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James ( -
Posted on Tuesday, May 14, 2002 - 10:57 am:   Edit Post Print Post

A chairde,

I know there are those of you out there that can answer this in your sleep but I, unfortunately, cannot. Therefore, I humbly solicit your assistance.

I remember some of these terms from my study of Spanish, but can't, for the life of me, get a good grasp on others. Any plain english explanation would be most appreciated.

1. Present Indicative--I take this to be the basic Present Tense--ie; Glanaim = I clean.

2. Past Indicative-- Likewise, the basic Past Tense--Ghlan mé = I cleaned.

3. Habitual Past--a repeated event of ongoing nature--ghlanainn = I cleaned--as in I cleaned fish for a living.

4. Future Indicative--the basic Future Tense--glanfaidh mé = I will clean

5. Conditional Mood--?????

6. Present Subjunctive--a statement of present condition or action similar to "I would" ie; glana mé = I would clean as in I would clean those windows if I were you.

7. Past Subjunctive-- a statement of past condition or action similar to "I would have" what I don't understand is the reference to "initial aspiration." Could someone elaborate on this??

8. Imperative Mood--a command??????

9. What the heck is a verbal noun?

go raibh mile maith agat,

Le meas,


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Seosamh Mac Bhloscaidh ( -
Posted on Wednesday, May 15, 2002 - 11:56 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

You got most of the tenses right: present, past, habitual past and future indicative. But you mixed up the subjunctive and the conditional.

The conditional mood indicates something that could occur if a given condition is fulfilled:

I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.
He would go to Spain, if he the time and money.
If you had a million dollars, you would . . .

Before we get to the subjunctive I want to take a look at the past habitual tense in Irish, which is used for repeated action in the past. We can express it with the plain past in English or with two other constructions:

(In those days) I cleaned fish for a living. (plain past)
I used to clean fish for a living.
I would clean fish for a living (in the old days).

Other examples: He would always insist on the NY Times. She would be at work by nine every morning.

English speakers have to be careful with this because we use “would” for both the conditional and the past habitual without consciously thinking of the difference.

[Skip if you aren't interested in my speculation about something that may not have an answer or even be a real queston: Other languages have a similar confusion to that of English in this regard even though the actual constructions are different (but not very). Spanish speakers confuse the two. In Irish there is scant difference between them, especially in the spoken language where the “f” of the conditional is usually or never pronounced: Conditional: Ghlanfainn an t-urlár dá mbeadh scuab ann. I would clean the floor if there was a broom. Past habitual: Ghlanainn an t-urlár gach re seachtain. I would clean the floor every other week.)

The subjunctive indicates a wish, doubt, etc.:

Let it be. Be that as it may. May God bless you.

The past subjunctive does the same regarding time past:

Would that they had known beforehand. Would that the weather had been better.

Fortunately, the past subjunctive is not used that much anymore in English or Irish. It is my belief that neither language has a future subjunctive -- like Spanish, as rare as it is. (I relearn it every twelve years or so -- if I encounter it, I understand without noticing what tense it actually is.)

The imperative mood is the form you use to give an order: Eat your peas. Don’t eat your dessert first.

In English we use the imperative only in two persons (second, singular and plural, i.e. you) and use only one form of the verb: “Eat your dinner” could be directed at one person or more than one.

In Irish, believe it or not, there can be up to seven persons in the imperative (although only older and more traditional native speakers -- pretty much -- use several of them):

ithim Eat (as an order to yourself – In English we just pretend we are talking to another person – "Eat the dessert first" , or maybe with some indirect advice: I should eat the dessert first. Guess I'll eat ...)
ith (You, singular) eat [your lunch]
itheadh (have him/her/it eat his/her/its [meal])

ithimis Let’s eat
ithigí (You plural) eat
ithidís (Have them) eat

itear (Have them/people) eat. Eat!

One common sign in Irish is “Ná caitear tobac” Don’t smoke. It uses the autonomous form of the verb in the imperative. (The autonomous is the “seventh” person of Irish verbs – a special form that is used when a subject is not specified.)

The verbal noun? See my exchange with Al. We have the verbal noun in English, but usually call it a gerund. It's those words that end in -ing and can be either nouns or verbs: The eating is good here. (noun) / He is eating his dinner. (verb)

The verbal noun is even more important than it is in English because it is also used where we use the infinitive. So it covers both bases:

Tá na páistí ag ithe. The children are eating.
Ba mhaith leis na páistí uachtar reoite a ithe. The children would like to eat ice-cream.

You can't learn it too well. But then language learning is over-learning.

Ádh mór.

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James ( -
Posted on Thursday, May 16, 2002 - 09:06 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Again, I stand in complete awe! Go raibh mile maith agat, a Chara. You have no idea how much easier you just made things!

Le meas,


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