Here is one of the more entertaining prepositions that Gaelic has to offer. But first, let's get the easy stuff out of the way before you let yourselves be entertained by a mad linguist.
As with most simple prepositions, ri [rʲi] can be conjugated (i.e. the preposition has merged into one word with the pronouns mi, thu etc.)
First things first
Now, easy bits first:
You will sometimes see ruinn and ruibh spelt as rinn and ribh. Also, you will have noticed that most unexpectedly, the ri in rium, riut, ris, rithe and riutha is pronounced as [rʲ] even though you will have learned that at the beginning of a word all r-sounds are pronounced strong as [R].
The reasons for this are shrouded in mystery. No, not really. The reasons for the r being slender is simple. In Old Irish, the r was simply not at the beginning of the word - ri used to be fri. The f simply got lenited away over time, but because fri was pronounced as [fɾʲi], the -r- was fixed in the linguistic memory of people as being non-initial and slender. The whole paradigm can be found in the page on the history of prepositions.
So why has the -r-, which apparently was still slender in Old Irish changed to a broad one? Probably two things happening at the same time.
On the one hand, there has probably been a certain amount of re-analysis going on, that is, people trying to fit something which is irregular into a regular pattern. Like speakers of modern English are re-analysing irregular plurals and slowly getting rid of them - these days "fishes" is perhaps frowned upon, but certainly current in the spoken language. So in Gaelic people will have tried to some extent to squeeze ri into the regular pronunciation patterns by pronouncing rinn as it now "appears" to be - with an initial r which has to be strong.
But something else was going on at the same time - consonant length was shifting away from the consonant and onto the vowel. And we all know where that leads to in modern Gaelic. But let's take it one step at a time. This is what the daisy chain looks like: [fɾʲiɲː] > [ɾʲiɲː] > [ɾʲiːɲ] > [ɾʲuiɲ]. At this stage, we are probably somewhere around the year 1500 and we have a problem. The [ɾʲ] is suddenly in front of a very broad diphthong [ui] which makes it difficult to pronounce and "illegal" in terms of its phonetic structure (according to the rules of Gaelic of course.) Easy solution: we make the r broad, which fits in nicely with the usual rule that r at the beginning of words is always broad. So what about ribh/ruibh then? I'm not sure, but perhaps case of analogy i.e. people applying the pattern of another preposition e.g. dhuibh which used to be duibh and thus very very similar in its sound structure.
The variant spellings are thus simply reflexes of something that used to be (rinn & ribh) and what is now (ruinn & ruibh).
And the Leòdhasaich need a footnote again - remember that in Lewis Gaelic [ɾʲ] has changed to [ð], so don't be surprised if you hear things like [ðiʃ].
Now, that was the easy bit.
Meaning and use of ri are a bit more tricky. Rather than do what most textbooks do which is to give you a long list of ways in which this preposition can be translated depending on context and the verbs it is used with, we will try to give you an idea of what concept(s) ri entails within Gaelic.
The primary meaning of ri is best summed up as "interaction between two participants in which some form of feedback or resistance is exhibited." Think of a man holding his head in front of a fan blowing at full force and you're not far off the concept. And contrary to some grammars, it *can* involve physical motion.
The reason for not just giving you a list of possible translations is that such a long list would suggest that it's a very convoluted preposition when it really isn't. We're just trying to get away from the English speaking point of view for a bit.
If you open your dictionary of Old Irish, you will see that the above definition squares largely with the original meaning of the word and is most commonly translated as 'against,' e.g. fri fál 'against a wall.' A look into your etymological dictionary will tell you that ri is most likely connected to the Indo-European root of *vṛti meaning to turn and is connected to Latin versus and the English suffix -wards. You're probably getting a pretty good idea of the fundamental meaning of the word already. So, meaning number one is 'against' both in a physical and metaphorical way. This covers phrases like the following:
|tha fàradh ris a' bhalla||there is a ladder leaning against the wall|
|geug a' gnogadh ris an uinneag||a branch knocking against the window|
|sheas i ris a' chàr||she leaned against the car|
|dèan strì ri nàimhdean||fight against enemies|
|croch ri craobh||hang from a tree|
|air neo bidh mi riut!||or else you'll get it!|
|tha an ite maoth ri m' aghaidh||the feather is soft against my face|
|shuidh e r' a thaobh||he sat next to him|
So why is 'hang from a tree' in there? Think of it - the rope has to be attached to something, doesn't it? Something is keeping it from falling to the ground and that is the tree.
This is where some grammars get into really hot water because they look at ri from the English point of view. But staying with the definition that ri is used for the "interaction between two participants in which some form of feedback or resistance is exhibited" the following are quite logical:
|tha e a' dol ris a' ghaoth||he is going against the wind|
|shnàmh i ris an t-sruth||she swam upstream/against the current|
|bha e ris a' ghrian||it was exposed to the sun|
|shreap sinn ris a' bhruthach||we ascended/went up the slope|
The last one incidentally forms a nice pair with leis a' bhruthach which means exactly the opposite. Notice how in English we have to use different idiom because English looks at the world from a different angle - but in Gaelic we're still in the same system. This usage of ri is old too - Old Irish has words like fresngabál meaning 'ascent' (lit. 'taking against').
For the next meaning group we are simply going to state that in Gaelic you "compare against" rather than "with" - not as strange, think of the English idiom "to measure against!"
|tha e coltach ri cù||he is similar to a dog|
|tha seo mór an taca ris an té sin||this is big in comparison with that one|
|tha e cho glas ri càl Obar Dheathain||it is as green as grass|
|tha e an aon dath ri mo phlangaid||it is the same colour as my blanket|
This use again is old and existed as far back as Old Irish. For the next group, we get closer to the meaning 'against' again. You can think of the following as "against, tackling," still staying within the Gaelic definition of ri:
|tha e ris an iasgach||he's fishing (for a living)|
|bha i ri ùrnaigh||she was praying|
|dé tha thu ris?||what are you up to?|
|tha iad ri trod||they're having a fight|
|bha iad ris a-rithist||they were at it again|
So where exactly is the difference between bha i ag ùrnaigh and bha i ri ùrnaigh? Not much - some dialects even use ri instead of ag with verbal nouns - slightly more emphasis on the action taking place than in phrases with ag.
The next group also stays quite close to home - even though it gets translated into English by a word whose meaning is seemingly unrelated - 'with.' Again, it's a question of your point of view. The physical reality of leaning against a wall and standing side by side with somebody aren't miles apart (unless you're trying to push the wall over of course ...) and in Gaelic they are just that:
|chaidh mi ann còmhla ris||I went there with him|
|bha iad ann maille rithe||they were there alongside her|
|tha iad ri chéile a-nis||they are together now|
|rinn mi deasbad riutha||they're having a fight|
|bha iad ris a-rithist||They argued with him again|
It still is the same concept in Gaelic. The next group is even more obvious as "two participants with some form of feedback or resistance:"
|thachair mi ri muc-mhara||I met a whale|
|coinnichidh mi rithe||I will meet her|
|tha mi a' fuireach ris||I am waiting for him|
If you think back to the image with the fan and compare it to this one, you'll notice an interesting coincidence - the same "symbol" is used in both cases to represent the action going on:
|thuirt mi ris gun a dhèanamh||I told him not to do it|
|dh'éist mi ruibh||I listened to you|
|eughaidh mi ris||I will yell at him|
And then there is the remainder of expressions and idioms which use ri which are perhaps best just learned, things like réidh ri Dia 'at peace with God' where you could somehow invoke the above, but only with difficulty. Here's a list of usages which are difficult to predict but thankfully not that tricky to learn:
ri + Verbal Noun » to be V-PAST
|ri ithe||to be eaten|
|ri ràdh||to be said|
|ri dhèanamh||to be done|
aig + ri » have to [present/non-tense]
|tha agam ri èisteachd||I have to listen|
|tha aca ri bruidhinn||they have to speak|
ri + Temporal Adverb » during/in
|ri linn Jingis Khan||during the age of Jingis Khan|
|ri (a) latha||in his day|
|ri aimsir theth||in hot weather|
And then there is a number of verbs which take ri for reasons best known to themselves which you just have to learn such as feitheamh ri 'waiting for' and gabh ri 'to accept', but then every language has annoying constructions which don't fit into the paradigm easily.
|᚛ á - aig - air - ann an - de ⁊ a - do ⁊ a - eadar - fo - gu - le - mu - o ⁊ bho - os ⁊ fos - ri - tro - thar ᚜|