0. Contents


  1. General facts about prepositions
  2. Case government
  3. Leniting and non-leniting prepositions
  4. Definite variant prepositions in -s
  5. Definite variant prepositions in -n
  6. Conjugated prepositions
  7. Possessive prepositions

This page is for facts relating to Gaelic prepositions in general, or to particular groups of prepositions with features in common. Each of the most common prepositions has its own special page, for facts relating to it alone:

In addition, there are also pages dedicated to:

1. General facts about prepositions


a. Prepositions in Gaelic behave much like prepositions in other languages. For example, they generally mark complements or modifiers of verbs and nouns:
  • Tha Màiri anns an taigh. (Mary is in the house), where the preposition anns (in) marks the predicate complement of the copula tha.
  • Bha mi a' bruidhinn ri sagart an-dè. (I was talking to a priest yesterday), where the preposition ri (to) marks the complement of the verbal noun bruidhinn (talking).
  • fear le falt fada (a man with long hair), where the preposition le (with) is a modifier of the noun fear (man).

fearlefaltfada.png
Surface dependencies in the phrase "fear le falt fada". Note that the preposition "le" is a modifier of the noun "fear".

b. A preposition must have exactly one complement, which must be a noun (or pronoun). Both the complement noun itself, and all its dependents, must follow the preposition (hence the name).

For example:
  • mu bhalach (about a boy): the lenited form of the noun balach (boy) is the complement of the preposition mu (about).
  • anns an taigh (in the house): the noun taigh (house) is the complement of the preposition anns (in); the definite article an (the) is the specifier of the noun taigh, and hence must follow the preposition.
  • air an t-seann bhòrd (on the old table): the lenited form of the noun bòrd (table) is the complement of the preposition air (on); both the definite article an t- and the adjective seann are dependents of the noun (specifier and modifier respectively), and hence must follow the preposition.

airantseannbhord.png
Surface dependencies (and lenition) in the phrase "air an t-seann bhòrd".

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2. Case government


a. By default, the complement of a Gaelic preposition must be in the dative case.

For example:
  • le caileig (with a girl), rather than ?le caileag, where caileig is the (formal register) dative form of the feminine noun caileag (girl). The genitive case is also unacceptable: *le caileige.
  • air a' bhòrd (on the table), rather than *air am bòrd, where a' bhòrd is the dative form of the masculine noun phrase am bòrd (the table). Again the genitive is also unacceptable: *air a' bhùird.

b. However, the complement of the following prepositions must be in the nominative case:

For example:
  • mar a' chailleach (like the old woman), rather than *mar a' chaillich (dative) or even *mar na cailliche (genitive).
  • gun chaileag (without a girl), rather than *gun chaileig (dative) or even *gun chaileige (genitive).

Read more about the nominative-governing prepositions

c. And the complement of the following prepositions must be in the genitive case:

For example:
  • far a' bhùird (off the table) rather than *far am bòrd (nominative) or *far a' bhòrd (dative).
  • rè na h-oidhche (during the night) rather than rè an oidhche (nominative/dative).

Read more about the genitive-governing prepositions

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3. Leniting and non-leniting prepositions


a. The following prepositions lenite the following noun or adjective [or numeral?], subject to dental blocking in the case of prepositions ending with -n:
  • [dative-governing] bho (from), de (of), do (to/for), fo (under), mu (about), ro (before), tro (through)
  • [nominative-governing] gun (without), mar (like).

For example:
  • do bhalach (for a boy), rather than *do balach.
  • fo sheann bhòrd (under an old table), rather than *fo seann bhòrd.
  • gun fhacal (without a word), rather than ?gun facal.

fosheannbhord.png
Surface dependencies and lenition in the phrase "fo sheann bhòrd". Note that the preposition "fo" lenites the following word "sheann".

b. The following prepositions do not lenite the following noun or adjective [or numeral?]:

For example:
  • le balach (with a boy), rather than *le bhalach.
  • eadar clach agus craobh (between a stone and a tree), rather than *eadar chlach agus craobh.
  • air seann bhòrd (on an old table), rather than *air sheann bhòrd.

airseannbhord.png
Surface dependencies and lenition in the phrase "air seann bhòrd". Note that the preposition "air" does not lenite the following word "seann".

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4. Definite variant prepositions in -s


a. The following five non-leniting, dative-governing prepositions cannot be immediately followed by a form of the definite article:

For example:
  • *le a' chaileig (with the girl), cf. le caileig (with a girl), le gach caileig (with every girl).
  • ?le na caileagan (with the girls), cf. le caileagan (with girls), le trì caileagan (with three girls).
  • *à an taigh (out of the house), cf. à taigh (out of a house).
  • *ann an na h-eaglaisean (in the churches), cf. ann an eaglaisean (in churches).

b. Rather, each of these prepositions has a special, definite variant ending in -s:
  • às, anns, gus, leis, ris.

c. These definite variant prepositions must be immediately followed by a form of the definite article (though see the detailed discussion for à, gu and le for a couple of exceptions).

For example:
  • leis a' chaileig (with the girl) but not *leis caileig (with a girl), ?leis gach caileig (with every girl).
  • leis na caileagan (with the girls), but not *leis caileagan (with girls), *leis trì caileagan (with three girls).
  • às an taigh (out of the house) but not *às taigh (out of a house).
  • anns na h-eaglaisean (in the churches) but not *anns eaglaisean (in churches).

d. Just like with their non-definite counterparts, the complement of the definite variant prepositions às, anns, gus, leis and ris must be in the dative case.

For example:
  • leis a' chaileig (with the girl), rather than ?leis a' chaileag (nominative) or *leis na caileige (genitive).
  • anns a' bhòrd (in the table), rather than *anns am bòrd (nominative) or *anns a' bhùird (genitive).

[Etymological note: "the preposition once ended in a consonant which fused with the *s- of the ancestor of the definite article" (Gillies/Ball, p.193). Anyone care to add more detail?]

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5. Definite variant prepositions in -n


a. The situation with the leniting, dative-governing prepositions is similar, but not exactly the same. These seven prepositions cannot be immediately followed by a singular/dual form of the article (i.e. leniting an), but they can be followed by a plural one (i.e. na):
  • bho (from), de (of), do (for/to), fo (under), mu (about), ro (before), tro (through).

For example:
  • *fo a' bhòrd (under the table), cf. fo bhòrd (under a table), fo na bùird (under the tables).
  • *mu a' chaileig (about the girl), cf. mu chaileig (about a girl), mu na caileagan (about the girls).
  • *bho an eaglais (from the church), cf. bho eaglais (from a church), bho na h-eaglaisean (from the churches).

b. Each of these seven prepositions has a definite variant ending in -n:
  • bhon, den/dhen, don/dhan, fon, mun, ron, tron.

c. These definite variant prepositions should be immediately followed by a singular/dual form of the definite article (i.e. leniting an), but not by a plural definite article (i.e. na).

For example:
  • fon a' bhòrd (under the table), but not *fon na bùird (under the tables).
  • mun a' chaileig (about the girl), but not *mun na caileagan (about the girls).
  • bhon an eaglais (from the church), but not *bhon na h-eaglaisean (from the churches).

d. However, the definite article can be dropped after a definite variant preposition ending in -n (but not after one ending in -s).

For example:
  • fon bhòrd (under the table) is a variant on fon a' bhòrd, not to be confused with fo bhòrd (under a table).
  • mun chaileig (about the girl) is a variant on mun a' chaileig, not to be confused with mu chaileig (about a girl).
  • bhon eaglais (from the church) is a variant on bhon an eaglais, not to be confused with bho eaglais (from a church).
  • but *leis chaileig is not a possible variant on leis a' chaileig (with the girl).
  • and *anns eaglais is not a possible variant on anns an eaglais (in the church).

e. Just like with their non-definite counterparts, the complement of the definite variant prepositions
bhon, den/dhen, don/dhan, fon, mun, ron and tron must be in the dative case.

For example:
  • mun a' chaileig (about the girl), rather than ?mun a' chaileag (nominative) or *mun na caileige (genitive).
  • fon a' bhòrd (under the table), rather than *fon am bòrd (nominative) or *fon a' bhùird (genitive).

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6. Conjugated prepositions


a. A dative-governing preposition should not have one of the seven personal pronouns, i.e. mi, thu, e, i, sinn, sibh, iad as its complement (because the personal pronouns do not have a dative form, just a nominative one).

For example:
  • *aig mi (at me), where the personal pronoun mi (me) cannot be the complement of the preposition aig (at).
  • *bho iad (from them), where the personal pronoun iad (them) cannot be the complement of the preposition bho (from).
  • *ann an i (in her), where the personal pronoun i (her) cannot be the complement of the preposition ann an (in).

b. Rather, for every dative-governing preposition and every personal pronoun, there is a conjugated preposition, which should be used instead.

For example:
  • agam (at me) is used instead of *aig mi.
  • bhuapa (from them) is used instead of *bho iad.
  • innte (in her) is used instead of *ann an i.

c. These conjugated prepositions cannot have an surface complement (and hence are not really prepositions at all). The underlying complement personal pronoun has been incorporated into the preposition itself.

For example:
  • Tha leabhar aig Màiri. (Mary has a book, literally "A book is at Mary"), where Màiri is the object of the preposition aig (at).
  • Tha leabhar aice. (She has a book, literally "A book is at her"), where the conjugated preposition aice (at her) has no complement.
  • but *Tha leabhar aice Màiri. i.e. Màiri cannot be the object of the conjugated preposition aice (at her).

d. Here is a complete list of the conjugated prepositions:


à
aig
air
ann aN
gu
le
ri
... mi
asam
agam
orm
annam
thugam
leam
rium
... thu
asad
agad
ort
annad
thugad
leat
riut
... e
às
aige
air
ann
thuige
leis
ris
... i
aiste
aice
oirre
innte
thuice
leatha
rithe
... sinn
asainn
againn
oirnn
annainn
thugainn
leinn
r(u)inn
... sibh
asaibh
agaibh
oirbh
annaibh
thugaibh
leibh
r(u)ibh
... iad
asta
aca
orra
annta
thuca
leotha
riutha


bho
de
do
fo
mu
ro
tro
... mi
(bh)uam
dhìom
dhomh
fodham
umam
romham
tromham
... thu
(bh)uat
dhìot
dhu(i)t
fodhad
umad
romhad
tromhad
... e
(bh)uaidhe
dheth
dha
fodha
uime
roimhe
troimhe
... i
(bh)uaipe
dhith
dhi
foi(dh)pe
uimpe
roim(h)pe
troim(h)pe
... sinn
(bh)uainn
dhinn
dhuinn
fodhainn
umainn
romhainn
tromhainn
... sibh
(bh)uaibh
dhibh
dhuibh
fodhaibh
umaibh
romhaibh
tromhaibh
... iad
bhuapa/(bh)uat
dhiubh
dhaibh
fodhpa/fòpa
umpa
rom(h)pa
trom(h)pa

e. [Add a note on emphatic forms.]


singular


masc
fem
plural
first
-sa

-e
second
-sa

-se
third
-san
-se
-san
[The hyphen is generally omitted, unless it is needed to prevent violations of the spelling rule.]

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7. Possessive prepositions


a. For each of the dative-governing prepositions (apart from à, aig and air) and every possessive article (i.e. mo, do, a, ar, ur and aN), there is a possessive preposition, i.e. a single word which may be used instead of the two separate words.

For example:
  • nar taigh (in our house) may be used instead of ann an ar taigh (in our house).
  • lem chù (with my dog) may be used instead of le mo chù (with my dog).
  • trom baile (through their town) may be used instead of tro am baile (through their town).

b. These possessive prepositions have exactly the same effect on the following word as does the incorporated possessive article, in terms of leniting or not leniting a following consonant, prefixing h- or n- to a word beginning with a vowel, etc.

To be precise:
  • forms incorporating mo and do lenite the following word, e.g. fod bhòrd (under your table - fo do bhòrd).
  • forms incorporating the third-person singular masculine a also lenite the following word, e.g. mu chù (about his dog - mu a chù).
  • forms incorporating the third-person singular feminine a do not lenite the following word, e.g. mu cù (about her dog - mu a cù); however they do prefix h- to a following vowel, e.g. mu h-eaglais (about her church - mu a h-eaglais).
  • forms incorporating ar and ur prefix n- to a following vowel, e.g. bhor n-eaglais (from our church - bho ar n-eaglais).
  • forms incorporating aN assimilate with a following consonant, e.g. lem bó (with their cow - le am bó), len cù (with their dog - le an cù).

For example:
  • na baile (in her town) versus na bhaile (in his town), cf. ann an a baile (in her town) versus ann an a bhaile (his town).
  • bhor n-eaglais (from our church), cf. bho ar n-eaglais (from our church).
  • fom bòrd (under their table) versus fon doras (under their door), cf. fo am bòrd (under their table), fo an doras (under their door).

c. Note that in most cases, the third-person possessive preposition is identical to the preposition itself.

For example:
  • le cù can mean either "with a dog" or "with her dog" (i.e. le a cù); le chù means "with his dog" (i.e. le a chù).
  • bho h-eilean means "from her island" (i.e. bho a h-eilean); bho eilean can mean either "on an island" or "on his island" (i.e. bho a eilean).

d. Note also the following potential confusion with the third-person plural forms, where either the definite variant or the first person singular form is identical:
  • bhon eaglais can mean either "from the church" (i.e. bhon an eaglais) or "from their church" (i.e. bho an eaglais).
  • fom bhòrd (under my table - fo mo bhòrd) versus fom bòrd (under their table - fo am bòrd).

e. Here is a complete list of the possessive prepositions:

ann aN
gu
le
ri
... mo
nam
gum
lem
rim
... do
nad
gud
led
rid
... a
na
gu
le
ri
... ar
nar
gar
ler
rir
... ur
nur
gur
lur
rur
... aN
naN
guN
leN
riN


bho
de
do
fo
mu
ro
tro
... mo
bhom
d(h)em
dom/dham
fom
mum
rom
trom
... do
bhod
d(h)ed
dod/dhad
fod
mud
rod
trod
... a
bho
d(h)e
d(h)a
fo
mu
ro
tro
... ar
bhor
d(h)er
dor/d(h)a
for
mar
ror
tror
... ur
bhur
d(h)ur
d(h)ur
fur
mur
rur
trur
... aN
bhoN
d(h)eN
doN/d(h)aN
foN
muN
roN
troN

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