verbal nouns and the infinitive lets climb

Sat, Feb 7, 2009

I thought I'd cover this quite difficult topic while I sit out the blizzards that sweep majestically across the landscape. Why is it difficult? Well, there are three ways of handing this but first let's see what I mean by "verbal noun" and "infinitive".

The basics

Type 1 : participle

I am climbing - "climbing" is a verbal noun. It's a verb used as a noun. In Gaelic, this is known as the "participle" construction, as it uses a particple, funnily enough. You use it when you can insert "in the act of" before the main verb and it still makes sense:

Tha mi a'streap (I am IN THE ACT OF climbing) - where a' is short for aig (at). Literally it means "I am at climbing".

Type 2 : infinitive

I am going to climb - "to climb" is the infinitive of the verb "climb". This uses the infinitive construction as the verb preceding the main verb is a verb of motion (go, came etc). You can also see that testing for the particple makes no sense: I am going to IN THE ACT OF climb!

"Tha mi a'dol a streap". Note that the first verb is using the participle construction (a'dol, I am IN THE ACT OF going) but the main verb doesn't. It's in the infinitive, "a streap". The way you tell the particple from the infinitive is the presence of a' in the particple, whereas it's "a" in the infinitive.

Type 3 : nominal

The third way is called the nominal and it's used where the other two aren't. In this case, there's no "a" or "a'" before the main verb:

"Tha mi ag iarraidh streap" - I want to climb. Again, "I am wanting IN THE ACT OF to climb" makes no sense, so it's not participle and there's no verb of motion to make it infinitive, so it's nominal. Here, "to climb" is translated as "streap". As it's not precedeed by a verb of motion, there's no "a" in front of it.

What are you going to climb?

It's all very well saying Tha mi a'dol a streap! but what are you going to climb? Enter the object. Objects can be either used with the indefinite article (a), of which there is none in Gaelic, or the definite article (the), which complicates things even more. Let's introduce an object for us to climb, a mountain!

beinn - a mountain
a'bheinn - the mountain
na beinne - of the mountain

Type 1 objects : I am climbing something

The simplest possible thing to say about our mountain is that we are climbing something just like it:

Tha mi a'streap beinn - I am climbing a mountain

but what if we are climbing not just any mountain but "the" mountain? No, it's not a'bheinn, though I sense your consternation at this revelation. a'streap (climbing) + a'bheinn (the mountain) but this doesn't work and this is why. Tha mi a'streap means, quite literally, I am at the climbing, so you must use the genitive case of the object:

Tha mi a'streap na beinne - I am climbing the mountain (I am at the climbing of the mountain)

Type 2 objects : I am still climbing something

The rules about case (genitive) apply to type 2 objects too:

Tha mi a'dol a streap beinn - I am going to climb a mountain

Tha mi a'dol a streap na beinne - I am going to climb the mountain

Type 3 objects : I am climbing backwards!

Some say this is the most difficult concept in Gaelic to master. It's called the "inverted nominal". Why? Remember, type 3 constructions are known as the nominal, as they use the noun version of the verb but why inverted? Well, notice that in the previous types, the noun (mountain) is at the end of the sentence. In the inverted nominal it's at the end, hence inverted:

Tha mi ag iarraidh beinn a streap - I want to climb a mountain. In the inverted nominal construction, the verb gets its preceding "a" back but only if it starts with a consonant. Let's introduce a new verb, to see, faic, to illustrate the point:

Tha mi ag iarraidh beinn fhaicinn - I want to see a mountain. That's a bit sneaky though, as inverted nominal verbs starting with "F" must be lenited, i.e. an "h" inserted after the "F", to get, "Fh", which is silent. This would be pronounced [haa mee ig eeaaree ben eye-chk-een] (ch like that in loch).

Tha mi ag iarraidh beinn ithe - I want to eat a mountain! Well, sometimes I could, if it was made of bread and butter pudding! If the verb starts with a vowel, no "a" is used in front of it.

This construction is also called the nominal as the object is ALWAYS in the nominative, i.e. there's none of that funny genitive stuff of the previous 2 types (of the mountain):

Tha mi ag iarraidh a'bheinn a streap - I want to climb the mountain
Tha mi ag iarraidh a'bheinn fhaicinn - I want to see the mountain
Tha mi ag iarraidh a'bheinn ithe - I want to eat the mountain

I hope I've made a reasonable attempt to explain this. If you're an anthropologist roaming the mounatains looking for indigenous Gaels, the best way to tell if they're native speakers or very good learners is to ask them "what do you want to climb?". If they reply:

Tha mi ag iarraidh a'bheinn a streap

then they're masters of the inverted nominal and quite fileanta (fluent). If they say "tha mi ag iarraidh streap a'bheinn", continue walking.

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