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Noun Declensions in the Irish Language

In Irish, a declension is basically a group of nouns that tend to form the plural and genitive according to a common pattern. (Declensions are more complex in some languages.) Knowing the declension will help you figure out the genitive and plural form of the noun.

This is an area I was afraid at first, because it seemed that there were hundreds of rules. But once I started, I realised that it's not as difficult as it first seems. A few simple guidelines will take care of most of the nouns you meet, and that's what I'm going to focus on in this guide.

First, a quick overview of the declensions. The first declension is almost all male nouns. The second is mostly female. The third and fourth declensions have both male and female nouns. Technically, there are 5 declensions. But the fifth declension contains a small number of common nouns, and I think it's easier to treat them as exceptions.

Now you're ready to learn Wombat's Simple Declension Guessing Technique. I think it's easier to consider the declensions in reverse order. Visualise a coin sorter, where the coin goes into the first slot that fits. Ask yourself a series of questions, and stop at the first question with a "yes" answer. Looking at the common (nominative) form of the noun, is it...

  • An abstract noun ending in -e, -í? Then it's probably f4.
  • Ends in a vowel or -ín? Then it's probably m4.
  • Ends in -áil, -úil, -ail, -úint, -cht, -irt? Then it's probably f3.
  • Ends in -éir, -eoir, -óir, -úir? Then it's probably m3.
  • Ends in a slender consonant or -eog, -óg, -lann? Then it's probably f2.
  • Ends in a broad consonant? Then it's probably m1.

Note: An abstract noun represents something that you can't see, touch, feel, taste or smell.

smiley Tip: There are exceptions to these guidelines, but most of the exceptions are common nouns. By the time you start learning about declensions, you'll already know a lot of the exceptional forms.

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