0. Contents


1. Imperative and indicative verb-forms
2. Generic and specific verb-forms
3. Dependent and independent verb-forms
4. Tense - Past, future and conditional verb-forms
5. Relative and absolute verb-forms
6. First-singular, first-plural and unconjugated verb-forms
7. Conjugation of imperative verb-forms
8. Verb-roots and suffixes
9. Fortis and lenis verb-forms

This page is for facts relating to Gaelic verb-forms. You can also find pages on verb inflection, defective verb-roots, and irregular verbs.

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

Here is a tabular summary of the taxonomy of verb-forms presented here, using the verb falbh (to go away) as a model:

INDICATIVE
specific
generic

dependent
independent
dependent
independent
past
do dh'fhalbh
dh'fhalbh
do dh'fhalbhach
dh'fhalbhadh
future
f(h)albh
falbhaidh, dh'fhalbhas
f(h)albhar
falbhar, dh'fhalbhar
conditional
f(h)albhadh, f(h)albhainn, f(h)albhamaid
dh'fhalbhadh, dh'fhalbhainn, dh'fhalbhamaid
f(h)albhteadh
dh'fhalbhteadh

IMPERATIVE
first
second
third

singular
plural
singular
plural

specific
falbham
falbhamaid
falbh
falbhaibh
falbhadh
generic
falbhtear

1. Imperative and indicative verb-forms


a. Every Gaelic verb-form is either imperative or indicative.

b. Imperative verb-forms are used in commands and entreaties.

c. For example, the verb-forms in the following sentences (all of which are forms of the verb ceannaich - "to buy") are all imperative:
  • Ceannaich an taigh! (Buy the house!)
  • Ceannaicheamaid an taigh! (Let's buy the house!)
  • Na ceannaicheadh iad an taigh! (May they not buy the house!)
  • Ceannaichtear an taigh! (May the house be bought! May someone buy the house! May the house sell!)

d. Indicative verb-forms are used in statements, questions and relative clauses.

e. For example, the verb-forms in the following sentences are all indicative:
  • Cheannaich mi an taigh. (I bought the house.)
  • An ceannaicheadh sibh an taigh? (Would you buy the house?)
  • Cha cheannaichear an taigh. (The house won't be bought. Nobody will buy the house. The house won't sell.)
  • am fear a cheannaicheas an taigh (the man who'll buy the house)

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2. Generic and specific verb-forms


a. Every Gaelic verb-form is either generic or specific.

b. Generic verb-forms have an assumed, generic subject.

c. For example, the verbs in the following sentences are all generic:
  • [imperative generic] Ceannaichtear an taigh! (May the house be bought! May someone buy the house! May the house sell!)
  • [imperative generic] Na ceannaichtear an taigh! (May the house not be bought! May nobody buy the house! May the house not sell!)
  • [indicative generic] Cheannaicheadh an taigh. (The house was bought; Someone bought the house. The house sold.)
  • [indicative generic] Nach ceannaichear an taigh? (Won't the house be bought? Will nobody buy the house? Won't the house sell?)

d. Specific verb-forms do not.

e. For example, the verb-forms in the following sentences are all specific:
  • [imperative specific] Ceannaicheadh iad an taigh! (May they buy the house!)
  • [imperative specific] Na ceannaichibh an taigh! (Don't buy the house!)
  • [indicative specific] Ceannaichidh i an taigh. (She'll buy the house.)
  • [indicative specific] Cha cheannaichinn an taigh. (I wouldn't buy the house.)

f. Note that generic verb-forms are sometimes called "passive" or "impersonal", and specific verb-forms are often labelled as "active".

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3. Dependent and independent verb-forms


a. Every indicative Gaelic verb-form is either dependent or independent.

b. Dependent verb-forms are found after verbal particles like cha, aN and nach.

c. For example, the verb-forms in the following sentences are all dependent:
  • [dependent specific] Cha cheannaich mi an taigh. (I won't buy the house.)
  • [dependent specific] Am ceannaicheadh iad an taigh? (Would they buy the house?)
  • [dependent generic] Nach ceannaichear an taigh? (Won't the house be bought? Will nobody buy the house? Won't the house sell?)
  • [dependent generic] Cha cheannaicheadh an taigh. (The house wasn't bought; Nobody bought the house; The house didn't sell.)

d. Independent verb-forms can be used in direct statements, without requiring a preceding verbal particle, as well as after the relative clause particles a and na.

e. For example, the verb-forms in the following sentences are all independent:
  • [independent specific] Ceannaichidh iad an taigh. (They'll buy the house.)
  • [independent specific] Cheannaich sinn an taigh. (We bought the house.)
  • [independent specific] am fear a cheannaicheas an taigh (the man who'll buy the house)
  • [independent generic] Cheannaicheadh an taigh. (The house was bought. Someone bought the house. The house sold.)
  • [independent generic] Ceannaichear an taigh. (The house will be bought. Someone will buy the house. The house will sell.)
  • [independent generic] an taigh a cheannaichteadh (the house that would be bought; the house that someone would buy; the house that would sell)

f. Note that the distinction between dependent and independent is irrelevant to imperative verb forms.

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4. Tense - Past, future and conditional verb-forms


a. Every indicative Gaelic verb-form has a tense - either past, future or conditional.

b. Here are some examples of past-tense verb-forms (using forms of the verb faic - "to see", since the verb ceannaich - "to buy" - does not have a simple past dependent form):
  • [past dependent specific] Chan fhaca mi an taigh. (I didn't see the house.)
  • [past dependent generic] Chan fhacas an taigh. (The house wasn't seen. Nobody saw the house.)
  • [past independent specific] Chunnaic mi an taigh. (I saw the house.)
  • [past independent generic] Chunnacas an taigh. (The house was seen. Someone saw the house.)

c. Here are some examples of future-tense verb-forms:
  • [future dependent specific] Cha cheannaich mi an taigh. (I won't buy the house.)
  • [future dependent generic] Cha cheannaichear an taigh. (The house won't be bought. Nobody will buy the house. The house won't sell.)
  • [future independent specific] Ceannaichidh mi an taigh. (I'll buy the house.)
  • [future independent generic] Ceannaichear an taigh. (The house will be bought. Someone will buy the house. The house will sell.)

d. Here are some examples of conditional-tense verb-forms:
  • [conditional dependent specific] Cha cheannaichinn an taigh. (I wouldn't buy the house.)
  • [conditional dependent generic] Cha cheannaichteadh an taigh. (The house wouldn't be sold. Nobody would buy the house. The house wouldn't sell.)
  • [conditional independent specific] Cheannaichinn an taigh. (I would buy the house.)
  • [conditional independent generic] Cheannaichteadh an taigh. (The house would be bought. Someone would buy the house. The house would sell.)

e. Again note that the category of tense is irrelevant to imperative verb-forms.

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5. Relative and absolute verb-forms


a. Every future-tense independent specific verb-form is either relative or absolute.

b. The relative verb-forms are only used after the relative clause particles a, na and and ma.

c. For example, the following future-tense independent specific verb-forms are relative:
  • am fear a cheannaicheas an taigh (the man who'll buy the house)
  • na sgrìobhas mi (the one I will write)
  • ma ghearras e am feur (if he cuts the grass)

d. And the following ones are absolute:
  • Cheannaichidh mi an taigh. (I'll buy the house.)
  • Sgrìobhaidh mi leabhar. (I'll write a book.)
  • Gearraidh e am feur. (He'll cut the grass.)

e. Note that the distinction between relative and absolute is irrelevant to: imperative verb-forms; indicative generic verb-forms (including future independent ones); past- and conditional-tense verb forms; and dependent verb forms (even future specific ones).

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6. First-singular, first-plural and unconjugated verb-forms


a. Every conditional-tense specific verb-form is either conjugated or unconjugated.

b. For example:
  • [conjugated conditional dependent specific] Cha cheannaichinn an taigh. (I wouldn't buy the house.)
  • [unconjugated conditional dependent specific] Cha cheannaicheadh e an taigh. (He wouldn't buy the house.)
  • [conjugated conditional independent specific] Cheannaicheamaid an taigh. (We would buy the house.)
  • [unconjugated conditional independent specific] Cheannaicheadh sibh an taigh. (You would buy the house.)

c. In addition, every conjugated conditional-tense specific verb-form is either first-singular or first-plural.

d. For example:
  • [first-singular conditional dependent specific] Cha cheannaichinn an taigh. (I wouldn't buy the house.)
  • [first-singular conditional dependent specific] Cha cheannaicheamaid an taigh. (We wouldn't buy the house.)
  • [first-singular conditional independent specific] Cheannaichinn an taigh. (I would buy the house.)
  • [first-singular conditional independent specific] Cheannaicheamaid an taigh. (We would buy the house.)

e. Note that the distinction between conjugated and unconjugated is irrelevant to generic verb-forms, since they already contain an implicit third person subject.

f. Note also that there are no conjugated conditional verb forms for second- or third-person subjects.

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7. Conjugation of imperative verb-forms


a. Every imperative specific verb-form has a person - either first, second or third.

b. For example:
  • [first-person] Ceannaicheam an taigh! (May I buy the house!)
  • [second-person] Na ceannaichibh an taigh! (Don't buy the house!)
  • [third-person] Ceannaicheadh i an taigh! (May she buy the house!)

c. In addition, every first- or second-person imperative specific verb-form has a number - either singular or plural.

d. For example:
  • [first-person singular] Ceannaicheam an taigh! (May I buy the house!)
  • [first-person plural] Na ceannaicheamaid an taigh! (Let's not buy the house!)
  • [second-person singular] Ceannaich an taigh! (Buy the house!)
  • [second-person plural] Na ceannaichibh an taigh! (Don't buy the house!)

e. Note that imperative generic verb-forms do not conjugate in this way (since they all contain an implicit, generic third-person subject).

f. Note also that the grammatical categories of person and number are irrelevant to indicative verb-forms in Gaelic, modulo the first-person conditional specific forms discussed above.

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8. Verb-roots, prefixes and suffixes


a. Gaelic verb-forms consist of up to three parts:
  1. an optional dh' prefix;
  2. an obligatory verb-root;
  3. an optional verb-suffix.

b. For example:
  • Ceannaichidh mi bradan. (I will buy a salmon.) - the verb-form ceannaichidh consists of the verb-root ceannaich (buy) and the suffix -idh (future-tense absolute independent indicative specific).
  • Dh'fhosgailteadh an doras. (The door would close.) - the verb-form dh'fhosgailteadh consists of the dh' prefix, the (lenis variant of the) verb-root fosgail (open), and the suffix -teadh (conditional-tense independent indicative generic).
  • Chaidh mi dhan bhaile. (I went into town.) - the verb-form chaidh (went) consists of a (defective) verb-root and nothing else.
  • Dh'ith iad na h'ùbhlan. (They ate the apples) - the verb-form dh'ith consists of the dh' prefix, and the verb-root ith (eat), but no suffix.

c. The dh' prefix can only be added to a verb-root starting with a vowel, or with fh- followed by a vowel.

d. You can read more about verb suffixes here.

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9. Fortis and lenis verb-forms


a. Past- and conditional-tense independent verb-forms are always (morphosyntactically) lenis.

b. For example:
  • [past independent specific] Cheannaich mi an taigh. (I bought the house.)
  • [past independent generic] Cheannaicheadh an taigh. (The house was bought. Someone bought the house. The house sold.)
  • [conditional independent specific] Cheannaichinn an taigh. (I would buy the house.)
  • [conditional independent generic] Cheannaichteadh an taigh. (The house would be bought. Someone would buy the house. The house would sell.)

c. As are future-tense independent verb-forms which are preceded by one of the relative particles (a, na or ma).

d. For example:
  • [future independent specific] an taigh a cheannaicheas iad (the house that they will buy)
  • [future independent generic] ma cheannaichear an taigh (if the house is bought; if someone buys the house; if the house sells).

e. In addition, a (morphosyntactically) lenis independent verb-form cannot start with a (surface) vowel. In these cases, a dh' prefix must be added.

f. For example:
  • [past independent specific] Dh'òl mi am bainne. (I drank the milk.)
  • [past independent generic] Dh'òladh am bainne. (The milk was drunk. Someone drank the milk.)
  • [conditional independent specific] Dh'fhosglainn an doras. (I would open the door.)
  • [conditional independent generic] Dh'fhosgailteadh an doras. (The door would be opened. Someone would open the door. The door would open.)
  • [future independent specific] na h-ùbhlan a dh'itheas iad (the apples that they will eat)
  • [future independent generic] ma dh'ithear an t-ubhal (if the apple is eaten; if someone eats the apple)

g. Future-tense independent verb-forms are otherwise almost always (morphosyntactically) fortis.

h. For example:
  • [future independent specific] Ceannaichaidh mi an taigh. (I will buy the house.)
  • [future independent generic] Ceannaichear an taigh. (The house will be bought. Someone will buy the house. The house will sell.)
  • [future independent specific] Òlaidh mi am bainne. (I will drink the milk.)
  • [future independent generic] Fosglar an doras. (The door will be opened. Someone will open the door. The door will open.)

i. However, there are a handful of exceptions, all of which involve irregular future-tense verb-roots which are obligatorily lenis -
  • their (will say), chith (will see), nith (will do), gheibh (will get), thèid (will go), thig (will come), bheir (will give).

j. For example:
  • Thèid mi dhan bhaile. (I will go into town.)
  • Chithear an taigh. (The house will be seen. Someone will see the house.)
  • Thig iad a-steach. (They will come in.)
  • Bheirear dhomh an t-òr. (The gold will be given to me. I will be given the gold. Someone will give me the gold. )

k. Imperative verb-forms are almost always fortis.

l. Exceptions - thig, thoir.

m. Dependent verb-forms are either fortis or lenis, depending on the preceding particle.

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