https://www.duolingo.com/Alexis186028

Help with grammar

There’s a specific sentence that keeps tripping me up and it’s “She is looking at the boy.” Which apparently translates to “Tá sí ag féachaint ar an mbuachaill.” Which doesn’t make any grammatical sense to me? Like I’ve tried translating it word by word and then figuring out how Irish grammar structure affects it afterwards but I’m still confused Help?

1 month ago

12 Comments


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A literal word-for-word translation of Tá sí ag féachaint ar an mbuachaill is “Is she at looking on the boy”. Tá sí thus corresponds to “She is”, and ag féachaint corresponds to “looking” (the ag isn’t preserved in the English translation). The ar is needed in Irish because féach ar is a phrasal verb in Irish, which has a distinct meaning from the non-phrasal verb féach — similar to how “make out” is a phrasal verb in English, having a distinct meaning from the non-phrasal verb “make”. The “at” before “the boy” is included in the English translation not as a translation of ag, but because “look” is an intransitive verb; “She is *looking the boy” would be ungrammatical. (“She is watching the boy” would be a valid translation, though, since “watch” can be used transitively.)

1 month ago

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I also have trouble with this type of construction, because it is not taught in a unit or given grammar notes, just seem to appear randomly. Can you explain the difference between: Féacann sí ar an buachaill.. and the sentence above. I understand it has something to to with the action being continious (i think) but I really have no idea how to make these types of sentences (aside from memorizing the examples).

1 month ago

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Which construction do you mean? The ag féachaint construction is found in the Verbal Noun skill’s tips and notes, if that’s what you’d meant.

Is your understanding clear on the aspectual difference between “She looks at” and “She is looking at” in English? If you’re not a native English speaker, would analogous examples in another language be clearer? (Féachann sí ar … corresponds to “She looks at/watches …”, and Tá sí ag féachaint ar … corresponds to “She is looking at/is watching …”.)

1 month ago

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Thanks, yes the verbal noun is what I was looking for. I hadn't gotten to that part of the course yet (not counting the first time I did the course on the app before I realized that tips and notes existed. The verbal noun unit is quite far down the course, but these constructions are scattered throughout the course from the beginning.. way before verbal nouns are 'officially' introduced ( but usually just one sentence per unit at most, so not enough to get the hang of them by example). Anyways, I guess this is why I had problems with them. I understand the difference in English.. but in English they are often interchangable. Most English speakers don't really distinguish between she looks and she is looking, but in some languages (Spanish for example) the differences are more distint and you would only use the ing fork for an action happening at this very moment. So, I wasn't really sure what the distinction is in Irish. Is it more specific, like Spanish.. or more general, like in English? My native language is technically Hungarian, btw, but English is essentially my native language. We weren't really taught grammar at school though, so I do not know the terms for English grammar. I think the ing form is the gerund?

1 month ago

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but I think nèzö is more like... the person who is doing the watching...and nézés is the activity of watching.

I was thinking more of an example like néző lány (“watching girl”) rather than the standalone néző (“watcher”), to contrast it against a gerund usage, which matches “the activity of …”.

The simple present: Féachann sí ar

verb, pronoun, preposition

She looks at

To clarify, ar does not correspond to “at” here. Ar is needed because féach ar is a phrasal verb, and “at” is needed because “look” is intransitive. Féachann sí (without a preposition) corresponds to “She looks”, and Féachann sí ar corresponds to “She watches” (or “She looks at”).

Tá sí ag féachaint

Ta, pronoun, preposition, verbnoun

like She is watching

Ella está mirando

Ella está mirando is more precise than its Irish or English equivalents; the Spanish phrase is only progressive, while the Irish and English phrases can be either progressive or continuous, depending upon context.

Then there is the habitual present.. with Bionn, which is whole whole other can of worms... and it seems like the closest I get to understanding it is it is sort of like the imperfect tense in french or spanish (for activities that are habitual) except it is a present tense.

That’s right; bíonn is a present habitual. (Like French and Spanish, Irish also has a distinct imperfect/past habitual tense.)

I just get confused because the duolingo sentences do not make it very clear which present tense they expect, and often I get them worng with no idea why.

Do you mean English to Irish exercises, Irish to English exercises, or both? An exercise with a tá … ag verbal_noun structure typically corresponds to an English “… is present_participle” structure, and an Irish present tense verb ending in -(e)ann or -(a)íonn will correspond to an English present tense verb. Some of the phrases here don’t follow this pattern, e.g. Tá sí ina cónaí for “She is living” (in its “residing” sense) rather than “She lives”.

Note that some passive voice exercises use “is being past_participle”, such as this one.

1 month ago

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Thanks, I think I am starting to understand now. It is a lot to wrap my head around but this is a great explanation. I am not sure right now exactly which exercises they were, I think usually the ones asking me to type in Irish are the ones I get wrong. The English simple present or present habitual seem to be both accepted. It is when the exercise seems to demand the present progressive in Irish (way before the unit) that I get mixed up. I will try to take more note next time I come across these examples.

1 month ago

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Oh, here is one example: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/5096879

from the Places skill. (way before verb nouns) This section has quite a few of them. It would not accept the simple present for Irish (even the the present progressive had not been taught in the notes yet).

I think in English: The children play in the garden. and The children are playing in the garden are more or less interchangable, without further context, but the only accepted answer for Irish is the progressive. I just wish they would teach the present progressive first, before introducing these sentences.

1 month ago

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Oh, here is one example: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/5096879

from the Places skill. (way before verb nouns) This section has quite a few of them. It would not accept the simple present for Irish (even the the present progressive had not been taught in the notes yet).

This English-to-Irish exercise uses the progressive/continuous “are playing”, which doesn’t correspond to the Irish simple present/present habitual imríonn, so it properly doesn’t accept that; what it accepts is the Irish progressive/continuous tá … ag imirt.

I think in English: The children play in the garden. and The children are playing in the garden are more or less interchangable, without further context,

I disagree that they’re more or less interchangeable. “The children are playing in the garden” either means that they’re playing at this moment (progressive) or that they’re in the midst of playing, though possibly not at this moment (continuous — e.g. they might be taking a break from playing at this moment to eat a snack before resuming their play). Neither meaning has a habitual aspect, unlike “The children play in the garden”.

I just wish they would teach the present progressive first, before introducing these sentences.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some changes in the sequence of skills in the new skill tree.

1 month ago

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Tá tinneas cinn orm :-)

1 month ago

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GRMA! Thank you for this clarification. I hope you are right and that if they make a second tree, they make move verb nouns closer to the beginning (or leave sentences with the present continous out of all skills beforehand). This explanation has been very helpful!

3 weeks ago

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I understand the difference in English.. but in English they are often interchangable.

The habitualness of the simple present and the continuity of the present continuous can sometimes be roughly interchangeable, but some uses of the simple present are not habitual, and some uses of the present continuous are not continual, so interchangeability isn’t guaranteed.

in some languages (Spanish for example) the differences are more distint and you would only use the ing fork for an action happening at this very moment.

Yes, I believe that Ella está mirando … would correspond to the progressive aspect, while Ella mira … would be used for a non-progressive continuous aspect. Context would be needed to distinguish the aspect of “She is looking at …” in English or Tá sí ag féachaint ar … in Irish. (The use of rather than bíonn guarantees that it isn’t habitual.)

I think the ing form is the gerund?

In the case of “She is looking at …”, “looking“ is a present participle (like Hungarian néző). In the case of “Looking costs nothing“, “looking” is a gerund (like Hungarian nézés). Both take the same form in English; a participle is a verb form, while a gerund is a verbal noun.

1 month ago

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Thanks! haha, I have no idea about Hungarian grammar.. but I think nèzö is more like... the person who is doing the watching...and nézés is the activity of watching. (I went to school in Canada so I can't really explain) but it is more to do with subject then tense. the watcher/watching or watches. Anyways back to Irish.

the ing fork.. oops, I meant the ing form. (weird typo)

Anyways, thank you I think I understand it better now. The progressive and the non-progressive present in Irish are not interchangable.

So, Irish has three present tenses that are not interchangable?

The simple present: Féacann sí ar

verb, pronoun, preposition

She looks at

like Spanish: ella mira

and in Irish this tense is used for activities that may or may not be habitual, depending on context.. but is somehow more general than the present progressive.

which is:

Tá sí ag féachaint

Ta, pronoun, preposition, verbnoun

like She is watching

Ella está mirando

means this activity is happening right now, at this very instant, this exact second (like in Spanish) as opposed to something that takes place in a general present... like today.

Then there is the habitual present.. with Bionn, which is whole whole other can of worms... and it seems like the closest I get to understanding it is it is sort of like the imperfect tense in french or spanish (for activities that are habitual) except it is a present tense. So, for things you do every day, like going to work or school.

Am I right, please tell me if I have anything completely wrong? I just get confused because the duolingo sentences do not make it very clear which present tense they expect, and often I get them worng with no idea why. Thanks.

1 month ago
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