0. Contents


  1. General facts about common noun gender
  2. Predicting gender from form - masculine nouns
  3. Predicting gender from form - feminine nouns
  4. Predicting gender from meaning - masculine nouns
  5. Predicting gender from meaning - feminine nouns

This page contains facts relating to the gender of Gaelic common nouns.

This page is permanently under construction. Feel free to add stuff, or to comment.

1. General facts about common noun gender


a. Every common noun in Gaelic has a grammatical gender, either masculine, feminine or plural.

For example:
  • Chunnaic caileag cù. (A girl saw a dog) - caileag (a girl) is a feminine (nominative) common noun and (a dog) is a masculine (nominative) common noun.
  • Tha brògan air bòrd. (There are shoes on a table) - brògan (shoes) is a plural (nominative) common noun and bòrd (table) is a masculine (dative) common noun.

b. However, the grammatical gender of a common noun is not always straightforwardly predictable from its meaning.

For example:
  • the common noun boireannach (a woman) is grammatically masculine, despite referring to a female entity.
  • the common noun craobh (a tree) is grammatically feminine, despite referring to an inanimate entity.
  • the common noun clann (children) is grammatically feminine, rather than plural, despite the fact that it refers to a group of children rather than to a single child.

c. To a limited extent, one can predict/guess the gender of a noun from its form or from its meaning.

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2. Predicting gender from form - masculine nouns


a. Nouns ending in the traditional diminutive suffix -an are masculine.

For example:
  • macan (a little son; from mac - a son), balachan (a little boy; from balach - a boy), clagan (a little bell; from clag - a bell), balgan (a little bag; from balg - a bag).
  • aran (bread), eilean (an island), òran (a song).

b. Nouns ending in the abstract suffix -as are masculine.

For example:
  • ceartas (justice/fairness, from ceart - right, correct).
  • solas (light), coltas (appearance), dànadas (boldness).

Apparent exceptions (?): cluas (an ear) is a feminine noun.

c. Nouns ending in the agentive suffix -ach are masculine.

For example:
  • marcach (a rider/jockey; from marcaich - to ride), clèireach (a clerk; from clèir [fem] - clergy).
  • canach (cottongrass).

Apparent exceptions (?): cailleach (an old woman) and amhach (a neck) are feminine nouns.

d. Nouns ending in the (deverbal?) suffix -(e)adh are masculine.

For example:
  • bualadh (hitting, percussion; from buail - to hit).
  • deireadh (an end), connadh (fuel, firewood).

e. Nouns ending in the agentive suffix -(a)ir are masculine.

For example:
  • clachair (a stonemason; from clach [fem] - a stone), dorsair (a doorman; from doras [m] - a door).
  • maighstir (a master), cùbair (a cooper).

e. Nouns ending in the agentive suffix -(e)adair are masculine.

For example:
  • leughadair (a reader; from leugh - to read), seinneadair (a singer; from seinn - to sing), sgrìobhadair (a writer; from sgrìobh - to write), brocair (a foxhunter; from broc [masc] - a badger).
  • uaireadair (a watch/clock; from uair [fem] - an hour), fuaradair (a refridgerator; from fuar - cold).

f. Nouns ending in the agentive suffix -(a)iche are masculine.

For example:
  • maraiche (a seaman; from muir - a sea), òranaiche (a singer; from òran [masc] - a song), sgrìobhaiche (a writer; from sgrìobh - to write), searmonaiche (a preacher; from searmon [masc] - a sermon), stiùiriche (a director; from stiùir - to steer/guide), sgeulaiche (a storyteller; from sgeul [masc] - a story), cleasaiche (a juggler, from cleas [masc] - a trick).

g. Nouns ending in a broad consonant are more often than not masculine.

For example:
  • aodann (face), beul (mouth), ceann (head), falt (hair), peann (pen), rathad (road), toll (hole).

h. Other things to think about -
  • abstract nouns ending in -ad? giorrad (shortness, brevity)
  • nouns ending in -(e)amh? breitheamh (a judge)
  • -(a)ire? teachdaire (a messenger, courier); pìobaire (a piper; from pìob - a pipe
  • -(e)ar? àrdaichear (a lift, elevator) tidsear (a teacher) ministear (a minister) sgoilear (a scholar) pàipear (paper. a paper)
  • nouns ending in -a are masculine - balla (wall)
  • adjectives used as nouns, e.g. dall (a blind man).

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3. Predicting gender from form - feminine nouns


a. Nouns ending in the traditional diminutive suffix -ag are feminine.

For example:
caileag (girl), piseag (kitten), sliseag (slice), uinneag (window), nìghneag (?) - diminutives sguabag (a little sheaf) sgalag - a farm servant (often male).

b. Nouns ending in the abstract suffix -achd are feminine.

For example:
aotramachd (lightness), bàrdachd (poetry), beannachd (blessing) - abstract nouns, rìoghachd (a kingdom)


c. By default, nouns ending in -ad, -id or -ir are feminine (what about -ich).

For example:
  • bòidhchead (beauty)
  • càraid (couple), drochaid (bridge), pitheid (magpie), smugaid (spittle)
  • saothair (travail)
  • bragadaich (?), snagadaich (?)

Exceptions: caraid (friend) and nàmhaid (enemy) are masculine nouns.

b. Nouns ending in a slender consonant are more often than not feminine.

For example:
  • abhainn (river), beinn (mountain), dùthaich (country), feòil (meat), iuchair (key), sirist (cherry), sùil (eye), toit (smoke)

c. Comparative adjectives used as nouns, e.g. doille (?).

d. Verbal nouns in -airt, e.g tachairt (?).

e. Monosyllabic nouns in -ua-? e.g. cluas, cuach. Exceptions - cuan, fuath, gual, tuar, truas, sluagh, tuath.

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4. Predicting gender from meaning - masculine


a. Nouns denoting kinds of person or animal which are necessarily male are masculine.

For example:
  • athair (father), mac (son), fear (man), bodach (old man), rìgh (king).
  • coileach (cockerel), tarbh (bull), àigeach (stallion), reithe (ram), rùda (ram), damh (stag).

b. Nouns denoting species of animal, subsuming gender distinctions, are masculine.

For example:
  • cat (cat), duine (human), leòmhan (lion), uan (lamb), sionnach (fox), mathan (bear), madadh (hound).

c. Nouns denoting elements are masculine.

For example:
  • teine (fire), uisge (water), àile (air).
  • hydrogen, etc?

d. Nouns denoting seasons and days of the week are masculine (are these common nouns?).

For example:
  • earrach (spring), geamhradh (winter).
  • Di-luain (Monday), Di-màirt (Tuesday).

e. Nouns denoting kinds of metals are masculine.

For example:
  • iarann/iarunn (iron), copar (copper), umha (bronze).

f. Nouns denoting colours are masculine.

For example:
  • corcur (purple), gorm (blue)

g. By default, nouns denoting grains and vegetables are masculine.

For example:
  • cruinneachd (wheat), eòrna ()
  • càl (kail), curran (carrot)

h. By default, nouns denoting alcoholic beverages are masculine.

For example:
  • leann (beer), uisge-beatha (whisky), fìon (wine)

i. By default, nouns denoting timber are masculine.

For example:
  • giubhas (fir)

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5. Predicting gender from meaning - feminine nouns


a. Nouns denoting kinds of person or animal which are necessarily female are, by default, feminine.

For example:
  • màthair (mother), nighean (daughter), (woman), cailleach (old woman), banrigh (queen).
  • cearc (hen), (cow), maoiseach (doe), caora (ewe), làir (mare).

However, there are some notable exceptions:
  • boireannach (woman) is a masculine noun (because it ends in -ach).
  • capall/capull (mare) and mart (cow) are masculine nouns.

b. Nouns denoting kinds of musical instrument are feminine.

For example:
  • piòb (bagpipes), clàrsach (harp), duiseal (flute), fidheall (fiddle).

c. Nouns denoting kinds of heavenly body are feminine.

For example:
  • grìan (sun), gealach (moon), rionnag (star), reul (star), dreag (meteor), planaid (planet).

d. Nouns denoting kinds of disease or illness are feminine.

For example:
  • breac (smallpox), luibhre (leprosy), aillse (cancer). buidheach (jaundice), griuthach (measles)
  • aileag (hiccups?)

e. Nouns denoting copses are feminine.

For example:
  • giùsach (fir-copse)

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6. Nouns of variable gender


For example:
  • aonad (unit), ceò (mist), dealbh (picture), glù(i)n (knee), muir (sea), tìr (land), tobar (well), dàimh (?)
  • muir (nominative = masculine) vs mara (genitive = feminine)

Plural nouns?

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