From Scottish Gaelic Grammar Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

for a definition of Gender see Gender (definition)

There are two genders in Scottish Gaelic: Masculine and Feminine.

The gender of a noun affects a number of grammatical properties.

  • The form of the article: an clach 'the stone' (m) vs a' chaora 'the sheep' (f)
  • The form of adjectives: an clach mòr 'the book stone' vs a' chaora mhòr 'the big sheep'
  • The pronoun used to refer to the noun (there is no pronoun equivalent to "it" in Scottish Gaelic.) Masculine nouns are referred to with e; feminine nouns are referred to with i.

Predicting Gender

In general, assignment to a particular gender is arbitrary. However, in some cases it can be predicted either by the meaning of the noun or by the noun's form. Ó Muirí (1988), based on a survey of traditional grammars, lists some heuristics for assigning gender to a noun. Note that in most cases there are exceptions to these heuristics.

  1. Names of males and common nouns referring to males are generally masculine.
  2. Those of females and those referring to females are generally feminine. There are many exceptions to (1) and (2): boireannach 'woman', cailin 'girl' are masculine and sgalag 'male farm worker' is feminine.
  3. Trees, elements, seasons, days, metals, colors, grains, vegetables, liquors and timber are typically masculine
  4. The names of countries, heavenly bodies, musical instruments, diseases, reptiles and copses are typically feminine
  5. Nouns ending in -e, -ag, -lann, and -achd are typically feminine,
  6. Nouns ending -air, -eir, -ire, -a, -iche, -ach, -adh, -(e)an, -as are typically masculine. (List based on Ó Muirí 1988)

Gillies (1896) notes that there is a trend, by no means absolute, that when the vowel in the last syllable is broad, the noun is often masculine. Ó Muirí (1988) claims that the gender of 91% of nouns is actually predictable based on form.

Dialect Variation

Most dictionaries list one particular gender for nouns in Scottish Gaelic, but it's possible to find variation among dialects, where a particular noun shifts gender from the standard. For example, in Glendale Gaelic, words beginning with seann 'old' often shift gender to the feminine, even when masculine without seann.

Terminal Dialects

In dialects which are close to extinction, the gender distinction often disappears or applies very irregularly (Dorian 1976). For example, in East Sutherland Gaelic, some cues to gender, such as the lenition of the initial consonants of adjectives following the feminine noun, are frequently omitted; however other cues, such as the lenition after the feminine article, are more robust.


  • Adger, David (2009) Gaelic Morphology. In Watson & McLeod (eds). 'The Edinburgh Companion to the Gaelic Language. Edinburgh University Press.
  • Calder, George (1923) A Gaelic Grammar. Glasgow: Alex MacLaren
  • Dorian, Nancy C. (1976) Gender in a Terminal Gaelic Dialect. Scottish Gaelic Studies 12.2, 279-282

Gillies, H. Cameron (1896) The Elements of Gaelic Grammar. London: David Nutt

  • Ó Muirí, Damien (1988) Gender of the Noun in Scottish Gaelic. Proceedings of the first North American Congress of Celtic Studies Held at Ottawa from 26th-30th March 1986. 423-441.