Caibidil a Trí Déag:

Sentences and Syntax (Abairt agus Comhréir)

the sentence
  word order
    grammatical and logical subject
    grammtical subjectlessness
  simple affirmative sentence
  negative clause
  semi-negative clause
  simple query
  full queries
  double question

subordinating clauses with go/nach
  go/nach-joined clauses

The Sentence (an abairt)

Word Order (ord na bhfocal)

predicate - subject - object (PSO)

Irish is part of the “PSO” language group, and is thus differentiated from most of the other Indo-European languages such as German or English (where the prevailing word order is subject – predicate – object: SPO). Among all Insular Celtic languages, however, the PSO word order is usual.
This principle word order is rigid and can only be altered by means of special constructions (see: alterations in the word order in a sentence ).
An alteration in the word order does not usually occur for syntatic reasons, and thus even in interrogative and negative sentences the same word order persists and the sentence is merely introduced by a verbal particle or conjunction (verbal particle – predicate – subject – object)

the predicate (an fhaisnéis)

The predicate is the "statement"of the sentence, mostly an "action". An action is expressed by a verb ("predicate verb")
The statement of a sentence can also be a classification ("Paul is a teacher ") or an identification ("Paul is the teacher "). In these cases, a noun is the predicate (predicate noun ). Subject and predicate noun are then connected via the copula. It is, in this sense, a "non-predicate verb", itself being not the predicate but the introductory particle.
Through this, there is a slightly altered word order in the copular clause, which basically follows "PSO": (copula-predicate-subject)

The statement of the sentence can also consist of attributing a quality ("Paul is young "). In this case, an adjective is the predicate (predicate adjective). The coupling of subject and predicative adjectives follows mostly with the verb . Bí is in itself actually a predicate verb and forms, with the adjective, a predicate framework with the subject in the middle. (e.g. Tá Pól óg = Paul is young.).
Occasionally, the copula may link a subject and predicate adjective (e.g. Is deas é Pól = Paul is nice.)

the subject (an t-ainmní)

The subject is the "agent" of the sentence. The subject of a sentence is for the most part a noun or a pronoun in the nominative.
In the case of synthetic verb forms, the subject is already contained in it.(e.g. bhíomar = we were, táim = I am ).
It can (e.g. in copular clauses) also be an infinitive construct or a subordinating clause.
In passive sentences, then it is the one "suffering" the action and not the agent as the subject. [“passive” from Latin patior, pati, passus sum = to suffer, to undergo]

grammatical and logical subject

In Irish there are a number of idiomatic expressions, in which subject of the corresponding English sentence is not the grammatical subject, but a logical subject in the form of a prepositional phrase (here bold). e.g.:

grammatical subjectlessness

Caution: This bit becomes more complicated, advanced learners only! :-)

By some, very few verbs, there is always grammatical complete subjectlessness. In Irish, this doesn't appear as disturbing as it seems.
In most cases, a logical subject appears with a preposition.
Because the prepositions used mostly are in the dative, the term dative of the agent (an tabharthach gníomhach) seems appropriate.
(Latin. "dativus auctoris"). The "dative of the agent " is in bold. e.g.:

These constructions are also possible in the perfect (with the verbal adjective of the verb) e.g.

Aside from such rather idiomatic phrases, the dative of agent appears above all regularly in Expressions of precedence/consequence/concurrence with the verbal noun, which is always used with the preposition do. e.g.:

In perfect or passive sentences with the verbal adjective a grammatical subject can likewise be missing, if a transitive verb introduces its object with a preposition even in the active voice (e.g. “beir ar rud” = catch something”). Preposition + object then forms the logical subject in the passive voice (see the first example.)

Additionally, the agent can here be expressed with ag, in the perfect the logical subject is thus ag + agent (see the second example):

A subject also basically does not appear in sentences with the autonomous verb form (Saorbhriathar). Whereas the English translation may use “one” or “they” in a general, impersonal sense, there is no subject word in Irish separate from the saorbhriathar, e.g..: Déantar é = (Some)one does it.
Short answers (expressed in English with “yes/no”) are also mostly subjectless, e.g.: An ólann sé? - Ólann. = Does he drink? - Yes.

the object (an cuspóir)

In English and Irish the subject and the object do not always correspond.
e.g.: Tá teach agam = I have a house etc.
(teach is the grammatical subject in Irish but house is the object in English)

The Simple Affirmative Sentence (an abairt dhearfach shimplí)

In Irish, in non-copula sentences, the (predicative) Verb come first, then the subject, then the object (VSO)

  verb + subject + object

Irish: Feiceann an fear
English: You see the man

Further sentence additions follow:

  verb + subject + dir. object + indir. object + local modifier + modal modifier + temporal modifier

Irish: Scríobh litir don chailín anseo go cúramach aréir
English: He wrote a letter to the girl carefully here last night.

Direct pronominal objects (in the form of simple personal pronouns) principally fall at the end of the sentence:

  verb + subject + indir. object + etc. + dir. pronominal object

Irish:  Scríobh don chailin é 
English: He wrote it to the girl .

The pronoun cannot be placed before essential sentence elements. These elements are the verb, the subject, and the direct/indirect object. It must be placed after all of these sentence elements. One cannot, for example, have. *Scríobh sé é don chailín.

If, however, more sentence elements appear (e.g. more adverbial modifiers, etc.) which are not essential for sentence coherence, the pronoun can appear before such a modifier (e.g. Thug sé don fhear é anseo).
Should more sentence additions appear, the pronoun can optionally appear before or after any one of those elements:

   Thug sé don fhear é anseo aréir.
   Thug sé don fhear anseo é aréir.
   Thug sé don fhear anseo aréir é.
   He gave it to the man here last night

Indirect objects are sometimes placed between subject and direct object, particularly in:

  verb + subject + indir. object + dir. object

Irish:  Thug duit an litir seo 
Deutsch:  He gave you this letter

In cases where the indirect object is not eng closely linked with the verb and is not concerned with an imperative, it takes its usual place in the sentence structure. If the indirect object appears in the form of simple prepositional pronoun, even it falls (like a pronominal direct object) at the end of the sentence:
e.g.: Scríobh sé litir dom = He wrote me a letter.
A direct pronominal object however still stands after it:
e.g.: Scríobh sé dom é = He wrote it to me.

The Negative Clause (an abairt dhiúltach)

The verbal-particle / níor is simply placed at the beginning of the sentence. In the imperative, the negating particle appears.

present tense: + verb + subject + object Ní fheiceann tú an fear = You do not see the man.
simple past :  Níor + verb + subject + object  Níor ól mé fuisce = I didn’t drink whiskey.
imperative:  + verb + subject + object  Ná hól fuisce! = Don’t drink whiskey!

/ níor require lenition, after there is no lenition, but h is prefixed to a vowel.

In Donegal cha / char is sometimes used instead of ní / níor (see verbal particles)

The Semi-Negative Clause (an abairt leathdhiúltach)

In Irish there is no word for "only".
Instead of this, the sentence is negated, and ach = but stands at the end of the sentence followed by the sentence element that “only” is meant to go with (subject, object, etc.). In English it is thus “It is not but…” instead of “It is only…” Hence the confusing designation “semi-negative.”

Níl ann ach mé = Only I am here (lit.: "not-is in-it, but me ")
raibh mé in Éirinn ach uair amháin = I was only in Ireland once (lit.: "not was I in Ireland but time alone ")
raibh mé ach ag gáire = I was only laughing (lit.: "not was I but at laughing ")

Not only after negatives, but also after certain interrogatives ach can mean "only":
An ndéanann tú bróga nó an ndéanann tú ach a ndeisiú? = Are you making shoes are you only mending them?
(lit.: "IP make you shoes or IP make you but their mending?")

The Simple Query (an cheist chinntitheach)

Yes-no questions require a verbal-particle, which again is simply placed at the front of the sentence. No change in word order (as in English) takes place.

present tense affirmative:  An + verb + subject + object An ólann tú fuisce? = Do you drink whiskey?
negative  Nach + verb + subject + object Nach n-ólann tú fuisce? = Don't you drink whiskey?
simple past affirmative:   Ar + verb + subject + object Ar ól tú fuisce? = Did you drink whiskey?
negative  Nár + verb + subject + object Nár ól tú fuisce? = Didn't you drink whiskey?

An / nach require eclipsis, ar / nár require lenition

In Munster, is used instead of nach. There is no lenition ná or eclipsis, but h prefixes a vowel.
e.g.: Ná hólir fuisce? = Don't you drink whiskey? (see verbal particles)

In casual colloquial speech the interrogative particle is occasionally omitted, but the eclipsis however remains: (e.g.: Bhfuil tú cinnte? = Are you sure?)

The Full Query (an cheist líonta)

Full questions contain an interrogative (who, what, how, where, why, with what, wherefore , etc.).
A question word, however, cannot simply be placed in front of a verb, because the P-S-O world order must be preserved. In accordance with the PSO rule, it would have to stand after the verb when the interrogative pronoun is the subject or the object of the sentence. This does not occur, however (incorrect: *Rinne cé é? = Who did it?).
The question word in Irish stands always at the beginning of the sentence.
In order to get around the PSO rule, then, the interrogative sentence is divided into two subsets:

  1. First, the question word stands in the form of a small copula clause. This copula clause consists only of the question word, the copula remain invisible and/or is understood as part of the question word (cé = who (is it)
  2. The rest of the question follows as a (direct/indirect) relative clause. This relative clause is the formal subject of the preceding copula clause.

interrogative + relative clause     (Cé a rinne é? = Who did it? ) lit.: "Who is it that did it?")

The interrogatives cé = who, cad = what, céard = what, conas = how require a direct relative clause.
The interrogatives cá = where, cén fath = why, cén chaoi = how , as well as the combinations with prepositional pronouns cé/cad leis = with what, cé/cad air = on what , etc. require an indirect relative clause


statement question literally
Rinne sé é sin. = He did that. Cé a rinne é sin? = Who did that? "Who(-is-it), that did it that?"
Rinne sé é sin. = He did that. Cad a rinne sé? = What did he do? "What(-is-it), that did he?"
Scríobh sé le peann é = He wrote it with a pen. Cad leis ar scríobh sé é? = What did he write it with? "What with-it(-is-it), that wrote he it?"

This construction follows exactly those changes in the word order in a statement (and acts as a cleft construct, see there). comp.:
Cad a rinne sé? = What did he do? (lit.: "(is it) what, that did he?")
(Is é) sin a rinne sé. = He did that. (lit.: "(is it) that, that did he.")

Questions with 2 interrogatives like "Who did what?" are not possible in Irish.

The Double Question (an cheist deighilteach)

Also called a "disjunctive" question.These questions already contain a choice of answers:

The Answer (an freagra)

One answers a complete question with a complete sentence or with just one word, as in English:
Cé a rinne sin? - Pól (a rinne sin).  =  Who did it? – Paul (did it)).

yes and no (sea agus ní hea)

A simple question would be answered in English with either yes or no.
In Irish there is simply no yes or no !

Instead, the repetition of the predicate takes the place of the answer.
Thus the verb form without a subject or an object. In negation, the negative particle is also used.

An ólann sé bainne? - Ólann.  =  Does he drink milk? - Yes. (lit.: "drinks")
An ólann sé fuisce? - Ní ólann.  =  Does he drink whiskey? - No. (lit.: "does not drink ")
An bhfaca sí mé? - Chonaic.  =  Did she see me? - Yes. (lit.: "Saw")
An bhfaca tú an cailín? - Ní fhaca.  =  Did you see the girl? - No. (lit.: "Did not see")
A subject appears as part of a synthetic verb form:   e.g.: ní ólaim = no (lit.: "not drink-I").
Nach n-ólann tú fuisce? - Ní ólaim.  =  Don't you drink whiskey? - No. (lit.: "not drink-I")
Nach n-ólann sibh bainne? - Ólaimid.  =  Don't you drink milk? - Yes. (lit.: "drink-we")
In Ulster and Connacht, otherwise uncommon synthetic forms appear in short answers (so-called Echo forms)
e.g.: ólfad = yes (lit.: "drink-will-I") instead of ólfaidh = yes (lit. "drink-will"):
Nár ól tú fuisce? - Níor ólas.  =  Didn't you drink whiskey? - No. (lit.: "not drank-I")
An déanfaidh tú sin? - Déanfad.  =  Will you do that? - Yes. (lit.: "do-will-I")

In the case of analytic verb forms, the subject is always missing. A subject is used only for emphatic affirmation/denial in the answer, see:

An ólann sé fuisce? - Ní ólann = Does he drink whiskey? - No.
An ólann sé fuisce? - Ní ólann sé ar chor ar bith! = Does he drink whiskey? - No, he doesn't drink whiskey at all!

The absence of yes and no has a substantial advantage:
A question such as “Don’t you drink whiskey” answered with “Yes” is ambiguous. (Yes, I don’t drink whiskey or Yes, I do not drink whiskey)
In Irish it is clear: Ólaim – I drink, Ní ólaim – I do not drink.

The words sea (< is ea = "is-it") and ní hea  (= "not-is it ") can understandably help as a yes/no replacement, but their correct usage is very limited. They are grammatically correct and permitted only as the answer to a copula-question with an indefinite predicate!

An dochtúir é Pól? - Sea. = Is Paul a doctor? - Yes.
Ólann tú fuisce, an ea? - Ní hea. = You drink whiskey, isn’t that so? - No.

Sea and ní hea also serve as replacements for the words “yes” and “no” in general expressions where they do not have the function of the answer to a question:
e.g.: Sea nó ní hea a rá =to say yes or no(such as "sea agus ní hea" in title of this article)

As a general short answer, a form of the verb déan = do can be used, independent of the verb of the interrogative clause. With déan, however, the pronoun is repeated in the answer:

An ólann tú fuisce? - Déanaim  =  Do you drink whiskey - Yes. (lit.: "do-I")
An ólann sé bainne? - Ní dhéanann sé  =  Does he drink milk? - No. (lit.: "not does he")

supplementing answers

Often one does not want to say only yes and no, but to supplement the answer by corrections, additions, etc. A complete sentence can be used here. In short answers an addition is enough, introduced by:

The go/nach-joined clause (an clásal ráiteasach)

This is equivalent to the subordinating clauses with "that....", "that not...."
Joined clause means, that such a subordinating clause is a part of the of the main clause (subject clause, object clause).

present tense:

affirmative clause  go + verb + subject + object  Sílim go bhfuil tú sásta = I think that you are happy
negative clause  nach + verb + subject + object  Sílim nach bhfuil tú sásta = I think that you are not happy


affirmative clause    gur + verb + subject + object    Bhí mé sásta gur shíl tú é = I was happy that you thought it.
negative clause    nár + verb + subject + object   Bhí mé sásta nár shíl tú é =  I was happy that you didn’t think it.

go / nach requires eclipsis of the verbs, gur / nár requires lenition
In Munster is used instead of nach (without lenition or eclipsis).

The “go” joined clause is used similarly to the English “that” subordinate clause. However, it appears with a multitude of other conjunctions, since this display “go/nach” as a component.

On the other hand, an infinitive construct (infinitive with “to”) can frequently appear in Irish, similar to English (in expressions of emotion, will, preference, etc. this is the default use in English, and the Irish form sounds awkward in literal translation). go-subordinate clause: Ba mhaith liom go bhfuil tú sásta = I would like it that you are happy = I would like you to be happy
infinitive with zu: Ba mhaith liom tú a bheith sásta = I would like you to be happy.

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© Lars Braesicke 1999 / 2003

English translation by Daniel Nieciecki

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