If you’re an American of a certain age, you may remember a Schoolhouse Rock video called Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla, which taught children about the proper use of pronouns.
(If you’re not an American of a certain age, give it a look…it’s hilarious and informative!)
A pronoun, as we learn from this fun musical video, is a short word that takes the place of a noun: I/Me, He/Him, She/Her, It, etc.
If you’re already a Bitesize member, you’ve probably already encountered Irish pronouns, particularly in Lesson: Creating short sentences.
Subjects and objects
Just like a noun, a pronoun can be the subject of a verb:
Mary is eating./She is eating.
Joe runs every day./He runs every day.
The ball fell off the shelf./It fell off the shelf.
It can also be the object of the verb:
Joe saw Mary eating./Joe saw her eating.
I see Joe run every day./I see him run every day.
They pushed the ball off the shelf./They pushed it off the shelf.
The fancy grammatical term for these, if you’re curious, is “the subjective form” and “the objective form.” A pronoun takes a subjective form if it’s the subject of the sentence and an objective form if it’s the object of the sentence.
Subjective forms in Irish
In Irish, the objective forms of pronouns are:
Mé (may): I
Chonaic mé Máire aréir: I saw Máire last night.
Tú (too): You (singular)
An bhfaca tú Máire aréir? Did you see Máire last night?
Sé (shay): He
Chonaic sé Máire aréir. He saw Máire last night.
Sí (shee): She
An bhfaca sí Máire aréir? Did she see Máire last night?
Muid* (mwij) : We
Chonaic muid Máire aréir. We saw Máire last night.
Sibh (shiv): You (plural)
An bhfaca sibh Máire aréir? Did you see Máire last night?
Siad (SHEE-ud): They
Chonaic siad Máire aréir. They saw Máire last night.
* “Muid” is used in Ulster and Connacht. In Munster, they use an older form, “sinn” (shin) for “we.”
Wait! What about “it”?
As with many European languages, all nouns in Irish are either grammatically “masculine” or “feminine.” Thus Irish doesn’t have a single, neuter, word corresponding to the English “it.”
Instead, you use “sé” for “it” if the word is grammatically masculine, and “sí” if the word is grammatically feminine:
Bhuail an carr an balla: The car hit the wall./Bhuail sé an balla. It hit the wall.
Bhí an obair deacair. The work was difficult./Bhí sí deacair. It was difficult.
Objective forms in Irish
As in English, some Irish pronouns take on a slightly different form when they’re the object of the verb:
Tú (too) becomes Thú (hoo)
Sé (shay) becomes é (ay) (this corresponds to the English “him”)
Sí (shee) becomes í (ee) (this corresponds to the English “her”)
Siad (SHEE-ud) becomes iad (EE-ud) (this corresponds to the English “them”)
Chonaic mé aréir thú. I saw you last night.
Chonaic tú aréir é. You saw him (or it ) last night.
Chonaic sé aréir í. He saw her (or it) last night.
Chonaic sí aréir iad. She saw them last night.
Yours, mine, ours
A pronoun form that Irish lacks is the “possessive pronoun”:
Whose car is that? It’s mine.
That desk over there is yours.
Those cookies are ours.
Instead, Irish uses a special emphatic form of a prepositional pronoun, using the preposition “le” (with), to take the place of the possessive pronoun.
If you haven’t encountered prepositonal pronouns yet, or if you just want to refresh your memory, check out the July 25 blog post Prepositions in Irish. A brief summary: A prepositional pronoun combines a preposition with a pronoun to create a word that may mean something very different from the sum of its parts.
Bitesize members can take advantage of our audio-rich lessons to learn how to form prepositional pronouns in Lesson: Prepositional Pronouns and to learn more about emphatic endings in Lesson: Say It With Emphasis – Part 1 and Lesson: Say It With Emphasis – Part 2.
Here’s how it works:
Le + mé + emphatic ending = liomsa (LYUM-suh): mine
Le + tú + emphatic ending = leatsa (LYAT-suh): yours
Le + sé + emphatic ending = leisean (LEH-shan): his
Le + sí + emphatic ending = léise (LAY-ee-sheh): hers
Le + sinn* + emphatic ending = linne (LIN-yeh): ours
Le + sibh + emphatic ending = libhse (LIV-sheh): yours
Le + siad + emphatic ending = leosan (LYOH-ssan): theirs
* “Sinn” rather than “muid” is used here, because it’s the older form of “we.”
Cé leis an carr seo? Is liomsa é! Whose car is this? It’s mine!
An leatsa an peann sin? Is that pen yours?
Is leisean iad. Those are his.
Practice makes perfect!
This all may seem a bit complicated, but really Irish pronouns are no more difficult to sort out than those of other languages. With a little practice, you’ll be surprised at just how quickly this all becomes very natural!
Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla would be proud! “‘Cause sayin’ all those nouns over and over can really wear you down!” (you did watch the video, didn’t you?)
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