Stative Verbs or How to run in suspended animation

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
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We'll show you a trick today ... how you can run without moving.

But first, we have to consider what on earth a stative verb is. It's quite easy really, you can basically sort all verbs (in those languages that have verbs that is) into two groups. Verbs which describe an outright action and verbs which describe a state (hence 'stative') or a relationship. "Hit" is a very good example of an active verb. You need to lift your arm, bring it down with force and make contact with something/someone else. On the other hand, "sleep" doesn't really involve any great actions, you can sleep for hours without moving about at all.

Now in English, it doesn't really matter whether a verb is active or stative. English treats both the same way in terms of the grammar - "he is hitting" or "he is sleeping" don't require you to do different things. Well, you could argue that depending on how you use a verb influences the choice of available tenses. So, "I am drinking Espresso" (which uses "drink" as a stative verb) would be stative and "I drink Espresso" (which uses "drink" as an active verb) would be active, but that's a bit silly really.

Anyway, there are lots of languages where active and stative verbs are treated VERY differently. For example, in Lakhóta (Sioux), you have to use two entirely different personal markers depending on what kind of verb it is - either ya, for active verbs, or ma, for stative verbs:

ipsica wichaša
I jump I am a man

Now what does this have to do with Gaelic? Well, Gaelic treats active and stative verbs differently. Luckily enough though, there aren't many stative verbs in Gaelic.

The one's that are though use the 'na paradigm:


tha mi 'nam chadal I am sleeping
tha thu 'nad chadal You are sleeping
tha e 'na chadal He is sleeping
tha i 'na cadal She is sleeping
tha sinn 'nar cadal We are sleeping
tha sibh 'nur cadal You are sleeping
tha iad 'nan cadal They are sleeping

So, how many stative verbs are there in Gaelic? Well, maybe 20 or so, I don't think anybody has ever made an exhaustive list but here are the most common one's:


tha Màiri 'na breislich Màiri is confused
tha Màiri 'na cadal Màiri is sleeping/asleep
tha Màiri 'na dùisg Màiri is awake
tha Màiri 'na faireachadh Màiri is conscious/awake
tha Màiri 'na gurraban Màiri is crouched down
tha Màiri 'na laighe Màiri is lying down (in a state of)
tha Màiri 'na ruith Màiri is running
tha Màiri 'na seasamh Màiri is standing
tha Màiri 'na sìneadh Màiri is stretched out
tha Màiri 'na suidhe Màiri is sitting (in a state of)
tha Màiri 'na tost Màiri is silent

It's interesting that with some of them you can make very neat distinctions. For example, tha mi a' seasamh and tha mi 'nam sheasamh are both correct but mean rather different things. In the first case, you are actively standing up, as in, you were sitting or lying a moment ago and are now trying to get on your feet. In the second case you're already standing and simply stating that that is the case. That's why traditionally you do not need to use suas or sìos with seasamh and suidhe in Gaelic. Depending on how you use them, one of them describes the action, the other the state: tha mi a' suidhe (or tha mi a' dèanamh suidhe even) and tha mi 'nam shuidhe. Perhaps we should better call them "potentially stative" rather than "stative verbs". Anyway.

Now, funnily enough, not all languages agree on whether the same action is considered active or stative. For example, in Basque, the verb for "to begin" is considered 100% stative but it's not considered stative in Gaelic. And in Gaelic, ruith is considered a stative verb: tha mi 'nam ruith. However, from the English point of view that's weird because running is considered a very active action. So, that's where the trick comes in to let you imagine Gaelic running as some sort of frozen action! As you can see, it's important to learn the idiomatic forms of any language you're studying.

But, just to touch all bases - ruith can also be an active verb: ruith e a-mach. That's because, in this case, you're not focusing on the ongoing running (as at a Marathon) but the action that's (suddenly) taking place. So, a good contrastive example would be bha mi 'nam ruith nuair a chuala mi fuaim "I was running when I heard a sound" and chunnaic mi gun robh a' chidsin air theine is ruith mi a-mach ás an taigh "I saw the kitchen was on fire and ran out of the house".

Occasionally this is extended to pure nouns which technically aren't verbal nouns, for example in the expression bha e air dhreach an fhithich "he had the appearance of a raven" although these days people would probably tend to say bha dreach an fhithich air. Same principle though.


Time for a walk I think ...

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