Syntax of the Verbal Noun (Comhréir an Ainm Bhriathartha)
| Used as the Infinitive:
with following object (noun)
with object (pronoun)
with object (further verbal noun)
with leading object
progressive tense in the relative clause
progressive tense with go/nach-subordinating clause
progressive tense in only-clauses
perfect tense-progressive tense
progressive tense of stative verbs
with /without object
with go/nach-subordinating clause
infinitive construction of a goal
|Expressions of synchronicity- / plusquam
other uses of the dative of the agent
verbal noun as an attribute
further clauses with the verbal noun
with le, with chun
with ar, with tar éis
with agus, ach
with/after other prepositions
genitive in verbal noun constructions
genitive following genitive prepositions
genitive of a noun after the verbal noun
genitive of a noun preceding the verbal noun
genitive form of the verbal noun
Used as a Noun:
Usage als regular noun
When using the Irish verbal noun, one must differentiate between the "infinitive" usage (like the German/English infinitive) and the "substantive" usage (the gerund).
The Irish progressive tense is made with the auxilliary verb bí
(= to be) and a preposition. The preposition is mostly ag
= at, on,but in certain cases also do = for
or a = to.
With this respect, it is quite similar to colloquial German ("Ich bin beim Lesen,Ich bin am Lesen") =I am reading
The preposition ag differs in its pronunciation in the usage in the progressive tense ([@] preceding a consonant, [@g] preceding a vowel) from its other uses (otherwise [eg]).
Prepositions like ag and do require the dative. The verbal noun is also formally in the dative. Special dative forms are generally and especially with verbal nouns rather uncommon.
Other verbs in place of bí:
Instead of the verb bí (= to be), the verb in the progressive as a verb of sense, of movement or of beginning/ending/continuation is possible.(e.g. "I hear you coming" = Cloisim tú ag teacht, "The came a-running" = Tagann siad ag siúil, "I started drinking" = thosaigh mé ag ól)
In Ulster, often adh/a dh' preceding a vowel or a' preceding a consonant (with lenition) with other verbs than bí instead of ag is to be heard: thosnaigh mé a dh'ól =I began to drink
The verb bí may take on any tense. It is so that one can form a progressive tense present, preterite, future etc. To read more about the specifics of the meaning of the simple and habitual present of bí see tenses: progressive tense.
progressive tense present: Tá mé ag léamh = I am reading (now),
progressive tense habit. present: Bíonn mé ag léamh = I read (normally),
progressive tense preterite: Bhí mé ag léamh =I read (just now),
progressive tense future: Beidh mé ag léamh =I will (soon) read, etc.
progressive tense without object
|form of bí + subject + ag + VN|
|Tá mé ag léamh = I am reading ("am I at reading")|
progressive tense with a following noun-object
A following direct object is mostly
(see below) in the genitive.
|form of bí + subject + ag + VN + genitive-object|
|Tá mé ag léamh an nuachtáin = I am reading the paper ("am I at reading the paper")|
Tá tú ag feiceáil an fhir = You see the man (lit.:"you are at seeing the man")
Feicim an fear ag teacht =I see the man coming ("I see the man at coming")
Tagaim ag foghlaim Gearmáinise = I am coming to learn German ("I come at learning [of] German")
progressive tense with a pronominal object
This form doesn't resemble any German form.
|form of bí + subject + do + possessive pronoun + VN|
|Tá tú do mo bhualadh = You are hitting me ("are you to my hitting")|
But: instead of (do + a) one uses á
not dá (the regular combination
of do + a)
Tá tú do mo bhualadh = You are hitting me.
Tá mé do do bhualadh = I am hitting you.
Tá tú á bhualadh = You are hitting him.
Tá tú á bualadh = You are hitting her.
Tá tú dár mbualadh = You are hitting us.
Tá mé do bhur mbualadh = I am hitting you(pl).
Tá tú á mbualadh = You are hitting them (pl).
Orally, other forms are possible (not with do but also here with ag or without a preposition)
If the possessive pronoun refers to the subject, one speaks of the passive-progressive
e.g. Tá an teach á thóigeáil = The house is being built. (lit.: "is the house at-his building")
These clauses are often double entendres and only discernable in context:
Tá sé á dhíol = He sells it (active, sé not the same as á) or
Tá sé á dhíol = It is being sold(passive, sé = á)
If the possessive pronoun refers to the subject but the reflexive pronoun
féin is present, one speaks of the reflexive
Tá sí á bualadh féin = She's hitting herself. (lit.: "is she at-her hitting self")
This form is also used with the demonstrative pronoun (seo, sin, siúd),
which then appears in addition to the possessive pronoun.
Depending on what the demonstrativum refers to, á lenites or doesn't, or requires eclipsis.
e.g.: Tá tú á ndéanamh seo = You are doing these (= these things: plural, so eclipsis follows á). (lit.: "are you to-their doing these")
Tá tú á dhéanamh seo = You are doing this (this one thing: singular masc., so lenition follows á)
reflexive progressive tense (foirm leanúnach athfhillteach)
To make a statement like "He's hitting himself" , one needs besides the antecedent possessive pronoun also the reflexive pronoun (forainm athfhillteach) féin = self.
Tá sé á bhualadh féin = He's hitting
Tá mé do mo bhualadh féin = I'm hitting myself.
Tá siad á mbualadh féin = They're hitting themselves.
progressive tense with a further verbal noun as the object
The second verbal noun is not, as perhaps feared, in the genitive,
(wrong would be e.g.: *Tá mé ag iarradh fhiafraithe = *"I am at the attempt to ask")
Instead (as in German) an "infinitive with to " (see below) is added.
|form of bí + subject + ag + VN + a + VN|
|Tá mé ag iarraidh a fhiafraí. = I am trying to ask|
progressive tense, if an object is preceding
To stress the object, the direct object can precede the clause. Then, it precedes
the verbal noun, is separated from it and is no longer in the genitive but in
Instead of the preposition ag then always a (with lenition!).
For this, the following possibilites:
1. The rest of the clause follows unchanged (so not in the form
of a relative clause). This is possible with negativeen clauses.
|object + form of bí + subject + a + VN|
|Pingin ní raibh mé a shaorú = Not a penny I've earned|
2. in a relative clause.(copula + object preceding as the antecedent)
|Is + object (antecedent) + a + relative form of bí + subject + a + VN|
|(Is é) an obair atá Pól a dhéanamh = The work is done by Paul.|
progressive tense in the relative clause
1. direct object as the antecedent
Instead of ag , a is used with lenition des VN.
This entspricht the aforementioned form for emphasis of the object, relative clauses can become necessary without a special choice of emphasis, this is always the case in interrogative clauses.
|object (antecedent) + a + relative form of bí + subject + a + VN|
|Is maith liom an obair atá an fear a dhéanamh. = I like the work, that the man does.|
|Cad atá tú a dhéanamh? = What are you doing (right now)?|
2. subject or other terms as the antecedent
In this case the construction does not change, it remains ag standing.
|subject (antecedent) + a + relative form of bí + ag + VN + genitive-object|
|Nach maith an fear atá ag déanamh na hoibre? = Is the man not good, that does the work?|
|Cé atá ag damhsa ansin? = Who is dancing there?|
progressive tense with a go/nach-subordinating clause
Within such a subordinating clause, there are no specifics to the usage
of the progressive tense (go bhfuil sé ag déanamh na hoibre
= that he is doing the work).
By using a go/nach-subordinating clause as the object of the progressive tense in the main clause one must note the following:
In Munster, there comes a combination into play of do/ag with the possessive pronoun a ( = his), also á (ag/do + a) instead of ag, similar to the progressive tense with a pronominal object . (á is a proleptic pronoun, that shifts the subordinating clause)
Outside of Munster one just uses ag without such a pronoun.
|Munster:||form of bí + subject + á + VN + go...|
|Tá mé á rá go bhfuil tú sásta = I say, that you are satisfied. (lit.: "Am I at seinem saying, that ...")|
|Connacht/Ulster:||form of bí + subject + ag + VN + go...|
|Tá mé ag rá go bhfuil tú sásta = I say, that you are satisfied. (lit.: "Am I at saying, that ...")|
progressive tense, in "only"-clauses (foirm leanúnach leathdhiúltach)
In Irish, there is no one word only like in German or English.
Instead, the clause is negated and ach (= but ) is added to the part of the clause, that is meant ("only me", "only in the paper" etc.). This is why one calls such a clause a "seminegated clause" (irish "leathdhiúltach")
When then the object comes after ach (disjoined from the verbal noun)
one uses a instead of ag.
The object is then not in the genitive but in the nominative/accusative.
|neg. form of bí + subject + a + VN + ach + object|
|Níl mé a léamh ach an nuachtán = I'm only reading the paper (right now) ("not-I am at reading but the paper")|
progressive tense passive (foirm leanúnach chéasta)
This form looks the same as the progressive tense with a pronominal object
, but here the possessive pronoun is always referring
to the subject.
|form of bí + subject + do + possessive pronoun + VN|
|Tá an teach á thóigeáil = The house wird gerade gebaut ( "is the house at his building")|
These clauses are often double entendres:
Tá sé á dhíol = He's selling it (active) or It's for sale (passive)
An agent may be added with ag (making the
Tá an teach á thóigeáil agam = The house is being built by me.
Here, the subject can even lead (similar to leading object see above)
Pingin ní raibh á shaorú agam = Not a penny was earned by me.
Nach deas an teach atá á thóigeáil agam? = Isn't the house nice, that is being built by me?
progressive perfect tense (foirm leanúnach fhoirfe)
Instead of tar éis also d'éis
or i ndiaidh
|form of bí + subject + tar éis + bheith + ag + VN + genitive-object|
|Tá mé tar éis bheith ag léamh an nuachtáin = I just read the paper ("am I after being at reading the paper")|
Also similar is the construction of a perfect tense without the progressive tense (then without bheith ag, the verbal noun forms then an infinitive construction, see there)
progressive tense of state-of-being verbs
Some verbs do not use the form with ag but instead the
preposition i (= in) with the possessive pronoun.
The possessive pronoun refers to the subject.
|form of bí + subject + i + possessive pronoun + VN|
|Tá mé i mo chónaí i mBéal Feirste = I live in Belfast. ("am I in my living in Belfast")|
These verbs do not describe active actions but a state of being, in
which one finds oneself.
These are the following verbal nouns:
For cónaí, the following form is (in Munster) also possible: Tá cónaí orm = I am living ("is living on me") instead of Tá mé i mo chónaí
This form is equivalent to the German "simple infinitive with to"
Only that here in Irish, the preposition "to" isn't used. It is negated with gan ("without"). Gan doesn't lenite here.
|affirmative||VN||Tá mé sásta siúl. = I am ready to walk|
|negative||gan + VN||Tá mé sásta gan siúl. = I agree, not to walk|
verbal noun of transit (coming, going, etc.) use mostly the preposition
a (= to; requires
e.g.: Tá mé sásta a theacht = I agree to come.
with a direct object
This form is equivalent to the German "extended infinitive with to"
The object is always in the nominative preceding the verbal noun (no genitive like the objects in the progressive tense)
Between object and verbal noun, the preposition a (= to) is used.
a requires lenition of the verbal noun!
|affirmative||object + a + VN||Tá mé sásta míle a shiúil = I am happy to walk a mile|
|negative||gan + object + a + VN||Tá mé sásta gan míle a shiúil = I am happy, not to walk a mile|
If a pronoun (personal pronoun or demonstrative pronoun) is the object, nothing changes in the clause form, the pronoun simply comes before the preposition a.
Tá mé sásta iad a dhíol = I agree to sell them.It is possible (today rarer) also to use the possessive pronoun (then without the preposition a)
Tá mé sásta gan iad a dhíol = I agree not to sell them.
Tá mé sásta a ndíol = I agree to sell them.
Tá mé sásta gan a ndíol = I agree not to sell them.
with an indirect object
Just the opposite as in German, the indirect object in Irish is always following the verbal noun. The preposition a = to is not used. Indirect objects are dative objects, in Irish always introduced with a preposition (in German also dative without preposition)
|affirmative||VN + prep. + indir. object||Tá áthas orm siúil le Máire = I am happy to walk with Máire|
|negative||gan + VN + prep. + indir. object||Tá áthas orm gan siúil le Pól = I am happy not to walk with Pól|
Of course, both direct and indirect objects may be incorporated:
Tá áthas orm an leabhar seo a thabhairt do Mháire. = I am happy to give this book to Máire.
Usage of the infinitive construction with or without an object
The possibility of usage is only partially equivalent to the German "infinitive
It appears in clauses with
|a + VN + go/nach-subordinating clause||Ba mhaith liom a fheiceáil go bhfuil tú sásta = I would like to see, that you are happy|
This a is not the preposition a
(= "to") as above!
This a is moreso a possessive pronoun (3rd pers. sg. masc. "his"). It shifts the following go-subordinating clause.
(Ba mhaith liom a fheiceáil go bhfuil tú sásta = lit. "would be good with me his seeing, that are you happy")
In English it is equivalent to the pronoun "it" in: "I would like to see it , that you are happy"
|subject + (a)* + VN||tú a fhanacht = that you wait ("you to wait")|
|subject + a + VN + genitive-object||a mhac a fháil báis = that his son is dying ("his son to receive death")|
|subject + do + possessive pronoun + VN||Dia dár sábháil = that God save us ("God to our saving")|
|subject + object + a + VN||a mhac bás a fháil = that his son is dying("his son death to receive")|
*): In Ulster, in the case of an intransitive usage, (only subject and verbal
noun, without object ) no preposition a is used: Ba mhaith liom tú
fanacht = I would like, that you wait
genitive-objects are (except in set phrases like fáil báis = to die) most common in Munster.
Special form: Logical subject with prepositions
Omission of bheith
The verbal noun of bí (bheith = to be) is often omitted completely:
Is mór an trua gan é (a bheith) anseo = It's a pity, that he is not here. (lit.: "is great the pity without him (to be) here")
Tóg uaim é agus gan (bheith) uaim ach é = Take it from me, that's only what I want.
|le + object + a + VN||le gloine a ól = in order to drink a glass|
|chun + object + a + VN||chun gloine a ól = in order to drink a glass|
|ag / a + VN + genitive-object||ag ól gloine = in order to drink a glass|
|do + possessive pronoun + VN||á ól = in order to drink it|
In Connacht, le prefixes an n-
to a word beginning with a vowel (e.g.: le n-ól = in order to drink,
le n-uisce a ól = in order to drink water), although no eclipsis
occurs after le! (Standard: le hól = in order to drink)
An object after chun is mostly not in the genitive (see below)
A pronoun as the object connects not with le
and chun to form prepositional pronouns
like leis or chuige. It remains separate after le and chun:
le hé (le n-é) a dhéanamh / chun é a dhéanamh = in order to do it.
(This is not only for le and chun, but for all infinitive constructions following a preposition).
Alternatively, following le, the possessive pronoun appears with the VN, following chun the possessive pronoun with the genitive of the VN:
lena dhéanamh, chun a dhéanta = in order to do it
le usually appears with the verb bí
, chun with other verbs.
Táim anseo le n-ól. = I am here in order to drink.
Tháinig mé anseo chun ól. = I came here to drink.
Chun and le occur mainly this way in Munster, as le is more common in Connacht and Donegal.
The forms with ag / a
/ do are used mainly following verbs/transitive
They are actually progressive tenses, according to the structure
e.g.: Tagaim ag foghlaim Gaeilge = I come, in order to learn Irish. D'imigh mé do do bhualadh = I left, in order to hit you. Tháinig mé anseo ag ól. = I came here to drink.
In Ulster, at least orally, rather an altered form and not ag is used ("a'"
preceding a consonant,"adh" preceding a
vowel, "a dh'" in written form), that causes
lenition (historically a form of do instead of ag):
e.g.: tigeann tú a dh'fhoghlaim Gaeilic = You come to learn Irish, tig sé a'cheannach báid = He comes to buy a boat. (Standard: Tagann tú ag foghlaim Gailge, tagann sé ag ceannach báid)
do (shortened to a) is also used outside of Ulster in all of Ireland in the expression dul a chodladh = to go to sleep ("to go in order to sleep").
Note: The forms with the verb bí (bí + subj. + le + VN or. bí + subj. + chun + VN) have various meanings (see below)
|form of bí + subject + ar tí + object + a + VN|
|form of bí + subject + ag dul ag + VN + genitive-object|
instead of ar tí also chun,
ag brath or ar hob
If within a definite time span, then only chun, ag brath, le
Tá sé chun carr nua a cheannach amárach = He's
going to to buy a car tomorrow.
Tá sé ag brath an teach a cheannach = He's going to buy a house.
Tá mé ag dúl ag foghlaim Gaeilge =I'm going to learn Irish.
synchronicity of the verbal noun ("while")
|le linn + object + a + VN + do + agent||le linn gloine a ól dom = as I drink a glass|
|le linn + VN + genitive-object + do + agent||le linn ól na gloine duit = as you drink the glass|
|ag + VN + genitive-object + do + agent||ag ól na gloine duit = as you the drink glass|
|do + possessive pronoun + VN + do + agent||á ól dom = as I drink it|
plusquam perfect of the verbal noun ("after")
|tar éis + object + a + VN + do + agent||tar éis gloine a ól dom = after I had drunk a glass|
|tar éis + VN + genitive-object + do + agent||tar éis ól gloine dom = after I had drunk a glass|
|ar + VN + genitive-object + do + agent||ar ól gloine dom = after I had drunk a glass|
|ar + possessive pronoun + VN + do + agent||arna ól dom = after I had drunk it|
Instead of tar éis also d'éis,
ar forms arna the with possessive pronoun of the 3rd person a
Originally, not ar but iar ( = nach) was used, iar would eclipse (iar dteacht dom = after I came) iar was shortened to ar, and after ar then lenition (ar theacht dom)
Ar is, in this usage rather archaic and colloquially completely replaced with tar éis/i ndiaidh.
arna appears with the verbal noun also without do + subject as the perfect tense-passive construction (see below under ar)
succession of the verbal noun ("before")
|roimh + object + a + VN + do + agent||roimh gloine a ól dom = before I had drunk a glass|
Other Uses of the dative of the agent
The combination of do + agent is aside from the above uses also encountered in other clauses and has even its own clause-forming possibility. It was often used,at least in Old Irish.
Dóbair dom titim = I had almost fallen ("almost-happened to-me falling")
Sa chomhrá dúinn = In the course of our conversation, ("in the conversation to-us")
|noun + genitive-object + a + VN||fear scéil a insint = the story-telling man|
|noun + genitive-VN + genitive-object||fear inste scéil = the story-telling man|
|noun + possessive pronoun + genitive-VN||fear a inste = the man telling it|
The first two forms are lexically equivalent.
With a pronomial object, only the 3rd form is possible.
lucht foghlamtha na Gaeilge = die Irisch-Lernenden ("Irisch learning people" lit.: "people [of the] learning of Irish") bzw. lucht na Gaeilge a fhoghlaim (lit.: "people of the Irish to learn")
fear díolta na leabhair = the bookseller ("man [of the ] selling of books")
cailín deas crúite na mbó = the nice cow-milking girl ("girl nice [of the] milking of the cows")
Depending on the genitive-form of the verbal noun used, there are some differences (either noun-based genitive or verbal adjective as the genitive form). More on this here
|form of bí + subject + le + VN||Tá an balla seo le péinteáil = This wall is to be painted.|
This clauseform wird verwendet, to express purpose, intention, duty, necessity,
Often, this clause form has a passive character, an agent can then be added with ag
Then this clause form correlates to the German/English"es soll ..." = "it should be..." or. "es is zu ..." = "it is to be..."
Cad a bheidh agat le n-ól? = What do you want to drink? (" what will you have to drink?")(intention)
Tá sí lena theacht = She is going to come / She is planning to come (intention)
Tá obair le déanamh agam = I have work to do (duty)
Tá an balla seo le péinteáil = This wall is to be painted.(necessity)
Níl le feiceáil ach an fharraige = Nothing is to be seen but the sea (possibility)
Is dócha atá sé le theacht = Surely he is coming (guarantee)
|form of bí + subject + chun + VN||Tá an balla seo chun péinteáil = This wall is ready to be painted.|
This form expresses that someone / something is finished, ready, prepared
for an action.
It conveys more as the intentional form (see above)
It may also be passive.
Tá an fómhar chun tarlú = The harvest can be brought in.
Tá Pól chun iascaigh = Paul is ready to go fishing
|form of bí + subject + gan + VN||Tá an balla seo gan phéinteáil = This wall is not painted.|
This form expresses that something is not done, or, that someone hasn't done something.
Is fada a bhí sí gan teacht = She hasn't come in a long time.
1. the real preposition ar
|form of bí + subject + ar + VN||Tá an balla seo ar péinteáil = This wall is painted.|
This form expresses the status following an action (perfect, passive) or of a continuous state(present, passive). ar does not lenite here.
Tá sé ar oscailt = It's open.
Tá an teanga seo ar labhairt anois = This language is spoken now.
Tá an leabhar ar fáil anseo = The book is available here.
2. The preposition iar > ar
with do + subject see above: plusquamperfect of the verbal
Often, ar (shortened from iar) occurs, but also with the possessive pronoun a (ar + a: arna) without do+subject to express a perfect tense passive participle:
arna chur i n-eagar ag = distributed by
arna fhoilsiú ag = published by
arna chur i mbuidéil ag = bottled by
|form of bí + subject + tar éis + object + a + VN||Tá mé tar éis an balla seo a phéinteáil. = I have just painted this wall.|
Instead of tar éis also d'éis,
This form demonstrates a perfect tense-construction.
The direct completion of the action is stressed.
The clause term tar éis + object + a + VN acts as an infinitive construction.
(lit. translation: "I am after painting the wall")
Comp. also perfect tense-progressive
Verbal noun constructions often follow agus (= and ) and ach (= but ). See
under conjunctions: agus.
This was also mentioned earlier. Similarly,the infinitive construction can follow murach (= 'if it were not so') and the presposition used as a conjunction tar éis (= 'after').
As opposed to these, agus and ach have here special meanings as conditional conjunctions (= "in case of", "seein that", "provided, that").
An infinitive construction may only be replaced by one go-subordinating clause.
chun, ar tí, i ndiaidh, le linn and other prepositions actually
require the genitive.
Although, in verbal noun-constructions the following is true:
The verbal noun can also be used as a regular noun, ("substantive usage").
Then it mostly occurs without reference to an agent and without an object of the action(but a genitive-attribute is possible)
Tá (an) léamh go suimiúil = (The) Reading is interesting.
Fuair mé orduithe uaidh = I received orders from him.
The verbal noun may also have the meaning of a comparable German noun of -ung,
e.g.: neartú = verstärkung =support
Often it not only has an abstract meaning, describing an action, but also a conrete meaning, like the result of an action, e.g.: crochadh = hanging/suspension, ordú = order/command
One can recognise if it is a case of usage as a regular noun by the following: