0. Contents


  1. General properties of the definite article - case and gender
  2. Complements of the definite article
  3. Inventory and declension of the definite article
  4. Lenition after the definite article
  5. Pronunciation and orthography of the definite article: nasal assimilation
  6. Declension of the definite article - broad strokes
  7. Leniting AN (anL)
  8. Assimilating AN (aN)
  9. Simple NA (naH)
  10. Assimilating NA (naN)

This page is about the definite article in Gaelic, which comes in four basic forms - aN, aN*, na and naN. Most of these forms come in a number of orthographic variants, depending on the sounds at the start of the following word. The four forms of the definite article are summarised in the following two tables -

article
orthography
functions
aN
am b/f/m/p
an c/d/g/l/n/r/s/t
an t-a/e/i/o/u
nominative masculine
aN*
a' bh/ch/gh/mh/ph
an a/e/i/o/u/fh
an d/l/n/r/t
an sg/sm/sp/st
an t-sa/se/si/so/su
an t-sl/sn/sr
nominative/dative feminine;
dative/genitive masculine
na
na b/c/d/f/g/l/m/n/p/r/s/t
na h-a/e/i/o/u
genitive feminine;
nominative/dative plural
naN
nam b/f/m/p
nan d/c/g/l/n/r/s/t
nan a/e/i/o/u
genitive plural


masculine
feminine
plural
nominative
aN
aN*
na
dative
aN*
aN*
na
genitive
aN*
na
naN

This page is permanently under construction. Feel free to add stuff (by clicking the Edit button at the top right), or to comment (either by clicking the Discussion Posts button at the top right, or by emailing Mark.McConville@glasgow.ac.uk).

1. General properties of the definite article - case and gender


Forms of the definite article are a subtype of (grammatical) noun, and thus inherit the defining properties of that class.

In other words -

a. Forms of the definite articles carry case - every article is either nominative, dative or genitive, depending on the role it plays in the sentence.

For example:
  • Tha na brògan air a' bhòrd. (The shoes are on the table) - the article na is in the nominative case, since it is the subject of the verb tha (is/are), and the article a' (a variant of aN*) is in the dative case, since it is the complement of the preposition air (on).
  • sùilean nam breac móra (the big trouts' eyes, eyes of the big trouts) - the article nam (a variant of naN) is in the genitive case, since it is a modifier of the noun sùilean (eyes).

And -

b. Forms of the definite article carry gender - every article is either masculine, feminine or plural.

For example:
  • Tha am balach faisg air an eaglais. (The boy is near the church) - the article am (a variant of aN) is masculine, its complement (see below) being the masculine noun balach (boy); and the article an is feminine, its complement being the feminine noun eaglais (church).
  • sùilean nam breac móra (the big trouts' eyes) - the article nam is plural, its complement being the plural noun breac (trouts - genitive).

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2. Complements of the definite article


a. Every form of the definite article must have exactly one complement, which must be either a common noun or a numeral (??), and which must follow the article.

For example:
  • a' chaileag (the girl) - the common noun caileag (girl) is the complement of the definite article a'.
  • na trì caileagan (the three girls) - the numeral trì (three) is the complement of the article na; the common noun caileagan (girls) is the complement of the numeral trì.

b. A form of the definite article and its complement must have the same case.

For example:
  • *a' chaileige is ungrammatical because the complement (feminine) noun caileige (girl) is in the genitive, but the article a' can only be nominative or dative. The correct form would be either na caileige (the girl's - genitive), a' chaileag (the girl - nominative), or a' chaileig (the girl - dative).
  • *nam balaich is ungrammatical because the complement (plural) noun balaich (boys) is in the nominative or dative, but the article nam can only be in the genitive. The correct form would be either nam balach (the boys' - genitive), or na balaich (the boys - nominative or dative).

c. A form of the definite article and its complement must have the same gender.

For example:
  • *am feannag is ungrammatical because the article am is masculine, but its complement noun feannag (crow) is feminine. The correct form would be an fheannag (the crow - nominative).
  • *Thàinig na caileag is ungrammatical because the article na is plural, but its complement noun caileag (girl) is feminine. The correct form would be either Thàinig na caileagan (The girls came) or Thàinig a' chaileag (The girl came).
  • *an trì balaich is ungrammatical because the article an must be masculine or feminine but its complement, the numeral trì (three), is plural. The correct form would be na trì balaich (the three boys). [MM: not sure about this - triùir?]

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3. Inventory and declension of the definite article


a. Fundamentally, there are just four forms of the definite article in modern Gaelic, which for convenience we will represent as aN, aN*, na and naN.

b. The definite article aN has masculine gender and nominative case.

For example (leaving questions of exact orthographic representation until below):
  • *Thàinig aN caileag. (The girl came.) - This is ungrammatical because the article aN is masculine nominative and its complement caileag (girl) is feminine. On the other hand, thàinig aN balach (the boy came) is fine, since both the article and its complement balach (boy) are masculine nominative. Similarly, *thàinig aN balaich (The boys came) is ungrammatical, since the complement of aN, balaich (boys), is plural rather than masculine.
  • *air aN bòrd (on the table) - This is ungrammatical because the article aN is nominative but occurs in a position (complement of the preposition air - on) which requires the dative case. The same goes for *casan aN bòrd (the table's legs), where the nominative article aN is used in a position where the genitive case is required (specifier of a noun).

c. The definite article aN* has either -
  • feminine gender and either nominative or dative case; or
  • masculine gender and either dative or genitive case.

For example:
  • *Thàinig aN* each. (The horse came.) - This is ungrammatical because the article aN* is nominative, as subject of the verb thàinig (came), and hence it must also be feminine; however, its complement each (horse) is masculine. The following would be grammatical: thàinig aN* làir (the mare came), with a feminine complement; and thàinig aN each (The horse came), with a masculine nominative article.
  • *cù aN* caileige (the girl's dog) - This is ungrammatical because the article aN* is genitive, as specifier of the noun (dog), and hence it must also be masculine; however its complement caileige (girl - genitive) is feminine. The following would be grammatical: aN* balaich (the boy's dog), with a masculine genitive complement; and na caileige (the girl's dog), with a feminine genitive article (see below).

d. The definite article na has either -
  • feminine gender and genitive case; or
  • plural gender and either nominative or dative case.

For example:


e. The definite article naN has plural gender and genitive case.

For example:


f. See the top of this page for two tabular summaries of the declension of the four definite articles in Gaelic.

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4. Lenition after the definite article


a. Neither aN nor na nor naN ever lenite the following word.

For example:
  • aN balach (the boy), aN caraid (the friend), aN dorus (the door), . . . ; rather than *aN bhalach, *aN charaid, *aN dhorus.
  • na balaich (the boys), na caileige (the girl's), na dorsan (the doors), . . . ; rather than *na bhalaich, *na chaileige, *na dhorsan.
  • naN balach (the boys'), naN caileag (the girls'), naN dorsan (the doors'), . . . ; rather than *naN bhalach, *naN chaileag, *naN dhorsan.

But -

b. By default, aN* lenites the immediately following word.

For example:
  • aN* bhean (the woman), aN* chaileag (the girl), aN* ghrian (the sun), . . . ; rather than *aN* bean, *aN* caileag, *aN* grian.
  • Since lenition is invisible on words starting with a vowel or sg-, sm-, sp- or st-: . . .

c. However, aN* never lenites a following word starting with the consonants d-, l-, n-, r- or t-.

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5. Pronunciation and orthography of the definite article: nasal assimilation


a. By default, the articles aN and aN* are pronounced as [ǝn], and written as an.

b. By default, the article naN is pronounced as [nǝn], and written as nan.

c. However, if the immediately following word starts with (unlenited) b-, f-, m- or p-, then aN and naN are pronounced as [ǝm] and [nǝm] respectively, and written as am and nam.

d. And if the immediately following word starts with (unlenited) c- or g-, then aN and naN are pronounced as [ǝŋ] and [nǝŋ] respectively, but still written as an and nan.

e. Finally, although the default pronunciation and spelling of the definite article aN* is [ǝn] and its default spelling is an, if the immediately following word starts with (lenis) bh-, ch-, gh-, mh- or ph-, then the article is pronounced as [ǝ] and written as a’.

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6. Pronunciation and orthography of definite articles: t- Prethesis


a. The definite article aN cannot be followed by a word starting with a vowel. Rather, a t- must be added to the start of the word.

(Proto-Celtic) sendos atir (the father) => sendo atir [pronounced as] sento atir [sendos was masc sing nom article] => (Old Gaelic) int athair => Gaelic an t-athair

b. The definite article aN* cannot be followed by a word starting with (lenis) sh-. Again, a t- must be added to the start of the word.

(Old Gaelic) ind erc (the charity) [pronounced as] int erc; (Proto-Celtic) senda sulis => senda ulis [pronounced as] senta ulis => (Old Gaelic) ind uil (the eye) [pronounced as] int uil [ind was fem sing nom article etc.]

7. Pronunciation and orthography of definite articles: h- Prethesis


Default Pronunciation of na?

The article ‘na’ cannot be followed by a word starting with a vowel. Rather, an h- must be added to the start of the word.

an fh- ?



Junk below -

X. Declension of the definite article - broad strokes


a. The default form of the definite article (i.e. the form used with most case-gender combinations) is leniting AN (i.e. anL).

For example:
  • Thàinig a' chaileag. (The girl came) - feminine nominative
  • anns a' bhùith (in the shop) - feminine dative
  • leis a' bhalach (with the boy) - masculine dative
  • an dèidh a' chogaidh (after the war) - masculine genitive

b. However, the nominative masculine form of the definite article is assimilating AN (i.e. aN).

For example:
  • Thàinig am balach. (The boy came) - rather than *Thàinig a' bhalach.
  • Chunnaic mi an cnoc. (I saw the hill) - rather than *Chunnaic mi a' chnoc.

c. The genitive feminine, nominative plural and dative plural forms of the definite article are all simple NA (i.e. naH).

For example:
  • [genitive feminine] sùilean na caileige (the girls' eyes) - rather than *sùilean a' chaileige.
  • [nominative plural] Thàinig na balaich. (The boys came) - rather than *Thàinig a' bhalaich.
  • [dative plural] air na bùird (on the tables) - rather than *air a' bhùird.

d. And the genitive plural form of the definite article is assimilating NA (i.e. naN).

For example:
  • sùilean nam balach (the boys' eyes) - rather than *sùilean a' bhalach.
  • cànan nan Gàidheal (the language of the Gaels) - rather than *cànan a' Ghàidheal.

e. Here is a tabular summary of the basic declensional patterns found with the Gaelic definite article:


masculine
feminine
plural
nominative
aN
anL
naH
dative
anL
anL
naH
genitive
anL
naH
naN

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4. Leniting AN (anL)


a. As mentioned above, leniting AN is the default form of the definite article, used in the feminine nominative, the feminine dative, the masculine dative, and the masculine genitive.

For example:
  • Thàinig a' chaileag. (The girl came) - feminine nominative
  • anns a' bhùith (in the shop) - feminine dative
  • leis a' bhalach (with the boy) - masculine dative
  • an dèidh a' chogaidh (after the war) - masculine genitive.

b. As its name suggests, leniting AN usually lenites the immediately following word.

For example:
  • Thàinig a' chaileag. (The girl came.) - rather than *Thàinig an caileag.
  • leis a' ghille (with the boy) - rather than *leis an gille.
  • aig an fhacal (at the word) - rather than *aig an facal.

c. Recall that the lenited form of vowel initial words is identical to their unlenited forms.

Thus we get the following behaviour after leniting AN:


d. Also, recall that the lenited form of words beginning with sp-, st-, sg- and sm- is identical to their unlenited forms.

Hence we get the following behaviour after leniting AN:
  • Thàinig an sgalag. (The servant came.) - rather than *Thàinig a' sghalag, or *Thàinig a' shgalag.
  • anns an sporan (in the purse) - rather than *anns a' sphoran, or *anns a' shporan.

e. However, leniting AN is blocked from leniting the following word if it begins with a dental consonant, i.e. t-, d-, s-, l-, n- or r-. [MM: Does r- count?]

For example:
  • leis an duine mhór (with the big person) - rather than *leis a' dhuine mhór. The article is blocked from leniting the noun duine (person), but still manages to lenite the adjective mór (big).
  • leis a' bhalach bheag dubh (with the little dark-haired boy) - rather than *leis a' bhalach bheag dhubh. The article lenites the noun and the first adjective, but lenition of the second adjective dubh (black) is blocked.



d. Although leniting an is blocked from leniting any noun or adjective beginning with s-, if the word immediately following the article begins with s- followed by either a vowel (i.e. sa-, se-, si-, so-, su-) or a sonorant (i.e. sl-, sn-, sr-), then the s- sound is replaced by a t- sound (represented in the orthography as t-s-).

For example:
  • an t-sùil (the eye, pronounced as an tùil) - rather than *an sùil.
  • anns an t-sluagh (in the crowd, pronounced as anns an tluagh) - rather than *anns an sluagh.
  • an t-sràid (the street, pronounced as an tràid) - rather than *an sràid.
  • an t-snèap (the turnip, pronounced as an tnèap) - rather than *an snèap.

c. In fact, leniting an causes "jumping" lenition - it is not only the immediately following word that is generally lenited, but also all adjectives which modify it. [MM: unclear]

For example:
  • leis a' ghille bhàn (with the fair-haired boy) - rather than *leis a' ghille bàn. The article lenites both the noun gille (a boy) and the adjective bàn (fair), when compared with the same example with no article - le gille bàn (with a fair-haired boy).
  • aig a' bhalach mhór bhàn (at the big fair-headed boy) - rather than *aig a' bhalach mór bàn. The article lenites the noun balach (a boy), and the adjectives mór (big) and bàn (fair), compared with the following with no article - aig balach mór bàn (at a big fair-headed boy).





Note however that if the following word begins with sp-, st-, sg- or sm-, then this substitution does not happen (in part because the resulting consonant clusters *tp-, *tt-, *tg- and *tm- are not possible in Gaelic).

For example:
  • an speach (the wasp) - rather than *an t-speach.
  • an stais (the moustache) - rather than *an t-stais.
  • an sgoil (the school) - rather than *an t-sgoil.
  • an smàrag (the emerald) - rather than *an t-smàrag.

Note also that this process does not allow "jumping" - it only applies to the word immediately following the article:
  • leis a' bhalach snog (with the nice boy) - rather than *leis a' bhalach t-snog.
  • an t-seann snèap salach (the old dirty turnip) - rather than *an t-seann t-snèap t-salach.

f. The leniting an article itself comes in two different forms, a' and an, depending on the sound at the start of the immediately following word.

g. If the immediately following words starts with a (lenited) non-dental stop (i.e. bh-, ph-, mh-, ch-, gh-), the form a' is used.

For example:
  • a' bhròg (the shoe) - rather than *an bhròg.

h. Otherwise, the form an is used.

For example:

  • an teanga (the tongue - nominative)
  • leis an droch chaileig (with the bad girl - dative)
  • an deicheamh bó (the tenth cow - nominative)
  • an deoch (the drink)
  • an fhicheadamh bròg (the twentieth shoe)
  • an fhìor làmh (the real hand - nominative)

Note that words beginning with fh- are not considered to begin with a lenited consonant, since fh- is silent in modern Gaelic.

g. Summary of leniting an:

a'
ph- bh- ch- gh- mh-
an
fh-
an
a- e- i- o- u-
an
sp- st- sg- sm-
an
t- d- l- n- r-
an
t-sa- t-se- t-si- t-so- t-su- t-sl- t-sn- t-sr-

Ordinals block lenition - an t-seachdamh bean, an còigeamh bean
Cardinals? leis an aon bhalach mhòr or leis an aon bhalach mòr?? leis an dà bhalach bheag (no evidence of blocking here, since dà does jumping lenition)

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5. Assimilating AN (aN)


a. Non-leniting an is used as the nominative masculine form of the definite article.

For example:
  • Thàinig am balach. (The boy came) - rather than *Thàinig a' bhalach.
  • Chunnaic mi an cnoc. (I saw the hill) - rather than *Chunnaic mi a' chnoc.

b. Non-leniting an comes in two different forms, an and am, depending on the sound at the start of the immediately following word.

c. If the immediately following word begins with a labial consonant, i.e. b-, p-, m-, f-, then the form am is used.

For example:
  • am fear (the man) - rather than *an fear.
  • am balach (the boy) - rather than *an balach.
  • am ficheadamh cù (the twentieth dog), rather than *an ficheadamh cù.

d. Otherwise, the form an is used.

For example:
  • an seann bhàta (the old boat) - rather than *am seann bhàta.
  • an cù (the dog) - rather than *am cù.
  • an teine (the fire) - rather than *am teine.

In other words, the place of articulation of the nasal consonant at the end of the article "assimilates" to the place of articulation of the initial consonant of the following word.

e. If the word immediately following non-leniting an starts with a vowel, then it must be prefixed by t-.

For example:
  • an t-eilean (the island - nominative) - rather than *an eilean (though note that an eilean is grammatical as the dative form).
  • an t-òran (the song).
  • an t-ochdamh fear (the eighth man).

f. Summary of non-leniting an:

am
b- p- m- f-
an t-
a- e- i- o- u-
an
t- d- c- g- l- n- r- s-

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6. Simple NA (naH)


a. h- inserting na is used as the genitive feminine, nominative plural and dative plural forms of the definite article.

For example:
  • sùilean na caileige (the girls' eyes) - rather than *sùilean a' chaileige.
  • Thàinig na balaich. (The boys came) - rather than *Thàinig a' bhalaich.
  • air na bùird (on the tables) - rather than *air a' bhùird.

b. If the word immediately following h- inserting na begins with a vowel, then that word must be prefixed with h-.

For example:
  • na h-ùbhlan (the apples) - rather than *na ùbhlan.
  • sùilean na h-ochdamh caileige (the eighth girl's eyes) - rather than *sùilean na ochdamh caileige.
  • ri taobh na h-aibhne (beside the river) - rather than *ri taobh na aibhne.

7. Assimilating NA (naN)




Here is a more complete summary, in tabular form:

masculine
feminine
plural
nominative
am b/p/m/f
an d/g/t/c/s/l/n/r
an t-a/e/i/o/u
a' bh/gh/ph/ch/mh
an a/e/i/o/u/d/t/fh/l/n/r/sp/st/sg/sm
an t-s/sl/sn/sr
na b/d/g/p/t/c/f/s/m/l/n/r
na h-a/e/i/o/u
dative
a'/an/an t-
a'/an/an t-
na (h-)
genitive
a'/an/an t-
na (h-)
nam b/p/m/f
nan d/g/t/c/s/l/n/r/a/e/i/o/u


5. Ordinal modifiers


A form of the definite article can occur with a modifier consisting of an immediately following ordinal number.

Preposition/article compounds?

Notes


The Old Celtic article:


singular
plural

masc
fem
neut
masc
fem
neut
nominative
sendos
senda
sen
sendî
sendâs
sendâ
accusative
sendon
sendin
sen
sendôs
sendâs
sendâ
genitive
sendî
sendas
sendî
sendan
sendân
sendan
dative
sendû
sendi
sendû
sendobis
sendabis
sendobis

Green forms end in a vowel.
Purple forms end in -s.
Blue forms end in -n.

Note:
  • The singular case/gender pairs that end in a vowel have since become leniting an - nominative feminine, genitive masculine, dative masculine/feminine.
  • Nom masc sing form ends in -s and hence before a vowel initial noun this -s was vowel flanked and hence lenited - sendosh. This then caused the preceding d to be hardened to t - sentosh. Hence the intrusive t- nowadays.

Old Irish:


singular
dual
plural

masc
fem
neut
masc
fem
neut
masc
fem
neut
nominative
in C, int V (h mutation)
inL
aN


in dà
inL
innaH
innaH
accusative
inN
inN
aN


in dà
innaH
innaH
innaH
genitive
inL
innaH
inL


in dà
innaN
innaN
innaN
dative
inL
inL
inL


in dib
inaib (h mutation)
inaib (h mutation)
inaib (h)

inL - int sh-, ind fh- lh- rh- nh-, in (+ lenition)


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