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A2 - Beginners : Grammar - Verbs
A2 - Tòiseachadh : Gràmar - Gnìomhairean

What is a verb?

A verb expresses a wide range of meanings such as actions (run, jump, eat, drink), sensations (hurt, thirst, hunger) and states of being (is, was, will be).

It is very important that you can identify verbs, as they are the most important words in any sentence.

In English you can join two or three words together to make a verb group: 'I shall be going', 'I was running', 'I am thinking'.

Gaelic does this too for some of its tenses:

Bidh mi a’ falbh

I shall be going

Bha sibh a’ ruith

You were running

Tha e a’ smaoineachadh

He is thinking

A verb has a meaning, a person, and a tense.

  • We use the infinitive to show only the meaning. The infinitive in Gaelic always has the particle a or a dh’ in front of it (a choiseachd – to walk; a dh’òl – to drink). The infinitive does not tell you who or when. It only tells you the meaning.
  • In the example, Tha e a’ smaoineachadh, there is meaning, person and tense.
    • You can tell from the use of the verb tha that the action is happening in the present.
    • You can tell from the use of the word e who is involved in the action.
    • You can tell from the verbal noun a’ smaoineachadh what the action is.
  • Verbs control the sentence: remember this.
  • When you look up a verb in the dictionary, you will find the root form. This is the part of the verb that is the command form.

In the dictionary you should also find the verbal noun form. From it you are able to obtain the infinitive form. Infinitives are derived by aspirating the verbal noun: a’ cura chur; a’ dùnadha dhùnadh; a’ pòsadha phòsadh; ag òla dh’òl; a’ fuireacha dh’fhuireach. Note that a dh’ is used with verbs beginning with a vowel or f+ vowel.

Past and future tense of regular verbs

Forming the past and future tenses of verbs in Gaelic is straightforward on the whole. If you know the root of a verb, then you can form other tenses.

Take the root or command form coisich (walk).

The past tense

To form the past tense of the root coisich, you simply add an ‘h’ after the initial letter and coisich becomes choisich (walked).

However, there are variations in the way verbs form the past tense. They can be looked at in the following way:

  1. Eight consonants

    If a verb begins with consonants: b,c,d,g,m,p,s,t, add h after initial letter of the root to form the past tense.

    If we use the word mill (spoil), the past tense can be created

    mill = mhill (spoiled)

  2. Five vowels

    If a verb begins with vowel: a, e, i, o, u, add dh’ before initial vowel to form the past tense.

    We can apply this to the word ith (eat):

    ith = dh’ith (ate)

  3. Three consonants

    Verb begins with consonants: l, n, r — do not change in the past tense. An example of this would be the word nigh (wash).

    nigh = nigh (washed)

  4. One consonant followed by a vowel

    If a verb begins with f and vowel, treat as if word begins with a vowel and precede the word with ‘dh’ and add ‘h’ after initial letter of the root word. Let’s apply this to the word faighnich (ask):

    faighnich = dh’fhaighnich (asked)

No Gaelic verbs ever begin with the letter ‘h’!

Summary of past tense

  • To form the past tense of verbs beginning with a consonant insert an h after the first letter of the root, e.g. dhùin (did shut ). The three exceptions are verbs beginning with the letters l, n, or r. They do not require an h, e.g. laigh (did lie).
  • All verbs beginning with a vowel put dh’ before the initial vowel to form the past tense, e.g. dh’òl (did drink).
  • Verbs which begin with f+vowel have dh’ inserted before the f and have an h inserted after the f, e.g. dh’fhuirich (stayed).

The Future Tense

To form the Future Tense:

  1. When the last vowel of the root form is a broad vowel (a,o,u) - for example, gabh - you simply add -aidh after the root so gabh becomes gabhaidh.

  2. When the last vowel of the root form is a narrow vowel (e,i) - for example, coisich - you simply add -idh after the root so coisich becomes coisichidh.

Irregular verbs

There are ten irregular verbs in Gaelic. It is worthwhile mastering these because they are very common in everyday speech.

Below is a table outlining the root, verbal noun, infinitive, past tense and future tense of all ten irregular verbs. You can test yourself on them in the test bite.

Root Verbal noun Infinitive Past tense Future tense
abair ag ràdh a ràdh thuirt their
say saying to say said will say
beir a’ breith a bhreith rug beiridh
catch catching to catch caught will catch
cluinn a’ cluinntinn a chluinntinn chuala cluinnidh
hear hearing to hear heard will hear
dean a’ dèanamh a dhèanamh rinn
do doing to do did will do
faic a’ faicinn a dh’fhaicinn chunnaic chì
see seeing to see saw will see
faigh a’ faighinn a dh’fhaighinn fhuair gheibh
get getting to get got will get
rach a’ dol a dhol chaidh thèid
go going to go went will go
ruig a’ ruigsinn a ruigsinn ràinig ruigidh
arrive, reach arriving, reaching to arrive, reach arrived, reached will arrive, reach
thoir a’ toirt a thoirt thug bheir
give giving to give gave will give
thig a’ tighinn a thighinn thàinig thig
come coming to come came will come