You are my love

I have decided to respond here to the thread Inscríbhinn fháinne on the ILF forum, where someone is checking the translation is tusa mo chroí.

According to the experts on Standardised Irish on that forum, this is the right thing to say. But is it? And if so, why is it right to say mo ghrá thu and mo cheól thu?

There seems great confusion on the copula, not least among the aficionados of Standardised Irish, who would instantly respond with references to the Christian Brothers’ Grammar if challenged, as if a book about Standardised Irish had any authority at all on the Irish language. The real authority is the traditional language of the Gaeltacht — not some book compiled in Dublin. If traditional Irish be deemed of no value, there would be no sense in learning Irish anyway.

The Christian Brothers’ Grammar is highly confused on the copula — the compilers do not seem to know the difference between the subject and the predicate. I suppose Scooby and the others on the ILF forum would insist that the Irish of An tAthair Peadar was wrong and whatever is written in a book printed in the 21st century in Dublin is right. Words fail me!

In such sentences, Peadar Ua Laoghaire and Gearóid Ó Nualláin were both insistent that the copula is followed by the predicate. Is mise Gearóid Ó Nualláin — often abbreviated as mise Gearóid Ó Nualláin – has mise as the predicate and GÓN as the subject. It makes no difference that in English “I am Gerald O’Nolan” has GÓN as the predicate.

Mise Gearóid Ó Nualláin is the ordinary way that such sentences are phrased in Irish — it is the ordinary order of the words. This is logical in the Irish language, because in a conversation with someone where the words mise and thusa are required, you have already located and identified the person: if you say “me” and “you” to someone, then both parties to the conversation can already see which real, concrete human beings are being referred to. So “I am GÓN” does not “identify” me, in terms of logic; rather, it identifies the label “GÓN” in terms of the real person, me. That is the logic of Irish: mise and thusa tend to be in the predicate because these persons require no identification in a conversation. A name – just a word – just a label – does not identify a person; it just pins a label on the person. The real person provides the correct identity for the label/name – it is the label or name that needs to be identified and pinned down as to who it applies to.

This does not mean that it is impossible to have mise and thusa as the subjects, as long as that is really what is meant — and I mean, meant in logic, rather than in terms of any kind of word-for-word translation from English (which I am afraid is all that the Christian Brothers’ Grammar is capable of). PUL mentioned in his Papers on Irish Idiom that although mise an rí was the normal phrase, an rí mise was possible. Similar, PUL’s Mionchainnt shows that ní mise Tadhg means “I am not Tim”. The fact that Tim is the predicate in the English is neither here nor here: mise is the predicate in Irish and the sentence denies the identification of the label Tadhg in terms of the real flesh-and-blood person, mise. But it is also possible to say ní Tadhg mise, as Mionchainnt then shows, glossing it as “my name is not Tim”. Here, Tadhg is the predicate, and there is much greater emphasis on Tadhg. I am not Tadhg, but David. PUL’s Mionchainnt also has an file thusa? “Are you a poet?”

Consequently, it is totally incorrect to say that the pronoun has to go next to the verb. Where the noun is the predicate, it receives greater stress. Examples given by GÓN include:

1. Maois agus Elias iad san
2. mo Dhia thu
3. mo chuid ’en tsaol thu
4. ’sí cainnt an tSlánaitheóra féin í sin

You will notice in all this that the present or absence of the suffix -se/-sa or the demonstrative sin/san is not the determinant of whether the pronoun is subject or predicate in the sentence. An rí mise has mise, not me (bearing in mind the disjunctive pronouns in Irish are me and tu, not and ), as the subject. An file thusa? has thusa as the subject. So while it is true that in copula sentences the predicate receives the stress in intonation, this does not mean that any pronoun in the sentence with the emphatic suffix must be the predicate.

The Christian Brothers’ Grammar claims in section 16.40 that an tusa Séamas? has tusa as the predicate, whereas an tu Séamas? has tu as the subject. This amounts to a claim that the emphatic suffix may never be used with the subject of a copula of identification sentence, although they do not appear to have thought it through to that extent. Are they saying na daoine sin, where the demonstrative is equivalent to an emphatic particle, cannot be the subject of a copula sentence? They seem confused. According to them, mo ghrá í sin (mo ghrá: predicate, í sin: subject) in PUL’s Séadna would have to be wrong, because í sin is emphatic.

Of course, what this is all about is their belief that the pronoun should come next to the verb in the copula of identification sentence, and, according to them, may be either subject or predicate. They refuse to consider the possibility that Irish may (and often more logically) have a word in the predicate that would be in the subject in English. Why does English always have to play the trump card in this way? What difference does it make what they say in English? Finally, at the end of section 16.40, the Christian Brothers’ Grammar admits sheepishly — with bad grace, because they put it in a smaller font — that the pronoun does in fact come last in phrases like mo cheól thu and mo ghrá í sin.

But if you can say mo cheól thu, then the Christian Brothers don’t understand the copula at all — as this contradicts the whole of the rest of the section on the copula.

The question that needs to be determined is whether you really are emphasising the noun as the information given (i.e., as the predicate). If so, you can say ní Tadhg mise, because the information given is the fact that Tadhg is not the name. The information given is what the predicate is. And it makes no difference that PUL said mise and not me here. He could have written ní Tadhg me and the subject and predicate of the sentence would be unchanged. In ní mise Tadhg, the information given is once again in the predicate (regardless of where it would be in English).

So what about is tusa mo chroí? Well sentences like mo ghrá thu provide the template: here once again the information given is in the predicate next to the verb. This sentence strikes me as much more powerful than the bland tusa mo ghrá — which merely identifies the noun phrase mo ghrá in terms of your interlocutor tusa. Mo ghrá thu by contrast identifies your interlocutor thu as “the one that I love”. It is more powerful; it is more emphatic; and it is what is said in traditional Irish. Tusa mo chroí — usually without the verb – would mean “you are my love” in a non-emotional and bland way. “You are the teacher; you are Eileen; you are my love” and you are also many other proper nouns. Whereas mo chroí thu, or (in more natural Irish) grá mo chroí thu, or mo ghrá im chroí ‘stigh thu, is much more expressive: you are THE ONE THAT I LOVE.


About dj1969

at the conservative end of the libertarian spectrum
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15 Responses to You are my love

  1. Dave, a chara,
    It is an error to think of the copula as a normal verb, having a subject, and an object.
    In Latin, Esse, sum, the verb translated into English, ‘to be’, ‘I am’, has no objects, only ‘nominative predicates’, and the Latinist English professors say that the correct answer to ‘Who goes there’ is ‘It is I’, not ‘It is me’.
    English thinkers cannot, without reference to the peculiarities of Latin, understand the copula.
    It is not a verb as we know it.
    It is a statement of equivalence.
    This is enlightened by statements equivalent to ‘Coal is black’, being explained in terms of the copula as ‘(The colour of) coal is black’., which as an equivalence is reversible, ie, Black is (the colour of) coal.
    Hence, both ‘black’, and ‘(the colour of) coal’ are predicates.
    So the copula, in effect, is a statement that the following ‘predicates’ are in apposition.
    And if by context, it is clear that a list of ‘predicates’ are in apposition, the copula may be omitted.
    This also happens in Latin, and in a few cases, though not commonly, in English.
    Mind though, when you hurl a string of expletives at someone who is no longer a friend, these expletives are in effect, a series of predicates in apposition, lacking a copula.

    • Kevin Riley says:

      It is a mistake to think that Irish is Latin. David has explained the use of the copula as it is found in Irish literature and the spoken language. If you start trying to understand Irish as if it were Latin, you will end up as confused as those who try to understand Irish as if ti were English. Learning Irish as Irish, and explaining Irish as it is used, is the best way.

  2. Gearóíd Ó Laoi says:

    I don’t analyse as such. I know what I’ve heard from good speakers, my mother who was a native speaker from Beara, one of the last, and my father who learnt Irish in Ring from about 1915 on and was an Irish scholar and school inspector.
    Not only can you say “mo cheol thú” but that is the only way I ever heard it. And, “mo ghreidhin thú”, “mo ghrá thú” and such like. I think you COULD say “is tusa mo ghrá” but it would be a protestation where it had been said that someone else was.

    • djwebb2010 says:

      Thanks for that very valuable insight. Yes, I see now the protestation aspect of it – as tusa would be emphasised as the predicate.

  3. Breandán says:

    My own basis for confirming “Is tusa mo chroí” was the chorus of “An Páistín Fionn”, which runs:

    “Is tusa mo rún, mo rún,
    is tusa mo rún is mo ghrá geal;
    Is tusa mo rún is mo chumann go buan,
    ‘Sé mo chreach gan tú agam ód mháithrín.”

    I am not sure exactly how old the song is, certainly not _21st_ Century, most likely 19th Century.

    Since the construction “is tusa mo ~” exists in a traditional song, I would not be so presumptuous as to refute its validity completely, even though my preferred construction is “mo ~ thú” (and even FGB has “Mo chroí thú” FWIW).

    Sometimes things that are considered “wrong” or ridiculed in one dialect may be perfectly correct in another dialect. I know that Learning Irish has a different explanation for copula usage than any of those in the Christian Brothers, Father Ua Laoghaire, Gearóid Ó Nualláin OR Lars Braesicke. I think you are mistaking a dialect difference for Béarlachas.

    • djwebb2010 says:

      Let me add: tusa mo Dhia = you are my God – but a meaningless phrase when talking to God, as He knows He is God, whereas mo Dhia thu is an Act of Faith and not just a statement of identification.

  4. djwebb2010 says:

    Brendan, this is my new site – a free WordPress blog – unlike my former hosting company that charged a lot. So now I have moved over to the new site – I am having to approve all the comments. I think the site needs to get used to certain commenters before they are automatically approved for posting.

    I would like to know the detailed differences in copula usage between the dialects, but have been unable to get a full rundown. I don’t think this issue is dialectal. As my post says above, “tusa mo chroí” – I prefer this without the article and I think it would be normally without – does mean something – but not the same in terms of nuance as “mo chroí thu”. It is not ungrammatical, but the nuance is different.

    Tusa mo chroí identifies “mo chroi” as “tusa” – it literally means “my heart (=love) is YOU”. Tusa X is the normal way to say all of these sentences in Irish: tusa an múinteóir, tusa an rí, tusa Breanndán (excuse the double n there to show a diphthong in Cork Irish). Irish prefers to have mise and tusa in the predicate for the reasons I explained above, and so these sentences are used where English has “you are my love, you are the teacher, you are the king, you are Brendan”, not forgetting that tusa is emphatic and contrastive too, although where the pronoun is the predicate, and therefore logically stressed, it is rare for it not to have the emphatic suffix.

    But the me/mise and tu/tusa can go as the subject – and this throws much more emphasis onto the noun predicate. You are MY LOVE. And it is this more powerful focus on the noun that is the reason why is is normal to say mo ghrá thu and all the other things.

    I don’t know how old that song you mentioned is either, and if you get any information on that let me know. “Is tusa mo rún” is not ungrammatical Irish – I think “tusa mo rún” is far more natural, but in the context of a song which requires a certain number of syllables per line and given that the copula is there anyway (whether implied or expressed), it is correct. It takes “mo rún” and identifies it as you, with the word “you” having the stress.

    But in these emotional statements, you are often focusing on the noun – in English “I love you” often has a stress on the word “love” – mo ghrá thu takes “you” and identifies you as “my love”, with “my love” having the stress. In Caoineadh Airt UÍ Laoghaire, the famous lament after the killing of a man in the late 1700s for not giving up his horse, by Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonail (1743-1800??), the aunt of Daniel O’Connell, we find this sentences:

    Mo ghrá go daingean tu!
    Mo chara is mo stór tu!
    Mo chara is m’ uan tu!
    Mo chara thu is mo chuid!
    Mo ghrá thu is mo chumann!
    Mo chara is mo lao thu!
    Mo ghrá is mo rún tu! NOTE: use of “mo rún tu”

    • Breandán says:

      You are providing a very valuable resource here and it is much appreciated, David. As you may be aware, at ILF we recommend that people choose a dialect rather than learn standard Irish and if they express an interest in Munster Irish, we usually direct them here, either explicitly or through the links provided in our information sections.

      In searching for more information I did come across an old recording from 1951 of a similar song entitled “Is Tusa Mo Rún” ( The recording is not clear but the singer appears to be singing “_Nach_ tusa mo rún?” which would also make sense and corroborate Gearóid’s comments above.

      On the other hand, there was a reference to “Más tusa mo rún” from c. 1851 (

      And in Amhráin Mhuighe Seóla (1923), the song “Nellí Bán” has “‘S tú grádh liom, ‘S tú cuisle geal mo chroí…” and “Thuas ag Gort a’ Charnáin” has “‘s tú mo stóirín” without the contrastive. Other songs have “grádh mo chroidhe le m’anam thú” and the like. The two patterns appear to coexist, though I have no doubt the “mo ~ thú” pattern is more prevalent in general.

      Ó Siadhail has “Is thusa an dochtúir” in Learning Irish but indicates in Modern Irish that the copula is optional before the contrast and emphatic grades (eisean, é féin, eisean é féin) and before “é seo” and “é sin”.

      It is hard to gauge nuances, however, without more context.

  5. DMcM says:

    I’m wondering when you would say “an rí mise”, perhaps in response to:

    Cé’cu an rí nó an mac rí tusa?
    An rí mise.

    • Gearóíd Ó Laoi says:

      An rí mise would mean am I the king?
      Mise an rí is I am the king.
      Rí mise is I am a king.
      Is rí mé, I am a king.
      I rí mise is more emphatic than is rí me. It’s like stressing the I in English.

    • djwebb2010 says:

      Yes, I think you’re right. Where there is a contrast, you could say “ní rí mise, ach priúnsa”. What PUL wrote on p69 of Papers on Irish Idiom was:

      “The truth is this. The sentence ‘is mise an rí’ is not an answer to the question ‘cé hé thusa?’ It is an answer to the question ‘cé hé an rí?’ The true answer to the question ‘cé hé thusa?’ is ‘an rí mise’, or ‘an rí’. The only thing that can be said in order to justify the use of ‘is mise an rí’ as an answer to the question ‘cé hé thusa?’ is, that it conveys indirectly the information asked for, by answering, not the question ‘cé hé thusa?’ but the question ‘cé hé an rí’.”

      There was a real example in Mionchainnt of “ní Tadhg mise”, so these forms can’t be ruled out as ungrammatical, but all the same I am thinking that they ought to be sparingly used.

      • Gearóíd Ó Laoi says:

        David, an rí mise, in this day and age would be interpreted by most speakers as a question, I imagine. It sounds odd to me as I have never heard an equivalent example. That’s of course probably because it is no longer said. It’s archaic..

  6. djwebb2010 says:

    Gearóid, isn’t the pronunciation of the interrogative particle different to the definite article? I assumed that “an rí”, the king, has a very reduced “an” – like the “an” in English “an apple”. But “an rí mise?”, where “an” is the interrogative particle, isn’t this more like “uhn”?

    • Gearóíd Ó Laoi says:

      I haven’t noticed a difference myself, but maybe I wasn’t listening. I would say that my parents pronounced them the same…

  7. djwebb2010 says:

    In that case, Gearóid, they must be pronounced the same. I was ad-libbing on this point…

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