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A2 - Beginners : Grammar - The definite article

Introduction

The definite article is simply the word ‘the’. When you put ‘the’ in front of a word, you are pointing out something in particular. When you say ‘the car’, you are saying it is something definite. It is a particular car.

In English the indefinite article exists. In the statement ‘Can you rent a car to France?’ the car which is being references is any car. The indefinite article does not exist in Gaelic.

In English ‘the’ is the only form of the definite article. In Gaelic there are eight different forms of the definite article.

The first four articles (an, am, a’ and an t-) are used in the nominative singular case. These four articles can appear in other cases, but we shall only consider them in the nominative case.

The next two (na, na h-) can be used to show that the definite article is in the nominative plural case.

The last two (nan, nam) are used to show that the article is in the genitive plural case.

The definite article - nominative case

  1. an

    In Gaelic the definite article an is used in the following circumstances:

    • before feminine words beginning with a vowel.
    • before masculine nouns beginning with the three consonants c, g and s
    • before masculine and feminine nouns beginning with the consonants d, l, n, r and t.
    • before feminine nouns beginning with the letter s apart from those beginning with sl, sn, sr, or s+ vowel (see below for information on these nouns.)
    • before feminine nouns beginning with the letter f followed by a vowel. A word like this requires the letter h to be inserted before the vowel when using the definite article. Take faoileag (a seagull), for example. It becomes an fhaoileag.
  2. am

    In Gaelic the definite article am is used in front of masculine words beginning with the consonants b, f, m and p.

  3. a’

    In Gaelic the definite article a’ is used in front of feminine words beginning with the consonants b, c, g, m, and p. When you put a’ in front of feminine words beginning with the consonants b, c, g, m, and p, you also insert an h after the initial consonant, e.g a’ bhanais, a’ bhean.

  4. an t-

    In Gaelic the definite article an t- is used before masculine and feminine nouns. An t- is used before masculine nouns beginning with a vowel. An t- is used before feminine nouns beginning with with sl, sn, sr, or s+ vowel.

  5. na, na h-

    In English, there is no difference whether the noun after the definite article is singular or plural, the article is still ‘the’. In Gaelic, however, when the noun is plural the definite article changes to na or na h-.

    Na is used when the noun following it begins with a consonant, eg na faoileagan (the seagulls) or na daoine (the people).

    Na h- is used when the noun following it begins with a vowel, eg na h-òrain (the songs) or na h-eich (the horses).

Definite Articles in the Genitive Case

The genitive case is the case a noun goes into when it is indicating origin, possession or character.

The definite articles in the genitive case are as follows:

Definite article Nominative singular form of the article Genitive form of the article Meaning
an an rathad deireadh an rathaid the end of the road
a’ an gille ceann a’ ghille the boy’s head
an t- an t-òran faclan an òrain the words of the song
an t- sneachd coire an t-sneachda Corrie of the snow, literally kettle of the snow
Definite article Nominative singular form of the article Genitive form of the article Meaning
na a’ chaileag leabhar na caileig the girl’s book
na h- an uiseag gob na h-uiseig the beak of the lark
Definite article Nominative plural form of the article Genitive form of the article Meaning
nan na caileagan leabhraichean nan caileagan the girls’ books
nam (before nouns beginning with b,f,m,p) na pàrantan cùram nam pàrantan the parents’ concerns
na bàtaichean caladh nam bàta (many genitive plurals have the same form as the singular) the harbour of the boats

Definite articles in the prepositional case

The prepositional case is as its name suggests. It is the case a noun goes into when preceded by a preposition. When a preposition is placed before the definite article, masculine nouns can have changes at the beginning of the word and feminine nouns can have changes at the beginning and inside the word.

The definite articles in the prepositional case are as follows:

Definite article Nominative form of the article Prepositional form of the article Meaning
an an rathad anns an rathad in the road
an an t-òran anns an òran in the song
a’ am bàta anns a’ bhàta in the boat
an t- an sluagh leis an t-sluagh with the people
Definite article Nominative form of the article Prepositional form of the article Meaning
a’ a’ chaileag ris a’ chaileig to the girl
an an uiseag air an uiseig on the lark
an t- an t-slat leis an t-slait with the (fishing) rod
Definite article/th> Nominative form of the article Prepositional form of the article Meaning
na na caileagan ris na caileagan to the girls
na na càraichean anns na càraichean in the cars
na h- na h-òrain anns na h-òrain in the songs
na h- na h-uiseagan air na h-uiseagan on the larks

Remember that the only time you use a’ in Gaelic is when it means the or when it is part of the verbal noun as in a’ coiseachd, a’ bruidhinn, a’ smaoineachadh and so on. The verbal noun is the form of the verb that allows us to say the equivalent of English 'walking', 'speaking', 'thinking'. Therefore, you could say that a’ is going to be either ‘the’ or ‘the –ing thing’.