The Genitive Case
Can anyone explain to me the genitive case?
These are some of the exercises from the Genetive challenge:-
Bia an .......... Cait, Chait or gCat? (Answer is Chait) Why?
Bia na ......... Cait, gCat or Chait? (Answer is gCat) Why?
Airgead na leabharlainne = The Library's money
Tá an cat os comhair an fhir = The cat is opposite the man. Why?
Cat mo mhic = My son's cat. Why?
Biachlar na bialainne = The Restaurant's menu. Why?
Obair na scoile = The school's work. Why?
Bia an mhadra = The dog's food. Why isn't THIS example written in the plural (na mhadraí)?
There is some rule that I'm not grasping here and I would very much appreciate it if someone would take the trouble to try and explain it to me.
Thank you, Lucy
There’s more than one rule at work in your genitive examples.
Consider the English genitive case: there is a difference in meaning between “the dog food”, which has no genitive noun, and “the dog’s food” or “the food of the dog”, each of which has a genitive noun. One of the primary purposes of the genitive case is to express possession, and there are two ways to do so in English: by appending «’s» to a singular noun phrase (or «’» to a plural noun phrase), or by preceding a noun phrase with “of”.
English pronouns, however, have distinct genitive forms: for example, the genitive of “he” is “his”, e.g. “The food is his” or “that food of his”. These are survivors of the distinct genitive forms of nouns in general in Old English. Irish is like Old English in that nouns have distinct genitive forms. (Curiously enough, Irish doesn’t have genitive forms for pronouns.)
Sometimes Irish nouns have genitive forms that are the reverse of their nominative forms, e.g. cat and cait in the nominative become cait and cat respectively in the genitive, mac and mic become mic and mac respectively, and fear and fir become fir and fear respectively. Sometimes the genitive singular form is distinct, e.g. leabharlann and leabharlanna in the nominative become leabharlainne and leabharlann respectively in the genitive. Sometimes the plural form is the same in both the nominative and the genitive: this is called a “strong plural” (tréaniolra). Examples of this are scoil and scoileanna becoming scoile and scoileanna, and eolaíocht and eolaíochtaí becoming eolaíochta and eolaíochtaí, respectively in the genitive. Sometimes the genitive forms are identical to the nominative forms, e.g. madra and madraí, and seomra and seomraí, remain unchanged in the genitive. A handful of nouns are irregular, e.g. bean and mná become mná and ban respectively in the genitive.
An extra wrinkle in Irish is applying initial mutations where necessary: for example, a masculine genitive singular noun that begins with s followed by either l, n, r, or a vowel gets a t prefixed to it after an, e.g. genitive seomra becomes an tseomra. Other masculine genitive singular nouns not beginning with s are lenited following an, so e.g. genitive cait becomes an chait, genitive fir becomes an fhir, etc. (Note that an becomes na for a feminine genitive singular noun, in which case the noun isn’t lenited; e.g. bean becomes an bhean, with lenition, but genitive mná becomes na mná, without lenition.) A feminine genitive singular noun that begins with a vowel gets an h prefixed to it after na, e.g. genitive eolaíochta becomes na heolaíochta. A genitive plural noun is eclipsed following na, so genitive cat becomes na gcat, genitive fear becomes na bhfear, genitive ban becomes na mban, genitive eolaíochtaí becomes na n-eolaíochtaí, etc.
You’ve noted that bia an mhadra means “the dog’s food”; can you now answer your own question by determining what “the dogs’ food” would be in Irish?
Scilling's answer may help you to understand why the Tuiseal Ginideach has struck fear and confusion into the hearts of generations of Irish school-goers!
The key point in recognizing when the genitive comes into play is "of" - think of it as "the food of the dog" instead of "the dog's food". This even helps in other situations that use the genitive - "ag léamh leabhair" can be crudely translated as "at reading of a book", telling you that "leabhair" is genitive.
That will at least help you in recognizing when the genitive is used/required. Forming the genitive is a whole different kettle of fish - there is no simple rule of thumb there.
You have to work out whether the noun is masculine or feminine. If masculine, you use 'an', add a 'h' and an 'i'. E.g an bord -> i lár an bhoird. If feminine, 'an' -> 'na' and you drop the 'h' e.g an pháirc -> i lár na páirce
If plural, you add an urú (n- on a vowel), and keep the rest of the pluralised noun (na geansaí -> dath na ngeansaí). However, when the plural is made by adding an 'i' or 'a' (there are a few other instances which are less common) you still add an urú but the noun reverts back to its singular form.
E.g an fear (sing) -> na fir (plural) -> postanna na bhfear (genitive)
An bhean (sing) -> na mná (plural) -> peil na mban (genitive)
An bord (sing) -> na boird (plural) -> i lár na mbord (genitive)
There are many exceptions in the genitive but they mostly fall into groups which have rules you can follow. I've covered the basics here and hope his helps :) It's really hard at the start but you get used to it and with practice it will become easy. It's also one of the hardest bits of Irish grammar and takes most people ages to get their heads around it (myself included). Go n-éirí leat!