Irish Language Blog

An Briathar “Gráigh!” (Love!) i nGaeilge Posted by on Feb 14, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

The more I look into it, the more unusual features this verb seems to have.  Interesting, and a bit complex, especially because of overlapping forms and near homonyms that are actually antonyms.  Good news?  It’s not used nearly as much as the forms we’ve recently gone over, especially “Mo ghrá thú.”  So if you stick to “mo ghrá thú,” at least for Valentines-ish purposes, that should work out just fine.

So when would you use “gráigh” as a command?  Aside from when you are “splanctha i ndiaidh duine éigin,” that is!  Even then, you might want to weigh the relative merits of verbs sa mhodh ordaitheach as opposed to sweet nothings sa tuiseal gairmeach.

Well, let’s start with a situation in which you don’t use “gráigh!” for “love!”  To say, “Love me, love my dog,” the closest traditional equivalent phrase would be, “Más ionúin an chráin, is ionúin an t-ál” (If the sow is dear to you, the litter [of piglets] is dear to you also”).  Note that I do say “traditional,” since one could certainly translate “Love me, love my dog” literally.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s what people say.  Not that I’ve heard that many people talking about the charm of sows compared to the charm of the litter, for that matter, but at least it’s “trad.”

So, where else would we find “love” as a command in Irish?  I checked out “Love thy neighbor as thyself” in the Irish Bible but that turns out to be an indirect command.  In English, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” and in Irish, “Ní foláir duit grá a thabhairt do do chomharsa mar thú féin.”  Don’t be concerned about the negative particle “” there.  The sentence is sort of like a double negative, say, “It isn’t unfitting,” but stronger, with the sense, “It is necessary” or “You should.“  But the key thing here, regarding the verb “gráigh,” is that we’re back to the noun, “grá.”  Literally, our Biblical line translates as “You ought to give love to your neighbor as to yourself,” with “to give” (a thabhairt) as the actual infinitive (not “to love”).

The other uses I find of “gráigh” as a verb mostly tend to be religious, with some exceptions that use “gráím thú” for “I love you.”  But I think a lot of these are generated by verb conjugators or occur in literal, word-for-word translations.  I still plump for “Mo ghrá thú!

Next, what’s the overlap?  Well, the verbal noun of “gráigh” takes us back to “grá.”  It strikes me as really rare to say, “Tá sé ag grá X” but, in theory at least, it could be done.  In the infinitive form (to love), we have “a ghrá.”   And that just happens to look like our term of endearment, “O, love (or “darling”)!”  Of course, word order and sentence structure would help distinguish the two functions, but that’s a bit of a tall order if someone is new to the language.  In theory we could have, “Is maith an rud do chomharsa a ghrá, a ghrá!” (It’s good to love your neighbor, darling!”).

And finally, what’s the near-antonym bit?  Anyone actually ever heard of a near-antonym?  Maybe not, but there’s always a first time.  Try pronouncing all of these:

gráím [graw-eem]

gráíonn [graw-ee-un]

gráin [graw-in]

The vowel sound and the m/n ending are all that’s keeping two forms of the verb “love” from sounding like “gráin,” a noun that means “hatred,” “abhorrence” or “ugliness.”  This is a case where one really wants to enunciate clearly!

There is an Irish proverb that plays nicely on the similarity of these words, “Folaíonn grá gráin,” (Love hides ugliness, i.e. is blind).  Alliteration plus vowel rhyme plus pithiness, oh my!  Maise gur fíor nach sáraítear seanfhocal (Indeed it’s true that a proverb cannot be surpassed).

If you’ve been “loving” this, as McDonald’s would have us say, do stay tuned.  Lots more love lore coming up, even though Valentine’s Day will be past.  And love-lorn phrases too, if you’re interested!   Slán go fóill — Róislín

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