Modern Irish has a suffix -acht (allomorphs -ocht, -eacht, -cht, probably others) that forms abstract nouns. For example, beo "alive" → beocht "life, vital spirit".

Since we also see Scottish Gaelic -achd and Manx Gaelic -aght, this suffix would seem to go back to Old Gaelic at least. But I haven't been able to find anything past that.

So, what is the full ancestry of -acht (at least as far as we can reconstruct)? Does it go all the way back to PIE, and if so, do we know what PIE form led to this? It doesn't look much like the Latin or Greek abstract-noun-forming suffixes, like -or or -ia.

  • 2
    My first thought (for which I have no evidence :) is that perhaps this came from a construction in a manner similar to how Romance adverbs in -ment(e) arose - namely some kind of construction of adjective + acht where "acht" is some participle of OIr aigid (< PIE *h₂eǵ), cognate to Lat. actus. – Mark Beadles Apr 8 '19 at 0:13
  • @MarkBeadles That actually makes a lot of sense! If you come across some source for it, it would make a good answer. – Draconis Apr 8 '19 at 0:16
  • In my opinion, this suffix -(a)cht certainly has a PIE origin. Have you looked at the comparative book on Celtic written by Pedersen about a century ago? – Arnaud Fournet Apr 8 '19 at 6:43

A quick look at Stair na Gaeilge yields this (in Kim McCone’s chapter An tSean-Gaeilge agus a réamhstair — “Old Irish and its prehistory”)…

21.2 … It can be seen that use is made of the suffix *-(i)yā to make abstract nouns in IE itself (e.g., Gr. phil-ó-s ‘beloved’, phil-ía ’fondness’). The -e (MW -ed) that descended from it was a common way of forming feminine abstract nouns (13.5) from adjectives in Old Irish, e.g., dílis, díls-e; maith ‘good’, maithe ‘goodness’; gor ‘fervent’ (MW gwar) < *gwar-os (< *gwr̥-), goire ‘fervour’ (MW gwared) < *gwar-iyā (7.4). -tūt- was also available (17.1) and a couple of other suffixes were developed in (Insular?) Celtic itself to derive abstract nouns from other nouns, in particular *-axtā or *-yaxtā (OI -acht or -echt, MW -(i)aeth; [*-i-+] *-ak- + *-tā) and *-assu-s (OI -as, MW -as): e.g., OI marcach, MW marchawc ‘(horse-)rider’ and OI marcaigecht, MW marchogaeth ’horsemanship’, OI tigern(ae), MW teyrn ‘lord’ and OI tigern-as, MW teyrn-as ‘lordship’.

Kim McCone, Damian McManus, Cathal Ó hÁinle, Nicholas Williams, Liam Breatnach, eds. (1994). Stair na Gaeilge. II:21.2 “An tSean-Gaeilge agus a réamhstair: Gnéithe de dhíorthú na substainteach”, page 127.
My translation. OI = Old Irish, MW = Middle Welsh.

A connection to aigid seems unlikely to me.

Note that beocht may be more complicated than it looks. The older form is béodacht and there was also a form using the *-assu-s suffix mentioned above — béodas (the modern beos probably only exists in the dictionary).


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.