Irish Language Blog

Clásail Choibhneasta: Relative Clauses (Bratach Dhearg! Gramadach Os Do Chomhair Amach!) Posted by on Jan 23, 2010 in Irish Language

Iarradh orm níos mó a scríobh faoi chlásail choibhneasta [KHLAWS-il KHIV-nas-tuh].  Seo beagán eolais fúthu—ar ndóigh is féidir i bhfad níos mó a scríobh ar an ábhar.  I was asked to write more about relative clauses.  Here’s the tip of the iceberg—and this is just for starters. 


Tá dhá chineál acu ann, díreach agus neamhdhíreach [NYOW-YEER-ukh], agus sin an rud is tábhachtaí fúthu, sílim.  There are two types, direct and indirect, and I think that’s the most important thing about them.   


Rud eile tábhachtach—níl aon fhocal i nGaeilge atá go díreach cosúil le “who,” “whom,” ná “whose” mar a tá siad i mBéarla.  Cad atá ag an Ghaeilge ina n-ionad?  An focal “a”!  Another important thing—there’s no word in Irish that’s exactly like English “who,” “whom,” or “whose.”  What does Irish have instead?  The word “a” [pronounced “uh”]!


Please keep in mind that all the examples below are the relative “who,” not the interrogative “who,” i.e. for describing the subject further, not for asking who he/she is. 


Mar shampla den chlásal coibhneasta díreach, agus is “seanchapall oibre” de shampla iad seo:


“Who” in a “direct” relative clause, modifying the subject of the main (first clause): 


1. Sin é an fear atá tinn (That’s the man who is ill).  Where’s the “a” that all the fuss is about?  It’s prefixed to the verb “,” giving us “atá.”  Since the “a” is unstressed, the second syllable is the stressed part of this word, which sounds like “uh-TAW”).  Generally speaking, it’s only in present tense statements that the word “a” is actually attached to its verb.


Present tense?  Positive only?  Hopefully it’s not “an iomarca gramadaí” (too much grammar) but it’s hard to really be precise about this topic without some of the terminology. 


Here’s an example that’s san aimsir chaite (in the past tense).  Notice that the word “a” has now separated from its verb:


2. Sin é an fear a bhí tinn (That’s the man who was ill). 


And for good measure, and because the third time’s a charm (hopefully making all this grammar appealing), here’s an aimsir fháistineach (the future tense):


3. Sin é a fear a bheidh tinn (That’s the man who will be sick).  Of course, I shudder to think of who would actually have use for such a statement. 


In the future tense example, there’s a new thing to notice that either didn’t pertain or wasn’t so noticeable in the first two examples (present and past tenses)—tormáil drumaí–lenition (séimhiú). 


The future tense verb “beidh” [bay] changed to “bheidh” [vay] because of the word “a” (who).


In theory, that should have happened in the present tense too, but it doesn’t in the standard form of the modern language.  We simply still have the regular “t” of “.”  (A Mhuimhnigh, tá a fhios agam, tá bhur bhfoirm féin agaibh ach sin ábhar do bhlag eile, b’fhéidir).    


The example in the past tense is already lenited, so it doesn’t really attract our attention.  Bhí” for the past tense is consistently lenited, no matter what comes in front of it. 


So it’s only when we get to the future tense that we really notice the lenition.  But if we had a series of regular verbs, we’d see the lenition more obviously.  Mar shampla, using the verb “goid” (steal):


Sin é an fear a ghoideann mart breá ramhar (gach lá nó go minic, srl.).

Sin é an fear a ghoid mart breá ramhar (aréir, inné, srl.).

Sin é an fear a ghoidfidh mart breá ramhar (amárach, srl.).  


Again, someone’s doing some prognosticating here, about who’s going to steal a fine fat “mart,” which is a fattened cow or bullock ready for slaughter or just slaughtered.  Sorry, a veigeáin agus a veigeatóirí, but the concept of the “mart” is a) an important part of a culture that at one time depended heavily on cattle-raising (and raiding, ach sin scéal eile) and b) the idea is loosely borrowed from a traditional folk rhyme, so it might resonate with some readers.   Anyway, an aimsir fháistineach is all about what will happen.  Fáistine” means “a prophecy.”


And what happens to the myriad Irish verbs that happen to start with “l,” “n,” or “r,” or any other non-lenitables.  There’s no spelling change at the beginning of the words, just like there’s no “h” inserted at the beginning of phrases like “mo leabhar,” “mo nóta,” or “mo rothar.”  Just a few samples:

Léann an bhean an leabhar.  Sin í an bhean a léann an leabhar.

Léigh an bhean an leabhar.  Sin í an bhean a léigh an leabhar.

Léifidh an bhean an leabhar.  Sin í an bhean a léifidh an leabhar. 


So, that’s “blag a haon” ar an ábhar seo, and we’ve gotten as far as “a” for “who” for positive statements.  Stay tuned for “a” as “whom” and “a” as “whose.”  And for negatives (the man who isn’t, who won’t, who didn’t, etc.).  In fact, we’ll probably be on this topic for a good few blaganna, now that the request is in and the bosca Phandóra is oscailte!  Someday we’ll also treat the phrase “an té” (the one who) but for now, it’s best just to stick to “who” as such. 

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  1. Mise Áine:

    Go raibh céad míle maith agat, a Róislín chliste chuidiúil chumasach!

    Is maith liom, go mór, an dóigh ina gcuireann tú eolas inár láthair, le simplíocht, agus le greann…:-)

    Maith thú!

  2. Róislín:

    Go raibh maith agat, a Áine. Is mór an spreagadh domsa do nóta! Go mór mór d’fhocail chineálta — cliste, cuidiúil, agus cumasach.

    For anyone new to the site or the language, I’ll add a bit here in English. I was thanking Áine for her compliments (cliste = clever, cuidiúil = helpful, cumasach = competent) and for her appreciation of my attempts to explain things clearly and to lighten the blogs with bits of humor as well. Of course, Áine is already so líofa (as her “MiseÁine” blog shows), it’s hard for me to imagine that there’s that much new here, ach b’fhéidir giota beag anseo is ansiúd!

    Pé scéal é, grma arís, agus beidh an chéad chuid eile de shága na gclásal coibhneasta ag teacht roimh i bhfad!

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