense is asked with the aspirating word "ar" (not to be confused with "ar" meaning "on"):
root -- Example:
Bhuail mé leis. -- I met him.
Ar bhuail tú leis? -- Did you meet him?
Chuir sé an litir. -- He sent the letter.
Ar chuir sé an litir? -- Did he send the letter?

A negative answer to the above questions, or just a negative statement in general, uses the aspirating word "níor":
Níor bhuail mé leis.  -- I didn't meet him.
Níor chuir sé an litir.  --  He didn't send the letter. [etc.]

Negative questions, which in the present tense are asked with the eclipsing word "nach", are asked in the past tense with the aspirating word "nár":
Nach dtuigeann tú an ceacht?  --  Don't you understand the lesson?
--> Nár thuig tú an ceacht?  --  Didn't you understand the lesson?

Nach gcuireann sé an solas as?  --  Doesn't he put out the light?
--> Nár chuireann sé an solas as?  --  Didn't he put out the light? (cuir as, "put out")

As well as corresponding to the simple past tense in English, the past tense in Irish can cover some of the ground of the English "perfect" tense, i.e. the tense that says things like "I have done", "he has written", "you have stopped", etc. Irish does have a perfect tense of its own (which we'll learn later) but its scope appears to be a little more narrow.

Dialectical Variation

In the examples above, I gave the first person plural form of the past tense as the aspirated root followed by "muid", e.g. "chuir muid", "thóg muid", etc. This is the way it is formed in the dialects of Connacht and Ulster. However, the Official Standard ("Caighdeán Oifigiúil") of Irish follows the Munster habit of aspirating the root and adding "amar" (or "eamar" if the last vowel in the root is an "i") to form the first person plural of the past tense. For example, "phós muid" (we married) would be "phósamar" in Standard Irish, and "chuir muid" (we put) would be "cuireamar". Like "tuigim" or "molaimid" (present tense forms we learned last lesson), words ending in "-eamar" are known as synthetic, which means that they are a combined form of verb and pronoun and so don't need to be followed by a pronoun.

Future Tense

Unlike the past tense, the future tense of a verb is determined by which conjugation it belongs to. Recall that a first conjugation verb has a one-syllable root, while a second conjugation verb has a two-syllable root ending in "-(a)igh".

i) 1st Conjugation Future

As with the present tense these roots are divided according to whether or not they have "i" as their final vowel:
Root: mol "praise" Root: bris "break"
molfaidh mé  -- I will praise brisfidh mé  -- I will break
molfaidh tú  -- you will praise brisfidh tú  -- you will break
molfaidh sé  -- he will praise brisfidh sé  -- he will break
molfaidh sí  -- she will praise brisfidh sí  -- she will break
molfaidh muid  -- we will praise brisfidh muid  -- we will break
molfaidh sibh  -- you will praise brisfidh sibh  -- you will break
molfaidh siad  -- they will praise brisfidh siad  -- they will break

Conveniently enough, the forms are always the same for each verb. But you'll sometimes see "molfaimid" and "brisfimid" instead of "molfaidh muid" and "brisfidh muid", respectively.

ii) 2nd Conjugation Future

These too are divided into roots whose last vowel is "i" and those whose isn't, but in this tense instead of adding future tense endings to the root (like "fidh" and "faidh" above), the "-(a)igh" is taken off the verb before the endings are added:
Root: beannaigh "bless" Root: bailigh "gather"
beannóidh mé  -- I will bless  baileoidh mé  -- I will gather
beannóidh tú  -- you will bless  baileoidh tú  -- you will gather
beannóidh sé  -- he will bless  baileoidh sé  -- he will gather
beannóidh sí  -- she will bless  baileoidh sí  -- she will gather
beannóidh muid  -- we will bless  baileoidh muid  -- we will gather
beannóidh sibh  -- you will bless  baileoidh sibh  -- you will gather
beannóidh siad  -- they will bless  baileoidh siad  -- they will gather

So in this conjugation, the future tense is formed by dropping the "-(a)igh" and adding "óidh" (or "eoidh" if the last vowel in the root is "i").

The first person plural variants of "beannóidh muid" and "baileoidh muid" are "beannóimid" and "baileoimid", respectively.

A future tense question is asked using the eclipsing word "an", and the negative future tense is created using the aspirating word "ní":
Root: ceannaigh "buy"
-->  ceannóidh sé "he will buy".

Question:  An gceannóidh sé an leabhar? -- Will he buy the book?
Answer:  Ní cheannóidh sé an leabhar. -- He won't buy the book.

Root:  tuig "understand"
--> tuigfidh tú  "you will understand".

Question: An dtuigfidh tú an cheist? --Will you understand the question?
Answer: Ní thuigfidh mé an cheist. --I won't understand the question.

Root: bailigh,  "gather"
--> baileoidh siad,  "they will gather"

Question:  An mbaileoidh siad connadh?  -- Will they gather firewood?
Answer:  Ní bhaileoidh siad connadh.  -- They won't gather firewood.

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