the

Thu, Feb 14, 2008

Time for another Gaelic grammar lesson I think. This time, it’s on the word for “the”, as seen in a lot of mountain names in Scotland. As you know, Gaelic has two genders, masculine and feminine and the word for “the” takes a different form, depending on the gender of the word. “The” is the “definite article” and there is no word for the “indefinite article”, “a”, in Gaelic. So Beinn means “hill” or “a hill”. So let’s see how we say “the mountain”.

“an” is the basic word for “the” in Gaelic and here are the various forms of “an”:

Masculine singular nouns

Before a singular masculine noun, not beginning with B,F,M,P or a vowel “an” is used, as in An Teallach.

Before a singular masculine noun beginning with B,F,M,P, “an” becomes “am”, as in Am Basteir. This is because it’s easier to say as the closing of your lips to say “m” is complemented by keeping them there to say “b”. So your lips do the moving, rather than your tongue, as would be the case if it was An Basteir. Other examples are Am Faochagach, Am Meallan and Am Baile.

Before a singular masculine noun beginning with a vowel, “an” becomes “an t-”, as in An t-Òrd (place on Skye).

Feminine singular nouns

Before a singular feminine noun beginning with a vowel or “fh”, “an” is used. You know? I can’t think of a single feminine mountain name. Interesting. There are plenty of Creag an Fhithich but that’s not a straight “the”, an Fhithich means “of the raven” in this case, i.e. the genitive, which I’ll cover in a later post. Before a singular feminine noun beginning with B,C,G,M,P (i.e. any of the lenitable consonants), “a’” is used and the first letter of the noun is lenited (“h” added to it). The word for an old woman is Cailleach and The Old Woman is A’Chailleach.

Before a singular feminine noun beginning with an “s” followed by l,n,r or a vowel, “an t-” is used, as in An t-Sròn.

Plural nouns of either gender

This is simple. All plural nouns use either “na” or “na h-” if before a vowel, as in Na Gruagaichean and Na h-Eileanan an iar (The Western Isles).

Next time I’ll go over how to say “of the” in mountain names.

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