0. Contents


  1. General facts about common nouns
  2. Noun modifiers
  3. Noun modifiers - genitive common nouns
  4. Noun modifiers - attributive adjectives
  5. Noun modifiers - prepositions
  6. Specifiers

This page contains facts relating to Gaelic common nouns (as opposed to proper nouns which you can read about here).

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

1. General facts about common nouns


a. Common nouns are a subtype of (lexical) noun, and thus inherit a number of properties from that class:

b. Every common noun has a case, either nominative, dative or genitive.

For example:
  • Tha brògan air bòrd. (There are shoes on a table) - brògan (shoes) is a nominative common noun, since it is the subject of a verb, tha (is); and bòrd (table) is a dative common noun, since it is the complement of the preposition air.
  • Chunnaic Màiri leabhar balaich. (Mary saw a boy's book) - leabhar (book) is a nominative common noun, since it is the object of a verb, chunnaic (saw); and balaich (boy's) is a genitive noun, since it is a modifier of another noun, leabhar (book).

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

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

d. The grammatical gender of a 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.

Read more about gender of common nouns

e. It is convenient to see common nouns as being grouped into lexical families. Every common noun in a lexical family has a similar meaning and form, but differs in terms of case and gender.

For example:
  • the following common nouns are all members of the same lexical family (i.e. "shoe") - bròg (nominative feminine), bròig (dative feminine), bròige (genitive feminine), brògan (nominative/dative plural).
  • as are the following (i.e. "table") - bòrd (nominative/dative masculine and genitive plural), bùird (genitive masculine and nominative/dative plural).

f. There is a reasonably systematic, predictable relationship between the common nouns in a lexical family in Gaelic. This relationship is traditionally called noun declension.

For example:
  • Given a masculine nominative noun, you can usually form a related genitive masculine noun by slenderisation, e.g. bòrd - bùird (table), balach - balaich (boy), leabhar - leabhair (book).
  • Given a feminine nominative noun, you can usually form a related plural nominative/dative noun by suffixing -(e)an, e.g. caileag - caileagan (girl), làmh - làmhan (hand), sràid - sràidean (street).

Read more about declension of common nouns

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2. Noun modifiers


a. A common noun can have one or more modifiers, all of which must all follow the common noun itself.

For example:
  • an cù-caorach dubh aig an dorus (the black sheepdog at the door) - the common noun (dog) has three modifiers in this phrase - the genitive common noun caorach (of a sheep), the adjective dubh (black), and the preposition aig (at).

Here is a graphic illustrating all the dependencies in action:

ancumordubhaigandorus.png


3. Noun modifiers - genitive common nouns


a. A modifier of a common noun can be another common noun.

For example:

b. Genitive case. Must precede all other modifiers.

4. Noun modifiers - attributive adjectives


a. A modifier of a common noun can be an adjective.

For example:
  • balach beag (a little boy) - the adjective beag (little) is a modifier of the common noun balach (boy).
  • cù mór dubh (a big black dog) - the adjectives mór (big) and dubh (black) are both modifiers of the common noun (dog).
  • na brògan inntinneach (the interesting shoes) - the adjective inntinneach (interesting) is a modifier of the common noun brògan (shoes), which is itself the complement of the definite article na (the).

b. The precise form of such an attributive adjective depends on the case and gender of the common noun which it modifies, as well as on whether the noun is itself the complement of a definite article.

For example:
  • caileag bheag bhàn (little fair-haired girl - nominative) - adjectives are lenited when they modify a feminine nominative/dative noun.
  • caileagan beaga bàna (little fair-haired girls) - monosyllabic adjectives ending in a broad consonant add -a when they modify a plural noun.
  • ceann caileige bige bàine (a little fair-haired girl's head) - adjectives are slenderised and add -e when they modify a feminine genitive noun.
  • le balach beag bàn (with a little fair-haired boy) versus leis a' bhalach bheag bhàn (with the little fair-haired boy) - adjectives are lenited when they modify a noun which is the complement of a form of the leniting an definite article, even if that noun is masculine.
  • balaich bheaga bhàna (small fair-haired boys) - adjectives are lenited when they modify a plural noun which has been formed by slenderisation.

Read more about attributive adjective declension

5. Noun modifiers - prepositions


a. A modifier of a common noun can also be a preposition.

For example:
  • balach le falt fada dubh (a boy with long black hair) - the preposition le (with) is a modifier of the common noun balach (boy).

Read more about prepositions here

[MM: say something about adjectives always preceding prepositions?]

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6. Specifiers


a. A common noun can have just the one specifier, which must follow the noun.

For example:
  • cù mór dubh a' mhinisteir (the minister's big black dog) - the nominative/dative masculine singular common noun (dog) has three dependents here - two attributive adjective modifiers, mór (big) and dubh (black), and a specifier - the genitive masculine singular definite article a' (the); the genitive masculine singular noun ministeir (minister) is the complement of the article, and is hence lenited.

b. The specifier of a common noun is typically a genitive noun.

For example:
  • bean ministeir (a minister's wife) - the specifier of the common noun bean (wife) is the genitive masculine singular common noun ministeir (minister).
  • bean Sheumais (James' wife) - the specifier of bean (wife) is the genitive masculine proper noun Sheumais (James).
  • bean a' mhinisteir (the minister's wife) - the specifier of bean (wife) is the genitive masculine singular definite article a' (the).
  • brògan nam ministear (the ministers' shoes) - the specifier of brògan (shoes) is the genitive plural definite article nam (the).

c. When the specifier of a common noun is a genitive plural noun, and that plural noun is not the complement of a definite article (or whatever) then it must be lenited.

For example:
  • brògan mhinistear (ministers' shoes) - the specifier of the plural common noun brògan (shoes) is the genitive plural common noun ministearan (ministers), which is lenited since it is not the complement of a definite article.

d. A noun which has a specifier cannot itself be the complement of a definite article.

For example:
  • *a' bhean a' mhinisteir (the minister's wife) - the noun bean (wife) has a specifier - the second occurrence of the definite article a' (the); hence it is not allowed to be the complement of the first definite article a'; a grammatical version would be simply bean a' mhinsteir (the minister's wife).
  • *a' bhean ministeir (a minister's wife) - again, the noun bean (wife) has a specifier - the genitive noun ministeir (minister) - and hence cannot be the complement of the definite article; a grammatical version would be simple bean ministeir (a minister's wife).

e. A genitive noun cannot itself have a specifier.

For example:
  • *cas coin ministeir (a minister's dog's leg) - if the genitive noun coin (dog) is the specifier of the nominative noun cas (leg) then it cannot have a specifier of its own, i.e. the genitive noun ministeir.
  • *cas coin a' mhinisteir (the minister's dog's leg) - .

f. If the specifier of a common noun is not a genitive noun, then it must be a nominative noun with its own specifier.

For example:
  • cas cù ministeir (a minister's dog's leg) - .
  • cas cù a' mhinisteir (the minister's dog's leg) - .
  • caileag piuthar bean a' mhinisteir (the minister's wife's sister's girl) - .
  • air caileig piuthar bean a' ministeir (on the minister's wife's sister's girl) - .

[MM: can a specifier have dependents? I'm guessing it can have adjectives but nothing else.]

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