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Beginners (A1)- Unit 19 - Expressing capability
Luchd-tòiseachaidh (A1) - Aonad 19 - Expressing capability

Introduction

An urrainn dhut seo a thogail?

Can you lift this?

The word urrainn is a very useful one meaning 'ability' and it is used most commonly in a construction with the assertive verb is and the preposition do, which means 'to' or 'for'. Here are some examples of how it works (note how we can add 'n' to the end of the preposition do to indicate the definite article – 'the woman'):

Is urrainn don bhoireannach sin a dhèanamh.

The woman can do that.

An urrainn don chat sin a dhèanamh?

Can the cat do that?

Chan urrainn don bhalach sin a dhèanamh.

The boy can’t do that.

Nach urrainn don chù sin a dhèanamh?

Can’t the dog do that?

Note that in some dialects do is dha. Here are the same sentences as above but using dha (again, note that n is added to the end of the preposition to indicate the definite article):

Is urrainn dhan bhoireannach sin a dhèanamh

The woman can do that.

An urrainn dhan chat sin a dhèanamh?

Can the cat do that?

Chan urrainn dhan bhalach sin a dhèanamh

The boy can’t do that

Nach urrainn dhan chù sin a dhèanamh?

Can’t the dog do that?

Now notice how we deal with a question:

Cò as urrainn seo a dhèanamh?

Who can do this?

In this example you will see the 'i' of is being combined with the article 'a' to make as urrainn rather than is urrainn. You will not notice this difference in speech, only in writing.

And here is what happens if there is no noun, simply a pronoun, i.e. we want to say 'he can’t do that' or 'they can’t do that'. For this, we need to know the prepositional pronouns associated with the preposition do. Here they are:

dhomh (do + mi) to/for me
dhut (do + thu) to/for you
(singular/informal)
dha (do + e) to/for him
dhi (do + i) to/for her
dhuinn (do + sinn) to/for them
dhuibh (do + sibh) to/for you
(plural/formal)
dhaibh (do + iad) to/for them

Conversation 1

In the conversation that follows, you will see how these prepositional pronouns are used with urrainn.

Conversation 1

Listen to the conversation:

Seònaid:
An urrainn dhut seo a thogail?
Can you lift this?
Alasdair:
Dè rud?
What [thing]?
Seònaid:
A’ chlach mhòr seo.
This big stone.
Alasdair:
Chan urrainn, is mòr am beud. An urrainn dhutsa?
No, more’s the pity. Can you?
Seònaid:
Chan urrainn. Tha i ro throm.
I can’t. It is too heavy.
Alasdair:
Cò as urrainn clach mar seo a thogail?
Who can lift a stone like this?
Seònaid:
Is urrainn do Mhichelle. Tha ise làidir.
Michelle can. She is strong.
Alasdair:
Ach tha ise air falbh.
But she is away.
Seònaid:
A bheil? Càite a bheil i?
Is she? Where is she?
Alasdair:
Chan urrainn dhomh innse dhut.
I can’t tell you.
Seònaid:
Carson nach urrainn?
Why can’t you?
Alasdair:
Oir chan eil fhios agam.
Because I don’t know.
Seònaid:
Nach urrainn dhut faighinn a-mach?
Can’t you find out?
Alasdair:
Chan urrainn.
No.
Seònaid:
Carson? Tha a màthair a’ fuireach faisg air seo.
Why? Her mother lives close to here.
Alasdair:
Chan urrainn dhomh dhol a chèilidh oirre.
I can’t go to visit her.
Seònaid:
Carson nach urrainn? Chan eil mi a’ tuigsinn.
Why not? I don’t understand.
Alasdair:
Chan urrainn dhomh gluasad.
I can’t move.
Seònaid:
Ciamar nach urrainn dhut gluasad?
How can’t you move?
Alasdair:
Oir tha mo bharraillean fon chloich!
Because my shoelaces are under the stone!

Can you lift this?

An urrainn dhut seo a thogail?

Can you lift this?

Conversation 2

In Conversation 2, we see how the conditional and past forms of the assertive verb is (ie bu or b’ before a vowel) can be used with urrainn. They are identical to each other in form eg cha b’ urrainn dhomh means 'I couldn’t' as in 'I wasn’t able to' (past) or 'I wouldn’t be able to' (conditional).

This is the end of unit 19. Why not test yourself to see how much you've learnt?

Everybody goes to school and at times we all like to look back at our childhood. Unit 20 will help you reminisce in Gaelic.

Slàn leat!

Conversation 2

Listen to the conversation:

Iain:
Am b’ urrainn dhut rudeigin innse dhomh?
Could you tell me something?
Ceitidh:
Dè rud?
What [thing]?
Iain:
Dè cho sean ’s a tha Mòrag NicLeòid?
How old is Morag MacLeod?
Ceitidh:
Cha b’ urrainn idir.
I couldn’t at all.
Iain:
Ciamar nach b’ urrainn? Is ise d’ antaidh.
How could you not? She is your aunt.
Ceitidh:
Chan eil fhios agam gu dè an aois a tha i.
I don’t know how old she is.
Iain:
Nach d’ fhuair thu sin a-mach?
Did you not find that out?
Ceitidh:
Cha b’ urrainn dhi innse dhomh.
She couldn’t tell me.
Iain:
Cha b’ urrainn dhi innse dhut! Chan eil mi a’ creidsinn sin.
She couldn’t tell you. I don’t believe that.
Ceitidh:
Cha b’ urrainn dhi cuimhneachadh cuin a rugadh i.
She couldn’t remember when she was born.
Iain:
Ach bidh rudeigin aice a dh’innseas sin dhi.
But she will have something that tells her that.
Ceitidh:
Cha b’ urrainn dhi sin a lorg.
She couldn’t find that.
Iain:
Chan urrainn dhomh sin a chreidsinn.
I can’t believe that.
Ceitidh:
Tha mi duilich, ach ’s e an fhìrinn a th’ agam.
I am sorry but I am telling the truth (lit: it is the truth that is at me).
Iain:
A bheil duine sam bith ann a b’ urrainn innse dhomh?
Is there anyone who could tell me?
Ceitidh:
Cha chreid mi gu bheil. Bidh e dìomhair gu sìorraidh.
I don’t think so. It will be secret for ever.