Irish sometimes puts letters into words without your consent for the purposes of grammar. Here is one of them.
The séimhiú [SHAY-voo] is a H you sometimes have to put after the first letter of a word which affects how you pronounce the first letter. The pronunciation change works like this (phonetically only!):
- B -> V
- C -> KH
- D -> G or Y
- F -> silent
- G -> GH
- M -> V or W
- P -> F
- T -> H
- W -> WH
The initial letters who do not take a séimhiú are H, J, L, N, R, S, V and all the vowels.
The use of the séimhiú is random, but here is an incomplete list:
- The vocative a.
- Following some (but not all) prepositions, including sa, faoi, ó and roimh.
- To indicate something that’s mine or yours or his (but not hers).
- After various preverb constructions, including ba, níor, ar, má and ní.
- Past and conditional tenses (but not present or future tenses).
- When talking about one, two, three, four, five or six of something (but not seven, eight or nine of them).
There’s lots more, but six is enough for one post, right? Six is enough for the rest of your life, probably. Here they are explained in greater detail:
1. Here is a post I made about the vocative a.
2. The Irish for dog is madra [MOD-ra]. I’m not sure what series of events would lead to this, but if you need to refer to something as inside the poor animal, you would say sa mhadra, [SUH VOD-ra] (or [SUH WOD-ra] depending on what part of the country you come from.)
The same change would apply to:
- faoi [FWEE] = under
- ó [O] = from
- roimh [RIV] = before
3. The Irish for “my” is mo. The Irish for “your” is do. The Irish for “his” and “hers” is a. The only way you can tell if it’s his thing or hers is to look for the séimhiú. If it has a séimhiú it’s his; if it doesn’t have a séimhiú, it’s hers. Therefore:
- Póg mo thóin [POGUE MUH HONE] = kiss my arse
- Póg do thóin [POGUE DUH HONE] = kiss your arse
- Póg a thóin [POGUE A HONE] = kiss his arse
- Póg a tóin [POGUE A TONE] = kiss her arse
Of course, it goes without saying that you should never kiss anyone’s arse. First of all, you don’t know where it’s been, and anyway, if that sort of thing becomes an issue, you should make them come to you.
4. You have to put a séimhiú after the first letter of verbs in certain constructions. The word maith [MAH] means “good” or “like”. Let’s say you’re a five-year old child who wants a dog, but you’re just out of the phase where you say the exact same thing over and over until you’re put up for adoption. So you want to mix it up a bit.
- Is maith liom an madra [ISS MAH LUM ON MOD-ra] = I like the dog.
- Ba mhaith liom madra [BUH WAH LUM ON MOD-ra] = I would like a dog.
- Ar mhaith liom an madra? [ERR WAH LUM ON MOD-ra] = Did I like the dog?
- Níor mhaith liom an madra [NEE-or WAH LUM ON MOD-ra] = I didn’t like the dog.
Surely now a canine purchase is secured!
5. There’s no excuse for any of this. Sorry. The Irish root verb for “put” is cuir [KWIRR].
- Chuir mé [KKHHHWIRR MAY] = I put (in the past)
- Cuirim [KWIRR-imm] = I put (every day)
- Cuirfidh mé [KWIRR-hig MAY] = I will put
- Chuirfinn [KKHHHWIRR-hing] = I would put
6. When counting things, one to six of something take a séimhiú. When counting seven to ten of something, something else happens. And you better pray that we never get around to that, because if you think this post is ridiculous…
Numbers you use specifically to count things are called cardinal numbers. In English, cardinal numbers are the same as regular numbers, so sentences like “here is the number four” and “I have four dollars” are both coherent with the same word “four”. It doesn’t work like that in Irish, which I will explain later (you’re welcome). For now:
- Aon bhád [AYN VAWD] = one boat
- Dhá bháid [GAW VAW-id] = two boats
- Trí bháid [TREE VAW-id] = three boats
- Ceithre bháid [KERR-eh VAW-id] = four boats
- Cúig bháid [KOO-ig VAW-id] = five boats
- Sé bháid [SHAY VAW-id] = six boats
And so on. Don’t worry about it too much. Seriously. No one’s going to crucify you if you just say the incorrect “sa madra”. I mean, don’t do that, obviously. But if you did, no one would get too upset. Just know that if you hear a word that sounds just like another word you know, but changed at the start, it’s not a mistake; it’s grammar.
Fun fact: Years ago, before all the keyboards went full Latin, a séimhiú was indicated by a dot over the letter instead of a H. This was called a buailte [BOOL-cheh]. You’ll still see them in older books. Wow, “fun fact” was a really bad introduction to this paragraph.