Caibidil a Deich:

The Article (an tAlt)

definite and indefinite articles
declension of the article
examples of declension
articles with prepositions
articles with cé
pronunciation of the article
uses of the article

definite and indefinite articles

There is only one definite article (alt cinnte) an fear = the man
There are no indefinite articles (alt éiginnte) So:  fear = man or = a man

declension of the article

There are only 2 forms:
either an (nominative singular masc./fem., genitive singular masc., dative singular masc./fem.)
or na (genitive singular fem., nominative/genitive/dativ plural masc./ fem.)
The dual form (used before the number 2) is also an (an dá bhliain = the 2 years)

Declension means then more than if lenition, eclipsis or t-, n- h- follows (see table)
The usage is dependent on the gender of the noun.
These initial mutations result from the old celtic article-declension forms, and are thus discussed here under "declension".
Given here is only the nominative (=accusative) and genitive.
In the dative, the mutations are dependent on the preposition and the dialect used (see under articles with prepositions)


  singular plural
nom. gen. nom.  gen. 
preceding a consonant an an L na na E
preceding d, t an an na na E
preceding s an an t na na
preceding a vowel an t- an na h na n-


  singular plural
nom. gen. nom. gen.
preceding a consonant an L na na na E
preceding d, t an na na na E
preceding s an t na na na
preceding a vowel an na h na h na n-



  nominative singular genitive singular nominative plural genitive plural
preceding a consonant an fear = the man an fhir = of the man na fir = the men na bhfear = of the men
preceding d, t an teach = the house an tí = of the house na tithe = the houses na dtithe = of the houses
preceding s an sagart = the priest an tsagairt = of the priest na sagairt = the priests na sagart = of the priests
preceding a vowel an t-éan = the bird an éin = of the bird na héin = the birds na n-éan = of the birds


  nominative singular genitive singular nominative plural genitive plural
preceding a consonant an ghloine = the glass na gloine = of the glas na gloiní = the glasses na ngloiní = of the glasses
preceding d, t an teist = the test na teiste = of the test na teisteacha = the tests na dteisteacha = of the tests
preceding s an tsúil = the eye na súile = of the eye na súile = the eyes na súl = of the eyes 
preceding a vowel an áit = the place na háite = of the place na háiteacha = the places na n-áiteacha = of the places

articles with prepositions

If a preposition comes before the article, a special form of the preposition occurs (often form ending in -s [ 1 ]; this is often sounding the same as the 3rd pers. sg. masc., e.g. leis an) or there are fusions with the article (e.g. den, don, faoin, sa). Here denoted in red.
In the parentheses are the non-standard forms (those forms with -s- mostly in Munster, ins an in Ulster)
Besides these, there are other rules regulating lenition and eclipsis. Here mostly follows the dative.
Depending on the dialect, the following rules:

prep. prep. +
lenition / eclipsis prep. +
standard   Ulster   Connacht Munster
ag ag an
E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E ag na
ar ar an E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E ar na -
as as an E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E as na -
chuig  chuig an E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E chuig na -
faoi faoin
(fén, fán)
E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E faoi na
(fésna, fá na)
le leis an E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E leis na -
mar mar an E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E mar na -
ó ón E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E ó na (ósna) -
roimh roimh an, (roimis an) E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E roimh na
(roimis na)
trí tríd an
(trís an)
E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E trí na
thar thar an
(tharais an)
E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E thar na
(tharais na)
um um an E/L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) E E um na -
de den L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E de na (desna) -
do don L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E do na (dosna) -
i sa, san*
(ins an)
L, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, - (d, t) E, ts (fem.), - (d, t) L, ts, bhf, - (d, t) L, ts, bhf, - (d, t) sna
(ins na)
fara  fairis an           fairis na -
go go dtí an         E go dtí(s) na -
idir idir an           idir na -
gan gan an           gan na -

*san instead of sa preceding a vowel as well as preceding fh- (in Connacht and Munster sa bhf-)

The given lenitions- and eclipsis rules in the dialects are modeled after: M. Ó Siadhail: "Modern Irish".
The rules for Connacht are used in the Gaeltachts of County Galway. In Mayo, similar rules apply in Erris and Tourmakeady (with a lean to eclipsis), in Achill the Ulster rules apply (lenition).
In Ring (Munster) other rules still apply, that due to their extensive nature, are not discussed here.

Legend and explanations for the above table:

Preceding a vowel, the nominative caused t-prefix is omitted for masculinen nouns:
e.g.: an t-úll = the apple aber: ar an úll = on the apple.
An n-prefix, as is expected with eclipsis, does not occur because the article already ends in -n.

In the so-called "standard", by most prepositions, lenition or eclipsis are "a choice". After don, den, sa(n), lenition always follows. For words with s- there is the t-prefix only preceding feminine nouns, even if the speaker would otherwise prefer eclipsis. d,t are not lenited, but also not eclipsed (words with s-,d-,t- are also treated as in Connacht).

Munster and Connacht: ag an bhfear, Ulster: ag an fhear = at the man
Ulster and Connacht: as an teach, Munster: as an dteach = out of the house
Ulster and Connacht: ar an tsúil, Munster: ar an súil = on the eye
Ulster: ar an tsagart, Connacht and Munster: ar an sagart = on the priest
Ulster and Munster: sa bhád, Connacht: sa mbád = in the boat
Ulster: san fharraige, Connacht and Munster: sa bhfarraige = in the sea
Munster (Dingle): don bhfear, Ulster, Connacht, rest of Munster: don fhear = to the man
Munster (Dingle) and Connacht: den sagart, Ulster, rest of Munster: den tsagart = of the priest

article with cé

The article fuses also with cé meaning "which": cé + an = cén, but cé + na = cé na
e.g.: Cén fáth? = which reason (or short: why), cén fear = which man, cé na fir = which men

pronunciation of the article

The vowel of the article is always unstressed, and hence neutral [@].
Preceding those words beginning with a consonant the -n of the article an is not spoken, so, as if one would write a'.
e.g.: the woman = an bhean [@ v'æn], the man = an fear [@ f'ær]
Preceding a vowel and fh the -n is also spoken, it is slender or broad, depending on the following sound.
e.g.: the work = an obair [@nob@r'], of the man = an fhir [@n'ir'], of the fish = an éisc [@n'e:shk']
Preceding a t-prefix the -n remains unvoiced:
e.g.: the fish = an t-iasc [@ t'i@sk]
The article na is spoken [n@].
e.g.: the fish = na héisc [n@ he:shk']

usage of the article

differences to German:

  1. The article appears also with previously unmentioned definite nouns (in German mostly indefinite articles are used here)
  2. Always accompanying the demonstrative pronoun seo, sin, úd
  3. if a definite noun is further described by a definite genitive attribute, there is and article only preceding the attribute (if necessary), but never in front of the antecedent), e.g. A statement like "a house of the doctor" must be formed with prepositions: teach don dochtúir
  4. the first noun keeps the article by a demonstrative pronoun:
  5. preceding titles and similar ways of addressing people
  6. preceding surnames in general use without a first name:
  7. in many place-, river- and especially most country names
  8. for set feasts
  9. with seasons, day- and month names
  10. meaning "per"
  11. in copular classification clauses with an attributive adjective (despite the indefinite pronoun!)
  12. with cé (cén, cé na, cé hiad na) meaning "which"
  13. with the antecedents of a relative clause, the article is often omitted: teach a chonaic mé = the house that I saw.
  14. abstract and generalising nouns are (except in idiomat. expressions) mostly with the article: an t-ocras = hunger (but: tá ocras orm = I'm hungry), an maith agus an t-olc = good and evil, an duine = man (as such)
  15. to indicate a class in the sg. (an saidhbhir = the rich)
  16. to indicate a large amount/quantity: na mílte = thousands, an iomarca = too many
  17. an ... ag ... serves often as a substitute for possessive pronuns, then always with a demonstrative pronoun, comparative and ordinal numbers :

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© Lars Braesicke 1999 / 2000

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[ 1 ]
The forms of the prepositions ending in -s preceding articles acquire the -s from an otherwise lost initial sound s- the historical article form sindos.
Leis an is etymologcally from le + sindu/-a. (sindu is die masculine dative form, feminine is sinda)
The forms sa, san (originally from ins an < in + sindu/-a) remain only due to parts of the article.