A h-uile? Na h-uile?? Càch??? Gach????

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Ever been confused by the three words Gaelic sports for all/every? It's one of those instances where Gaelic makes a fine distinction that English doesn't make so this is a bit tricky for learners.

But it's actually not that difficult. Basically, the distinction that Gaelic makes is between whether the beings involved are "all" doing the same thing together or doing different things but at the same time. Let me give you an example:

Bha a h-uile duine ann an eaglais
Bha na h-uile duine ann an eaglais

In the first example, a bunch of people are in a church - but they're all doing different things. Think of St. Peters, in Rome, where some are wandering around, some are talking on their mobile phones, and some are praying for a new Mercedes-Benz. However, in the second example, it's implied that the people are in a church for a particular purpose. For example, they are a choir group and standing there all having a sing-along. The clue to remembering the difference is the a/na. When you use a you are focussing on the individual, but if you use the plural na you are focussing on the group as a whole.

Here are a few more examples:

Bha a h-uile ag obair gu trang
Bha na h-uile ag obair gu trang

In the first example, there are lots of people, working on their own. They might be working on individual tasks or in different rooms in the same building. In the second example, you are focussing on the fact that there is a group of people working in the same room (as opposed to some other people scattered throughout the rest of the building) or that they're all working on the same task, such as making a pizza.

Bidh a h-uile a' dol a Bheinn Nibheis
Bidh na h-uile a' dol a Bheinn Nibheis

Again, in the first example you are focussing on the individuality - there's a number of people going to Ben Nevis, but they're all going there in different cars, all bringing their own picnic. In the second example, people are going there as a group. They might all be on the same bus or belong to a hiking club on their annual New Year's Picnic on the summit. In any case, there is something more communal about the phrase with na. In a sense, a h-uile is more like 'each' and na h-uile more like 'all, the whole lot'.

So where does this leave càch and gach? Even though they look very similar, they aren't simply variations of the same word. Càch simply means 'the rest' of a group. Think of a group of people who are climbing Ben Nevis - the ones who are in front might at some point ask themselves cà bheil càch? 'where's the rest (of our group)?' Gach on the other hand just means 'all'. Why on earth another word for 'all'? Well, for one thing, gach doesn't make the differentiation explained above. On the other hand, although it used to be much more common, it's been largely supplanted by uile, in modern colloquial Gaelic. So where does that leave you? In a nutshell, if you are writing a high register text or making a fancy speech, you may want to throw in a gach here and there, but don't use it on the phone to your granny.

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