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An nighean agam vs. mo nighean

I was doing a lesson in Family 2, where I translated a sentence with and it was marked as a mistake. The correct answer was given as .

When I looked at the discussion for that particular sentence, I noticed I was not the only one confused. Several people were wondering when to use mo ... (mo bhràthair, mo bhean) and when to use an ... agam (an nighean agam, an duine agam).

The thread in question: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/36449601

I've looked at several different threads on this issue, and the most common answer (to differentiate between mo vs agam) seems to be how close the connection is. Yet in the case of the examples this seems really weird; as that would suggest you can't do without your brother / wife, but would manage to do without your daughter / husband.

Anyone care to weigh in on this?

March 12, 2020



I've been involved in at least one such discussion, and I still don't understand it any deeper than "that's the way it is so learn it."

We are also taught "mo charaid" and I was marked wrong for answering "an caraid agam", but I certainly heard "na caraidean agam" on TV, referring to a girl's friends in an athletics club she was a member of. One of the mods seemed to suggest on one of the threads that pets might be referred to as mo chù rather than an cù agam if someone was particularly close to their pet, but I'm not sure about that.

I'm unclear whether this is just convention that has to be learned and adhered to, or whether there are nuances in there. I suspect the former, but how the conventions actually arose in the first place might be an interesting sociological study.


It would seem that mo nighean is 'my lass', 'my girlfriend', while an nighean agam is 'my daughter'. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5TAGCtqGEc.


someone pointed this out in the original thread as well, but then went on to say:

"In the LearnGealic on-line dictionary they give a very different word for girlfriend ("bràmair-nighinn", where bràmair is a unisex word just meaning sweetheart)"

so I'm still not sure which is which. Like I pointed out in my other response, however, this is way too early in a language course to have learners figure out such pragmatic distinctions for themselves. Either it should be expressed explicitly (so we learn both 'my daughter' and 'my girlfriend') or both sentences should be marked as correct for the time being.


Well if there are pragmatic differences between the two they should both be marked correctly in an A1-level course. This is way too early to start with pragmatic subtleties (such as girlfriend vs female friend in English). It's ok to point the implied difference out to learners, but too early to mark it as a mistake.

This is a recurring problem for digital learning channels (such as duolingo) though. You never know whether something is marked incorrectly, because it is actually incorrect, or because it was not added to the acceptable parameters.


Hey, just checked and unless I have missed something we actually do accept "mo nighean" as an alternative for "an nighean agam" in all sentences. These changes were made about a week ago.


Perhaps I made a typo then, or it was just before the changes.


It does make the "alienable" and "inalienable" distinction a bit shaky though. I'd say a daughter is a fair bit more inalienable than a girlfriend.


GOOGLE search gives 98,000 cases of "mo nighean" and just 689 of "an nighean agam" , "an duine agam" gets 245,000 and "mo dhuine" 28,700. That ties in with what I was taught at SMO - Just sayin......


I'd imagine this is due to the prevalence of "mo nighean" in songs (meaning my girl of lass in these contexts), some of which have featured in Outlander.


I asked my Gaelic instructor a similar question just Wednesday, (in duolingo you see an duine agam vs mo bhean), she in particular says mo dhuine in her classes. She figures in the particular case I identified its because mo dhuine is a bit more difficult to say. They're both correct. This would be Canadian Scottish Gaelic, which is a slightly different dialect, though.


I can't speak for Canadian Gaelic (although I love it) but "mo dhuine" to mean husband would be quite unusual here.


How would you say " my man" as in the west of Scotland usage by his partner (not necessarily wife), as in "This is ma man". Could it be "mo fear" or "mo chaidreach"...?


I'm not 100% sure in Scottish but to say 'my man' in Irish would be written "m'fhear" ('mo' + 'fear') and this seems to be the case here too, though my experience with this course is limited so far.

Looking it up in the dictionary it lists the example: 'a bheil gasan aige?' = 'does he have a boyfriend?'. Gasan coming from the Irish 'garsún' which itself is borrowed from the French "garçon" meaning 'boy' or 'boyfriend'. With that in mind to say 'my man' would be 'mo ghasan', providing I'm interpreting this right!


Maybe because back in the Dark Ages, before feminism, daughters were "property" to have.

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