to see a definition of the term syntax see Syntax (definition)
- 1 Basic Word Order
- 1.1 Neutral Indicative Clauses
- 1.2 The position and ordering of Adverbs and Adverbials
- 1.3 Word order in Neutral Negative Sentences, Yes/No Questions, and Negative Yes/No Questions
- 1.4 Word order with Neutral Grade Pronouns
- 2 Word order with non-verbal predicates
- 3 Word order in Auxiliary Constructions
- 4 Word order in Embedded Clauses
- 5 Word order in Clefts
- 6 Word order in Wh-Questions
- 7 Word Order in Noun Phrases
- 8 Specific Articles On The Word Order within Phrases
Basic Word Order
Neutral Indicative Clauses
In information structure-neutral indicative clauses with a transitive verb, the word order is Verb+Subject+Object (VSO). Due to restrictions on the inflection of verbs, such as the use of the auxiliary construction in the present tense, VSO order is primarily true only in past tense and future tense clauses.
Phòg Muirgheal Pòl kiss.past Muriel Paul verb subject object 'Muriel kissed Paul'
When the verb is intransitive, then the order is still verb initial:
Dh'fhag Muirgheal leave.past Muriel verb subject Muriel left.
When the verb is ditransitive, then the order is VSO followed by a prepositional phrase (PP) indicating the indirect object (i.e. the equivalent to John put the book on the table). In Gaelic, there are no double object constructions (like the English John gave Mary the book) instead prepositional constructions must be used (John gave the book to Mary)
Thug Iain leabhar do Anna give.past John book to Anna Verb Subject Object Preposition Indirect Object 'John gave a book to Anna.'
bheir Brighde an t-airgead do Chailean give.INDEF1 Bridget the money to Colin Verb Subject Object Preposition Indirect Object 'Bridget will give the money to Colin.'
The position and ordering of Adverbs and Adverbials
In Scottish Gaelic, a common way to create an adverb is to prefix the adverbial particle, gu-, to an adjective. These adverbs demonstrate a good deal of flexibility in term of word order in the clause.
Thuirt i ris gu coibhneil said she to him ADV kind Verb Subject Indirect Object Adverb kind 'She said to him kindly.'
Gu coibhneil thuirt i ris ADV kind said she to him Adverb kind Verb Subject Indirect Object 'She said to him kindly.'
Thuirt i gu coibhneil ris said she ADV kind to him Verb Subject Adverb kind Indirect Object 'She said to him kindly.'
Examples from Lamb (42)
Tha Domhnall an gobha ag obair sa cheardaich an-drasda is.pres Donald the smith PROG work.vn in.the forge.dat right now Verb Subject Relative Clause Aspect Verbal Noun Location Adverb 'Donald the smith is working in the forge right now.'
Chunnaic mi an duine sin 'san eaglais an-diugh see.past I that man in church today Verb Subject Object Location Adverb 'I saw that man in church today.'
Word order in Neutral Negative Sentences, Yes/No Questions, and Negative Yes/No Questions
Word order in Neutral Negative Sentences
Scottish Gaelic can have both single and double negatives in the main clause. Clausal negation is marked by the particles cha(n) and nach.
Chan eil iad gu math NEG be.PRES.DEP they ADV well NEG Verb Subject Adverb 'They are not well.'
Cha chreid mi nach eil iad gu math NEG believe.INDEF1 I NEG-COMP be.PRES they ADV well NEG Verb Subject NEG Verb Subject Adverb 'I don't believe that they are not well.'
Adding the negative particle na before an imperative yeilds the Negative Imperative:
Na ithibh sin NEG eat that NEG Verb Object 'Don't eat that.'
Examples from Lamb (61)
Yes/No Questions in Scottish Gaelic are formed with the interrogative particle (an) and the dependent form of the verb.
An teid thu leam a Mh QP go.INDEF1.DEP you with.1s Vocative Mhàiri QP Verb Subject Indirect Object Vocative Mary 'Will you go with me, Mary?.'
Example from Lamb (59)
Tag questions consist of a main declarative clause followed by (1) a question particle and (2) a copy of the matrix verb. In Scottish Gaelic, unlike English, we can attest to four types of tag questions in relation to negation of the verbs. Since there are two verbs in each question (the matrix verb and its tagged copy) and each one of these verbs can be either positive or negative, we have the possible combinations: POS-POS; POS-NEG; NEG-NEG; NEG-POS.
In English, we have to have conflicting polarity in our tagged questions, such as 'You're not going there, are you?' or 'You're going there, aren't you?', but we can never have an agreement in polarity such as, '*You're not going there, aren't you?'
However, in Gaelic we find all four logical combinations:
Tha thu a' falbh a bheil be.PRES you PROG depart.VN QP be.PRES.DEP Verb Subject Aspect Verbal Noun QP Verb 'You are leaving, are you?'
Tha thu a' falbh nach eil be.PRES you PROG depart.VN QP-NEG be.PRES.DEP Verb Subject Aspect Verbal Noun QP_NEG Verb 'You are leaving, aren't you?'
Chan eil thu a' falbh nach eil NEG be.PRES.DEP you PROG depart.VN QP-NEG be.PRES.DEP NEG Verb Subject Aspect Verbal Noun QP-NEG Verb 'You aren't leaving, aren't you?'
Chan eil thu a' falbh a bheil NEG be.PRES.DEP you PROG depart.VN QP be.PRES.DEP NEG Verb Subject Aspect Verbal Noun QP Verb 'You aren't leaving, are you?'
Negative Yes/No Questions
Nach eil iad gu math NEG be.PRES.DEP they ADV well NEG Verb Subject Adverb 'Are they not well?.'
Example from Lamb (61)
Word order with Neutral Grade Pronouns
- Main article Pronoun Postposing
Word order with non-verbal predicates
Non-verbal predicates are predicates that aren't verbs (John is a fool, John is big, John is in the living room).
Using the verb Bi
When an adjective or a prepositional phrase (PP) is serving as the predicate (e.g. John is big. John is in the room. The order of elements uses some form of the verb bi, followed by the subject followed by the nonverbal predicate:
Thà Iain mòr Be.pres John big John is big
Bhà Iain anns an seòmar be.past John in.def the room John was in the room
Using the verb Is
Is mise Raibeart Copula.pres I Robert Copula Subject NP Predicate NP 'I am Robert.'
Is ise mo mhathair Copula.pres She My Mother Copula Subject NP Predicate NP 'She is my mother.'
With no verb (small clauses)
Tenseless absolutive construction with a prepositional phrase predicate:
Chunnaic mi Calum agus [e air a mhisg]. see.pst I Calum and [him on his drunkenness] 'I saw Calum while he was drunk.'
Tenseless absolutive construction with an adjectival predicate:
Chunnaic mi Calum agus [e uamhasach toilichte]. see.pst I Calum and [him terribly happy] 'I saw Calum while he was really happy.'
Tenseless absolutive construction with a nominal predicate:
Chunnaic mi Calum agus [e 'na thidsear]. see.pst I Calum and [him in.3MS teacher] 'I saw Calum while he was a teacher.'
Adger and Ramchand (2003:(13), (14), (15), (19))
Word order in Auxiliary Constructions
In Imperfect (Progressive) clauses
In Gaelic the normal present tense of all verbs except bi is absent. Instead a periphrastic construction using the auxiliary bi is used along with a verbal noun and an aspect particle (typically A. This has both imperfect and progressive meanings. The structure of these sentences is:
Tha Iain ag ithe an t-aran Be.pres John progressive eat.vn the bread Verb Subject Prog Aspect Verbal Noun object John is eating the bread Bha mi a' dol dhan bhuth(aidh) Be.past I PROG go.vn to-the shop(DAT) Verb Subject Prog Aspect Verbal Noun Prepositional Phrase 'I was going to the shop'
In Causative Constructions
In SG, there is no morphological marker for causativizing utterances, but causatives may be formed using the verb thoir and the adposition air. Thoir is translated as the English verb 'make', and air indicates the theme of the action (the argument which is made to do something).
Thug Mairi air Seumas ithe give.past Mary on Seumas eat.vn Verb Subject Adposition Object Verbal Noun 'Mary made Seumas eat'
The exact same clausal construction may also take an entire non-finite clausal complement:
Thug Iain air Anna (i) an leabhar a thoirt do Mhairi give.past John on Anna.dat 3fs the book tran give.vn to Mary Verb Subject Adposition Subject/Object Agreement Article Direct Object Tran Verbal Noun Adposition Mary.dat 'John made Anna give the book to Mary'
The exact same sentence may be used in an agentless variety:
Thainig air Anna an leabhar a thoirt do Mhairi come.past on Anna.dat the book tran give.vn to Mary Verb Adposition Subject/Object Article Direct Object Tran Verbal Noun Adposition Mary.dat 'Anna had to give the book to Mary'
In Perfect, Recent Perfect, Prospective clauses
Chaidh mi dhan bhuth(aidh) go.past I to.the shop(DAT) Verb Subject Article object 'I went to the shop' Chan eil Ealasaid air Dughall fhaicinn NEG be.pres.dep Elizabeth PERF Dugald seeing.vn NEG Verb Subject Aspect Object Verbal Noun 'Elizabeth has not seen Dugald'
Cross-linguistically, there is a distinction between verbs that describe states of being and other verbs which entail some dynamic motion or action.
Tha mi nam shuidhe be.pres I in my sitting Verb Subject Adposition Verbal Noun 'I am sitting.'
Tha mi a' suidhe be.pres I at sitting Verb Subject Adposition Verbal Noun 'I am sitting down.'
This basic analysis does not completely explain Gaelic's own distinction. It is better to say that, in terms of thematic relations, Gaelic treats Agent arguments differently from non-Agents.
Tha mi a' sileadh fala(dh) be.pres I at dripping.vn blood.gen Verb Subject Adposition Verbal Noun Object 'I am bleeding.'
- Lamb (51)
Gaelic has two constructions which are usually translated into the passive construction in English. They are the impersonal and the passive.
The impersonal construction uses a verbal ending -adh.
Dh'oladh am bainne drink.past.imp the milk Verb Article Noun 'The milk was drunk.' Mharbhadh Iain leis a' ghunna kill.past.imp John with the gun.dat Verb Noun Adposition Article Noun 'John was killed with a gun.'
The 'true' passive in Gaelic is formed as follows:
Tha Iain g' a mharbhadh be John at 3sg.masc.pos kill.vn.dat Copula Noun Adposition Agreement Verbal Noun 'John was killed.'
Modals are used in SG either with a (a) separate word (English's equivalent to must) or (b) with a copula + adjective/noun. A rough equivalent to the latter would be 'John is able to eat' for 'I can eat'.
Feumaidh mi ithe must I eat.vn Modal Subject Verbal Noun 'I must eat.' Dh'fhaodinn ithe might.I eat.vn Modal.Subject Verbal Noun 'I might eat.' Dh'fhaodadh tu ithe might you eat.vn Modal Subject Verbal Noun 'You might eat.'
'S urrainn dhomh ithe Copula.pres ability for.I eat.vn Copula Noun Subject Verbal Noun 'I can eat.' 'S urrainn do Bhob ithe Copula.pres ability for Bob eat.vn Copula Noun Adposition Subject Verbal Noun 'Bob can eat.' 'S urrainn dhan a' chaora ithe Copula.pres ability for the sheep eat.vn Copula Noun Adposition Article Subject Verbal Noun 'The sheep can eat.' Bu choir do Bhob ithe Copula.past right for Bob eat.vn Copula Adjective Adposition Subject Verbal Noun 'Bob should eat.'
Word order in Embedded Clauses
Embedded clauses are usually headed by the complementizer gu(n/m)/gur in a positive declarative sentence, but if the embedded clause is negative, then cha(n) is used instead.
Word order in finite Embedded Clauses
Thuirt Iain gu bheil a' Ghaidhlig aig Mairi say.past Iain that be.dep.pres the Gaelic at Mary Verb Subject Complementizer Verb Article Noun Adposition Noun 'Iain said that Mary speaks Gaelic.'
elicited by Carnie (2007)
Word order in non-finite Embedded Clauses
Thuirt mi gun na h-uighean ithe said I NEG the eggs eat.INF Verb Subject NEG Article Object Verb 'I said not to eat the eggs.'
Word order in Relative Clauses
am fear a chaisig an cu a bhid an cat a mharbh an luch the man wh-COMP stop.past the dog wh-COMP bite.past the cat wh-COMP kill.past the mouse Article Noun Complementizer Verb Article Noun Complementizer Verb Article Noun Complementizer Verb Article Noun 'the man who stopped the dog that bit the cat that killed the mouse.'
Word order in Clefts
'S e Iain a bha sgith Copula 3sg.masc Iain wh-COMP be.past tired Copula Agreement Noun Complementizer Verb Adjective 'It is Iain that was tired.'
Adger & Ramchand (2005)
Word order in Wh-Questions
Wh-phrase + question particle + Verb + rest of sentence
The question particle is often omitted if it follows a question ending in a vowel. The form of the question particle and the verb is dependent upon which wh-word is being used.
Ciamar a tha thu? how wh-direct be.pres you wh-phrase particle Verb rest of sentence How are you
Dè an aois a tha thu? what the age wh-direct be.pres you wh-phrase particle Verb rest of sentence How old are you
When a question word is in some adpositional phrase, the adposition can be fronted with the WH word (pied-piping) or it can be left in the original gap.
Co ris a bha thu a' bruidhinn Who to QP be.PAST you PROG speaking.VN WH P QP Verb Subject Aspect Verbal Noun 'To whom were you speaking?'
Co a bha thu a' bruidhinn ris Who QP be.PAST you PROG speaking.VN to WH QP Verb Subject Aspect Verbal Noun P 'Who were you speaking to?'
Examples from Lamb (60)
Word Order in Noun Phrases
Article + Noun + Adjectives + Prepositional phrases
- boat: bàta
- the boat: am bàta
- the big boat am bàta mòr
- The big boat in the sea am bàta mòr anns a' mhuir
Possessors in the genitive follow the possessed NP:
Possessed + Article + Possessor(gen)
- leabhar an duine