Irish/Unit 2/Lesson 2

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Unit One: 1 2 3 4

Unit Two: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Unit Three: Lesson Index

Spelling and Pronunciation - Grammar

More Irish language resources can be found at
Wikiversity's Department of Irish Studies

Lesson 2 — Is maith liom... Tá mé...

In this lesson, you will learn:

1. Present conjugation of 'bí' (to be)
2. Vocabulary for hobbies
3. How to express liking and preference
4. The different forms of the preposition 'le'

To be

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'To be' is one of the most common verbs in any language and Irish is no different. In Irish there are three different present tenses of 'to be'. The present indicative 'Tá', the present continuous 'bíonn' and the copula 'is'. We will get to the present continuous and copula in later lessons, for now, we will learn the present indicative.

Tá mé - I am [Tah may]
Tá tú - You are [Tah too]
Tá sé - He is [Tah shay]
Tá sí - She is [Tah shee]
Tá sinn - We are [Tah shin]
Tá sibh - You (plural) are [Tah shiv]
Tá siad - They are [Tah shee-ahd]

As you can see, the conjugation doesn't change apart from the 1st person plural (which can also be in the form "Táimid," just as the 1st singular can also be "Táim"). This is the case with all present tense verbs in Irish, but we'll get to that later.

To ask a question, use the following conjugation:

An bhfuil mé? - Am I? [An will may]
An bhfuil tú? - Are you?
An bhfuil sé? - Is he?
An bhfuil sí? - Is she?
An bhfuilimid? / An bhfuil sinn? - Are we?
An bhfuil sibh? - Are you (plural)?
An bhfuil siad? - Are they?

And to say it in the negative, use 'Níl', 'Níl mé', etc. This used to be said as 'Ní fhuil mé' but because of the pronunciation, it became Níl.

Níl mé/tú/sé/sí - I/you/he/she am/are/is not
Nílimid - We aren't
Níl sibh/siad - You (plural)/They aren't

  • Tá mé, in standard Irish, can also be shortened to Táim, similarly, 'An bhfuil mé?' can be said as 'An bhfuilim' and 'Níl mé' as 'Nílim'.


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  • Tá mé ag dul go dtí an siopa.
    I'm going to the shop.
  • Tá sé sa gharáiste.
    He's in the garage.
  • Táimid chun dul go dtí an phictúirlann. Ar mhaith leat dul?
    We're about to go to the cinema. Do you want to come?
  • To express an continuous action in the present tense, e.g. I am going, I am running, etc. Put 'ag' between the to be verb and the verbal noun of the verb (often translates as the infinitive in English, e.g. 'to be', 'to run', etc.). For examples, 'Tá mé ag rith' - I am running, 'Tá mé ag snámh' - I am swimming, etc.

The Copula - An Chopail

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In Irish, there are two verbs for "to be". One of them should actually be called a part of speech of its own, and is called the copula. The name is cognate with the English word "couple" and serves the purpose of combining two notions - two nouns, a noun and a pronoun, or a pronoun and a pronoun. Copula tells us who somebody is, or what something is. For telling what somebody or something is like, or where she, her or it is, we use another verb "to be", which is more like a proper verb, not such a particular part of speech as the copula. It is called the substantive verb.

The present forms of the copula are:

is = is
an = is...?
= isn't
nach = is...not? isn't...?
gur (before vowels gurb) =
nach = not, that...isn't
más =
mura = if...isn't,

Note that más means "" only as in "If he is a doctor, he can cure you", in Irish Más dochtúir é, is féidir leis tú a leigheas. But if you use the English "if" in the sense of "whether", i.e. "I don't know if he is a doctor", then you use the direct question form an: Níl a fhios agam an dochtúir é - i.e. the Irish version means literally "I don't know: is he a doctor?". Substituting a más for the an in the second example would be definitely an error.

In some dialect texts from Munster, nach might be spelled nách. In Ulster, there is a parallel form of , i.e. cha or, before vowels, chan, but it is not exactly the same as as to its meaning. If at all, it is usually used when you either deny or confirm a statement, but not when answering questions.

The Pronouns - Na Forainmneacha

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Irish personal pronouns have both normal (shorter) and emphatic (longer) forms, the latter used when the contrast between two different persons has to be especially stressed. Some, but not all of the pronouns have different forms for subject and object, comparable with the English contrast between we and us, or I and me.

  • Singular:

1. person ("I"): , mise

2. person ("you" to one person): , tusa; object forms thú, thusa

3. person, masculine ("he"): , seisean; object forms é, eisean

3. person, feminine ("she"): , sise; object forms í, ise.

  • Plural:

1. person ("we"): muid, muidne (or: muide); also sinn, sinne

2. person ("you" to more than one person, i.e. "you all" or "you people" in different types of English): sibh, sibhse

3. person ("they"): siad, siadsan; object forms iad, iadsan.


- Object forms are used as direct objects of transitive verbs: Tá sé sásta = "He is happy" (subject form), but Buaileann Máire é = "Mary meets him" (object form). However, indirect object is not expressed with the object form, but rather with a preposition - or, to put it more plainly: while English can say both "I gave the thing to him" and "I gave him the thing", in Irish you have only the "to him" way - it is grammatically required. By the way, "I gave him the thing" (or whichever way) is in Irish Thug mé an rud dó, thug = gave, = I, an rud = the thing, = to him.

- For the third person form, the contrast between subject (sé, seisean, sí, sise, siad, siadsan) and object (é, eisean, í, ise, iad, iadsan) forms is absolute, at least in standard Irish. I.e. saying *buaileann Máire sé (instead of buaileann Máire é) is entirely incorrect. The difference between tú, tusa vs. thú, thusa is less absolute, because and tusa are usually used instead the forms thú, thusa, if this fits better in with the flow of speech. It is especially common that and tusa are used if the preceding word ends in d, n, t, l, or s (remember: "dentals").

- Object forms are also used with copula: is dochtúir é he is a doctor, is múinteoir í she is a teacher, is Éireannaigh iad they are Irish, Irishmen, Irishwomen, Irish people.

- The forms ibh, ibhse, inn, inne as object forms corresponding to sibh/sibhse, sinn/sinne do exist, but are only used in marginal, probably moribund Ulster dialects. It seems that they were also used in the dialects once spoken in East Ulster (i.e. Northern Ireland).

- Many speakers use muid for "we", but sinn for "us". This might be a commendable and practical usage, but note that not all observe it. Some dialects have lost sinn altogether. Note that muid is historically speaking an inflectional ending, which has detached itself and become an independent word.

- In Northern Mayo, though, sinn is used even as the subject of a verb: tá sinn mar a fheiceann tú sinn "we are as you see us" (Mícheál Mac Ruairí: Mac Mic Iascaire Buí Luimnigh, Cló Iar-Chonnachta, Indreabhán 1992, page 24). In a more standard Irish, this would be tá muid mar a fheiceann tú sinn.

- English has generalized "you" both for the second person singular ("thou", "just you") and the second person plural ("yiz", "y'all", "you guys", "you people"). In Irish, though, you must always use and related forms when talking to one person, sibh and related forms when talking to several persons. While Scots Gaelic uses the second person plural form in deferential address, in Irish even the President of the Republic (Uachtarán na hÉireann) is . In Ulster, though, it has been traditional to address a priest as sibh, but this is hardly a particularly widespread or well-known usage these days. You might, however, encounter it in Séamus Ó Grianna's novels and short stories.


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Before we move on to discussing liking and disliking, here is some vocabulary that will help us.

  • Snámh - Swimming/To swim
  • Rith - Running/To run
  • Cáca milis - Cake
  • Uachtair reoite - Ice cream
  • Teilifís - Television
  • Féachaint - Watching/to watch
  • Sacar - Soccer
  • Peil - Gaelic Football
  • Camánaíocht - Hurling
  • Teangacha a fhoghlaim - Learning languages
  • Vicíleabhair - Wikibooks
  • Caint le mo chairde - Talking with my friends
  • Dul amach - Going out

To like

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In Irish, the verb 'to like' isn't expressed the same as in English. In English, one merely says 'I like x', however, in Irish, the phrasing is more 'X is good with me', 'Is maith liom X'. 'Liom', we will see in a moment is a compound preposition, usually meaning 'with me'. Before we look at some examples, let's go through the other forms of the 'le' preposition.

Liom - With me
Leat - With you
Leis - With him
Léi - With her
Linn - With us
Libh - With you (plural)
Leo - With them

To show dislike, we use the negative copula 'Ní' instead of 'Is'. And to ask if someone likes, we use the questioning copula, 'An'. Observe:


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  • Is maith liom cáca milis.
    I like cake.
  • An maith leat dul amach?
    Do you like to go out?
  • Ni maith.
  • Is maith léi Vicileabhair.
    She likes Wikibooks.
  • Ní maith leis peil.
    He doesn't like Gaelic football.
  • In Irish, there are no words for 'Yes' or 'No'. Instead, you have to use a negative sentence, like the above 'Ní maith'


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To show preference, a similar structure is used, except instead of 'maith', we say 'fearr', e.g. 'Is fearr liom sacar.' - I prefer soccer.


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  • An maith leat camánaíocht?
    Do you like hurling?
  • Is fearr liom peil.
    I prefer Gaelic football.
  • Ní maith leis a bheith ag rith.
    He doesn't like running.
  • Ní maith leis, is fearr leis snámh.
    He doesn't, he prefers swimming.
  • Is fearr leis teangacha a fhoghlaim ná féachaint ar an teilifís.
    He prefers learning languages to watching television.
  • An maith leat uachtair reoite?
    Do you like ice cream?
  • Is fearr liom cáca milis.
    I prefer cake.


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Seán: A Robáird, conas atá tú?
Robárd: Go hiontach, a Sheáin, agus tusa?
Seán: Go maith, an bhfuil tú ag dul ag snámh?
Robárd: Nílim, ní maith liom snámh.
Seán: Ní maith leat snámh? Cad is maith leat, mar sin?
Robárd: Is fearr liom rith. Táim ag dul ag rith anois.
Seán: Maith go leor, slán leat a Robáird.
Robárd: Slán, a Sheáin.

The Verb - An Briathar

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We saw that being something or being someone is in Irish expressed by the copula, is, which has a syntax of its own and should indeed be seen as a part of speech in its own right, rather than a verb. Being in a particular way, or being like something, or being somewhere is in Irish expressed by what more advanced grammars call the substantive verb. This is somewhat misleading though, because in Irish you don't usually use the verb for coupling two nouns or "substantives". Instead, it is better just to call it the verb .

The verb is in its forms and syntax similar enough to other Irish verbs, but it is irregular, as the verb "to be" in English, and indeed its equivalents in most other languages.

is the punctual present of this verb, i.e. it means "is" - is now.

It can tell where someone or something is - for instance:

  • Tá Máirtín i mBaile Átha Cliath. Máirtín is in Dublin.
  • Tá Seoirse i gCorcaigh. Seoirse is in Cork.
  • Tá Aoife i mBéal Feirste. Aoife is in Belfast.
  • Tá Tarlach i nGaillimh. Tarlach is in Galway.
  • Tá Eoin i nDaingean Uí Chúis. Eoin is in Dingle.
  • Tá Labhcás i gCora Droma Rúisc. Labhcás is in Carrick-on-Shannon.
  • Tá Máirín i Luimneach. Máirín is in Limerick.

Telling "where" someone or something is, can also be understood in a figurative way. In Irish, emotions and feelings are usually "on" a person. For instance, it is not idiomatically Irish to say that you are tired (although it is not wrong) - instead, you should prefer to say that "tiredness is upon you". To illustrate this, we need to learn the personal forms of the preposition ar, which means "on", "upon":

  • orm = on me
  • ort = on you (singular, i.e. one person)
  • air = on him, on it
  • uirthi = on her, on it
  • orainn = on us
  • oraibh = on you (plural, i.e. on you all, on you people)
  • orthu = on them

Note that the use of these personal forms is mandatory. You can't usually say, for instance, "ar mé" for "orm" (except when "mé" is part of a bigger syntactic construction and the ar is referring to this whole, and not just to "me"). Other prepositions have personal forms too which are derived in a relatively similar way.

But we were speaking of the way how emotions, feelings, and even diseases are "upon" a person in Irish. Look at these examples:

  • Tá tuirse orm. I am tired (tuirse = tiredness).
  • Tá eagla ort. You are afraid/frightened (eagla = fear).
  • Tá faitíos ort. You are afraid/frightened (faitíos is another word for "fear").
  • Tá fearg air. He is angry/mad (fearg = anger).
  • Tá fuacht orainn. We are cold - i.e. we feel cold (fuacht = coldness). It is common to say Tá muid fuar = We are cold, word for word translated from English, but Tá fuacht orainn is more idiomatically Irish and should be preferred.
  • Tá slaghdán ort. You have a cold, i.e. you have caught a cold. Slaghdán = a cold, a mild flu.