Irish Language Blog

‘-aig” ag Nollaig nó ‘-ag’ ag ‘Nollag’? (When to say “Nollaig” and when to say “Nollag” for the Irish word for ‘Christmas’) Posted by on Dec 11, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

maróg Nollag le skimmia (planda ón Áise) mar mhaisiúchán in ionad cuilinn -- a Christmas pudding with skimmia as a decoration instead of holly (grianghraf: Musical Linguist at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

maróg Nollag le skimmia (planda ón Áise) mar mhaisiúchán in ionad cuilinn — a Christmas pudding with skimmia as a decoration instead of holly
(grianghraf: Musical Linguist at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s that time of year again, and while the Christmas season may make us feel “holly jolly” and “berry merry,” but we might not always feel that way when confronted with the decision of “tuiseal ginideach” or not “tuiseal ginideach.”

And what’s the “tuiseal ginideach,” anyway?  It’s the form of the word used in Irish to show, among other things, a) possession (cóta Shéamais, for Séamas’s coat) and b) attribute (i.e. further modification or description, like the words “house” in “housework” or “chocolate” in “chocolate cake” in English).  For the latter (attribute), the hitch is that in English we simply rely on word order to know that “housework” is different from a “workhouse.”  And although I don’t think there’s really such a word in English, if we had “*cake chocolate,” it might be the unsweetened chocolate used for baking, not the chocolate cake itself.

But in Irish, it’s not just a matter of word order, although that does come into play.  Mostly we tell that one noun is being to used to describe another noun by the word ending, i.e. the genitive-case ending, i.e. an tuiseal ginideach.  So the term for “chocolate cake” is “císte seacláide,” with the “-e” added to “seacláid.”  The basic form of the word for “chocolate” is simply “seacláid.”  Maybe in some future blog we can revisit this topic, with a wider range of examples, but for now, we’ll focus on phrases related to Christmas.

First, let’s look at the basic word for “Christmas” itself, and note, the name of the holiday includes the word “the,” as we see in:

an Nollaig [un NUL-ig], (the) Christmas

na Nollag [nuh NUL-ug], of (the) Christmas (“an” has changed to “na” for “of the” and the “-i-” has been dropped)

Nollag, of Christmas

And the relatively rarely used plural form: na Nollaigí, the Christmases, with the same form meaning “of the Christmases.”

As you can see, the basic form includes the letter “i” just before the “g.”  But when we say “of (the) Christmas,” the “i” disappears, with a slight change in pronunciation.

Now let’s look at some examples:

an Nollaig, Christmas

The “i” remains for most of the phrases that mean “at Christmas,” like: “faoi Nollaig” and “um Nollaig,” and, with the “the,” “ag an Nollaig.”  But the “-i-” goes away in phrases with “compound prepositions,” like “i rith na Nollag” or “le linn na Nollag,” both meaning “over Christmas.”

Here are some examples with “na Nollag.”  Examples like this are relatively less common than those with just “Nollag.”

Mí na Nollag, December, lit. the month of (the) Christmas

Athair na Nollag, Father Christmas, lit. the Father of (the) Christmas, aka Daidí na Nollag, “Daddy Christmas,” lit. the Daddy of (the) Christmas aka San Nioclás

deasghnátha na Nollag, the rituals of (the) Christmas

Oileán na Nollag, Christmas Island.  And two animals named after this island: frigéad Oileán na Nollag, Christmas Island frigate bird, and ulchabhán seabhaic Oileán na Nollag, Christmas Island hawk owl

spiorad na Nollag, Christmas spirit

tréimhse na Nollag OR aimsir na Nollag, the Christmas period.  Remember, “aimsir” can mean “time” or “time period” as well as “weather”

Most of the more everyday items associated with Christmas do not include the word “the,” as in the following:

bronntanas Nollag, a Christmas gift, lit. a gift of Christmas

cárta Nollag, a Christmas card, lit. a card of Christmas

carúl Nollag, a Christmas carol, lit. a carol of Christmas

crann Nollag, a Christmas tree, lit. a tree of Christmas

an geansaí Nollag a bhfuil an ghráin ag daoine air, the hated Christmas jumper (sweater) … cineál geansaí a bhfuil an-eolas ag Ron Weasley air!  Literally, the Irish phrase is, “the Christmas jumper that there is hate at people on it,” or a little more fluidly, “the Christmas jumper that people hate”

Lá Nollag, Christmas day, lit. day of Christmas

maróg Nollag, a Christmas pudding, lit. a pudding of Christmas

Oíche Nollag, Christmas Eve, lit. eve of Christmas

pléascóg Nollag, a Christmas cracker (in the Irish or UK sense, like a party favor), lit. a little explosion of Christmas

And it seems like there are always some phrases where either pattern works, making absolute rules hard to determine:

saoire phribhléide na Nollag OR saoire phribhléide Nollag

Which means …?  Freagra thíos.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, “Nollaig Shona!” for “Merry/Happy Christmas!”  Needless to say, the “-i-” is included.

Hope this added some “spiorad na Nollag” to your holiday plans.  Nothing like learning some more Irish grammar as a bronntanas Nollag for yourself. — Róislín

Freagra: saoire phribhléide (na) Nollag, Christmas privilege leave (téarma mileata, a military term)

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  1. Harry(Anraí):

    As an adult learner of considerable years I really appreciate and enjoy your blog……Thaitin sé go mor liom. Go raibh mile maith agat agus Nolliag Shona duit.


    • róislín:

      @Harry(Anraí) Go raibh míle maith agat, a Anraí. Tá áthas orm go dtaitníonn an blag leat. Agus Nollaig Shona dhuitse!

  2. E Moore Quinn:

    GRMA, a Róislín!
    Sin án-úsáideach!

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