Seo vs Tha seo

Apologies if this has been covered before, but I can't find a way of searching the forum.

I'm confused about the use of the word 'seo'. Sometimes just 'seo' is OK (e.g. Seo cat), but other times 'This is' should be translated as 'Tha seo', and I always seem to choose the wrong one.

And then there are sentences like 'Tha balla aig an taigh seo', where seo comes at the end of the sentence!

I'd be very grateful if someone could help me understand the differences and when to use which construction.

May 11, 2020


EDIT: I have written much longer and more comprehensive Guide to Gaelic to be, the substantive verb bi, tha & the copula is now – you might want to read it instead. :)

It’s been discussed under many sentences containing them, eg:

I’ll repeat my explanation from them, edited a bit:

Gaelic has two different verbs translated as to be in English:

  • one is the substantive verb bi (with forms like tha, (bh)eil, bha, bidh, etc.),
  • and the other is the copula is.

When you state what or who something or some one is – you classify or identify (or define or equate) something, ie. the predicate (the thing that comes after is in English) is a noun phrase – you use the copula is, and the copula can be omitted before seo and sin:

  • seo m’ athair or is e seo m’ athair: this is my father (my father is a noun phrase),
  • sin bòrd or is e sin bòrd that is a table (a table is also a noun phrase),
  • sin dealbh math or is e sin dealbh math that is a good picture (a good picture is a noun),
  • seo dealbh dona or is e seo dealbh dona this is a bad picture (a bad picture is a noun phrase).

When you describe someone or something or say where or when it is – the predicate is an adjective, adverb, or a prepositional phrase – you use the bi verb (and its forms like tha, chan eil, bidh, etc.):

  • tha seo dona this is bad (bad is an adjective),
  • tha sin air a’ bhòrd that is on the table (on the table is a prepositional phrase),
  • bha seo math this was good.

You’ll find the exact same difference eg. with tha mi(se) toilichte I am happy vs. is mise am fear sin I am that man, or tha cat mòr a cat is big vs. is e cat mòr a tha ann it is a big cat.

As for when the seo goes at the end (of a noun phrase – not necessarily at the end of the sentence): it goes there when it functions as a determiner to another thing:

  • an taigh seo this house,
  • an cat sin that cat,
  • a’ phiuthar seo this sister, etc.

in sentences like tha balla aig an taigh seo this house has a wall; tha an cat sin mòr that cat is big.

(note that seo and sin go after a definite noun; if that helps you remember it, you might think about it a bit like English the house right here, the cat over there, etc.)

But seo, sin can also work on their own like English this, that without any other noun to attribute, meaning roughly this thing or this person and that thing, that person.

Math fhèin! Mòran taing!

I believe it is the difference between "is" and "this is", also I think it is mostly based on what else is in the sentence. Hope this helps.

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