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Language Families of Britain and Ireland

Conlang by Geoff Eddy spoken in south-west Scotland, and in Uladh an Oirthir in Ireland. See for more.

     This page was copied from and serves primarily as a notebook for it.     

Bein-fheinéath all fhoil de Bhreathanach!

"U gcabhall all oc dúichir poithis, seidh si ill so ill dorsa eannáir faichis, cuas bon aibhis."

"Tu phoithe dúichir u gcabhall all oc, seidh si tu fhaiche ill eannáir so'll dors, tu aibhe u gcuas bhon."

Aideicht proisceamh: 22 Giúil 2004 Last update: 22 July 2004

About Breathanach


Breathanach is the 'Q' to Brithenig's 'P' - an attempt to discover what might have happened if Latin had displaced primitive Irish in Ireland (and later, of course, Scotland). In other words, it's a Romance language which looks and sounds rather like Gaelic. If you haven't yet seen Brithenig, I strongly recommend you take a look. Breathanach is part of Ill Bethisad, where there are several other interesting conlangs to discover.

Many words in Breathanach come from a form of Latin closer to Classical Latin rather than to Vulgar Latin, for example the word for "white" is albh from the Latin albus, rather than something like *blag which is cognate with modern-day Romance. (This is another way of saying that it's easier for me to work out Breathanach words by looking in my Latin dictionary than by consulting four separate dictionaries for French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. It also allows Breathanach to have a phonology closer to that of the Gaelic it is supposed to resemble.)

Like modern Welsh, Breathanach is used in two distinct registers: the normal everyday spoken language (liong fholgáir "common tongue", henceforth abbreviated to LF), and the more formal elevated language of public speeches and religious ceremonies (liong nóibhil "noble tongue", abbreviated to LN). LF is characterised by the loss of many grammatical endings and their replacement by more analytical constructions, while LN is terser and more synthetic. The following description covers both registers, since the learner is likely to encounter both. LN words are preferred in the text; LF equivalents, where different, are given in [square brackets]

The variety of Breathanach presented here is the de facto standard, which is a hybrid of the two main dialect groupings. The main division in Breathanach dialects is between the more conservative dialects of Ibhirn to the west of the North Channel and the more innovative dialects to the east, in Caileadhóin. The most salient differences in pronunciation and spelling between the dialects are mentioned where appropriate. Here's a highly provisional map showing the parts of Caileadhóin where Breathanach is spoken; it's about 1200 pixels square.

Q-Celtic speakers may, rightly, protest at some unintentional and improbable resemblances to Proto-Liotan; the two languages should have nothing in common except their Q-Celticity, but some crossover is, I suppose, inevitable.

Bits and pieces will be added to this file as time goes on and I unearth more about Breathanach, so keep coming back!

Sounds and Spelling

Breathanach has 52 distinct phonemes (contrastive sounds), and as such is not an easy language for non-natives to pronounce. Eighteen letters - those of the Roman alphabet minus JKQVWXYZ - are used to transcribe them.


The primary stress on Breathanach words is on the first syllable, discounting any prefixes. The stress is strong enough to cause two effects: vowel reduction and syncope. Vowel reduction is dealt with under Vowels. In some western dialects of Ibhirn, the stress shifts to a non-initial syllable with a long vowel if the vowels in all the preceding syllables are short; thus these dialects normally stress moinéir on the second syllable.

Syncope is the loss of a medial syllable containing a short unstressed vowel when an additional syllable is added to a word of two or more syllables; it is much more common in LF than in LN. The first example in this file is the adjective féilisc "happy"; its plural would normally be féilisce, but the second syllable was pronounced so weakly that it eventually dropped out, leaving behind féilsce. If consonants of opposite qualities combine as a result of syncope, the quality of the resulting group is dictated by the final consonant; thus castain "chestnut" becomes caistne in the feminine plural from castaine.


The basic Breathanach consonants are P T C; B D G; F S M; N L R. Each of these can be either broad and slender: broad consonants, which correspond more or less to the English ones, are those written next to the letters A O U; slender (palatised) consonants, which in most may be approximated with a following Y-sound, are those next to E I. The rule is commonly expressed as láth a láth e striocht a striocht, i.e. "broad to broad and slender to slender"

The approximate pronunciations of the basic consonants are given by the letter in uppercase in the words shown below.

TTapTune (1)DDotDune (2)
FFatFewL(L)aLL (3)Let (3)
SSatSheetN(N)oNNet (4)
MMatMewR(R)aReReal (4)

Note the following:

  1. British pronunciation, like T + Y. In Caileadhóin, often like CH in English "CHin".
  2. Ditto (i.e. D + Y). In Caileadhóin, often like J in English "Jet".
  3. the "dark" and "clear" sounds of English respectively.
  4. no convenient English examples. NN when slender is sometimes pronounced like NG in "sing" in Ibhirn, particuarly in the south-west.

In a cluster, the consonants are either all broad or all slender. N before C G is pronounced NG as in English "bank".

Certain clusters are spelled differently in Caileadhóin: SB SD SG are found for SP ST SC, while CHT becomes CHD and is pronounced CHC.


Mutations are the processes by which some consonant sounds change into others; as with Brithenig, they are very important in Breathanach, although the actual sound-changes are different. Mutations frequently occur at the beginning of a word in certain situations, especially when triggered by a preceding word which ends or used to end in a vowel. As a simple example, in eall phaoll "the girl", the initial P of paoll is mutated by the preceding eall.

The most common mutation is lenition, which can occur anywhere in a word. In all consonants except L N R, lenition is indicated by a following H; L N R are actually the lenited forms, the unlenited forms being written LL NN RR (except at the beginning of a word, when you just have to know). The approximate sounds of the lenited consonants are indicated below.

PHFatFewBHVat (3)View
THHatHat (1)DH(4)Yet
CHaCH (2)iCH (2)GH(4)Yet
FHsilentsilentL(6)Lure (9)
SHHatHewN(7)oNion (10)

Again, note the following:

  1. TH has no broad-slender distinction. It is silent in Caileadhóin.
  2. German pronunciation
  3. often like Water, Wood
  4. as in Dutch zeGGen; a kind of gargle
  5. as BH, but with noticeable nasalisation
  6. very "dark" L sound, darker than aLL
  7. very "dark" N sound, darker than oN
  8. trilled versions of unlenited sounds
  9. British pronunciation; effectively L + Y
  10. effectively N + Y.

In LF, BH DH GH are often silent at the ends of words, and slender TH in the second person plural of verbs is often pronounced like slender CH.

Lenition appears in numerous situations right through the language; most usually it is caused by the lenited consonant having been between two vowels.

Another mutation is eclipsis (also known as nasalisation), which only occurs at the beginnings of words. By eclipsis, P T C F become B D G BH and are writted BP DT GC BHF; similarly, B D G become M N NG and are writted MB ND NG. Eclipsis prefixes N- to vowels; one instance of its occurrence is after the article "a, an, one", as in u-gcain "a dog, one dog". It is much less common than lenition; it occurs after some words which originally ended in a nasal consonant.

Nasalisation does not operate in many Caileadhóin dialects. Instead, the nasal is assimilated to the following consonant so that before P B F it becomes M and before C G it is pronounced "ng"; thus un cain "a dog", um páin "a loaf of bread".

The third mutation is non-mutation, in which H- is prefixed to an initial vowel which does not undergo mutation in an environment where mutation might occur, such as in eall h-acla "the eagles", by contrast with eall acal "the eagle". Non-mutation is the rarest of the three mutations; it is often due to an original word-final S.

Words which lenite are written "-h" after them. Words which nasalise are similarly indicated with following "-n", and non-mutation is signalled by "-*". Words undergoing non-mutation which begin with a consonant are written here with "*" before the consonant to show when non-mutation is taking place. (Or should that be "not taking place"? Suggestions welcome.)

The clusters SP ST SC never undergo any mutation.


Unlike other Romance languages, the vowels in Breathanach may be long or short; the difference between long and short vowels is often significant, serving to differentiate pairs of words; for example cas "house", cás "box". There are six short vowels, five long vowels and two diphthongs.

The long vowels are transcribed with the acute accent, viz. Á É Í Ó Ú; note that Caileadhóin uses grave accents, i.e. À È Ì Ò Ù. Their qualities are respectively like the vowels in English "far", "say", "see", "so" and "sue", but pure - i.e. as a Scot would say them. Before broad consonants, É and Ó are opener, more like the vowels in "set"and "saw". In stressed syllables they are pronounced about twice as long as short vowels; in unstressed syllables long vowels are shortened, but keep their quality.

The short vowels are transcribed A E I O U, and have the same qualities as the corresponding long vowels. In unstressed syllables all short vowels are reduced to a "schwa" - the indistinct vowel sound in the second syllables of "village" or "butter". Before a slender consonant, the schwa is more like the vowel in "it".

The diphthongs, which are not found in unstressed syllables, are IA and UA, which are combinations of short I U followed by a schwa.

The only short vowel which appears at the ends of words of more than one syllable is schwa, which is written A or E according as the preceding consonant is broad or slender. A schwa is inserted in speech (but not spelling) in combinations of L N R and B BH C CH G GH P PH F M MH when preceded by a short stressed vowel; thus parbh "small" is pronounced as though it is written parabh.

Extra "glide" vowels are used in writing to indicate the qualities of neighbouring consonants. In all cases, E I (slender vowels) are written next to slender consonants, while A O U (broad vowels) are written next to broad consonants. This means in practice that there are up to four ways of spelling each vowel sound, using up to three letters; consequently, what may appear to be a diphthong is probably a single vowel sound between consonants of different qualities.

Genrally speaking, if no vowel in a group is accented, the last vowel is probably a glide, except if the group is or begins with AO EO IU. The spellings of the short vowel sounds in stressed syllables are as follows, where B and S represent broad and slender consonants respectively.



  1. I becomes E between two broad consonants.
  2. E becomes I between a broad and a slender consonant.
  3. A becomes E between a slender and a broad consonant.
  4. IA is only found after slender consonants.
  5. UA is only found after broad consonants.
  6. The theoretical spelling IAI is very rare; IA normally becomes ÉI before a slender consonant.

Long vowels are much simpler - the extra vowel letters are still written, but the vowel which is to be sounded always bears an accent.

Caileadhóin idiosyncratically uses the spelling EU for long E before a broad vowel (normally ÉA), and pronounces the vowels transcribed AO(I) further back in the mouth.

In LF, vowels before LL NN RR are often diphthongised; thus mann "big" and ceall "that" sound a bit like [maun] and [k'eul].



Nouns in Breathanach may be either masculine or feminine, singular or plural, and in LN can appear in one of five cases. The cases are the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative and vocative of Latin; the original ablative had fallen in with the dative. The forms of the cases are various, depending on whether the noun ends in a broad or slender consonant or a vowel.

Here are the full declensions of the masculine nouns fior "man", gleidh "sword", and cain "dog":

Nomfior gleidh cain
Accfior-n gleidh-n cain-
SingularGenfire gleidhe caine
Datfiora gleidhe caine
Vocfire gleidhe caine
Nomfire gleidhe caine
Accfiora-* gleidhe-* caine-*
Plural Genfior(ra)-ngleidh(re)-ncain(re)-n
Datfir(eabh) gleidh(eabh)cain(eabh)
Vocfior gleidh caine

And here are the feminine nouns paoll "girl", geil "helmet" and fidh "faith":

Nompaoll geil fidh(e)
Accpaoll-n geil-n fidh-n
SingularGenpaolla geile fidhe
Datpaolla geile fidhe
Vocpaoll geil fidh
Nompaolla geile fidhe
Accpaolla-* geile-* fidhe-*
Plural Genpaoll(ra)-n geile(ara)-nfidh(re)-n
Datpaoill(eabh)geil(eabh) fidh(eabh)
Vocpaoille geile fidhe

The genitive and dative plural endings shown in brackets

are nowadays very rarely found.

The cases are thus used more or less as follows:

  • Nominative: as the subject of the verb.
  • Accusative: as the direct object of the verb, or after certain prepositions.
  • Genitive: when one noun depends on another in some way.
  • Dative: as the indirect object of the verb, or after certain other prepositions.
  • Vocative: when the noun is addressed directly,

Thus, in ill fior fidhith eall chas eall phaolla, "the man sees the girl's house", ill fior is in the nominative case, eall chas is in the accusative, and eall phaolla is in the genitive. In fire! da ill gleidh all phaolla! "man! give the sword to the girl!", fire and phaolla are in the vocative and dative cases respectively.

In LF the case distinctions are no longer observed, with only the nominative forms surviving. The only ending still in use for masculine nouns is thus the plural -e, with the final consonant becoming slender if it is broad in the singular. For feminine nouns, -a is added in the plural if the final consonant is broad and -e if it is slender.

Thus, in LF "man" is always fior in the singular and fire in the plural - note how the spelling of the vowel I changes to indicate the change in quality of the R. Similarly, the nouns "sword", "girl" and "helmet" are gleidh, paoll, geil in the singular and gleidhe, paolla, gaele in the plural. The sentence "the man sees the girl's house" in LF is thus ill fior fidh la chas dealla phaoll. [Note that "sword" is more usually glíth in LF.]

Peculiar plurals

As in Brithenig, some masculine nouns have feminine singular forms for their plurals; thus, for example, ill corn "the horn", plural

eall chorn.

Some nouns change vowels in the plural; thus óbh "egg", plural uabh [but both are úth in LF]. Note that -ao- (sounded E) becomes -aoi- (sounded I): caos "cheese", plural caois.

Articles and demonstratives

Nouns in Breathanach very frequently appear accompanied by the important words corresponding to English "the" (definite article), "a", "an" and "some" (indefinite article), and "this" and "that" (demonstrative adjectives). These words are shown below; note the mutations of initial consonants: lenition after the feminine singular of both articles, non-mutation after the feminine plural of both articles, nasalisation after the masculine singular indefinite article, and lenition after all demonstratives. The last two lines are the demonstrative pronouns ("this", "that", "this one" and so on).

Masc singular Fem singular Masc plural Fem plural
"the" ill cain eall phaoll ille *caine ealla *paolla
ill fior eall ghail ille *fire ealla *gaile
"a, some" u-ncain un phaoll dill *caine deall *paolla
un fior un ghail dill *fire deall *gaile
"this, these" ceist chain ceast phaoll ciste chaine ceasta phaolla
ceist fhior ceast ghail ciste fhire ceasta ghaile
"that, those" ceill chain ceall phaoll cille chaine cealla phaolla
ceill fhior ceall ghail cille fhire cealla ghaile
"this one" ceistean ceastan cistine ceastana
"that one" ceillean ceallan cilline ceallana

Note that the words for "some" are formed with de "of, from".

Adjectives and adverbs

Adjectives almost always follow the nouns they modify and, like nouns, decline in five cases in LN. They also inflect for gender and number similar to nouns, as shown below. The adjective is parbh "small".

nomfior parbh paoll pharbh
accfior bparbh paoll bparbh
Singulargenfire phairbh paolla pharbha
datfiora parbh paolla pharbha
vocfire pharbh paoll pharbh
nomfire phairbhe paolla pharbha
accfiora *parbh paolla *parbh
Plural genfior bparbh(ra) paoll bparbh(ra)
datfior pairbh(eabh)paoill phairbh(eabh)
vocfir phairbh paoille phharbh

As with nouns, only the nominatives of adjectives are used in LF. Thus it only needs to be remembered that adjectives after feminine and plural nouns lenite the initial consonant, and plurals of adjectives follow the same rules as nouns. Thus the four LF forms of parbh and the slender adjective féilisc "happy" are as follows:

Masculine singularfior parbh fior féilisc
Masculine plural fire phairbhe fire fhéilsce
Feminine singular paoll pharbh paoll fhéilisc
Feminine plural paolla pharbhapaolla fhéilsc

Note the syncope in the plural of féilisc.

In LN, the vowels change in feminine singular forms of many adjectives; for example the feminine singulars of sól "alone" and dúr "hard" are sual and dór. Such changes are rare in LF, in which the masculine forms are used for the feminine.

Adjectives inflect whether they are used attributively (i.e. directly with a noun) or predicatively (i.e. with a verb in between): la phaoll pharbh "the small girl", la paolla sunn parbha "the girls are small". Note however that predicative adjectives do not mutate their initial letters.

Some adjectives may precede the noun to indicate a figurative, rather than a literal, meaning; in such instances the first letter of the noun is lenited. The stock example is póiphir "poor": note the difference between the literal fior póiphir "man with no money" and the figurative póiphir fhior "pitiable man".

Adjectives may be freely used as nouns: ille póiphre "the poor people", ille feithle "the old ones". In more archaic LN, -n was suffixed to the adjective as with demonstrative pronouns: ille póiphrine, ille feithline.


The comparitive forms of adjectives are made with maith-* "more" and mion-* "less", with ca before the noun being compared to: maith *grand ca un chas "bigger than a house", with grand "big" and cas "house". The superlative case is formed in the same way as in Brithenig (and modern French), thus "the biggest house" is eall chas eall mhaith *grand.

In LN, the comparitive and superlative of most adjectives may be formed with the suffixes -ear and -seamh, as with foirtear "stronger" and foirtseamh "strongest" (usually written foirseamh, since T is often lost before the S), but these forms are usually regarded as archaic. The suffixes cause the last letter of the adjective to become slender; thus alt "tall" has the archaic comparitives ailtear and ail(t)seamh.

Four common adjectives have irregular comparitives and superlatives:

Positive ComparitiveSuperlative
bon "good" meilear oichteamh
mal "bad" píor peiseamh
mann "great"méar maisceamh
parbh "small"meanar mineamh

Mann and grand both mean the same thing and may be used interchangeably. A corresponding alternative to parbh is póch.


Adverbs are formed by suffixing -mhinn to the feminine form of the adjective: fort-mhinn "strongly", leann-mhinn "slowly"; and they always follow the verb: canta leann-mhinn "I sing slowly". The initial letter of the adverb is often lenited after a verb, but this is considered vulgar and is not recommended.


Prepositions are used to indicate relations between nouns. A few common prepositions combine with a following definite or indefinite article, for example:

a "to"de "from"in "in" so "on"por "for"
ill aill dill nill soill poill
eall-h alla-hdeall-h neall-h soll-h polla-h
ille aille dille nille soille poille
ealla-*alla-*dealla-* nealla-*solla-*polla-*
u-n a-n de-n i-n so-n por u-n
un-h an-h dean-h in-h son-h por un-h

De replaces the genitive case in LF: la chas dill fior "the man's house, the house of the man" (formal cas fire). As mentioned above, de is also used to express "some", thus dill páin means both "some bread" and "of the bread".


The pronouns retain three of the noun cases: the nominative, accusative and genitive. They are as shown below.

personEnglish nom acc gen
1 singI me my geo me-h mia-h
2 singthou thee thy tu te-h tua-h
3 singhe him his is ill sua-h
she her her sa eall-hsa-h
1 plurwe us our nua-*nua-* noist
2 pluryou you your fua-*fua-* foist
3 plurthey them theirise ille saoi-h
they them theirsaoi ealla saoi-h
refl -self - se-h sia-h

The vowels of me, te and tu are usually short in normal conversation, but are lengthened when the pronoun is being emphasised.

The third person pronouns are used when referring to things (corresponding to "it") as well as people; is refers to a masculine noun and sa to a feminine noun. Saoi is used only when referring to groups of entirely feminine nouns; ise is used in all other cases. The same, of course, applies to the corresponding object (accusative) pronouns.

The third person genitive pronouns depend on the gender and number of the noun possessed, not the possessor: sua chain "his/her/their dog", sa gheil "his/her/their helmet", saoi ghleidhe "his/her/their swords".

Of the second person pronouns, fua is also used in the singular, except when speaking to a person with whom the speaker is familiar or intimate; in such situations tu is used instead.

The object pronouns always precede the verb: geo te fhidhe "I see you". The special third person reflexive pronoun is sia-h, which corresponds more or less to "himself", "herself", "oneself", "itself" and "themselves": eall cain sia labh "the dog washes itself".

The possessive pronouns "mine", "yours" and so on are formed with the genitive of the pronoun and un "one":

personEnglish masc singfem singmasc plurfem plur
1 sing"mine" mean mean meine meana
2 sing"thine" tean tean teine teana
3 sing"his, hers"sean sean seine seana
1 plur"ours" noistean noisteannoistine noisteana
2 plur"yours" foistean foisteanfoistine foisteana
3 plur"theirs" sean sean seine seana

All of these are preceded by the appropriate article: eall mhean "mine (fem sing)", etc.

Indefinite pronouns and adjectives

The principal indefinite pronouns and the corresponding adjectives are the following:

some, anyaileachsomeone, anyonealchan
all tóth everyone tóthan
each caosc each one caoscan
no null no-one nullan


Breathanach verbs are comparable in complexity with those of other Romance languages, more so in LN than in LF. As with Latin, they are traditionally divided into four conjugations; in practice, however, the differences between the conjugations are small. Each conjugation is characterised by a thematic vowel, which - as in Latin - is à é i í respectively.

There are five simple tenses: present, imperfect, future, conditional, and preterite; and five corresponding compound tenses: perfect, pluperfect, future perfect, conditional perfect, and second pluperfect. There are three moods: indicative, subjunctive, and imperative. Finally, there are two participles (present and past), a gerund, and two infinitives.

Personal endings

The verbal forms are expressed by adding personal endings to one of the two verbal stems: present and preterite. Six sets of personal endings cover all possibilities for the inflections of any verb in LN. LF requires three, which are less distinct than in LN, and subject pronouns are always used before the verb. In LN, subject pronouns are only used for emphasis. The personal endings are as follows.

LN 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 singa e e e a e í a e sa
2 singas is is is as is íste a is is
3 singath ith ith ith ath ith íth a ith ist
1 pluràmha éamhaeamha íomhaamha eàmha íomha àmha eàmha sumha
2 pluràithe éitheithe íthe aitheeàithe íst àitheeàitheiste
3 plurann eann eann eann ann eann earannann eann sunn
LF1 2 3
1 singa e ò í
2 singas is ò íste
3 singath ith òth íth
1 pluramha eamhaòmha íomha
2 pluraicheiche òicheíche
3 plurann eann ònn earann

The -ch- in the LF second person plural is probably a borrowing from Brithenig, motivated by the similarity in sound of slender TH and CH.

One verb from each declension is conjugated below; the verbs are amháir "to love", fidhéir [fír] "to see", mitir "to send" and óidhír "to hear". The third conjugation is identical to the fourth, except that the characteristic vowel -i- is always short and thus pronounced as schwa.

Infinitive and imperative

The infinitive of all regular verbs ends in -àir (first conjugation), -éir (second), -ir (third) or -ír (fourth). Removing these endings yields the present stem of the verb; thus amhàir for "to love" has the present stem amh- [cad-].

The imperative, the mood of command, has only the present tense; in the familiar singular it is formed from the bare stem: amh! "love!". In the plural it is the same as the simple present without the final vowel: amhamh! "let us love!", amhaith "love!" (plural, or polite singular).

Present tense

The commonest tense is of course the present indicative, which corresponds to "I sing/am singing", and so on. It is formed with the present stem plus set 1 of the personal endings; thus in LN:

1 singamha fidhe mite óidhe
2 singamhas fidhis mitis óidhis
3 singamhath fidhith mitith óidhith
1 pluramhámha fidhéamhamiteamhaóidhíomha
2 pluramháithefidhéithemitithe óidhíthe
3 pluramhann fidheann miteann óidheann

And in LF:

1 sing geo amha fhidhe mhite óidhe
2 sing tu amha fhidhe mhite óidhe
3 sing mascis amh fidh mit óidh
3 sing fem sa amh fhidh mhit óidh
1 plur nua h-amhamha *fidheamha*miteamhah-óidheamha
2 plur fua h-amhaiche*fidhiche *mitiche h-óidhiche
3 plur mascise chadann fhidheann mhiteann dhoirmheann
3 plur fem saoi chadann fhidheann mhiteann dhoirmheann

Note the mutations after the pronouns in LF, in particular the non-mutation after nua and fua. The final schwa in these persons is not often pronounced.

Occasionally, in some third conjugation verbs, the final consonant of the root is broad in the first person singular and third person plural: miota, miotann for mite, miteann, but this usage is nowadays not found outside formal LN.

Imperfect tense

The imperfect tense corresponds more or less to English "I was singing" and "I used to sing"; it is used to express an action which happened many times, or as the background to another action. It is formed in LN from the present stem plus the thematic vowel, broad BH and set 2; and in LF from just the present stem plus set 2:

1 sing amhàbha geo chadò
2 sing amhàbhas tu chadò
3 sing mascamhàbhath is cadòth
3 sing fem amhàbhath sa chadòth
1 plur amhàbhàmha nua *cadòmha
2 plur amhàbhàithefua *cadòiche
3 plur mascamhàbhann ise chadònn
3 plur fem amhàbhann saoi chadònn
fidhiabha geo fhidheò
miteabha geo mhiteò
óidhiabha geo óidhreò

Note that there is no syncope in the imperfect, i.e you don't find *amhábhmha, for example. Note too that the thematic vowels of conjugations 2 and 4 become IA in LN.

Future tense

The future tense - "I will sing" - has two forms. The first, which is rarely found outside literature and is not used in LF, adds the set 3 endings for the second conjugation to a slightly changed form of the infinitive, with -bh- between except in the first and second persons plural; the second form adds the same endings in LN and a special set in LF but syncopates the infinitive and omits the -bh-. Here are the complete future forms of amhàir and the first person singulars of the other sample verbs:

first form second formLF
1 sing amhàirbhe aimhre geo aimhre
2 sing amhàirbhis aimhris tu aimhre
3 sing mascamhàirbhith aimhrith is aimhre
3 sing fem amhàirbhith aimhrith sa aimhre
1 plur amhàirmhe amhàirmhe nua h-amhairmhe
2 plur amhàirthe amhàirthe fua h-amhairche
3 plur mascamhàirbheannaimhreann ise aimhreann
3 plur fem amhàirbheannaimhreann saoi aimhreann
fidhéirbhe fidhre fidhre
mitirbhe mitre mitre
óidhírbhe óidhre óidhre

Note the shortening of the vowel in the 1 and 2 plural in LF. A schwa is sometimes inserted to break up complicated consonant clusters, as with doirmh-i-rbheann "they will sleep".

In LF, for the more immediate future the present tense of féir (LN fàidhir) "to go" is used with the infinitive: geo fhéithe amhair "I am going to sing".

Conditional tense

The conditional - "I would sing" - is formed by adding the imperfect endings (BH + set 2) to a more regular form of the syncopated (second) future. As its name suggests, it is mainly used in conditional sentences; for example, "if you were here you would see her" is si tu ích iarras, tu eall fhidhreós.

1 sing aimhreabha geo aimhreò
2 sing aimhreabhas tu aimhreòs
3 sing mascaimhreabhath is aimheòth
3 sing fem aimhreabhath sa aimhreòth
1 plur aimhreabhamha nua h-aimhreòmha
2 plur aimhreabhaithefua h-aimhreòiche
3 plur mascaimhreabhann ise aimhreònn
3 plur fem aimhreabhann saoi aimhreònn
fidhreabha geo fhidhreò
mitreabha geo mhitreò
óidhreabha geo óidhreò

Present participle and gerund

These are the only other verb forms which are formed from the present tense; they correspond roughly to "loving", "seeing", "hearing" and so on. They are formed by substituting -nte [-de] and -nn for the final -r of the infinitive; amhàir thus has the present participle amhàinte [amhàide] and the gerund amhàinn [amhàinn]. The present participle is used as an adjective: eall phaoll dhoirmhinte "the sleeping girl". The gerund is a noun: ill cantàinn dealla phaoll eist bon "the girl's singing is good".

The present participle can also be used with the auxiliary verb stàir "to stand" to make the progressive meaning as in English, although this is rare: eall phaoll stath óidhínte "the girl is hearing". In sentences such as "I like singing", where English has the present participle as the object of a verb, Breathanach uses the infinitive: geo amha cantàir.

The preterite tense

This corresponds to the tense known in Brithenig as the "past definite" and in French as the "passé simple"; it is used to speak of events which happened once at a specific time, as in English "I loved", "I saw", "I sent", "I heard". It is formed with the past stem and the endings with long Í, which are set 4 in LN and set 3 in LF.

The past stem of almost all first and fourth conjugations is the same as the present stem. In the first conjugation, a glide letter A is inserted before the endings, except in the third person plural where the initial glide E is not necessary. The past stems of most second and third conjugation verbs are not always predictable from the present and have to be learned separately, although the past stems of many third conjugation verbs are formed with S or T. Thus, omitting the personal pronouns in LF, the preterites of amhàir, óidhír, moinéir "to remind" and scríbhir "to write" are:

1 singamhaí óidhí munuí scrisí
2 singamhaíste óidhíste munuíste scrisíste
3 singamhaíth óidhíth munuíth scrisíth
1 pluramhaíomhaóidhíomha munuíomhascrisíomha
2 pluramhaíst óidhíst munuíst scrisíst
3 pluramharann óidhearannmunarann scrisearann

Note the choice of U as the glide in munuí, and many other second conjugation verbs; this has no effect on the pronunciation and is merely used to indicate the conjugation.

The LF second person plural forms in -che

(e.g. amhaíche) must be regarded as non-standard.

Past participle

This is usually formed by adding -th, or sometimes -cht or -st to the past stem, often with changes of vowel in the feminine singular in LN; thus amhàtha "sung", óidhíoth/óidhéath "slept", munúth/munóth "reminded", scríocht/scréacht "written".


The present subjunctive is formed with the present stem and the endings of set 5 (in LN) or set 1 (in LF). Additionally, the final consonant changes from broad to slender in the first conjugation and from slender to broad in the others, often with a change in the stem vowel. Here are the LN subjunctives of the sample verbs; the LF forms are the same with short vowels in the endings:

1 singaimhe feidhe meata óidhe
2 singaimhis feidheas meatas óidheas
3 singaimhith feidheath meatath óidheath
1 pluraimhéamhafeidheámha meatamha óidheámha
2 pluraimhéithefeidheáithemeataitheóidheáithe
3 pluraimhinn feidheann meatann óidheann

The imperfect subjunctive, which is very rare in LF, is formed by adding the thematic vowel, -(i)s-, and the set 3 endings to the preterite stem; thus the 1st person singular imperfect subjunctive of amhàir is amhàise.

Irregular verbs

Some common verbs are irregular in tenses other than the past. The following are the three most important.

"to be" "to have" "to go"
Infinitiveéiséir aibhéir fàidhir [féir]
1 sing so aibhe féithe [féithe]
2 sing seis aibhis [aibhe] fàidhis [féithe]
3 sing eist aibhith [aibh] fàidhith [féith]
1 plur sumha aibheamha fàidheamha [féamha]
2 plur seist [seiche]aibhithe [-che]fàidhithe [féiche]
3 plur sunn aibheann fàidheann [féann]
imperfect earr-a aibheabha- éabha- [itheò, féitheò]
future seirbh-e aibhr-e ir-bhe
perfect faí obhuí [úthuí] ibhí
past part stàth óth/uath íoth/éath

Compound tenses

Several compound tenses are formed with the various tenses of aibhéir and éiséir. Those with aibhéir are the various perfect tenses of transitive verbs (those verbs which take an object):

  • aibhe amhàth "I have sung" - present perfect
  • obhuí amhàth "I had sung" - pluperfect
  • aibheabha amhàth - another pluperfect with the same meaning
  • aibhre amhàth "I will have sung" - future perfect
  • aibhreabha amhàth "I would have sung" - conditional perfect

Compound tenses with éiséir are of two kinds: passive tenses and the compound perfect tenses of intransitive verbs. In both of these a plural subject requires a plural form of the past

participle, as in the last example below.

  • so fíodhúth "I am seen" - present passive
  • earra fíodhúth "I was seen" - past passive
  • obhuí stàtha fíodhúth "I have been seen" - present perfect passive
  • so íoth "I have gone"
  • sunn càithe "they have fallen".

LN passives

LN retains an older form of the passive voice in which the forms of éiséir fused with the past participle. Here are the present indicative passive forms of amhàir, óidhír and scribhir; note the set 6 endings:

1 singamhàsa óidhíosa scriochtsa
2 singamhàis óidhís scriochtais
3 singamhàst óidhíst scriochtaist
1 pluramhàsumhaóidhíosumhascriochtsumha
2 pluramhàiste óidhíste scriochtaiste
3 pluramhàsunn óidhíosunn scriochsunn

And here are the first person passive forms of the other tenses of amhàir:

Tense Form Endings
Imperfect ind amhàrra set 2
Future amhàisirbha set 3
Conditional amhàistreabha set 2
Preterite amhàbhuí set 4
Present subj amhàise set 5
Imperfect subjamhàibhise set 3
Infinitive amhàisir

Past participles of transitive verbs also fused with éiséir in this way to form a synthetic perfect tense: íosa "I have gone".

Preverbal particles

Negation is expressed with no-n before the verb: no-namha [geo no-chada] "I do not sing".

Conjunctions and relatives

"That" is expressed by ca-n, as in créidhe ca n-is chantath bein "I think that he sings well". This word is also used for the relative object pronoun "whom, which": eall phaoll ca ngeo fídhí eist beall "the girl whom I saw is beautiful".

The relative subject pronoun "who, which" is caoi-*: eall phaoll caoi *me fhídhíth eist beall "the girl who saw me is beautiful". In older forms of the language this caused lenition.

"And" and "or" are eith and oth in LN, but commonly e and o in LF.

Question words

Simple questions are normally formed by inverting the subject and object: cant(ath) eall phaoll? "is the girl singing?" If no subject is present, mere tone of voice suffices: canta(s)? "are you singing?"

The interrogative pronoun "who?" is the same as the corresponding relatives: caoi fídhíth me? "who saw me?". Its accusative, corresponding to English "whom", is the same with eclipsis: caoi bhfídhí "whom did I see?"

Other common question words are:

coil what kind of
conn how much
coth which one
uibh where


The numbers up to twenty are as follows:

1 ú-n (masc), ún-h (fem)11úinde
2 dua-h 12doide, duaide
3 tria-* 13treide
4 cotar 14cotairde
5 caonc [caog] 15caínde
6 seisc 16séide, deich-seisc
7 seicht-n 17deich-seicht-n
8 oicht-n 18deich-oicht-n
9 noibh-n 19deich-noibh-n
10deich-n 20fíghinn [fínn]

For example: seicht gcaine "seven dogs", dua phaolla "two girls", deich-oicht gcasa "eighteen houses". The noun being counted is often also found in the singular, for example seicht gcain. ún is accented when it means specifically "one", by contrast with un which merely means "a".

The higher numbers are formed in two ways: with the old Celtic system using twenties, or the Latinate system with tens. Thus:

Celtic Latinate
21 fíghinn e ún (same)
22 fíghinn dhua (same)
23 fíghinn thria (same)
30 fíghinn dheich tríghinn [trínn]
31 fíghinn úinde tríghinn e ún
32 fíghinn dhoide tríghinn dhua
40 dua fhíghinn codhraíghinn [codhraínn]
41 dua fhíghinn e úncodhraíghinn e ún
50 dua fhíghinn dheich cioncaíghinn [ciogaínn]
60 tria fhíghinn seascaíghinn [seascaínn]
70 tria fhíghinn dheich seachtaíghinn [seachtaínn]
80 cotar fhíghinn ochtaíghinn [ochtaínn]
90 cotar fhíghinn dheich nónaíghinn [nónaínn]
100 ceann (same)
1000mill (same)

Note that fíghinn, tríghinn and so on lenite the first letter of the following word only if it is a number.

"First", "second" and "third" are príomh, seacúnn [scunn], tirt. The higher ordinals are formed by adding -eamh: coitreamh, caoinceamh [caogeamh], and so on.

Other bits

The names of the months and the days of the week are:

January Geonàir July Giúil Monday Lóindé
February FéabhràirAugust Óghast Tuesday Mairdé
March Mairt SeptemberSeichtir WednesdayMearchraídé
April Aiphríl October OichteóirThursday Geoibhdé [Geoidé]
May Màith November Noibhir Friday Feinirdé
June Giúin December Deichir Saturday Sàthairdé [Sàirdé]
Sunday Doimhneach [Doinneach]

The names of the letters are all plant-names, most of them trees, Here is the complete Breathanach alphabet.

Aaichir "maple" Llairich"larch"
Bbéathal [béal]"birch" Mmór "mulberry"
Ccastain "chestnut"Nnusc "nut-tree"
Ddúmh "bramble" Ooistír "hop-hornbeam"
Eeibh "fir" Ppíon "pine"
Ffàigh [féith] "beech" Rróbh "oak"
Ggeineast "broom" Ssailich"willow"
Hshorbh "rowan" Ttil "lime"
Iílich "holly" Uulmh "elm"
  • H comes from moinn-shorbh, "mountain-service tree", in which the initial SH sounds like H.
  • P is also called póphúl "poplar", with the LF form pól.

The Babel Text

This is given here in two versions. First of all, here's the LN version:

  1. Eith ill mund tóth ún liong eith un uaràith gcomúin obhuíth.
  2. Eith dumh ill pophal dealla oirinne ibhearann, u bplàn in Sennara inféinearann eith ibh sia steatharann.
  3. A saoi-aile dhíscearann, "faichiomh dille laithre eith cucamh-ill plian-mhinn." Eith dille laithre por ill peathra eith dealla airghill por la airéantha ósàrann.
  4. Eith dhíscearann, "éificheamh un urbh por nua, cu dtuirr ca ill caol dtaingith, porcha u núimh por nua fhaichirmhe, eith non dispise suibhir fàiche muinde seirmhe."
  5. Ma Dia dill caola por fidhéir ill urbh eith eall thuirr ca ill pophal éificheabhann féiníth.
  6. Eith díscíth, "eic! ú bpophal sunn, eith ún liong aibheann, eith ceast chuas sól ill inith de cheillean ca fhaichreann eist, eith níl ca fhóileann impoisibh seireann."
  7. "Fàidheamh a bhas eith sa liong gconfuindeamh porcha saoi-aile no-gcoimpréindeann."
  8. Sich inde ill suibhir ill muinde thóith dispisíth, eith eall thuirr déisearann a éifícheàir.
  9. Sich sua nóimh Babel eist, codh ibh Dia eall liong ill poiphle confuindíth, eith inde suibhir ill munda tóth ille dispisíth.

And here's the LF version:

  1. E ill mun tóth úthúth ún liong e un uaràith chomúin.
  2. E dumh ill pophal ibhearann dealla oirinn, ise ibhéinearann u bplàn in Sennar e ibh sia stàrann.
  3. Ise dhíscearann a saoi-aile, "faichiomh di'll làire e cuacamh-ill pléan-mhinn." E ise ósàrann di'll làire por ill piarra e dialla airghill por la airéanath.
  4. E ise dhíscearann, "éificheamh un urbh por nua, cu dtuirr ca thaing ill caol, porcha nua faichirmhe u nóimh por nua e non seirmhe dispirse suibhir fàich dill mun."
  5. Ma Dia féiníth dill caol por fír ill urbh e eall thuirr ca ill pophal éificheónn.
  6. E Dia díscíth, "ec! Ise shunn ú bpophal, e ise aibheann ún liong, e ceast chuas eist sól ill inith de cheillean ca ise fhaichreann, e níl ca ise fhóileann seireann iboisibh."
  7. "Féamh a bhas e cobhuineamh sa liong porcha ise no-gcoibréneann saoi-aile."
  8. Sich Dia ille dispisíth ine suibhir ill mun tóth, e ise dhéisearann a éifíchàir eall thuirr.
  9. Sich sua nóimh eist Babel, codh ibh Dia cobhuiníth eall liong dill pophal, e ine ille dispisí suibhir ill mun tóth.

Thanks to the other members of the Celticonlang mailing list, in particular Andrew Smith, the original creator of Brithenig, for the initial inspiration for Breathanach; and John Cowan and Padraig Brown for their ideas and support.

See also

Breathanach Dictionary
Evolution of Breathanach
Indo-European - Italic languages
Latin / Romance Languages Faliscan †
Oscan †
Umbrian †
Western Romance Lessinu
South-Central Romance
North-Central Romance
Eastern Romance
Britanno-Romance Gallo-Romance Northern Italian Ibero-Romance Jovian
Langues d'Oil Langues d'Oua Langues d'Oc