Once you're comfortable with some simple sentence structures in Irish, you may want to try reading a book. A book for young children - the kind of book you'd read to a child at bedtime is a good place to start. The stories are entertaining and quite short, and the illustrations can help you double-check your understanding of the story.
However, don't be surprised if you find the sentences fairly complex. Children's books may use simpler words, but the sentence structures are pretty much the same as in adult books. One thing to remember is that all you need to do is understand the meaning; you don't need to fully understand the sentence structure, and you don't always need to know what every word in the sentence means. Here are a few tips on how to figure out the meaning of a complex sentence.
Tip: First, look for the verb. In a story, the verb will usually be in the past tense. Typically the verb will be at the beginning of the sentence, but if there's an introductory clause (such as "Once upon a time"), the verb could be in the middle of the sentence. Remember that verbs in the past tense are usually lenited or have d' in front. If you need to look up the verb in the dictionary, you'll need to strip off the d' or un-lenite it.
Tip: If you can't understand the sentence as a whole, try to figure out the meaning of parts of it.
Tip: In Irish, the tiny little words can be confusing because they often have many meanings. Take a look at my list of commonly confused words. I listed five entirely different meanings for a -- and there are more that I didn't bother to list. So if you're having trouble making sense of a sentence, consider other meanings for the "tiny" words. Here are some common words you probably know, but with meanings that you may not know:
- agus can mean "while" or "when".
- a can mean "that", "which", or "whom".
- go can mean "that".
You will encounter dependent clauses when you read. A dependent clause has a subject and a verb but is not a complete thought. In English, dependent clauses are usually introduced by words such as who, whom, whose, that, which, when, where, or why, but there are other possibilities as well. Here are a few examples:
I met the man who is going to direct the play.
That's the car that I want to buy.
I like chocolate more than you do.
I knew as soon as I saw her that we would be friends.
He asked to borrow the book because he needed it for class.
Learning how to write a grammatically correct dependent clause in Irish is a bit advanced for this section, but it's not difficult to recognise one and figure out what it means.
In Irish, dependent clauses are usually introduced by words such as a, go, agus, nuair, nach, but there are other possibilities. Depending on the grammar, the verb might be lenited or eclipsed, and sometimes a special form of the verb is used, but you generally don't need to worry about that in order to figure out what the sentence means. Note: When a is followed by tá, it is written atá.
Let's try an example:
Ceapaim go bhfuil an leabhair suimiúil.
First, look for the verbs. There are two verbs in this sentence, ceapaim and bhfuil. You have seen bhfuil as a form of tá used in questions, so you know what it means even if you don't know why it's written bhfuil in this sentence instead of tá. So we can figure out what the last part of the sentence means:
... bhfuil an leabhair suimiúil. ...the book is interesting
The first word, ceapaim means "I think". So even without knowing exactly what role go plays in the sentence, you have probably figured out that the sentence means "I think that the book is interesting."
At this point you may feel a little unsatisfied. You've figured out what the sentence means, but you might not understand the structure of the sentence. You may not know what every single word means. But that's part of the skill of reading a book in a language that you're still learning. (In fact, if you understand everything about most of the sentences in the book, the book is probably too easy for you.)
After you've read a chapter, it might be a good idea to choose one or two of those sentences with unfamiliar structures, and try to learn a bit of the grammar involved. But don't let yourself get sidetracked by them while you're reading, or you probably won't enjoy the story as much.
An bhfeiceann tú an traein atá ag teacht isteach?
There are two verbs in this sentence, bhfeiceann and atá. The verb atá (a + tá) introduces a dependent clause, so there's going to be a who/that/which/... in the middle of the sentence.
Next, try to figure out what the pieces mean:
An bhfeiceann tú an traein... Do you see the train... ...tá ag teacht isteach...is coming in
So putting it all together, the sentence probably means "Do you see the train that is coming in?". I say "probably" because you might not understand the grammar of the sentence perfectly, but based on the parts that you do understand, you can make an educated guess. If you encounter a sentence like this in a story, the context will often help you understand the sentence.
A more complex example:
Chonaic mé an teach a bhí tú ag iarraidh a thógáil.
Look for the verbs: chonaic and bhí. Notice that there's an a in front of bhí, so we'll have a who/that/which/... in the middle of the sentence. Figure out what the pieces mean:
Chonaic mé an teach... I saw the house... ...bhí tú ag iarraidh a thógáil ...you were trying to build
So we can guess that this sentence means "I saw the house that you were trying to build."
Remember, I haven't discussed all the grammar that's involved in writing this kind of sentence, because that's a bit advanced. But with these tips, you may be able to figure out what some of those complex sentences mean.