Irish Language Blog

How To Say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in Irish – Let Me Count The Ways Posted by on Sep 15, 2014 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Actually I can’t really count the number of ways. As I mentioned in a recent blog, there are thousands of ways to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Irish. Remember, almost every verb in Irish can be used to formulate a yes- or no-answer. And the good news is … some of them are used a lot more frequently than others. These include:

Forms of the verb “” (an briathar substainteach): tá, níl, táim, nílim, bhí, ní raibh or its variant “cha rabh/robh,” beidh, ní bheidh, bheadh, ní bheadh, bhíodh, ní bhíodh, srl. (that’s just a sampler)

Forms of the verb “is” (an chopail): ‘sea, ní hea, ‘sé, ní hé, ‘sí, ní hí, ‘siad, ní hiad, b’ea, níorbh ea, b’é, níorbh é, b’í, níorbh í, b’iad, níorbh iad (again, just a sampler)

Samples with “an chopail” plus an “aidiacht”: is maith, ní maith, ba chóir, níor chóir, srl.

And then the wide world of verbs in general, with just the tiniest tip of the iceberg represented here, bouncing around with positive/negative, tenses, persons, number, and mood, in other words, a stream-of-consciousness sampling of verbs that might answer a wide range of questions: éirím, castar (daoine vs. cnoic), nífidh, bhris (the eternal fuinneog question), buaileann (an t-asal bocht!), ní itear (re: that memorable “feoil capaill” comment in the classic textbook, Progress in Irish), agus d’íosfaidís (quoting De Bhaldraithe on the same topic, although he calls it “feoil chapaill,” with lenition).

Tuilleadh samplaí uait?

fuair, ní bhfuair (le hurú; ní shéimhítear é), ní shéimhítear, ní bhfaighidh, ní fhaca, ní dúirt (gan séimhiú, ach séimhítear leagan eile de seo: níor dhúirt, scríofa amanna mar ‘níor ‘úirt), ní fhoghlaimeoidh, rinne, léim, d’imir, d’ith, phéinteáil, agus cheannóinn. And once again, that’s just a random sampling. Well, as random as anyone’s subconscious will allow.

Getting back to the introductory qualification for this blog, why did I say almost every verb in Irish can be used to answer “yes” or “no”?

Well, there’s “arsa” and its variation “ar” (not “ar,” the word meaning “on,” but “ar,” the variation of “arsa”). “Arsa,” which means “says,” “say,” or “said,” is a (so-called) “defective verb,” meaning it doesn’t have full complement of forms for all tenses and moods and persons. The term may not be very PC (de réir na dtuairimí ‘cearta’ poiblí) today, but it still seems to be in use. I remember learning it in Latin, so I guess that gives it some precedence.

Anyway, the point here is “arsa” can’t be used to ask questions or answer them, so it can’t be used for “yes” or “no.” It’s only used for quoting direct speech. Come to think of it, how about “quoth” in English? Defective? We can’t use “quoth” in the present tense or with “will,” etc. Did it just split off from “quote? Is there something about the nature of reporting direct speech that causes us to create specific verbs for just that purpose? Bhuel, sin ábhar machnaimh a deirim, but more than we can deal with here.

There are a handful of other similar (“defective”) verbs in Irish, i.e. verbs that are not fully conjugatable. But that doesn’t change our basic point – there almost as many ways to answer “yes” or “no” in Irish as there are verbs in the language, whether they are down to earth (rinne, íosfaidh) or a little more esoteric (phostaláidigh, mionsaothróidh).

So from this very brief sample, we can see that there are many, many ways to answer “yes” and “no” in Irish. Almost every verb in the language can be used. And with the “yes/no” theme very prominent right now, because of the Scottish Referendum, we can see that not only is the Independence question itself important, but from a Gaelic language viewpoint (Gaeilge and Gàidhlig being very similar in many ways), answering “yes” or “no” gives us a good grammar workout as well.

Ag tnúth leis an nuacht ar lá an Reifrinn. – Róislín

P.S. This blog included a lot of yes/no answers. If any volunteers would like to send in a question or two answerable by some of these “freagraí,” we could have a great practice session for all and discuss the topic further.

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