The imperative mood


When issuing a command, such as in the sentence 'eat your food!' or 'write me a story!' the word order in Gaelic is similar to the word order in English. Some examples would be:

  • ith do bhiadh! -
eat your food!
ith! - eat!; do - your, thy; bhiadh - food;
  • òl am bainne!
drink the milk!
òl! - drink!; am - the; bainne - milk;
  • sgrìobh sin!
write that!
sgrìobh! - write!; sin - that;
  • sgrìobh sgeul!
write a story!
sgrìobh! - write!; sgeul - a story;
  • sgrìobh mi sgeul!
write me a story!
sgrìobh! - write; mi - me; sgeul - a story;



In Gaelic, the definite article (i.e. the word for 'the') can take the form an, am, nan, a' or na. For example:

  • an leabhar
the book
an - the; leabhar - book;
  • am bainne
the milk
am - the; bainne - milk;
  • na lamhan
the hands
na - the; lamhan - hands;
  • a' chaileag
the girl
a' - the; caileag - girl;

The word 'an' is used for many singular nouns unless they begin with the letters 'b', 'm' or 'p', in which case the word 'am' is often used. The word 'na' tends to be used in the plural but note that 'plural' in Gaelic means three or more.

There is no indefinite article (i.e. there is no word for 'a') either in the singular or in the plural. For example 'taigh' can mean 'house' or 'a house'. This is not a problem, really, when we consider that in English the indefinite article is omitted in the plural without really causing any confusion. For example 'houses' is the plural of 'house' or 'a house'. Here are some examples:

  • tha cathair anns an seòmar
there is a chair in the room
tha - is; cathair - a chair; anns an - in the; seòmar - room;
  • tha leabhar aig Iain
John has a book, John is in possession of a book
tha - is; leabhar - a book; aig - at; Iain - John;



Adjectives usually come after nouns. For instance 'leabhar mòr' means 'large book' or 'a large book' (leabhar - book; mòr - large).

Where a word is, for grammatical purposes, feminine, the adjective is modified at the beginning, often by placing an 'h' after the first letter of the adjective. For instance:

  • balach mòr
a big boy
balach - boy; mòr - big;
  • nighean mhòr
a big girl
nighean - girl; mhòr - big;

This addition of the letter 'h' immediately after the first letter tends to happen to adjectives beginning with the letters 'b', 'c', 'd', 'f', 'g', 'm', 'p', 's' or 't'

The verb 'to be'

  • tha Seumas sgìth
James is tired (i.e. present tense)
  • bha Seumas sgìth
James was tired (i.e. past tense)
  • bidh Seumas sgìth
James will be tired (i.e. future tense)
  • chan eil Seumas sgìth
James is not tired (i.e. present tense, negative)
  • cha robh Seumas sgìth
James was not tired (i.e. past tense, negative)
  • cha bhi Seumas sgìth
James will not be tired (i.e. future tense, negative)
  • am bheil Seumas sgìth?
is James tired? (i.e. present tense, question)
  • an robh Seumas sgìth?
was James tired? (i.e. past tense, question)
  • am bidh Seumas sgìth?
will James be tired? (i.e. future tense, question)
  • nach eil Seumas sgìth?
is James not tired? (i.e. present tense, negative question)
  • nach robh Seumas sgìth?
was James not tired? (i.e. past tense, negative question)
  • nach bi Seumas sgìth?
will James not be tired? (i.e. future tense, negative question)
  • tha Seumas a' cluich
James is playing (i.e. present tense)
  • bha Seumas a' cluich
James was playing (i.e. past tense)
  • bidh Seumas a' cluich
James will be playing (i.e. future tense)
  • Is e Seumas an lighiche
It is James that is the physician (i.e. present tense)
  • Bu e Seumas an lighiche
It is James that was the physician (i.e. past tense)

Expressing 'to have'


There is no actual verb which translates as 'to have'. To say that a person has something we say that the something is 'at' the person. For instance, to say that John has a cup we say literally that 'a cup is at John'. For example

  • tha cupan aig Iain
John has a cup (literally 'a cup is at John')
  • tha taigh aig Anna
Anne has a house (literally 'a house is at Anne')
  • chuir Anna sios an cupan aig Iain
Anna put down the cup belonging to Iain (literally 'Anna put down the cup at Iain')
  • cha robh cupan aig Iain
Iain did not have a cup (literally 'a cup was not at Iain')

Expressing 'to own'


There is no actual verb which translates as 'to own'. To say that a person owns something we say that the something is 'with' the person. For instance, to say that John owns a house we say literally that 'a house is with John'. For example

  • tha taigh le Iain
John owns a house (literally 'a house is with John')
  • tha ball-coise le Anna
Anne owns a football (literally 'a football is with Anne')

Forming the present, past and future tense in regular verbs


The verb "cuir" is an example of a regular verb. The word "cuir" is the verb in the imperative mood, so "cuir!" means "put!". "cuir sios sin!" means "put that down!" ("sios" = "down", "sin" = "that"). To form the present tense we might say "tha X a' cuir" which literally means "X is a-putting" ("tha" = "is", "a' cuir" = "putting" or "a-putting"). To form the past tense (for verbs starting with "c" or "b", "d", "f", "m, "p", "s" or "t") we add the letter "h" after the first letter. To fom the future tense we add "idh" or "aidh" to the end of the word. Here are some examples:-

  • tha Anna a' cuir bainne anns an copan
Anna is putting milk in the cup
  • chuir Anna bainne anns an copan
Anna put (did put) milk in the cup
  • cuiridh Anna bainne anns an copan
Anna will put milk in the cup

Irregular verbs