Irish/Introduction to Studies in Modern Irish/Lesson I: Classification Clauses with Masculine Nouns

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Key: ⟨copula⟩, ⟨predicate⟩, ⟨subpredicate⟩, ⟨subject⟩, ⟨subsubject⟩.

The copula is the element that links the subject to a predicate. Here, the affirmative form of the copula in the present tense is is.

The predicate is the element that describes the subject. In classification clauses, the predicate is always indefinite; it cannot be a definite noun nor a personal pronoun. Here, the predicate is the masculine noun leabhar – “(a) book” [note 1] – which is the description being used to classify the subject. In copular classification clauses, it is the predicate that carries the syntactical stress.

The subject is the element that is being classified. Unless a specific noun is being used to refer to the subject, it is generally referred to with a pronoun. The pronoun itself conforms to the grammatical gender and number of the predicate, being a direct reference to the predicate itself. Where the predicate consists of a singular masculine noun, the singular masculine disjunctive pronoun é is used for the subject.

Simple Classification Clauses

In simple classification syntax, the indefinite predicate follows immediately after the copula, and precedes the subject CPS:

  • Is leabhar é. – “It is a book.”

To form the present negative in classification syntax, the copular form is used:

  • leabhar é. – “It is not a book.”

To form the present interrogative, an is used:

  • An leabhar é? – “Is it a book?”

A response to such a question doesn't repeat the predicate or subject. Rather, the indefinite subpredicate pronoun ea is employed Cp:

  • An leabhar é? – “Is it a book?”
  • Is ea. – “It is.” [note 2]

The negative response would be:

  • hea. – “It isn't.” [note 3]

Following a negative response, the correct information can be provided with the preceding conjunction ach – “but” CpP:

  • An leabhar é sin? – “Is that a book?” [note 4]
  • hea, ach peann. – “It isn't, but a pen.”

A separate copular element is not employed when the clause is headed by the predicate interrogative pronoun cad and no suggestion is offered as to the classification. In this format, the subsubject pronoun é – following the predicate interrogative pronoun – refers directly to an rud in the subject an rud é sin (rud being a masculine noun), while the é sin in the subject refers to the predicate in question PsS:

  • Cad é an rud é sin? – “What is it, the thing that that is?” [note 5]
  • Is leabhar é. – “It is a book.”

Emphatic Classification Clauses

When responding in the negative, the correct information can be given in response by placing emphasis on the predicate as a means of contrasting with the previously suggested information. This is done by placing the predicate before the copula, placing the indefinite subpredicate pronoun in the original predicate position PCpS:

  • An leabhar é? – “Is it a book?”
  • hea; peann is ea é. – “It isn't; it is a pen.”

Likewise, the true predicate can be emphasised when multiple options are presented in a question. The interrogative predicate pronoun cé acu [note 6] is used to present multiple alternatives in a question, with the conjunction dividing the alternatives:

  • Cé acu leabhar nó peann é seo? – “Which is this, a book or a pen?”
  • Peann is ea é. – “It is a pen.”

If neither alternative is correct, the following format would be used in the response:

  • leabhar ná peann é; lasán is ea é. – “It is neither a book nor a pen; it is a match.”

Alternatively, the correct information can be given in a simple format without emphasis:

  • leabhar ná peann é, ach lasán. – “It is neither a book nor a pen, but a match.”

An emphatic answer can also be given to a question if previous question insinuated the subject was a different item:

  • An peann é seo? – “Is that a pen?”
  • hea. – “No.”
  • Cad é an rud é? – “What is it?”
  • Leabhar is ea é. – “It is a book.”

Notes on the forms of emphasis:
In response to the English question “Is that a book?”, one might answer “It is.” with tonal emphasis on the verb “is”. In Irish, emphasis may be delivered by tone, form or through syntactical structure:

  1. In copular clauses, the copula itself never recieves tonal emphasis. The response to the Irish question “An leabhar é sin?” places tonal emphasis on the predicate “Ní hea.”. This is still technically true for the positive response “Is ea.”, but as this structure is contracted to a single syllable in speech, it may seem as if the copula is also included in the tonal emphasis. [note 2] Rather, it is probably due to the unstressed nature of the copula that encourages such contractions in the first place.
  2. Various forms—including verbs, nouns and pronouns—have emphatic forms through the addition of suffixes -sa and -se:
    •  : mise – “I”, “me”
    •  : tusa – “you” (sng.)
    • mo leabhar : mo leabharsa – “my book”
    • do chuais : do chuais-se – “you went”
  3. A form can be emphasised through syntactical structure by its position within a copular clause. This can be seen in the response to the Irish question “An peann é?” with “Leabhar is ea é.” by placing the predicate leabhar at the start of the clause and following it with the copula and subpredicate is ea.

It's possible to combine all three forms of emphasis within a single clause as demonstrated by “Domsa is ea is ceart é dhéanamh.” “For me, it is right to do.”, i.e. “It is the right thing to do for me.”


Forms of the Copula:


  • é – “he”, “him”, “it” (masc.)
  • é seo – “this” (masc.)
  • é sin – “that” (masc.)
  • an rud é – “the thing it is” (masc.)
  • ea – the indefinite subpredicate pronoun
  • cad … ? – “what … ?” [note 9]
  • cé acu … ? – “whether … ?”, “which … ?” (where an alternative is presented) [note 9]

Masculine Nouns:

  • leabhar – “a book”
  • peann – “a pen”
  • peann luaidhe – “a pencil”
  • bosca – “a box”
  • bord – “a table”
  • lasán – “a match”
  • sparán – “a purse”
  • rud – “a thing”


  • – “or”
  • – “nor”
  • ní … ná – “neither … nor”
  • ach – “but”


  • Dia is Muire dhuit. – “Hello.” (greeting to one person)
  • Dia is Muire dhíbh. – “Hello.” (greeting to multiple people)
  • Dia is Muire dhuit is Pádraig. – “Hello.” (response to one person)
  • Dia is Muire dhíbh is Pádraig. – “Hello.” (response to multiple people)
  • Slán agat. – “Goodbye.” (said to one person staying)
  • Slán agaibh. – “Goodbye.” (said to multiple people staying)
  • Slán leat. – “Goodbye.” (said to one person leaving)
  • Slán libh. – “Goodbye.” (said to multiple people leaving)


  1. There is no indefinite article in Irish. Without the definite article, leabhar can mean either “book” or “a book” depending on the context.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The combination is ea is always pronounced as sea and often written as such (or ’sea).
  3. 3.0 3.1 The present negative copular form causes h-prothesis on the following word, hence hea.
  4. The subject often employs the demonstratives seo, sin and siúd – “this”, “that” and “that yonder”, respectively – by combining them with the subject pronoun.
  5. Cad é an rud é sin? – this type of question is used when no suggestion is given as to the classification of the object. It can be translated more simply as “what is that thing?”
  6. The prepostional pronoun acu refers to the presented alteratives, cé acu generally translating to “which of these is it”.
  7. The present affirmative form of the copula is often dropped in speech, e.g. leabhar é – “it is a book”.
  8. The present interrogative form of the copula – an – should not be confused with an, a form of the definite article, e.g. an rud – “the thing”.
  9. 9.0 9.1 It could be said that the copular is already contained within interrogative predicate pronouns, thus clauses using them have no separate copular element.


Exercises I and IV from Lesson I of the book are intended for the practical classroom environment and are thus not applicable here.

Exercise II:

Translate into English:

  1. Cad é an rud é sin? Is leabhar é.
  2. An leabhar é sin? Ní hea; lasán is ea é.
  3. Cé acu bosca nó sparán é seo? Sparán is ea é.
  4. Cé acu leabhar nó lasán é sin? Ní leabhar ná lasán é, ach peann.
  5. An peann é sin? Is ea.
  6. An bosca é seo? Ní hea, ach bord.

Exercise III:

Translate into Irish:

  1. This is not a pen; it is a pencil.
  2. Is that a pencil? Yes. Is this? No.
  3. What is it?1 A book.2
  4. Is that a book? No, but a box.
  5. Whether is this a box or a purse? It's a purse.
  6. This is a match,3 is it?4 Yes.


1 Cad é an rud é? (Don't use é sin or é seo twice of the same object in two successive questions.)
2 Emphatic position because of the previous question which insinuated that it was a pencil.
3 Emphatic position.
4 An ea?


Table of Contents
Lesson II: Classification Clauses with Feminine Nouns