"He likes those boys."
Translation:Is maith leis na buachaillí sin.
So "Is maith leis na buachaillí sin" means "He likes those boys," but "Is maith leis na buachaillí É sin" means "Those boys like him." Do I have that right? Is there anything in the way those two sentences would be spoken that would distinguish them before you get to the word "é"? Or do you really just have to wait that long to decide whether "na buachaillí" is the subject of the sentence or the object of "leis"?
As for the first question only, I think the answer is no, that is not quite right; you have the translation of the first sentence right, but not quite the second:
One: Is maith leis na buachaillí sin. = He likes those boys.
Two: Is maith leis na buachaillí é sin. = The boys like that.
Your proposed translation of the second sentence was "Those boys like him," but, since "na buachaillí sin" is how we would say "those boys," and "é" is "him," I think your proposal translates this sentence instead:
Three: Is maith leis na buachaillí sin é. = Those boys like him.
And a sentence you did not ask about, but for comparison:
Four: Is maith leis na buachaillí é. = The boys like him.
In sentence 1, "leis" means "with him;" because, le + sé = leis.
In sentences 2, 3, and 4, "leis" means simply "with" rather than "with him;" because, le becomes leis before a definite article: in 2, 3, and 4, "leis na" means literally "with the" (but in 1, means literally "with him the").
The potential confusion (whether "leis" is le + pronoun or le + article) is with the 3rd person singular masculine pronoun only; i.e., there is no "leis" in, e.g.:
Five: Is maith léi na buachaillí sin. = She likes those boys.
Six: Is maith leo na buachaillí sin. = They like those boys.
If it helps us follow the syntax, we could parse or "clump" or "understand" the sentences this way:
- Is maith leis / na buachaillí sin. = He likes / those boys.
- Is maith leis na buachaillí / é sin. = The boys like / that.
- Is maith leis na buachaillí sin / é. = Those boys like / him.
- Is maith leis na buachaillí / é. = The boys like / him.
In sentences 2, and 4, "Is maith leis na buachaillí" means "the boys like;" what do the boys like? in sentence 2, they like "é sin" ("that") and in sentence 4, they like "é" ("him").
In sentence 3, "Is maith leis" still means "like," but now, it is "na buachaillí sin," "those boys," rather than "na buachaillí," "the boys," who "like," and what "those boys" "like" is "é," or "him."
That is how I reckon it, anyway. If anyone sees an error, something I have mistranslated or misunderstood, please, let me know. ᵔᴥᵔ
Note that in sentence 3 or 4, the "é" could mean "it" instead of "him" (Also, "í" instead of "é" would mean "her" instead of "him," but "í" could also mean "it;" whether to use "é" or "í" depends on the grammatical gender of the referent).
To tell the difference between the subject and the object, you have to identify the object.
Given that there isn't a verb separating the subject and the object, it's surprising that this confusion doesn't happen more often - Tá sé leon sa zú means "there are 6 lions in the zoo" rather than "he is a lion in the zoo" (which would require the copula anyway).
Well, "he is a lion in the zoo" would require a different verb, wouldn't it? That would be "Is leon sa zú é," yes?
So, was I right about my two sentences above and what they mean? Does the "leis na buachaillí" SOUND the same when they are spoken, or is there some kind of break or change in intonation when "na buachaillí" is the subject of the sentence rather than the object of "leis"?
The fact that Tá sé leon sa zú can't grammatically mean "he is a lion in the zoo" because to say that requires the copula is missing the point - you don't know that it would require the copula before you read it, and 99% of the time when you encounter tá sé at the start of a sentence it means "he is" or "it is", so you have to read beyond the "normal" subject before you can recognize that sé isn't the subject of that sentence after all.
There is no break or difference in intonation required in the spoken sentence, though some speakers might insert some change of cadence.