Irish Language Blog

More on “Before” i nGaeilge, or, When “Before” Also Means “After”! Posted by on Oct 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

We’ve recently discussed seven ways to say “before” in Irish (cheana, roimh, sula, thar, os coinne, os comhair, ar tosach), based on one reader’s question.  You might remember that I promised a few more, and here’s the first of several. 

If you want to say “the day before yesterday” or “the year before last” there is a specific word for this purpose, “arú.”  Curiously, “arú” can also be used for future dates, like “the day after tomorrow.”

 Here are the main examples, and frankly, I don’t think there are many more possibilities with this particular word:

arú inné, the day before yesterday

arú aréir, the night before last

arú anuraidh, the year before last

arú amárach, the day after tomorrow

arú amanathar, the second day after tomorrow

So “arú” can mean both “before” and “after”!

What part of speech is this intriguing, seemingly self-contradicting word?  Well, it’s not very clear.  Some dictionaries give no part of speech for it and others just say that it’s used in adverbial phrases but don’t pinpoint it as being an adverb.  Other sources say it is an adverb.  My interpretation is that the word doesn’t really mean “before” or “after,” as such, but instead has an “additive” function.  So it’s better to think of it as a particle (like the vocative or numerical particles in Irish), rather than being a specific part of speech.  While a definitive part of speech for it could be handy, it’s not really necessary for practical use. 

Curiously, this structure isn’t used with “seachtain” (week), “coicís” (fortnight), or “” (month). 

And in case you’re wondering, the other words for “before,” i.e. our prepositional “group of seven,” wouldn’t be likely candidates for use in the phrases that specifically mean “the day/night/year before yesterday/last night/last year. ”  If you use “roimh” with “inné,” you end up with a much longer phrase, “an lá roimh an lá inné,” and you don’t get the advantage of the succinctness of “arú inné.”  The other six choices (cheana, sula, thar, os coinne, os comhair, ar tosach) couldn’t be used in this context at all.  So I’d really recommend memorizing the five phrases above and using them where appropriate.   

And a final point regarding “arú.”  Sometimes the Irish interjection “ara” (angl. arrah, yerrah, etc.) appears as “arú.”  Not often, in my experience, but it’s possible.  Context should establish the distinction (“Arú,” a dúirt sé … / “Arrah,” he said …).  If “arú” isn’t followed by an adverb of time, it is likely not the same “arú” we’ve been talking about above.  This interjection “arú” has a fascinating variety of meanings in and of itself, such as “now,” “truly,” or “really,” and is often simply left as “ara” or anglicized as “Arrah, ” as in “Arrah, not at all!”  Ach sin ábhar blag eile!

See you again roimh i bhfad (before long)!

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  1. Seanchán:

    How does “anóirthear” compare with “arú amárach”?

    Are they interchangable, or are there situations where it would be more appropriate to use one rather than the other?

  2. Siobhan NicChathail:

    You mentioned aru isn’t used before seachtain, mi etc. Looking at your list of when it is used, it seems to me that it’s only used before words beginning with a vowel.

    As for Yerrah, I had a notion it was a corruption of “deartha”. Am I way off with that?

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