We want our “ins an, ins na” back

I am not categorically against making written Irish more similar to spoken ditto, but one of the things I do dislike about the Caighdeán is how we now are supposed to use sa, san, sna instead of ins an, ins na. The fact is that learners (including yours truly, back when I still was a learner) find it exasperatingly difficult to understand the exact way how sa, san, sna are related to i, in – it feels as though there were two different words for “in”.

So, here’s what you need to know:

i + an > ins an (and in the present standard language this becomes sa before consonants, san before vowels)

i + na > ins na (and in the present standard language this becomes sna; using sa instead of sna is Munster dialect, not standard language)

When precedes a noun beginning with a consonant, that consonant is eclipsed: i dteach, i mbaile, i mBaile Átha Cliath, i gCeatharlach and so on. When it precedes a noun beginning with a vowel, it becomes inin Éirinn, in Amhrán na bhFiann and so on. Note though that we often see stuff like i n-Éirinn or i nAmhrán na bhFiann. These are just non-standard ways to spell it.

In the standard language, ins an (i.e. sa) lenites the following consonant: ins an bhaile (sa bhaile). But not if it is d or t: ins an doras (sa doras), ins an teach (sa teach). As regards s-, it takes the prefixed t- if we have a feminine noun there, but is not affected if it is masculine: ins an tsráid (sa tsráid) but ins an tsaol (sa tsaol). Thus in the standard language, but spoken dialects are a different story:

  • in Ulster Irish, there of course always is lenition, but as regards the initial s-, you also always add the t-, masculine or feminine: ins an tsaol, ins an tsráid
  • in Connacht Irish, ins an (sa) eclipses rather than lenites: ins an bhfeilm (sa bhfeilm)
  • I am not sure about Munster Irish, but there is a quite common convention among non-native speakers to lenite everything else but to eclipse f-: ins an (sa) chathair but ins an (sa) bhFionlainn, and I have the impression that this comes from Munster. As regards the initial s-, my impression is that the t– is only used with certain nouns after ins an (sa), above all slí: ins an tslí, sa tslí.

Now, somebody asks here, where this leaves the book title An Chaint sa tSráidbhaile, by the celebrated Connacht author Breandán Ó hEithir, who spoke a Connacht dialect natively. Of course, it should be An Chaint ins an Sráidbhaile (i.e. An Chaint sa Sráidbhaile). I guess the use of t- here is influenced by sráid, which is feminine (thus, sa tsráid, ins an tsráid). If you ask, how the hell you are supposed to know this, the answer is: you aren’t. You are supposed to start by learning a set of rules which are acceptable by most native speakers (i.e. the Caighdeán), and then study as many original sources (i.e. books written by native speakers) as you can, until you are confident enough with the language to imitate the irregularities of native speakers.

As regards the plural – ins na (sna), it is a no-brainer: it adds h- to an initial vowel (ins na háiteannasna háiteanna) and nothing whatsoever to an initial consonant (ins na cathrachasna cathracha). And as I pointed out, Munster writers might use sa in plural (sa háiteanna, or maybe sa háiteacha), but that is not standard Irish.

 

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Some Notes on Preposition Usage

LE has a certain sense of transaction, which is seen with díol “sell”: Dhíol mé mo sheanrothar leis “I sold him my old bicycle”.

Note also LE with abair!/rá “say”: Dúirt mé leis nach raibh an ceart aige. “I said to him that he wasn’t right.”

AR with transient feelings: Tá tuirse orm. Tá áthas orm. Tá brón orm. Tá uafás orm. Tá eagla orm. Tá faitíos orm.

But AG with attitudes: Tá fuath agam. “I hate.” Tá grá agam. “I love.” Tá suim agam. Tá spéis agam. “I am interested.”

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.

Dom and liom, what’s the difference?

There is a certain copula construction which most grammars for learners do not concentrate enough upon, and that is the one where we have:

COPULA + NOUN/ADJECTIVE + PREPOSITION DO OR LE

Usual examples of this constructions are:

is dóigh liom “it is my opinion, I think”

is maith liom “I like”

is fearr liom “I like better, I prefer”

is maith dom “it is good for me”

is fearr dom “it is better for me”

is féidir liom “I can” (I am able to, I feel like doing it etc.)

is féidir dom “I can (there is no reason why not)”

Note that there is an important difference between le and do in these constructions: where both can be used with a certain noun/adjective following is, the le construction refers to something subjective or personal, but the do construction refers to objective external circumstances. I found this (here standardized) example in Seán Bán Mac Meanman’s collected works:

Ní haithríoch leat, ach is aithríoch duit!

The dictionary translates the adjective aithríoch as “penitent”, but I’d say this example means “you have no regrets (i.e. you don’t feel so, subjectively), but you shoud have (i.e. you have objective reasons to feel regret)!” This is as good an illustration of the difference between le and do in this construction as any.

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)

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)