Past tense

Do you know how to use the past tense in Irish? Learn some helpful words and phrases and test yourself on others you may already know!

The past tense is known in Irish as an aimsir chaite. It describes an event that has already happened.

Some examples in English include I went, Seán ate, they drove, you walked etc.

There are three rules to follow when changing verbs to reflect the past tense.

  • When the verb begins with a consonant, aspirate or add a séimhiú to the word. This means adding a h after the first letter in the verb. For example, the verb ceannaigh (to buy) becomes c h eannaigh

  • When the verb begins with a vowel, put a d' before the verb. For example, the verb oscail (to open) becomes d' oscail

  • When the verb begins with an f, you do both of these things, by placing a d’ before the verb and aspirating or adding a séimhiú (h) after the first consonant in the verb, which in this case is always f. For example, the verb fág (to leave) becomes d' f h ág.

However...

You can't add a séimhiú or aspirate verbs that begin with the letters l, n, r and sc, sm, sp or st. You also can't add a séimhiú or aspirate any word that begins with a vowel.

Once you have changed the verb into the past tense, add the pronoun (or name) after the verb. This is who or what that did the action.

Learn more about adding a séimhiú to words in this guide.

Regular verbs starting with consonants

glan (verb clean)

cuir (verb put)

críoghnaigh (verb finish)

bris (verb break)

druid (verb close)

becomes ghlan

becomes chuir

becomes chríochnaigh

becomes bhris

becomes dhruid

Ghlan mé mo sheomra. - I cleaned my room.

Chuir sé a ghúthan ina phóca. - He put his phone in his pocket.

Chríochnaigh sí a hobair bhaile. - She finished her homework.

Bhris sibh an riomhaire. - You (pl) broke the computer.

Dhruid Aoife an doras. - Aoife closed the door.

Regular verbs starting with vowels

éirigh (verb rise, get up)

amharc ar (verb look at)

ól (verb drink)

éist (verb listen)

oscail (verb open)

becomes d'éirigh

becomes d'amharc (ar)

becomes d'ól

becomes d'éist

becomes d'oscail

D'éirigh mé ar a seacht a chlog. - I got up at 7 o'clock.

D'amharc sé ar an teilifís. - He watched the TV.

D'ol sí as gloine. - She drank from a glass.

D'éist siad leis an raidió. - They listened _to the radio.

D'oscail Peadair a mhála. - Peadair opened his bag.

Regular verbs beginning with f

fág (verb leave)

freastail (verb attend, serve)

foghlaim (verb learn)

becomes d'fhág

becomes _d'fhreastail

becomes d'fhoghlaim

D'fhág mé scoil ar leath i ndiadh a trí. - I left school at half past three.

D'fhreastail siad ar choláiste eile. - They attended another college.

D'fhoghlaim Caitriona rudaí ina ranga. - Caitriona learnt things in her class.

Negative and question forms

Use the negative form when saying you didn't do something.

For example, I went becomes I did not go in the negative.

To put a verb in the negative form in the past tense in Irish, you do two things:

  • Add níor before the verb
  • Aspirate or add a séimhiú (h) to the verb if it begins with a consonant - but don't do this to vowels

Remember, don't add d' to verbs beginning with vowels or f when using níor.

PositiveNegative
chuir méI putníor chuir méI didn't put
d'ól méI drankníor ól méI didn't drink
d'fhan méI waitedníor fhan méI didn't wait

You use the question form when you want to ask if someone did something.

For example, you went becomes did you go? in the question form.

Asking questions is similar to using the negative form. To put a verb in the question form in the past tense in Irish, you do two things:

  • Add ar before the verb
  • Aspirate or add a séimhiú (h) to the verb if it begins with a consonant - but don't do this to vowels

Remember, don't add d' to verbs beginning with vowels or f when using ar.

PositiveQuestion
chuir túyou putar chuir tú?did you put?
d'ól túyou drankar ól tú?did you drink?
d'fhan túyou waitedar fhan tú?did you wait?

Irregular verbs

There are eleven irregular verbs in Irish. These verbs are called irregular because they do not follow the three rules of the past tense, or rules of other tenses.

Some of them also do not use níor and ar in their negative and question forms, and instead use and an.

They are the most commonly used verbs and it is important to know them.

The table below shows these verbs in the positive, negative and question forms.

PostiveNegativeQuestion
verb gotéighchuaighní dheacaighan ndeacaigh tú?
verb bebhíní raibhan raibh tú?
verb do, makedéanrinnení dhearnaan ndearna tú?
verb seefeicchonaicní fhacaan bhfaca tú?
verb sayabairdúirtní dúirtan ndúirt tú?
verb getfaighfuairní fhuairan bhfuair tú?
verb eatithd'ithníor ithar ith tú?
verb hearclois / cluinchualaníor chualaar chuala tú?
verb givetabhairthugníor thugar thug tú?
verb cometartháinigníor tháinigar tháinig tú?
verb catchbeir arrug mé arníor rug mé arar rug tú ar?