Let's begin by looking at the most common article/sound pattern. Unfortunately, it is also the most complicated one. I will first list what happens with each sound - the "rules" so to speak. Next, I'll give examples, and finally I'll add some notes that will hopefully help further with sorting these out in your brain, as well as information on where this group actually gets used.
In the rules list, I will use L as an abbreviation for lenition
. Lenition is when you add an h
in writing after the first consonant of a word. In pronunciation, this means that the first consonant changes to a different consonant. Unfortunately for learners, lenition of l
is not written in modern orthography. Very often, teachers will even tell you they don't lenite, but they do. Just not in writing.
You will notice that a number of rules are just "an
before XY." I split them up, because it's easier to group the sounds that way and explain what happens. You are welcome to make your own list where you bunch these all together, once you have understood how it works.
- an before vowels
- an before d t
- an before l n r (but pronounced as a' + L or an + L)
- an t- before sl sn sr + vowel (the s lenites to h or disappears when you pronounce it)
- an before sg sm sp st
- an + L before f
- a' + L before all other consonants.
- Seo an obair
- Seo an deoch
- Seo an leabaidh
- Seo an t-sràid
- Seo an smaoin
- Seo an fhìrinn
- Seo a' chailleach
- Vowels always form a group - hooray!
- Note that the n in an is pronounced in the same place as the d in deoch: tip of the tongue to the back of your teeth. So what, you ask?
- l n r are a class of their own. The system is a bit messed up. In the beginning, memorise the writing and keep in mind that they do lenite. When learning how these sounds work overall, don't tackle them all at once. That's what I did and I got confused. For example, do only the n's until you've got them, then the l's etc.
- Now, how on earth do I memorise when the t- goes before the s? Easy peasy, look at the previous group. Right, that's l n r, so all you did was add an s before them! And then you've got s + vowel. Done. And another note on pronunciation: Since t-sn turns into tn because the s disappears, another pronunciation rule kicks in and it is pronounced as nasal tr in most dialects.
- Why don't these add a t-? Well, s lenites to a very soft h after an t-, virtually disappearing. Try pronouncing tg tm tp tt and I think you get the general idea why this is not done ...
- f just generally likes to do its own thing. You will hear my evil laughter when you get to verbs and past tense.
- And, last but not least, the basic pattern for this group! This is why I like to call it the "lenition" group. Keep in mind you're not "adding an h" but changing the sound of the consonant before the h. Kind of like in English with sit or shit. See, the sound of the s changed! And stop trying to put soap in my mouth. Oh, see the th in mouth and what the h does to the t there?
All the card-carrying members of the "lenition" group are nouns in the singular
. All the examples above are feminine
nouns in the basic
case (or common
case, or nominative/accusative
case - yes, that's right, linguists don't agree on what to call the bloody thing). It is the most common article pattern though and is also used in the genitive
case of masculine
nouns, and prepositional
) case for both feminine and masculine nouns. My advice is to study this group sound by sound until you understand how it works before you move on to the next group. And smile, because it gets a lot easier from now on!