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Masculine and Feminine

Common mistakes that learners should avoid.
The distinction between masculine and feminine (grammatical gender) is important in Irish. One of the ways it is expressed is through ‘lenition.’

Lenition means adding an “h” after the first consonant of a word.

bean mhór = big woman
/ban wore/

It seems to me that failing to aspirate after definite feminine nouns (feminine nouns following ‘the’) is one of the most common mistakes that beginners make.

Failing to aspirate the adjective modifying a feminine singular noun is even more common. For those of you who know French or Spanish, ‘oíche maith’ or ‘bean mór’ (for example) look and sound as bad in Irish as say, ‘un beau femme’ or ‘une bonne chanteur’ do in French or ‘una chica guapo’ or ‘buenos noches’ do in Spanish.

I’d say that most of the time when people don’t aspirate in these cases it’s probably because they don’t realise that the noun in question is in fact feminine.

Tadhg’s advice

Unless you’re 100% certain of the gender of an Irish noun, check its gender in an Irish dictionary.

What if you don’t know whether a noun is masculine or feminine and you haven’t got an Irish dictionary handy?

ANSWER:

A GOOD RULE OF THUMB:

IF A NOUN ENDS IN A BROAD CONSONANT, IT’S PROBABLY MASCULINE;

IF IT ENDS IN A SLENDER CONSONANT, IT’S PROBABLY FEMININE.

Before anybody jumps on me, I have to make the disclaimer that there are many exceptions to this rule of thumb .The masculine 3rd declension endings –óir, -éir, úir, etc. that are used in words having to do with profession come immediately to mind and also the feminine endings –óg/-eog; -lann; -(e)ach (in the 2nd declension, with genitive ending in –(a)í); and -(e)acht (abstract words).

(Obviously, the word ‘bean’ used as an example above is also an exception).

Let me put it this way: if you guess that a noun ending in a broad consonant is masculine or one ending in a slender noun is feminine, the percentages are in your favour. Don’t quote me on this, but I would say that this rule probably holds true at least 70% of the time and possibly even 80-90% of the time (leaf through the Irish-English section of an Irish dictionary and draw your own conclusions).

What about nouns that end in vowels (I hear you asking)?
Well, I’m inclined to believe that the broad = masculine and slender = feminine rule probably also holds true to a certain extent (I would hazard a guess that the majority of Irish nouns ending in the letter ‘e’ are feminine) but to a far, far lesser extent than in the case of final consonants and I would be more cautious about giving it to you as a rule of thumb because there are far too many cases to the contrary (masculine nouns that end in –(a)í and –aire immediately spring to mind) so I won’t.

That said, if you’re stuck and you have to take a wild guess, it might be worth considering the broad = masculine and slender = feminine rule of thumb.

Again, I would emphasise that if you’re not sure and you’ve got access to a dictionary, CHECK IT IN THE DICTIONARY.

Another IMPORTANT thing to remember:

ADJECTIVES ARE MARKED FOR NUMBER AS WELL AS FOR GENDER

(by adding an “a” or an “e” to the end of the adjective: “a” for a broad ending; “e” for a slender ending)

Example 1.

Singular
bean mhór = a big woman
/ban wore/
(Mór, big, is the adjective here)

an bhean mhór = the big woman
/on ban wore/

Plural
mná móra = big women
/mraw MORE-uh/

na mná móra = the big women
/na mraw MORE-uh/

Example 2.

Singular
oíche mhaith = good evening
/ee-ha wah/
(Maith, good, is the adjective here. Remember oíche, night, is a feminine noun)

Plural
oícheanta maithe = good evenings
/EE-han-ta mah-ha/

Article written by Tadhg. Update provided by Redwolf.

There’s lots more Irish Gaelic lessons online at Bitesize Irish Gaelic.

11 Comments »

  1. Sharon said,

    November 17, 2007 @ 11:26 pm

    Do you know they don’t actually teach that anymore?

  2. bill said,

    September 9, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

    of course they still teach this

  3. mairead said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 11:36 am

    please can you tell me how to write
    “Happy Birthday, fear not I’m taking good care of your daughter

    thanks

  4. Éamonn Ó Fhloinn said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

    I just don’t understand why they don’t teach us this with the noun in National School. Children are amazing in what they can learn.

    Since I’ve come here, I actually UNDERSTAND Irish :D

    10 Years of school in about 2 hours here

  5. Éamonn Ó Fhloinn said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 6:03 pm

    Mairéad: “Breithlá shonna duit, ná bí buartha; táim ag tuairt aire do do iníon”

  6. kathy said,

    August 9, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

    they don’t teach this in school because you dont use it in school! i’m doing a college degree in irish and i’m only learning it now. primary school kids dont need to know all this stuff, come on like.

  7. aoife said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 7:30 am

    Yeah they really don’t teach this in national or secondary school anymore. i’m actually from the gaeltacht i never knew that there were masculine and feminine verbs in Irish until i went to college, I didn’t even know that there were rules about putting things into plural. I just did everything by the sound of it. Sounds incredibly stupid now but no-one thought us any different…
    This page is really helpful, thanks.

  8. aoife said,

    May 15, 2010 @ 7:36 am

    *nouns, masculine and feminine noins.

    There goes that amzing grammatical education again!

  9. ashir said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

    on which web i find
    singular prural
    masculine feminine
    word opposite

  10. ashir said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

    i dont need translation

  11. τραπεζαριες said,

    September 15, 2014 @ 1:56 am

    Hello to every one, the contents present at this web site are actually
    amazing for people experience, well, keep up the good work fellows.

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