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t - , more info about dashes in Scottish Gaelic anyone?

Someone kindly explained that things such as ‘s were contractions of words like thus in this case or a’ of an. At the time I thought it was interesting but it’s actually turned out much more useful for my studies than I realised it would be. So a big thank you for whoever it was posted that, unfortunately I’ve forgotten or I’d be sending you lingots!

Anyway, with that in mind I’m wondering if better understanding of what’s going on with the t - and so forth before words would turn out to be equally useful and I’m hoping someone here will be able to explain it to me. So, if the apostrophes are contractions, what do the dashes signify? I would really appreciate anyone’s help with this.

December 7, 2019



"t-" prefixed to nouns is just part of the definite article in certain situations, depending on gender, case and the starting letter of the noun. It doesn't in itself signify anything special, though they are part of what tells you what gender/case/number a noun has.

e.g. masculine, singular nouns in the nominative case that start with vowels get it, e.g. an t-uisge.


they signify something called eclipses. Basically, in certain situations certain words starting with a vowel get a t- or an h- at the beginning of them to help pronunciation.

an t-àite

na h-Alba



That is not correct. However there is a lot of confusion in Irish, and this may (in fact but not in logic) be counted as 'eclipsis' in Irish.

The original meaning of eclipsis is that it is just the Latin form of eclipse. It means the thing in front hides the thing behind, just like an eclipse of the sun. By this definition, an t-slàinte (Gaelic) = an tsláinte (Irish) is eclipsis, as the s is hidden by the t (i.e. silent), but in your examples there is no letter hidden.

The most common example of eclipsis in Irish is with the nasal mutation, as in a mbád 'their boat', where the b is silent. This has then led to eclipsis being used as a synonym for nasal mutation in the context of Irish only. Further confusion arises for three reasons

  • there are situations (after some prepositions) where nasal mutation occurs in some dialects, but lenition in others
  • The term eclipsis is used for the nasal mutation even when there is no actual letter hidden, as in Tír na nÓg
  • If you don't know why there is a t in an tsláinte you can easily think it is the same as other examples of eclipsis

So the examples you give are not eclipses by either definition, although they may be referred to as such in Irish. D


This surprise ‘t’ comes from the old (before 1200?) form of the article, which was int before a vowel or ‘sh’ (more or less).

E.g. int uisce -> an t-uisge


Thanks so much for your - and everybody’s! - insight. Sorry not had more input to this discussion. Life/Christmas happened. But found each perspective useful. I’ve noticed that that the things I now know to call eclipses do indeed make things easier to say so I’m using that as a rule of thumb when I don’t recall the particular usuage. Thanks @tj4234 And @caran-neonach thanks for the help in analysing sentences to reverse engineer the grammar. And it explains why some nouns I might expect to get eclipsed (is that a thing?) from a pronunciation point of view actually don’t. And @Moilleadoir thank you as it’s just plain interesting to know there’s a remnant of a now absent article. Do love an historical factoid. Thanks everyone for your time and knowledge. Happy holidays!


Which leaves two question that have baffled me.

  • Why did they write an t-uisge instead of *ant uisge?
  • Why did they write an t-slàinte instead of *ant shlàinte?

Were they just trying to make things complicated and confusing, attaching half the article to the following noun, when it does not alter the pronunciation significantly? D

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