Irish/Unit 1/Lesson 3

< Irish‎ | Unit 1

In this lesson, you will learn about:

  • Final consonants "b" "m" and "g"
  • Masculine and feminine nouns
  • Séimhiú, the first of Irish's three initial mutations

More ConsonantsEdit

Reviewing our Unit 1 GoalsEdit

So far, we've only learned a few words' worth of vocabulary. That's on purpose! Unit 1 focuses on pronunciation because:

  • It's the hardest part of the language for people studying on their own, without the help of a native speaker or speakers
  • It's important to internalize the unexpected sounds of Irish before you start memorizing mispronounced words that you'll have to unlearn or relearn later

At the same time, we've been introducing some basic grammatical concepts. Starting next lesson, while we'll continue to talk about pronunciation, we'll also start combining some of what we've learned into typical Irish sentences.

The Consonants m, b, mb, and gEdit

Extra Consonants, Extra SyllablesEdit

In English, every syllable includes a vowel. In Irish, there are exceptions to this rule.

Some Irish words end with a cluster of consonants that, in English, would be sounded together in one syllable. In Irish, these consonants can form their own syllable. As there is no verb, a schwa is added to the beginning of the syllable.

So while in English, "form" and "berg" are one-syllable words, in Irish we have:

Irish word meaning pronunciation
gorm blue /gɔɾ . əm/
dearg red /dʲaɾ . əɡ/

This happens most commonly with final letters "m" and "g", and more rarely with final "b".


Nouns and GenderEdit

Every Irish noun is either masculine (firinscneach) or feminine (baininscneach). As in many other languages, these grammatical genders don't always match the words; for example, cailín (girl) is masculine.

Learning the GendersEdit

As with plurals, beginners will need to memorize each noun's gender--but as you learn you will learn patterns that will help you guess the gender of unfamiliar words. Often words with the same endings have the same genders, and some categories of words tend to be one gender or the other. For instance, words for countries and languages are usually feminine, and words for jobs or professions are usually masculine.

Gender and the ArticlesEdit

Unlike some languages, all Irish nouns use the same articles regardless of gender; an (singular) and na (plural).

However, you still need to know a noun's gender to use it with the article an, and in some other situations. This is because of the last subject we're going to talk about in this unit: initial mutations.

Initial MutationsEdit

Many European languages convey grammatical information by making changes to the ends of words. Less familiar to English speakers are initial mutations: changes made to the beginning of a word.

There are three initial mutations that are important in Irish: séimhiú, urú, and prothesis. In English, séimhiú is sometimes called lenition and urú is sometimes called eclipsis, but as those words aren't likely to mean much even to most English speakers, this course will mostly use the Irish terms.

In this lesson we're going to learn the basics of séimhiú and prothesis. We'll tackle prothesis in the next lesson, and urú a little later on, when we discuss prepositions.

Introduction to SéimhiúEdit

Séimhiú is the easier of the two mutations. Here are the rules in brief:

If the word starts with: Séimhiú makes the following change Example
b, c, f, g, m, or p add an "h" after the first letter to make bh, ch, fh, etc. bean (woman) -> bhean
s changes to either sh or ts
d, t sometimes changes to dh or th
Any other consonant (h, l, n, r) No change
Any vowel No change

Séimhiú and ArticlesEdit

One of the most common reasons for applying a séimhiú to a word is following the singular definite article an. Here are the rules for initial mutations after an:

  • Feminine nouns get a séimhiú after "an" except:
  • Words starting with "s" get a "ts" instead of a "sh", and
  • Words starting with "d" or "t" don't change.

Remember the sentences we built in the last lesson:

Léann Niamh scéal Niamh reads a story
Léann Niamh ceist Niamh reads a question

Because scéal is masculine and ceist is feminine, if we add definite articles to both of these sentences we get:

Léann Niamh an scéal Niamh reads the story
Léann Niamh an cheist Niamh reads the question

After an, the feminine noun ceist gets a séimhiú and becomes cheist. The masculine noun scéal does not change.

Because of this, many learners prefer to learn all nouns together with the definite article, making flash cards that say an cheist (the story) rather than just ceist (story). That way, they always know whether the noun is masculine or feminine.

There are other situations where you will need to apply a séimhiú, which we will explore in later lessons. For now, concentrate on learning the patterns of which consonants take a séimhiú and which don't.

Next Lesson

In Lesson 4, you'll learn about:

  • Forming basic sentences with "tá" and "is"
  • Prothesis, an initial mutation for words starting with a vowel
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