Verb forms not found in the Caighdeán

To start with: I am not particularly happy with the war people wage against the Caighdeán Oifigiúil, because I have seen too much printed material in make-believe dialect which has been about as riddled with clumsy English-influenced syntax as the worst school Irish you ever saw. The reason why people detest the Caighdeán Oifigiúil is that bad Irish (i.e. bad syntax and word-for-word translation from English) usually goes hand in hand with the Caighdeán. However, they then tend to follow the clue in the wrong direction and adopt morphological features (i.e. words and inflectional forms) from some dialect, while sticking to English-influenced constructions and syntax. (For the linguistically challenged, here is a simple explanation of the concept of syntax: it is how words depend on each other in the sentence as a whole. The Irish term for syntax is comhréir, i.e. mutual consistency, and that pretty much summarizes it.)

I must say though that many people parroting away about how bad the Caighdeán is are those who seize upon any convenient excuse not to learn Irish. I have my issues with the Caighdeán but as standard languages go it isn’t that bad. (Of course, these days they are changing the Caighdeán in new ways. You can rest assured I couldn’t care less about their new Caighdeán. I have my own ideas of what standard Irish should be, and those ideas are firmly rooted in the Irish of the Gaeltacht folklore and literature. I teach you my own caighdeán, and that’s the end of it.)

This does not mean that it is not sensible to learn the word forms not used in the Caighdeán. The best linguistic models (even syntactic models) are to be found in Gaeltacht literature, which for natural reasons is written in more or less dialectal language. Thus, it is important to see to it that your quest into that world will not be stopped by your unfamiliarity with the non-Caighdeán forms. (Note though one of the reasons why I am nowadays critical of the anti-Caighdeán stance is the fact that the Caighdeán as defined by the unabridged Irish-language edition of the Christian Brothers’ grammar is solidly based on the syntax of the best native writers. The problem is, again again again, that people don’t read that particular grammar or focus on syntax.)

Here are the stems of strong verbs including those not used in the Caighdeán. (There will, I hope, be a later blog post about those personal endings which are most typical of Munster dialects.)


For the verb feic!/feiceáil ‘to see’, the main problem is the stem tchí-, chí-, tí- (based on earlier ad-chí, do-chí). In the mythical good Irish of bygone days this was the form used in statements and in direct relative (and note that in direct relative clauses the t- is not lenited!). The stem feic- was used after go, ní, nach, an. 

Thus, the present tense has the form tchí, chí, tí when it is not preceded by any verbal particles other than the direct relative a. (The added -onn in present as well as the broad -os of the direct relative are allowed but not required.) After ní, go, an, nach the feiceann form is preferred.

Similarly, the future tense has the forms tchífidh [tʃ-], tífidh, chífidh (and where applicable, it takes the direct relative broad -s: an fear a tchífeas/chífeas/tífeas a leithéid de radharc ‘the man who’ll see such a sight’). After the verbal particles, the stem is again feic-: ní fheicfidh, go bhfeicfidh, nach bhfeicfidh and so on.

The conditional mood has the forms tchífeadh [tʃ-], tífeadh, chífeadh – but after the verbal particles, go bhfeicfeadh, ní fheicfeadh and so on.

The habitual past tense has the forms tchíodh, tíodh, chíodh – and after the verbal particles: go bhfeiceadh et cetera.

The tchí- stem can be pronounced tiu-, tʃu- in Ulster, but is seldom so written.

Even in the Caighdeán there is the absolute vs dependent distinction in the past tense: chonaic vs go bhfaca, ní fhaca, an bhfaca, nach bhfaca.

The chí/feic– distinction is however most typical of Ulster. In Munster, at least in colloquial Kerry Irish, the chí- stem has been generalized (in the way feic- has been generalized in the caighdeán), so that we have such forms as go gcíonn, ní chíonn in the present, go gcífidh in the future and so on. The ch- is usually delenited in the absolute forms: cíonn, cífidh – but of course it is lenited after the direct relative a. (Actually, direct relative a tends to become do in Munster.)

In the past tense Kerry Irish also keeps the absolute stem even in the dependent forms, so you should not be surprised to see forms such as gur chonaic, níor chonaic rather than go bhfaca, ní fhaca in Kerry literature. And of course, these days the verbal particles ending in -r are becoming extinct in Kerry, so I guess go gconaic, ní chonaic are quite common too. Personally, though, I think these are vulgar dialect that should only be used where very colloquial style is called for.

Note that the old form for “I saw”, still used in Munster, is chonac (pronounced more like ch’nuc though).

The autonomous (impersonal) form is chonacthas/go bhfacthas, but as dialects go chonaiceadh is not that uncommon – I’d say it is most typical of Munster. 

Note that in the sense ‘seemed to’, you often see b’fhacthas. B’fhacthas dom ‘it seemed to me’. This sort of thing is found at least in Ulster and Connacht.

The verbal noun is feiceáil, with some typical provincial alterations: feiceál in Connemara, feiceáilt in Ulster. In Munster, feiscint is common. 

FAIGH!/FÁIL ‘to find, to get’

Then faigh. Now that’s a nice one. To start with, the present tense in the “good old Irish” used to be gheibh, and the faigh- stem is only ever used after the verbal particles. 

Even in the Caighdeán, the future tense has a somewhat similar distinction: gheobhaidh vs ní/go/nach/an bhfaighidh. Note that here even eclipses.

And similarly in the conditional mood: gheobhadh vs ní/go/nach/an bhfaigheadh

In the Caighdeán, we use faigheann rather than gheibh, but Ulster Irish basically keeps the gheibh vs faigheann distinction, and in Munster gheibh has become gheibheann and is also used in dependent forms, so that you encounter such forms as ní gheibheann, go ngeibheann

After chan, we can use the faigh- stem: chan fhaigheann; but as I have pointed out elsewhere, the construction chan gheobhann (future form with -ann substituted for the future ending) also exists in the dialect. I have seen it in literature only once – the writer was an Ulsterman but not a native Irish speaker, and he used it for dialectal plausibility – and there are some instances in East Ulster folklore. I must say though that using this kind of expressions is precisely the kind of petty dialect enthusiasm that I have grown suspicious of, and I would prefer people to take more interest in syntax and idiom.

Note that gheobhaidh has the direct relative form gheobhas. Giving the form gheibh a direct relative ending where applicable (gheibheas) is hardly wrong, but it is not required or necessary.

The past tense is fuair, as you should know, and it takes the -r-less verbal particles. And even here, ní eclipses: fuair, an bhfuair, nach bhfuair, ní bhfuair, go bhfuair. Note though that the Ulster particle chan lenites: chan fhuair. The autonomous form is fuarthas, although fuaireadh does have some currency in dialects. There is also the completely irregular autonomous form frítheadh or fríth, which can sometimes be spotted in Connacht or Clare literature (Sean-Phádraic Ó Conaire uses it). It takes the -r particles, as far as I know, and resists lenition, as autonomous forms of regular verbs do.

The verbal noun is fáil; the Ulster variant is fáilt. The participle is faighte, but in Munster, there is the form fachta.

ITH!/ITHE ‘to eat’

Then let’s consider ith. As you certainly know, the future and conditional moods use the stem íos-: íosfaidh, d’íosfadh. The past tense is usually regular in all dialects: d’ith. However, you should remember that the irregular form d’uaidh, níor uaidh, nár uaidh, gur uaidh (it can also be written d’uaigh or d’ua) is sporadically found in folklore. It is a remnant of classical Irish rather than part of any particular dialect. I have seen it (as d’ua) in a folklore volume from Clare.

FÁG!/FÁGÁIL ‘to leave’

Fág!/fágáil ‘leave’ is basically a regular verb. However, in Ulster it has the irregular future form fuígfidh – as in the song Fuígfidh mé an baile seo nó tá sé dúghránna – and similarly the conditional mood d’fhuígfeadh; and in Connacht it has the past form d’fhága rather than d’fhág

TAR!/TEACHT ‘to come’

Tar!/teacht shows quite a lot of variation. Tagann is the present form, you say? Well yes, but in Ulster they typically prefer thig. (Obviously, tig and tigeann as well as the direct relative form thigeas also exist in dialects. In fact, tig- forms are found even in Connacht.) Tag- can be pronounced teag- in dialects, but this is seldom written.

The subjunctive present has theoretically the form taga, but in Ulster both tige and tara are found (with extra -idh added in pronunciation if the following word is not a pronoun). Thus: fan go dtaga mé, fan go dtaga Seán in the caighdeán, but in Ulster:

fan go dtara mé, fan go dtaraidh Seán


fan go dtige mé, fan go dtigidh Seán.

Now you obviously ask me what the hell the subjunctive present is, because they never taught you that at school. Well, I am afraid I’ll need to blog about that separately.

Anyway, Ciarán Ó Duibhin, who is much more versed in Ulster Irish than yours truly, told me that for Ulster the rule is that you never have the tag- stem – instead, you have either the tar- or the t(h)ig- stem in those forms that don’t have t(h)ioc-. (Future and conditional forms are in Ulster tiocfaidh, thiocfadh, as anywhere else.) The past habitual, which is in Ulster also used as past subjunctive, is thigeadh: dá dtigeadh sé abhaile, bheinn breá sásta

The past tense has, as everybody should know, the form tháinig. The caighdeán recommendation is to use the -r particles with it: níor tháinig, gur tháinig, ar tháinig, nár tháinig, but actually such forms as ní tháinig, go dtáinig, nach dtáinig, an dtáinig are quite widespread in dialects (even other dialects than Munster). The Ulster cha is used without -r: cha dtáinig

Note that the historically correct synthetic form for ‘I came’ is thánag. However, this is only used in Cork. In Kerry, thána (in analogy with chuala ‘I heard’) is used. 

The imperative of gabh! can be used in Ulster in the meaning “come!” – which has given rise to the word goitse, goitseo “come here” (basically gabh anseo).

The verbal noun is usually teacht, but the parallel form tíocht exists at least in Connemara. The verbal noun tends to be permanently lenited in many dialects (i.e. theacht, thíocht).

TABHAIR!/TABHAIRT ‘to give, to bring’

Tabhair!/tabhairt used to have the (permanently lenited) present form bheir when not preceded by verbal particles (tugann is always used after them: ní thugann, cha dtugann, an dtugann, nach dtugann, go dtugann). In Ulster, such forms are still used, but even there tugann is common even without verbal particles. The form tabhrann (in Ulster pronounced tóireann) also exists, but I tend to think it is very colloquial (in the sense ain’t and gonna are very colloquial English). 

Similarly, the future and conditional forms (tabharfaidh and thabharfadh in the caighdeán) distinguish in Ulster between bhéar- forms used in independent or direct relative position: bhéarfaidh (future), bhéarfas (future direct relative) and bhéarfadh (conditional mood).  T(h)abhar- stem is used after verbal particles: ní thabharfaidh, nach dtabharfaidh, go dtabharfaidh, an dtabharfaidh; ní thabharfadh, nach dtabharfadh, go dtabharfadh, an dtabharfadh, cha dtabharfadh. (Note that Ulster Irish does not use cha[n] before the future form – instead, the present form caters for both present and future, cha dtugann = ní thugann AND ní thabharfaidh.)

The written form tabhar- conceals many different phonetic realizations, such as tiúr- and tóir-. These are seldom written even in relatively dialectal texts, though.

The habitual past is in Ulster bheireadh, but after verbal particles –thugadh, -dtugadh: ní thugadh, cha dtugadh, an dtugadh, go dtugadh, nach dtugadh. 

The verbal noun is tabhairt, but of course there are different ways to pronounce it, such as tiúirt and tóirt – these are seldom written. The participle is tugtha, but tabhartha is used in the set expression leanbh tabhartha “illegitimate child” (also páiste ceo, páiste gréine, páiste díomhaointis). 


In the caighdeán, the cluin- and clois- stems are perfectly equal, and nothing keeps you from using them in free variation (if you are not trying to imitate the preferences of a particular dialect). Present is thus cluineann or cloiseann, future is cluinfidh or cloisfidh, and conditional is chluinfeadh or chloisfeadh

Cluin = clois has the present form chluin in Ulster; this is permanently lenited, but responds to eclipsis: go gcluin, nach gcluin, an gcluin.

The past tense of course has the form chuala, impersonal form chualathas; note though that the regularized cluineadh is also known in dialects. Both chuala/chualathas and cluineadh take the -r particles (ar, nár, níor, gur), but such forms as go gcuala are not unheard of. The verbal noun has the standard forms cloisteáil and cluinstin, but there are several nonstandard ones such as cluinstint, clos, cloisint, cluinsbheáilt (the last one I mined from some very marginal Ulster dialect and made a point of using it back when I tried to cling to Ulster Irish). The participle is cloiste or cluinte.

The form for ‘I heard’ is in Kerry simply chuala with no ending or pronoun added. In Cork, it is chualag (under the influence of thánag). Chualas for ‘I heard’ is an innovation based on the regular verb; it is more typical of those dialects where the synthetic form is only used in poetry or in answering a question.

Note that the verbs mothaigh!/mothú (in Ulster often mothachtáil in the verbal noun) and airigh!/aireachtáil both meaning basically “to feel” are often used in the meaning “to hear”. (As far as I know, braith!/brath is not used in this sense, though.)

BEIR!/BREITH ‘to bear; to seize upon, to catch’ 

Beir has regular present: beireann. The past tense is in the caighdeán based on the rug- stem: rug mé, rug tú. However, there is a tendency in several dialects to spare the rug- stem for the autonomous verb rugadh ‘was born’, and use bheir in the sense of catching, seizing. Many writers of Irish, even those who use a relatively caighdeán kind of style, would write rugadh Einstein in Ulm ‘Einstein was born in Ulm’, but beireadh ar Veerappan i bPapparapathi ‘Veerappan was caught in Papparapathi’.

I seem to recall (but this is on strictly ‘I seem to recall’ basis) that in Connemara the rugadh/beireadh distinction is expressed as rugadh/rugthas (or rugadh/rugús). I should check the literature though.

In Ulster, the regularized past forms bheir mé, bheir tú are usually used, although they can be confused with the old present of tabhair!/tabhairt. 

In future and conditional, the written forms are béarfaidh, bhéarfadh, although at least in Ulster the pronunciation is more like beirfidh, bheirfeadh to keep them distinct from the forms of tabhair!/tabhairt

The verbal noun is breith, the participle is beirthe – but the form rugtha does find some idiomatic use in some dialect, I think.

DÉAN!/DÉANAMH ‘to do, to make’

The present is regular in the standard language: déanann, ní dhéanann, go ndéanann, nach ndéanann, an ndéanann. However, in Ulster (< ghní, do-ghní) is still used when not preceded by verbal particles (and you do find it sporadically in other dialects too). The spelling ghní is sometimes used, but it should not be interpreted too phonetically, because that gh- is not pronounced – it is rather a way to keep ghní distinct from both the verbal particle ‘not’ and the stem of the regular verb nigh!/ní ‘to wash’. Note that at least for some speakers, initial slender n- can be audibly lenited; the initial n- in (gh)ní ‘does’ is permanently lenited, while the one in níonn ‘washes’ is not, if it is not preceded by a leniting verbal particle.

The form used after the verbal particle in Ulster is déan or téan, often sounding more like deán or teán. Thus, ní dhéan/ní théan/ní dheán/ní theán; cha dtéan/cha ndéan/cha dteán/cha dtéan; go dtéan/go ndéan/go dteán/go ndeán, and so on.

The past is rinne, with the form dearna used after the verbal particles: ní dhearna, go ndearna, nach ndearna, an ndearna and so on. We saw above that the impersonal past of the verb ‘to hear’ can be cluineadh although the personal forms use the chuala stem; similarly, déanadh has some currency in the spoken language instead of rinneadh. The form used after the verbal particles is dearnadh: ní dhearnadh, nach dhearnadh, go ndearnadh, an ndearnadh – but I am positive I have seen ní dhearnthas in some Munster text. (Update: yes, ní dhearnthas is used in Co. Cork Irish, probably because they indeed have the form dhearnag in the first person singular, under the influence of thánag ‘I came’ and chualag ‘I heard’. This I have never seen in any folklore book, but Breandán Ó Buachailla tells in his book about Cork Irish that the dhearna stem is used even in positive statements, i.e. where you would in the standard language use the rinne stem: do dhearnag ‘I did’, do dhearnamar ‘we did’ etc.)

Sometimes we see the rinn- stem used after verbal particles: níor rinne, gur rinne and so on. This occurs in some places in Connemara. 

Déanadh takes -r particles: níor déanadh, ar déanadh; this sometimes occurs with dearnadh too: níor dearnadh. Both in Connemara.

In Ulster, the past forms are rinn rather than rinne and dearn/tearn rather than dearna: thus, ní thearn/ní dhearn, go dtearn/go ndearn, cha dtearn/cha ndearn

In some places in Munster, the past of déan is based on the dein stem, and it is regular: dhein sé, deineadh: níor dhein sé, níor deineadh (such forms as go ndein sé, go ndeineadh occurring instead of gur dhein sé, gur deineadh are not due to irregularity of irregular verbs, but to the more common loss of -r particles in Munster Irish). I am not versed enough in Munster Irish to tell, whether this dein- stem is phonetically very different from the déan- stem used in other forms. 

Habitual past, future, and conditional forms are regular in the Caighdeán. At least in Ulster, though, habitual past is based on the (gh)ní- stem; and not just conditional but also future forms are permanently lenited: dhéanfaidh. And as in present and past, the verb in Ulster does not seem to be able to decide whether its stem vowel is or éa, and whether its first consonant is t or d. Thus, we get forms such as cha dteánfadh, cha dteánfaidh, go dteánfadh, go dteánfaidh, and so on.

The verbal noun is déanamh and the participle is déanta, but in the recently published book on East Ulster Irish, Scéalta Mhuintir Luinigh, I have spotted teanamh, which seems to be another example of Ulster t- for d- in this verb.

ABAIR!/RÁ ‘to say, to sing’

The present is deir, and in the Caighdeán it is the same after verbal particles: go ndeir, nach ndeir, ní dheir, an ndeir. Some textbooks suggest that there is a difference in meaning between deir and deireann, but this is bonkers: I say it is one of style.

Note that deir is not lenited after direct relative particle: an fear a deir nach bhfuil sé sásta ‘the man who says that he is not satisfied’. This is due to the fact that historically a- is part of the stem. This is why some writers prefer adeir to a deir.

The impersonal present is deirtear. The old form ráitear should be avoided, as it is hardly living language anywhere. The old formula ris a ráitear is sometimes used, but this is in today’s Irish purely facetious; it means ‘which is called’, i.e. ar a dtugtar or a dtugtar…air/uirthi/orthu in better and more modern Irish.

The historically correct way obviously was to use the abair-/abr- stem after verbal particles: ní abraíonn/ní abrann, go n-abraíonn/go n-abrann, an abraíonn/an abrann, nach n-abraíonn/nach n-abrann; an abraítear/an abart(h)ar etc. However, even where abr- stems survive, they are not always used according to this rule – in Ulster, ní dheir is seen alongside ní abraíonn or ní abrann, and in Connacht, you see such forms as abraíonn used without any verbal particles. 

Very much the same applies to future and conditional forms, which are based on the déar- stem (déarfaidh, déarfadh) with the d- resisting aspiration after the direct relative particle (a déarfas, a déarfadh), but not after (ní dhéarfaidh, ní dhéarfadh).

Again, the use of the abair-/abr- stem after verbal particles has been most stable in Ulster. Note though that the abr- forms in Ulster show the usual Ulster features of second conjugation verbs in conditional and future. Thus, the conditional and future endings are either two-syllable: abróchaidh [abrahi], abróchadh [abrahu] (note that in Ulster, non-initial long o is realized as short but clear [a]) or intrusive: abórfaidh [abarhi], abórfadh [abarhu]. 

The habitual past form is deireadh, with the impersonal form deirtí. It is not lenited except after ; such forms as dheireadh, dheirtí with a regularized lenition of the initial consonant are typical of Waterford Irish. The abair-/abr- stem after verbal particles is again possible: ní abraíodh, ní abraítí or ní abart(h)aí. But note again that where the ab(ai)r- stem does exist, it is often used even where you would except deir-: I am positive I have seen d’abraíodh rather than deireadh in folklore volumes from Mayo, at the very least.

The past is dúirt, the past impersonal is dúradh (dúrthas is dialectal.) The personal endings are added to dúr- stem, and the first person form used in Munster is dúrt (old orthography dubhart). However, both in Ulster and Connacht, the past form is frequently reanalyzed as d’úirt, which gives rise to such forms as níor úirt, nár úirt, ar úirt, gur úirt (note that the caighdeán recommendation is ní dhúirt, nach ndúirt, an ndúirt, go ndúirt). This is orthographically often represented as níor (nár, ar, gur…) dhúirt or níor (etc.) ‘úirt. Similarly, the impersonal form is in these dialects húradh or húrthas (the addition of h- to the initial vowel of past impersonal is a regular feature in those dialects). The initial d- resists lenition after direct relative a (and of course some writers prefer to spell the direct relative form as one word, adúirt).

The verbal noun is (rádh, ráidht, ráit are seen in Ulster literature), ráite is the participle.

TÉIGH!/DUL ‘to go’

This verb has a number of issues. We saw above that gabh! is used for ‘come!’ in Ulster, but at least in Connacht the forms of gabh!/gabháil are more typically substituted for forms of téigh, such as future (gabhfaidh for rachaidh) and conditional (ghabhfadh for rachadh). 

The present form is téann. However, in Ulster they use théid with all personal pronouns. It is permanently lenited but it responds to eclipsis: go dtéid, nach dtéid, cha dtéid… 

The future form is rachaidh and the conditional form is rachadh. However, in Munster these forms are created from the ragha- rather than racha- stem at least if they end in personal endings, thus raghainn for rachainn ‘I would go’, and raghad for rachaidh mé ‘I will go’. The -f- is used only in the impersonal form: rachfar (raghfar), rachfaí (raghfaí). 

The past tense is chuaigh, and the past form used after verbal particles is deachaigh (an ndeachaigh, go ndeachaigh, nach ndeachaigh, ní dheachaigh). While -igh is the standard spelling, some people insist on -idh as the historically correct spelling, but as you know this is not phonetically relevant anywhere. 

In Munster, expect such forms as gur chuaigh and (due to loss of -r particles) go gcuaigh. And in Ulster, there is again some confusion about the first consonant: cha dteachaigh, an dteachaigh etc.

The impersonal past is chuathas/go ndeachthas; the form chuadh (or chuathadh)/go ndeachadh is dialectal.

The verbal noun is dul, obviously, but in Ulster and Connacht, ghoil (delenited only after ag: ag goil) is preferred. It is obviously another example of gabh invading the paradigm of this verb. It is sometimes written ghabháil, but as far as I know the real honest-to-God gabháil has even in those dialects a full pronunciation [gawa:l’] to keep it distinct from ghoil. The participle is dulta, but the construction ar shiúl is preferred at least in Ulster.

There will be a separate post about  and is of course.

Regular Verbs in Irish

Present tense has the following endings:



caithir/caitheann tú

caitheann sé

caithimid/caitheann muid

caitheann sibh

caithid/caitheann siad




fanair/fanann tú

fanann sé

fanaimid/fanann muid

fanann sibh

fanaid/fanann siad




osclaír/osclaíonn tú

osclaíonn sé

osclaímid/osclaíonn muid

osclaíonn sibh

osclaíd/osclaíonn siad




lagaír/lagaíonn tú

lagaíonn sé

lagaímid/lagaíonn muid

lagaíonn sibh

lagaíd/lagaíonn siad


The form caithim, fanaim, osclaím, lagaím is necessary in the standard language. The second person singular forms caithir, fanair, osclaír, lagaír are very rare these days, but they do find some use in literature – even such a quintessentially Connemara writer as Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire (not to be confused with the more famous Pádraic Ó Conaire; Pádhraic Óg was a writer of rural prose in a style somewhat reminiscent of the Ulster classic Séamus Ó Grianna) perceived them as the correct literary forms.

The form caithimid, fanaimid, osclaímid, lagaímid is also standard Irish, but for many verbs of the first conjugation this form sounds too much like the corresponding future form. I would prefer caitheann muid, fanann muid, osclaíonn muid, lagaíonn muid. The construction caitheann sinn, fanann sinn, osclaíonn sinn, lagaíonn sinn sounds a little funny to me, because in those varieties that feel most natural to me, there is at least a tendency to distinguish between muid “we” and sinn “us”. However, this is strictly my own gut feeling. I have seen sinn used as subject in some folklore volumes (I think mostly from Northern Mayo), and thus, caitheann sinn, fanann sinn, osclaíonn sinn, lagaíonn sinn have good Gaeltacht pedigree.  

The form caithid, fanaid, osclaíd, lagaíd is strictly Munster Irish, and it can be followed by the pronoun siad; don’t be amazed if you see caithid siad, fanaid siad, osclaíd siad, lagaíd siad in a Munster text.

The direct relative form (see my earlier post about direct relative forms!) chaitheas/chaitheanns, fhanas/fhananns, osclaíos/osclaíonns, lagaíos/lagaíonns is most typical of Connacht and Ulster Irish. It is not entirely unknown to Munster Irish though, where it is used in songs, i.e. perceived to be part of older (oral) literature. The form in -s is the older and historically correct one, the form in -nns smacks more of modern colloquial language. 

The verbal particles used with regular present forms are “not”, go “that”, nach/ná “that…not” and “not?, whether…not?”, an “…?, whether?”, and cha(n)

lenites: ní chaitheann, ní fhanann, ní osclaíonn, ní lagaíonn. Go eclipses: go gcaitheann, go bhfanann, go n-osclaíonn, go lagaíonn. 

Nach eclipses: nach gcaitheann, nach bhfanann, nach n-osclaíonn, nach lagaíonn

, which is used in Munster instead of nach, does not affect consonants, but it adds h- to a vowel: ná caitheann, ná fanann, ná hosclaíonn, ná lagaíonn

An eclipses: an gcaitheann, an bhfanann, an osclaíonn, an lagaíonn

Cha(n) is only used in Ulster, and it adds future sense to present forms; it usually lenites, but it eclipses d and t and does not affect s-: cha chaitheann, chan fhanann, chan osclaíonn (which is chan fhosclaíonn in Ulster!), cha lagaíonn; cha ndíolann, cha dtarcaisníonn, cha samhlaíonn. Note that the -n of cha(n) is only used before vowels, including vowels preceded by the mute fh-.

Future tense has the following endings: 


caithfead/caithfidh mé

caithfir/caithfidh tú

caithfidh sé

caithfeam/caithfimid/caithfidh muid

caithfidh sibh

caithfid/caithfidh siad



fanfad/fanfaidh mé

fanfair/fanfaidh tú

fanfaidh sé

fanfam/fanfaimid/fanfaidh muid

fanfaidh sibh

fanfaid/fanfaidh siad



osclód/osclóidh mé

osclóir/osclóidh tú

osclóidh sé

osclóm/osclóimid/osclóidh muid

osclóidh sibh

osclóid/osclóidh siad



lagód/lagóidh mé

lagóir/lagóidh tú

lagóidh sé

lagóm/lagóimid/lagóidh muid

lagóidh sibh

lagóid/lagóidh siad


As you see, the short verbs (first conjugation) insert a -f-, the long verbs (the second conjugation) insert a long -ó-. How and whether the -f- is pronounced at all, is a question of dialect, but a pronunciation of this -f- as [h] elsewhere and as [f] in the impersonal (autonomous) form (caithfear, fanfar, osclófar, lagófar) is widely accepted. Note that the [h] pronunciation in many verbs amounts to the devoicing of a previous consonant: scríobhfaidh will be pronounced as if written /scríofaidh/.

The final -idh is almost or entirely mute in Connemara, a short [i] in Ulster, and of course an [-ig] in Munster.

The long -ó- is of course written -eo- after a slender consonant, as in the verb saibhrigh:

saibhreod/saibhreoidh mé

saibhreoir/saibhreoidh tú

saibhreoidh sé

saibhreom/saibhreoimid/saibhreoidh muid

saibhreoidh sibh

saibhreoid/saibhreoidh siad


In Ulster, the forms with the long -ó- have audibly two syllables, so that the -óidh/-eoidh ending is pronounced [axi] or [ahi], which is commonly written as -óchaidh/-eochaidh. Thus, saibhreochaidh, lagóchaidh and so on.

One feature that is not exclusively Ulster Irish although most common in Ulster literature is the intrusive future. Intrusive future forms are possible with syncopated verbs, i.e. those which drop the second syllable of the stem before the endings – such as oscail here, although it is most commonly foscail in Ulster. Anyway, such verbs as foscail can take the two-syllable future forms all right: fosclóchaidh; but it is also possible that the long ó intrudes into the stem: foscólfaidh

Note that in Ulster the long but unstressed o turns into a short but clear a sound (which is also a common way to pronounce the short and stressed o sound), so that the difference between the two future forms is basically very slight: fosclóchaidh is pronounced [fasklahi] but foscólfaidh [faskalhi].

As I noted, the intrusive future is not unique to Ulster, but I first became conscious of it reading Cora Cinniúna, i.e. the short stories of Séamus Ó Grianna. I am sure, though, that there is an instance of tosónfaidh somewhere in Peig. Tosónfaidh is the intrusive future of tosnaigh!/tosnú, which is the Munster dialect form of tosaigh!/tosú.

The verbs ending in -áil such as sábháil, seiceáil are basically first conjugation: sábhálfaidh, seiceálfaidh (note that the consonant becomes broad before the future ending). However, in Ulster ears the -álfaidh part sounds exactly the same as the -ólfaidh of the intrusive future, so that these verbs tend to be perceived as second conjugation. (In fact, in Séamus Ó Grianna’s stories as edited by Niall Ó Donaill, such spellings as sábhólfaidh are used, so as to convey how these verb forms are perceived by a speaker of traditional Ulster Irish.) This then leads to the introduction of such non-intrusive second conjugation forms as sábhlóchaidh and such second-conjugation verbal nouns as sábhailt. Thus, in Ulster the -áil verbs tend to drift into the second conjugation. 

The forms with personal endings are, as usual, most typically used in Munster Irish. The forms caithfead, fanfad, osclód, lagód and caithfir, fanfair, osclóir, lagóir are part of most good speakers’ passive knowledge. On the other hand, while the forms caithfeam, fanfam, osclóm, lagóm are the historically correct forms for first person plural, these days they are very exclusively Munster Irish and are not even understood elsewhere. In fact, I was already quite fluent in the language when I first met these forms.

And as you should remember from my post on relative clauses, there is a direct relative form: chaithfeas, fhanfas, osclós, lagós.

In correct Irish, future is not used after ‘if’, but it is used after nuair ‘when’, when there is a future form in the main clause. The nuair clause is historically a direct relative clause, and can take the relative -s. Thus, the following are correct:

Má thagann sé abhaile, beidh lúcháir orainn.

Nuair a thiocfaidh sé abhaile, beidh lúcháir orainn.

Nuair a thiocfas sé abhaile, beidh lúcháir orainn.

The first example means ‘If he comes home, we’ll be happy’, the two others, ‘When he comes home, we’ll be happy’.

Subjunctive present has the ending -e in first conjugation forms and -í in second conjugation forms:

go gcaithe mé, tú, sé. muid, sibh, siad

go gcaitear

go bhfana mé, tú, sé, muid, sibh, siad

go bhfantar

go n-osclaí mé, tú, sé, muid, sibh, siad

go n-osclaítear

go lagaí mé, tú, sé, muid, sibh, siad

go lagaítear

If personal endings are used with subjunctive present, they are the same as those of future, but without the -f-/-ó-, -eo-; go gcaithead, go bhfanad, go n-osclaíod, go lagaíod for first person singular, go gcaitheam, go bhfanam, go n-osclaíom, go lagaíom for first person plural, for instance. Subjunctive present is used in optative expressions, i.e. wishes: go n-éirí leat “may you be successful”, nár lagaí Dia do lámh “may God not weaken your hand”, i.e. “more power to you”. Note that go eclipses, but nár lenites. Moreover, subjunctive present is used after mura/mara/muna “unless”, sula/sara “before” when the main sentence has future. (However, in modern language, future has mostly ousted this usage of the present subjunctive.)

Past tense, or the punctual past. This corresponds only partly to the English past tense. It has a stronger sense of perfectivity, i.e. the action having been completed, than the English past tense, and can often be used for translating the English perfect or pluperfect tense. Let’s take an example. Right now, there is a news item at that can be expressed in one sentence: “A Texas teenager was found guilty of murdering an Iraqi man who had just arrived in the United States.” As they say, no news is good news, and news tends to be bad news, but if I want to translate this into Irish, I will use the past tense: ciontaíodh déagóir ó Texas i ndúnmharú fir Iarácaigh nár tháinig go dtí na Stáit Aontaithe ach go gairid roimhe sin. (Or, if you prefer so: fuarthas déagóir ó Texas ciontach i ndúnmharú…

So much about usage, but let’s talk about morphology.


chaitheas/chaith mé

chaithis/chaith tú

chaith sé

chaitheamar/chaith muid

chaitheabhair/chaith sibh

chaitheadar/chaith siad



d’fhanas/d’fhan mé

d’fhanais/d’fhan tú

d’fhan sé

d’fhanamar/d’fhan muid

d’fhanabhair/d’fhan sibh

d’fhanadar/d’fhan siad



d’osclaíos/d’oscail mé

d’osclaís/d’oscail tú

d’oscail sé

d’osclaíomar/d’oscail muid

d’osclaíobhair/d’oscail sibh

d’osclaíodar/d’oscail siad



lagaíos/lagaigh mé

lagaís/lagaigh tú

lagaigh sé

lagaíomar/lagaigh muid

lagaíobhair/lagaigh sibh

lagaíodar/lagaigh siad


The regular past basically takes the particles níor, ar, gur, nár, char, which lenite. However, the regular past autonomous form resists this lenition: níor fhan, gur fhan, nár fhan, ar fhan, níor chaith, gur chaith, nár chaith, ar chaith, but níor fanadh, gur fanadh, nár fanadh, ar fanadh, níor caitheadh, nár caitheadh, gur caitheadh, ar caitheadh. Only in the dialect of Waterford, the past autonomous form of the regular verb is permanently lenited. I never knew this, before I started to read folklore texts in that particular dialect (you can find them in the yearbook of the Ring of Waterford Gaeltacht, An Linn Bhuí, or in the folklore collections Ar Bóthar Dom and Leabhar Mhaidhc Dháith).

On the other hand, the -r particles are disappearing in Kerry Irish, and you should not be amazed to find such forms as go gcaith sé, go gcaitheas, go gcaitheadar in texts written by Kerry natives – note though that such older writers as Pádraig Ua Maoileoin, while writing in unadulterated Kerry dialect, did use the -r particles in past tense. Maidhc Dainín Ó Sé on the other hand seems to write as he speaks, so his books are full of such forms as go gcaitheas

As usually, the personal endings are typically confined to Munster Irish (although older generation Connacht writers such as Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire do make use of them too). I could not care less about which are accepted as part of standard language, but my impression is that first person singular forms (chaitheas, d’fhanas, d’osclaíos, lagaíos) and second person singular forms (chaithis, d’fhanais, d’osclaís, lagaís) as well as second person plural forms (chaitheabhair, d’fhanabhair, d’osclaíobhair, lagaiobhair) are strictly Munster Irish these days, while the -amar and -adar suffixes are more mainstream. Note by the way that in Kerry, -amar has the form -amair.

Adding a hiatus h- to the initial vowel of the past autonomous form is not standard, but it is quite widespread.

In Munster, do can be used even where the past tense form begins with a consonant (and in Munster folklore volumes reproducing the exact pronunciation, you should not be surprised to see things like do dh’fhanas). 

Conditional mood. In Irish, conditional mood is the same for present and past: dhéanfainn é means both “I would do it” and “I would have done it”. It has the following forms:




chaithfeadh sé


chaithfeadh sibh






d’fhanfadh sé


d’fhanfadh sibh






d’osclódh sé


d’osclódh sibh






lagódh sé


lagódh sibh



As in the past tense, the first consonant is lenited, and a d’ is added to an initial vowel or fh-. However, the -r- particles are never used – you use go, nach (ná), ní, cha(n), an: an bhfanfá? ní fhanfainn! chan fhanfainn! nach bhfanfadh sé? (Munster: ná fanfadh sé?). If you see such a form as *níor fhanfadh, and the writer is a native speaker, you can be sure that he or she is from Munster and unsure about where to use the -r particles correctly. (This is what we call hypercorrection in English and forcheartú in Irish – i.e., extending a rule to where it does not apply, in an attempt to correct your nonstandard language.)

In Ulster, the conditional endings of the second conjugation again have two syllables (in books such as Cora Cinniúna with a dialectal spelling, you will see such examples as lagóchainn, lagóchadh sé; and probably lagóchthá and lagóchthaí instead of lagófá, lagófaí). And of course there are similar tendencies to use intrusive forms (d’fhoscólfá ~ d’fhosclófá).

As regards the pronunciation of the -f-, it is usually a [h], but an audible [f] in second person singular and in the autonomous form. (Note though that this rule does not apply to every dialect.) As in the future tense, if the verb stem ends in a voiced consonant, the [h] fuses with this to yield a devoiced one – thus, scríobhfainn is pronounced as scríofainn, sciobfainn as sciopainn, and so on.

The final -dh is usually pronounced as broad -ch (German “ach!”), but in Ulster it is a short u sound. Before a personal pronoun beginning with s-, i.e. sé, sí, sibh, siad, the -dh is at least in Ulster (but probably even in some other dialects) usually pronounced as -t. Thus, d’fhanfadh Seán is pronounced d’fhanfu Seán, but d’fhanfadh sé is more like d’fhanfait sé.

The personal endings -imis, -idís often take an extra -t: -imist, -idíst. IMHO this is most typically Ulster and Connacht Irish.

Sometimes the autonomous form is delenited under the influence of the past tense forms: fanfaí, caithfí, but I don’t think this is a particularly stable or regular feature in any dialect.

Habitual past. Habitual past, or imperfect, tells what used to happen in the past, often, frequently, repeatedly. It has basically the following forms:




chaitheadh sé


chaitheadh sibh






d’fhanadh sé


d’fhanadh sibh






d’osclaíodh sé


d’osclaíodh sibh



There is a very worrying tendency to use punctual past instead of habitual past in some elementary textbooks. This must be condemned, because it is quite unambiguously wrong. It is much better to use conditional mood instead of habitual past, because this is how some native dialects do, too.

Habitual past, as conditional mood, lenites initial consonants and takes the d’ before vowels and mute fh’s. However, it takes the r-less particles in negative, interrogative and subordinate contexts: nach bhfanainn/ná fanainn, chan fhanainn, ní fhanainn, go bhfanainn, an bhfanainn

Habitual past forms can be used after dhá “if”, mura/muna/mana “if not” and sula/sara, if there is a conditional mood in the main clause. In this context, the forms of habitual past are not called habitual past, but past subjunctive. Dhá n-osclófá an doras, bheadh cead isteach ag gach cineál feithidí. Or: Dhá n-osclaíteá an doras, bheadh cead isteach ag gach cineál feithidí. ‘If you opened the door, all kinds of insects could get in.’

My impression is that a native writer who uses both habitual past and conditional mood for referring to habitual past actions, there is a slight but perceptible difference between the two:

Thagadh sé ar cuairt chugam agus bheannaíodh sé do na cuairteoirí go léir. D’ólfadh sé braon agus bheadh comhrá aige le duine nó dhó, agus chaithfeadh sé tamall ag imirt chártaí nó ag damhsa. 

In this example, the habitual past forms (bold) refer to what always happened, i.e. this person used to come to visit me and greet everybody. Then we start using the conditional forms, when we refer to what typically happened, what this person typically might do at such an occasion, but did not do it in a particular order or not every time. If I say:

Thagadh sé ar cuairt chugam agus bheannaíodh sé do na cuairteoirí go léir. D’óladh sé braon agus bhíodh comhrá aige le duine nó dhó, agus chaitheadh sé tamall ag imirt chártaí nó ag damhsa.

…the impression conveyed is much more one of a ritual happening always in the same way and in the same order of events.

I confess that this is only my gut feeling, although it is based on a scene somewhere in Conchúr Ó Síocháin’s Gaeltacht autobiography Seanchas Chléire (known in English as The Man from Cape Clear). I will make the relevant fragment available here (with all bibliographical references) as soon as I can (and as soon as I find the book). 

By the way: in County Cork Irish it is common to leave the habitual past autonomous form delenited, which is another thing you will learn reading Ó Síocháin’s book. Thus, caití and fantaí are normal occurrences in that particular dialect.

Comments are welcome.