Again, some words about the use of “ag” with the autonomous verb

In English, the preposition by is used for announcing the agent of an action in passive constructions: it was done by him (passive) corresponds to he did it (active). In Irish, the story is more complicated.

The author of a book or an article: “A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens”: Use le, if there is no verbal construction involved: Scéal fá Dhá Chathair le Charles Dickens. (Of course, it should be Scéal faoi Dhá Chathair in standard Irish, but the existing translation comes from the pre-Caighdeán era, and the translator was an Ulster dialect speaker.)

When the action is (or was, or will be) ongoing and not completed, we use the construction with do + possessive + verbal noun. This passive construction takes the ag agent.

Tá muid dár n-ionsaí ag trúpaí naimhdeacha “We are being attacked by enemy troops”

Bhí sibh do bhur mealladh ag an gcailín leathnocht, agus níor thug sibh faoi deara go raibh bhur bpócaí á bhfolmhú ag a páirtí “You guys were being charmed by the half-naked girl, and you didn’t notice that your pockets were being emptied by his partner”

Bhí “Scéal fá Dhá Chathair” á chumadh ag Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities was being written by Charles Dickens” (or rather “authored, composed” – I used the verb cum!/cumadh)

When the action is definitely completed, we use the participle (the -the/-te/-tha/ta form).

Tá an cath briste orainn ag na trúpaí naimhdeacha “We have been defeated by the enemy troops” (in Irish we say, “the battle has been broken on us by the enemy troops”)

Bhí sibh meallta ag an gcailín leathnocht “You guys had been charmed by the half-naked girl”

Bhí “Scéal fá Dhá Chathair” cumtha ag Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities had been written by Charles Dickens”

There is a definite difference between the Irish construction Bhí sé déanta aige and the English construction It was done by himThey do not mean the same. The Irish construction is basically the exact equivalent of the German “situational passive” or Zustandspassiv – es war von ihm gemacht/getan. It means that it had been done previously, but the prevailing situation is that it was not being done anymore, and only the results existed at the time referred to. Thus, tá an cath briste orainn is best translated with the English perfect: we have been defeated; and bhí an scéal cumtha is a pluperfect: the story had been composed.

Now, of course, you want to ask, how you exactly translate into Irish such a construction as A Tale of Two Cities was written by Charles Dickens. This English construction does signal that the act of writing has been completed, but it also stresses the act, not just the result (the Irish situational passive only stresses the result). My short answer is: you don’t. You say instead Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, or ’twas Charles Dickens who wrote A Tale of Two Cities. Thus:

Chum Charles Dickens “Scéal fá Dhá Chathair”.

Ba é Charles Dickens a chum “Scéal fá Dhá Chathair”.

Those who learnt their Irish mainly from contemporary non-native sources will ask me, what about *Cumadh “Scéal fá Dhá Chathair” ag Charles Dickens then? I have always recommended against using ag agents with the autonomous verb. Here is why.

It is to be admitted that during different periods, there have been attempts to use an agent with the autonomous verb. My illustrious fellow countryman Anders Ahlqvist once pointed out to me that Old Irish used the preposition that was the cognate of as (‘out of’). Diarmuid Ó Sé has in his article in Ériu in 2006,  Agent Phrases with the Autonomous Verb in Modern Irish, surveyed this kind of constructions. It is suggested by Niall Ó Dónaill in his indispensable dictionary that le was used in older literary Irish – basically, in Early Modern Irish and later attempts to approximate classical style – for this purpose.

However, Ó Sé is of the opinion that such constructions as cailleadh X le Y “X was lost (killed) by Y” do not suggest that Y killed X, but rather, that Y was the reason of X being lost or killed – i.e., Y didn’t wield the weapon that killed X. A typical construction is cailleadh an laoch le bean álainn – i.e. a beautiful woman was the reason why the hero was killed (in the classical or postclassical examples used by Ó Sé, bean still had the dative form, so cailleadh an laoch le mnaoi álainn would be closer to the actual style, but you get the picture). The idea here is more like “he was lost/killed through a beautiful woman, a beautiful woman was his undoing”.

In fact, this usage of le is still common in such constructions as cailleadh le hocras é “he starved to death” (“he was lost through hunger”) and even the active construction fuair sé bás le hocras (“he got death through hunger”). I would also suggest that le is possible as a kind of agent preposition when the agent is not personal, but, for instance, a force of nature, so that it is difficult to say whether it is an agent or a reason: scoilteadh an spéir le tintreach (“the sky was split by/with a lightning”).

Sometimes, very rarely, you see le in contemporary literature used as agent. I have seen it once or twice in all the Ulster folklore collections I have perused for the last twenty years. I remember there is one very thin volume from Ulster – I can’t recall the title, and it seems the book is not included in my old bibliography – which includes one instance of le obviously used as a personal agent. (And of course, in An Chéad Mhám by Seán Bán Mac Meanman, there were examples of this le usage as an attempt at archaism, but that does not count.)

Another possible agent preposition is ó, which is used in Connacht Irish in such expressions as pósadh ón sagart iad “they were married by (actually from) the priest” (this example comes from Tomás de Bhaldraithe). Moreover, Ó Sé points out that Tomás de Bhaldraithe also found such gems in Connacht as this:

cén fáth nach múinfidís ó Ghaeilgeoir í? “why wouldn’t they teach her from an Irish-speaker?” (the meaning intended is “why wouldn’t they have her taught by an Irish-speaker?”)

Now, I feel very tempted to recommend these usages of ó to you, but I guess I must refrain from that. This ó usage will not be understood outside Connacht, and it is so uncommon that I have never encountered it in native literature or folklore.

Then that ag. Such constructions as goideadh an t-uisce beatha ag an druncaire “the whisky was stolen by the drunkard” are encountered in non-native literature, in bad newspaperese and in officialese, but I must say that they are really grating if you have acquired your Irish through the study of native literature and folklore. In fact, while folklore elicited from terminal speakers (i.e. speakers who aren’t regular users of the language anymore, and whose grasp of the language is loosening) does tend to exhibit unacceptable Anglicisms and solecisms, this ag usage is practically non-existent even in such material.

Diarmuid Ó Sé notes that they are sometimes found in texts written by native speakers especially of Munster background, when they try to sound refined and literary. Myself, I have found an abundance of ag agents in Dónall Mac Sithigh’s book Fan Inti, which is a Munster native speaker’s account of traditional boat-making. However, the book is in this respect very exceptional. It is my impression that these constructions are one of the most obvious differences between “good Gaeltacht Irish” (which you acquire, in Finland, by reading books written by native speakers as well as by reading folklore) and “that horrible school Irish”.

Diarmuid Ó Sé also notes that the ag is most often attached to the autonomous past tense, typically not to other tenses. He says this is a “genuine syntactic restriction” and refers to Edward Keenan’s and Matthew Dryer’s article on Passive in the world’s languages, which suggests that there is a connection between perfective verb and the need for an agent construction. Irish past tense is, according to him, basically an aorist, i.e. a verb form that refers to a completed (perfective) action. I agree on that, but I find Ó Sé’s explanation a little long-winded.

My impression is that this use of the ag agent has originated in non-native Irish and especially in direct relative clauses, which can be ambiguous: if we say an t-oifigeach a mharaigh an saighdiúir, does it mean “the officer who killed the soldier”, or “the officer whom the soldier killed”? You are tempted to use *an t-oifigeach a maraíodh ag an saighdiúir if the second interpretation is correct.

However, there is another way to avoid this ambiguity. You see the fact is that you are allowed to use indirect relative clause in such occasions. Then, write out the correct pronoun and use the indirect relative particle. Like this:

an t-oifigeach ar mharaigh sé an saighdiúir “the officer who killed the soldier”

an t-oifigeach ar mharaigh an saighdiúir é “the officer whom the soldier killed”

 

These usages are found in native folklore, and while they are not very common, they are found in all dialects, and sometimes even when they are not necessary. For some reasons though, they seem not to be taught at school, which may be one reason why those ag agents are so common in school Irish.

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Guides to good Irish – Treoirleabhair don dea-Ghaeilge

An Béal Beo. By Tomás Ó Máille. This one was first published in the good old days of the Free State, and when I entered the Irish-language scene in the nineties, it had the reputation of some sort of secret medicine. I acquired an old copy and started to transform it to the new spelling for my own use, but fortunately, immediately after the millennium, the book was reissued in a modernized version. It teaches traditional Gaeltacht Irish in its cultural setting – among other things it includes the description of a loom and its parts (!). You might find it rather challenging, but if you want to learn to think in Irish, to use traditional sayings and idioms and understand their meaning, you need to read this book, and make extensive notes. The language is rather Connemara-slanted, but there is linguistic material from other dialects.

Tomás Ó Máille a scriobh. Foilsíodh an chéad eagrán thiar i laethanta an tSaorstáit, agus nuair a thosaigh mise ag cur aithne ar shaol na Gaeilge is éard a fuair mé amach go rabhthas ag labhairt faoin leabhar seo mar a bheadh druagántacht na seanleigheasraí ann. Cheannaigh mé seanchóip agus chrom mé ar an litriú nua a chur i bhfeidhm uirthi le haghaidh m’úsáide féin, ach, ádhúil go leor, tháinig eagrán nua i gcló tar éis chasadh na mílaoise. Is éard a mhúineas an leabhar seo ná Gaeilge thraidisiúnta i gcomhthéacs an tseansaoil – mar shampla tá cur síos ann ar sheol an fhíodóra agus ar a pháirteanna (!). Is dócha go bhfaighidh tú an leabhar réasúnta deacair, ach más mian leat a bheith in ann smaoineamh as Gaeilge, úsáid a bhaint as na teilgeanacha dúchasacha cainte agus a mbunchiall a thuiscint, caithfidh tú an leabhar seo a léamh agus nótaí cuimsitheacha a bhreacadh síos. Tá blas Chonamara ar stíl an údair, ach san am chéanna tarraingíonn sé ar na canúintí eile freisin le haghaidh ábhair.

An Cabhsa, By Tomás de Bhial. This is a book of idiomatic expressions explained in their context, in sentences which make sense, and with practical advice. If you find the idea of reading Gaeltacht literature intimidating, you might start with this book. The writer was a teacher in the Ring of Waterford Gaeltacht, and the language used is mostly very mainstream, the kind of Munster and Connacht expressions that are widely used even by non-natives.

Tomás de Bhial a chum an ceann seo. Is éard atá sa leabhar seo ná teilgeanacha dúchasacha cainte agus iad mínithe ina gcoimhthéacs, in abairtí a bhfuil ciall cheart iontu, chomh maith le leideanna praiticiúla. Más ábhar scanraidh duit dul i ngleic le litríocht na Gaeltachta, tá súil agam go réiteoidh an leabhar seo an ród romhat beagáinín. Bhi an t-údar ina mhúinteoir i nGaeltacht na Rinne, agus an teanga a úsáidtear sa leabhar tá sí an-chóngarach do phríomhshruth na Gaeilge – teilgeanacha cainte ó Chonnachtaibh nó ón Mumhain atá ann, Gaeilge den chineál a d’fheicfeá ag scríbhneoirí neamhdhúchais chomh maith.

Dea-Chaint John Ghráinne agus a chairde. Collected by Tom Hodgins. This is a book about expressing emotions in idiomatic Irish. This is Ulster Irish pure and unadulterated, and if you want to express your emotions like Séamus Ó Grianna, you need to read this book. However, having read Ó Grianna’s available books as well as other Ulster classics, I was mostly familiar with the material in the book already. This is good news though: it means that you can learn to express emotions in good Irish if you read Gaeltacht literature; and on the other hand, that this book can make that literature more accessible for the learner.

Tom Hodgins a bhailigh. Leabhar é seo a chuirfeas ar do chumas do chuid mothúchán a chur in iúl go nádúrtha trí mheán na Gaeilge dúchasaí. Is í Gaeilge Uladh an chanúint a úsáidtear. Mar sin, más maith leat friotal Shéamuis Uí Ghrianna a chur ar do chuid mothúchán, ní mór duit an leabhar seo a léamh. Ón taobh eile de áfach, caithfidh mé a rá nár tháinig mé ar mhórán rudaí anseo nach raibh ar eolas agam cheana féin, nó bhí mé tar éis mionstaidéar a dhéanamh ar shaothar Uí Ghrianna agus ar na clasaicigh eile ó Chúige Uladh cheana féin. Dea-scéala é sin féin áfach: ciallaíonn sé gur féidir leat friotal na mothúchán a fhoghlaim trí litríocht Gaeltachta a léamh, agus go gcuirfidh an leabhar seo le do thuiscint ar an litríocht sin, más foghlaimeoir thú.

“…mar a déarfá”, by Séan Mac Cionnaith. This is a book of Irish clichés, as the author suggests. This is basically a very good, extensive guide to idiomatic Irish, but regrettably it seems that it was rushed into print. The idiomatic expressions presented sometimes exhibit pre-Caighdeán spelling or archaic grammar (unnecessary dative forms, for instance). Basically, the problem seems to be that the author took the expressions (or at least some of them) as he found them in primary sources, without checking them in standard dictionaries. So, for an old hand such as me who knows the language well, this book is a great help, but I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it for learners. This is deplorable: with some editing this would be a superb book, now it is only a good one. However, the problem of the book is the problem of much Irish publishing in general: you don’t have access to a whole team of expert editors, you must do the work all by yourself. Noting this, the book is quite a tour de force.

Seán Mac Cionnaith a scríobh. Cnuasach cliséanna Gaeilge atá ann, mar a deir an t-údar. Go bunúsach is iontach cuimsitheach an treoirleabhar é don duine a bhfuil Gaeilge dhúchasach ag teastáil uaidh ach uaireanta feictear duit go ndeachaigh an leabhar i gcló gan an snas deireanach a fháil, Na teilgeanacha cainte sa leabhar, ó am go ham d’aithneofá litriú na ré réamh-Chaighdeánaí orthu, sin nó lorg na seanghramadaí (tuiseal tabharthach mar shampla, áit nach bhfuil gá leis an bhfoirm a thuilleadh). Is é an phríomhfhadhb dar liom ná gur phioc an t-údar na teilgeanacha cainte (cuid acu ar a laghad) leis mar a fuair sé sna bunfhoinsí iad, gan iad a sheiceáil sna foclóirí caighdeánacha. Mar sin is mór an chabhair atá sa leabhar seo dom féin, ós duine de na seanfhondúirí mé, ach ní féidir liom é a mholadh do na foghlaimeoirí gan chuntar. Is mór an trua é, nó dá ndéanfaí tuilleadh eagarthóireachta ar an leabhar, bheadh sé thar barr ar fad – níl sé ach go maith faoi láthair.  Tríd is tríd áfach is é an phríomhfhadhb atá ag an leabhar seo ná fadhb na foilsitheoireachta Gaeilge go ginearálta: níl teacht agat ar fhoireann eagarthóirí seanchleachta agus caithfidh tú iomlán na hoibre a dhéanamh ar do leontaí féin. Le taobshúil air sin, is móréacht é an leabhar seo.

Cora Cainte as Tír Chonaillby Seán Mac Maoláin. This book is another reissued one from the good old days, and the language is pure Donegal Irish, as the title suggests. It is a list of words followed by explanations or usage examples, all in Irish. The reissued version uses a standard spelling which sometimes seems less than well suitable to how the words are pronounced in Donegal. However, the book is a good guide to Ulster Irish for those who only know the Caighdeán.

Ba é Seán Mac Maoláin a chuir an leabhar seo i dtoll le chéile. Atheagrán eile é ar sheanleabhar maith, agus is í Gaeilge Thír Chonaill an chanúint sa leabhar seo, mar is léir ón teideal. Liosta focal é, agus míniúcháin nó samplai úsáide i ngach iontráil, as Gaeilge amháin. An litriú a úsáidtear san atheagrán seo tá sé chomh gar don Chaighdeán is nach bhfuil sé chomh hoiriúnach céanna d’fhuaimniú na canúna. San am chéanna is maith an treoir atá ann dóibh siúd nach bhfuil ach an Caighdeán acu agus iad ag iarraidh ciall a bhaint as canúint Uladh.

I guess you miss Ceart nó Mícheart, by Seán Ó Ruadháin, here. The next blog post is my old review of that very book. (Only in Irish, I am afraid.)

Is dócha go bhfuil sibh ag crothnú Ceart nó Mícheart le Seán Ó Ruadháin anseoSa chéad bhlagmhír eile tá mo sheanléirmheas ar an leabhar áirithe sin.

A quick and very dirty guide to Irish prepositions (now as one page)

“THE USUAL RULES”:

The “usual rules” of initial mutation after the combination of a simple preposition and a following definite article:

  • To start with, note that a plural noun preceded by a simple preposition and a definite article follows the same rules as when it is preceded just by a definite article: i.e. a consonant does not change, but a vowel takes a h-: ar na fir, ag na mná, leis na héanacha (similarly: na fir, na mná, na héanacha)
  • All the difficulties are, thus, in the singular.
  • The basic rule is, that the noun is eclipsed: ar an bhfear, ag an mbean. A vowel is not affected (but the t- before a masculine noun beginning with a vowel is dropped: an t-éan, but leis an éan).
  • However, initial t- and d- are not eclipsed: ag an doras, ag an tine (such forms as ag an ndoras, ag an dtine are Kerry Irish).
  • As an alternative, the Ulster way of leniting the noun instead is allowed in the caighdeán: ag an fhear, ag an bhean.
  • In standard Irish, the initial lenitable s- (s + vowel, sn-, sl-, sr-) behaves in the same way as if there was no preposition, i.e. if the noun is masculine, it is not affected (ar an saol), but if it is feminine, the s- turns into a t-, written ts- (ar an tsráid). However, in Ulster, no difference between genders is observed here (ar an tsaol, ar an tsráid).

AG

Followed by the “dative case” (which is today for the most part equal to the nominative case, i.e. the dictionary form). Before an article + a noun, the usual rules apply.

Aigesna rather than ag na in plural is typically Munster Irish.

Personal forms: agam, agat, aige, aici, againn, agaibh, acu.

Before nouns with no article: ag does not affect the first sound in any way.

Main meanings of ag:

  • at (in the concrete locational sense): tá sé ina sheasamh ag an doras “he is standing at the door”
  • chez, in somebody’s home
  • at an occasion
  • in somebody’s possession: tá gluaisteán agam “I have a car/an automobile”

Note: The widespread habit of using le in the sense of “in somebody’s home” is an Anglicism. Due to the fact that English does not have a preposition corresponding to Irish ag, German bei, or Swedish hoswith is used in English. But in Irish, if you are “staying with” somebody, you should use ag for translating “with”.

AR

Followed by the “dative case” (which is today for the most part equal to the nominative case, i.e. the dictionary form). Before an article + a noun, the usual rules apply.

Personal forms: orm, ort, air, uirthi, orainn, oraibh, orthu.

Before nouns with no article: The main rule is, that it lenites. However, when it refers rather to the abstract state than to the concrete position, the lenition is omitted: ar muin chapaill (on horseback) vs. ar mhuin an chapaill áirithe seo (on the back of this particular horse). Note:

ar dhóigh “in a way” vs. ar dóigh “excellent” (But note ar fheabhas “excellent”, which is an exception of the exception). There is, of course (!), even ar ndóigh “of course”. (And speaking of ar + eclipsis, remember also ar gcúl.)

ar shiúl “away, gone” vs. ar siúl “happening, going on”

ar tarraingt “in traction” (when you lie with a broken bone in a hospital)

ar fionraí “suspended”

ar cois “happening, going on”

ar obair “happening, going on, proceeding”

ar dalladh “intensely”

Main meanings of ar:

  • on, upon (in the most concrete sense): ar an urlár “on the floor”
  • for a price: cheannaigh mé ar ocht bpunt é “I bought it for eight pounds”
  • in a relative position: tá sé ar an bhfear is fearr “he is the best man”
  • under the authority of someone: tá Nearó ina Impire ar an Róimh “Nero is the Emperor of Rome”
  • affected by emotion or disease: tá tuirse orm, tá fearg orm, tá slaghdán orm, tá tinneas cinn orm
  • “about” in the sense of “talking about something”. This usage, however, is more connected with particular verbs and phrases than that of faoi. (Compare Irish trácht ar rud and English “to remark upon something”.)
  • “Down upon” referring to aggression and attack is in Irish anuas ar.

AS

Followed by the “dative case” (which is today for the most part equal to the nominative case, i.e. the dictionary form). Before an article + a noun, the usual rules apply.

Personal forms: asam, asat, as, aisti, asainn, asaibh, astu.

Before nouns with no article: they are not affected at all. In Kerry, as does lenite, but this is heavily dialectal, and speakers of other dialects might find it out and out wrong. In Cork Irish, at least in Cape Clear, the historically correct form is used instead (as being only the third person masculine singular form) – it does not affect a consonant, but adds a h- to a vowel.

Main meanings of as:

  • out of; from among; from; away from
  • emanating from (smells, for instance)
  • material, medium: rud a ní as uisce; labhairt as Gaeilge
  • in payment for: d’íoc mé deich bpunt as na hearraí “I paid ten pounds for the goods”

CHUIG

Followed by the “dative case” (see above). Before an article + a noun, the usual rules apply.

Personal forms: chugam, chugat, chuige, chuici, chugainn, chugaibh, chucu.

Before nouns without article: they are not affected at all.

Main meanings of chuig: to, towards.

Note: ag is in dialects often used instead of chuig.

CHUN

Followed by the genitive case. The usual genitive rules apply. Note though, that when chun precedes an articleless noun which is followed by a definite genitive, that articleless noun can be declined in genitive too: leas ár dtíre “the interest/greater good of our country”, chun leasa ár dtíre “to the greater good of our country”.

Personal forms; the same as for chuig.

Main meanings:

  • to, towards
  • to a conclusion, to an effect
  • for a purpose

Note the older forms chum, do-chum, which you might encounter in texts printed in Gaelic type and spelled according to the old orthography.

DE

Followed by the dative case (see above). Before an article + a noun, it lenites where applicable, and turns a lenitable s- into a t- (but written ts-). Lenites nouns without an article.

Personal forms: díom, díot, de, di, dínn, díbh, díobh. The initial d- is often lenited (dh-).

Main meanings:

  • from, off: rud a bhaint de dhuine “to take a thing away from somebody”, stad sé den obair “he stopped working”
  • attached to, sticking to: cheangail mé an rópa den bhád “I bound, attached, the rope to the boat”; cheangail mé an dá bhád dá chéile le rópa “I tied the two boats to each other with a rope”

Note: non-natives often use le to refer to what something is attached or bound to. This is wrong. In Irish you always use de for this. Le refers to whatever you use for tying them together. Thus, you tie the boats de each other le a rope.

Another note: it is quite common as dialects go to conflate de and do into one preposition, or to use do where you’d expect de. Remember this when you read native texts with Ó Donaill’s dictionary.

Desna rather than de na in plural is Munster Irish.

DO

Initial mutations as after de.

Personal forms: dom, duit, dó, di, dúinn, daoibh, dóibh. The initial d- is often lenited (dh-).

Main meanings:

  • To, i.e. when giving something to someone: tabhair dom an bréagán sin “give me that toy”.
  • To a place (although for this I’d mostly prefer go dtí)
  • For (intended for someones use; to the benefit of; etc.)
  • In certain verbal noun constructions, it refers to the agent of the verbal noun: i ndiaidh dom teacht abhaile/ar theacht abhaile dom “when I had come home”

Dosna rather than do na is Munster Irish.

FAOI

Lenites a noun that follows it directly. The usual rules apply to the combination of preposition + article.

Personal forms: fúm, fút, faoi, fúithi, fúinn, fúibh, fúthu.

Main meanings:

  • Under, beneath.
  • About, around; also “about” in the sense of talking about something.

An Ulster acquaintance of mine suggested that there was a division of meaning between fá “about” and faoi “under, beneath” in Ulster dialect. This is possible, but my impression is that the choice of faoi, fá, fé, fó in older texts mostly depends of the phonetic environment, i.e. the vowels of the surrounding nouns (this would account for the form fó in the expression an Tír fó Thoinn “the land beneath the wave”, a mythological underwater otherworld; the expression has also, probably facetiously, been used for the Netherlands).

Fé is a common spelling variant in Munster. Fésna instead of faoi na is Munster dialect.

I

Eclipses a noun that follows it directly (i dteach). Becomes in before a vowel. In the standard language, the combination i + an (ins an, now commonly written sa, san) lenites; in Connemara, though, it is assimilated to the “usual rules” (sa mbád rather than sa bhád). In plural, i + na becomes ins na (now commonly written sna).

Sa in plural is Munster dialect.

Personal forms: ionam, ionat, ann, inti, ionainn, ionaibh, iontu.

Main meanings:

  • In, inside: sa teach
  • In a position: i gceannas ar na saighdiúirí
  • Innate capacities: tá comhábhair an cheoltóra mhaith ann 
  • Role: tá mé i mo mhúinteoir
  • Accusation, guilt: tá sé á chúiseamh i ndúnmharú; fuarthas ciontach i ndúnmharú é

LE

According to the standard language, it should affix a h- to a following vowel. Combines with the article to yield leis an in singular, leis na in plural. Leis an follows the usual rules.

Personal forms: liom, leat, leis, léi, linn, libh, leo.

Main meanings:

  • with
  • towards, facing
  • often used with verbs of interaction, transaction: labhair sé liom “he spoke with/to me”; dhíol sé a sheancharr liom “he sold his old car to me”
  • with is it refers to ownership: is liom an carr úd “that car over there is mine”. Note the difference: tá carr agam “I have a car”, but is liom an carr “the car belongs to me”.

Ó

The usual rules apply when followed by an article. When it precedes an articleless noun, it lenites. Ósna in plural is Munster dialect: ó na is standard.

Personal forms: uaim, uait, uaidh, uaithi, uainn, uaibh, uathu.

Main meanings:

  • from (from a place, from a person, from a limit, from a root cause, away from someone)
  • since (a point of time)

 

TRÍ

Becomes tríd before an. (Oops! All these years I have happily written it as tríd even before plural na!) It tends to be permanently lenited (thrí) and you do see the form tríd even before a noun without an article (this is dialectal though).

It’s the usual rules before an article. Before a noun without an article, trí lenites.

Personal forms: tríom, tríot, tríd, tríthi, trínn, tríobh, triothu.

Main meanings of trí:

  • through: tríd an bhfuinneog, tríd an doras
  • by doing something, by using something, by doing something in a way: rinne sé an t-aireagán trí mhiontaighde “he made the invention by minutious research”
  • through the medium of: ag múineadh trí Ghaeilge

UM

This preposition is only ever used in Cork Irish (well, probably sometimes in Kerry before names of holidays) and in legalese. I confess I have no exact idea what it means, but it follows the usual rules when  it comes before an article. Before a naked noun, it lenites, with the exception of labial consonants (b, m, p). For main meanings, consult the online Ó Donaill dictionary. – OK, fine, I am pulling your leg. It usually means “about, around”, and it is often used with temporal nouns: um an dtaca so (yes, it is definitely a Munster preposition, so um an eclipses the t’s and the d’s!), um an gCáisc, um an Nollaig. In legalese, it refers to what a law or an act is about: an tAcht um Theascadh na mBod Rófhada “the Too Long Penises Amputating Act”.

It has the personal forms umam, umat, uime, uimpi, umainn, umaibh, umpu. However, one of my readers pointed out on Twitter that she had never seen these forms before. They are hardly ever used anywhere else than in the native literature of Co. Cork; a book where you could expect to see them is Dónall Bán Ó Céileachair’s Scéal mo Bheatha.

ROIMH

Lenites naked nouns, but follows the usual rules with articles. The form roimis an… rather than roimh an… is Munster Irish.

Personal forms: romham, romhat, roimhe, roimpi, romhainn, romhaibh, rompu.

Main meanings:

  • before (in a temporal sense): roimh an Nollaig, roimh an gCáisc
  • before (in an order of preference, arrival, prestige etc.), ahead of: tháinig siad abhaile romhainn
  • waiting for someone: nuair a thuirling an t-eitleán i mBaile Átha Cliath, bhí cuid mhór de lucht ár leanúna ansin romhainn

THAR

Lenites naked nouns, except in sayings of a general meaning (thar barr, thar muir, thar bord, thar claí, thar smacht, thar sáile); the usual rules apply before a definite article.

Personal forms: tharam, tharat, thairis, thairsti, tharainn, tharaibh, tharstu.

Main meanings:

  • over, across, to the other side of something: chuaigh Seán thar sáile agus bhunaigh sé gnó ríomhaireachta i San Francisco
  • over, above: chuaigh an t-uisce thar an gcloigeann air agus bádh é
  • going or getting by or past something: chuaigh siad tharainn agus an choiscéim ghasta sin fúthu
  • beyond: chuaigh na páistí thar smacht ar an múinteoir bocht
  • in preference to: roghnaigh mé an ceann maith thar an drochcheann

IDIR

I have always had this idea that when it means “between”, it does not lenite the following noun, while when it means “among”, it does. However, Ó Donaill tells us that it basically lenites, with the exception of certain phrases. Whatever. It does not affect a noun preceded by article, so no “usual rules” there.

Eadar is a common variant spelling, typical of Ulster writers.

It has personal forms only in plural: eadrainn, eadraibh, eatarthu. These are only used alone. If idir is followed by two pronouns, those are kept: idir sinn agus iad, idir sibh agus sinn, and so on. There is one book – An Fhiannuidheacht by Cormac Ó Cadhlaigh – where you see stuff like eadrainn agus iad rather than idir sinn agus iad. The book is otherwise written in a rather commonplace Munster Irish for the most part, so I don’t know whether this is an archaism or a hypercorrection.

Main meanings:

  • between
  • both (…and)

A quick and very dirty guide to Irish prepositions (part two)

TRÍ

Becomes tríd before an. (Oops! All these years I have happily written it as tríd even before plural na!) It tends to be permanently lenited (thrí) and you do see the form tríd even before a noun without an article (this is dialectal though).

It’s the usual rules before an article. Before a noun without an article, trí lenites.

Personal forms: tríom, tríot, tríd, tríthi, trínn, tríobh, triothu.

Main meanings of trí:

  • through: tríd an bhfuinneog, tríd an doras
  • by doing something, by using something, by doing something in a way: rinne sé an t-aireagán trí mhiontaighde “he made the invention by minutious research”
  • through the medium of: ag múineadh trí Ghaeilge

 

UM

This preposition is only ever used in Cork Irish (well, probably sometimes in Kerry before names of holidays) and in legalese. I confess I have no exact idea what it means, but it follows the usual rules when  it comes before an article. Before a naked noun, it lenites, with the exception of labial consonants (b, m, p). For main meanings, consult the online Ó Donaill dictionary. – OK, fine, I am pulling your leg. It usually means “about, around”, and it is often used with temporal nouns: um an dtaca so (yes, it is definitely a Munster preposition, so um an eclipses the t’s and the d’s!), um an gCáisc, um an Nollaig. In legalese, it refers to what a law or an act is about: an tAcht um Theascadh na mBod Rófhada “the Too Long Penises Amputating Act”.

It has the personal forms umam, umat, uime, uimpi, umainn, umaibh, umpu. However, one of my readers pointed out on Twitter that she had never seen these forms before. They are hardly ever used anywhere else than in the native literature of Co. Cork; a book where you could expect to see them is Dónall Bán Ó Céileachair’s Scéal mo Bheatha.

ROIMH

Lenites naked nouns, but follows the usual rules with articles. The form roimis an… rather than roimh an… is Munster Irish.

Personal forms: romham, romhat, roimhe, roimpi, romhainn, romhaibh, rompu.

Main meanings:

  • before (in a temporal sense): roimh an Nollaig, roimh an gCáisc
  • before (in an order of preference, arrival, prestige etc.), ahead of: tháinig siad abhaile romhainn
  • waiting for someone: nuair a thuirling an t-eitleán i mBaile Átha Cliath, bhí cuid mhór de lucht ár leanúna ansin romhainn

THAR

Lenites naked nouns, except in sayings of a general meaning (thar barr, thar muir, thar bord, thar claí, thar smacht, thar sáile); the usual rules apply before a definite article.

Personal forms: tharam, tharat, thairis, thairsti, tharainn, tharaibh, tharstu.

Main meanings:

  • over, across, to the other side of something: chuaigh Seán thar sáile agus bhunaigh sé gnó ríomhaireachta i San Francisco
  • over, above: chuaigh an t-uisce thar an gcloigeann air agus bádh é
  • going or getting by or past something: chuaigh siad tharainn agus an choiscéim ghasta sin fúthu
  • beyond: chuaigh na páistí thar smacht ar an múinteoir bocht
  • in preference to: roghnaigh mé an ceann maith thar an drochcheann

 

IDIR

I have always had this idea that when it means “between”, it does not lenite the following noun, while when it means “among”, it does. However, Ó Donaill tells us that it basically lenites, with the exception of certain phrases. Whatever. It does not affect a noun preceded by article, so no “usual rules” there.

Eadar is a common variant spelling, typical of Ulster writers.

It has personal forms only in plural: eadrainn, eadraibh, eatarthu. These are only used alone. If idir is followed by two pronouns, those are kept: idir sinn agus iad, idir sibh agus sinn, and so on. There is one book – An Fhiannuidheacht by Cormac Ó Cadhlaigh – where you see stuff like eadrainn agus iad rather than idir sinn agus iad. The book is otherwise written in a rather commonplace Munster Irish for the most part, so I don’t know whether this is an archaism or a hypercorrection.

Main meanings:

  • between
  • both (…and)

Main Difficulties

I don’t suggest it is easy to learn good Irish. Not being a native speaker of English, my idea of what is difficult in Irish is obviously different from that of most learners, but speaking of purely practical difficulties, I’d like to note the following:

  • The dialectal differences, of course. People often exaggerate them, especially those people who try to find any convenient excuse not to learn Irish. However, they are there, and they complicate the acquisition of Irish. There is a recognized linguistic, or sociolinguistic, phenomenon called schizoglossia. In a schizoglossic situation, you don’t know which kind of language you should see as exemplary and normative, and you have this feeling that whatever you say, it will be wrong according to some norm. This phenomenon especially concerns diaspora minorities, for whom the language they habitually speak will be full of borrowings from the local language, but who at the same time often find the linguistic changes in the old country vulgar and distasteful. Analogies with Irish should be obvious; in a way, the Irish-speakers are a diaspora in their own country.
  • The abundance of bad examples. Publicly displayed Irish in Ireland is often plain wrong, and when it is not grammatically incorrect, it is too obviously translated from English. For instance, the dead word rochtain is far too often used as a catch-all for all the meanings of the English word access. However, it should be limited to where a special term is called for (accessing a computer network, for instance), instead of calling every door an “access” to the building. Of course, the ultimate problem here is the stupid way how English nowadays tries to express the most everyday things with Latinate abstractions, and then people translating into Irish but without much idea of how Irish really works think that they need a special Irish word for every hard word in English, instead of translating the highfalutin’ English into plain and intelligible Irish.
  • Bad teaching materials. It is very good that people use Learning Irish, because it is vintage Gaeltacht Irish. But as my little spies have told me, it does occur that reading materials for schools often intentionally depart from acceptable Irish, using instead their own pidgin. An example of this is a (printed and officially distributed) book which consequently used past tense instead of habitual past tense. This is so wrong that it should be punishable with death. If children haven’t been taught the habitual past yet, there are grammatically legal workarounds (for example using the conditional instead – there are dialects where conditional has ousted the habitual past – as well as the expression ba ghnách le [duine] [rud] a dhéanamh: bhíodh sé ag obair ansin = ba ghnách leis a bheith ag obair ansin “he used to work there”). But learning materials should never include anything grammatically incorrect.
  • Bad cultural priorities. We are constantly told to admire “modernist” authors who are no native speakers and whose “modernist experimentation” is just a way to conceal the fact that – to put it brutally – they couldn’t write anything near Gaeltacht Irish to save their lives. At the same time, there are excellent writers of popular fiction whose novels have never been reprinted since their first publication back in the fifties or sixties. In the nineties, Cló Iar-Chonnacht rediscovered and reprinted Máire Nic Artáin, which is a linguistically superb novel about a Catholic girl falling in love with a Protestant boy in Belfast. When I read it for the first time, I was completely lost for words: how was it possible that such a book hadn’t been reprinted for almost forty years, while everybody had been kvetching about how there are no books for young people in the language? For Chrissake, if people like me read Joan Lingard’s Kevin and Sadie novels with interest in Finland when young, how is it possible that young Irish people wouldn’t read Máire Nic Artáin? And it’s not the only example. Seán Ó Mulláin’s swashbuckling historical novels about the Ryan family are still waiting to be reprinted. So is Mícheál Ó hOdhráin’s Cine Cróga.

A quick and very dirty guide to Irish prepositions (part one)

“THE USUAL RULES”:

The “usual rules” of initial mutation after the combination of a simple preposition and a following definite article:

  • To start with, note that a plural noun preceded by a simple preposition and a definite article follows the same rules as when it is preceded just by a definite article: i.e. a consonant changes not, but a vowel takes a h-: ar na fir, ag na mná, leis na héanacha (similarly: na fir, na mná, na héanacha)
  • All the difficulties are, thus, in the singular.
  • The basic rule is, that the noun is eclipsed: ar an bhfear, ag an mbean. A vowel is not affected (but the t- before a masculine noun beginning with a vowel is dropped: an t-éan, but leis an éan).
  • However, initial t- and d- are not eclipsed: ag an doras, ag an tine (such forms as ag an ndoras, ag an dtine are Kerry Irish).
  • As an alternative, the Ulster way of leniting the noun instead is allowed in the caighdeán: ag an fhear, ag an bhean.
  • In standard Irish, the initial lenitable s- (s + vowel, sn-, sl-, sr-) behaves in the same way as if there was no preposition, i.e. if the noun is masculine, it is not affected (ar an saol), but if it is feminine, the s- turns into a t-, written ts- (ar an tsráid). However, in Ulster, no difference between genders is observed here (ar an tsaol, ar an tsráid).

 

AG

Followed by the “dative case” (which is today for the most part equal to the nominative case, i.e. the dictionary form). Before an article + a noun, the usual rules apply.

Aigesna rather than ag na in plural is typically Munster Irish.

Personal forms: agam, agat, aige, aici, againn, agaibh, acu.

Before nouns with no article: ag does not affect the first sound in any way.

Main meanings of ag:

  • at (in the concrete locational sense): tá sé ina sheasamh ag an doras “he is standing at the door”
  • chez, in somebody’s home
  • at an occasion
  • in somebody’s possession: tá gluaisteán agam “I have a car/an automobile”

Note: The widespread habit of using le in the sense of “in somebody’s home” is an Anglicism. Due to the fact that English does not have a preposition corresponding to Irish ag, German bei, or Swedish hoswith is used in English. But in Irish, if you are “staying with” somebody, you should use ag for translating “with”.

 

AR

Followed by the “dative case” (which is today for the most part equal to the nominative case, i.e. the dictionary form). Before an article + a noun, the usual rules apply.

Personal forms: orm, ort, air, uirthi, orainn, oraibh, orthu.

Before nouns with no article: The main rule is, that it lenites. However, when it refers rather to the abstract state than to the concrete position, the lenition is omitted: ar muin chapaill (on horseback) vs. ar mhuin an chapaill áirithe seo (on the back of this particular horse). Note:

ar dhóigh “in a way” vs. ar dóigh “excellent” (But note ar fheabhas “excellent”, which is an exception of the exception). There is, of course (!), even ar ndóigh “of course”. (And speaking of ar + eclipsis, remember also ar gcúl.)

ar shiúl “away, gone” vs. ar siúl “happening, going on”

ar tarraingt “in traction” (when you lie with a broken bone in a hospital)

ar fionraí “suspended”

ar cois “happening, going on”

ar obair “happening, going on, proceeding”

ar dalladh “intensely”

Main meanings of ar:

  • on, upon (in the most concrete sense): ar an urlár “on the floor”
  • for a price: cheannaigh mé ar ocht bpunt é “I bought it for eight pounds”
  • in a relative position: tá sé ar an bhfear is fearr “he is the best man”
  • under the authority of someone: tá Nearó ina Impire ar an Róimh “Nero is the Emperor of Rome”
  • affected by emotion or disease: tá tuirse orm, tá fearg orm, tá slaghdán orm, tá tinneas cinn orm
  • “about” in the sense of “talking about something”. This usage, however, is more connected with particular verbs and phrases than that of faoi. (Compare Irish trácht ar rud and English “to remark upon something”.)
  • “Down upon” referring to aggression and attack is in Irish anuas ar.

AS

Followed by the “dative case” (which is today for the most part equal to the nominative case, i.e. the dictionary form). Before an article + a noun, the usual rules apply.

Personal forms: asam, asat, as, aisti, asainn, asaibh, astu.

Before nouns with no article: they are not affected at all. In Kerry, as does lenite, but this is heavily dialectal, and speakers of other dialects might find it out and out wrong. In Cork Irish, at least in Cape Clear, the historically correct form is used instead (as being only the third person masculine singular form) – it does not affect a consonant, but adds a h- to a vowel.

Main meanings of as:

  • out of; from among; from; away from
  • emanating from (smells, for instance)
  • material, medium: rud a ní as uisce; labhairt as Gaeilge
  • in payment for: d’íoc mé deich bpunt as na hearraí “I paid ten pounds for the goods”

 

CHUIG

Followed by the “dative case” (see above). Before an article + a noun, the usual rules apply.

Personal forms: chugam, chugat, chuige, chuici, chugainn, chugaibh, chucu.

Before nouns without article: they are not affected at all.

Main meanings of chuig: to, towards.

Note: ag is in dialects often used instead of chuig.

CHUN

Followed by the genitive case. The usual genitive rules apply. Note though, that when chun precedes an articleless noun which is followed by a definite genitive, that articleless noun can be declined in genitive too: leas ár dtíre “the interest/greater good of our country”, chun leasa na tíre “to the greater good of our country”.

Personal forms; the same as for chuig.

Main meanings:

  • to, towards
  • to a conclusion, to an effect
  • for a purpose

Note the older forms chum, do-chum, which you might encounter in texts printed in Gaelic type and spelled according to the old orthography.

DE

Followed by the dative case (see above). Before an article + a noun, it lenites where applicable, and turns a lenitable s- into a t- (but written ts-). Lenites nouns without an article.

Personal forms: díom, díot, de, di, dínn, díbh, díobh. The initial d- is often lenited (dh-).

Main meanings:

  • from, off: rud a bhaint de dhuine “to take a thing away from somebody”, stad sé den obair “he stopped working”
  • attached to, sticking to: cheangail mé an rópa den bhád “I bound, attached, the rope to the boat”; cheangail mé an dá bhád dá chéile le rópa “I tied the two boats to each other with a rope”

Note: non-natives often use le to refer to what something is attached or bound to. This is wrong. In Irish you always use de for this. Le refers to whatever you use for tying them together. Thus, you tie the boats de each other le a rope.

Another note: it is quite common as dialects go to conflate de and do into one preposition, or to use do where you’d expect de. Remember this when you read native texts with Ó Donaill’s dictionary.

Desna rather than de na in plural is Munster Irish.

DO

Initial mutations as after de.

Personal forms: dom, duit, dó, di, dúinn, daoibh, dóibh. The initial d- is often lenited (dh-).

Main meanings:

  • To, i.e. when giving something to someone: tabhair dom an bréagán sin “give me that toy”.
  • To a place (although for this I’d mostly prefer go dtí)
  • For (intended for someones use; to the benefit of; etc.)
  • In certain verbal noun constructions, it refers to the agent of the verbal noun: i ndiaidh dom teacht abhaile/ar theacht abhaile dom “when I had come home”

 

Dosna rather than do na is Munster Irish.

FAOI

Lenites a noun that follows it directly. The usual rules apply to the combination of preposition + article.

Personal forms: fúm, fút, faoi, fúithi, fúinn, fúibh, fúthu.

Main meanings:

  • Under, beneath.
  • About, around; also “about” in the sense of talking about something.

An Ulster acquaintance of mine suggested that there was a division of meaning between fá “about” and faoi “under, beneath” in Ulster dialect. This is possible, but my impression is that the choice of faoi, fá, fé, fó in older texts mostly depends of the phonetic environment, i.e. the vowels of the surrounding nouns (this would account for the form fó in the expression an Tír fó Thoinn “the land beneath the wave”, a mythological underwater otherworld; the expression has also, probably facetiously, been used for the Netherlands).

Fé is a common spelling variant in Munster. Fésna instead of faoi na is Munster dialect.

I

Eclipses a noun that follows it directly (i dteach). Becomes in before a vowel. In the standard language, the combination i + an (ins an, now commonly written sa, san) lenites; in Connemara, though, it is assimilated to the “usual rules” (sa mbád rather than sa bhád). In plural, i + na becomes ins na (now commonly written sna).

Sa in plural is Munster dialect.

Personal forms: ionam, ionat, ann, inti, ionainn, ionaibh, iontu.

Main meanings:

  • In, inside: sa teach
  • In a position: i gceannas ar na saighdiúirí
  • Innate capacities: tá comhábhair an cheoltóra mhaith ann 
  • Role: tá mé i mo mhúinteoir
  • Accusation, guilt: tá sé á chúiseamh i ndúnmharú; fuarthas ciontach i ndúnmharú é

LE

According to the standard language, it should affix a h- to a following vowel. Combines with the article to yield leis an in singular, leis na in plural. Leis an follows the usual rules.

Personal forms: liom, leat, leis, léi, linn, libh, leo.

Main meanings:

  • with
  • towards, facing
  • often used with verbs of interaction, transaction: labhair sé liom “he spoke with/to me”; dhíol sé a sheancharr liom “he sold his old car to me”
  • with is it refers to ownership: is liom an carr úd “that car over there is mine”. Note the difference: tá carr agam “I have a car”, but is liom an carr “the car belongs to me”.

Ó

The usual rules apply when followed by an article. When it precedes an articleless noun, it lenites. Ósna in plural is Munster dialect: ó na is standard.

Personal forms: uaim, uait, uaidh, uaithi, uainn, uaibh, uathu.

Main meanings:

  • from (from a place, from a person, from a limit, from a root cause, away from someone)
  • since (a point of time)

 

What to put between tá and the noun

One of the first things you learn is that you can’t put two nouns together by using the verb . Using tá you can tell what something is like, or where it is, but you can’t tell what it is, or who somebody is – that is, instead, told using the copula, which is a part of speech of its own, not a verb. (Grammarians and textbook authors often suggest that the copula, is, is another verb for “to be”. This is misleading, because is has a syntax of its own, very different from how normal verbs are used in a sentence. It is better to see is as a distinct part of speech. , on the other hand, is a verb.)

However, people do sometimes feel pressed to combine two nouns using , and they are not always quite familiar with how this is done correctly. They tend to put mar “as, like” before the second noun. While this is not wrong (well, not always), I myself feel very seldom even tempted to do so, because I use other instruments.

To start with, + possessive pronoun. This should be part of every Irish speaker’s toolbox.

Tá mé i mo mhúinteoir. I am a teacher.

Tá mé i m‘fheirmeoir. I am a farmer.

Tá mé i m‘fhisiceoir. I am a physicist.

Tá mé i m‘eachtránaí spáis. I am a space adventurer.

Tá mé i mo ridire. I am a knight.

Tá mé i mo chaptaen spásloinge. I am a spaceship captain.

Tá mé i mo theangeolaí. I am a linguist.

Tá tú i d‘fheirmeoir. You are a farmer.

Tá tú i d‘fhisiceoir. You are a physicist.

Tá tú i d‘eachtránaí spáis. You are a space adventurer.

Tá tú i do ridire. You are a knight.

Tá tú i do chaptaen spásloinge. You are a spaceship captain.

Tá tú i do theangeolaí. You are a linguist.

Tá sé ina fheirmeoir. He is a farmer.

Tá sé ina fhisiceoir. He is a physicist.

Tá sé ina eachtránaí spáis. He is a space adventurer.

Tá sé ina ridire. He is a knight.

Tá sé ina chaptaen spásloinge. He is a spaceship captain.

Tá sé ina theangeolaí. He is a linguist.

Tá sí ina feirmeoir. She is a farmer.

Tá sí ina fisiceoir. She is a physicist.

Tá sí ina heachtránaí spáis. She is a space adventurer.

Tá sí ina ridire. She is a knight.

Tá sí ina captaen spásloinge. She is a spaceship captain.

Tá sí ina teangeolaí. She is a linguist.

Tá muid inár bhfeirmeoirí. We are farmers.

Tá muid inár bhfisiceoirí. We are physicists.

Tá muid inár n-eachtránaithe spáis. We are space adventurers.

Tá muid inár ridirí. We are knights.

Tá muid inár gcaptaein spásloinge. We are spaceship captains.

Tá muid inár dteangeolaithe. We are linguists.

Tá sibh in bhur bhfeirmeoirí. You (guys) are farmers.

Tá sibh in bhur bhfisiceoirí. You are physicists.

Tá sibh in bhur n-eachtránaithe spáis. You are space adventurers.

Tá sibh in bhur ridirí. You are knights.

Tá sibh in bhur gcaptaein spásloinge. You are spaceship captains.

Tá sibh in bhur dteangeolaithe. You are linguists.

Tá siad ina bhfeirmeoirí. They are farmers.

Tá siad ina bhfisiceoirí. They are physicists.

Tá siad ina n-eachtránaithe spáis. They are space adventurers.

Tá siad ina ridirí. They are knights.

Tá siad ina gcaptaein spásloinge. They are spaceship captains.

Tá siad ina dteangeolaithe. They are linguists.

Tá mé ag obair i mo mhúinteoir. I am working as a teacher.

Bhí sí ag obair ina múinteoir. She was working as a teacher.

Chaith Seán trí bliana sa tSaimbia ina mhúinteoir. Seán spent three years in Zambia as a teacher.

Bhíodh Cathal ina mhúinteoir ó am go ham. Cathal used to work as a teacher occasionally.

Chuir Séimí aithne ar a lán neachanna eachtardhomhanda nuair a bhí sé ina chaptaen spásloinge. Séimí got acquainted with a lot of extraterrestrial beings when he was a spaceship captain.

Nuair a bhí sé ina mhúinteoir bhí dearcadh eile aige ar an gceist seo. When he was a teacher, he had a different view of this question. (= Ina mhúinteoir dó bhí dearcadh eile aige ar an gceist seo.)

The idea behind this construction is being in the role, say, of a teacher. A child could also say: Tá mé i mo Gharda “I am (being) a policeman” (i.e. the child refers to the role of a policeman in a game).

There is one thing to be noted about this construction. The possessive pronoun (or possessive adjective, both terms are used) mo, do, a, a,  ár, bhur, a has the power of the definite article. Thus, when you want to tell us that Nero was an Empire of Rome, you cannot say ?bhí Nearó ina Impire na Róimhe. In the construction Impire na Róimhe we have a noun (Impire) qualified by a definite genitive (na Róimhe), You cannot put a definite article before this, and you cannot put a possessive pronoun/adjective before it either. In this example, it is better to use the preposition ar to refer to the entity Nero was an emperor of: bhí Nearó ina Impire ar an Róimh. It is also possible to say bhí Nearó ina Impire Rómhánach, but it sounds kind of literary.

The preposition i, in usually takes the form (without -n) before mo, m’ and do, d’. If you see the -n there, i.e. in mo, in m’, in do, in d’, this is an indicator of Ulster dialect.

A related construction is Múinteoir atá ann. As you should know, ann is the word for “there” in the existential sense, but it is also the combination of the preposition and the third person singular masculine pronoun, “in it, in him”. These three constructions are more or less interchangeable:

Is múinteoir é Múinteoir is ea éMúinteoir atá ann.

There is a dialect difference: the third one is markedly Ulster dialect.

Similarly: Is múinteoir mé – Múinteoir is ea mé – Múinteoir atá ionam

Is múinteoir thú – Múinteoir is ea thú – Múinteoir atá ionat

Is múinteoir í – Múinteoir is ea í – Múinteoir atá inti

Is múinteoirí sinn – Múinteoirí is ea sinn – Múinteoirí atá ionainn

Is múinteoirí sibh – Múinteoirí is ea sibh – Múinteoirí atá ionaibh

Is múinteoirí iad – Múinteoirí is ea iad – Múinteoirí atá iontu.

In Ulster, where this is a common construction, there is a tendency to use ann for all third persons, so you should not be amazed to see Múinteoir atá ann used to refer to a woman, or Múinteoirí atá ann.

Note that a similar construction is used for referring to the innate qualities of a person. Thus, you could also say: Tá comhábhair an mhúinteora ann “He has all the makings of a teacher” (i.e. he is innately qualified to become one). And, while ar refers to (notionally transient) diseases (tá slaghdán orm), refers to permanent invalidity: tá cam reilige ann “he is club-footed”.

Another preposition used in this way is ar. It is most typically used when we suggest relative position, and it can be used when the noun is definite and qualified by a superlative adjective construction:

Tá sé ar fhir chróga na hÉireann “he is one of Ireland’s [most] courageous men” (the superlative is here notional, but not needed in the construction; word for word it means “he is among the courageous men of Ireland”)

Tá sé ar na fir is cróga in Éirinn “he is among – i.e. one of – the most courageous men in Ireland”. Note that we can’t have the genitive form here, because the definite article is a necessary part of the superlative construction, and a definite genitive cannot follow a definite noun. We work around this problem by using in Éirinn “in Ireland” rather than the genitive form.

Tá sé ar an bhfear is cróga in Éirinn “he is the most courageous man in Ireland”. This is the “relative position” use of ar, which we see even in the following:

Tá sé ar fhear chomh cróga is a rugadh in Éirinn riamh “He is as courageous a man as ever was born in Ireland”.