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16 October 2014
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Coibhneas Díreach agus Indíreach/Direct and Indirect Relative


We've already talked about má and dá so it was only a matter of time before we got round to the relatives. You'll have noticed by now, even if you haven't studied it yet, that Irish has a number of ways to deal with this aspect of language. You could easily be intimidated by what you read in the grammar books about this. Here's how the dictionary defines the word 'relative': 'denoting or belonging to a class of words that function as subordinating conjunctions in introducing relative clauses.' Yes, sometimes the relative clause in Irish is presented as if it's the Theory of Relativity, only harder.

But it doesn't have to be quite so bad. First of all, what we're talking about are sentences which are divided in two or more parts. The first part introduces us to the subject of the sentence, ('That's the man') and the second goes on to give more information on the subject ('he sings in Irish'). In English, the two are linked by words such as 'who' 'which' 'whom' 'whose' and so on. So we get 'That's the man who sings in Irish'. In similar sentences in Irish, we almost always use one word a - just the letter a. So if we take the two parts Sin an fear and Ceolann sé i nGaeilge we can join them together like so: Sin an fear a cheolann i nGaeilge. We don't need the word sé in the second part, because you've already mentioned the man. It would be like saying 'That's the man who he sings in Irish'. It would just be wrong. So take another example. Is bean í. That's the first part, or 'clause'. The second clause is Déanann sí obair mhaith. We join them together like so: Is bean í a dhéanann obair mhaith. I'll give you two clauses now, and a little while to join them together. Ready? Sin an fear. and Díolann sé nuachtáin.

So, the question is how to join the first clause Sin an fear and the second Díolann sé nuachtáin. Well, you insert the word a, and you'll notice that it almost always causes séimhiú - it adds the letter 'h' to the verb. Sin an fear a dhíolann nuachtáin. A doesn't always cause séimhiú. The most important exception is with the word tá. So a sentence like 'You see that train that's coming in?' would be An bhfeiceann tú an traein atá ag teacht isteach? 'Are the man who is looking for a job?' would be An tusa an duine atá ag iarraidh jab?

So far so good. All the sentences above are known as direct relatives. Basically there's nothing in the second clause that's referring back to the subject of the first clause. I know that's tricky, but it's just the same in English with 'who' and 'whose'. 'Here is the boy who is unwell.' That's a direct relative. 'Here is the boy whose brother is unwell.' That's an indirect relative, because 'his brother' is referring back to the subject of the sentence - the boy. Here's how it works in Irish. The direct sentence first. Seo an gasúr atá tinn. The indirect one now: Seo an gasúr a bhfuil a dheartháir tinn. So, tá changes to bhfuil, the same form of the verb that you use with questions Cá bhfuil? An bhfuil? and so on. This is known as the 'dependent form' of the verb because you never encounter it alone - it depends on a question being asked, or on an indirect relative.

When the relation is indirect that little word a causes urú rather than séimhiú. So 'That's the man whose son sells newspapers' is Sin an fear a ndíolann a mhac nuachtáin. 'That's the man whose wife sings in Irish' is Sin an fear a gceolann a bhean i nGaeilge. I'll give you two clauses to join together now and see how you get on: An tusa an duine? Tá a mhac ag iarraidh jab?

Answer: An tusa an duine a bhfuil a mhac ag iarraidh jab?

Until now, all our examples of indirect relatives have been caused by words like 'his' or 'hers' - the so-called 'possessive adjectives'. There are other things that can refer back to the subject of a sentence and make the relation indirect. For example: 'That's the school'. 'I work in it'. In Irish, these two clauses are Sin an scoil. Tá mé ag obair inti. That inti is referring back to the school, and so the relation is indirect: Sin an scoil a bhfuil mé ag obair inti.

The good news is that negative sentences all work the same. The two clauses - Sin an fear. Ní cheolann sé i nGaeilge become Sin an fear nach gceolann i nGaeilge That's the direct one. And the indirect one? Sin an fear. Ní cheolann a bhean i nGaeilge becomes Sin an fear nach gceolann a bhean i nGaeilge. We'll come back to this some time in the future, but I think that's enough for one sitting.





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