Note that muir is gender fluid (until we learn about the genitive). So if translating then a' mhuir and am muir would both be correct. In fact it is said the masculine is more common (and is in my experience).
Of course, if you had to write what you heard you had no choice. And if you were given tiles then you had limited choice, but both should be accepted in a simple translation exercise. D
Hmm, Mark notes that usually given in dictionaries as [a masculine noun] in nom[inative], [feminine noun] in other cases, but that it is very commonly fem[inine] in all cases.
Am Faclair Beag is one of such dictionaries giving muir as masculine in nom. (ie. am muir the sea) but feminine in gen. (na mara of the sea). Dwelly gives the reverse for Lewis (fem. nom. a’ mhuir, masc. gen. a’ mhara) and feminine through-out in Badenoch…
So looks like very dependent on the dialect, with all permutations of gender + case possible (and as most such nouns with varying gender – it was neuter in Old Irish, with dialects assigning it to different genders when neuter disappeared).
You have prompted me to do a wee bit of extra research. I have never heard anyone even suggest that it is masculine in the genitive, since Dwelly (1911). So I would claim that it is always feminine in the genitive, unless there is evidence to the contrary. So I Googled "na mara" and "a' mhara" (complete with quotation marks). I got about 80% more hits for the first, but with one big difference. "na mara" was getting hits from all over Scotland and even Ireland, whereas the first two pages that I looked at for "a' mhara" gave me hits only for Ceann a' Mhara in Tiree. This name predates Dwelly so is not evidence of modern usage, but does show a usage a very long way from Lewis (both geographically and linguistically).
I then did a search excluding ceann, i.e "a' mhara" -ceann and got nothing significant apart from a crag in Rothesay (so also in the south).
Then I searched for "na mara" bha and "a' mhara" bha in order to look for Gaelic text. The first produced an range of modern Gaelic texts, but the second produced a range of Gaelic texts, all published before 1819, including very prominent works such as Ossian and the Bible. Restricting the search to 1819 onward produced nothing else significant. So since Dwelly did use historic sources, I now say there is no evidence of "a' mhara" after 1818.
It seems to be entirely feminine in modern Irish. In Old Irish it is, according to eDIL
n. and m., later also f. ...
In later Mid. Ir. muir becomes fem. ...
in Mod. Ir. generally fem.
When the neuter was lost, neuter words took random gender in most languages, but generally became masculine in Irish/Gaelic. So this word conformed to start with then suddenly had a sex change. I have absolutely no idea why.
(Note: adding bha to a search string restricts results to Gaelic. It works because
- It is so common in Gaelic that virtually every text of more than a line or two contains it.
- It occurs in no other language on Earth, not even Irish or Manx.) D
Mark notes that usually given in dictionaries as [a masculine noun] in nom[inative], [feminine noun] in other cases, but that it is very commonly fem[inine] in all cases.
Both your comments are really interesting! To throw my two cents in, 'muir' has always been feminine to me (a' mhuir/na mara). Possibly a dialect thing, but I can't say I've ever heard am muir. It sounds very clunky to me :)