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First conjugation
Second conjugation
Verbal noun
Verbal adjective
Relative verb forms
Dependent verb forms
Irregular verbs
Defective verb forms
Is and

The two conjugations

The regular verbs of Irish fall into two broad classes which are conventionally distinguished by the forms of the future.

The first conjugation is often called the f-future, but this label is only historically justified: the /f/ is no longer pronounced in any dialect. However, there is a reflex of this former /f/ in the devoicing of stem final stops, e.g. bog (with final /g/) ‘move’, but bogfaidh /bʌke/ ‘he will move’.

The second conjugation has /o:/ as the future suffix, with an [ɪ]-offglide in careful speech. In terms of present-day vernacular Irish the difference between the two futures is that between a /ə/ and an /o:/ suffix, i.e. a short vowel and a long vowel suffix. This fact is important when considering what verbs belong to which conjugation.

Apart from the two conjugations there are a number of irregular verbs which because of historical developments contain suppletive forms. Also among the irregular verbs is the pair of verbs expressing state and existence, is and .

The two main conjugations are differentiated not only in their future forms. Another way to distinguish these verbs would be to classify them according to the verb stem. One could use the terms ‘long-stem’ and ‘short-stem’ verbs for the two main conjugations as this describes the difference between them quite accurately. The stem of the verb is the second person singular imperative as this does not have any ending added to it.

Short stem: bog ‘move’
Long stem: ceannaigh ‘buy’

The long stem verbs contain an extension, -aigh /ə/, in the above case. The long stem group also contains verbs which undergo syncope on suffixation.

taitin ‘please’ taitníonn sé ‘he pleases’
cogair ‘whisper’ cograíonn sé ‘he whispers’
codail ‘sleep’ codlaíonn sé ‘he sleeps’

The division of verbs into short and long stem is not entirely watertight. There is one group of long stem verbs which belong to the first conjugation, i.e. which form the future with (orthographic) -f-. Verbs in this group end in -áil, e.g. sábháil ‘save’. Apart from this group a few long stem verbs belong to the first conjugations, e.g. taispeáin ‘show’.

In synchronic terms it is possible to explain the distribution of verbs across the two conjugations. Recall that in terms of spoken Irish, the conjugations are distinguished by a short vowel and a long vowel future suffix, /ə/ and /o:/ respectively. The distribution of verbs can now be accounted for by a phonotactic constraint and an ‘elsewhere’ condition. The constraint is as follows:

A verb takes a short vowel future if the stem is:

(i) monosyllabic
(ii) disyllabic with a long vowel in the second syllabe
(iii) disyllabic with a second syllable which cannot undergo syncope

Elsewhere: verbs take a long vowel future.

This will account for verbs like mol ‘praise’ ~ molfaidh ‘will praise’ (monosyllabic) and ceiliúir ‘celebrate’ ~ ceiliúirfidh ‘will celebrate’. All other verbs take a long vowel future: tosaigh ‘begin’ ~ tosóidh ‘will begin’, freagair ‘answer’ ~ freagróidh ‘will answer’.

The phonotactic constraint expressed above will prohibit the occurrence of long vowel futures for verbs with long vowels in a disyllabic base, i.e. something like taispeánóidh /taspjɑ:no:ɪ/ ‘will show’ is not permissible in modern Irish, hence the presence of taispeáin ‘show’ in the first conjugation with a short vowel future, i.e. taispeánfaidh /-ə/ ‘will show’. What this means is that what looks like a small group of lexicalised exceptions (disyllabic verbs in the first conjugation, Christian Brothers 1777: 100) are not exceptions at all: they conform to the phonotactic constraint expressed above, consider verbs like gearáin ‘complain’, tionól ‘assemble’.

Section (iii) of the phonotactic constraint covers verbs with a closed second syllable which cannot undergo syncope (see Syncope in the Phonetic Framework module), this then handles verbs like tionlaic ‘escort, accompany’ which has a short vowel future, i.e. tionlacfaidh ‘will escort’.

In general terms the above constraint ensures that long vowel suffixes are never used on unalterable disyllablic bases, i.e. a trisyllabic future with final long /o:/ is always prevented.

First conjugation, short stem verbs (An Chéad Réimniú)

Present Indicative (Aimsir Láithreach)

Past Indicative (Aimsir Chaite)

Past Habitual (Aimsir Ghnáthchaite)

Future Indicative (Aimsir Fháistineach)

Conditional (Modh Coinníollach)

Subjunctive (Modh Foshuiteach)

Imperative (Modh Ordaitheach)

2 Sg.: {X} tóg
2 Pl.: {X} + /gji:/ tógaigí

Verbal noun (Ainm Briathartha)

{X} + /a:lj/ (in this case) tógáil

Verbal adjective (Aidiacht Briathartha)

{X} + /i:/ (in this case) tógtha


{X} stands for the stem morpheme of the verb. L + {X} means that the stem is lenited. P after the stem indicates that the personal pronoun corresponding to the number and person of the slot where it occurs is to follow the stem.

The past habitual though homphonous with the conditional is spelt differently, the f of the ending is not present and in the second person singular and autonomous it is in fact replaced by t.

In careful pronounciation the ending of the future may change from /ə/ to /hɪ/.

Where the verbal noun is orthographically identical with the past autonomous (for example with glac ‘accept’, AUT and VN: glacadh) the phonetic realisations /ə/ and /u:/ respectively are used to distinguish these homographs.

The past autonomous is never lenited.

In the past, the prefix d’ /d-/ is used with verbs which begin with a vowel, e.g. íoc ‘pay’ ~ d`íoc ‘paid’, and with those verbs which have initial /f-/. The latter consonant is lenited to zero which will then make the word vowel-initial or sonorant-initial, e.g. fág ‘leave’ ~ d’fhág ‘left’, freagair ‘ask’ ~ d’fhreagair ‘asked’. The use of prefix d’ /d-/ varies across the dialects. It is found most frequently in the south where it is often used irrespective of what the initial segment of a verb form is, e.g. Do bhris mé mo chos ‘I broke my leg.’

Second conjugation, long stem verbs (An Dara Réimniú)

Tosaigh ‘begin’

Present Indicative (Aimsir Láithreach)

Past Indicative (Aimsir Chaite)

Past Habitual (Aimsir Ghnáthchaite)

Future Indicative (Aimsir Fháistineach)

Conditional (Modh Coinníollach)

Subjunctive (Modh Foshuiteach)

Imperative (Modh Ordaitheach)

2 Sg.: {X} tosaigh
2 Pl.: {X} + /i:gji:/ tosaígí

Verbal noun (Ainm Briathartha)

{X} + /u:/ (in this case) tosú

Verbal adjective (Aidiacht Briathartha)

{X} + /i:/ (in this case) tosaithe

In general the remarks made concerning the first conjugation apply to the second as well.

Verbal noun (Ainm Briathartha)

There is no infinitive in Irish. What corresponds to that of English is a non-finite verb form, called the ‘verbal noun’ (here abbreviated as ‘VN’). It can be an equivalent to an infinitive verb complement or the progressive in English (see remarks in Syntax module).

Forms of the verbal noun

Verbal nouns with regular endings: -(e)adh, -(e)ach, -(e)acht, -áil, -(e)amh, -(i)ú, -(i)úint, -im, -an:

bris : briseadh ‘break’ : ‘break-VN’
bual : bualadh ‘hit’ : ‘hit-VN’
dún : dúnadh ‘close’ : ‘close-VN’
ceannaigh : ceannach ‘buy’ : ‘buy-VN’
dúisigh : dúiseacht ‘wake’ : ‘wake-VN’
tóg : tógáil ‘take’ : ‘take-VN’
seas : seasamh ‘stand’ : ‘stand-VN’
athraigh : athrú ‘change’ : ‘change-VN’
creid : crediúint ‘believe’ : ‘believe-VN’
ith : ithe ‘eat’ : ‘eat-VN’
oscail : oscailt ‘open’ : ‘open-VN’
tit : titim ‘fall’ : ‘fall-VN’
leag : leagan ‘knock’ : ‘knock-VN’

Identical verb stem and verbal noun

díol ‘sell-VN’ fás ‘grow-VN’
meas ‘think-VN’ ól ‘drink-VN’
rith ‘run-VN’ scríobh ‘write-VN’
stad ‘stop-VN’  

Irregular verbal nouns

deir : rá : ráite ‘say’ : ‘say-VN’ : ‘say-VA’
beir : breith : beirthe ‘bear’ : ‘bear-VN’ : ‘bear-VA’
clois (cluin) : cloisteáil (cluinstin) : cloiste (cluinte)

‘hear’ : ‘hear-VN’ : ‘hear-VA’

deán : deánamh : deánta ‘do’ : ‘do-VN’ : ‘do-VA’
faigh : fáil : faighte ‘get’ : ‘get-VN’ : ‘get-VA’
feic : feiceáil : feicthe ‘see’ : ‘see-VN’ : ‘see-VA’
ith : ithe : ite ‘eat’ : ‘eat-VN’ : ‘eat-VA’
tabhair : tabhairt : tughta ‘give’ : ‘give-VN’ : ‘give-VA’
tar : teacht : tagtha ‘come’ : ‘come-VN’ : ‘say-VA’
téigh : dul : dulta ‘go’ : ‘go-VN’ : ‘go-VA’

There is considerable variation in the forms of verbal nouns across the dialects. For instance, an epenthetic /-t/ is often attached to the base, e.g. fáil ‘getting’ is fáilt in Munster Irish. Furthermore, the stem extension may vary. This is the part of the word which is to the right of the stem (underlined in the following), e.g. tógáil ‘take; build’ (western Irish), tógaint (southern Irish). Certain phonetic features of a dialect may also be apparent in the forms of the verbal noun. For instance, in western Irish long /o:/ before /g/ will trigger palatalisation with this consonant, e.g. feadóg [fʲædo:gʲ] ‘whistle’. This then appears with the verb ‘build; take’: tógáil [to:gʲɑ:lʲ].

Verbal adjective (Aidiacht Briathartha)

The verbal adjective expresses a state which obtained in the past or which started in the past and is still relevant to the present. It does not show the nominal properties of the verbal noun, cannot be modified by a preceding possessive pronoun and does not function as a verbal complements. It is a close equivalent to the part participle of English.

Tá an siopa dúnta. ‘The shop is closed’.
[is the shop close-VA]
Tá a chlann imithe thar lear. ‘His family has gone abroad.’
[is his family go-VA overseas]
Tá an litir críochnaithe aige. ‘He has written the letter.’
[is the letter finish-VA at-him]

Form of the verbal adjective

Sonorant-final stems


     eitil ‘fly’

eitilte ‘fly’-VA

     oscail ‘open’

oscailte ‘open’-VA

     glan ‘clean’

glanta ‘clean’-VA

Fricative-final stems


     cas ‘twist’

casta ‘twist’-VA

     croch ‘hang’

crochta ‘hang’-VA

Vowel-final stems


     clóigh ‘print’

clóite ‘print’-VA

     guígh ‘pray’

guíte ‘pray’-VA

Relative verb forms

The standard of Irish by no means encompasses all the verb forms found in the dialects of Irish. A salient feature, especially of western Irish, is the presence of special verb forms used in relative clauses. These end in /-s/ and immediately follow the relative pronoun a. The occurrence of these forms in spoken Irish may well have to do with the highly polysemous nature of a /ə/.

Present relative verb form

An té a bhaineanns leis an múinteoreacht.
‘The person who has to do with teaching.’
An bádóir a théanns amach gach lá.
‘The boatman who goes out every day.’

The relative form in the future consists of -fas which is suffixed to a bare verb stem.

Future relative verb form

An cailín a thiocfas amárach.
‘The girl who will come tomorrow.’
An bhean a ghlanfas an t-orlár.
‘The woman who will clean the floor.’

Dependent verb forms

In Irish a small number of verbs have alternative verb forms used when they occur in relative clauses. These forms are also found when the verb is governed by one of a group of particles (listed below).

Tá Diarmuid amuigh sa mbád.
‘Dermot is out in the boat.’
Dúirt sé go bhfuil Diarmuid amuigh sa mbád.
‘He said that Dermot is out in the boat.’

In the second Irish sentence above, a case of indirect speech, the verb appears in a different form which is necessitated by its position in a relative clause, signalled by the clause connector go.

The particles which demand dependent forms of verbs broadly have the function of modifying the sentence type, i.e. changing it from an affirmative sentence to a negative, interrogative, conditional, generalising sentence, etc. The following table gives a brief classification of these particles.


English gloss






is not?

negative interrogative


locative interrogative








mura (PAST murar)


negative conditional

sula (PAST sular)

lest, before

intentional or temporal


all that


PREP + a (REL)

PREP + which

prepositional relativiser

To illustrate the occurrence of dependent verb forms a number of sentences are given below which contain dependent forms of the verb of . This verb is exceptional in having a dependent form for the present (the other verbs normally have such forms in the past).

An bhfuil Séamus anseo inniu?
‘Is James here today?’
Nach raibh sé san amharclann riamh?
‘Wasn’t he ever in the cinema?’
Cá bhfuil Síle?
‘Where is Sheila?’
Tharla an timpiste sula rabhamar ann.
‘The accident happened before we were there.’
Scrios sé a raibh aige.
‘He destroyed everything he had.’
Is í an bhean a raibh Pádraic pósta léi.
‘She is the woman Patrick was married to.’

Apart from four other verbs commonly occur with dependent forms. These verbs are irregular in other ways, e.g. by having different stems for different tenses. The distribution of dependent forms across tenses can be seen from the following table which also contains for comparison.

Present Past Future Conditional
/bhfuil raibh    
deán dhearna    
fáigh   bhfaighidh bhfaighinn
feic fhaca    
téigh dheachaigh    

The initial consonants of dependent forms are mutated (due to the preceding particles) and so this can be shown in the citation forms; raibh does not show mutation as /r/ is immutable. The dependent forms belong to a group of nine verbs (ten with ) which are irregular in their independent forms as well. These verbs have either two or three stems within their paradigms. As each tense paradigm is regular within itself only a single form (first person singular) need be given for each tense. Certain regularities are apparent among these verbs, for example the suppletive form usually occurs in the past less usually in the future. Furthermore, the future and conditional tend to behave similarly in that, if a suppletive form exists for one, then it also does for the other. This also applies to the present indicative and subjunctive. The following matrix does not list the dependent forms of these verbs as this has been done above. Only the irregular forms are entered. A blank means that the missing form is regular and predictable. In this table the verb ‘hear’ has been treated as a single verb with different forms (usually representing dialectal preferences), clois versus cluin.

Irregular verbs

Stem Present Past Past habitual
abair ‘say’ deirim dúirt mé deirinn
beir ‘bear’   rug mé  
clois/cluin ‘hear’   chuala mé  
faigh ‘get’   fuair mé  
feic ‘see’   chonaic mé  
ith ‘eat’      
tabhair ‘take’ tugaim thug mé thugainn
tar ‘come’ tagaim tháinig mé thagainn
téigh ‘go’   chuaigh mé  
Future Conditional Verbal noun Verbal adjective
déarfaidh mé déarfainn ráite
béarfaidh mé bhéarfainn breith *beirthe
    *cloisteáil *cloiste
    *déanamh *déanta
gheobhaidh mé gheobhainn fáil *faighte
    *feiceáil *feicthe
    *ith *ite
tabharfaidh mé thabharfainn *tabhairt tugtha
tiocfaidh mé thiocfainn teacht tagtha
rachaidh mé rachainn dul dulta

(i) Forms marked with an asterix are regular in themselves but not predictable from the stem.

(ii) The conditional can in fact be parenthesised as it is predictable even if the future is irregular. This predictability does not hold for the past habitual with respect to the past. Contrast tabhair with tar and abair.

(iii) The future and conditional of tabhair are only irregular as the stem is velarised.

(iv) The only uninflected form which occurs (the singular imperative) is taken to be the stem. This is true of all regular verbs though it may seem anomalous with a verb like abair where this form does not occur in any actual tense.

(v) The verb gabh ‘take, catch, capture’ is very common in the sense of ‘go’ and is often pronounced as /go:/, probably due to the influence of English, e.g. Gabhaimid siar an seachtain seo chugainn. ‘We’ll go west next week’.

Defective verb forms

Here ‘defective’ refers to those verbs which do not have forms for all persons and tenses. They consist of a small group of verbs which exist in only a few forms but which are often used. Among the most common defective verbs are ar, arsa; dar; dóbair (hóbair). These forms do not show formal similarity with verb paradigmss but going on their syntactic occurrence verbal status can be attributed to them.

The first is used as an equivalent to the verb ‘say’ especially when a speaker is being quoted. It demands the emphatic forms of personal pronouns. Before the third person pronouns arsa is reduced to ar.

Níl ach droch-sheans ann, arsa mise/arsa Gearóid/ar siadsan.
‘There’s only a poor chance of it, I said/Gearald said/they said.’
Mura bhfuil airgead le fáil ní bheidh na daoine sásta, ar seisean.
‘He says that people aren’t satisfied unless there’s money to be got.’

Dar is used to express an opinion. It is invariable and always followed by the preposition le (as a prepositional pronoun).

D’imigh sé ró-luath dar léi.
‘He left too early she thought/according to her opinion.’
Ní thabharfadh sé a bhás le tinneas mar sin, dar leat.
‘He wouldn’t die of an illness like that, one would think.’

It may be intensified by adding féin ‘self’ or an emphatic suffix to the prepositional pronoun and can have a generalising meaning when used with the second person singular:

Dar liom féin/liomsa bheadh sé sin ceart go leor.
‘I myself think that that would be alright.’

The third member of this group, dóbair (often pronounced with initial /h-/), has the meaning ‘almost’ but occurs without a verb and hence is treated as an elliptical verbal construction.

Dóbair di é a dhéanamh. Dóbair go ndéanfadh sí é.
both: ‘She almost did it.’
Dóbair dhó titim ón dréimire.
‘He almost fell from the ladder.’
[almost to-him fall-VN from-the ladder]

To translate ‘almost’ Irish has other constructions. e.g. a simple adverb (beagnach) or a copula construction with attendant relativisation of the main verb:

Bhí sé beagnach déanta agam.
[was it almost do-VA at-me]
Is beag nárh raibh sé déanta agam.
[is small that-not was it do-VA at-me]
both: ‘I almost had it done.’

Is and

These verbs express state and existence. The first is defective as it has no personal or non-finite forms. The second has a complete set of paradigms and is also used as an auxiliary. Is is called the copula as its most typical function is to link and identify two elements with each other.

is /ɪs/ ‘is’, ba /bə/ ‘was, would be’

Is í Niamh mo bhean chéile. ‘Niamh is my wife.’
[is she Niamh my woman together]
Ba cheart a fhreagra. ‘His answer was correct.’
[was correct his answer]
Ba cheart dhuit dul isteach. ‘You should go in.’
[would-be correct to-you go in]

The copula fulfills other important functions notably giving rhematic emphasis to some element in a sentence. Compare the following sentences:

Tá Niamh san ollscoil. Is í Niamh atá san ollscoil.
‘Niamh is at college.’ ‘It’s Niamh who is at college.’

The copula although it only exists in the present and past/conditional has a variety of forms as it may combine with various prepositions and particles which alter sentence types. The two basic forms are:

Present: is
Past/Conditional: ba / b’

The present has the following other forms if the sentence is anything but a simple affirmative or simple relative one:

Present Affirmative is
Present Negative
Present Interrogative an
Present Interrogative Negative nach
Present Simple Relative is
with nominal head Present Prepositional Relative
ar / arb Present Relative Affirmative
gur / gurb with verbal head
Present Relative Negative nach
Present Affirmative Interrogative an
Present Negative Interrogative nach

Is siúinéir Pádraic. Ní siúinéir Pádraic.
‘Patrick is a carpenter.’ ‘Patrick is not a carpenter.’
An siúinéir Pádraic? Nach siúinéir Pádraic.
‘Is Patrick a carpenter?’ ‘Is Patrick not a carpenter?’

An siúinéir is fearr sa gcontae.
‘The best carpenter in the county.’
An siúinéir ar leis an cheardlann úd.
‘The carpenter who owns the workshop over there.’
D’fhreagair siad an siúinéir a bhí i bPhádraic.
‘They asked whether Patrick was a carpenter.’
Dúirt Síle gur siúinéir a bhí ann.
‘Sheila said that he was a carpenter.’

When the object of a sentence is not prepositionally governed then its fronting demands the use of the particle ar which then links it with the relativised main clause:

Is maith liom an obair a bheith déanta agam.
‘I like to have the work done.’
An obair ar mhaith liom é a bheith déanta agam.
‘The work which I like to have done.’

Compound forms of adverb/preposition and copula

Simple form

Compound form



mura ‘unless’

mura / murar

ó ‘since’


sula ‘lest’

sular / sularb

do ‘to’/ de ‘from’

dar / darb

faoi ‘under

faoinar / faoinarb

i, ‘in’

inar / inarb

le ‘with’

lenar / lenarb

trí ‘through’

trínar / trínarb

Más mian leat dul abhaile.
[if-is wish with-you go-VN home]
‘If you want to go home.’
Os sí a bhí as láthair.
[since-is she that was out-of presence]
‘Since she was absent.’
Mura duitse a d’fhág sé na milséáin.
[unless-is for-you-EMP that left he the sweets]
‘Unless he left the sweets for you.’
Sularb eol dó an chúis.
[lest-is knowledge to-him the reason]
‘Lest he should know the reason.’
Leanbh darb ainm Íosa.
[child-to-is name Jesus]
‘A child called Jesus.’
Fear lenar maith leis dul ag iascaireacht.
[man with-is good go-VN at fish-VN]
‘A man who likes to go fishing.’
Teach inar mhaith liom bheith ann.
[house in-is good with-me be-VN in-it]
‘A house which I like to be in.’

Compound interrogative forms with copula

‘where; what; how’ cá / cárb
‘who’ cé / cérb

Cárb eol duit?
[how-is knowledge to-you]
‘How do you know?’
Cé faoi a bhfuil sé ag scríobh?
[who-is under that is-REL he at write-VN]
‘Who is he writing about?’

Apart from compound forms of adverb + copula there are instances where a WH-adverb – in the present tense – is unaltered and no further verb is found in the sentence in question:

Cé hí ‘Who is she?’
Cé atá ann? ‘Who is there?’

As there is no future form for the copula the present can be used and interpreted as future in an appropriate context:

Is leatsa iad go léir amárach.
(is with-you-EMP they all tomorrow)
‘They’ll all be yours tomorrow.’

But it is equally common to add a relative clause with a future form of in cases like these:

Is leatsa a bheidh siad go léir amárach.
(is with-you-EMP that be-FUT they all tomorrow)

Past/Conditional (P/C) forms of the copula

P/C Affirmative ba / b’
P/C Negative níor / níorbh
P/C Interrogative ar / arbh
P/C Interrogative Negative nár / nárbh
P/C Simple Relative ba / ab
with nominal head P/C Prepostional Relative
ar / arbh P/C Relative Affirmative
gur / gurbh with verbal head
P/C Relative Negative nár / nárbh
P/C Relative Interrogative ar / arbh
P/C Relative Interrogative Negative nár / nárbh

Ba dheacair an obair í. Ar dheacair an obair í?
‘It was difficult work.’ ‘Was it difficult work?’
Nár dheacair an obair í? An obair ba dheacra.
  ‘Was it not difficult work?’
‘The most difficult work.’ An obair ab fhusa.
An obair ar mhaith leis a dhéanamh. ‘The simplest work.’

Dúirt sé gurbh álainn an obair í.
‘He said that it was lovely work.’
Dúirt sé narbh álainn an obair í.
‘He said that it was not lovely work.’

The above forms lenite so that the mutation corresponds with that of normal verbs in the past and conditional. Many of the pre-consonantal forms are the same here as for the present. Thus in a contextless situation a sentence like the following can have present or past reference.

An fear ar leis an pota gliomaígh.
‘The man who owned the lobster pot.’

The pre-vocalic forms are always distinguished as b, /b/ is used with the present and bh, /v/ with the past consistently.

Compound prepositional forms with copula

Simple form

Compound form


murar / murarbh


sular / sularbh

do / de

dar / darbh


faoinar / faoinarbh


inar / inarbh


lenar / lenarbh


trínar / trínarbh

Murarbh iontach an rud é ní rachainn ann.
‘Unless it were something marvellous I wouldn’t go there.’
Tarlú lena raibh súil agam leis.
‘An incident which I was expecting.’
Rud le raibh usáid le baicht as?.
‘Something which could be made use of.’

Compound interrogative forms with copula

= cár / cárbh = cér / cérbh
Cér leis iad? Cárbh as iad?
‘Whose were they?’ ‘Where were they from?’

and ó do not have compound forms with the P/C ba. Cérbh is subject to the restriction that it is only used before pronouns of the third person (which begin with a vowel):

Cérbh iad? Cérbh í?
‘Who were they?’ ‘Who was she?’

In other prevocalic environments cér or are found:

Cé acu ba mheasa? Cér uaidh a raibh an litir?
‘Which of them was worse?’ ‘From who was the letter?’

The copula also has forms for the present subjunctive which are rare in spoken Irish. In some cases, however, sentences with a subjunctive form have become fixed expressions (as with the last sentence):

Gura fíor é! Nára fíor é!
‘May it be true!’ ‘May it not be true!’
Go raibh maith agat
(that be-SUBJ good at-you)

The verb ‘be’

Present Indicative (positive)



1 táim/tá mé

1 tá muid/táimid

2 táis/tá tú

2 tá sibh

3 tá sé/sí

3 tá siad

AUT táthar


Present Indicative (negative)



1 nílim/níl mé

1 níl muid/nílimid

2 nílis/níl tú

2 níl sibh

3 níl sé/sí

3 níl siad

AUT níltear


Present Indicative (relative)



1 X + atáim/atá mé

1 X + atá muid/atáimid

2 X + atáis/atá tú

2 X + atá sibh

3 X + atá sé/sí

3 X + atá siad

AUT X + atáthar


Present Indicative (dependent)



1 X + bhfuilim/bhfuil mé

1 X + bhfuil muid/ bhfuilimid

2 X + bhfuilis/bhfuil tú

2 X + bhfuil sibh

3 X + bhfuil sé/sí

3 X + bhfuil siad

AUT X + bhfuiltear


Present Indicative (habitual)



1 bím/bíonn mé

1 bíonn muid/bímid

2 bíonn tú

2 bíonn sibh

3 bíonn sé/sí

3 bíonn siad

AUT bítear


Past Indicative



1 bhíos/bhí mé

1 bhí muid/bhíomar

2 bhís/bhí tú

2 bhí sibh

3 bhí sé/sí

3 bhí siad

AUT bhíothas


Past Indicative (dependent)



1 X + raibheas/raibh mé

1 X + raibh muid/ rabhamar

2 X + raibhis/raibh tú

2 X + raibh sibh

3 X + raibh sé/sí

3 X + raibh siad

AUT rabhthas


Past Indicative (habitual)



1 bhínn

1 bhíodh muid/bhímis

2 bhíteá

2 bhíodh sibh

3 bhíodh sé/sí

3 bhíodh siad

AUT bhítí


Future Indicative



1 bead/beidh mé

1 beidh muid/beimid

2 beis/beidh tú

2 beidh sibh

3 bheadh sé/sí

3 bheadh siad

AUT beifear





1 bheinn

1 bheadh muid/bheimis

2 bheifeá

2 bheadh sibh

3 bheadh sé

3 bheadh siad

AUT bheifí


Subjunctive Present

As for Past Indicative (dependent) except for the first person plural and autonomous: rabhaimid and rabhthar respectively.

Subjunctive Past

As for conditional but with zero mutation.


2 Sg. 2 Pl. bígí

Verbal noun


Verbal adjective


With the present indicative (relative) and present indicative (dependent) and the past indicative (dependent) the item X stands for an element which calls for a relative or dependent form of the verb.

Unlike all other verbs has a lenited past autonomous form with an irregular ending: bhíothas. But colloquially this and the autonomous of the dependent past have /u:/ endings: /vi:u:/ and /rau:/ respectively.

The verbal noun is permanently lenited. This may just be due to its very frequent use. Lenition is widespread with commonly used elements, e.g. thú ‘you’ (objective form).

Apart from expressing existence or forming identification sentences, has an essential function as auxiliary verb. The number of tenses formed with an auxiliary are less than in English, for example. This is because the past, future and conditional have single verb forms (as opposed to English).

Both the verbal noun and the verbal adjective are used as non-finite verb forms concatenated with a form of in an auxiliary function. The two aspectual categories expressed by these means, namely duration (with the verbal noun) and completion (with the verbal adjective) can as in English, be varied in tense and mood.

Níl an cleachtadh críochnaithe agam fós.
‘I haven’t finished the exercise yet.’
Beidh Síle ag imeacht maidin amárach.
‘Sheila will be leaving tomorrow.’
Bheinn ag foghlaim Gaeilge dá mbeadh an t-am agam.
‘I would be learning Irish if I had the time.’