Irish Language Blog

‘I am not an ‘uimhir’ ‘ and Other Indefinite Predicate Nominatives — Let’s Say Them in Irish Posted by on Jan 23, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

An uimhir "6," 'sea. Ach an gcuirfeá an cheist "An uimhir thú?" ar an uimhir? Cé leis a ndéarfá "An uimhir thú?" Agus cad a fhreagródh an "Príosúnach" dá gcuirfeá an cheist sin air (agus dá mbeadh Gaeilge aige, ar ndóigh, ach bíodh cuimhne agat gur Gael-Mheiriceánach a bhí sa Chuachánach atá i gceist anseo). Léigh leat le fáil amach cén Ghaeilge a bheadh ar a fhreagra. Grafaic:

An uimhir “6,” ‘sea. Ach an gcuirfeá an cheist “An uimhir thú?” ar an uimhir? Cé leis a ndéarfá “An uimhir thú?” Agus cad a fhreagródh an “Príosúnach” dá gcuirfeá an cheist sin air?  Dá mbeadh Gaeilge aige, ar ndóigh.  Ach bíodh cuimhne agat gur Gael-Mheiriceánach a bhí sa Chuachánach atá i gceist anseo. Léigh leat le fáil amach cén Ghaeilge a bheadh ar a fhreagra. Grafaic:

Whenever I see or hear the phrase “Doctor Who,” I always end up thinking of the typical Irish question, “An dochtúir thú?” (Are you a doctor?).  Remember, the “t” of “thú” is silent, so “thú” sounds like “who.”  I’ve actually tried putting together questions in Irish that would have the phrase “Doctor Who Thú” in them but mostly they don’t really fit together grammatically.  That’s basically because the Doctor’s name isn’t “Doctor Who.”  “Doctor Who” is the name of the television program and it’s a bit of a stretch to ask someone if they are a “clár teilifíse.”  And that’s even considering the unusual questions that sometimes come up in various language instruction materials, like this one from a 1906 phrasebook as posted at  Cén teanga í?  Freagra thíos.

How much for that lot of razors, scissors, knives, horseshoes, and yokes?
Heaha ko kela puu pahi umiumi, upa, pahi, kamaa lio me na lei-pipi?

Or “Qo’noSDaq bIghIQ’a’?” (Are you vacationing on Kronos?)  Cén teanga í an ceann seo?  Freagra thíos agus foinse.

Anyway, all of this gets back to the main topic of the day.  How do you ask, “Are you a doctor?” and “Are you the doctor?” (or as per the TV show: “Are you the Doctor?”).  And what are some other useful, or at least informative, examples of these structures, with nationalities for example?  Here we go, and watch the word order!  By the way, we’ll also dabble in another popular TV show that must have been running parallel to Patrick Troughton’s time as “An Dara Dochtúir,” that is to say, in 1967-68.

ARE YOU A …?                                           ARE YOU THE …?

1) An dochtúir thú?                                 An tú an dochtúir?  (for “the Doctor”: “An tú an Dochtúir?”)

For this pair, and any of the examples below, “thusa” can also be used instead of “thú” to emphasize contrast with someone else; “tusa” would be used in the “An tú …?” question:  An dochtúir thusa?  An tusa an dochtúir?

‘Sea, is dochtúir mé.                              Is mé, is mé (or: mise) an dochtúir.

Ní hea, ní dochtúir mé.                         Ní mé, ní mé (or: mise) an dochtúir.

2) An iascaire thú?                                  An tú an t-iascaire?

‘Sea, is iascaire mé.                                Is mé, is mé an t-iascaire.

Ní hea, ní iascaire mé.                          Ní mé, ní mé an t-iascaire.

3) An Meiriceánach thú?                      An tú an Meiriceánach?

‘Sea, is Meiriceánach mé.                    Is mé, is mé an Meiriceánach.

Ní hea, ní Meiriceánach mé.              Ní mé, ní mé an Meiriceánach.

4) An Francach thú?                                An tú an Francach?

‘Sea, is Francach mé.                              Is mé, is mé an Francach.

Ní hea, ní Francach mé.                        Ní mé, ní mé an Francach.

A little less probable, but somewhat probable within the realm of televised (un)reality:

5) An uimhir thú?                                    An tú an uimhir?

‘Sea, is uimhir mé.                                  Is mé, is mé an uimhir. 

(Aw, don’t give up, a Phádraig Mhig Cuacháin! Cé heisean?  Patrick McGoohan aka “The Prisoner.”)

Here’s the answer we want:

Ní hea, ní uimhir mé. 

To which we must add, to complete the meme, “Is fear saor mé.” (aistriúchán agus nasc thíos)

The negative answer for the “definite” side of our chart (An tú an uimhir?) has less resonance, but I suppose there’s always a possibility: Ní mé, ní mé an uimhir (or: ní mise an uimhir).

And now to get back to Doctor Who.  I finally thought of a way to string “Doctor Who” and “thú” together, with a sound grammatical basis.  Only took me 20 years, admittedly of backburnered mulling, since I mostly do try to think of more practical questions like “Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí?” or “Cad a dhéanfaidh muid faoi dhí-armáil núicléach?”

Here’s my solution:

An móidín Doctor Who thú?   Which means … (aistriúchán thíos).

By the way, I use the word “móidín” with some slight reservation, since I think it’s a pretty recent trend to use it for “fan” and it doesn’t ring real familiar in my mind’s ear.  The phrase “lucht leanúna” (lit. crowd of followers) is used a lot for “fans” (plural), but to make it singular, you have to add a phrase like “duine de,” giving phrases like “duine de lucht leanúna Doctor Who,” lit. “a person of (the) crowd of followers (of) Doctor Who.”  That gets pretty cumbersome, if you’re asking something like: “An duine de lucht leanúna Doctor Who thú?”  But we still do have the rollicking “Who thú” sound at the end.

The most basic meaning of the word “móidín” is “devotee,” and it typically has a religious context.  Of course, when speaking of Whovians, it may that “devotee” and “fan” are pretty much the same thing.

Anyhoo ( a colloquialism I don’t actually really use much in real life but couldn’t resist here), I hope the above gives some good grist for your conversational mills.  Now you can ask people their jobs and nationalities, interview Patrick McGoohan as “The Prisoner,” and when the context works, you can ask someone if they’re a Doctor Who fan.  And you have a legitimate way to articulate the sound “hoo-hoo” in an Irish sentence!  Slán go fóill — Róislín

Freagraí: a) Haváis, b) Tliongáinis (Conversational Klingon, by Marc Okrand, presented by Michael Dorn, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-671-79739-5)


  1. a) fear saor, free man. In English the full catchphrase, “I am not a number. I am a free man.” has an impressive 81,400 hits, such as  Many of the hits are for Iron Maiden’s Prisoner lyrics.  Now I’ll have to start Googling the quote in Irish and see how many hits there are and if interest seems to be spreading.
  2. b) An móidín Doctor Who thú? Are you a Doctor Who fan?

Gluaisín: dí-armáil, disarmament; Francach, Frenchman (note, with the “f” in lowercase , “francach” means “rat”); iascaire, fisherman; Mag Cuacháin, McGoohan, note the “Mag” instead of the more traditional “Mac,” at least in this fairly standard form of the surname.  And there’s no lenition after the “Mhig” form of this name, as in “Don’t give up, a Phádraig Mhig Cuacháin!”  Eisceacht eile i measc na n-eisceachtaí!

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