1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Scottish Gaelic
  4. >
  5. Cò às a tha sibh, athair?


Cò às a tha sibh, athair?

it is vey difficult to make any sense of phrases such as the above without knowing what the individual words (or groups of words) represent. I understand "cò" to mean "where", and "sibh" to mean "you" - however, what do the words in the phrase "às a tha" actually represent? Also, why wouldn't "athair" use a familiar rather than a more formal version of "you?"

May 19, 2020



I analyzed word-by-word that exact sentence in its discussion thread. ;-)

Copying here my comment from that thread:

  • which is it? ( and cia on their own mean what?, which?, and question words in Gaelic have a copula – to be verb – embedded in themselves, so they also mean which is…? and which is it…?)
  • àsfrom


  • cò àswhere from is it?, from which (place) is it…?

  • a – relative particle, introduces relative clause, that

  • thais, are, present tense of bi verb,
  • sibhyou (singular polite)
  • athairfather, vocative (has no vocative a before it as other nouns, like a chàirdean, because it starts with a vowel)

So to summarize, the whole sentence literally means: where from is it that you are, father? or from which (place) is it that you are, father?.

That’s the typical way of forming more complex questions in Gaelic – using relative clauses. Another example would be dè an t-ainm a th’ ort? what is your name?, literally:

  • dè an t-ainm…?what is the name…?
  • a th’ ortthat is on you

because in Gaelic you rather speak about names that are on someone rather than someone’s names as in English.


Thank you - I found it eventually! Really helped me understand the construction


Irish Gaelic speaker here - but let me have a shot:

Cò às a tha sibh, athair?

Cad as sibh? in Irish translates as Where from you? Cad = Cò As=as Sibh = sibh, “you plural” in our language.

a tha - our equivalent is “atá” meaning “it is”

So: where from it is are you, father?

with the plural sibh as a sign of respect, like the French use of “vous” as athair indicates an older person is being addressed.

Where are you from, father?

How did I do?


Thanks. Our languages are very similar when written.


And when spoken too!


First, sibh doesn’t appear to equate to French vous. Most French children would use tu within the family. That why I can’t get a handle on how to use sibh. The Irish version is much easier to understand. The Scots seems to have extra unaccounted for words. As .... sibh are separated. If sibh is you , what is as? And why are they separated?


They do it just to annoy foreigners. But seriously - it translates as "Where is it that you are from?", only in mixed word order. This really reminds me of French Qu' est que c' est? "Cò às" seems to be "where from", "a" is some kind of connector like "that", "tha thu" is the standard "you are". This gives you: Where from that are you? Sounds terrible, but it seems to make sense in Gàidhlig. You will come across many more such constructions.


If you hear Gaelic speakers speaking English, or many other Scots and Irish in fact, they use these long-winded phrases. "Where is it you're from?" even "whereabouts is it you're from". Same with "I am wanting" for "I want", Tha mi ag iarradh. Etc


Sorry, I mixed thu and sibh. Actually, older people, even in family, require a "sibh".


It's the same principle as French "vous". Vous is very changeable even in French. It's expected when speaking to older people in France, but try it in Canada and you'll get a disapproving stare in return even from older people. It's like "Are you saying I'm old?" It varies depending on French region, education level and age group. It always used to be "vous" when speaking to a lady when I was young or at least "vous" for anyone you didn't know. Nowadays it's more relaxed just as society has changed.

The degree of formality varies in English too. I don't know of many kids who call their father "sir" in either Scotland or Australia, but it certainly used to be widespread in the US.


I think the use of formal 'sibh' in recognition of seniority or respect is changing with time, with 'thu' becoming prevalent in family settings. Just part of the evolution of living languages, I guess. Ahh, even nostalgia is not what it used to be ;-)

Learn Scottish Gaelic in just 5 minutes a day. For free.