Irish/Unit 2/Lesson 3

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Lesson 3 — An Aimsir Láithreach (The Present Tense)

Now that you can express basic ideas of liking and action, let's move on to expressing more complex notions. In this lesson, you will learn:

  1. The broad and slender vowel rule
  2. The conjugation of present tense verbs
  3. More vocabulary
  4. More compound prepositions

Leathan le leathan, caol le caolEdit

(Broad with broad, slender with slender)

In Irish, there are two types of vowel, broad and slender. a, o and u are broad and i and e are slender. When spelling, broad vowels and slender vowels must always match with each other when divided by a consonant. For example, if we look at the plural ending 'anna' or 'eanna'.

  • Páiste (child) becomes páistí because the 'i' before the t must match with an i or an e.
  • Rud (thing) becomes rudaí because the 'u' must match with another broad vowel, in this case 'a'
  • Cluiche (game) becomes cluichí
  • Hata (hat) becomes hataí

The broad and slender vowel rule comes up in almost every aspect of Irish, including the Present Tense which we will look at now. Far from being a complicated rule, it makes spelling easier as it is used in every word in Irish, not just verbs. Although, with recent spelling changes and borrowings from English, there are a few of exceptions to the rule, e.g. Gaeltacht, was formerly spelt 'Gaedhealtacht' but pronounced the same.

The Present TenseEdit

The present tense in Irish is similar to that in English, in that there is minimal conjugation. However, there are still a number of differences. In Irish, regular verbs are divided into those with more than one syllable (An Dara Réimiú) and those with one syllable(An Chéad Réimiú). Let's look at one syllable verbs first.

An Chéad RéimiúEdit

(Single syllable verbs) For these verbs, the ending 'ann' or 'eann', or 'aimid' and 'imid' for the first person plural (we) form, is add to the stem of the verb, depending on whether it has a broad or slender ending. For example, let's look at póg, to kiss.

Pógaim - I kiss
Pógann tú - You kiss
Pógann sé - He kisses
Pógann sí - She kisses
Pógaimid - We kiss
Pógann sibh - You(plural) kiss
Pógann siad/Pógaid - They kiss

And an example of a slender ending, 'cuir', to put.

Cuirim - I put
Cuireann tú - You put
Cuireann sé - He puts
Cuireann sí - She puts
Cuirimid - We put
Cuireann sibh - You(plural) put
Cuireann siad/Cuirid - They put

An Dara RéimiúEdit

(Two or more syllabled words) These words usually end in 'igh' or 'aigh', for example 'ceannaigh' to buy. For these verbs, you remove the 'igh' or 'aigh' from the end and add 'íonn' or 'aíonn' and 'ím' or aím' for the first person singular (I) and 'ímid' or 'aímid' for the first person plural (we). Let's look at ceannaigh as an example.

Ceannaím - I buy
Ceannaíonn tú - You buy
Ceannaíonn sé - He buys
Ceannaíonn sí - She buys
Ceannaímid - We buy
Ceannaíonn sibh - You(plural) buy
Ceannaíonn siad - They buy

And a slender verb, 'coinnigh' - to keep.

Coinním - I keep
Coinníonn tú - You keep
Coinníonn sé - He keeps
Coinníonn sí - She keep
Coinnímid - We keep
Coinníonn sibh - You(plural) keep
Coinníonn siad - They keep

Negation and QuestionsEdit

To negate a present tense verb in Irish, we merely put 'Ní' before it and put in a séimhiú (lit. 'softening'). A séimhiú is when a 'h' is put after the first letter in a verb to 'soften' the sound. It also leads to a change in pronunciation. We will discuss the shéimhiú in more detail in later chapters. Séimhithe(plural of séimhiú) are not added after vowels.


  • Ní choinním
    I don't keep
  • Ní phógann siad
    They don't kiss
  • Ní ritheann tú
    You don't run
  • Ní cheannaíonn sé
    He doesn't buy

To ask a question, we put 'An' before the verb and add an 'urú' (in English, eclipse). An urú is another grammatical device, similar to the séimhiú. It is when a letter is placed before another letter and only the new letter (the urú) is pronounced. The urú used depends on the letter that it is put on. These are the corresponding urúithe for these letters, the other letters don't take urúithe:

b - m
c - g
d - n
f - bh
g - n
p - b
t - d


  • An ritheann mé?
    Do I run?
  • An gceannaíonn tú
    Do you buy?
  • An gcoinníonn siad?
    Do they keep?
  • An bpógaimid?
    Do we kiss?
  • An seasann sé?
    Does he stand?

We will continue talking about the present tense in the next lesson.

Verb vocabularyEdit

  • Buail - to hit
  • Braith - to depend/to feel
  • Cas - to cross
  • Siúil - to walk
  • Féach - to look
  • Ceap - to think
  • Creid - to believe
  • Críochnaigh - to finish
  • Cabhraigh - to help
  • Blas - to taste
  • Aithnigh - to recognise
  • Caith - To throw/to smoke/to spend
  • Beir - to catch
  • Bris - to break
  • Caill - to lose

Compound PrepositionsEdit

We have already learned the different forms of the prepositions 'de' and 'le'. There are 17 prepositions in total that change their form. Here are 5 of the most common, 'ag' (at), 'as' (from), 'ar' (on), 'do' (to) and 'ó' (from).

ag as ar do ó
agam asam orm dom uaim
agat asat ort duit uait
aige as air ó
aici aisti uirthi di uaithi
againn asainn orainn dúinn uainn
agaibh asaibh oraibh daoibh uaibh
acu astu orthu dóibh uathu