‘I am not an ‘uimhir’ ‘ and Other Indefinite Predicate Nominatives — Let’s Say Them in Irish

Posted on 23. Jan, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

An uimhir "6," 'sea.  Ach an gcuirfeá an cheist "An uimhir thú?" ar an uimhir?  Cé leis a ndéarfá "An uimhir thú?"  Agus cad a fhreagródh an "Príosúnach" dá gcuirfeá an cheist sin air (agus dá mbeadh Gaeilge aige, ar ndóigh, ach bíodh cuimhne agat gur Gael-Mheiriceánach a bhí sa Chuachánach atá i gceist anseo).  Léigh leat le fáil amach cén Ghaeilge a bheadh ar a  fhreagra.  Grafaic:  http://www.clker.com/clipart-number-6-1.html

An uimhir “6,” ‘sea. Ach an gcuirfeá an cheist “An uimhir thú?” ar an uimhir? Cé leis a ndéarfá “An uimhir thú?” Agus cad a fhreagródh an “Príosúnach” dá gcuirfeá an cheist sin air?  Dá mbeadh Gaeilge aige, ar ndóigh.  Ach bíodh cuimhne agat gur Gael-Mheiriceánach a bhí sa Chuachánach atá i gceist anseo. Léigh leat le fáil amach cén Ghaeilge a bheadh ar a fhreagra. Grafaic:

Whenever I see or hear the phrase “Doctor Who,” I always end up thinking of the typical Irish question, “An dochtúir thú?” (Are you a doctor?).  Remember, the “t” of “thú” is silent, so “thú” sounds like “who.”   I’ve actually tried putting together questions in Irish that would have the phrase “Doctor Who Thú” in them but mostly they don’t really fit together grammatically.  That’s basically because the Doctor’s name isn’t “Doctor Who.”  “Doctor Who” is the name of the television program and it’s a bit of a stretch to ask someone if they are a “clár teilifíse.”  And that’s even considering the unusual questions that sometimes come up in various language instruction materials, like this one from a 1906 phrasebook as posted at http://www.zompist.com/thought.html.  Cén teanga í?  Freagra thíos.

How much for that lot of razors, scissors, knives, horseshoes, and yokes?
Heaha ko kela puu pahi umiumi, upa, pahi, kamaa lio me na lei-pipi?

Or “Qo’noSDaq bIghIQ’a’?” (Are you vacationing on Kronos?)  Cén teanga í an ceann seo?  Freagra thíos agus foinse.

Anyway, all of this gets back to the main topic of the day.  How do you ask “Are you a doctor?” and “Are you the doctor?” (or as per the TV show: Are you the Doctor?”).  And what are some other useful, or at least informative, examples of these structures, with nationalities, for example?  Here we go, and watch the word order!  By the way, we’ll also dabble in another popular TV show that must have been running parallel to Patrick Troughton’s time as “An Dara Dochtúir,” that is to say, in 1967-68.

ARE YOU A …?                                           ARE YOU THE …?

1) An dochtúir thú?                                 An tú an dochtúir?  (for “the Doctor”: An tú an Dochtúir?”)

For this pair, and any of the examples below, “thusa” can also be used instead of “thú” to emphasize contrast with someone else; “tusa” would be used in the “An tú …?” question:  An dochtúir thusa?  An tusa an dochtúir?

‘Sea, is dochtúir mé.                              Is mé, is mé (or: mise) an dochtúir.

Ní hea, ní dochtúir mé.                         Ní mé, ní mé (or: mise) an dochtúir.

2) An iascaire thú?                                  An tú an t-iascaire?

‘Sea, is iascaire mé.                                Is mé, is mé an t-iascaire.

Ní hea, ní iascaire mé.                          Ní mé, ní mé an t-iascaire.

3) An Meiriceánach thú?                      An tú an Meiriceánach?

‘Sea, is Meiriceánach mé.                    Is mé, is mé an Meiriceánach.

Ní hea, ní Meiriceánach mé.              Ní mé, ní mé an Meiriceánach.

4) An Francach thú?                                An tú an Francach?

‘Sea, is Francach mé.                              Is mé, is mé an Francach.

Ní hea, ní Francach mé.                        Ní mé, ní mé an Francach.

A little less probably, but somewhat probable within the realm of televised (un)reality:

5) An uimhir thú?                                    An tú an uimhir?

‘Sea, is uimhir mé.                                  Is mé, is mé an uimhir. 

(Aw, don’t give up, a Phádraig Mhig Cuacháin! Cé heisean?  Patrick McGoohan aka “The Prisoner.”)

Here’s the answer we want:

Ní hea, ní uimhir mé. 

To which we must add, to complete the meme, “Is fear saor mé.” (aistriúchán agus nasc thíos)

The negative answer for the “definite” side of our chart (An tú an uimhir?) has less resonance, but I suppose there’s always a possibility: Ní mé, ní mé an uimhir (or: ní mise an uimhir).

And now to get back to Doctor Who.  I finally thought of a way to string “Doctor Who” and “thú” together, with a sound grammatical basis.  Only took me 20 years, admittedly of backburnered mulling, since I mostly do try to think of more practical questions like “Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí?” or “Cad a dhéanfaidh muid faoi dhí-armáil núicléach?”

Here’s my solution:

An móidín Doctor Who thú?   Which means … (aistriúchán thíos).

By the way, I use the word “móidín” with some slight reservation, since I think it’s a pretty recent trend to use it for “fan” and it doesn’t ring real familiar in my mind’s ear.  The phrase “lucht leanúna” (lit. crowd of followers) is used a lot for “fans” (plural), but to make it singular, you have to add a phrase like “duine de,” giving phrases like “duine de lucht leanúna Doctor Who,” lit. “a person of (the) crowd of followers (of) Doctor Who.”  That gets pretty cumbersome, if you’re asking something like: “An duine de lucht leanúna Doctor Who thú?”  But we still do have the rollicking “Who thú” sound at the end.

The most basic meaning of the word “móidín” is “devotee,” and it typically has a religious context.  Of course, when speaking of Whovians, it may that “devotee” and “fan” are pretty much the same thing.

Anyhoo ( a colloquialism I don’t actually really use much in real life but couldn’t resist here), I hope the above gives some good grist for your conversational mills.  Now you can ask people their jobs and nationalities, interview Patrick McGoohan as “The Prisoner,” and when the context works, you can ask someone if they’re a Doctor Who fan.  And you have a legitimate way to articulate the sound “hoo-hoo” in an Irish sentence!  Slán go fóill — Róislín

Freagraí: a) Haváis, b) Tliongáinis (Conversational Klingon, by Marc Okrand, presented by Michael Dorn, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-671-79739-5)


  1. a) fear saor, free man. In English the full catchphrase, “I am not a number. I am a free man.” has an impressive 81,400 hits, such as https://www.pinterest.com/beccamedwards/i-am-not-a-number-i-am-a-free-man/.  Many of the hits are for Iron Maiden’s Prisoner lyrics.  Now I’ll have to start Googling the quote in Irish and see how many hits there are and if interest seems to be spreading.
  2. b) An móidín Doctor Who thú? Are you a Doctor Who fan?

Gluaisín: dí-armáil, disarmament; Francach, Frenchman (note, with the “f” in lowercase , “francach” means “rat”); iascaire, fisherman; Mag Cuacháin, McGoohan, note the “Mag” instead of the more traditional “Mac,” at least in this fairly standard form of the surname.  And there’s no lenition after the “Mhig” form of this name, as in “Don’t give up, a Phádraig Mhig Cuacháin!”  Eisceacht eile i measc na n-eisceachtaí!

Chocolate Redux (well, not really re: ducks, but re: eggs and such): Chocolate Terms in Irish

Posted on 18. Jan, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

I see that the chocolate blog in this series just popped up again on our Facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/learn.irish; bun-nasc thíos).  So I thought it would fun to try some more phrases involving many people’s favorite “bia compoird” – seacláid.

An bhfuil teideal ar bith de dhíth ar an bpictiúr seo? (Attribution: By André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)

An bhfuil teideal ar bith de dhíth ar an bpictiúr seo? (Attribution: By André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)

















One of the first things to remember is that when we’re describing something made “of chocolate,” the form of the word will be either “seacláide” [SHAK-lawdj-uh] or “sheacláide” [HAK-lawdj-uh].  When do we use which?  It depends on “inscne” (gender), in the grammatical sense, and “uimhir” (number, i.e. singular or plural).   Samplaí?  Seo iad:

coinín seacláide, a chocolate bunny

We use “seacláide” (with the regular “s”) because “coinín” is grammatically masculine, even if we’re talking about a female rabbit.  In Irish, a female rabbit is “coinín baineann” — the regular word for “doe” (female deer) is “eilit,” but that doesn’t apply to female rabbits, the way it does in English.  BTW, the male rabbit, the “buck” in English, is simply “coinín fireann” (male rabbit), in Irish.  At any rate, we use “seacláide” for either type of “coinín.”

And how would we say “the chocolate bunny”?  Care to fill in the blank?

1) _____  + coinín seacláide.   Do we need to make any changes to the “chocolate” or “bunny” part of the phrase?  Freagraí thíos.

An taobh amuigh agus an taobh istigh d'ubh uachtair Cadbury (Attribution: By Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)

An taobh amuigh agus an taobh istigh d’ubh uachtair Cadbury (Attribution: By Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)

And next, how about a chocolate egg, à la the crème de la crème of chocolate eggs, the Cadbury “creme egg.”  The Cadbury creme egg has recently made global headlines (OK, minor, but still global) because of the company’s decision to change the formula for the chocolate shell (mo sheacht mallacht ar an gcinneadh sin!) and to reduce the number of “uibheacha” in a package without a “laghdú comhréireach” in the price.  And by the way, I just double-checked Cadbury’s website to be sure, but, yes, we have no “graif” (grave accent) on the first “e” of “creme” for the chocolate product.  So I can say “crème de la crème” to describe the egg, but just “creme” for the egg itself.  So here, Cadbury joins Lands’ End [sic], Häagen-Dazs, and King’s Cross/Kings Cross with weird or idiosyncratic diacritical/punctuation stuff going on, but, well, its’, úúps, its, úúps, it’s their corporate decision.

Anyway, the distinctive feature of Cadbury’s creme egg is its interior which is dyed to look like it has both the “gealacán” and the “buíocán” as a real egg would.  Cliste!  Most of the uibheacha seacláide sold in the U.S. are, fad m’eolais, either “cuasach” (hollow) or “soladach” (solid, i.e. seacláid ar fad a bhíonns ann, gan “uachtar” mar líonadh).   Some smallish ones might have a cream filling, but I’ve never seen an American brand chocolate Easter egg that shows the “yolk.”

Getting back to grammar, “ubh” (egg) is a feminine noun, so we have:

ubh sheacláide (with lenition)

And, for some practice with the word “the,” can you make any necessary changes for these phrases (freagraí thíos):

2) ____  +  ubh sheacláide, the chocolate egg

3) ___   +  síoróip sheacláide, the chocolate syrup

4) ___   +  éadromóg sheacláide, the chocolate éclair

5) ___   +  cúróg sheacláide, the chocolate soufflé

And how about the plural forms?  Piece o’ cake (císte seacláide, ar ndóigh!)

brioscaí seacláide

cúróga seacláide

uibheacha seacláide

sceallaí seacláide (aka cáithníní seacláide)

donnóga seacláide

No change to the initial “s” in those examples, which included two masculine nouns (briosca, sceall aka cáithnín) and three feminine nouns (cúróg, donnóg, ubh).  In Irish, gender doesn’t always create a change for the adjective in the plural.

But wait, there’s more (hmm, there s’more?! — since we’re talking chocolate!).  What if we have a noun like “cupán” or “mús,” which become “cupáin” and “múis” when they’ re plural and the subject of a sentence?  Ah, a nicey-wicey little rule comes in.  “Nicey-wicey”?  In ainm Dé!  Bhuel, nod don Dochtúir atá ann.   Cén Dochtúir, bhuel, sin ábhar blag eile.

So we have the plural forms “cupáin” and “múis” [moosh], which have an “i” before the final consonant.  That “i” makes a difference.  The “i” makes the final consonant sound “slender,” like “KUP-aw-in” for “cupáin” (not “KUP-awn”) and “moosh” for “múis” (not “moos,” sounding like “moose,” the animal).

If the cups or the mousse are made of chocolate, the phrases become “cupáin sheacláide” and “múis sheacláide.”  That’s the rule — masculine plural nouns with a slender ending trigger lenition, in this case, “s” becoming “sh” in spelling, with just the “h” actually pronounced.  The “cup” here refers, of course, to the little chocolate cups used in dessert-making, not, of course to cups or mugs for drinking tea or coffee.  Those would be as much use as, say, a chocolate teapot.  Chomh húsáideach le taephota seacláide.  Not to mention being “chomh haisteach le horáiste tochrais.”  Useful or not, I see various people have experimented with making chocolate teapots, mostly to eat, but one chocolatier, John Costello (nice Irish surname!) has actually created a functional chocolate teapot, which can brew for about 2 minutes.  I guess if you pour the hot water out quick enough, the taephota seacláide will retain its shape.  Reminiscent of baking ice-cream, as in “Alasca Bácáilte.”  An nasc:  http://www.nestle.com/media/news/nestle-master-chocolatier-makes-chocolate-teapot

A cup of hot chocolate (le n-ól) would usually be “cupán seacláid the,” following the new-ish pattern in Irish that genitive case forms aren’t used if the noun phrase is indefinite.   The new rule is still somewhat in flux, but gaining ground.  Anything to minimize genitive-case constructions, some might say.  Moi?  Grá mo chroí an tuiseal ginideach, ach déarfainn nach mothaíonn mórán daoine mar sin.  I cut my teeth on the genitive case, so to speak, studying Latin as a teenager, so I actually enjoyed bouncing from nominative singular to genitive plural and vice versa and inside out.  But I think I may be in the minority with that.

To wrap up, the word “seacláide” (of chocolate) changes form slightly depending on what it’s modifying: coinín seacláide (masculine), ubh sheacláide (feminine), brioscaí seacláide (masculine plural), donnóga seacláide (feminine plural), múis sheacláide (masculine plural with lenition).  Having worked your way through all of that, maybe it’s time for a “sneaic.”  SGF — Róislín

Nasc: Seacláid (Chocolate): An Bia Compoird Is Fearr? Posted on 21. Apr, 2014 by róislín in Irish Language (http://blogs.transparent.com/irish/seaclaid-chocolate-an-bia-compoird-is-fearr/)


1) ___  + coinín seacláide: an coinín seacláide (no changes)

2) ___  +  ubh sheacláide: an ubh sheacláide (no changes)

3) ___   +  síoróip sheacláide: an tsíoróip sheacláide (the usual t-prefixing, as in “an tsráid” and “an tsúil“)

4) ___   +  éadromóg sheacláide:  an éadromóg sheacláide (no changes)

5) ___   +  cúróg sheacláide: an chúróg sheacláide (the usual lenition, with “c” becoming “ch”)

Gluaisín: aisteach, strange, unusual; donnóg, brownie (food); éadromóg, éclair; tochras, winding, winding up.  Together with “oráiste” (orange), it could be translated as, bhuel … got it?

‘Owl’ About It? Cineálacha Ulchabhán i nGaeilge (Types of Owls in Irish) 

Posted on 14. Jan, 2015 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Ulchabhán ag méanfach (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SpottedEagleOwl2483MGYawn.jpg)

Ulchabhán ag méanfach (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SpottedEagleOwl2483MGYawn.jpg, with appreciation to the photographer, GalliasM, who designated the photo public domain)



















Since I just happened to mention the term “ulchabhán sneachtúil” in the most recent blog, I thought it would be fun to look into some other types of owls and what they’re called in Irish.  It’s especially interesting to see which terms mean basically the same thing in Irish and in English,  and which are fairly different.

To start with, let’s look at the basic word for owl itself:

ulchabhán, an owl [UL-khuh-wawn]

an t-ulchabhán, the owl

sciathán ulchabháin, an owl’s wing [SHKEE-uh-hawn  UL-khuh-waw-in]

sciathán an ulchabháin, the wing of the owl

Do you remember the plural forms?  When it’s the subject, we just need to add one letter for “owls” and two letters if we’re saying “the owls.”  Freagraí thíos.

ulchabhá__n, owls

na  __ulchabhá__n, the owls

sciatháin ulchabhán, owls’ wings (note that the letter we added before the “n” goes away, leaving us with just the “-án”)

For “of the owls,” the basic word ending stays the same (“-án”) but we add one more letter at the beginning of the word.  Our old friend “eclipsis” (urú).  Remember what happens with eclipsis before vowels?

sciatháin  na  __-ulchabhán, the wings of the owls (again that added letter at the end disappears)

A colloquial term for owl is “cailleach oíche,” lit. old woman of the night.

And now for some types of owls:

barn owl or screech owl: scréachóg reilige, literally “screecher of the cemetery,” not exactly “barn” and not literally “owl,” so one translation is closer than the other

Christmas Island hawk owl: ulchabhán seabhaic Oileán na Nollag; note that genitive case for of Christmas (“Nollaig” having become “Nollag“); quite literal really — owl of hawk (i.e. hawk-owl) of island of the Christmas

Great Eagle Owl: rí-ulchabhán, lit. king-owl or kingly-owl; not really “eagle” at all — “eagle” is “iolar

Great Grey Owl: ulchabhán mór liath [LEE-uh]; quite literal: owl-big-grey

Lesser Eagle Owl: rí-ulchabhán beag, lit. little king-owl; again, more literally, “little king owl,” not “eagle”

Screech Owl – ulscréachóg, lit. owl-screecher

Tawny Owl: ulchabhán donn, lit. brown owl.  The usual words for “tawny” are (get ready to count ‘em): odhar, crón, and ciarbhuí (“dark-yellow”).

Speaking of owls, one phrase from Harry Potter that always intrigued me is “Eeylops Owl Emporium.”  Almost every unusual word in the Harry Potter seems to have some explanation (like Erised, Mungo, and even Hogwarts itself) but I never found an explanation of “Eeylops” (and I just double-checked the Harry Potter wikia,  http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Eeylops_Owl_Emporium).  If it’s some sort of word play, it has eluded me for, hmm, wow, almost 18 years, since the first Harry Potter book appeared.  In the Irish translation, the store is simply called “Ollsiopa Ulchabhán” (Great-Shop of Owls).  It advertises the following types of owls.  Can you translate them (aistriúchán thíos):

Ulchabháin Bheaga agus Dhonna, Ulchabháin Shneachtúla, Scréachóga Reilige agus Ceanna Cait

Well, that’s about it for now.  There are of course many other owls we could think of in a literary context, but here, at least, we’ve made a start.  Is ulchabhán sneachtúil í Hedwig.  So maybe more on owls later, but for now, dare I say it, “Toodle-hoo! Hoo!” – Róislín


ulchabháin, owls (an inserted “i” marks the plural for this word)

na  hulchabháin, the owls (prefixed “h” because the noun begins with a vowel)

sciatháin ulchabhán, owls’ wings (back to the original “-án” ending)

sciatháin  na  n-ulchabhán, the wings of the owls (“n-” as a new prefix, showing eclipsis)

Aistriúchán (literally, from the Irish):

Owls Small and Brown (i.e. Small Owls and Brown Owls), Snowy Owls, Screech Owls, and Horned Owls

The English original actually says: Tawny, Screech, Barn, Brown and Snowy