Irish grammar

This article discusses the grammar of the Irish language.

The morphology of Irish is in some respects typical of an Indo-European language. Nouns are declined for number and case, and verbs for person and number. Nouns are classified by masculine or feminine gender. Other aspects of Irish morphology, while typical for an Insular Celtic language, are not typical for Indo-European, such as the presence of inflected prepositions and the initial consonant mutations. Irish syntax is also rather different from that of most Indo-European languages, due to its use of the verb–subject–object word order. [1]


Word order in Irish is of the form VSO (verb–subject–object) so that, for example, "He hit me" is Bhuail [hit-past tense] [he] [me].

One distinctive aspect of Irish is the distinction between is, the copula (known in Irish as an chopail), and . Is describes identity or quality in a permanence sense, while temporary aspects are described by . This is similar to the difference between the verbs ser and estar in Spanish and Portuguese (see Romance copula), although this is not an exact match; is and are cognate respectively with the Spanish es and está.

Examples are:

  • Is fear é. "He is a man." (Spanish Es un hombre, Portuguese (Ele) é um homem)
  • Is duine fuar é. "He is cold (a cold-hearted person)." (Spanish Es frío, Portuguese (Ele) é frio)
  • Tá sé/Tomás fuar. "He/Thomas is cold" (= feels cold) (Alt. Tá fuacht air [= "Cold is on him"]). (Spanish Tiene frío – in this case Spanish uses 'tener' (to have) instead of 'estar' (to be), Portuguese (Ele) está com frio)
  • Tá sé ina chodladh. "He is asleep." (Spanish Él está durmiendo, Portuguese Ele está a dormir)
  • Is duine maith é. "He is good (a good person)." (Spanish Es bueno, Portuguese (Ele) é bom)
  • Tá sé go maith. "He is well." (Spanish Está bien, Portuguese (Ele) está bem)


Irish is an inflected language, having four cases: ainmneach (nominative and accusative), gairmeach (vocative), ginideach (genitive) and tabharthach (prepositional). The prepositional case is called the dative by convention.

Irish nouns are masculine or feminine. To a certain degree the gender difference is indicated by specific word endings, -án and -ín being masculine and -óg feminine. While the neuter has mostly disappeared from vocabulary, the neuter gender is seen in various place names in Ireland.


Irish definite article
Definite article Singular Plural
Masculine Feminine
Nominative anT anL naH
Genitive anL naH naE
Dative an1 an2 naH

The Irish definite article has two forms: an and na. An may cause lenition, eclipsis, or neither. Na may cause eclipsis, but the only instance of lenition with na is with the genitive singular of the word céad meaning first. An is used in the common case singular for all nouns, and lenites feminine nouns. In the genitive singular, Irish: an with lenition is used with masculine nouns, na with feminine nouns. In the dative singular, an may cause lenition or eclipsis depending on the preposition preceding it and on regional norms (in Ulster usage, lenition is standard with all prepositions, while in other regions eclipsis is used with many). Na is the only plural form of the article; it causes eclipsis in the genitive for both genders, and no mutation in other cases.

Names of countries usually take the definite article in the nominative: An Fhrainc "France," an Bhrasaíl "Brazil," an tSeapáin "Japan." Exceptions to this include Éire "Ireland," Albain "Scotland" and Sasana "England."

There is no indefinite article in Irish; the word appears by itself, for example: Tá peann agam. - "I have a pen", Tá madra sa seomra. - "There's a dog in the room".

When two definite noun phrases appear as part of a genitive construction (equivalent to the X of the Y in English), only the noun phrase in the genitive takes the article. Compare Áras an Uachtaráin or Teitheamh na nIarlaí to English the residence of the President, the flight of the Earls.


Irish adjectives always follow the noun. The adjective is influenced by the case, number and gender of the noun preceding it.

  • An cailín beag "The small girl" - masculine singular nominative
  • An bhean bhocht "The poor woman" - feminine singlar nominative
  • Na buachaillí óga "The young boys" - masculine plural nominative

Adjectives in Irish have two morphological degrees of comparison: the positive (Irish: bunchéim), e.g. Tá an buachaill cairdiúil "the boy is friendly", and the comparative (Irish: breischéim), e.g. Tá an cailín níos cairdiúla ná an buachaill "the girl is nicer than the boy". A superlative (Irish: sárchéim) sense is rendered by the comparative in a relative clause, e.g. Is é Seán an páiste is cairdiúla den triúr "Seán is the nicest child of the three".


Irish adverbs are used to modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.

An adverb can be created from an adjective by adding go before it, e.g. go mall, go tapaigh, go maith, etc. If the adjective begins with a vowel, h is added before it, e.g. go hálainn, go híseal, go háirithe, etc.

Adverbs can often be created from nouns by putting a preposition before them, e.g. ar bith, de ghnáth, faoi dheireadh, etc.

Other categories of adverbs include the following:

Adverbs that describe relation to time, e.g. uaireanta, anois, cheana, etc.

Adverbs that describe relation to place, e.g. ann, abhaile, amuigh, etc.

Adverbs used in questions, e.g. cathain?, conas?, cá?, etc.

Adverbs used for negation, e.g. , nach, nár, etc.

Other adverbs, e.g. áfach, chomh maith, ach oiread, etc.


There are two conjugations and 11 irregular verbs. Tenses or moods are formed by inflecting the stem, and in the past and habitual past tenses and the conditional mood also by leniting any initial consonant. The inflected tense and mood forms are: present indicative, present habitual indicative (differs from present only in the verb "to be"), future, past indicative, past habitual indicative, conditional, imperative, present subjunctive, and past subjunctive. Verbs also have a verbal noun and past participle, and progressive constructions similar to those using the English present participle may be formed from the verbal noun and an appropriate tense of . Examples of tense conjugations: (all third person forms without subject pronoun):

  • 1st conjugation: Fág "to leave" – d'fhág (past) – fágann (present) – fágfaidh (future) – d'fhágfadh (conditional) – d'fhágadh (habitual past) – fága (subjunctive) – fágadh (imperative)
  • 2nd conjugation: Ceannaigh "to buy" – cheannaigh (past) – ceannaíonn (present) – ceannóidh (future) – cheannódh (conditional) – cheannaíodh (habitual past) – ceannaí (subjunctive) – ceannaíodh (imperative)
  • Irregular: Téigh "to go" – chuaigh (past) – téann (present) – rachaidh (future) – rachadh (conditional) – théadh (habitual past) – (subjunctive) – téadh (imperative)

In addition to the passive voice, there is the impersonal form of the verb, termed the saorbhriathar or "autonomous verb", which serves a similar function (the most literal translation is "You/One/They...[e.g. say, are, do]”).

Verbs can be conjugated either synthetically (with the personal pronoun included in the verb inflection) or analytically (with the verb inflected for tense only and a separate subject). However, the official standard generally prescribes the analytic form in most person-tense combinations, and the synthetic in only some cases, such as the first person plural. The analytic forms are also generally preferred in the western and northern dialects, except in answer to what would in English be "yes/no" questions, while Munster Irish prefers the synthetic forms. For example, the following are the standard form, synthetic form and analytical form of the past tense of rith "to run":

Person Standard Synthetic Analytic
1st sing rith mé ritheas rith mé
2nd sing rith tú rithis rith tú
3rd sing rith sé rith rith sé
1st plural ritheamar ritheamar rith sinn / rith muid
2nd plural rith sibh ritheabhar rith sibh
3rd plural rith siad ritheadar rith siad
Impersonal ritheadh ritheadh ritheadh


Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns in Irish do not inflect for case, but there are three different sets of pronouns used: conjunctive forms, disjunctive forms, and emphatic forms (which may be used either conjunctively or disjunctively)

Irish personal pronouns
Simple pronouns Singular Plural
Conjunctive Disjunctive Conjunctive Disjunctive
1st person (muid) muid, sinn
2nd person thú sibh
3rd person Masculine é siad iad
Feminine í
Intensive pronouns Singular Plural
Conjunctive Disjunctive Conjunctive Disjunctive
1st person mise muidne, sinne
2nd person tusa thusa sibhse
3rd person Masculine seisean eisean siadsan iadsan
Feminine sise ise

Conjunctive forms

The normal word order in Irish is verb–subject–object (VSO). The forms of the subject pronoun directly following the verb are called conjunctive.

The form muid in the 1st person plural has only recently been approved for use in the official standard, but is very common in western and northern dialects. The standard and southern dialects have no subject pronoun in the 1st person plural, using the synthetic verb ending -imíd (alternatively -imid) instead.

Irish has no T–V distinction, i.e. it does not differentiate between formal and familiar forms of second person pronouns. The difference between and sibh is purely one of number.

There is no equivalent to the English "it". Either or are used depending on whether the thing the speaker is referring to is a masculine noun or a feminine noun. The exception is the pronoun ea, used in impersonal copula phrases, particularly in the phrases is ea (> sea) "yes", "so", "that is so", ní hea (the opposite of is ea), nach ea? "is that not so?", an ea (Kerry am b'ea) "Is that so?", fear is ea é "it's a man", and so on.

Disjunctive forms

If a pronoun is not the subject or if a subject pronoun does not follow the verb (as in a verbless clause, or as the subject of the copula, where the pronoun stands at the end of the sentence), the so-called disjunctive forms are used:

In Munster dialects the form thú is either (a) archaic (replaced by ) or (b) is only found after words ending in a vowel.

Buailim thú ("I hit you", present tense), Bhuail mé thú ("I hit you", past tense)
Dialect type (a)
Buailim tú, Bhuail mé tú
Dialect type (b)
Buailim tú, Bhuail mé thú

Intensive forms

Irish also has intensive pronouns, used to give the pronouns a bit more weight or emphasis.

The word féin (/fʲeːnʲ/ or /heːnʲ/) "-self" can follow a pronoun, either to add emphasis or to form a reflexive pronoun.

Rinne mé féin é. "I did it myself."
Ar ghortaigh tú thú féin? "Did you hurt yourself?"
Sinn Féin is thus "We Ourselves"

Prepositional pronouns

As the object of a preposition, a pronoun is fused with the preposition; one speaks here of "inflected" prepositions, or, as they are more commonly termed, prepositional pronouns.

Irish prepositional pronouns
Prepositional pronouns Singular Plural
1st person 2nd person 3rd person 1st person 2nd person 3rd person
Masculine Feminine
ag "at" Simple agam agat aige aici againn agaibh acu
Emphatic agamsa agatsa aigesean aicise againne agaibhse acusan
ar "on" Simple orm ort air uirthi orainn oraibh orthu
Emphatic ormsa ortsa airsean uirthise orainne oraibhse orthusan
as "from, out of" Simple asam asat as aisti asainn asaibh astu
Emphatic asamsa asatsa as-san aistise asainne asaibhse astusan
chuig/ chun "to(wards)" Simple chugam chugat chuige chuici chugainn chugaibh chucu
Emphatic chugamsa chugatsa chuigesean chuicise chugainne chugaibhse chucusan
de "of, from" Simple díom díot de di dínn díbh díobh
Emphatic díomsa díotsa desean dise dínne díbhse díobhsan
do "to, for" Simple dom duit di dúinn daoibh doibh
Emphatic domsa duitsa dósan dise dúinne daoibhse doibhsean
faoi "about, under" Simple fúm fút faoi fúithi fúinn fúibh fúthu
Emphatic fúmsa fútsa faoisean fúithise fúinne fúibhse fúthusan
i "in" Simple ionam ionat ann inti ionainn ionaibh iontu
Emphatic ionamsa ionatsa annsan intise ionainne ionaibhse iontusan
idir "between" Simple eadrainn eadraibh eatarthu
Emphatic eadrainne eadraibhse eatarthusan
le "with" Simple liom leat leis léi linn libh leo
Emphatic liomsa leatsa leisean léise linne libhse leosan
ó "since" Simple uaim uait uaidh uaithi uainn uaibh uathu
Emphatic uaimse uaitse uaidhsean uaithise uainne uaibhse uathusan
roimh "before, in front of" Simple romham romhat roimhe roimpi romhainn romhaibh romhu
Emphatic romhamsa romhatsa roimhesean roimpise romhainne romhaibhse romhusan
thar "over, beyond, past" Simple tharam tharat thairis thairsti thairainn tharaibh tharstu
Emphatic tharamsa tharatsa thairisean thairstise thairainne tharaibhse tharstusan
trí "through" Simple tríom tríot tríd tríthi trínn tríbh tríothu
Emphatic tríomsa tríotsa trídsean tríthise trínne tríbhse tríothusan
um "around" Simple umam umat uime uimpi umainn umaibh umpu
Emphatic umamsa umatsa uimesean uimpise umainne umaibhse umpusan

Possessive pronouns

The possessive determiners cause different initial consonant mutations.

Irish possessive pronoun
Possessive determiners Singular Plural
1st person mo/ m'L árE
2nd person do/ d', t'L bhurE
3rd person Masculine aL aE
Feminine aH


  1. L= causes lenition on the next word.
  2. H= adds h- to the next vowel sound.
  3. E= causes eclipsis of the next word.

These forms (especially a and ár) can also blend with certain prepositions:

Irish possesive pronoun contractions
Preposition Possessive pronoun
mo/ m' "my" do/ d' "your" a "his, her(s), their(s)" ár "our(s)"
de "from" dem ded, det dár
do "to, for" dom dod, dot
faoi "about, under" faoina faoinár
i "in" im id, it ina inár
le "with" lem led, let lena lenár
ó "from" óm ód, ót óna ónár
trí "through" trína trínár

The object of a verbal noun is in the genitive case:

  • Tá sé ag plé a rothair. "He's discussing his bicycle" (lit.: He is at the discussing of his bicycle)

Similarly, if the object of the verbal noun is a pronoun, then it is a possessive pronoun:

  • Tá sé á phlé. "He's discussing it." (lit.: He is at its (i.e. the bicycle's) discussing)

More examples:

  • Tá sí do mo bhualadh. "She's hitting me."
  • Tá siad do do phlé. "They are discussing you."
  • Tá sé á pógadh. "He's kissing her."
  • Tá tú dár mbualadh. "You're hitting us."
  • Tá mé do bhur bplé. "I'm discussing you (pl.)."
  • Tá sibh á bpógadh. "You (pl.) are kissing them."

Interrogative pronouns

Interrogative pronouns introduce a question, e.g. the words who, what, which. The Irish equivalents are:

  • "who?, which?"
  • cad or céard "what?"
  • cén "which?"


  • Cé a rinne é? "Who did it?"
  • Cé a chonaic tú? "Who did you see?"
  • Cé ar thug tú an leabhar dó? "Who did you give the book to?"
  • Cad atá ort? "What's wrong (with you)?" (lit. "What is on you?")
  • Céard a dúirt tú? "What did you say?"
  • Cén t-ainm atá ort? "What's your name?" (lit. "Which name is upon you?")
  • Cén aois tú? "How old are you?" (lit. "Which age are you?")


Irish numbers
Value Cardinal Ordinal
Disjunctive Conjunctive
Nonhuman Human
0 náid
1 a haon (aon)...amháin céad
2 a dó dhá beirt dara
3 a trí trí triúr tríú
4 a ceathair ceithre ceathrar ceathrú
5 a cúig cúig cúigear cúigiú
6 a sé seisear séú
7 a seacht seacht seachtar seachtú
8 a hocht ocht ochtar ochtú
9 a naoi naoi naonúr naoú
10 a deich deich deichniúr deichiú
11 a haon déag aon...déag aon...déag aonú...déag
12 a dó dhéag dhá...déag dáréag dóú...déag
20 fiche fiche fichiú
21 fiche a haon ...'s fiche aonú...'s fiche
22 fiche a dó dhá ...'s fiche dóú...'s fiche
30 tríocha tríocha tríochadú
40 daichead daichead daicheadú
50 caoga caoga caogadú
60 seasca seasca seascadú
70 seachtó seachtó seachtódú
80 ochtó ochtó ochtódú
90 nócha nócha nóchadú
100 céad céad céadú
1000 míle

There are three kinds of cardinal numbers in Irish: disjunctive numbers, nonhuman conjunctive numbers, and human conjunctive numbers.

Disjunctive numbers

Disjunctive numbers are used for example in arithmetic, in telling time, in telephone numbers and after nouns in forms like bus a trí déag "bus 13" or seomra a dó "room 2".

Conjunctive numbers

Nonhuman conjunctive numbers

Nonhuman conjunctive numbers are used to count nouns that do not refer to human beings, e.g. capall "horse"

"One" as a pronoun is rendered with ceann (lit. "head") when it concerns things and animals, e.g.:

Tá cúig chapall agam; tá ceann acu breoite. "I have five horses; one of them is sick."

Human conjunctive numbers

Human conjunctive numbers are used to count nouns that refer to human beings, e.g. páiste 'child'

"One" as a pronoun is rendered with duine (lit. "person") with people. The other "personal" numbers can also be used pronominally, e.g.:

Tá cúigear páistí agam; tá duine acu breoite. "I have five children; one of them is sick."
Tá seisear sa seomra. "Six people are in the room."

Higher numbers are done as with the nonhuman conjunctive numbers: trí pháiste déag, fiche páiste, etc.


A notable feature of Irish phonology is that consonants (except /h/) come in pairs, one "broad" (velarized, pronounced with the back of the tongue pulled back towards the soft palate) and one "slender" (palatalized, pronounced with the middle of the tongue pushed up towards the hard palate).

Consonant phonemes
Labial Coronal Dorsal Glottal
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar
broad slender broad broad slender broad broad slender slender slender broad
Plosives voiceless t̪ˠ c k
voiced d̪ˠ ɟ ɡ
voiceless ʃ ç x h
voiced w j ɣ
Nasal n̪ˠ ɲ ŋ
Tap ɾˠ ɾʲ
Lateral l̪ˠ
Vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Mid ə
(only unstressed)
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a ɑː

Diphthongs: /iə/, /uə/, /əi/, /əu/.


  1. ^ Strazny, Philipp (2005). Encyclopedia of Linguistics. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis. p. 183. ISBN 9781135455224.

External links

This page was last updated at 2021-05-08 09:57, update this pageView original page

All information on this site, including but not limited to text, pictures, etc., are reproduced on Wikipedia (wikipedia.org), following the . Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


If the math, chemistry, physics and other formulas on this page are not displayed correctly, please useFirefox or Safari