Owning Stuff in Gaelic

Which isn’t quite as simple as you might think.

In English, the simple phrase “my book” is a simple two-word structure which can be inserted quite easily into a sentence. That’s my book. My book is blue. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, for nuance of meaning, you can say other things. I own the book. I have the book. That’s about it.

In most other languages I know, it’s equally simple. Ich habe ein Buch. Es ist mein Buch. J’ai un livre. C’est mon livre. Tengo un libro. Es mi libro.

Simple, right? The same as English.

But not in Gaelic.

In Gaelic, yes, there are possessive pronouns. Mo leabhar – my book.

But you can also say an leabhar agam – which also translates as ‘my book’.

And if you put “tha” (to be) in front of it – tha ‘n leabhar agam – it translates as ‘I have the book’.

And the phrase itself, an leabhar agam, literally means ‘the book at me’. Tha ‘n leabhar agam is literally ‘the book is at me’. Gaelic doesn’t have a verb ‘to have’, like the other four languages I’ve mentioned.

So that’s two ways, which is reasonable enough, even if the book is at you due to the lack of an appropriate verb in the language.

But then there’s another: an leabhar leam. Which, strangely enough, literally means ‘the book with me’. So what does tha ‘n leabhar leam mean? Well, thank-you for asking. It doesn’t actually mean the book is with you. Translated ‘colloquially’ (rather than literally), it means ‘I own the book’.

And rather than stopping here, I’ll give you some other unusual ways Gaelic uses prepositions. (Seriously, Gaelic has got prepositions down to an art. The language doesn’t conjugate verbs – at least, not in a way recognisable to speakers of Germanic or Romance languages – but it does conjugate prepositions. But that’s a story for another post).

Tha ‘n t-acras orm. – I’ve already mention this. It means “I’m hungry”. It literally means “the hunger is upon me”. This also applies to emotions, too. Tha ‘m breisleach oirre – “She is confused” (or, “the confusion is upon her”). Tha ‘n t-eagal orm. I’m scared.

Tha ‘n Gàidhlig agam. – “I speak Gaelic”. Or literally, “The Gaelic is at me.”

Dè ‘n t-ainm a th’ oirbh/ort? – “What’s your name?” (Literally, “What is the name upon you?”) Irish, however, uses a different preposition, and will ask, Cad é ‘s ainm dhut? (in Gaelic, Dè is ainm dhuit?) Or, “What name is to you?”

‘S as Gàidhlig a tha e (a’ bruidhinn). – “It’s in Gaelic”. (Add the bit in brackets, and it’s “He’s speaking in Gaelic”). The preposition here is as – from. It is from Gaelic. He is speaking from Gaelic.

Tha brògan air. He’s wearing shoes. (Shoes are on him). Tha còta oirre. She’s wearing a jacket. (Coat is on her).

Tha mi ag obair. I’m working. (I am at working). Tha mi a’ fuireach ann… I live in… (I am at staying in…)

Tha e ‘na chroitear. He’s a farmer. (He is in his farmer-ness.) Tha mi ‘nam tìdsear. I’m a teacher. (I am in my teaching-ness). Bha i ‘na suidhe. She was sitting. (She was in her sitting-ness).

Well, that’s about it – that I know, anyway. There are bound to be tonnes more. Of course, most languages have some differences in prepositions – for example, in Spanish, you walk ‘por’ the street, rather than ‘en’ it as in English – but Gaelic really takes use of prepositions to a whole new level. It more than compensates for not actually having a verb ‘to have’, it just takes a while to wrap your head around.


One thought on “Owning Stuff in Gaelic

  1. […] posted about the evils of Gaelic prepositions recently, here: https://coveredrachel.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/owning-stuff-in-gaelic/ and here, at the end: […]

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