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Forms of the adjective
Declensional types
Comparison of adjectives
Irregular comparatives

Adjectives, like nouns, are inflected in Irish. As a rule of thumb one can say that the adjective agrees in form with the noun. Thus if a noun is uniform in the plural then so is the adjective and vice versa (A). If it is diaform then the genitive plural has the same form as the common singular (B). Equally, if a noun has lenition or zero-mutation and possible vowel alteration, so has the adjective. This in effect means that adjectives which qualify masculine nouns with vowel change in the genitive also have this (if they may) (C). It furthermore means that adjectives qualifying a feminine noun have the same form as the common but not the genitive singular (D).

A fodar na sicíní beaga (< beag)
  ‘the young chickens’ fodder’
B cuma na scamall bán (< bán)
  ‘the shape of the white clouds’
C fuaim an chloig mhóir (< mór)
  ‘the sound of the big bell’
D glór na mná achrannaí (< achrannach)
  ‘the voice of the quarrelsome woman’

Adjectives furthermore agree with the nouns they qualify by being mutated in a similar way. Thus feminine adjectives in the common case show lenition, e.g. bean thanaí ‘a thin woman’, but masculine adjectives in the same case do not, e.g. scríobhneoir cáiliúil ‘a famous writer’.

Forms of the adjective

Each adjective can have maximally four forms, depending on what form they take in the following four categories.

1) common singular (masc. and fem.)
2) genitive singular (masc.)
3) genitive singular (fem.)
4) common plural (masc. and fem.)

Four possibilities of alternation exist:

2) STEM + (de)palatalisation
3) STEM + suffixation
4) STEM + (de)palatalisation and suffixation

The maximum differentiation exists if all categories have different forms. The number of different forms declines depending on the amount of syncretism (similarity in form). The scale from maximum to minimum is as follows:

1) common singular, genitive singular masc., genitive singular fem. common plural all different (4 forms)
2) masculine common and genitive the same (3 forms)
3) masculine genitive and femine genitive the same (3 forms)
4) masculine common and genitive the same (2 forms)
  feminine common and genitive the same (2 forms)
5) no inflection possible (1 form)

The maximum of four forms can be seen in the following instances.

Common Sg. Masc.Gen.Sg. Fem.Gen.Sg. Common Pl.
STEM [-pal] STEM [+pal] STEM [+pal] + /-ə/ STEM [-pal] + /-ə/
bog boig boige boga ‘small’
ceomhar ceomhair ceomhaire ceomhara ‘foggy’

The following are two model paradigms of adjectival inflection, one masculine and one feminine:

Singular (masc.)    
Common an manach dall ‘the blind monk’
Genitive cillín an mhanaigh dhaill ‘the blind monk’s cell’
Plural (masc.: diaform)    
Common na manaigh dhalla ‘the blind monks’
Genitive cillíní na manach dall ‘the cells of the blind monks’
Plural (masc.: uniform)    
Common na feirmeoirí Albanacha ‘the scottish farmers’
Genitive barúil na bhfeirmeoirí Albanacha ‘the opinion of the Scottish farmers’
Singular (fem.)    
Common an phearsa chainteach ‘the talkative person’
Genitive cáil na pearsan caintí ‘the reputation of the talkative person’
Plural (fem.: diaform)    
Common na pearsana cainteacha ‘the talkative persons’
Genitive scata na bpearsan cainteach ‘the group of the talkative persons’
Plural (fem.: uniform)    
Common na trialacha aireacha ‘the careful trials’
Genitive fad na dtrialacha aireacha ‘the length of the careful trials’

Adjectives are also declined in the vocative and can remain unchanged vis à vis the common case or show (de-)palatalisation.

singular masculine
Voc. a mhanach dhaill ‘blind monk’-VOC
singular feminine
Voc. a phearsa chainteach ‘talkative person’-VOC

Syncope with adjectives

Recall that any word form which meets the structural description for syncope will undergo it. This applies to adjectives as much as to other word classes.

Common Sg. Masc.Gen.Sg. Fem.Gen.Sg. Common Plural
domhain ‘deep’ domhain doimhne doimhne
íseal ‘low’ íseal ísle ísle
deacair ‘difficult’ deacair deacra deacra

On syncope the sonorant which is drawn together with the preceding consonant to form a cluster may well change its value for [palatal]. This value is determined by the first element of the cluster. If the process of suffixation and syncope is analysed into steps then the following picture emerges (for the sample word deacair ‘difficult):

Declensional types

Common Sg. Genitive Sg. (masc.) Genitive Sg. (fem.) Common Pl.
bocht ‘poor’ boicht boichte bochta
iontach ‘wonderful’ iontaigh iontaí iontacha
moch ‘early’ moch moiche mocha
neamhspleách ‘independent’ neamhspleách neamhspleáthaí neamhspleácha
ceanúil ‘fond’ ceanúil ceanúla ceanúla

Comparison of adjectives

The distinction between comparative and superlative is made by means of particles which occur before the form used in comparison:

positive comparative superlative
fuar ‘cold’ níos fuaire ‘colder’ is fuaire ‘coldest’

In comparisons between two objects the superlative is used:

Is í mo chos dheas an chos is láidre.
‘My right foot is the stronger.’
Is glice Pádraic ná Séamus.
Tá Pádraic níos glice ná Séamus.
‘Peter is cleverer than John.’
Rinne tú iarracht ní ba mheasa ná mise. (ba = be-PAST)
‘You made a worse attempt than me.’
Is iad na curacha na báid is acmhainní. (is = be-PRES)
‘Currachs are the most sea-worthy boats.’

Comparison with and

1a) copula constructions with :

Is mó is baolach an droichead ná mar a bhí sé.
‘The bridge is more dangerous than it used be.’

1b) in nominal constructions with :

an cás is mó brónach ‘the saddest case’

2) adjectives with prefixed - and followed by a prepositional pronoun:

Is ró-chasta léi a bhí sé. ‘It was too complicated for her.’

A superlative is found with the preposition ar before nouns. This can be a partitive or absolute superlative.

Tá Ó Cadhain ar dhuine de na scríbhneoirí is cáiliúla as an Ghaeltacht.
‘Ó Cadhain is among the most well-known writers from the Irish-speaking area.’
Tá Ó Cadhain ar an scríbhneoir is cáiliúla as an Ghaeltacht.
‘Ó Cadhain is the most well-known writer from the Irish-speaking area.’

A possessive pronoun cannot be used before a noun qualified by a comparative/superlative form of an adjective:

an deirfiúir is óige aici
*a deirfiúir is óige
‘her youngest sister’

Irregular comparatives

The following is a list of irregular comparatives which contains a) suppletive forms and b) synchronically unaccountable alterations of positive forms.

beag ‘small’ níos lú ‘smaller’
iomaí ‘many’ níos lia ‘many more’
maith ‘good’ níos fearr ‘better’
olc ‘bad’ níos measa ‘worse’

breá ‘fine’ níos breátha ‘finer’
dócha ‘likely’ níos dóichí ‘more likely’
fada ‘far’ níos faide ‘further’
fogus ‘near’ níos foisce ‘nearer’
furasta ‘simple’ níos ionúine/ansa ‘more well-loved’
te ‘hot’ níos teo ‘hotter’
tréan ‘strong’ níos tréine/treise ‘stronger’
mór ‘big’ níos mó ‘bigger’


1) The word túisce ‘sooner’ only exists as a comparative form, e.g. An bhean is túisce a tháinig ‘The woman who came first’. It is also found in fixed phrases such as an túisce is féidir ‘as soon as possible’.

2) The word ‘many’ can be expressed in two ways: (i) morán, (ii) an oiread sin. The former can also be used to express a partitive.

Bhí an oiread sin ann. Móran agaibh.
‘There were many (lit.: that amount) there.’ ‘Many of you’-PL

3) The word morán is also used to translate ‘much’ as in:

Níl morán le déanamh agam. ‘I don’t have much to do.’

4) A comparison of equality is made using the element chomh ‘as’ which can occur in comparisons with (i) nominals, (ii) demonstratives or (iii) verbal phrases:

Níl an Béarla chomh suimiúil leis an Ghaeilge.
‘English is not as interesting as Irish.’
Níl teangeolaithe maithe chomh gann sin.
‘Good linguists are not as scarce as that.’
Tá sé chomh simplí agus a bhí súil agam leis.
‘It’s as simple as I expected it.’

5) A negative complement of a comparison is introduced by gan ‘without’ much as is the negative complement of a verb.

Is measa gan rud ar bith a dhéanamh.
‘It’s worse not to do anything at all.’
Dúirt sé liom gan bheith buartha.
‘He told me not to be worried.’