Genitive “Strings”

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    Hello. Having finished Rosetta Stone, I’m working through the grammar (Stenson: Basic/Intermediate Irish), and would like to see if I have the right idea, especially on when to use “an.” [BTW, thank you for reminding me in an earlier posting that you never use “an” or “na” more than once in a string of words, so for the man’s house don’t say “an teach an fhir,” just “teach an fhir.”] A few questions about variations:

    1. If the last word is indefinite I know that “a man’s house” can simply be teach fir, but can I also use “an” in front of the first word to make it definite, i.e. “the house of a man,” an teach fir?
    2. Suppose you’re using “an” in combination with a preposition. Would “in the man’s house” be sa teach an fhir, or do I still avoid the implied “an” and use i dteach an fhir?
    3. Is “an” okay in front of the first word if the second has a possessive pronoun instead of “an,” e.g. “my friend’s house,” an teach mo charad, or would you usually just say teach mo charad?
    4. I see in Stenson that on strings of genitives you use the genitive form only on the last word but lenite all the other genitives, so would “the color of the woman’s sister’s friends’ house” be dath theach chairde dheirfiúr na mná? (Was I right to lenite the plural “cairde” along with the others, or does that apply only to singulars?)
    5. “Pádraig’s brother’s house:” would you say teach an dhearthár Phádraig or teach dheartháir Phádraig?

    Thanks for your help.

    Héilics Órbhuí

    1. I don’t think there’s anything preventing this, but that type of construction usually behaves more like an attributive adjective, meaning it sounds more like “the male house” or implying that the house is for or to be lived in by a man. Compare to “banaltra fir”, the male nurse. Someone may correct me on this.
    2. i dteach an fhir
    3. teach mo charad, (and combining with above, i dteach mo charad)
    4. I think you’ve got it right. You rarely see things that long though, for whatever reason.
    5. I think it’s the latter, although it seems ambiguous, since it doesn’t tell you if you’re talking about a specific brother or any of his brothers if he has more than one. The one with the article sounds weird to me.
    Of course I could be wrong about any of this 😛


    1. Teach fir can be translated as either “a man’s house” and “the house of a man” (which latter sounds weird in English anyways!). Compare, e.g.: bun cnoic, which can mean either “(a) hill bottom” (i.e., “a bottom of a hill”) or “the bottom of a hill”; likewise, cois scine could be translated as “(a) knife handle” (“a handle of a knife”) or “the handle of a knife”; &c.

    2. As you mention yourself, you normally only ever use the article once in any given set of connected nouns. The article an isn’t just implied in sa/san/sna, it’s actually there: sa(n) is a contracted form of i(n)san, i.e., i + an; compare, e.g., le + an = leis an. The fuller forms i(n)sa(n), i(n)sna, though not in the written standard, are in fact still to be heard in Gaeltacht speech.

    3. In general, the reason you only ever use the article once per group of nouns (as above) is because you only need it once to make the group definite. Since a possessive pronoun will also make a noun or group of nouns definite, the same rules governing the article apply, i.e., you don’t need to use the article to make it definite since the possessive pronoun already makes it definite. Thus, as Héilics Órbhuí says, you’d say teach mo charad.

    4. In strings of genitives, it all depends on which nouns or groups of nouns are modifying which other nouns, and which nouns or groups of nouns are definite. For example, there are various ways you can combine the three nouns scrúdú, deireadh, and cúrsa: |scrúdú deiridh| |an chúrsa|—where deireadh is modifying scrúdú directly and so infllects for the genitive—means “the final (i.e., last) exam of the course,” while |scrúdú| |dheireadh an chúrsa|—where the entire definite phrase deireadh an chúrsa is modifying scrúdú, in which case its initial consonant is lenited—means “the exam at the end of the course” or “the end-of-course exam.”

    5. Pádraig is already a definite noun, as is deartháir Phádraig = Pádraig’s brother. Just as Pádraig is lenited in the genitive after deartháir due to being definite, the whole phrase deartháir Phádraig would be lenited in the genitive (and would not take genitive inflexion) after teach, i.e., teach dheartháir Phádraig. As for Héilics Órbhuí’s comment on the ambiguity of that, there are ambiguities in the English, too, especially in speech: there’s no difference in pronunciation, for example, between “Pádraig’s brother’s [singular] house” and “Pádraig’s brothers’ [plural] house,” and “Pádraig’s brother’s house” can be used to mean both “the house of one of Pádraig’s brothers” and “the house of Pádraig’s one specific brother” in the English I speak anyways!

    P.S. If you’re talking about going to, coming from, or being at Pádraig’s brother’s house (rather than talking specifically about the house itself), you’d use tigh instead of teach, though the rules for the genitive &c. would be the same: chuaigh mé siar tigh dheartháir Phádraig, tá mé tagtha aniar ó tigh dheartháir Phádraig (tigh doesn’t take lenition), bhí mé thiar tigh dheartháir Phádraig aréir, &c.


    Thanks to both of you for your very helpful responses. You’ve cleared up several of the finer points that had me a little confused. Rosetta Stone is excellent for developing speaking ability and a good everyday vocabulary, but the grammatical aspect sometimes gets ambiguous or is incomplete. For example, we were well drilled about the use of the genitive “tí” but I had never realized that there was such a word as “tigh!” I had learned about certain datives like “láimh” and “cois” (mainly with body parts), but didn’t know about a dative for “teach.” Thanks for the examples using tigh. I had better go back to the dictionary and look over my vocabulary nouns and see what other common words have special datives.

    As a new member, I’m always impressed with and most appreciative of the fast, thoughtful answers I get here. Beidh mé ar ais le ceisteanna eile ó am go ham–go raibh maith agaibh arís faoin gcabhair, mo chairde!

    Héilics Órbhuí

    There aren’t too many of them, I think. “Bois”, I believe is sometimes used, “fearaibh” is one you will see from time to time, as well as some that are used in set phrases like “an na mallaibh”.

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