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common nouns

Common nouns are nouns which describe a class of entity and may be used to identify specific instances of that class –

Common nouns contrast with proper nouns, which refer to particular, specific entities.

cf. generic quantity nouns.


derivation [+/-]

Commons nouns can be divided into three groups, depending on how they are formed –

  1. Derived common nouns are formed from other nouns, adjectives or verbs, typically by addition of a suffix, e.g. bàrd [masc.] ‘poet’bàrdachd [fem.] ‘poetry’, Leòdhas [masc.] ‘Lewis’Leòdhasach [masc.] ‘person from Lewis’, ceart [adj.] ‘correct’ceartas [masc.] ‘justice’, seall [vb.] ‘look’sealladh [masc.] ‘view’.
  2. Compound common nouns are formed from other common nouns, either by addition of a prefix or by addition of a (noun or adjective) modifier, e.g. mùtaire [masc.] ‘person engaged in an illegal activity’, cùl [masc.] ‘back, behind’cùl-mhùtaire [masc.] ‘smuggler’; aithris [fem.] ‘report, recital’, beul [masc.] ‘mouth’beul-aithris [fem.] ‘folklore’; taigh [masc.] ‘house’, beag ‘small’taigh-beag [masc.] ‘toilet’; bean [fem.] ‘woman’, glùine [gen.] ‘knee’bean-ghlùine [fem.] ‘midwife’.
  3. Simple common nouns are not formed from other words, e.g. taigh [masc.] ‘house’, deoch [fem.] ‘drink’, [masc.] ‘dog’.


forms [+/-]

Like all nouns, common noun forms have number (singular or plural), gender (feminine or masculine) and case (nominative or dative or genitive or vocative) –

  • Leugh bean a’ mhinisteir leabhraichean anns an eaglais. ‘The minister’s wife read books in the church.’
    • bean ‘wife, woman’ – feminine, nominative, singular
    • m(h)inisteir ‘minister’s’ – masculine, genitive, singular
    • leabhraichean ‘books’ – nominative, plural
    • eaglais ‘church’ – feminine, dative, singular

The rules for declining common noun forms are as follows –


dative singular forms [+/-]

The dative singular form of a common noun is almost always identical to the corresponding nominative singular form –

  • taigh [masc.] ‘house’taigh
  • balach [masc.] ‘boy’balach
  • sùil [fem.] ‘eye’sùil

However, feminine nouns ending in a broad consonant are traditionally slenderised in the dative singular, particularly if they are preceed by the definite article –

  • làmh [fem.] ‘hand’làimh
  • bròg [fem.] ‘shoe’bròig
  • cailleach [fem.] ‘old woman’caillich

Notes –

  1. Slenderisation is sometimes accompanied by raising of the root vowel –
    • clach [fem.] ‘stone’cloich
    • grian [fem.] ‘sun’grèin
  2. A few feminine common nouns have idiosyncratic traditional dative singular forms –
    • bean [fem.] ‘woman’mnaoi
    • [fem.] ‘cow’boin
    • brù [fem.] ‘belly’broinn
    • sgian [fem.] ‘knife’sgithinn
  3. Nouns ending in -(e)achd are never slenderised –
    • naidheachd [fem.] ‘news’
    • naomhachd [fem.] ‘holiness’
  4. In contemporary Gaelic usage, dative singular feminine common nouns are generally not slenderised unless they are preceded by the definite article, e.g. anns a’ chraoibh ‘in the tree’ versus ann an craobh ‘in a tree’ (cf. the traditional ann an craoibh).
  5. External sources – gràmar-g


genitive singular forms [+/-]

The genitive singular of most feminine common nouns ending in a consonant is formed by slenderising the corresponding nominative singular (if possible) and adding the suffix -e

  • craobh [fem.] ‘tree’craoibhe
  • làmh [fem.] ‘hand’làimhe
  • sgoil [fem.] ‘school’sgoile

The genitive singular of most masculine common nouns ending in a consonant is formed by slenderising the corresponding nominative singular (if possible) –

  • balach [masc.] ‘boy’balaich
  • cat [masc.] ‘cat’cait

However, some common nouns form their genitive singular by deslenderising the nominative singular (if possible) and adding the suffix -a

  • sùil [fem.] ‘eye’sùla
  • fiodh [masc.] ‘wood’fiodha

Finally, bisyllabic feminine common nouns ending in -(a)ir usually form their genitive singulars in -r(e)ach

  • obair [fem.] ‘work’obrach
  • cathair [fem.] ‘chair, city’cathrach
  • litir [fem.] ‘letter’litreach

Notes –

  1. Slenderisation is often accompanied by raising of the root vowel –
    • clach [fem.] ‘stone’cloiche
    • bòrd [masc.] ‘table’bùird
  2. Similarly, deslenderisation is often accompanied by lowering of the root vowel –
    • fuil [fem.] ‘blood’fala
    • muir [masc.] ‘sea’mara
  3. Common nouns ending in a vowel are usually unchanged in the genitive singular –
    • baile [masc.] ‘town’baile
    • colaiste [fem.] ‘college’colaiste
    • balla [masc.] ‘wall’balla
  4. Nouns ending in -(e)achd are unchanged in the genitive –
    • naidheachd [fem.] ‘news’naidheachd
    • beachd [masc.] ‘opinion’beachd
  5. Recent loanwords from English are typically unchanged in the genitive –
    • bus [masc.] ‘bus’bus
  6. There are a few idiosyncratic genitive singular forms of common nouns –
    • athair [masc.] ‘father’athar
    • bean [fem.] ‘woman’mnatha (or mnà)
    • [fem.] ‘cow’
    • bràthair [masc.] ‘brother’bràthar
    • [masc.] ‘dog’coin
    • leabaidh [fem.] ‘bed’leapa
    • màthair [fem.] ‘mother’màthar
    • piuthar [fem.] ‘sister’peathar
    • taigh [masc.] ‘house’taighe
  7. In contemporary Gaelic usage, polysyllabic genitive feminine common nouns are generally not augmented with -e
    • uinneag [fem.] ‘window’uinneig (cf. †uinneige)
    • aibideil [fem.] ‘alphabet’aibideil (cf. †aibideile)


dependents


specifiers [+/-]

Like all nouns, a common noun can have a specifier, which is either –

  1. a determiner as pre-specifier, e.g. an taigh ‘the house’, ar ‘our dog’
  2. a (usually genitive) noun as post-specifier, e.g. taigh Sheumais ‘James’ house’, cù mo mhàthar ‘my mother’s dog’

A common noun which is a (post-)specifier of another noun is usually in the genitive case –

  • taigh a’ choin ‘the dog’s house’
  • taighean nan con ‘the dogs’ houses’

However, if it has a post-specifier itself, it is nominative

  • taigh a’ mhinisteir ‘the minister’s dog’s house’
  • taighean coin a’ mhinisteir ‘the minister’s dogs’ houses’ (cf. *taighean c[h]on a’ mhinisteir)
  • taigh ministear a’ chlachain ‘the village’s minister’s dog’s house’
  • taighean coin ministear a’ chlachain ‘the village’s minister’s dogs’ houses’ (cf. *taighean c[h]on ministeir a’ chlachain)

A plural common noun which is the (post-)specifier of another common noun, but has no specifier itself, is lenited

  • taighean bhan‘women’s houses’


modifiers [+/-]

Like all nouns, a common noun can have one or more (post-)modifiers, which are either –

  1. an adjective, e.g. taigh geal ‘a white house’, coin ruadha bheaga ‘little ginger dogs’
  2. a genitive common noun, e.g. taighe ‘a house dog’, taigh-chon ‘a kennel (i.e. dog house)’
  3. a prepositional phrase, e.g. caileag le falt fada ‘a girl with long hair’, na taighean agam ‘my houses’
  4. a relative clause, e.g. leabhar a sgrìobh mi ‘a book which I wrote’, uinneag nach do bhris iad ‘a window which they did not break’, balach leis an deach i dhan sgoil ‘a boy who she went to school with’.


apposition [+/-]

A specified common noun can stand in apposition to a proper noun, not agreeing with it for case, e.g. Dòmhnall an sagart ‘Donald the priest’ [nominative case], le Dòmhnall an sagart ‘with Donald the priest’ [dative case], taigh Dhòmhnaill an sagart ‘Donald the priest’s house’ [genitive case].


uses [+/-]


concrete vs. abstract [+/-]

Some common nouns are inherently concrete, being normally associated with a material (tangible) sense –

  • Tha taigh aig a’ mhinisteir. ‘The minister has a house.’
  • Dh’ith na coin an fheòil air a’ bhòrd. ‘The dogs ate the meat on the table.’

Other common nouns are inherently abstract, being normally associated with a non-material (intangible) sense –

  • Is e cànanan clasaigeach a tha ann an Laideann agus anns a’ Ghreugais. ‘Latin and Greek are classical languages.’
  • Dh’ionnsaich Màiri eachdraidh anns an sgoil. ‘Mary learned history at school.’

However some common nouns can be either concrete or abstract depending on context –

  • Tha Dòmhnall a’ sgrìobhadh leabhair. ‘Donald is writing a book.’ – abstract
  • Tha Dòmhnall a’ sgrìobhadh ann an leabhar. ‘Donald is writing in a book.’ – concrete


countable vs. uncountable [+/-]

Some singular common nouns are inherently countable, being associated with a bounded sense –

  • Tha aig Raonaid. ‘Rachel has a dog.’ – a (simple, bounded) individual
  • Tha treud air a’ mhòintich. ‘There is a herd on the moor.’ – a (complex, bounded) group

Other singular common nouns are inherently uncountable, being associated with a non-bounded sense –

  • Tha Raonaid ag òl fìon(a). ‘Rachel is drinking wine.’ – a (simple, non-bounded) substance (i.e. a ‘mass’ noun)
  • Bha crodh air a’ mhòintich. ‘There were cattle on the moor.’ – a (complex, non-bounded) aggregate (i.e. a ‘collective’, noun)

However, some singular common nouns can be either countable or uncountable, depending on context –

  • Tha ugh air an làr. ‘There is an egg on the floor.’
  • Tha ugh air feadh an làir. ‘There is egg all over the floor.’

Plural common nouns are usually associated with non-bounded, aggregate senses –

  • Tha coin aig Mairead. ‘Margaret has dogs.’
  • Tha uighean air feadh an làir. ‘There are eggs all over the floor.’

However, as in English, there are some plurale tantum uses, where a plural noun is associated with a (simple, bounded) individual –

  • Càite a bheil mo speuclairean? ‘Where are my spectacles?’

Note that most plurale tantum English nouns correspond to normal singular countable Gaelic nouns, e.g. briogais (feminine singular) ~ ‘trousers’ (plural).