0. Contents


  1. General characteristics of nouns
  2. Lexical nouns - common nouns and proper nouns
  3. Grammatical nouns - pronouns, articles, etc.

This page is for facts relating to Gaelic nouns in general, including lexical nouns (common nouns and proper nouns), as well as grammatical nouns (pronouns, articles, determiners, numerals, quantifiers, and so on).

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

1. General characteristics of nouns


a. A noun, in the most general sense, is any word which can function as the subject or object of a verb, or the complement of a preposition.

For example:
  • Reic Seumas leabhar. (James sold a book) - Seumas (James) and leabhar (book) are the subject and object respectively of the verb reic (sold), and hence are both nouns.
  • ‍‍‍Chaidh Màiri chun taighe‍‍‍. (Mary went to the house) - taighe (house - genitive case) is the complement of the (genitive-governing) preposition chun (to+the), and hence is a noun.

b. Gaelic nouns carry case - every noun is either nominative, dative or genitive.

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

c. Gaelic nouns carry grammatical gender - every noun is either masculine, feminine or plural.

For example:
  • Chunnaic Màiri balaich. (Mary saw boys) - Màiri (Mary) is a feminine (nominative) noun and balaich (boys) is a plural (nominative) noun.
  • Tha brògan air bòrd. (There are shoes on a table) - brògan (shoes) is a plural (nominative) noun and bòrd (table) is a masculine (dative) noun.

d. Although it is traditional to distinguish between the grammatical categories of number (i.e. singular or plural) and gender (i.e. masculine or feminine), it turns out to be more convenient to regard Gaelic as having subsumed the two into a single, three-value system of gender. This is because the grammar makes no distinction between masculine and feminine gender for plural nouns.

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2. Lexical nouns - common nouns and proper nouns


a. One familiar subclass of lexical noun is the proper nouns, i.e. names of particular people and places. Proper nouns are always written with an initial uppercase letter.

For example:
  • Chunnaic Seonag Alasdair. (Janet saw Alexander) - both Seonag (Janet) and Alasdair (Alexander) are the given names of particular people (uniquely identifiable in the context of utterance), and hence are both (nominative) proper nouns.
  • Tha Glaschu ann an Alba. (Glasgow is in Scotland) - both Glaschu (Glasgow) and Alba (Scotland) are the names of particular places, and hence are both proper nouns (nominative and dative respectively).

Read more about proper nouns.

b. Another important subclass of lexical noun is the common nouns. Like in any other language, there are thousands of common nouns in Gaelic, each of which denotes not a particular person or place, but rather a particular type of object, group or substance (including abstract objects, groups and substances). Common nouns are usually not written with an initial uppercase letter in Gaelic.

For example:
  • Chunnaic bó caileagan. (A cow saw girls) - the (nominative, feminine) common noun (cow) denotes not one cow in particular but rather any object which can be classified as a cow; similarly the (nominative, plural) common noun caileagan (girls) denotes not one particular group of girls but rather can be used to refer to any such group.
  • Dh'òl Màiri fìon. (Mary drank wine) - the (nominative, masculine) common noun fìon (wine) denotes a particular kind of (liquid) substance.

Read more about common nouns.

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3. Grammatical nouns - pronouns, articles, etc.


a. It is not only common nouns and proper nouns that can function as the subject or object of a verb or the complement of a preposition in Gaelic. Like most languages, Gaelic contains a relatively small set of words which we collectively term grammatical nouns, as opposed to the lexical nouns discussed above.

b. One familiar subclass of grammatical noun is the personal pronouns.

For example:
  • Chunnaic Màiri iad. (Mary saw them) - iad (them) is a (third-person plural) personal pronoun, functioning as the object of the verb chunnaic (saw).
  • [another example needed].

Read more about personal pronouns.

c. For convenience, we include a much wider range of words in the umbrella term "grammatical noun" than is traditionally the case. For example, we will assume that articles, numerals and quantifiers are grammatical nouns, just like pronouns are (this is actually what most modern syntacticians believe to be the case - noun phrases are actually determiner phrases since it is the articles and other determiners that are assumed to be the heads rather than the nouns). In other words, we assume that the leftmost word in a Gaelic noun phrase is the syntactic head of that phrase, with the following words being dependent on it.

For example:
  • Chunnaic Màiri an cù. (Mary saw the dog) - the head of the noun phrase an cù (the dog) is the definite article an (the) rather than the common noun (dog). This means that it is an which is the object of chunnaic (saw) (and is the complement of an).
  • Chaidh mi dhan bhaile le trì caileagan. (I went into town with three girls) - the head of the noun phrase trì caileagan (three girls) is the numeral trì (three) rather than the the common noun caileagan (girls). This means that it is trì which is the complement of le (with) (and caileagan is the complement of trì).

Thus the following are all considered to be grammatical nouns:

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