Prepositions made easier

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
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Tricky one. They are very old words/forms. It's been a long time since they were first formed and they involve things, like the Old Irish accusative, which have been dead for a long time. So, there's no foolproof way of giving you a simple guide which tells you how you can just form them on the spot.

However, there are a few pointers that we can give you.

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 allows you to learn them in groups and perhaps memorise some of rules. We'll also explain their history further down and historical explanation 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

Following the same pattern:

Root Analysed preposition Full form
thug- -(a)m (th)ugam
thug- -(a)d (th)ugad
thug- slenderisation & -e (th)uige
thug- slenderisation, hardening & -e (th)uice
thug- -(a)inn (th)ugainn
thug- -(a)ibh (th)ugaibh
thug- harden & -a (th)uca

The variants ugam, ugad... and chugam, chugad... follow the same pattern.

Mostly Regular

Root Analysed preposition Full form
ann -(a)m annam
ann -(a)d/t annad
ann same as root ann
ann slenderise, -(t)e innte
ann -(a)inn annainn
ann -(a)ibh annaibh
ann -(t)a annta

Following the same pattern:

Root Analysed preposition Full form
-(a)m orm
-(a)d/t ort
same as root air
(irr.) dheth
slenderise, -(t)e oirre
(irr.) dhith
-(a)inn oirnn
-(a)ibh oirbh
-(t)a orra

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 the root slenderises in the plural. 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 that are still kicking about. They fit the paradigm much better, although GOC abolished them, so non-nonchalantly. <sigh>

3rd Person s

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

-(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'll 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. Historical notes aside, unfortunately, there isn't much else we can add that might help you, except a general note perhaps. For adults, learning a new language invariably 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 really isn't that bad. It's worthwhile putting in the effort because they are REALLY common. Having to pause before coming out with the correct conjugated preposition does mark 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