BITESIZE IRISH LIVE Q&A – Initial mutations: how words change in the Irish language


In this month’s Bitesize Live Q&A Ben and Niall answered your questions about how the beginnings of words change (or “mutate”) in Irish depending on context. They also shared some handy tips for learning grammar and pronunciation in Irish!

The questions that Bitesize subscribers asked Ben and Niall this month raised some very interesting topics. Here’s a taste of the discussion..

What initial mutations occur only in the Connacht dialect?

The biggest difference is that urú follows the word “sa” in Connacht, instead of séimhiú in Ulster and Munster. “Tá sé sa mbaile.” Also, after “den” or “don” the letter “t” comes before “s” – “den tsaol” “don tsagart”.

Why do some nouns take séimhiú after the word ‘cén’ while other nouns do not? We have ‘Cén fáth’ and ‘cén cineál’ with no séimhiú but ‘cén chaoi’ and ‘cén chúis’ with séimhiú.

As Niall explained the article “an” is contained within “cén”, and that means the normal rules of séimhiú etc. apply as they would with the article. “Fáth” and “cineál” are masculine nouns, hence no séimhiú. “Caoi” and “cúis” are feminine nouns, and so séimhiú is applied after the article. Another good example is that masculine nouns which start with a vowel need to take “t-” – “cén t-am…”, “cén t-ábhar…” etc.

how does one go about learning irish prepositions coming from English?

Gradually! The preposition we need usually depends on the verb or noun next to it, like in all languages. For example, in English we say “listen to music” but in Irish it’s “éist le ceol”. If you try to study prepositions on their own you might be thinking “but le means with!”. The trick is, when you study the word “éist”, also take note of and practice the preposition “le” with it.

does the Bitesize learning platform give explicit instruction on word order? I have difficulty in this area, trying to make sense of “who did what” in longer sentences.

Irish is a VSO language, verb-subject-object. Apparently only 9% of languages use this structure, including our Celtic cousins. This means the verb is generally the first word in the sentence, and the noun following it is the subject. The object comes last, and if it’s a pronoun rather than a noun, we often push it way back to the end of the sentence, e.g. Cheannaigh mé san ionad siopadóireachta é. I bought it in the shopping centre. Because of this, it’s not always clear if an adjective is qualifying a noun or belongs to another part of the sentence, e.g. an teach mór = the big house, but if we say Tá an teach mór, then, in order for it to make sense, it must be “The house is big.” If it’s a longer sentence, though, we can see that the adjective is qualifying the noun: Tá an teach mór suite ar imeall an bhaile (The big house is situated on the edge of the town). There can be a bit of confusion in longer sentences, however, especially if there is a relative clause, e.g. an bhean a phóg mé could mean “the woman who kissed me” or “the woman I kissed.” There’s a way out if I say an bhean ar phóg mé í, but it’s a tricky corner of grammar. At the moment we don’t have a corner of Bitesize Aistear dedicated to this topic, but it’s definitely good idea for the future, at both entry and advanced levels.

Do you have any tips on remembering the gender of nouns?

A great question! Various typical endings are either masculine or feminine.

Masculine nouns include words: that finish with (1) a broad consonant (e.g. fear, cupán) and (2) a vowel (e.g. uisce, dalta). Also, words professions/occupations (e.g. múinteoir, dochtúir) and words that finish with -ín (e.g. cailín, teachín).

Feminine Words include words that finish with a slender consonant (e.g. beoir, cúis) and words that finish with -óg or -eog (e.g. crannóg, fuinneog) Also, word for places that finish with -lann (e.g. bialann, leabharlann). Interestingly, the names of all languages except Béarla (English) are feminine nouns! Long words that finish with -acht or -ocht (e.g. Gaeltacht, iománaíocht) are feminine.

There are of course a few exceptions that don’t fit these rules!

The other way to remember the gender of a noun is if you know a good example and can work backwards from the rules you have learned. For example “an Ghaeltacht” has séimhiú and “Raidió na Gaeltachta” has “na” in the genitive singular, therefore “Gaeltacht” MUST be feminine.

Is the term ‘Dil’ used to start a letter?

Yes, it is. ‘Dil’ means ‘dear’ or beloved’. It is used in a more literal, affectionate sense than when we write ‘dear sir/madam’ when writing relatively formal letters in English. So, ‘A chara dhil’ for an actual dear friend, ‘A Mháthair Dhil’ (my beloved mother) etc.

To learn irish I need to hear it spoken and have someone to speak with in turn . Can you say what Bitesize level ITo learn a irish I need?

Bitesize GROW subscription is the one. It enables you to:

  • Access to Bitesize Pobal private learners community with fluent staff.
  •  Gain confidence in your conversational skills with weekly Bitesize Beo calls with fluent instructor (20:00 Irish time every Tuesday for one hour). Scripted conversation to support all abilities.
  •  Continually grow toward self-expression, with daily challenges on Bitesize Pobal by our fluent community manager.
  •  Practice reading aloud with monthly one-hour Cogar Mogar calls with fluent instructor (20:00 Irish time, usually during last week of month).

View our various Bitesize membership plans here!

Learning resources referenced in this Q&A session included: and – two great resources for comparing how words sound in different dialect!

P.S. What did you learn from this Q&A? Leave a comment below!

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