Verb Inflection

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Past Tense

Scottish Gaelic verbs can encode tense, aspect, modality, voice, person, and number.


With regular verbs in declarative context, the past tense is formed by leniting the first consonant of the imperative verb form. With vowel initial forms, one prefixes an orthographic <dh'> (pronounced as [ɣ] before broad vowels and [j] before slender ones). Forms beginning with /f/, are both lenited and preceded by <dh'>

Imperative English Translation Past Tense English Translation
fàg! leave! dh'fhàg left
ionnsaich! learn! dh'ionnsaich learnt
pòg! kiss! phòg kissed
obair! work! dh'obair worked
sabaid! fight! shabaid fought
sgrìobh! write! sgrìobh wrote
ruith! run! ruith run
seas! sit! sheas sat
teasgaisg! teach! theagaisg taught
tog! lift! thog lifted
chart based on a similar one in Fisher (2004)

In Negatives, Questions and Embedded Clauses

In negatives, questions, and declarative embedded clauses, the verb takes its dependent form. In the past tense, the dependent form is usually identical to the normal past, but will be preceded by the particle do. Do is required in formal speech and in prescriptive writing, but is often left out in rapid speech. Some dialects (e.g. Lewis) tend to leave the particle off more frequently.

Past Tense Question Negation Negative Question Embedded clause English
phòg an do phòg cha do phòg nach do phòg gun do phòg kissed
dh'obair an do dh'obair cha do dh'obair nach do dh'obair gun do dh'obair worked
shabaid an do shabaid cha do shabaid nach do shabaid gun do shabaid fought
sheas an do sheas cha do sheas nach do sheas gun do sheas sat
thog an do thog cha do thog nach do thog gun do thog lifted
chart based on a similar one in Fisher (2004)

Impersonal (Passive) forms

In the impersonal passive, the root is lenited and the suffix -eadh/-adh is attached to the end of the word. The impersonal passive demotes the agent/do-er, and it no longer appears in the structure. Instead, the patient/undergo-er is highlighted, as in the examples (a) and (d) based off of Lamb 2001 (pg. 64).<br\>

chreachadh am baile
destroy.IMPERS the town.NOM
"The town was destroyed"
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 Impersonal form contrasts with the active sentence in (d) where the third person plural agent iad appears.

chreach iad a' bhaile
destroy.PAST they the town
"They destroyed the town"

Present Tense

Most verbs in Gaelic don't have a simple present tense form, and instead use the strategies below in the present tense. The primary exceptions are the Copula and the verb Bi (auxiliary)

To mark what translates as the present tense in English, there are two strategies. One is to use the progressive:

Tha mi a' dol ann
COP.PRES I PROG go there
'I'm going there.'

When the intention is a habitual, the future tense is used.

Ithidh mi a' bhiadh a h-uile latha
eat.FUT I aL food every day
"I eat food every day" (literally, "I will eat food every day")

Future Tense

  • Future: Fuirichidh, chan fhuirich, am fuirich, cò fuiricheas
  • Future:
    • Yes form: suffix -idh (ithidh òlaidh)
    • No form: DON'T suffix -idh: Chan ith
  • Cha is chan before vowels, and lenites but not d and t. Chan fhag
  • Question form: DON'T suffix -idh, no lenition after "an" and "Nach"
  • Future tense
    • Yes form ROOT +(A)IDH
    • No form CHA ROOT
    • Rel fut Co etc + ROOT+(e)AS

Impersonal (passive) forms

  • suffix -(e)ar
    • dùinear e 'someone shut'

Relative Future

see also Relative Future

  • the root is aspirated
  • -(e)as is suffixed.
  • The second person pronoun is always tu rather than thu

Conditional Mood

First person singular

  • Lenite the root
  • suffix -(a)inn
  • do not use the pronoun mi. The inflected form includes the 1st person information)

Archaic first person plural (This form is rarely used anymore, instead the regular form just below plus the pronoun sinn is used)

  • Lenite the root
  • suffix -(e)amaid
  • do not use the pronoun sinn. The inflected form includes the 1st person information.

All forms except First person

  • Lenite the root
  • suffix -eadh or -adh
  • 2nd person singular is tu rather than thu

Imperative Mood (commands)

The Imperative (command) form of the verb is usually identical to the dictionary or root form of the verb.

  • Fàg 'leave!'
  • Leugh 'read!'
  • Coisich 'walk!'

When plural or polite, add -(a)ibh to the root form:

  • Fàgaibh 'you all leave'
  • Leughaibh 'you all read'
  • Coisichibh 'you all walk'

The formation of verbal noun

When the verbal noun is used, another auxiliary-type verb is used to encode tense, aspect and/or negation. However, the verbal noun carries the lexical information of the verb. In most cases the form of the verbal noun is the plain root or a suffixed root, where any of the following suffixes attach to the root: -ail, -aich, -amh, -inn, and -adh.

Bha mi a' dol dhan bhuth(aidh)
be.PAST I PROG to.the shop.DAT
Aux Subject Aspect Verbal Noun Adposition Noun
'I was going to the shop.'

The formation of the verbal adjective

  • duinte
  • òlte

See Also

External Links