When accented at the beginning of a word, the group “ai” may get any of three sounds. An (a) sound, as in English “hat”, is one. Examples:
ainm (A-nim), name; ait (at), strange; aingeal (ANG-uhl), angel.
In an initial syllable, the “ai” can receive the (a) sound, too, if the letter “d”, “l”, “n”, “r”, “s”, or “t” precedes the “ai”. Examples:
daingean (DANG-uhn), fortress; laige (LAG-e), weakness; naipcín (nap-KEEN), napkin; raic (rak), quarrel; saineolas (san-oh-luhs), expert knowledge; tais (tash), damp.
If the letter “b”, “c”, “f”, “g”, “m”, or “p” precedes the “ai” in an initial syllable, the “ai” has an (ah) sound, which is actually a shortened (aw*) sound. Examples:
baile (BAHL-e), home; caisleán (kahsh-LAW*N), castle; faisean (FAHSH-uhn), fashion; gaineamh (GAHN-uhv), sand; maith (mah), good; pailm (PAHL-im), palm.
If the “ai” is followed by “dh”, “gh”, “ll”, “nt”, or a few other letter combinations, it can receive an (eye) sound, as in English “my”. Examples:
Taidhg (teyeg), a name (genitive case of “Tadhg”); maighdean (MEYE-duhn), maiden; aimsir (EYEM-sheer), season, weather; aill (eyel), cliff; caill (keyel), lose; caint (keyent), talk; saibhir (SEYE-vir), rich, also pronounced (SEV-ir).
We will now take a closer look at how Irish nouns change in the plural and possessive or genitive forms; in other words, how you change “table” to “tables” or “of the table”.
These changes follow several general patterns, depending on the noun. On the basis of the patterns, nouns can be grouped into what are called declensions. There are five of these. Most of the nouns in ordinary use are in the first two declensions, but all five declensions include common words. We will start with the largest declension, the first.
All first-declension nouns are masculine, and all end in a broad consonant in the basic form. A broad consonant is one in which the nearest vowel is “a”, “o”, or “u”. Examples: bord, mac, úll (ool).
For “the son’s shoe”, the Irish is “bróg an mhic” (brohg uh vik). For “the head of the table”, the Irish is “ceann an bhoird” (kyoun uh vwird).
after the “an”, meaning “of the”, an initial consonant is usually aspirated.
The word in the possessive or genitive comes after what is owned or is part of the other. Therefore, when forming your thoughts in Irish, remember to change phrases such as “the son’s shoe” to “shoe of the son” in Irish.
Read these examples to familiarize yourself with this form:
madra an fhir (MAH-druh uhn IR), dog of the man, the man’s dog
dath an bháid (dah uh VWAW*-id), color of the boat, the boat’s color
ainm an chait (AN-im uh K*IT), name of the cat, the cat’s name
barr an chnoic (bahr uh K*NIK), top of the hill, the hilltop
praghas an leabhair (preyes uh LOU-wir), price of the book, the book’s price
You can leave out the “the”, as in “a horse’s head” or “head of a horse”. In Irish, this is “ceann capaill” (kyoun KAH-pil). Notice that the word “capaill”, meaning “of a horse”, does not have its first consonant aspirated in this form, where the phrase indicates part of a person, animal, or thing.
Another example is “lámh fir” (law*v FIR), hand of a man, a man’s hand. There are other rules determining when you should aspirate the first consonant of the second word when the “an” is omitted. We will learn these rules gradually. In the meantime, do not worry about this. Aspirate the first consonant or not, as you wish, until you learn the rules for this.
Practice with these words and phrases, repeating them until you can say them quickly.
bád, an bád, fear an bháid (baw*d, un BAW*D), far uh VWAW*-id); boat, the boat, the boatman
cat, an cat, ceann an chait (kaht, un KAHT, kyoun uh K*IT); cat, the cat, the cat’s head
leabhar, an leabhar, clúdach an leabhair (LOU-wuhr, un LOU-wuhr, KLOO-dahk* uh LOU-wir); book, the book, the book’s cover
post, an post, fear an phoist (pohst, un pohst, far uh FWISHT); mail, the mail, the mailman
Two of the many common and useful Irish expressions involving the genitive case are:
fear an tí (far uh tee), man of the house, householder, or even master of ceremonies at an entertainment
bean an tí (ban uh tee), woman of the house, housewife
In these two expressions, the word “tí” is the genitive of “teach” (tahk*), house. “A householder” is “fear tí”, and a housewife is “bean tí”. Notice that the “t” in “tí” is not aspirated in “fear an tí”. This is also the case with “d” as initial letter; a common Irish expression to help you remember this is:
deoch an dorais (dyohk* uh DUH-rish), drink at the door, for which the English equivalent is “stirrup cup”, a last drink taken before starting on the road – “one for the road”.
Notice that the usual pronunciation in this genitive form slurs the “n” in “an”. The “n” is sounded, however, if the second word, in the genitive, starts with a vowel. Example: ceann an éin (kyoun un AY*-in), the bird’s head.
Return to Lesson Index