Tea and Grammar – Part 3: Prepositions

Welcome to the third installment of “Tea and Grammar,” in which I help you demystify some of those grammatical terms that get thrown at you when you’re learning a language.

If you’re like a lot of adult language learners, you may never have learned these terms in school (or, if you did, unless you’re a teacher or an editor, you’ve probably forgotten them).

It can be pretty intimidating, then, when you start running up against technical “grammar talk” in a language learning course (and trust me: you will). It’s grammar, after all, that tells you how the language works.

So, pull up a chair, grab a cup of tea, and get ready to meet some very useful little words called “prepositions.”

First, a brief review

If you’re just now joining us for these grammar tea parties, you might want to take a look at the previous posts in the series (link will open in a new window):

Tea and Grammar – Part 1: Nouns, Pronouns, Verbs

Tea and Grammar – Part 2: Adjectives and Adverbs

All done? OK…on to the new stuff!

Prepositions

The simplest way to describe a preposition is to say that it’s a (frequently) short word that tells you the relationship between two parts of a sentence.

Often prepositions describe location:

On

Under

In

Beside

Over

They can also describe direction:

Across

Through

Around

Past

Or other relationships:

With

By

At

of

Simple or complex

Single-word prepositions, such as the ones above, are technically called “simple prepositions.”

These can combine with other words to make something called a “complex preposition.” Another term for “complex prepositions” is “compound prepositions.”

Ahead of

Next to

Along with

Because of

According to

At the time of

For the sake of

(English is especially fond of these…we have a lot of them!)

There are two easy ways to remember these terms, depending on which you choose to use:

Complex preposition: Because it has more than one word, it’s complicated…in other words, “complex.”

Compound preposition: “Compound” also means “mixture,” and a “compound preposition” consists of a “mixture” of words.

Prepositional phrases

 

When a preposition is followed by a noun or pronoun, you have what’s called “a prepositional phrase” (prepositions in bold):

Across the sea

Over the moon

Around the house

Next to the chair

On a high hill

According to that

In a prepositional phrase, the noun or pronoun is said to be the “object of the preposition.”

Why is this so important?

Getting a handle on prepositions and prepositional phrases is especially important for learners of Irish for three reasons:

The Dative Case

 

If you’re studying Irish, sooner or later you’ll run across the term “dative case.”

We’ll talk about “case” some other time, but for now suffice it to say that a noun’s “case” tells you how to spell it and pronounce it in different grammatical situations.

Somewhat unconventionally, Irish (and Scottish Gaelic too) refer to nouns that follow simple prepositions as being in the dative case.

The good news is, in most Irish sentences it’s not going to matter, because Irish has lost most of its special dative spellings.

In one very important situation, though, the old dative spelling has been retained, and that’s in the name of the country itself.

When the word for “Ireland” stands alone, or when it’s the subject of a sentence, it’s said to be in the “nominative case,” and is spelled:

Éire (pronounced AY-ruh)

When the word for “Ireland” follows a simple preposition, however, it takes on the special dative spelling and pronunciation:

Éirinn (pronounced AY-rin or AY-ring, depending on dialect)

So you would say:

Is í Éire an tír is fearr liom: Ireland is my favorite country.

But…

Ba mhaith liom bheith in Éirinn: I’d like to be in Ireland.

The genitive case

The word for Ireland also has a third spellingÉireann (pronounced “AY-run”) — which is used in the “genitive,” or “possessive” case. All nouns in Irish take the genitive case when following a compound/complex preposition (yes, Irish has them too, though not as many as English).

So you would say:

Is í Éire an tír is fearr liom: Ireland is my favorite country.

And…

Ba mhaith liom bheith in Éirinn: I’d like to be in Ireland.

But…

Rinne mé ar son na hÉireann é: I did it for the sake of Ireland.

(Head spinning yet? Hang on…just one more section!)

Prepositional pronouns

You may recall from Tea and Grammar – Part 1 that a “pronoun” is a short word that takes the place of a noun: for example “I,” “him,” “you,” etc.

In Irish we have a construction called “the prepositional pronoun.” English has nothing like it. Put quite simply, a preposition and a pronoun combine to make new word.

For example, do (for/to) and (me) combine to form dom (for/to-me).

Le (with) and(you) combine to form leat (with-you).

This is an important construction in Irish, and you’ll encounter it often…so often, in fact, that it will soon seem quite natural.

Bitesize members can explore this in more depth in this lesson on prepositional pronouns.

Little words, big impact

Prepositions may be little words (usually!), but they’re a hugely important part of speech in both English and Irish.  Spending a little time getting to know them can pay big dividends!

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Comments

  1. Gearóid Ó hAnnaidh says:

    To help readers remember the differnent forms of Éire,
    perhaps some sentences or mnumonics could be proposed to help readers remember the different forms?
    e.g.
    D’fhág an bhean Éire, ach tamall ina dhiaidh sin, tháinig sí ar ais go ( in to ) hÉirinn agus bhí sí ag obair mar Uachtarán na hÉireann.

    Gearóid

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