Hoigh, an dithis agaibh! or Personal numerals

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Why does Gaelic have special numbers for counting people? It just does. Some languages do, some don't, and some even have special counting words for men and women - so don't complain. There are only ten to be learnt in Gaelic. Here are the numbers first, the dreaded footnotes are at the bottom:

counting people
(irregular nouns)
counting people
(regular nouns)
plural nouns
1 aonar mór
aonar mór
aonar mór
aonar mór
aonar mór
2 dithis fhear móra
dithis bhalach móra
dithis bhan móra
dithis chloinne móire
dithis chaileagan móra
3 triùir fhear móra
triùir bhalach móra
triùir bhan móra
triùir chaileagan móra
triùir chloinne móire
4 ceathrar fhear móra
ceathrar bhalach móra
ceathrar bhan móra
ceathrar chaileagan móra
ceathrar cloinne móire
5 cóignear fhear móra
cóignear bhalach móra
cóignear bhan móra
cóignear chaileagan móra
cóignear cloinne móire
6 sianar fhear móra
sianar bhalach móra
sianar bhan móra
sianar chaileagan móra
sianar cloinne móire
7 seachdnar fhear móra
seachdnar bhalach móra
seachdnar bhan móra
seachdnar chaileagan móra
seachdnar cloinne móire
8 ochdnar fhear móra
ochdnar bhalach móra
ochdnar bhan móra
ochdnar chaileagan móra
ochdnar cloinne móire
9 naonar fhear móra
naonar bhalach móra
naonar bhan móra
naonar chaileagan móra
naonar cloinne móire
10 deichnear fhear móra
deichnear bhalach móra
deichnear bhan móra
deichnear chaileagan móra
deichnear cloinne móire

Because they are nouns, grammatically speaking, the numbers for counting people are followed by the genitive plural. Just as with other nouns, the plural genitive gets lenited when indefinite. Thus, we have dithis fhear or dithis ghillean (lit. two of men/boys) but na dithis fear and na dithis gillean "the two men/boys". If it helps, you can think of these numbers as a "twosome, threesome, foursome of children, men, girls, grannies ..." to explain the genitive anyway. Again, as with many rules in any language, you will hear people say things differently. For example, many Gaels say cóignear nighean instead of nigheannan.

So, just remember to use these as nouns. Things like chunnaic mi dithis or an do rinn na triùir agaibh an obair? are perfectly OK. Also, you only use them up to ten. After ten, you count people like things, which is why you won't see that column extended further down.

Oh, gender. Yes, gender. Seeing these are all nouns, they need a gender. They are all masculine, except for dithis and triùir which are feminine. So, if you follow these with an adjective, they get lenited, for example, dithis mhóra, triùir bheaga but cóignear bochda. As a result, remember to prefix t- before ochdnar as seen in thàinig an t-ochndnar aca fadalach "the eight of them came late".

Instead of naonar, you also hear naoinear and instead of dithis you hear dithist.

Even though 2 takes the dual with the ordinal and cardinal numbers, dithis is followed by the plural. Fun, eh? Remind me to tell you about counting in the Chinese languages one day.

Plural nouns take the only genitive they have, so clann becomes cloinne and it lenites after dithis and triùir. We have not been able to think of a masculine plural nouns denoting living beings - do let us know if you can think of one.

The last thing to remember is that because they are nouns, these can stand on their own, e.g. thàinig an dithis a-steach "the two (of them) came in" or chaidh triùir a-mach "three (of them) went out".

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