Irish Language

Pronounciation

Word Stress

Except for a few common words with an unstressed prefix, all words are strongly accented on the first syllable.

Vowels

Vowels

Irish has both short vowels and long vowels. The long vowels are generally indicated in writing by an acute accent.

The long vowels are:

  •  á like aw in dawn
  •  é like a in May
  •  í like ee in seen
  •  ó like oe in toe
  •  ú like u in rude

There are three combinations of letters that are always pronounced as long vowels, even though they do not have the acute accent:

  •  ae pronounced "lay"
  •  eo pronounced "ohl" (to rhyme with "hole")
  •  ao pronounced either "lay" or "lee", depending on dialect

The short vowels are:

  •  e like the e in bet
  •  i like the i in din
  •  o like the o in pot
  •  u like the u put

Consonants

Irish consonants can be either broad or slender. This quality is determined by the vowels that follow or precede it.

Except in the case of compound words, a slender consonant or consonant group will always have either an "e" or an "i" on both sides of it--after it if it's the first consonant in a word, before it if it's the last in the word.

Likewise, a broad consonant will always have an "a", "o", or "u" before and after it.

A consonant can also change sound completely when followed by an "h":

  •  bh or mh like v
  •  ch like the Scottish word loch
  •  dh or gh like y or guttural g (depending upon broad or slender)
  •  fh like h or silent
  •  ph like f
  •  th like h

When the above combinations are found in the middle of a word, they are usually silent.
Words beginning with bp, dt, mb, nd, ng or gc - the second letter is silent except for nd and ng which are nasal. "S" before or after "e" or "i" is pronounced sh.

 

Consonant Example Broad/Slender Translation
b bád (bawd) Broad boat
  beoir (byohr) Slender beer
bh mo bhád (muh WAWD) Broad my boat
  an bheoir (un VYOHR) Slender the beer
 

Broad "bh" is almost always "w", Before "l" and "r" is is often "v" and can also be "v" at the end of words. This varies according to dialect. Slender "bh" is always "v",

c cat (kot) Broad cat
  ceann (kyawn) Slender one, head
ch mo chat (muh KHOT) Broad my cat
  mo cheann (muh HYAWN) Slender mine (or my head)
  Broad "ch" is a rough sound not found in English, but common in German, Russian, Hebrew, Greek. If you pronounce the sound for "k", you will feel a closure in the back of your throat as you articulate the consonant. To pronounce the broad "ch", don’t close of the sound, but let the air continue to pass through. Think of Scottish "loch", German composer Bach, the Jewish holiday Chanukkah.
  Slender "ch" is pronounced further forward in the mouth, and is similar to the English sound in "hew", "Hugh", and "human", only breathier. If you are familiar with German, it’s the same sound as in "Ich",
d doras (DOR-uss) Broad door
  deoch (jukh) Slender drink
  Broad "d" sounds more or less just like English. Slender "d" can sound like an English "j"
dh mo dhoras (muh GHOR-us) Broad my door
  mo dheoch (muh YUKH) Slender my drink
 

Slender "dh" sounds exactly like English "y", Broad "dh" is a sound not found in English, but common in Dutch and Greek. It is the voiced counterpart to the broad "ch", and is a very deep, guttural, throat-clearing sound.

f fada (FAH-duh) Broad long
  fear (fyar) Slender man
fh an-fhada (un-AH-duh) Broad very long
  don fhear (dun AR) Slender for the man
  "fh" is silent everywhere.
g gairdín (GAR-jeen) Broad garden
  geata (GYAH-tuh) Slender gate
gh sa ghairdín (suh GHAR-jeen) Broad in the garden
  mo gheata (muh YAH-tuh) Slender my gate
  "gh"-- both broad and slender -- behaves just like "dh".
h hata (HAH-tuh) Broad hat
l lón (loan) Broad lunch
  leabhar (lyowr) Slender book
ll balla (BALL-luh) Broad wall
  billeog (BILL-yogue) Slender leaf, leaflet
m máthair (MAW-hur) Broad mother
  méar (myair) Slender finger
mh mo mháthair (muh WAW-hur) Broad my mother
  mo mhéar (muh VAIR) Slender my finger
  "mh" -- both broad and slender -- behaves exactly like "bh"
n naomh (neev) Broad saint
  neamh (nyav) Slender heaven
nn donn (down) Broad brown
  binne (BIN-yuh) Slender  
ng rang (rangue) Broad class
  daingean (DANG-gyun) Slender fort
p Pádraig (PAW-drig) Broad Patrick
  Peadar (PYAH-dur) Slender Peter
ph a Phádraig (uh FAW-drig) Broad addressing Patrick (calling him)
  a Pheadar (uh FYAH-dur) Slender addressing Peter
r rothar (ROH-hur) Broad bicylcle
  rince (RING-kuh) Slender dance
  Slender "r"-- when it does not come at the start of a word -- has a strange "rzh" quality to it that can’t be easily described. The best way to pick it up is to listen to native speakers.
s salach (SAH-lukh) Broad dirty
  sean (shan) Slender old
  Slender "s" is pronounced "sh"
sh ró-shalach (roh HAH-lukh) Broad too dirty
  ró-shean (roh-HAN) Slender too old
  "sh" is always pronounced like "h"
t Tomás (TUM-awss) Broad Thomas
  teach (chakh) Slender house
 

Slender "t" is pronounced very close to English "ch", It is the unvoiced counterpart to "d",

th a Thomáis (uh HUM-awsh) Broad addressing Thomas
  mo theach (muh HAKH) Slender my house
 

"th" is always pronounced like "h"