an t- vs. an h-

I find I am mixing up using t- and h- with definite articles that start with a vowel. When do you use one or the other?

March 26, 2020


t- appears before vowels in nominative singular masculine, eg. an t-athair the father, an t-ubhal the apple, an t-ainm the name

t- also replaces s if it would be lenited after the article, that is in:

  • nominative singular feminine: an t-sùil the eye, an t-sràid the street
  • genitive singular masculine: an t-sagairt the priest’s, of the priest
  • dative singular: anns an t-sùil in the eye, ris an t-sagart with the priest

h- appears before vowels after the article in:

  • nominative plural: na h-ùbhlan the apples, na h-eaglaisean the churches
  • genitive singular feminine: na h-eaglaise the church’s, of the church

Ah, only plural for the h-! I never noticed that.
Mòran taing!

Another that comes to mind for h- would be when using the third person singular inalienable female possessive i.e. her ____, where the noun begins with a vowel:

  • a h-aodann > her face
  • a h-ainm > her name
  • a h-aodach > her clothes
  • a h-athair > her father

Not one we've covered in the course so far, but it will be coming up in Tree 2 :)

Isn't it 'an t-' vs 'na h-'? Of course I could be wrong, still learning it myself..

"In Gaelic the definite article a’ is used in front of feminine words beginning with the consonants b, c, g, m, and p. When you put a’ in front of feminine words beginning with the consonants b, c, g, m, and p, you also insert an h after the initial consonant, e.g a’ bhanais, a’ bhean. an t-

In Gaelic the definite article an t- is used before masculine and feminine nouns. An t- is used before masculine nouns beginning with a vowel. An t- is used before feminine nouns beginning with with sl, sn, sr, or s+ vowel. na, na h-

In English, there is no difference whether the noun after the definite article is singular or plural, the article is still ‘the’. In Gaelic, however, when the noun is plural the definite article changes to na or na h-.

Na is used when the noun following it begins with a consonant, eg na faoileagan (the seagulls) or na daoine (the people).

Na h- is used when the noun following it begins with a vowel, eg na h-òrain (the songs) or na h-eich (the horses)."

That is very helpful. However why is it "a h-aon" and "a h-ochd"?

In case of a h-aon, a h-ochd it’s not the article. The short answer is that when counting you use the numeral particle which prefixes h to vowels.

Where this particle comes from is a bit trickier question and I believe there is some evidence it used to cause different mutations depending on gender of the thing in question and thus probably comes ultimately from the possessives (his/her/its one, his/her/its eight), and somewhere in the Old Irish times the feminine form won and took over, hence modern a h-aon, a h-ochd. But don’t quote me on this, I don’t remember what’s the source on this (probably there’s something in Stair na Gaeilge, an Irish book on the history of Goidelic languages).

One more thing worth noting in this thread, by the way, is that traditionally most (if not all) words that did not cause lenition or eclipsis (a mutation that was lost in Sc. Gaelic) but ended in a vowel, caused the h-prefixing to vowels.

And so still often when you have some unstressed particle or preposition that doesn’t lenite in Scottish Gaelic, then it probably will prefix h- to vowels (though this is not so strict rule today, you get eg. le aodach instead of le h-aodach, although in many Irish dialects the h- will still appear here too).

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