"How are you, Ewan?"
Translation:Ciamar a tha thu, Eòghainn?
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So, if I've understood you correctly, the a in ciamar a... is the relative particle (how is it that...) and therefore is followed by tha, but in càit a... it's a preposition (where is it in which...), so is followed by the dependant form, bheil?
And there's no way to know that just by looking, you have to understand the etymology?
Yes, except that in càite a bheil it’s actually both words merged together, the preposition and the relative particle (and relative particle after prepositions always takes the dependent form, as in an duine ris a bheil mi a’ bruidhinn the person with whom I am speaking).
And yes, as all irregularities in the language, if you want to know where it comes from, you need to know the etymology. If you don’t care for the etymology, you may just learn it as ‘an irregular form of the relative that happens after càite’.