Welcome to the shiny new Eclipsis thread! Here I am going to explain one of Irish's initial mutations: eclipsis. It is seen by many as being one of the most difficult parts of Irish to get used to, but luckily, the rules are logical!
This thread acts as an expansion of the tips and notes. A lot of the information here is also found in the tips and notes for the Eclipsis skill, but there are a lot more examples and pronunciation guides here.
As with the Irish course itself, we are going to focus on the rules used in An Caighdeán. Some rules differ from dialect to dialect.
What is an Eclipsis?
Eclipsis, or urú as it is called in Irish, is an initial mutation that affects the spelling and pronunciation of words that begin with certain letters, in certain situations. The meaning of the word doesn't change. An eclipsis is a letter (or group of letters) placed at the start of a word in these situations.
What letters can be Eclipsed?
Let's look at the letters that can be eclipsed, and which eclipsis is used for each letter.
As you can see, only the letters B, C, D, F, G, P and T can be eclipsed and they are eclipsed with m, g, n, bh, n, b and d, respectively.
How to pronounce an eclipsed word
Basically, to pronounce an eclipsed word, you just pronounce the eclipsis instead of the original first letter of the word. For example, let's look at the word peann (pen). Without the eclipses, the p is pronounced (the whole word would be pronounced like "pee-ow-n" or /pʲaːn̪ˠ/). With eclipsis (bpeann), the p is not pronounced. The b (eclipsis) is pronounced in its place (this whole eclipsed word would be pronounced like "bee-ow-n" or /bʲaːn̪ˠ/)
More examples of pronunciation:
- peann /pʲaːn̪ˠ/ bpeann /bʲaːn̪ˠ/ pen
- teanga /tʲaŋɡə/ dteanga /dʲaŋɡə/ tongue/language
- ceann /caːn̪ˠ/ gceann /ɟaːn̪ˠ/ head
- bean /bʲan̪ˠ/ mbean /mʲan̪ˠ/ woman
- droim /d̪ˠɾˠiːmʲ/ ndroim /n̪ˠɾˠiːmʲ/ back
- glúin /ɡɫ̪uːnʲ/ nglúin /ŋɫ̪uːnʲ/ knee
- freagra /fʲɾʲaɡɾˠə/ bhfreagra /vʲɾʲaɡɾˠə/ answer
When is an eclipsis used?
There are 4 main situations when eclipsis is used. You will come across some other instances as you progress through your Irish studies.
1. Possessive Adjectives
An eclipsis is added (when possible) after the following possessive adjectives:
- ár (our) e.g. ár bpáiste (our child)
- bhur (your (plural)) e.g. bhúr gcóta (your coat)
- a (their) e.g. a dteach (their house)
Note: a when used as a possessive adjective can mean his, her or their. You will usually be able to tell from context which one it is, but you can also listen out for the initial mutation for a hint :)
An eclipsis is added, when possible, after the numbers seven to ten.
- seacht gcapall (seven horses)
- ocht ngeata (eight gates)
- naoi dteanga (nine languages/tongues)
- deich gceist (ten questions)
3. Prepositions + Definite Article
Eclipsis also takes place, when possible, after certain prepositions when they are paired with the singular definite article an (i.e. preposition + an = urú)
Other prepositions used with an do not cause eclipsis (e.g. idir an between the)
Let's look at an example for each of the above:
- ag an bpictiúrlann (at the cinema)
- ar an mbord (on the table)
- faoin gcathaoir (under the chair)
- leis an bhfear (with the man)
- ón mbanc (from the bank)
- roimh an gceolchoirm (before the concert)
- thar an gclaí (over the fence)
- tríd an ngort (through the field)
- um an mbuachaill (around the boy)
Note: Eclipsis does not take place after a preposition + definite article if the word starts with d or t (ag an doras at the door, ar an teach on the house)
While not technically eclipsis, it is also important to note that:
If a noun is feminine and starts with an s, a t is added to the beginning of the word after a preposition + definite article combination (excluding words that start with sc, sm, sp and st)
e.g. leis an tseanbhean (with the old woman)
If the word is masculine and starts with an s, no change occurs.
e.g. leis an salann (with the salt)
4. Other Words
Eclipsis is also added after the words i (in), dá (if) and mura (unless/if)
- Mura mbíonn aon rogha eile againn (if we have no other option/unless if we have no other option)
- Dá mbeadh a fhios aige (if he knew)
- i mBaile Átha Cliath (in Dublin)
Note: Notice how in the phrase i mBaile Átha Cliath, the eclipsis (m) is not capitalised, but Baile Átha Cliath still is.
Why is Eclipsis Used in the First Place?
You may be thinking "Alex, this is all well and good, but why is this done in the first place?!".
Basically, eclipsis takes place to allow for the flow of speech. In Irish sentences, pauses are almost always avoided, so using eclipsis allowed for the sentence to flow more easily. Try it for yourself! Read some of the above examples out loud. Try saying them with eclipsis and without eclipsis. You should hopefully see that the example with eclipsis flows better (i.e. you don't really have to take a brief pause in order to change the shape of your mouth to go from one letter to another. It's almost as though one letter glides to the next (ag an mbuachaill vs. ag an buachaill))
Yay! You made it! That is quite a lot of information to take in. Don't worry if you don't understand it at first. After some practice, it will eventually click.
Hopefully this post was helpful for you. Feel free to bookmark this page or print it off and keep it for revision purposes.
If you have any questions about eclipsis, here is the place to ask!
After studying this post, I recommend reviewing (or starting) the Eclipsis skill :)
Go raibh maith agat. This, along with lentition, make up about 50% of every incorrect answer I get in lessons.
Thanks, Alex. Are you considering doing many posts like this to expand on the tips & notes, and possibly things that were not included in the course? That would be great!
Yes, I am! I'm hoping to start with eclipsis and lenition, then have an individual guide for each tense, then a post on adjectives and plurals. After that, I'm open to suggestions from users on areas they have difficulty with or if there is any grammar point not covered in the course that they would like to see a post on. Hopefully I will have the lenition post ready by tomorrow and then I'm hoping to release at least 1 post a week after that.
Great! Thanks for taking the time to help so many people in their studies :)
It's probably worth noting that when you eclipse g, the resulting starting sound is just like ng in English, not just a regular n. In a sense you don't pronounce the original starting letter, but then in another sense you do with ng.
It looks so simple when it can basically all be written down in a page or two, but I still forget to use eclipsis a lot of the time when I'm doing an English to Irish translation on Duolingo unless I'm paying particular attention!
Thank you so much for this helpful post. Your continuous improvements of the Irish language section is higly appreciated. Great work again.