Prepositions made easier

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
Am mùthadh mar a bha e 02:16, 4 dhen Chèitean 2013 le Akerbeltz (Deasbaireachd | mùthaidhean) (Regular)
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Tricky one. They are very old words/forms and it's been a long time since they they were first formed, involving things like the Old Irish accusative which have been dead for a long time now, so there is no foolproof way of giving you a simple guide which tells you how you can just form them on the spot.

There's a few pointers that we can give you though.

Broadly speaking you can group modern Gaelic preposition into 5 categories - Regular, Mostly Regular, 3rd Person S, Labial in Root and Decidedly Weird. We have grouped them this way because this then allows you to learn them in groups and perhaps memorise some of rules. We'll also explain their history further down which may also help some of you to understand these pesky little buggers.


Root Analysed preposition Full form
ag- -(a)m agam
ag- -(a)d agad
ag- slenderisation & -e aige
ag- slenderisation, hardening & -e aice
ag- -(a)inn againn
ag- -(a)ibh agaibh
ag- harden & -a aca

ROOT: thug- gu

thug-am thug-ad thuig-e thuic-e thug-ainn thug-aibh thuc-a thugam thugad thuige thuice thugainn thugaibh thuca

A few things about the above paradigm: ROOT isn't meant in the historical way ie ag- is not the historical derivation of aig, but for the purposes of analysing the modern conjugated prepositions, ag- can be taken as the from from which they are derived.

The superscript i means that it's inserted to conform with the caol ri caol rule. Hardening means that if the last consonant in the root is g, you harden this to c.

Group & Endings analysed preposition normal form


-(a)m -(a)d/-(a)t ROOT -(th)e + slenderise -(a)inn -(a)ibh -(th)a ann-am ann-ad ann inn-te ann-ainn ann-aibh ann-ta annam annad ann innte annainn annaibh annta

 	ROOT: or- 	air

or-m or-t air oir-the oir-inn oir-ibh or-tha

orm ort air oirre (<oirrthe) oirnn oirbh (<oiribh) orra (<orrtha)

ROOT: dhi-


dhi-am dhi-at dh-e dhi-(th) dhi-(i)nn dhi-(i)bh dhiubh

dhiom dhiot dhe dhi (<dhith) dhinn dhibh dhiubh

The most striking feature of this group is that it uses the root form for the 3rd person singular masculine. The other bit to watch out for with air is that in the plural the root slenderises. And we get innte because the root used to be int-. But more of the history later.

The prepositions in brackets are other/older spellings of these still kicking about which fit the paradigm much better and which GOC abolished so non-nonchalantly. <sigh>

The next group is also fairly regular, but different because the 3rd person singular masculine adds an -s to the root:

Group & Endings analysed preposition normal form


-(a)m -(a)d/-(a)t ROOT + [ʃ] -(th)e + slenderise -(a)inn -(a)ibh -(th)a

as-am as-ad as-(s) ais-te as-ainn as-aibh as-ta

asam asad as aiste asainn asaibh asta

 	ROOT: le- 	le

le-am le-at le-is lei-the le-inn le-ibh leo-tha

leam leat leis leatha (cf léithe) leinn leibh leotha

 	ROOT: ri- 	ri

ri-am ri-at ri-(i)s ri-the ri-(i)nn ri-(ibh) riu-tha

rium riut ris rithe ruinn (<rinn) ruibh (<ribh) riutha

 	ROOT: thar- 	thar

thar-am thar-ad thair-is thair-te thar-ainn thar-aibh thar-ta

tharam tharad thairis (air) thairte tharainn tharaibh tharta

As you can see, this bunch is mostly regular except for ás, which has [s] instead of the expected [ʃ] and the 3rd person singular feminine leatha which is a bit weird. The Irish form léithe fits the paradigm perfectly though, not that that is any consolation to us.

Again, i gets inserted so the caol ri caol rule isn't broken.

Almost there. There next group we decided to call Labial in Root because they - surprise - all contain a labial (b, m, f):

Group & Endings


-(a)m -(a)d/-(a)t ROOT + [e] -pe + slenderise -(a)inn -(a)ibh -pa

tromh-am tromh-ad troimh-e troimh-pe tromh-ainn tromh-aibh tromh-pa

tromham tromhad troimhe troimhpe tromhainn tromhaibh tromhpa

 	ROOT: romh- 	ro

romh-am romh-ad roimh-e roimh-pe romh-ainn romh-aibh romh-pa

romham romhad roimhe roimhpe romhainn romhaibh romhpa

 	ROOT: ua- 	o

ua-m ua-t uai-the uai-pe ua-inn ua-ibh ua-pa

uam uat uaithe uaipe uainn uaibh uapa

 	ROOT: fodh- 	fo

fodh-am fodh-ad fodh-a foidh-pe fodh-ainn fodh-aibh fodh-pa

fodham fodhad fodha foidhpe fodhainn fodhaibh fodhpa

 	ROOT: um- 	mu

um-am um-ad uim-e uim-pe um-ainn um-aibh um-pa

umam umad uime uimpe umainn umaibh umpa

Nothing much to add about this group really. As you will see later on, that weird -p- isn't part of the ending but rather a very old part of the root that crops up now and then, but let's finish this off first and take a look at the Decidedly Weird Group (luckily there's only one preposition, unfortunately it's also perhaps the most common one...):

Group & Endings analysed preposition normal form

WEIRD ROOT: dh(u)- do

-mh -t -a -i -inn -ibh -aibh

dh-omh dhu-t dh-a dh-i dhu-inn dhu-ibh dh-aibh

dhomh dhut dha dhi dhuinn dhuibh dhaibh

As you can see, compared to the other ones do is really weird. The historical notes aside, there isn't much else unfortunately that we can add that might help you. Except a general note perhaps: for adults, learning a new language invariable involves learning stuff by heart. If you were doing Basque you'd have to cope with over 12.000 forms for the two verbs 'to be' and 'to have' alone ... so learning the few irregular verbs of Gaelic and these few prepositions isn't that bad really. It's really worthwhile putting in the effort though ... they are REALLY common and having to think before coming out with your conjugated preposition really marks you as a learner!!

On to the history then for the curious minds ...

á - aig - air - ann an - de ⁊ a - do ⁊ a - eadar - fo - gu - le - mu - o ⁊ bho - os ⁊ fos - ri - tro - thar