Irish/Basic Sentence Structure
- 1 General Information
- 2 Basic Sentence Structure
- 2.1 Tá and Is
- 2.2 Some Simple Sentences
- 2.3 Review: Tá vs Is
- 2.4 Fiche Ceist (Twenty Questions)
- 2.5 Comparisons
- Grammatical Changes
- Basic Sentence Structure
- The Article
- Commonly Confused Words
- Compound Prepositions
- Other Resources
- Common phrases
Basic Sentence Structure
Tá and Is
Irish has two different ways of expressing the English verb "to be".
- Tá is the verb "to be", used for describing people or things, "I am..." eg. "I am tired, I am here" a) where something is or b) what state it is in
- Is is the copula, and is not quite a complete verb; its most common use is to say what something is, "I am a..." eg. "I am a teacher, I am a man"
The copula is a sort of pseudo-verb. It is used for four main purposes:
- Identification, or saying that some specific thing, identified by a definite noun (usually a noun with the article) or pronoun is the same as some other specific thing
- Example: "That is my cow" = "Is í mo bhó í sin"
- Classification, or saying that some specific thing fits into some class - in other words, saying that the thing "is a" something, where the something is a general class rather than a specific object
- Example: "That is a cow" = "Is bó í sin"
- Emphasis, or moving certain sentence parts earlier in the clause to make them more prominent to the listener or reader. English often uses tone of voice, accented syllables to do this, but Irish primarily relies on word order
- Example: "In God we trust" = "Is i nDia a cuirimid ár muinín" (compare to "We trust in God" = "Cuirimid ár muinín i nDia")
- Questions use a special form of the copula: "An." For example "An fear é Seán?": "Is Seán a man?"
- There are also instances in which the copula may safely be left out: "Is mise Seán" can become simply "Mise Seán."
"Bí" is the verb "to be."
|tá mé||I am|
|tá tú||You are|
|tá sé||He is|
|tá sí||She is|
|tá sinn, ta muid||We are|
|tá sibh||You (plural) are|
|tá siad||They are|
If you want to negate "tá sé," you use níl instead of tá. Níl sé He is not
Some Simple Sentences
Approximate phonetic pronunciations are provided for the phrases below. Pronunciation varies from one dialect to another. If you learned a different way of pronouncing these words, don't worry.
In a classification sentence, we tell what class an identified person belongs to. For example, telling the profession of someone. Here are some persons and their professions.
Cad é is gairm bheatha duit? Cén tslí bheatha atá agat? Cén cineál oibre atá agat? What is your profession?
- Is múinteoir mé. I am a teacher.
- Is scoláire thú. You are (thou art) a scholar, a pupil. (Scoláire is obviously the same word as the English scholar, but the Irish word is more often used in the sense of a school pupil, which, incidentally, can also be dalta. In the Irish-speaking districts, a person who could read and write - in those days when analphabetism was still common - could also be called a scoláire. Note that the word for "school ide" is scoil íde.)
- Is dlíodóir í Siobhán. Siobhán (Joan) is a lawyer. (Dlíodóir - in Ulster Irish, dlítheoir - comes from the word for law, dlí.)
- Is feirmeoir é Seán. Seán (John) is a farmer. (Feirmeoir is obviously related to feirm, a farm. In Connacht, there are the parallel forms feilméir and feilm, respectively.)
- Is pluiméir é Máirtín. Máirtín (Martin) is a plumber.
- Is bríceadóir é Colm. Colm (Malcolm) is a bricklayer. (Instead of bríceadóir, you can also use the obvious English loan-word brícléir. A brick is called bríce in Irish.)
- Is ríomhinnealtóir é Risteárd. Risteárd (Richard) is a computer engineer (a computer is called ríomhaire, an engineer is innealtóir).
- Is státseirbhíseach í Nóra. Nóra is a civil servant.
- Is tiománaí tacsaí í Máire. Máire (Mary) is a taxi driver. In Irish, "a driver of taxi". The English of is understood.
- Is spásaire é James Tiberius Kirk. James Tiberius Kirk is a spaceman, an astronaut.
- Is arrachtach é The Incredible Hulk. The Incredible Hulk is a monster.
- Is aisteoir í Nana Visitor. Nana Visitor is an actress (actually, in Irish it is perfectly OK to use the word aisteoir, actor, even for a female actor; if you want to stress the fact that she is female, you can say Is ban-aisteoir í Nana Visitor or Is aisteoir mná í Nana Visitor.)
- An dochtúir é Liam? Is ea. Is dochtúir é. Is dochtúir maith é. "Is Liam a doctor? Yes. He is a doctor. He is a good doctor." Irish doesn't actually have words for the English "yes" and "no" - this might feel a little funny, but the way Irish does it is actually quite common as languages go. If you ask a question in the form of a classification sentence, such as "is he a doctor?" -an dochtúir é? it is answered either is ea ("is") or ní hea ("isn't"). Please note that the attributive adjective maith, good, comes after the noun it qualifies.
The little word ea (in Ulster and in older texts, eadh) means "it", but it is only used in copula constructions. There is an alternative sort of classification sentence, which uses the word ea and is especially common in southern dialects:
- Is dlíodóir í. = Dlíodóir is ea í. She is a lawyer.
- Is feirmeoir é. = Feirmeoir is ea é. He is a farmer.
- Is pluiméir é. = Pluiméir is ea é. He is a plumber.
- Is brícléir é. = Brícléir is ea é. He is a bricklayer.
- Is imreoir sacair é. = Imreoir sacair is ea é. He is a soccer player (imreoir player, sacar soccer, imreoir sacair player of soccer)
- Is peileadóir thú. = Peileadóir is ea thú. You are (thou art) a player of Gaelic football.
- Is ríomhinnealtóir mé. = Ríomhinnealtóir is ea mé. I am a computer engineer.
- Is siúinéir thú. = Síúinéir is ea thú. You are a carpenter. (Siúinéir, which comes from the English word "joiner", is probably the most common word for "carpenter" in Irish nowadays, but you might want to know that there are the alternative terms cearpantóir and saor adhmaid.)
- Is fisiceoir í. = Fisiceoir is ea í. She is a physicist.
- Is ceimiceoir mé. = Ceimiceoir is ea mé. I am a (research) chemist (i.e. a laboratory kind of chemist).
- Is poitigéir thú. = Poitigéir is ea thú. You are a (pharmaceutical) chemist (i.e. you work at the chemist's).
- Is matamaiticeoir í. = Matamaiticeoir is ea í. She is a mathematician.
- Is geolaí mé. = Geolaí is ea mé. I am a geologist.
- Is geoiceimiceoir thú. = Geoiceimiceoir is ea thú. You are a geochemist.
- Is réalteolaí í. = Réalteolaí is ea í. She is an astronomer.
- Is réaltfhisiceoir mé. = Réaltfhisiceoir is ea mé. I am an astrophysicist.
- Is geoifisiceoir thú. = Geoifisiceoir is ea thú. You are a geophysicist.
There are three ways to say "How are you?", depending on your dialect. Just pick the one you're most comfortable with, and use it.
|Conas atá tú?||How are you? (Munster)||KUN-uss ATAW TOO?||?|
|Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?||How are you? (Connaught)||KAY KHWEE A WILL TOO?||?|
|Cad é mar atá tú?||How are you? (Ulster)||kuh JAY mer ATAW TOO?||?|
|Tá mé go maith.||I am well.||TAW MAY GUH MAH||?|
|_____ is ainm dom.||_____ is my name.||_____ ISS an-yim DUM||?|
|Is mise name.||I am name.||ISS MISH-uh...||?|
|Cad is ainm duit?||What is your name?||KOD ISS AN-yim DITCH||?|
|Tá _____ agam.||I have _____.||TAW _____ ug-UHM||?|
|An bhfuil _____ agat?||Do you have _____?||WILL _____ ug-UHT?||?|
|Tá __X__ ag __Y__.||__Y__ has __X__.||TAW ___ EGG ___||?|
|Tá mé i mo chónaí i _____.||I live in _____.||TAW MAY ih MUH HOH-nee||?|
|Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí?||Where do you live?||KAW WILL TOO ih DUH HOH-nee||?|
|Rugadh agus togadh mé i _____.||I was born and reared in _____.||RUG-oo GUSS TOH-goo MAY ih...||?|
|Is as _____ ó dhúchas mé.||I'm originally from _____.||ISS AHSS _____ OH GHOO-khus MAY||?|
|Is maith liom _____.||I like _____.||ISS MAH LUM...||?|
|An maith leat _____?||Do you like _____?||UN MAH LAT...||?|
|Is brea liom _____.||I really like _____.||ISS BRAW LUM...||?|
|Is fuath liom _____.||I hate _____.||ISS FOO-uh LUM...||?|
|Is maith le __X__ __Y__||__X__ likes __Y__.||ISS MAH LUH/LAY...||?|
|Ba mhaith liom _____.||I would like _____.||BUH WAH LUM ...||?|
|Ar mhaith leat _____?||Would you like _____?||ER WAH LAT ...?||?|
|an _____ seo||this _____||?||?|
|an _____ sin||that _____||?||?|
|ceart go leor||fine||KyART GUH LyOHR||?|
|Tá a fhios agam||I know||TAHSS uh-GUM||?|
|go raibh maith agat||thank you
(Often abbreviated grma on the Internet)
|GUH-ruh MAH GUT||?|
Describing someone or something, part 1
|Tá sé __adjective__||He/it is _____||TAW SHAY||?|
|Tá sí __adjective__||She/it is _____||TAW SHEE||?|
|Tá __name__ __adjective__||Name is _____||?||?|
Here are some words you can use to fill in the blanks above:
Describing someone or something, part 2
Example: Tá sé __adjective__ = He/it is _____
|Tá mé (or Táim)||I am||TAW MAY||?|
|Tá tú||You are||TAW TOO||?|
|Tá sé||He/it is||TAW SHAY||?|
|Tá sí||She/it is||TAW SHEE||?|
|Tá muid (or Táimid)||We are||TAW MWIJ||?|
|Tá sibh||You (plural) are||TAW SHIV||?|
|Tá siad||They are||TAW SHEED||?|
Example: Níl sí __adjective__ = She/it isn't _____
|Níl mé (or Nílim)||I am not||NEEL MAY||?|
|Níl tú||You are not||NEEL TOO||?|
|Níl sé||He/it is not||NEEL SHAY||?|
|Níl sí||She/it is not||NEEL SHEE||?|
|Níl muid (or Nílimid)||We are not||NEEL MWIJ||?|
|Níl sibh||You (plural) are not||NEEL SHIV||?|
|Níl siad||They are not||NEEL SHEED||?|
|An bhfuil mé?||Am I?||(uh) WILL MAY||?|
|An bhfuil tú?||Are you?||(uh) WILL TOO||?|
|An bhfuil sé?||Is he/it?||(uh) WILL SHAY||?|
|An bhfuil sí?||Is she/it?||(uh) WILL SHEE||?|
|An bhfuil muid (or An bhfuilimid?)||Are we?||(uh) WILL MWIJ||?|
|An bhfuil sibh?||Are you (plural)?||(uh) WILL SHIV||?|
|An bhfuil siad?||Are they?||(uh) WILL SHEED||?|
|Nach bhfuil mé?||Aren't I?||NAKH WILL MAY||?|
|Nach bhfuil tú?||Aren't you?||NAKH WILL TOO||?|
|Nach bhfuil sé?||Isn't he/it?||NAKH WILL SHAY||?|
|Nach bhfuil sí?||Isn't she/it?||NAKH WILL SHEE||?|
|Nach bhfuil muid (or Nach bhfuilimid?)||Aren't we?||NAKH WILL MWIJ||?|
|Nach bhfuil sibh?||Aren't you (plural)?||NAKH WILL SHIV||?|
|Nach bhfuil siad?||Aren't they?||NAKH WILL SHEED||?|
All of the above questions are answered simply Tá or Níl.
|Cá bhfuil...?||Where is ...?||KAH WILL||?|
Here are some more adjectives to practice with.
|dathiúil or doighiúil||good-looking||DAW-hyool, DOY-hyool||?|
The verb tá, and its other forms (níl, an bhfuil, and nach bhfuil) can be used to describe something, but they can't be used to say what something is. For that you need to use a special verb called the copula.
Think of copula statements as a set of templates you can plug things into. You can change what you plug into the template, but you can't change the template itself. One of the templates available is a classification statement. A classification statement has the form:
|Is + category-noun + subject-noun.||subject-noun is a category-noun|
|Is fear Liam.||Liam is a man.||ISS FAR LEEM||?|
|Ní cat Dougal.||Dougal is not a cat.||NEE KUT GOO-gull||?|
|An ainmhí é?||Is it an animal?||un AN-uh-vee AY?||?|
|Nach madra Dougal?||Isn't Dougal a dog?||NAKH MAH-druh AY DOO-gull?||?|
These questions are answered simply Is ea or Ní hea.
- In place of Is, you can have Ní, An?, Nach?, Ba, etc. as appropriate.
- In a classification statement, the predicate (category) is always an indefinite noun (a cat, a house, a doctor). There is another type of copula template, the identification statement, that uses a definite noun (the cat, the house, the doctor) as the predicate. This structure will be discussed later.
You can practice classification statements using the nouns below.
Review: Tá vs Is
One of the most common mistakes learners make is using tá in place of is, or vice versa. Here's one way to remember the difference:
- The verb tá can be used to describe something.
- To say what something is, you need the copula, is.
Another way to think of it:
- Tá is used to associate a noun with an adjective.
- Is is used to associate a noun with a another noun.
Fill in the blanks with either tá or is, as appropriate. Hover your mouse over each blank to see the answer.
sé mór. It is big.
fear é. He is a man.
an lá go deas. The day is nice.
muid sásta. We are happy.
dochtúir í. She is a doctor.
Máire tinn. Máire is ill.
an leabhar sin deacair. That book is difficult.
leabhar Gone With The Wind. Gone With The Wind is a book.
an leabhar ar an mbord. The book is on the table.
mo mhadra Dougal. Dougal is my dog.
madra mór é. He is a big dog.
an madra mór. The dog is big.
an fhuinneog briste. The window is broken.
fuinneog bhriste é sin. That is a broken window. sé níos mó ná bosca arán. It is bigger than a breadbox.
Fiche Ceist (Twenty Questions)
Playing Fiche Ceist is an excellent way to become familiar with:
- the difference between "tá" and "is",
- how nouns change when preceded by a preposition + definite article, and
- masculine vs. feminine nouns
Follow the examples below.
- TO DO: provide translations for all the words that aren't introduced earlier in the text
Is it…? Describing the object
An bhfuil sé
(It’s reasonably cold, etc.)
chomh mór le (as big as)
bosca arán? (a bread box)
déanta as adhmad? (made of wood)
sa (in the)
bhosca, chupán, mhála
ar an (on the)
Is it…? Identifying or classifying the object
cóta (a coat)
scian (a knife)
Is it…? Describing location
Past and Future: An Introduction
The table below illustrates how to form simple sentences in the past, present and future tenses.
|An raibh||AN ROW||?|
|Ní raibh||NEE ROW||?|
|An mbeidh||UN MAY||?|
|Ní bheidh||NEE VAY||?|
There are also a few combined forms that are used in some dialects. Until you're ready to focus on one dialect in particular, you can use either form:
|beimid||we will be||BAY-midj||?|
Practice by answering the questions below. If any of the words below are unfamiliar, you should be able to find them in the previous sections.
Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí?
Cad é an aimsir inniú?
An maith leat seacláid?
An bhfuil tú óg? Sean?
An bhfuil Gaeilge easca?
An raibh tú mór?
An raibh tú beag?
An raibh tú sean?
An raibh tú salach?
An raibh tú dána?
Cá raibh tú i do chónaí?
An mbeidh tú dathiúil?
An mbeidh tú láidir?
An mbeidh tú lag?An mbeidh tú tuirseach?
In English, we usually make comparisons by tacking the suffix -er or -est onto the adjective. Irish also has special comparative forms.
Note that the same form of the adjective is used for the relative and absolute comparisons. It's the prefix, níos or is, that makes the difference. Also note that the comparison is expressed differently for the past tense. (We're only going to worry about the present tense in this thread.)
The most common structures for comparing things are:
|Is comparative X ná Y||X is ___er than Y.|
|Tá X níos comparative ná Y||X is ___er than Y.|
|Is X an Z is comparative||X is the ___est Z.|
You may have notice something unusual about that first structure. I said earlier that is is used for absolute comparisons, where we use the '-est' ending in English, but I translate the first structure using an "-er" ending. You probably remember your English teacher saying that you compare two things using "-er"; that "-est" could only be used with three or more things. However, Irish doesn't have this rule. A sentence such as Is í an tsúil chlé an tsúil is láidre literally means "My right eye is the strongest eye", where in English we would say "My right eye is the stronger eye." So in short, don't worry about it.
One final comment about the first and third structures. The copula, is, can never be followed directly by a definite noun or a proper noun; you need to insert é, í or iad. If you're not ready to deal with that, don't worry. Just stick with the second structure.
So let's look at some examples of how to make comparisons.
The rules for changing an adjective into the comparative form are fairly simple.
- If it ends in a consonant, add -e to it. (If the ending isn't slender, you'll need to make it slender first.)
- glas - níos glaise - is glaise
- If it ends in a vowel, no change.
- dána - níos dána - is dána
- If it ends in -(e)ach, change the ending to -(a)í.
- bacach - níos bacaí - is bacaí
- díreach - níos dírí - is dírí
- If it ends in -(i)úil, change the ending to -(i)úla.
- flaithiúil - níos flaithiúla - is flaithiúla
- dathúil - níos dathúla - is dáthúla.
- beag - níos lú - is lú
- breá - níos breátha - is breátha
- dócha - níos dóichí - is dóichí
- fada - níos faide - is faide
- fogus - níos foisce - is foisce
- furasta - níos fusa - is fusa
- iomaí - níos lia - is lia
- ionúin - níos ionúine - is ionúine
- maith - níos fearr - is fearr
- olc - níos measa - is measa
- te - níos teo - is teo
- tréan - níos tréine/treise - is tréine/treise
- mór - níos mó - is mó