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"Can you speak Irish?"

I know that the proper way to ask someone if they can speak Irish is "Do you have Irish?" (Tá Gaeilge agat?) but isn't there also a way to ask someone if they can do something? (Féidir leat X?)

Why is "Tá Gaeilge agat?" (Do you have Irish?) correct while "Féidir leat labhairt as Gaeilge?" (Can you speak Irish?) isn't?

I feel like I might be missing something about how "féidir leat" is actually used.

April 16, 2015



Perhaps you’re thinking of something like An féidir leat Gaeilge a labhairt? (The An is needed as the interrogative form of is, and the preposition a is needed to accompany the verbal noun labhairt.)

The other way would be An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?, using the interrogative form of (viz the interrogative verbal particle an + the eclipsed dependent form bhfuil ).


I see. You've made quite a few things clear for me. Go raibh maith agat!


Related question, sorry if it's different enough to be annoying:

I've seen Is maith liom an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim for "I like to learn Irish." I notice here that féidir seems to not take an, so Gaeilge isn't lentited. Is that the case, or is An féidir leat an Ghaeilge a labhairt also acceptable? Follow up, can one say An bhfuil féidir leat? My understanding of it (which is almost certainly too literal) is that you're saying "Is the ability with you" to do something.

I suppose I'm making assumptions about the behavior of féidir and is maith liom, since there's no reason for them to require the same sentence structure.


Whether a language takes an article or not depends upon how it’s used in a sentence. If it’s used in a wide or general sense, then it takes an article; otherwise, it goes without. My grammar book offers the following examples:

  • Is í an Ghaeilge teanga ár sinsear. (“The language of our ancestors is Irish.”)
  • Tá an Laidin marbh leis na cianta. (“Latin has been dead for ages.”)
  • Tá Gaeilge mhaith agat. (“You speak good Irish.”)
  • Abair as Gaeilge é. (“Say it in Irish.”)

Féidir is only used with a copula, so one wouldn’t say An bhfuil féidir leat?.


Really interesting stuff.


Strictly speaking you can't even ask someone if they have Irish. "An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?" is literally "Is there Irish on you?" Irish, like many languages, doesn't really have a verb "to have".


It's "at you", not "on you"


Thanks. That's a better translation. There isn't really a one to one relationship between Irish and English prepositions, but "on" is more "ar" than "ag".

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