Notes on Irish grammar and morphology

Irish Gaelic (Ethnologue: GLI), called in itself ``Gaeilge'' or ``Gaoluinn'', is the hardest Indo-European language I have yet started to learn. It is the official first language of the country where I now live, and is said by some to be the only language harder to learn than Finnish, although in fact several other languages are considerably harder.

I'm not impressed by most of the books and courses I've seen (mostly too much padding, with the information sparsely distributed through it with poor organization); however, the Wikipedia articles (listed below) are pretty good:

Among books, I'd recommend Noel McGonagle's Basic Irish Grammar (ISBN 1-900693-98-4, Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 1988, 1991). It simply gives you the information, with a few examples, and doesn't pad it out too much. I wish more language books (at least for adults and intelligent children) were like this!


I have some Emacs-Lisp that modifies Emacs capitalisation functions to understand the Irish urú.

Morphology and Grammar

If you know perl or similar languages, the notation should be almost all obvious, apart from that I use + for word concatenation (with spaces if used in that language) and ++ for concatenation to make a word. Otherwise, see notes on my metasyntactic notation.


Predicate name Predicate definition
Letter(L) Consonant(L) | Vowel(L) | Auxiliary(L)
Vowel(L) Slender_Vowel(L) | Broad_Vowel
Consonant(L) member(L, "[bcdfghlmnprst]")
Auxiliary(L) member(L, "[h]")
Slender_Vowel(L) member(L, "[eiéí]")
Broad_Vowel(L) member(L, "[aouáóú]");
Short_Vowel(L) member(L, "[aeiou]")
Long_Vowel(L) member(L, "[áéíóú]")
Operation Condition Form
Lenition(Word) Word ~= <([bcdfgmpst])([:Letter:]+)> 1 ++ h ++ 2
otherwise Word
Eclipsis(Word) Word ~= <(b[:Letter:]+)> m ++ Word
Word ~= <(c[:Letter:]+)> g ++ Word
Word ~= <(d[:Letter:]+)> n ++ Word
Word ~= <(f[:Letter:]+)> bh ++ Word
Word ~= <(g[:Letter:]+)> n ++ Word
Word ~= <(p[:Letter:]+)> b ++ Word
Word ~= <(t[:Letter:]+)> d ++ Word
Word ~= <([:Vowel:][:Letter:]+)> n- ++ Word
otherwise Word
Prefix(Word) Word ~= <([:Vowel:])([:Letter:]+)> h- ++ 1 ++ 2
otherwise Word


Condition Order
Sentence Verb_Phrase + nominative(Subject) + accusative(Direct_Object) | Predicate_Adjective + Indirect_Object + Location_Descriptor + Manner_Descriptor + Time_Descriptor
Definite noun
an + Lenition(Noun)
an + Noun
Monosyllabic(Adjective) &&
  Consonant(Initial(Adjective)) &&
Adjective ++ Noun
(Plural(Noun) &&
  Consonant(Final(Noun)) &&
  Slender_Vowel(Last_Vowel(Noun))) ||
(Feminine(Noun) && Case(Noun) == Nominative) ||
(Masculine(Noun) && Case(Noun) != Nominative)
Noun + Lenition(Adjective)
Noun + Adjective
Verb_Phrase Preverbal particle + Independent_Form(Verb)

Note: I am an amateur enthusiast about languages, and not a linguist. I don't know this language in great depth (I can hold conversations in it, though), and these notes have come entirely or almost entirely from learning from books. I made these notes for my convenience, because I don't like ploughing through the verbiage around the actual information in typical language books; I've put them here in case others with the same preference find them useful.

I'd very much welcome corrections and clarifications, especially from native speakers.

If you want a definitive answer on something, you should find someone who knows the language properly!

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John C. G. Sturdy
[John's home] Last modified: Fri Jun 26 14:33:27 IST 2009