Ball gazing genitives

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
Am mùthadh mar a bha e 13:50, 17 dhen Iuchar 2019 le Akerbeltz (Deasbaireachd | mùthaidhean) (-(e)ag)
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Well, it's a little more sophisticated - an reliable - than ball gazing but there's always a margin of error. As with the page on predicting plurals this is work in progress but someone asked for.

Again to quote Captain Barbossa, the following pointers are more like guidelines. Genitives are hard to predict with certainty, but there are some things that can make life easier. Note also that some genitives vary by dialect.

As with plurals, if anyone starts talking at you about first declension, second declension, and so on, just nod politely and - unless you're aiming for a degree in historical linguistics - run. Though technically useful, working off the basis of these old categories requires in-depth knowledge of Old Irish... see what I mean?

As with plurals, irregular nouns are just that, irregular, so you need to learn those. The ones you should learn off as soon as possible are: athair, bean, bó, bràthair, brù, cù, deoch, Dia, druim, duine, Éirinn, fear, fuil, leabaidh, mac, muir, piuthar, sgian, taigh, talamh. There are lots more, but those will do for starters.

Best bets

Your best bets are special endings (in the nominative singular) which generally take specific genitives. These are the most reliable rules for predicting genitives and if a word has such an ending, you should go with the rules for that special ending in preference to more generic rules.


With a masculine noun ending in -ach, the genitive normally is -aich:

  • balach » balaich
  • boireannach » boireannaich

Watch out for a relatively small number of feminine nouns which end in -ach, for example, làrach. On the bright side, their genitive is often -aich or at worst -aiche (which in Hebridean Gaelic gets reduced to -aich anyway...):

  • làrach » làraich
  • gruagach » gruagaich(e)


Ignore gender with this ending as far as genitive marking goes. They don't change these days:

  • achd » achd
  • feachd » feachd
  • éifeachd » éifeachd


These are nice. They're almost all masculine and virtually all take -(a)idh as the genitive if the word consists of noun + adh, meaning that they must have two syllables, at least:

  • atharrachadh » atharrachaidh
  • moladh » molaidh


If you have a feminine noun with the diminutive ending -(e)ag, then the genitive will be -eige:

  • caileag » caileige
  • marag » maraige
  • cuileag » cuilaige

Careful, there are some masculine nouns which look like they have a diminutive ending -(e)ag at the end, in particular aiseag, but that's not a diminutive ending. Usually, the genitive is close though: -eig (» aiseig).


Also fairly predictably, words ending in -eal add -an for the plural:

  • caisteal » caistealan
  • inneal » innealan

As usual, there are exceptions, most notably perhaps aingeal which changes to ainglean.


These are agentive endings. Bits that you stick onto another noun to show that someone makes or does something, like -er in English which gives you fish » fisher, wash » washer, clean » cleaner, and so on. The plural of these is almost invariably -(e)an:

  • iasg » iasgair » iasgairean
  • clach » clachair » clachairean
  • saighdear » saighdearan
  • cluich » cluicheadair » cluicheadairean
  • mara » maraiche » maraichean

Careful, this only works if the noun is made up of a noun plus an ending. There are some feminine nouns which aren't "composed" like that which behave differently. As a general rule, if you take away the ending, and what you're left with doesn't make sense, then it's not one of these. For example, with cathair and nathair, if you remove the -air, you're left with cath and nath and which don't make sense because cath and nath don't mean anything on their own. So, it's not nath+air, but just one word. See the next section for more examples.

-air and -ir

If the -air at the end is not the doer/maker ending, then the noun is usually feminine and syncopates its plural. I'll explain that some other time, in detail. In short, syncopating means that you lose a syllable so the plural is -raichean:

  • nathair » nathraichean
  • màthair » màthraichean
  • acair » acraichean
  • litir » litrichean


If you have a masculine noun ending in the diminutive ending -(e)an, then plurals are normally restricted to either -ain/-ein or -an. Those are hard to predict, but if in doubt, you're usually better going with -an.

Type 1

  • balachan » balachain
  • corran » corrain
  • cuman » cumain

Type 2

  • cuilean » cuileanan
  • ballan » ballanan


These are nice. Almost all take -an as the plural:

  • solas » solasan
  • carthannas » carthannasan

The fly in the ointment is doras which is usually dorsan in the plural.


Let's say there's a tendency for words ending in -th to have -an as a plural:

  • guth » guthan
  • gath » gathan
  • gaoth » gaothan

Bùth can take bùthan as the plural but bùithtean is more common.

Being exclusive

If the noun in question is sipping Singapore Sling, you need to step away from the screen, take a deep breath and do something else for a while. OK, OK. What I meant to say is that some plurals can be excluded on the basis of gender. For example, almost all nouns which slenderise for plural (e.g. balach » balaich, bòrd » bùird) are masculine. So, if you have a noun and you're pretty sure it's feminine, then in almost all cases you must stick an ending on to show the plural.


A lot of loanwords go for -(a)ichean in the plural:

  • càr » càraichean
  • bàr » bàraichean
  • clas » clasaichean

Short and sweet

The other "pointer" is that nouns which do something really bizarre to the vowel (like bòrd » bùird) are a) all masculine and b) only one syllable long. So, a word like òran cannot have a plural that looks like ùirean or something like that. It's kinda obvious once you've realized this but it can help you cut down the number of options.

  • ceann » cinn
  • cat » cait
  • fiadh » féidh
  • ball » buill

Beagan gràmair
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