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nouns

Nouns are words which typically describe or identify tangible material entities – people, animals, artifacts, substances, places &c. However the existence of abstract nouns (including verbal nouns) should be noted.

Nouns are divided into two groups, depending on the way in which they relate to the entities they describe or identify –

  1. Proper nouns are names of particular entities – Raonaid fem. ‘Rachel’, Glaschu masc. ‘Glasgow’, Laideann / Laidinn fem. ‘Latin’.
  2. Common nouns describe classes of entity – bean fem. ‘wife, woman’, cànan masc. ‘language’, uisge masc. ‘water’.


forms

Nouns have number – every noun form is either (grammatically) singular or plural

  • clach ‘stone’, fìon ‘wine’ and Ealasaid ‘Elizabeth’ are all singular noun forms.
  • leabraichean ‘books’, balaich ‘boys’ and uinneagan ‘windows’ are all plural noun forms.
Note that proper nouns are always singular and never plural. Common nouns tend to have both singular and plural forms – leabhar ‘book’ ~ leabhraichean ‘books’, balach ‘boy’ ~ balaich ‘boys’. Certain collective nouns are singular grammatically but plural semantically – clann ‘children’.

Nouns have gender – every noun (including those describing inanimate entities) is either feminine or masculine

  • caileag ‘girl’, sùil ‘eye’ and Nirribhidh ‘Norway’ are all feminine singular noun forms.
  • baile ‘town’, airgead ‘silver, money’ and Dòmhnall ‘Donald’ are all masculine singular noun forms.
Note that the gender of nouns (most especially inanimate nouns) is unpredictable from their meaning.

Nouns have case – every noun form is either nominative or dative or genitive or vocative

  • The genitive and vocative singular forms of the masculine proper noun Seòras ‘George’ are Sheòrais; the nominative and dative forms are just Seòras.
  • The genitive and vocative singular, and nominative and dative plural forms of the masculine common noun balach ‘boy’ are balaich; the nominative and dative singular, and genitive plural forms are just balach.
  • The genitive singular form of the feminine common noun sràid ‘street’ is sràide; the nominative and dative singular forms are just sràid; the nominative, dative and genitive plural forms are sràidean.

Certain nouns have irregular inflection –

  • The (traditional) dative singular form of the feminine common noun bean ‘wife, woman’ is mnaoi, the genitive is mnatha, the nominative and dative plural forms are mnathan, and the genitive plural is ban.
  • The genitive singular form of the common noun ‘dog’ is coin, the nominative and dative plural forms are also coin, and the genitive plural is con.

Pronouns are noun-like words which refer to specific entities identifiable from (linguistic or extralinguistic) context – sinn ‘we, us’, ise ‘she, her’, seo ‘this (thing)’.


dependents


modifiers

A noun can have one or more modifiers, which are either –

  1. an (attributive) adjectivetaigh geal ‘a white house’, Màiri Bhàn Niseach ‘Fair-haired Mary from Ness’
  2. a common noun marked for genitive – taighe ‘a house dog’, taigh-chon ‘a kennel (lit. dogs’ house)’
  3. a preposition (phrase) – caileag le falt fada ‘a girl with long hair’, Dòmhnall à Lunnainn ‘Donald from London’
  4. a relative clause – leabhar a sgrìobh mi ‘a book which I wrote’, taigh nach do cheannaich sinn ‘a house which we didn’t buy’

Modifiers normally follow the noun that they modify apart from a small group of preposed adjectives – deagh charaid ‘a good friend’.


lenition of noun modifiers

Noun modifiers (adjectives or genitive common nouns) are lenited in the following cases –

  • modifiers of nominative singular feminine nouns –
    • caileag mhòr shona ‘a big happy girl’
    • Màiri Bhàn bhòidheach ‘beautiful Fair-haired Mary’
    • clach-mhuilinn dhubh ‘a black millstone’
    • caora bheag Shasannach ‘a small English sheep’
  • modifiers of dative singular feminine nouns –
    • le caileag mhòr shona ‘with a big happy girl’ [trad. le caileig mhòir shona]
    • air Màiri Bhàn bhòidheach ‘on beautiful Fair-haired Mary’ [trad. air Màiri Bhàin bhòidhich]
    • ri clach-mhuilinn dhubh ‘against a black millstone’ [trad. ri cloich-mhuilinn dhuibh]
    • aig caora bheag Shasannach ‘at a small English sheep’ [trad. aig caora bhig Shasannaich]
  • modifiers of genitive singular masculine nouns (traditional forms) –
    • ceann balaich mhòir chrosta ‘a big naughty boy’s head’ [alt. ceann balach mòr crosta]
    • bean Sheumais Bhig bhochd ‘poor Little James’ wife’
    • doras taigh-thasgaidh dhùthchail ‘a rural museum’s door’ [alt. doras taigh-tasgaidh dùthchail]
    • curran bodaich-shneachda ghil ‘a white snowman’s carrot’ [alt. curran bodach-sneachda geal]
  • modifiers of vocative singular nouns –
    • a bhalaich mhòir ‘big boy!’
    • a Sheumais Bhig ‘Little James!’
  • modifiers of slenderised (non-genitive) plural nouns –
    • (le) balaich mhòra chrosta ‘(with) naughty big boys’
    • (air) bodaich-shneachda gheala ‘(on) white snowmen’ [alt. (air) bodaich-sneachda geala]
    • (aig) caoraich bheaga Shasannach ‘(at) small English sheep’
  • modifiers of all singular nouns pre-specified by the leniting definite article, including lenited dative masculines
    • leis a’ bhalach mhòr chrosta ‘with the naughty big boy’
    • aig a’ bhodach-shneachda gheal ‘at the white snowman’ [alt. aig a’ bhodach-sneachda g[h]eal]
  • genitive plural indefinite nouns are always lenited –
    • (ann an) taigh-chon ‘(in) a kennel (lit. dogs’ house)’
    • (anns) an taigh-chon ‘(in) the kennel’
    • mullach (an) taigh-chon ‘a (the) kennel’s roof’
    • (ann an) taighean-chon ‘(in) kennels’
    • (anns) na taighean-chon ‘(in) the kennels’
    • mullaichean nan taighean-chon ‘(the) kennels’ roofs’
  • certain genitive singular collective nouns can be lenited –
    • (ann an) leabhraichean chloinne ‘(in) children's books’
  • modifiers of nouns pre-numerated by ‘two’ are usually lenited –
    • (an) dà bhalach mhòr chrosta ‘(the) two naughty big boys’


non-lenition of noun modifiers

Noun modifiers (adjectives or genitive common nouns) are not lenited in the following cases –

  • modifiers of nominative singular masculine nouns –
    • balach mòr crosta ‘a naughty big boy’
    • Seumas Beag bochd ‘poor Little James’
    • taigh-tasgaidh dùthchail ‘a rural museum’
    • bodach-sneachda geal ‘a white snowman’
    • Griogal cridhe ‘beloved Gregor’
  • modifiers of dative singular masculine nouns not pre-specified by the definite article
    • le balach mòr crosta ‘with a naughty big boy’
    • air Seumas Beag bochd ‘on poor Little James’
    • ann an taigh-tasgaidh dùthchail ‘in a rural museum’
    • aig bodach-sneachda geal ‘at a white snowman’
    • do Ghriogal cridhe ‘to beloved Gregor’
  • modifiers of genitive singular feminine nouns (traditional forms) –
    • guth caileige mòire sona ‘a big happy girl’s voice’ [alt. guth caileig mhòir shona / caileag mhòr shona]
    • ad Màiri Bàine bòidhich(e) ‘beautiful Fair-haired Mary’s hat’ [alt. ad Màiri Bhàin bhòidhich / Màiri Bhàn bhòidheach]
    • coltas cloiche-muilinn duibhe ‘a black millstone’s appearance’ [alt. coltas cloich-mhuilinn dhuibh / clach-mhuilinn dhubh]
    • màthair caorach bige Sasannaich(e) ‘a small English sheep’s mother’ [alt. màthair caora bhig Shasannich / bheag Shasannach]
  • modifiers of non-slenderised plural noun forms, incl. all genitive plurals –
    • (ann an) taighean-tasgaidh dùthchail ‘(in) rural museums’
    • (le) caileagan mòra sona ‘(with) happy big girls’
    • (air) clachan-muilinn dubha ‘(on) black millstones’
    • dorsan t[h]aighean-tasgaidh dùthchail ‘rural museum’s doors’
    • guthan c[h]aileagan mòra sona ‘happy big girls’ voices’
    • coltas c[h]lachan-muilinn dubha ‘black millstones’ appearance’ [alt. coltas c[h]lach-muilinn dubha]
    • màthraichean c[h]aorach beaga Sasannach ‘small English sheep’s mothers’
    • cinn b[h]alach mòra crosta ‘naughty big boys’ heads’
    • currain b[h]odach-sneachda geala ‘white snowmen’s carrots’ [alt. currain b[h]odaich-s[h]neachda gheala]


specifier

A noun can have a specifier, which is either –

  1. a determiner as pre-specifier – an taigh ‘the house’, ar ‘our dog’
  2. a (usually genitive) noun as post-specifier – taigh a’ mhinisteir ‘the minister’s house’, Màiri Sheumais ‘James’ Mary’.
Note that the use of pre-specifiers with proper nouns is limited, e.g. mo Mhàiri ‘my Mary’.


apposition

Two nouns can stand in apposition (under certain conditions) – Dòmhnall an sagart Èireannach ‘Donald the Irish priest’, Glaschubaile mòr nan Gàidheal ‘Glasgow, the city of the Gaels’.


uses


nominative

The main uses of nominative noun forms are –

  • to introduce the subject of a verb – tha Seumas a’ tighinn ‘James is coming’
  • to introduce the object of a verb – chunnaic i ‘she saw a dog’
  • to introduce the (definite) predicate of the copula – is esan an athair ‘he is their father’
  • to introduce the complement of certain prepositionsgun bhiadh ‘without food’.


dative

The sole use of dative noun forms is –

  • to introduce the complement of a prepositionfon chraoibh ‘under the tree’, le cloich ‘with a stone’, (traditional Gaelic) do mhnaoi ‘to a woman’.


genitive

The main uses of genitive noun forms are –

  • to introduce the specifier of another noun – taigh Sheumais ‘James’ house’
  • to introduce the specifier (semantic object) of a verbal noun – a’ cosg airgid ‘spending money’
  • to introduce a common noun which modifies a preceding common noun – taigh cloiche ‘a stone house’
  • to introduce the complement of certain simple prepositions – far na sràide ‘off the street’
  • to introduce the complement of prepositional compounds – os cionn na mara ‘above the sea’.


senses


concrete / abstract

When a noun form is associated with a material (tangible) sense, it is being used as a concrete noun –

  • Tha taigh aig Raonaid. ‘Rachel has a house.’ – both the common noun taigh ‘house’ and the proper noun Raonaid ‘Rachel’ are being used as concrete nouns here.

When a noun form is associated with a non-material sense, it is being used as an abstract noun –

  • Is e cànan clasaigeach a tha ann(s) an Laideann. ‘Latin is a classical language.’ – both the common noun cànan ‘language’ and the proper noun Laideann ‘Latin’ are being used as abstract nouns here.

Most nouns are generally either predominantly concrete or predominantly abstract. However some can be either depending on context –

  • Tha Dòmhnall a’ sgrìobhadh leabha[i]r. ‘Donald is writing a book.’ – the (singular) noun leabhar ‘book’ is being used as an abstract noun here, denoting a unit of information.
  • Tha Dòmhnall a’ sgrìobhadh ann an leabhar. ‘Donald is writing in a book.’ – the (singular) noun leabhar is being used as a concrete noun here, denoting a material object.


countable / uncountable

When a (singular) noun form is associated with a ‘bounded’ sense, it is being used as a countable noun –

  • Tha aig Raonaid. ‘Rachel has a dog.’ – the (singular) noun ‘dog’ is associated with a simple bounded sense here (i.e. an individual), and hence is being used as a countable noun.
  • Tha treud air a’ mhòintich. ‘There is a herd on the moor.’ – the (singular) noun treud ‘herd’ is associated with a complex bounded sense here (i.e. a group of animals), and hence is also being used as a countable noun.

When a (singular) noun form is associated with a non-bounded sense, it is being used as an uncountable noun –

  • Tha Raonaid ag òl fìon(a). ‘Rachel is drinking wine.’ – the (singular) noun fìon ‘wine’ is associated with a simple non-bounded sense here (i.e. a substance), and hence is being used as an uncountable noun (more precisely a ‘mass’ noun).
  • Bha crodh air a’ mhòintich. ‘There were cattle on the moor.’ – the (singular) noun crodh ‘cattle’ is associated with a complex non-bounded sense here (i.e. an aggregate of cows), and hence is being used as an uncountable noun (more precisely a ‘collective’, singulare tantum, noun).

Note that proper nouns are only used with bounded (countable) senses. Note also that plural common nouns are usually associated with non-bounded, complex senses –

  • Tha coin aig Mairead. ‘Margaret has dogs.’