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The Word “Before” in Irish, Part 2 Posted by on Sep 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

We’ve taken care of two of the seven-plus ways to say “before” in Irish, which Seanchán, duine de lucht léite an bhlag seo, had asked about.  Those were “roimh” (used with nouns or with pronoun endings like “romhat” or “romhaibh”) and “sula” used before verbs. 

The others were cheana, thar, os coinne, os comhair and ar tosach.  And I think I’ll be adding cúpla ceann eile before this mionsraith is over. 

“Os coinne” and “os comhair” are an interesting pair.  Both are compound prepositions, using the word “os,” which on its own means “over” or “above.”  It shows up in occasional phrases with that meaning, like “os do neart” (above your strength) or the contrasting pair “os ard” and “os íseal.”  But these days, “os” is mostly used in mostly used in phrases like the aforementioned “os coinne” and “os comhair,” as the first element in a compound (i.e. two-word) preposition.  The second word in these phrases is a noun.  “Coinne” literally means “appointment” or “expectation.”  “Comhair” is limited to set phrases and is translated according to context (i gcomhair, intended for; an rud atá faoi mo chomhair, the thing that is in store for me). 

How do “os coinne” and “os comhair” mean “before”?  Here are some examples:

Tá lá mór oibre os a choinne.  There is a big day of work before him (confronting him).

os coinne na fuinneoige, in front of or opposite or before the window

 os comhair mo shúl, in front of or before my eyes

os a chomhair amach, in front of or before him   

Note that when a noun follows “os coinne” or “os comhair,” it’s in the tuiseal ginideach, since it’s following the noun used to construct the compound preposition.  So “fuinneog” became “fuinneoige” and “súile” (plural) became “súl” (genitive plural).  “Súl” is then lenited, becoming “shúl,” since it follows the word “mo” (my).    

Cheana means “before,” “beforehand,” or “already.”  An bhfaca tú cheana é?  Did you  see him already?  (Have you seen him previously?).  And no, in case you’re wondering, this isn’t exactly the “already” we know from Yiddishisms,” as in “Shut up, already” or even more dramatically, “Alright already!  What am I, chopped liver?”  For that “already,” you’d need to look into the “shoyn” of the original phrases like “genug shoyn” and “shvayg shtil shoyn,” which I’ll leave to na blagálaithe Giúdaise.  The Irish cheana (already) quite straightforwardly means simply “at a previous time.”  Bhuel, it can mean a few more things, like “furthermore,” ach sin scéal eile, already.  If it helps, the word “cheana” derives from Old Irish “cene” (without it).  But like I said, I’m not sure that really helps here! 

And speaking of “scéal eile,” that’s where the remaining words will be treated, sa chéad bhlag eile.

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  1. Seanchán:

    So having figured out that “lucht léite” means “readers” and not “mouse porridge”, and that “lucht” refers to a class of person, “duine de lucht léite” seems redundant. When is it proper to say “duine de lucht X” and when is it appropriate to simple say “lucht X”? I see lots of uses of “lucht” none of which have “duine” or “duine de” associated with them, e.g.: lucht ceamar = camera crew; lucht eisteachta = audience; lucht feachana = spectators / viewers; lucht feachtais = campaigners; lucht ghno = business community / business people; lucht ealaine = artists; lucht didin = refugees; lucht oibre = working class; lucht bainistiochta = management; lucht cliariathais = hierachy; lucht miondiola = retailers; lucht an tsaineolais = experts; lucht deanta fiona = winemakers; etc…

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