Irish Language Blog

Speaking “of blue mice” and “of pink elephants” Posted by on Mar 30, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

A recent blog hinted at some upcoming entries on possessive forms, so here they are.   We start with a few more luchóg ghorm / eilifint bhándearg examples and then transition to some more practical phrases that indicate possession, and maybe even point towards some Easter expressions, for the upcoming holiday.  Some of you might remember the chocolate Easter Bunny ears series from last year, so maybe we can make some of those phrases the basis for more expressions in the possessive.

If anyone has just joined the blog, you might want to backtrack to a few blogs back to see why we’re talking about blue mice and pink elephants anyway.  Blame it on Jack London and an t-ólachán, if you’re looking for an improbable probable cause!

Why do Irish nouns have a “possessive” form (aka an fhoirm sa tuiseal ginideach)?  Primarily it indicates ownership, but in Irish, “possessive” forms can also be used a) as modifiers (like adjectives), b) to indicate parts “of” something, and c) as the object of verbal nouns.  That last category is probably the most different from teangacha eile, so it may require a blog (nó dhó) on its own, but we may be able to at least touch on it here.

One thing the term “possessive” doesn’t indicate in the grammar world is spiritual or soul possession à la Linda Blair, the head-turning, invective-spewing trance-like state depicted in movies like “An tEacsaircistí.”  If we ever get around to that topic, which would be called “seilbh ainspride,” it might be around Oíche Shamhna.  Am feiliúnach?

Here are some examples of “(an) luchóg ghorm” in the possessive: 

ruball na luchóige goirme

Notice a couple of changes here:

“an” becomes “na” for possessive forms of feminine singular definite nouns

“luchóg” becomes “luchóige” with the possessive ending “-óige”

“gorm” becomes “goirme,” for the feminine singular possessive

What’s “ruball”?  “Tail.”  A shortened form of “eireaball” (tail).

So the whole phrase means “the tail of the blue mouse.”  Notice that the definite article (“the” in English) only occurs once in the Irish phrase (“na”), in the middle, not twice (as it would in English).

If the phrase is indefinite (a tail of a blue mouse), there is no change.  At least that’s the case these days.  It used to be that “blue mouse” would change here as well, but it’s not the norm now.  So the phrase is:

ruball luchóg ghorm

How about “the trunk (trunc, remember, no “k” to speak of in Irish) of the pink elephant”?

trunc na heilifinte bándeirge (the trunk of the pink elephant)

trunc eilifint bhándearg (a trunk of a pink elephant)

While having a tail or a trunk may not be ownership in the formal sense, it qualifies for the use of the possessive form (an tuiseal ginideach) in Irish.

And that will actually bring us to deireadh an bhlag seo, so cluasa coiníní, an Cháisc, codanna, ainmfhocail cháilíochta, and ainmfhocail bhriathartha will have to wait their “seal” ([shal] turn).  As will na foirmeacha iolra and na samplaí praiticiúla.  Go dtí sin, sgf, Róislín

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  1. mankso:

    Tá mo ghabhar anois marbh (agus is tusa atá freagrach as á mharú)! 😉
    I’ve enjoyed your blog for a while now, and learn a lot fom it – go raibh míle maith agat, ach ochón agus … Comhghairdeas! You have finally got my goat!
    You wrote: “One thing the term “possessive” doesn’t indicate in the grammar world is possession”

    So why do you keep doing it then, for heaven’s sake? What’s wrong with just calling it just the plain traditional old ‘genitive case’ that we all learned as students of Latin, Greek, German and Russian back in the ’40’s and 50’s, unless it’s to pander to modern students who apparently refuse to learn, or are afraid of, basic grammatical terms – or else as a proponent of the idea that one can somehow learn a language without learning any basic grammar?!
    You yourself clearly indicate that there are other equally important and frequent uses for the genitive case (including also after a certain few prepositions).
    Please consider a moratorium on equating ‘genitive’ and ‘possessive’ in the same sentence for six months (or so!). Beannóidh an foghlaimeoir seo thú! Pax vobiscum.

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