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Comparisons in the Irish Language

In English, we usually make comparisons by tacking the suffix -er or -est onto the adjective. Here's how it's done in Irish:

mór big níos mó,
ní ba mhó*
bigger is mó,
ba mhó*
biggest
fuar cold níos fuaire,
ní b'fhuaire*
colder is fuaire,
ab fhuaire*
coldest
álainn lovely níos áille,
ní b'áille*
lovelier is áille,
ab áille*
lovliest

* past and conditional tenses

Note that the same form of the adjective is used for the relative and absolute comparisons. It's the prefix, níos or is, that makes the difference. Also note that the comparison is expressed differently for the past tense. (We're only going to worry about the present tense in this thread.)

The most common structures for comparing things are:
Is comparative X ná Y X is ___er than Y.
Tá X níos comparative ná Y X is ___er than Y.
Is X an Z is comparative X is the ___est Z.

You may have notice something unusual about that first structure. I said earlier that is is used for absolute comparisons, where we use the '-est' ending in English, but I translate the first structure using an "-er" ending. You probably remember your English teacher saying that you compare two things using "-er"; that "-est" could only be used with three or more things. However, Irish doesn't have this rule. A sentence such as Is í an tsúil chlé an tsúil is láidre literally means "My right eye is the strongest eye", where in English we would say "My right eye is the stronger eye."

For more information, see:

Comparisons (IGTF)

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