Irish Language Blog

Cúpla Caife Gaelach, Dhá Chaife Ghaelacha (A Couple of Irish Coffees vs. Two Irish Coffees) Posted by on Aug 20, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Lenition, another lenition, and a plural ending. 

That’s the difference that happens when we say “two Irish coffees” as opposed to “a couple of Irish coffees.”

So how does that work?

As we discussed in the last blog, the Irish word “cúpla” is followed by the singular form of the noun (unlike English, where we’d say, a couple of coffees, plural).  Any adjective that might follow the Irish noun is also singular, with possible lenition if the noun is feminine.  We looked at these examples: cúpla bosca mór, cúpla cearc bhán 

So now what happens if we want to say “two big boxes” or “two white hens”?

Well, it’s a fairly different set of rules!

After the number “two” in Irish (dhá), almost all nouns in Irish are lenited.  That is, of course, if they begin with a lenitable consonant (b, c, d, f, g, m, p, s, t).  Lenition is marked by adding the letter “h” after the original first letter and adjusting the pronunciation; it has been discussed extensively elsewhere in this blog.  For “bosca,” the lenited version is “bhosca” [WOSS-kuh, or depending on dialect, VOSS-kuh, but no longer an actual “b” sound].  For “cearc,” the lenited version is “chearc” [hyark, with the “hy” indicating a sound like the initial “h” in “humid” or “Huw” or “hew” (as opposed to “who” or “hooley” or the “hoo” that Horton heard; no “guttural”/throaty “ch” sound here as we have in “buachaill” or German “Buch” or Yiddish, and now English “chutzpah”)]. 

Are there exceptions to this?  Well, there are exceptions to almost every rule, but only one springs to mind for this situation: “dhá dtrian,” which means “two-thirds.”  We can just consider it the “eisceacht” that makes the “riail.” 

So first lenition “sorted,” as we might say.

Next, remember, no plural ending for the noun after a number, so “bhosca,” which still just means “box,” stays as “bhosca” (not “bhoscaí” which is plural as well as being lenited).

The second lenition occurs at the beginning of the adjective, so “mór” changes to “mhór,” and we still have to add the plural ending (-a).  So we end up with “mhóra.”  Here it doesn’t matter what inscne (gender) the noun is, unlike non-counting situations (for example, plain old “bosca mór,” no lenition, but “cearc mhór,” with lenition, because “cearc” is feminine).   

And now you’ve seen the plural ending, so we’re all set!

dhá bhosca mhóra, two big boxes

And as for those “cearca,” remember, the noun still keeps its singular form, even after the number:

dhá chearc bhána, two white hens

And for the “caifí Gaelacha” (Irish coffees), when we’re specifying two of them:

dhá chaife Ghaelacha, as we saw i dteideal an bhlag seo.

In these examples, counting objects, things, and animals, gender, for once, doesn’t matter.  So we could also say:

dhá chearc mhóra, two big hens (exact same adjective form as with the masculine noun “bosca”) and

dhá bhosca bhána, two white boxes (exact same adjective form as with the feminine noun “cearc”)

I’m sure it seems strange for the noun to be singular, grammatically, when we actually have two of them, but sin mar atá.  And even stranger, perhaps, that the adjective modifying that singular noun has a plural ending.  Ach arís, sin mar atá.  Or maybe for emphasis, I could echo the Irish penchant for saying “at all, at all,” and say “Ach arís, sin mar atá atá.” <ba-dum ching, which is the onomatopeia, if not the Gaeilge, for “What a bad joke!>  ‘Sea, I know that’s not even really de réir na gramadaí, but I’ve always loved those “at all at all” sayings.  Maith dom é, mura mhiste leat.  Couldn’t resist!  Never heard that “at all at all” Irishism at all?  Sampla thíos. 

btw, these rules change if you’re counting people as opposed to things, ach sin ábhar blag eile.   Sin é don bhlag seo.  SGF ó Róislín

Nóta faoi “at all, at all”:  If I recall the scéilín grinn correctly, the tourist asked what the single white line painted down the road meant.  The Irishman replied, “You can’t park there at all.”  Then the tourist asked what the double white line painted in the road meant.  The Irishman replied, “You can’t park there at all, at all.”

Gluais: maith dom, forgive me


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