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Irish declension

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Irish declension

The declension of Irish nouns, :Langpan title="Representation in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)" class="IPA">/ɾʲ/ and /nʲ/ respectively) are masculine, while words ending in Template loop detected:Lang (with a broad Template loop detected:Lang (with a broad /ɡ/) are feminine. This leads to some unexpected gender assignments, such as "girl" (masculine) and "boy scout" (feminine).

Case

Irish has four cases: common (usually called nominative, but it covers the role of an accusative as well), vocative, genitive, and dative.

Nominative

The nominative is used in the following functions:

  1. Sentence subject
    "The cat is drinking."
  2. Sentence object
    "Seán broke the window."
  3. Predicate of the copula
    "He is an idiot."
  4. Object of the prepositions "without", "(up) to" and mar "like, as".
    "without the money"
    "(up) to the time"
    "like the hen"

Vocative

The vocative is used in direct address, and is always preceded by the particle , which triggers lenition. (In spoken Irish this particle is often omitted, especially before a vowel sound.) The first declension is the only declension in which the vocative is distinct from the nominative.

  • "Where are you, son?"
  • "Seán, come here!"

Genitive

The genitive indicates possession and material of composition:

  • "the man's hat"
  • "the woman's children"
  • "the bishop's candelabra"
  • "a ring of gold, a golden ring"
  • "shoes of leather, leather shoes"

The object of a verbal noun also requires the genitive:

  • "spending money"

The object of a compound preposition is in the genitive. Formally, these prepositions are actually prepositional phrases.

  • "behind the door" (lit. "on the back of the door")
  • "one month long" (lit. "for the duration of one month")
  • "for Ireland's sake"

Dative

The dative is used with the object of most simple prepositions except and . In the standard language, the dative of a noun is identical to the nominative, but some dialects have distinct datives in the second and fifth declensions. Even in the standard language, "Ireland" has a distinct dative: .

  • "at the father"
  • "out of the house"
  • "on the bread"
  • "in an orange"
  • "to hell"
  • "with the money"
  • "from Ireland"

Declension

There are five recognized declensions in Irish. The makeup of the declensions depends on three factors:

  1. the gender of the noun
  2. the formation of the genitive singular
  3. relation of genitive singular to nominative plural
The following chart describes the characteristics of each declension class:
Nom. sing. ends with: Gen. sing. ends with: Gender
First declension Broad consonant Slender consonant Masculine
Second declension Broad or slender consonant -e/-í Feminine
Third declension Slender or broad consonant -a Masculine or feminine
Fourth declension Vowel or -ín (no change) Masculine or feminine
Fifth declension Vowel or slender consonant Broad consonant Mostly feminine

First

The first declension is made up of masculine nouns. The nominative singular ends in a broad consonant, which is made slender in the genitive singular. The most common formation of the plural has the opposite pattern: the nominative ends in a slender consonant, the genitive in a broad consonant (these plurals are known as weak plurals in comparison with strong plurals which maintain the identical form for all cases in the plural). The dative is identical to the nominative in both numbers, although an obsolete dative plural in -aibh is still sometimes encountered in old-fashioned literary style.

"boat" Singular Plural
Nominative /bˠaːd̪ˠ/ /bˠaːdʲ/
Vocative /ə waːdʲ/ /ə waːd̪ˠə/
Genitive /bˠaːdʲ/ /bˠaːd̪ˠ/
Dative /bˠaːd̪ˠ/ (obsolete )

When /x/ in the gen. sing. and nom. pl. of a polysyllabic word is made slender, it also becomes voiced, thus:

  • /x/ > /ç/ > /j/. The resulting /əj/ is written -(a)igh and is pronounced /iː/, /ə/, or /əɟ/, depending on dialect.
"a horseman" Singular Plural
Nominative /mˠaɾˠkəx/ /mˠaɾˠkiː/ ~
/mˠaɾˠkə/ ~ /mˠaɾˠkəɟ/
Vocative /ə waɾˠkiː/ ~
/ə waɾˠkə/ ~ /ə waɾˠkəɟ/
/ə waɾˠkəxə/
Genitive /mˠaɾˠkiː/ ~
/mˠaɾˠkə/ ~ /mˠaɾˠkəɟ/
/mˠaɾˠkəx/
Dative /mˠaɾˠkəx/ (obsolete )

Some nouns undergo a vowel change before the slender consonant of the genitive singular/nominative plural:

  • /bˠaːɫ̪, bˠailʲ/ - an (internal) organ, component part
  • /bˠuːn̪ˠ, bˠiːnʲ/ - a sole, coin
  • /caːn̪ˠ, ciːnʲ/ - a head
  • - a man
  • - a fish
  • /mˠak, mʲɪc/ - a son (Note: The first consonant is made slender in the gen.sg./nom.pl. as well!)
  • /pˠoːɫ̪, pˠailʲ/ - a hole

Many words of this declension form the plural with one of the endings -(a)í, -ta, -tha, -anna. These are known as "strong plural" endings, which means the plural is identical in all cases in the standard language. Some examples:

  • , gen. sg. , pl. - a fair
  • , gen. sg. , pl. - a way
  • /kaːɾˠ/, gen. sg. /kaːɾˠ/, pl. /kaɾˠən̪ˠə/ - a car
  • , gen. sg. , pl. - a voice
  • , gen. sg. , pl. - a child
  • , gen. sg. , pl. - a cloud
  • , gen. sg. , pl. - a rose
  • , gen. sg. , pl. - a summer
  • , gen. sg. , pl. - a story
  • , gen. sg. , pl. - fruit

Some nouns have a weak plural (a plural where the genitive is different from the nominative, and is identical to the form of the nominative singular) in -a:

  • , gen. sg. , nom. pl. , gen. pl. - a right
  • , gen. sg. , nom. pl. , gen. pl. - a trick
  • , gen. sg. , nom. pl. , gen. pl. - an apple

Other strong plural formations are found in:

  • - road
  • - judge
  • - verb
  • - skull
  • - door
  • - professor
  • - light

Second

The second declension is made up of mostly feminine nouns, and features a nominative singular form that can end in either a broad or a slender consonant. The genitive singular ends in a slender consonant followed by -e. The most common plural form has a broad consonant followed by -a in the nominative, and a broad consonant alone in the genitive. The vocative is the same as the nominative, as is the dative in the standard language.
"shoe" Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative /bˠɾˠoːɡ/ /ˈbˠɾˠoːɡə/
Genitive /ˈbˠɾˠoːɟə/ /bˠɾˠoːɡ/
Dative /bˠɾˠoːɡ/
 (obsolete/dialectal )
/ˈbˠɾˠoːɡə/
 (obsolete )
"tear" Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative /dʲoːɾʲ/ /ˈdʲoːɾˠə/
Genitive /ˈdʲoːɾʲə/ /dʲoːɾˠ/

In Connacht Irish and Waterford Irish it is often the case that all nouns of the second declension in the nom. sg. end with a slender consonant (e.g. "a shoe").

In some Munster varieties as well as the old literary language, the dative singular is distinct and ends in a slender consonant alone (in effect the dative sg. is formed by dropping the -e from the genitive sg.), e.g. "in my shoe". (Historically, nominative forms like are descended from the old dative.)

When /x/ in the gen. sing. is made slender, it is also voiced, so /x/ > /ç/ > /j/. /əjə/ becomes /iː/, and is written -(a)í.
"little girl" Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Std. dative /ˈɟɪɾˠʃəx/ /ˈɟɪɾˠʃəxə/
Genitive /ˈɟɪɾˠʃiː/ /ˈɟɪɾˠʃəx/
Dative /ˈɟɪɾˠʃəx/
 (obsolete/dialectal )
/ˈɟɪɾˠʃəxə/
 (obsolete )
Polysyllabic words that end with a slender consonant take a weak plural in :
"church" Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative /ˈaɡɫ̪əʃ/ /ˈaɡɫ̪əʃiː/
Genitive /ˈaɡɫ̪əʃə/ /ˈaɡɫ̪əʃiː/

Many words in this declension form a strong plural with one of the endings -t(h)a,-te, -(e)acha or -eanna:

  • "place"
  • /kailʲ, ˈkelʲə, ˈkailʲtʲə/ "forest"
  • "daughter"
  • "work"
  • "sky"
  • "country"
  • /t̪ˠuːn̪ˠ, t̪ˠɪnʲə, t̪ˠuːn̪ˠt̪ˠə/ "wave"
  • "egg"

Other strong plural formations are found in:

  • - tooth
  • - shoulder
  • - knife (NB irregular genitive singular)
  • (m.) - mountain (note irregular genitive singular and masculine gender)

Third

The third declension is made up of masculine and feminine nouns. It is characterized by the genitive singular in -a. The majority of nouns in this class form the plural in -(a)í. The final consonant of the stem may be broad or slender: it retains its quality in the plural, but is always broad in the genitive singular.
Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative broad or slender cons. -(a)í
Genitive broad cons. + -a -(a)í
(m.) "boatsman" Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative /ˈbˠaːd̪ˠoːɾʲ/ /ˈbˠaːd̪ˠoːɾʲiː/
Genitive /ˈbˠaːd̪ˠoːɾˠə/ /ˈbˠaːd̪ˠoːɾʲiː/
(m.) "race" Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative /ɾˠaːsˠ/ /ˈɾˠaːsˠiː/
Genitive /ˈɾˠaːsˠə/ /ˈɾˠaːsˠiː/

Feminine nouns in -áint and -úint lose their t in the gen. sg.; those in -irt have -th- instead of -t- in the gen. sg.

  • (f.) "threat"
  • (f.) "dialect"

Many words in this declension form the plural with one of the endings -anna or -acha:

  • (m.) /aːmˠ, ˈamˠə, ˈamˠən̪ˠə/ "time"
  • (m.) "soul"
  • (m.) /d̪ˠɾˠiːmʲ, ˈd̪ˠɾˠumə, ˈd̪ˠɾˠumən̪ˠə/ "back"
  • (m.) "lake"
  • (f.) "fight, struggle"

Some words in Munster Irish also have a separate dative form:

  • nom. , dat. , gen. , pl. (m.) /d̪ˠɾˠoumˠ, d̪ˠɾˠiːmʲ, ˈd̪ˠɾˠomə, ˈd̪ˠɾˠomˠən̪ˠə/ "back"

Fourth

The fourth declension is made up of masculine and feminine nouns. It is characterized by a genitive singular that is identical in form to the nominative/vocative/dative singular. The singular may end in a vowel or a consonant (usually the diminutive suffix -ín). The most common plural ending is -(a)í.
Singular Plural
All cases Vowel or consonant (usually -ín) -(a)í
(m.) "wall" Singular Plural
All cases /ˈbˠaɫ̪ə/ /ˈbˠaɫ̪iː/
(f.) "(piece of) advice" Singular Plural
All cases /ˈkoːɾˠlʲə/ /ˈkoːɾˠlʲiː/
(m.) "girl" Singular Plural
All cases /ˈkalʲiːnʲ/ /ˈkalʲiːnʲiː/

Many words of this declension form the plural with the following endings -tha/-t(h)e, -((e)a)nna or -((e)a)cha:

  • (m.) "animal"
  • (m.) "attorney"
  • (m.) "village"
  • (m.) "bus"
  • (m.) "son-in-law"
  • (f.) "wound, sore"
  • (m.) "nut"
  • (m.) "outhouse; eye of a needle"
  • (m.) "law"
  • (m.) "dozen"
  • (m.) "ray, radius"
  • (f.) "goose"
  • (f.) "shirt"
  • (m.) "saying"
  • (m.) "king"
  • /ˈsˠɫ̪ɪnʲə, ˈsˠɫ̪iːnʲtʲə/ (m.) "last name"
  • (f.) "language, tongue"
  • (f.) "fire"

Other strong plural formations are found in:

  • (m.) "name"
  • (m.) "characteristic, symptom"
  • (f.) "commandment"
  • (m.) "bank (of river etc.)"
  • (m.) "race, tribe"
  • (m.) "person, human being"
  • (m.) "blacksmith"
  • (m.) "business"
  • (f.) "night"

One noun in this class has a weak plural:

  • (f.) - cow

Fifth

The fifth declension is made up mostly of feminine nouns and is characterized by a genitive singular that ends in a broad consonant that has been added to the nominative/vocative/dative singular. The most common plural is weak, formed by adding -a to the genitive singular.
Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative Vowel or slender consonant Gen. sg. + -a
Genitive broad consonant Gen. sg. + -a
"person" Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative /ˈpʲaɾˠsˠə/ /ˈpʲaɾˠsˠən̪ˠə/
Genitive /ˈpʲaɾˠsˠən̪ˠ/ /ˈpʲaɾˠsˠən̪ˠə/
"city" Singular Plural
Nominative/Vocative/Dative /ˈkahəɾʲ/ /ˈkaɾˠəxə/
Genitive /ˈkaɾˠəx/ /ˈkaɾˠəxə/

In some Munster Irish varieties as well as the old literary language, the dative singular is distinct and ends in a slender consonant (in effect the dative sg. is formed by palatalizing the genitive sg.), for example, "to a person", "from the city". In "Ireland" the dative is still used in the standard language.

Some words form the genitive singular by changing the final consonant of the nominative singular to broad. The plural is then strong -eacha.

  • /aunʲ, aun̪ˠ, ˈavʲnʲəxə/ "river"
  • (m.) "father"
  • /ˈdʲɾʲahaːɾʲ, ˈdʲɾʲahaːɾˠ, ˈdʲɾʲahaːɾʲəxə/ (m.) "brother"
  • "mother"

Other strong plural formations are found in:

  • (m.) "brother (monk), friar"
  • /ˈkaɾˠə, ˈkaɾˠəd̪ˠ; ˈkaːɾˠdʲə/ (m.) "friend"
  • (m.) "enemy"
  • "Christmas"

Some nouns have weak plurals; here the genitive singular and genitive plural have the same form:

  • - sheep
  • - duck

Verbal nouns

The most productive verbal nouns end with -(e)adh (1st conjugation) or -(i)ú (2nd conjugation). These originally belonged to the third declension, but synchronically are best regarded as separate declensions.

The 1st conjugation verbal noun in -(e)adh has a genitive singular in -te/-ta and a plural in -t(a)í.

  • "breaking"
  • "praising; recommendation"

The 2nd conjugation verbal noun in -(i)ú has a genitive singular in -(a)ithe and a plural in -(u)ithe. These endings are pronounced the same regardless of the spelling distinction.

  • "examining, examination"
  • "stretching"

Irregular nouns

The following nouns are declined irregularly:

  • (f.) "woman"
  • (f.) /ˈdʲɾʲɛfʲuːɾˠ, ˈdʲɾʲɛfʲeːɾˠ, ˈdʲɾʲefʲuːɾˠəxə/ "sister"
  • /dʲɔx, dʲiː, ˈdʲɔxən̪ˠə/ (f.) "drink"
  • (m.) "God"
  • (m.) "day"
  • (f.) "bed"
  • (f.) "month"
  • (f.) "sea"
  • (f.) "wool"
  • (m.) or (f.); "land"
  • (m.) "house"

Articles

The definite article has two forms in Irish: and . Their distribution depends on whether the noun is singular or plural, the case of the noun, and the initial sound of the noun. Each entry of the table gives an example of a noun starting with a consonant and one of a noun starting with a vowel.
Singular Plural
Masculine Feminine both genders
Nominative


Dative (i)

Dative (ii)

Genitive


Dative (i) is used with all prepositions in Ulster usage; elsewhere it is used only with "from the", "to the", and "in the". Dative (ii) is used outside Ulster with other prepositions.

The article never lenites a following or , and an is lenited to (pronounced ) rather than the usual .

There is no indefinite article in Irish, so depending on context can mean "cat" or "a cat".

Adjectives

Almost all adjectives in Irish can be used either predicatively or attributively. A predicative adjective is one that forms a part of the predicate, like red in the sentence The car is red. An attributive adjective directly modifies a noun, as in the red car.

A predicate adjective in Irish does not inflect:

  • "That man is small."
  • "Those men are small."
  • "This woman is small."
  • "These women are small."

A predicate adjective expressing a value judgment is often preceded by the particle . This particle attaches an h to a following vowel.

  • "I'm fine" (lit. "I am good.")
  • "The story is bad."
  • "The weather was beautiful."

In Ulster, go is not generally used in these cases.

An attributive adjective mostly follows the noun and is inflected:

  • "the small man"
  • "of the small man" (genitive)
There are three classes of declension of adjectives in Irish, which correspond to the first four declensions of nouns:
Nom. sg. ends with: Gen. sg. masc. ends with: Gen. sg. fem. ends with:
1st/2nd decl. slender or broad cons. slender consonant slender consonant + -e
3rd decl. slender cons. (mostly -úil) slender consonant broad consonant + -a
4th decl. vowel = nom. sg. = nom. sg.

First/second declension

"poor" Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative
Genitive
"lame" Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative
Genitive
"quiet" Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative
Genitive

Third declension

"brave" Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative
Genitive
"just" Masc. Sg. Fem. Sg. Plural
Nominative
Genitive

Fourth declension

This declension does not inflect.
"hard" Masc. sg. Fem. sg. Plural
Nominative
Genitive

Irregular adjectives

Masc. sg. nom. & gen. Fem. sg. nom. Fem. sg. gen. Pl. nom./gen. Gloss
"beautiful"
"fine"
"difficult"
"short"
"still"
"fast"
"hot"
"dry"
Notes
  • The nominative plural undergoes lenition only if the noun ends with a slender consonant: "lame cats". Otherwise, the adjective in the nominative plural does not lenite: "lame tailors".
  • The long form of the genitive plural (e.g. ) is used when the noun has a strong plural, e.g. "of lame mothers". The short form (e.g. ) is used when the noun has a weak plural, e.g. "of lame cats".
  • The dative has the same form as the nominative.
  • The vocative has the same form as the nominative except in the masculine singular of the 1st/2nd declension, where it has the same form as the genitive.

Comparative

Irish adjectives have a comparative form equivalent to the comparative and to the superlative in English. The comparative does not undergo inflexion and is the same as the feminine singular genitive in regular and many irregular adjectives.

Regular formation

Base form Comparative form Gloss
"beautiful/more beautiful"
"lame/lamer"
"poor/poorer"
"quiet/quieter"
"just/more just"
"hard/harder"
"difficult/more difficult"
"short/shorter"
"brave/braver"
"still/stiller"
"fast/faster"
"dry/drier"

Irregular forms

Base form Comparative form Gloss
"small/smaller"
"fine/finer"
"possible/more possible"
"long/longer"
"near/nearer"
"easy/easier"
"many/more"
"beloved, dear/more beloved, dearer"
"good/better"
"bad/worse"
"hot/hotter"
or "strong/stronger"
"big/bigger"

Syntax of comparison

There are two constructions to express the comparative:

1) Copula + comparative form + subject + ("than") + predicate. The preterite of the copula causes lenition, while the present tense does not.

  • "Cáit was stronger than Cathal."
  • "Seán is bigger than me."
  • "The dog was younger than the cat."
  • "Broken Irish is better than clever English."

2) + comparative + + predicate. is used if the sentence is in the present or future tense.

, which triggers lenition, is used if the sentence is in the past tense. is used before words starting with vowels and before those starting with consonants.

  • "The sun is brighter than the moon."
  • "Peadar will be richer than his father."
  • "Peadar became richer than his father."
  • "Seán was bigger than me."

A superlative is expressed as a relative clause: noun + + comparative form.

  • "the strongest girl" (lit. "the girl who is the strongest")
  • "the strongest girl" (lit. "the girl who was/would be the strongest")
  • "the youngest boy" (lit. "the boy who is the youngest")
  • "the youngest boy" (lit. "the boy who was/would be the youngest")

References

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