Dèan moch-éirigh mhór or The gender of verbal nouns

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
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Tha mi ag éirigh - I'm getting up. I'm sure that's no obstacle to any of you. Nice and easy, a verb, a subject and a verbal noun. Very similar to the English structure which has a subject followed by a (present) participle. No big deal and they work in very similar ways in both languages.

So why use two different terms to describe them? Good question. It's a matter of perspective, I suppose. In both languages you take a verb, add a suffix and you get a participle/verbal noun. The main difference is small - in Gaelic, strictly speaking, after you add the suffix the result is simply a noun: éirich » éirigh "a rising". It's only by putting the preposition a'/ag in front of it that it turns into a participle; but, in English there's no need to do that. In Gaelic, you could call the verbal noun a noun and refer to anything with a'/ag in front of it as a participle. It's just one of those things you have to accept.

Anyway. The more interesting question being posed, once we've learnt that éirigh is a noun, is what gender that noun has. In English, this question doesn't arise, for two reasons. For one thing, gender is almost entirely based on the actual gender of living things - a cat is either he or she depending on whether it's a boy cat or a girl cat. In any other circumstance you can always use the cop-out and refer to the cat as "it". And the tiny number of nouns which are assigned a gender, such as boats, are generally considered to be 'female'. The other reason is that the issue is irrelevant because English has no lenition to look out for, no slenderisation after feminine nouns, and all that.

But in Gaelic, all nouns need their gender because you need to lenite after feminine nouns, slenderise in the dative, and so on. So, our verbal nouns need a gender, too. Luckily, it's quite straight forward.

99% of verbal nouns follow the caol = boireann, leathann = fireann "rule". Therefore, almost all verbal nouns ending in a slender vowel are feminine and almost all verbal nouns ending in a broad vowel are masculine. Looking at the suffix in question can help with learning gender. However, since verbal nouns generally conform with the caol is leathann rule, it's easier to simply memorise that rule.

Verb Verbal Noun (masc.) Verb Verbal Noun (fem.)
leugh! leughadh gabh! gabhail
buail! bualadh freagair! freagairt
sgrìobh! sgrìobhadh tog! togail
smaoinich! smaoineachadh leag! leagail
fàs! fàs ràn! rànaich
sguir! sgur itealaich! itealaich
rach! dol saoil! saoilsinn
feith! feitheamh cluinn! cluinntinn
caith! caitheamh faic! faicinn
dèan! dèanamh bruidhinn! bruidhinn
abair! ràdh seall! sealltainn
ceangail! ceangal seinn! seinn
tuit! tuiteam ruith! ruith
ceannaich! ceannach! éirigh! éirigh
òl! òl iomain! iomain
falbh! falbh laigh! laighe*
cuir! cur leig! leigeil
fuirich! fuireach fàg! fàgail
iasgaich! iasgach bi! bith
caill! call obair! obair
at! at tarraing! tarraing
gluais gluasad labhair! labhairt
teagaisg! teagasg thoir! toirt

Oddballs and exceptions? A few.

Verb Verbal Noun (masc.) Verb Verbal Noun (fem.)
ith! ithe(adh) éigh! éigheach(d)
guidh! guidhe coisich! coiseachd
suidh! suidhe creach! creach
nigh! nighe éisd! éisdeachd
laigh! laighe* ceannaich! ceannachd
innis! innse(adh) marcaich! marcachd
thig! tighinn
beir! beirsinn
iarr! iarraidh

It's not as bad as it looks. Verbal nouns ending in -(e)achd are feminine, presumably because the "gender strength" of suffixes overrides that of the caol is leathann rule. Thus, if there is a gender marking suffix, the noun will reflect the gender of that suffix. Hence éisdeachd & Co. are feminine.

Perhaps creach, as a verbal noun, is feminine because the corresponding noun is. Anyway, it's one of those things that just have to be memorised.

The masculine ones are a bit more tricky. The last three, tighinn, beirsinn and iarraidh are simply odd. Maybe there's a reason, but we don't know it. Vocabulary work.

There are others even stranger. It seems like most verbal nouns ending in -e are masculine, but there are a few exceptions like suirghe, and confused ones like laighe which can be either. There aren't that many exceptions so they are perhaps best learnt as vocabulary, too.

So, when or how do you use verbal nouns as nouns? They actually show up surprisingly often but perhaps they're not such a surprise. Think of English expressions such as "drinking is a serious problem", "sleeping rough can cause headaches", and suchlike. Although verbal nouns appear in both languages, notice that Gaelic sometimes uses verbal nouns where English uses a different construction, as in the first example below:

rinn e moch éirigh mhór he got up very early
bha éisteachd mhath againn we had a good audience
's e an t-òl a chuir gu bàs e it's the drinking that killed him
chan eil an fhaireachainn math idir the feeling isn't good at all
tha sgrìobhadh math aice she has good handwriting
cha b' e ruith ach leum he/she jumped at it
bhiodh an t-iasgach na b' fhearr... fishing used to be better

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