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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar 2012 9:16 pm 
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Guessing a noun's declension and gender

On this thread, you can practice guessing what declension a noun belongs to, and what its gender is. This is an area I was afraid at first, because it seemed that there were hundreds of rules. But once I started, I realised that it's not as difficult as it first seems. A few simple guidelines will take care of most of the nouns you meet, and that's what I'm going to focus on in this thread.

What's a declension?
In Irish, a declension is basically a group of nouns that tend to form the plural and genitive according to a common pattern. (Declensions are more complex in some languages.)

Why do I care what declension a noun belongs to?
Knowing the declension will help you figure out the genitive and plural form of the noun.

Are there exceptions to the guidelines you're going to give me?
Yes, but the exceptions tend to be with the most common nouns. So I have one bit of advice for you: If you're taking a test, and this declension stuff tells you that the plural or gentive of a noun is X, but that just doesn't sound right... trust your intuition.

What declensions are there?
The first declension is almost all male nouns. The second is mostly female. The third and fourth declensions have both male and female nouns. Technically, there are 5 declensions. But the fifth declension is sort of miscellaneous, so I think it's easier to ignore it for now.

OK, so how do I tell what declension a noun is?
I think it's easier to consider the declensions in reverse order. Visualise a coin sorter, where the coin goes into the first slot that fits. I ask myself a series of questions, and I stop at the first question with a “yes” answer. Looking at the common (nominative) form of the noun, is it...
  • Abstract noun ending in -e, -í? Then it's probably f4.
  • Ends in a vowel or -ín? Then it's probably m4.
  • Ends in -áil, -úil, -ail, -úint, -cht, -irt? Then it's probably f3.
  • Ends in -éir, -eoir, -óir, -úir? Then it's probably m3.
  • Ends in a slender consonant or -eog, -óg, -lann? Then it's probably f2.
  • Ends in a broad consonant? Then it's probably m1.

Note: An abstract noun represents something that you can't see, touch, feel, taste or smell.

Let's try this with the noun leabhar. (1) It's not an abstract noun. (2) It doesn't end in a vowel or -ín. (3) It doesn't end in -áil, etc. (4) It doesn't end in -éir, etc. (5) It doesn't end in a slender consonant or -eog, etc. (6) It does end in a broad consonant, so it's probably m1. A check of the dictionary tells us we're right.

Now try with fuinneog. We get to the second-to-last question, and yes, it ends in -eog, so it's probably f2. And yes, that's correct.

Now you try some nouns. If you find a noun that doesn't follow the rules, post it to this thread. Here are some important exceptions to know: im and sliabh are m2 (most second-declension nouns are feminine, but these are exceptions).

Some Important Exceptions
These are masculine, but they're in the second declension: im, sliabh

f2: adharc, baintreach, báisteach, buíon, caor, cearc, ciall, cloch, cos, craobh, críoch, cros, dámh, dealbh, eangach, fadhb, fearg, ficheall, fréamh, gaoth, géag, gealt, girseach, grian, iall, iníon, lámh, leac, long, luch, méar, mian, mias, muc, nead, pian, sceach, scian, scornach, slat, sluasaid, srón, téad, tonn, ubh

m3: am, anam, áth, béas, bláth, cath, cíos, cith, crios, dath, dream, droim, eas, fíon, flaith, greim, loch, lus, luach, modh, rámh, rang, rás, roth, rud, sioc, taom, teas, tréad

f3: banríon, Cáisc, cuid, díolaim, Eoraip, feag, feoil, muir, scread

These nouns are abstract, but they don't end in -e or -í. Nevertheless, they're f4: rogha, teanga, bearna
These nouns don't end in a vowel or -ín, but they're m4: ainm, máistir, seans, club
Not abstract, but f4: veain
These nouns are abstract, but they're m4: dlí, rince

Now that I know what declension a noun is, how do I form the genitive and plural?
I'll cover that in the next practice thread. Sorry to leave you hanging, but I'm trying to keep the amount of new information in each practice thread to a bite-sized chunk.

ImageTo the extent possible under law, Amy de Buitléir has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

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