Tha ... ann

Hi, I understand the usage of "Tha an t-uisge ann / There is rain." I am wondering about it's usage for "Tha deagh oidhche ann / It is a nice night" Is there a reason that you don't say "'S e deagh oidhche a th' ann" or "Tha i deagh oidhche"?

May 14, 2020


I answered a similar question in a few discussions under some of those sentences:

I’ll copy (a bit edited) what I’ve written there:

It could be ’s e deagh oidhche a th’ ann and it would be more literal it is a good night – also OK.

It cannot be *tha i deagh oidhche – that’s completely ungrammatical, more about it later.

Tha deagh oidhche ann means basically there is, right now, a good night there, in general existence, which implies this night is a good night, which you express in English as it is a good night.

Grammatically the sentences are indeed different:

  • in Gaelic tha deagh oidhche ann (lit. a good night is there) the subject is deagh oidhche a good night and the predicate is a dummy ann there, in general existence;
  • in English it’s a good night the subject is a dummy it meaning general condition around and the predicate is a good night.

But the meaning they convey: equating the general current condition to a good night, and their usage: describing the condition around when greeting somebody, are the same.

That’s just how you say something like it’s a good night, isn’t it! in Gaelic. Similarly it’s a fine day would typically be tha latha brèagha ann, etc. But latha brèagha a th’ ann (or longer ’s e latha brèagha a th’ ann) is also possible.

Very similar greeting is cited on Akerbeltz wiki tha oidhche mhath ann meaning it’s a good night. Or look at a discussion on Fòram na Gàidhlig about tha oidhche bhrèagha ann for it is a lovely night, or tha latha brèagha ann it’s a fine day on

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. :)

As for why something like *tha i deagh oidhche is completely wrong: Gaelic has two different to be verbs:

  • the copula is (bu in the past) for classifying (defining) and equating (identifying) things,
  • and the substantive verb bi (tha and (bh)eil in present, bha and robh in past, bidh and bi in future) for describing things – saying what things are like, where they are, etc.

The substantive verb might only have adjectives, adverbs, or prepositional phrases as its predicates:

  • tha i brèagha it / she is lovely, fine, pretty (the predicate is an adjective: brèagha lovely, fine),
  • tha mi anns an taigh I am in the house (the predicate is a prepositional phrase: anns an taigh in the house),
  • tha mi gu math I am well (the predicate is an adverb: gu math well).

To use a noun phrase as a predicate of a to be verb you either need the copula is or some idiomatic phrase with the same meaning but other structure:

  • is cat e it is a cat, is iasg breac a trout is a fish (the predicate is a noun: cat a cat, iasg a fish, you use the copula) – this usage is archaic and very poetic/literary,
  • ’s e cat a th’ ann it is a cat but literally it is a cat that is in it, ’s e iasg a th’ ann am breac a trout is a fish, lit. it is a fish that is in a trout – the copula introduces a cat, a fish and then the verb tha has a prepositional phrase as its predicate: ann in it, ann am breac in a trout,
  • tha mi nam oileanach I am a student but literally I am in my student – only tha is used, but its predicate is again a prepositional phrase nam oileanach in my student,
  • is mise Mòrag I am Mòrag; is e seo m’ athair this is my father, is e Alasdair an duine ris an robh mi a’ bruidhinn Alexander is the man with whom I was speaking – you use copula to identify (equate) definite nouns (Mòrag, my father, the man with whom… are definite unlike a student, a cat which are general concepts).

Copula can often be omitted: deagh oidhche a th’ ann, cat a th’ ann, seo m’ athair are also good.

[deactivated user]

    Tàpadh leat, a chàrdian, airson (do?) an fiosraghadh seo. Tha seo glè innteannach!

    I was happy with the constructions "Tha mi nam oileanach" and "'S e oileanach a th' annam" until I saw the following in the book "Scottish Gaelic In Twelve Weeks" (which is highly rated by Akerbeltz - so I got a copy to accompany my Duolingo studies): "Bu mhise an tidsear" (I was the teacher). This begs the question why don't we say "Is mise an tidsear" (as we do when introducing ourselves e.g. "Is mise Calum")? Is using the present-tense coupla in this way acceptable or does it fall into your initial archaic category ("Is cat e") and if so, why is the past-tense OK as per the book's example?

    Notice the predicate in your example is an tidsear the teacher, a definite particular teacher, not a general a teacher.

    If you classify yourself as a teacher you’d say bha mi nam thidsear or b’ e tidsear a bh’ annam (or, in archaic poetic language: bu tidsear mi – typically the noun would be lenited here, eg. bu shaighdear e ‘he was a soldier’, but t and d resist lenition after bu, so tidsear unchanged).

    But if you identify yourself as a definite the teacher you use the is + pronoun [+ subject if other than pronoun] + predicate: is mise an tidsear I am the teacher, bu mhise an tidsear I was the teacher.

    [deactivated user]

      Aaah! Light-bulb moment!

      so interesting

      Hi Graeme475378,

      (EDIT: you’ve had a fantastic response now so I feel rather small about my contribution, but I’m going to leave it up as I stand by most of it even after reading the knock-out response from silmeth.)

      I wrote:

      I’m sorry to see you haven’t had any luck with your more-than-reasonable question.

      I’m not really able to answer your specific question as to WHY a particular construction exists or why the construction you suggest isn’t used instead! A simple and very frustrating response would be to say that it just is as it is and not everything makes sense or follows rules entirely consistently. Although that is vague and annoying, it is almost certainly true.

      All I can say by way of comfort is to reassure you that things that seem strange or illogical will get better the more you get into the Gaelic language mindset. Pennies will drop along the way!

      In my mind, while you gave a good translation of -ann, the real ‘sense’ of the -ann ending feels like it means something along the lines of “it is so” or “that it is”. I don’t mean literally, but it’s a measure of how the basis of the entire expression is so many miles from what’s in our minds when we utter the English equivalent.

      As I’m sure you already know, ‘my husband’ is expressed as ‘An duine agam’ (the husband that I have), and there seems to me to be an overriding pattern of many English noun/adjective/verb (standard) phrase or sentence strings being expressed more as ‘states’ or ‘cases’ in Gaelic.

      The other thing I want to say, is that it may be as you go along that it transpires that some of your suggested forms may indeed prove to be acceptable after all, but at this early stage, DL has to limit what is taught to mere snippets of the whole language. It is programmed to recognise what’s been taught and largely reject what hasn’t, for the purpose of correcting the most common mistakes. If you make two mistakes, it can’t correct both at once and this can lead to confusion. This also means that some of the constructions you offer as being more logical, might be rejected here as incorrect, even if they would be acceptable to native speakers. I can only imagine how complex the software would be for full language recognition!

      I know this won’t be much use to you but I thought you might be sad not to have had any help!

      Btw,’’oidhche’ means night, not day ;)

      Best of luck with it all :)

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