Little by Little Beag air Bheag
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’ cur – a chur; a’ dùnadh – a dhùnadh; a’ pòsadh – a phòsadh; ag òl – a dh’òl; a’ fuireach – a 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:
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)
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)
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)
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:
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.
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.
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||nì|
|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|