na seacaide


I was asked to translate: "Tha mi a' cur na seacaide orm"

I put: "I am putting the jackets on"

It said it was wrong and it should be: "I am putting a jacket on"

Is "na seacaide" not definite plural?

December 16, 2019


Normally yes. However, we have something called the genitive case (which I don't think the course has spoken about yet). If you aren't used to learning languages and are unsure what the genitive case is, in English it's the little apostrophe s at the end of words which posses other objects.

For example in the phrase "my sister's pen".

In Gaelic, in addition to the straight out use of possession, the genitive case is also used with nouns following a verbal noun. In this instance the mutations caused by genitive case which have turned an seacaid to na seacaide happen to be the same as those which make it plural.

So the phrase "tha mi a' cur na seacaide orm" is singular.

Though, it should translate to I am putting the jacket on (still singural, but definite), and not a jacket (as the op wrote).

Without the article it’d be in nominative: tha mi a’ cur seacaid orm ‘I am putting a jacket on’.

Scottish Gaelic is a bit weird in that it uses the genitive only when the noun is definite (literally you say I am at the putting of the jacket on me or at the jacket’s putting on me), but not in indefinite nouns (Irish still uses genitive in that instance, though it uses nominative in some other instances as well).

Thanks. That last paragraph is very helpful to reorient my thinking. I was thinking of "seacaid" as the complement to "a' cur", but ohh, actually it's the other way around. And if I take it seriously that verbal nouns are REALLY NOUNS, which I wasn't, it makes sense that one could be the complement to a genitive noun. That also mirrors the regular verb-subject order ("tha mi"), though I don't know if the underlying syntax is exactly the same.

Also, if you’re interested in Gaelic syntax, it’s interesting that since verbal nouns are nouns they cannot take a direct objects like a verb. Which means you cannot use personal pronouns after them – you cannot simply say he is hitting me. You need genetive, but Goidelic pronouns don’t have a genitive form… so you must say he is at my hitting (tha e gam bhualadh*ag mo).

I’ve once written a quite lengthy post about progressives in Goidelic languages on the Irish Language Forum (I focus on Irish, but give Scottish examples too).

In most of the Gaeldom it’s actually no longer true that verb-nouns don’t take direct objects (that’s still kinda true in Munster, but in Munster only) – they do when you relativize their object. Eg.:

  • dè (a) tha thu a’ dèanamh?what are you doing?, literally what-is-it that you are at doing? with being the direct object of a’ dèanamh (which otherwise wouldn’t make grammatical sense),
  • an rud a tha mi a’ dèanamhthe thing that I am doing, the same construction (an rud being relativized direct object of a’ dèanamh).

This also happens in most dialects of Irish, eg.

  • Connacht: céard atá tú a dhéanamh? (← do dhéanamh, in Connacht do was often used instead of ag in this construction, then simplified to a in pronunciation and writing), an rud atá mé a dhéanamh,
  • Ulster: caide ’tá tú ag déanamh?, an rud atá tú ag déanamh,

but then in Munster this doesn’t exist, you cannot simply ask ‘what are you doing?’ (it’s grammatically possible using a different kind of relative clause – asking ‘what is it at whose doing you are’ basically, but nobody speaks like that), so instead you turn the sentence into a passive voice one which is easy to relativize:

  • cad ’tá á dhéanamh agat? (← *ag a dhéanamh ‘at its doing’) – what is being done by you?, lit. what-is-it that’s at its doing by you?,
  • an rud atá á dhéanamh agamthe thing that is being done by me, lit. the thing that is at its doing by me.

(The other grammatical, but not used, way to say it is: *cad go bhfuileann tú á dhéanamh? or in other dialects *céard/caide a bhfuil tú á dhéanamh?).

I’ve also had a thread about those contructions on the ILF: cad ’tá á dhéanamh agat, … ’tá tú a dhéanamh, … ag déanamh.

The syntax is exactly the same as with any other prepositional phrase (eg. tha mi air a’ bhòrd ‘I am on the table’, tha mi aig bòrd na seacaide ‘I am at the jacket’s table’, tha mi a’ cur na seacaide ‘I am at the jacket’s putting’). But the preposition ‘at’ in Scottish changes from aig to a’, ag when used with verbal nouns.

Actually ag is the older form (in Old Irish oc). Irish uses the same preposition in both contexts (written always ag, but actually pronounced /əg’/ as if written aig: táim ag bórd an seaicéid, táim ag cur an seaicéid).

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