Speak Irish: Yes and No
By Bob Carney
Cén chaoi a nhfuil sibh? Tá suil agam, go bhfuil sibh go maith. In English the words yes and no are not used all of the time when answering questions in the affirmative or the negative. Sometimes the question is answered using a form of the verb that posed the question: “Are you going to the store?” “I am. Or “I am not.”
“Could you pick up milk?” “I could.” “I could not.”
Othertimes, it isn’t possible to answer with yes or no, “You don’t like tea?”
The Irish language, Gaeilge, has no words for yes or no at all. An echo response of the questioning verb is used. We’ve been exposed to examples using the Irish word tá (taw) to be, used as a response.
For example, the question, “An bhfuil sé ag teacht?” (ahn will shay ahg chohkt) “Is he coming?” can be answered simply, “tá” (taw) is, or “níl” (neel) is not. In Ireland it is common to use an echo response even if English is being spoken, “Will you have a cup?” “I will”.
You can find the verb tá and it’s forms in the present, past and future tenses in the September 2020 issue of The Ohio Irish American News in the column, “Tús Maith Part 2” online. Here are a few examples of tá in different tenses.
An bhfuil tú go maith? (ahn will too guh mah) Are you good?
Tá. Tá mé go maith (taw.taw may guh mah) Yes. I am good.
Níl. Tá mé tinn. (neel. taw may tcheen) No. I am sick.
Nach raibh sí tinn? (noch rev shee tcheen) Wasn’t she sick?
Tá, ach tá sí ceart go leor anois. (taw, ach taw shee kyart guh lore ah-nesh) Yes, but she is ok now.
Tá and it’s other forms is the only verb that the following rules do not apply to.
To Form a Question
To form a question in the present tense using regular verbs, An must be added before the verb, which then adds eclipsis or urú (uh-roo). This is when a new letter is put at the beginning of the word and eclipses or takes over for the original letter, changing the sound of the word. Some consonants cannot be eclipsed, but those that can be. are eclipsed by a specific letter. Vowels are not eclipsed.
An bhfeiceann tú an bainne? (ahn wehk-ann too ahn bahn-ya) Do you see the milk?
Feicim. (fek-im) I see.
The verb feic (fek) means see, to ask a question, an was added before the verb, which causes urú, an bhfeic, and then the ending was changed to indicate its present tense by adding eann, an bhfeiceann. In the response, feicim, the ending was changed to indicate “I” see, combining the verb with the pronoun. To make a statement negative, ní is used, which lenitesséimhiú (shay-voo), a following consonant.
An bhféachann tú ar an teilifís gach oíche? (ahn wehk-ann too ar ahn tella-feesh gahck ee-ha)
Do watch television every night?
Ní fhéachaim (nee eck-im) I don’t watch (see)
Abair (ah-bear) say
Bí (bee) be
Bris (brish) break
Ceannaigh (kya-nee) buy
Déan (dan) do
Faigh (fay) get
Ithe (ih-ha) eat
Ól (ull) drink
Téigh (tay) go
Tuig (tigg) understand
Verb endings to indicate present tense are determined by how many syllables and if it is broad or slender. Verbs with one syllable fall under the first conjugation of present tense verbs. And depending if the last vowel in the verb is slender (i or e), or broad (a o u), these endings would be used.
PRONOUN BROAD ENDING SLENDER ENDING
Mé (may) I ann mé or aim eann mé or im
Tú (too) you ann tú eann tú
Sé (shay) he ann sé eann se
Sí (shee) she ann sí eann sí
Muid (mwidge) we ann muid or aimid eann muid or imid
Sibh (shiv) y’all ann sibh eann sibh
Siad (shee-ud) they ann siad eann siad
Here’s an example using a verb that starts with a vowel. Ithe = eat
An itheann tú arán? (ahn ih-hahn too uh-rawn) Do you eat bread?
Ithim. (ih-him) I eat. or Ní ithim. (nee ih-him) I don’t eat.
An ólann Brian tae? (ahn o-lahn bree-un tay) Does Brian drink tea?
Ólann sé tae. (o-lahn shay tay) He drinks tea.
An dtuigeann tú Gaelainn? (ahn dig-ihn too gway-linn) Do you understand Irish?
Ní thuigim. (nee higg-um) I don’t understand.
Tuigim (tigg-um) I understand
Tuigim beagán (tigg-im bea-gone) I understand a little.
An mbíonn tú anseo go minic? (ahn meon too ahn-sho guh min-ik) Are you here often?
Bíonn. (bee-on) Be (yes) or Ní bhím (nee vee-on) Don’t be. (no)
An gceannaíonn sé carr nua gach blíain? (ahn gyahn-ee-un shay cahr nu-ah gahk blee-un)
Does he buy a new car every year?
Ceannaíonn. (kyahn-ee-un) Buys (yes)
So even though there is no yes or no in Irish, we can answer questions with the declarative or the negative declarative of the verb used in asking the question. Remeber the above examples are regular verbs in the present tense.
Once again, I would like to stress that as we learned English we learned grammar by speaking, and learned to hate it by our high school years. It is somewhat similar with Irish and while important, it is not the main aspect of communication. It can be acquired over time as we develop our languge skills. There are many good Irish grammar books available if you would like to learn more about it.
SLÁN GO FOÍLL!
*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Morrighán and Rían and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at email@example.com.