- 1 Table of Contents
- 2 Nouns
- 2.1 article + noun
- 2.2 Declensions
- 2.3 Plural forms
- 2.4 Genitive Forms
- 2.5 Declensions
- 2.6 Vocative Forms
Table of Contents
Nouns in Irish are either masculine or feminine. (There used to be a neuter gender but that was jettisoned fairly early on. There are one or two surviving appendices, but for practical purposes, masculine and feminine do the trick.) The majority of nouns in Irish are masculine. It is not always easy to tell a masculine noun from a feminine noun, but the following types of nouns are usually feminine:
- nouns ending in a slender consonant
- nouns ending in -eog, -óg, -lann
- multi-syllable nouns ending in -acht or -íocht
- names of countries and languages
- abstract nouns ending in -e or -i
article + noun
The easiest way to remember a noun's gender is to practice using the noun with the definite article. That's because the article can cause a change to the noun depending on its gender. The table below summarises the changes that occur. We'll go through it line by line. If you read the table out loud to yourself every day for a week, you'll probably be able to remember the rules.
Note: These rules deal only with the "nominative case". Later we'll talk about the genitive and vocative cases.
- If a noun begins with a consonant (other than d, t, s)...
- ...and it's masculine, then there's no change to the noun after an.
- ...and it's feminine, then you lenite it after an.
In the table, the line an fear ... an bhean, demonstrates this rule. fear is masculine, and bean is feminine (which is pretty easy to remember)
Put the definite article, an in front of these nouns: cat (masculine), bád (masculine), bróg (feminine), cistin (feminine), béal (masculine), farraige (feminine).
- If a noun begins with s...
It takes a 't' after an (no t before sc, sm, sp, st) eg.an tseilf, an
An easy way to remember that there's no t before sc, sm, sp, and st is the phrase scallions smell spicy in stew. (Another easy way to remember it is to notice that pronouncing "tsc", "tsm", "tsp" or "tst" at the beginning of a word would be quite a challenge!)
In the table, the line an sagart ... an tsráid, demonstrates this rule. sagart (priest) is masculine, and sráid (street) is feminine.
Put the definite article, an in front of these nouns: seilf (feminine), súil (feminine), scamall (masculine), srón (feminine), stoirm (feminine).
- If a noun begins with a vowel...
- ...and it's masculine, then you prefix "t-" to it after an.
- ...and it's feminine, there's no change to the noun after an.
In the table, the line an t-arán ... an eochair, demonstrates this rule. arán (bread) is masculine, and eochair (key) is feminine.
Put the definite article, an in front of these nouns: asal (masculine), éan (masculine), uirlis (feminine), áit (feminine).
- If a noun begins with d or t...
- ...there's no change to the noun after an.
This is a example of a general rule called DeNTaLS DoTS: after d,n,t,l,s we usually don't lenite d,t,s. Since an ends in "n", if the noun begins with d or t, we don't lenite it.
In the table, the line an tine, demonstrates this rule. Although tine (fire) is feminine, we don't lenite it after an.
Put the definite article, an in front of these nouns: turas (masculine), dúil (feminine).
With plural nouns, na is used. The gender doesn't matter, so the rule is simple. - If the noun begins with a consonant, it doesn't change after na. - If the noun begins with a vowel, it takes a "h" after na.
Put the definite article in front of these plural nouns: cait, asail, éin, tithe.
In Irish, a declension is basically a group of nouns that tend to form the plural and genitive according to a common pattern. (Declensions are more complex in some languages.) In this section you will learn some guidelines for guessing what declension a noun belongs to, and what its gender is. These guidelines will take care of most of the nouns you meet. Knowing the declension will help you figure out the genitive and plural form of the noun.
There are five declensions in Irish. The first declension is almost all male nouns. The second is mostly female. The third and fourth declensions have both male and female nouns. Technically, there are 5 declensions. But the fifth declension is sort of miscellaneous, so I think it's easier to ignore it for now.
The easiest way is to consider the declensions in reverse order. Ask yourself the following questions, but be sure to stop at the first question with a “yes” answer. Looking at the common (nominative) form of the noun, is it...
- Abstract noun ending in -e, -í? Then it's probably f4.
- Ends in a vowel or -ín? Then it's probably m4.
- Ends in -áil, -úil, -ail, -úint, -cht, -irt? Then it's probably f3.
- Ends in -éir, -eoir, -óir, -úir? Then it's probably m3.
- Ends in a slender consonant or -eog, -óg, -lann? Then it's probably f2.
- Ends in a broad consonant? Then it's probably m1.
Note: An abstract noun represents something that you can't see, touch, feel, taste or smell.
Let's try this with the noun leabhar. (1) It's not an abstract noun. (2) It doesn't end in a vowel or -ín. (3) It doesn't end in -áil, etc. (4) It doesn't end in -éir, etc. (5) It doesn't end in a slender consonant or -eog, etc. (6) It does end in a broad consonant, so it's probably m1. A check of the dictionary tells us we're right.
Now try with fuinneog. The first question we answer yes to is (5), it ends in -eog, so it's probably f2. The dictionary confirms that's correct.
Some Important Exceptions
These are masculine, but they're in the second declension: im, sliabh
f2: adharc, baintreach, báisteach, buíon, caor, cearc, ciall, cloch, cos, craobh, críoch, cros, dámh, dealbh, eangach, fadhb, fearg, ficheall, fréamh, gaoth, géag, gealt, girseach, grian, iall, iníon, lámh, leac, long, luch, méar, mian, mias, muc, nead, pian, sceach, scian, scornach, slat, sluasaid, srón, téad, tonn, ubh
m3: am, anam, áth, béas, bláth, cath, cíos, cith, crios, dath, dream, droim, eas, fíon, flaith, greim, loch, lus, luach, modh, rámh, rang, rás, roth, rud, sioc, taom, teas, tréad
f3: banríon, Cáisc, cuid, díolaim, Eoraip, feag, feoil, muir, scread
These nouns are abstract, but they don't end in -e or -í. Nevertheless, they're f4: rogha, teanga, bearna These nouns don't end in a vowel or -ín, but they're m4: ainm, máistir, seans, club Not abstract, but f4: veain These nouns are abstract, but they're m4: dlí, rince
Irish nouns form their plurals in a lot of different ways, depending on the specific noun, but every plural form is either strong or weak. There are quite a few aspects of grammar that depend on which kind of plural a word has, so it's important to be able to tell the two kinds apart.
- A strong plural form is any plural word that is formed (from the singular) by adding a consonant-containing ending. Some of the common endings include -anna, -acha, and -tha. The ending -í is also considered to form a strong plural, because it was originally -idhe; this is the only apparent exception I know of. Some examples include rud (thing) becomes rudaí (things), bás (death) becomes básanna (deaths) and ainm (name) becomes ainmneacha (names).
- A weak plural form is any plural word that is formed from the singular either by adding the ending -a, or by adding and/or removing letters (vowels) within the word itself. Weak plurals do not have additional consonants added in the ending. For example, fear (man) => fir (men), or leabhar (book) => leabhair (books).
As far as remembering which noun has which kind of plural, there are certain patterns that roughly parallel the declensions. Weak plurals are particularly common in the first and second declensions, while strong plurals are common in words of the other declensions.
There are several words with irregular plurals that bear basically no relation to the singular forms. These include:
- deoir => deora
- súil => súile
- glúin => glúine
- seoid => seoda
- bean => mná
- grasta => grásta (both singular and plural are the same)
'Plural forms' written by David (wdsci) 9/06/04
Most m1 nouns
m1: beart, bruas, cág, ceap, ceart, cleas, cuibhreach, creatlach, fiach, fithrach, giall, nod, úll
f2 nouns ending in -eog, -óg, -lann
Multi-syllable f2 nouns ending in -each
f2: binn, deoir
3ú: béas, dreach, coinsias, deasghnáth, dol, tréad
f2: súil, dúíl, glúin
Only one-syllable nouns!
m1: bás, carr, cas, frog, gléas, luas, marc, nós, rós, spás, spórt, saghas, stad (mostly loan words)
One-syllable, slender f2 nouns
One-syllable m3 nouns
4ú:ae, bá, bia, bogha, bus, club, fleá, tae, ceo, cnó, dó, cú, fia, fogha, liú, nia, pas, seans, stop, sú, togha, tram, tua
Only one-syllable nouns!
One-syllable m1, f2, 3údeclension nouns ending inl, npreceded by a diphthong or long vowel
One-syllable m1, f2 nouns ending in r preceded by a diphthong or long vowel
4ú nouns ending in -í, -aí, -aoi, -é
Only multi-syllable nouns!
m1nouns ending in -(e)adh, -(e)ach
slender f2 nouns
f2 nouns ending in -ach
3ú nouns ending in-éir, -eoir, -óir, -(i)úir, -cht, -áint -úint, irt
4únouns ending in -ínor-a, -e
-(e)adh, -(e)ach → (a)í
-e → í
Two-syllable m1 nouns ending in broad -l, -n, -r
f2: craobh, fréamh, iall, iníon, nead, splanc
carraig, ceirt, cistin, clúid, coirm, colainn, féith, feirm, foirm, maidin, muintir, stoirm
3ú nouns ending in -il, -in, -ir
4ú: ainm, cine, easna, teanga
m1: bóthar, cloigeann, doras, solas, uasal
4ú nouns ending in-le,-ne
-le → lte, -ne → lne
Use the genitive when a noun follows:
- another noun
- a compound preposition, or trasna, timpeall, chun, fearacht, dála, cois
- a verbal noun
- a quantity word
Here are some examples of indefinite nouns in the genitive.
- leabhar scoile
- eagarthóir leabhair scoile
- post eagarthóra leabhair scoile
Here are some examples of definite nouns in the genitive.
- leabhar na scoile
- rothaí ghluaisteán do mháthar
- ar son mhuintir na tire
- ag ithe bhrioscaí mo mháthar
- leabhar Sheáin
To form the genitive singular of a noun, figure out what declension it is (as explained above), and apply the rules below. caolaítear means "one makes the final consonant slender", and leathnaítear means "one makes the final consonant broad.
|f2||caolaítear, add -e
|m3, f3||leathnaítear, add -a
|m4, f4||no change|
Example (aerfort is m1 (ends in a broad consonant). To form the genitive, make the ending slender: aerfoirt
aimsir is f2 (ends in a slender consonant). To form the genitive, make the ending slender (which it already is) and add -e: aimsire
canúint is f3 (ends in -úint). To form the genitive, we would normally make the ending broad and add -a, but there's a special change that applies here, -úint -> -úna: canúna
cailín is m4 (ends in -ín). No change in the genitive: cailín):
Try to form the genitive of these nouns. Hover your mouse over the noun to see the declension and the genitive form.
|Most weak plurals||Same as ns|
|Certain f2 nouns: binn, deoir, dúil, glúine, súíl||leathnaítear|
|Strong plurals||Same as np|
Nouns are divided into declensions according to how they form the genitive. There are five declensions. There is no foolproof way of determining the declension of a noun, but the following questions will help you make an intelligent guess. Stop at the first question with a “yes” answer.
|If it's...||Then it's probably...|
|Abstract noun ending in -e, -í?||f4|
|Ends in a vowel or -ín?||m4|
|Ends in -áil, -úil, -ail, -úint, -cht, -irt?||f3|
|Ends in -éir, -eoir, -óir, -úir?||m3|
|Ends in a slender consonant or -eog, -óg, -lann?||f2|
|Ends in a broad consonant?||m1|
explain when to use the vocative
Forming the Vocative Singular
|If the noun is...||Then the vocative is...|
|m1||Same as gs|
|f2 and Strong plurals||Same as ns|
Forming the Vocative Plural
|If the noun is...||Then the vocative is...|
|m1 weak plurals||Add -a to ns|
|f2 and Strong plurals||Same as np|