Irish Language Blog

Terms for Grandchildren “as Gaeilge” (in Irish): Garmhac, Gariníon and Other Compounds with “Gar” Posted by on Apr 21, 2009 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

  Unlike English, where the prefix “grand-“ is used with “mother,” “father,” “parent,” “son,” “daughter,” and “child,” in Irish, there is a major shift in the qualifier used for “grandchildren.”  As you may recall from the previous blog on grandparents, there are three widely used options: seanathair / seanmháthair, athair mór / máthair mhór, and athair críonna / máthair chríonna.  These are based on the words for “old,” “big, great,” and “wise,” respectively. 


  That doesn’t mean that a speaker is literally thinking “old mother” or “wise father” when they use these words.  These are compound words and the combined meaning overrides the meanings of the individual parts.  Comparably, in English, we have words and phrases like “Goodbye,” which really means “God be with you,” and “on tenterhooks,” which really means “to be stretched on a tenter.”  As we use these phrases in daily life, we don’t dwell on their component parts.  In fact, do we really analyze why, in English, our parents’ parents are “grand” but our parents’ aunts and uncles, to us, are generally “great” (great-aunt, great-uncle), with some regional variation in English, of course, allowing for “grand-aunt” and “grand-uncle”?


  In my experience, “seanathair” and “seanmháthair” seem to be the most widely used of the Irish possibilities.  If we took the prefix “sean-,” which gives the “grand-“ element, and applied it to “páiste” (child), we would have a nearly meaningless term, “old child.”  


  Likewise, if you say “páiste mór,” it would be understood to mean a “big or large child,” and if you said “páiste críonna,” it would mean a “wise, prudent, or sagacious child,” perhaps an “ocsamórón,” but that’s a subject for blag eile.


  So clearly, none of the terms commonly used for “grandfather / grandmother,” are likely candidates to create the words “grandson” and “granddaughter” in Irish.  Instead, Irish most typically uses “gar” (near, approximate), giving us the compounds “garmhac” and “gariníon.”  Be advised, though, that in literary usage, mostly archaic now, these same terms can mean “adopted son / daughter” or “nephew / niece” (!). 


  Group terms like “grandchildren” and “grandparents” are more multifaceted in Irish than one might expect (as an English speaker), so will be reserved for, you guessed it, blag éigin eile


  The prefix “gar-“ is used for various other compounds as well, such as gar-amharc (close-up), garbhuaic (an approach shot i ngalf, in golf), and gariascaireacht (inshore fishing). 


  Back to kinship, “gar-“ is also added to “nia” (nephew) and “neacht” (niece) to give us “garnia” (grandnephew) and “garneacht” (grandniece).  In fact, it can be added to “athair” and “máthair,” but the meaning is less clear-cut.  I’ve seen “garathair” translated as “grandsire,” “grandfather,” AND “great-grandfather.”  In theory, “garmháthair” should be parallel, but in practice, I’ve seen it far less than “garathair,” which, itself, isn’t that prevalent in everyday use. 


  Bhuel, I guess I’ve done enough rambling i ngar agus i gcéin (near and far) sa bhlag seo, so, “Happy Grandparenting,” ó bhur mblagálaí, Róislín

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  1. Ciarán:

    Go maith.
    Bím meascaithe a t -am ar fad indirect nia agus enact mar ceapfá go raibh nia baineann ón Laidin.

    • róislín:

      @Ciarán Níl a fhios cén fáth ach sin mar atá: nia = nephew agus neacht = niece. Tá an ceart agat go bhfuil cuma na Laidine (focal baininscneach Laidine) ar “nia” ach, ar ndóigh, ní gramadach na Laidine atá i gceist. Appearances can be misleading! Which could lead us to that great seanfhocal, ná ceannaigh muc i mála, but that’ll have to wait for “blag eile.”

    • róislín:

      @Ciarán PS: “enact” i do nóta = spellchecker for “neacht”?

  2. Breandán Mac Searraigh:

    An bhfuil focal singil a chludaíonn ‘nia is neacht’ le cheile gan eolas faoin a gcuid gnéas?

    • róislín:

      @Breandán Mac Searraigh Ceist mhaith, a Bhreandáin, ach ní shílim go bhfuil focal mar sin ann. B’fhéidir frásaí mar iad seo: clann mo dheirféar, clann mo dhearthár, páistí mo dheirféar, páistí mo dhearthár.

      For any newcomers to Irish who happen to be reading this response, you might want to make special note of the possessive forms “deirféar” and “dearthár,” since they don’t follow the standard patterns. “Deirfiúr” (sister) gets a vowel change (iú to éa) and “deartháir” (brother) drops the “i.”

      An bhfuil freagra ag duine ar bith eile do cheist Bhreandáin? Má tá, scríobh isteach agus inis dúinn é, le do thoil. Bheadh suim againn go léir sa bhfreagra, tá mé cinnte.

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