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Irish orthography has evolved over many centuries, since Old Irish was first written down in the Latin alphabet in about the 8th century AD. Prior to that, Primitive Irish was written in Ogham. Irish orthography is mainly based on etymological considerations, although a spelling reform in the mid-20th century simplified the relationship between spelling and pronunciation somewhat.
There are three main dialect areas of spoken Irish: Ulster (now predominantly in County Donegal), Connacht (Counties Mayo and Galway), and Munster (Counties Kerry, Cork, and Waterford). Some spelling conventions are common to all three dialects, while others vary from dialect to dialect. In addition, individual words may have in a given dialect pronunciations that are not reflected by their spelling (the pronunciation in this article reflects Connacht Irish pronunciation; other accents may differ, but are occasionally included).
The traditional standard Irish alphabet consists of 18 letters: a b c d e f g h i l m n o p r s t u. Thus, it does not contain the following letters used in English: j, k, q, v, w, x, y, z. The vowels may be accented as follows: á é í ó ú.
The acute accent over the vowels, called síneadh fada (meaning "long sign"), is ignored for purposes of alphabetization. Modern loanwords also make use of j k q v w x y z. Of these, v is the most common. It occurs in a small number of words of native origin in the language such as vácarnach, vác and vrác, all of which are onomatopoeic. It also occurs in a number of alternative colloquial forms such as víog instead of bíog and vís instead of bís as cited in Niall Ó Dónaill's Foclóir Gaeilge–Béarla (Irish–English Dictionary). It is also the only non-traditional letter used to write foreign names and words adapted to the Irish language (for example, Switzerland, or Helvetia, is Gaelicised as An Eilvéis; Azerbaijan, in contrast, is written An Asarbaiseáin rather than *An Azarbaijáin). The letters j, q, w, x, y and z are used primarily in scientific terminology or direct, unaltered borrowings from English and other languages, although the phoneme /z/ does exist naturally in at least one dialect, that of West Muskerry, County Cork, as the eclipsis of s. k is the only letter not to be listed by Ó Dónaill. h, when not prefixed to an initial vowel as an aspirate in certain grammatical functions (or when not used as an indicator of lenition when Roman type is used), occurs primarily in loanwords as an initial consonant. The letters' names are spelt out thus:
- á bé cé dé é eif gé héis í eil eim ein ó pé ear eas té ú
- along with jé cá cú vé wae eacs yé zae. 
Tree names were once popularly used to name the letters. Tradition taught that they all derived from the names of Ogham letters, though it is now known that only some of the earliest Ogham letters were named after trees.
- ailm ( pine), beith ( birch), coll ( hazel), dair ( oak), edad/ eadhadh ( poplar), fern/ fearn ( alder), gath/ gort ( ivy), uath ( hawthorn), idad/ iodhadh ( yew), luis ( rowan), muin ( vine), nin/ nion ( ash), onn ( gorse), peith ( dwarf alder), ruis ( elder), sail ( willow), tinne/ teithne ( holly), úr ( heather)
Irish scripts and typefaces
Prior to the middle of the 20th century, Irish was usually written using Gaelic script. This typeface, together with Roman type equivalents and letter name pronunciations along with the additional lenited letters, is shown below.
Use of Gaelic type is today almost entirely restricted to decorative and/or self-consciously traditional contexts. The dot above the lenited letter is usually replaced by a following h in the standard Roman alphabet [for example, ċ in Gaelic type becomes ch in Roman type]. The only other use of h in Irish is for vowel-initial words after certain proclitics (e.g. go hÉirinn, "to Ireland") and for words of foreign derivation such as hata "hat".
Although the Gaelic script remained common until the mid-20th century, efforts to introduce Roman characters began much earlier. Theobald Stapleton's 1639 catechism was printed in a Roman type alphabet, and also introduced simplified spellings such as suí for suidhe and uafás for uathbhás, though these did not become standard for another 300 years.
The consonant letters generally correspond to the consonant phonemes as shown in this table. See Irish phonology for an explanation of the symbols used and Irish initial mutations for an explanation of eclipsis. In most cases, consonants are "broad" (velarised) when the nearest vowel letter is one of a, o, u and "slender" (palatalised) when the nearest vowel letter is one of e, i.
|b||broad||/bˠ/||bain /bˠanʲ/ "take" (imper.), scuab /sˠkuəbˠ/ "broom"|
|slender||/bʲ/||béal /bʲeːl̪ˠ/ "mouth", cnáib /kn̪ˠaːbʲ/ "hemp"|
|bh||broad||/w/~/vˠ/||bhain /wanʲ/ "took", ábhar /ˈaːwəɾˠ/ "material", Bhairbre /ˈwaɾʲəbʲɾʲə/ "Barbara" (genitive), tábhachtach /ˈt̪ˠaːwəxt̪ˠəx/ "important", dubhaigh /ˈd̪ˠʊwiː/ "blacken" (imper.), scríobh /ʃcrʲiːw/ "wrote", taobh /t̪ˠiːw/ "side", dubh /d̪ˠʊw/ "black", gabh /ɡaw/ "get" (imper.)|
|slender||/vʲ/||bhéal /vʲeːl̪ˠ/ "mouth" (lenited), cuibhreann /ˈkɪvʲɾʲən̪ˠ/ "common table", aibhneacha /ˈavʲnʲəxə/ "rivers", sibh /ʃɪvʲ/ "you" (pl.)|
|See vowel chart for abh, obh|
(eclipsis of f-)
|broad||/w/~/vˠ/||bhfuinneog /ˈwɪnʲoːɡ/ "window" (eclipsed)|
|slender||/vʲ/||bhfíon /vʲiːn̪ˠ/ "wine" (eclipsed)|
(eclipsis of p-)
|broad||/bˠ/||bpoll /bˠoːl̪ˠ/ "hole" (eclipsed)|
|slender||/bʲ/||bpríosún /ˈbʲɾʲiːsˠuːn̪ˠ/ "prison" (eclipsed)|
|c||broad||/k/||cáis /kaːʃ/ "cheese", mac /mˠak/ "son"|
|slender||/c/||ceist /cɛʃtʲ/ "question", mic /mʲɪc/ "sons"|
(always broad before t)
|/x/||cháis /xaːʃ/ "cheese" (lenited), taoiseach /ˈt̪ˠiːʃəx/ "chieftain" (also the term for the Prime Minister of Ireland), boichte /bˠɔxtʲə/ "poorer"|
/h/ between vowels
|cheist /çɛʃtʲ/ "question" (lenited), deich /dʲɛç/ "ten"
oíche /ˈiːhə/ "night"
|d||broad||/d̪ˠ/||dorn /d̪ˠoːɾˠn̪ˠ/ "fist", nead /nʲad̪ˠ/ "nest"|
|slender||/dʲ/; /dʑ/ in northern dialects||dearg /dʲaɾˠəɡ/ "red", cuid /kɪdʲ/ "part"|
silent after a long vowel
|dhorn /ɣoːɾˠn̪ˠ/ "fist" (lenited)
ádh /aː/ "luck"
|slender||/ʝ/||dhearg /ˈʝaɾˠəɡ/ "red" (lenited), fáidh /fˠaːʝ/ "prophet"|
|See vowel chart for adh, aidh, eadh, eidh, idh, oidh, odh. See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -dh at the end of verbs.|
(eclipsis of t-)
|broad||/d̪ˠ/||dtaisce /ˈd̪ˠaʃcə/ "treasure" (eclipsed)|
|slender||/dʲ/; /dʑ/ in northern dialects||dtír /dʲiːɾʲ/ "country" (eclipsed)|
|f||broad||/fˠ/||fós /fˠoːsˠ/ "still", graf /ɡɾˠafˠ/ "graph"|
|slender||/fʲ/||fíon /fʲiːn̪ˠ/ "wine", stuif /sˠt̪ˠɪfʲ/ "stuff"|
|often /h/ in féin||/h/||féin /heːnʲ/ "-self"|
|See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -f- in future and conditional tenses|
|fh||silent||fhuinneog /ˈɪnʲoːɡ/ "window" (lenited), fhíon /iːn̪ˠ/ "wine" (lenited)|
|g||broad||/ɡ/||gasúr /ˈɡasˠuːɾˠ/ "boy", bog /bˠɔɡ/ "soft"|
|slender||/ɟ/||geata /ˈɟat̪ˠə/ "gate", carraig /ˈkaɾˠəɟ/ "rock"|
(eclipsis of c-)
|broad||/ɡ/||gcáis /ɡaːʃ/ "cheese" (eclipsed)|
|slender||/ɟ/||gceist /ɟɛʃtʲ/ "question" (eclipsed)|
silent after a long vowel
|ghasúr /ˈɣasˠuːɾˠ/ "boy" (lenited)
Eoghan /ˈoːən̪ˠ/ (male name)
|slender||/ʝ/||gheata /ˈʝat̪ˠə/ "gate" (lenited), dóigh /d̪ˠoːʝ/ "way, manner"|
|See vowel chart for agh, aigh, eigh, igh, ogh, oigh. See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -(a)igh at the end of verbs.|
|h||/h/||hata /ˈhat̪ˠə/ "hat", na héisc /nə heːʃc/ "the fish" (plural)|
|l||broad||/l/; also frequently /l̪ˠ/||luí /l̪ˠiː/ "lying (down)"|
|slender||/lʲ/||leisciúil /ˈlʲɛʃcuːlʲ/ "lazy"|
|ll||broad||/l̪ˠ/||poll /poːl̪ˠ/ "hole"|
|slender||/l̪ʲ/; also frequently /lʲ/||coill /kəil̪ʲ/ "woods"|
|m||broad||/mˠ/||mór /mˠoːɾˠ/ "big", am /aːmˠ/ "time"|
|slender||/mʲ/||milis /ˈmʲɪlʲəʃ/ "sweet", im /iːmʲ/ "butter"|
(eclipsis of b-)
|broad||/mˠ/||mbaineann /ˈmˠanʲən̪ˠ/ "takes" (eclipsed)|
|slender||/mʲ/||mbéal /mʲeːl̪ˠ/ "mouth" (eclipsed)|
|mh||broad||/w/~/vˠ/||mhór /woːɾˠ/ "big" (lenited), lámha /ˈl̪ˠaːwə/ "hands", léamh /lʲeːw/ "reading"|
|slender||/vʲ/||mhilis /ˈvʲɪlʲəʃ/ "sweet" (lenited), uimhir /ˈɪvʲəɾʲ/ "number", nimh /nʲɪvʲ/ "poison"|
|See vowel chart for amh, omh|
|n||broad||/nˠ/; also frequently /n̪ˠ/||naoi /n̪ˠiː/ "nine"|
|slender||/nʲ/||neart /nʲaɾˠt̪ˠ/ "strength", tinneas /ˈtʲɪnʲəsˠ/ "illness"|
|nc||broad||/ŋk/||ancaire /ˈaŋkəɾʲə/ "anchor"|
|slender||/ɲc/||rinc /ɾˠɪɲc/ "dance"|
(eclipsis of d-)
|broad||/nˠ/; also frequently /n̪ˠ/||ndorn /nˠoːɾˠnˠ/ "fist" (eclipsed)|
|slender||/nʲ/||ndearg /ˈnʲaɾˠəɡ/ "red" (eclipsed)|
|ng||broad||/ŋ/ word-initially (eclipsis of g-)
/ŋɡ/ word-internally and finally
|ngasúr /ˈŋasˠuːɾˠ/ "boy" (eclipsed)
long /l̪ˠuːŋɡ/ "ship", teanga /ˈtʲaŋɡə/ "tongue"
|slender||/ɲ/ word-initially (eclipsis of g-)
/ɲɟ/ word-internally and finally
|ngeata /ˈɲat̪ˠə/ "gate" (eclipsed)
cuing /kɪɲɟ/ "yoke", ingear /ˈɪɲɟəɾˠ/ "vertical"
|/nʲ/ in final unstressed -ing||scilling /ˈʃcilʲənʲ/ "shilling"|
|nn||broad||/n̪ˠ/||ceann /caːn̪ˠ/ "head"|
|slender||/n̪ʲ/; also frequently /nʲ/|
|p||broad||/pˠ/||poll /pˠoːl̪ˠ/ "hole", stop /sˠt̪ˠɔpˠ/ "stop"|
|slender||/pʲ/||príosún /ˈpʲɾʲiːsˠuːn̪ˠ/ "prison", truip /t̪ˠɾˠɪpʲ/ "trip"|
|ph||broad||/fˠ/||pholl /fˠoːl̪ˠ/ "hole" (lenited)|
|slender||/fʲ/||phríosún /ˈfʲɾʲiːsˠuːn̪ˠ/ "prison" (lenited)|
(always broad word-initially, except in Munster when in lenited forms; always broad in rd, rl, rn, rr, rs, rt, rth, sr, always rolled or tapped)
|/ɾˠ/||rí /ɾˠiː/ "king", cuairt /kuəɾˠtʲ/ "visit", oirthear /ˈɔɾˠhəɾˠ/ "east", airde /aːɾˠdʲə/ "height", coirnéal /ˈkoːɾˠnʲeːl̪ˠ/ "corner", carr /kaːɾˠ/ "car, cart", duirling /ˈd̪ˠuːɾˠlʲənʲ/ "stony beach", sreang /sˠɾˠaŋɡ/ "string"|
|slender||/ɾʲ/||tirim /ˈtʲɪɾʲəmʲ/ "dry"|
|rh (uncommon representation of Munster lenition of slender word-initial r)||slender||/ɾʲ/||rhí /ɾʲiː/ "king" (lenited, Munster)|
(always broad word-initially before f, m, p, r)
|/sˠ/||Sasana /ˈsˠasˠən̪ˠə/ "England", tús /t̪ˠuːsˠ/ "beginning", sféar /sˠfʲeːɾˠ/ "sphere", speal /sˠpʲal̪ˠ/ "scythe", sméar /sˠmʲeːɾˠ/ "blackberry", sreang /sˠɾˠaŋɡ/ "string"|
|slender||/ʃ/; /ɕ/ in northern dialects||sean /ʃan̪ˠ/ "old", cáis /kaːʃ/ "cheese"|
|sh||broad||/h/||Shasana /ˈhasˠən̪ˠə/ "England" (lenited)|
/ç/ before /aː, oː, uː/, usually from lenition
|shean /han̪ˠ/ "old" (lenited)
Sheáin /çaːnʲ/ "John" (genitive), sheol /çoːl̪ˠ/ "sailed", shiúil /çuːlʲ/ "walked", shiopa /ˈçʊpˠə/ "shop" (lenited)
|t||broad||/t̪ˠ/||taisce /ˈt̪ˠaʃcə/ "treasure", ceart /caɾˠt̪ˠ/ "correct"|
|slender||/tʲ/||tír /tʲiːɾʲ/ "country", beirt /bʲɛɾˠtʲ/ "two (people)"|
|See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -t- in verbal adjectives|
|th||broad||/h/||thaisce /ˈhaʃcə/ "treasure" (lenited), athair /ˈahəɾʲ/ "father"|
/ç/ before /aː-, oː-, uː-/, usually from lenition
|theanga /ˈhaŋɡə/ "tongue" (lenited)
theann /çaːn̪ˠ/ "tight" (lenited), theocht /çoːxt̪ˠ/ "heat" (lenited), thiúilip /ˈçuːlʲəpʲ/ "tulip" (lenited), thiocfadh /ˈçʊkəx/ "would come", thiubh /çʊw/ "thick" (lenited)
|Silent at the end of a syllable||bláth /bˠl̪ˠaː/ "blossom", cith /cɪ/ "shower", cothrom /ˈkɔɾˠəmˠ/ "equal"|
|See Special pronunciations in verb forms for -th- in verbal adjectives|
(special lenition of s- after an 'the')
|broad||/t̪ˠ/||an tsolais /ən̪ˠ ˈt̪ˠɔl̪ˠəʃ/ "of the light"|
|slender||/tʲ/; /tɕ/ in northern dialects||an tSín /ənʲ tʲiːnʲ/ "China"|
|v (loan consonant)||broad||/w/~/vˠ/||vóta /ˈwoːt̪ˠə/ "vote"|
|slender||/vʲ/||veidhlín /ˈvʲəilʲiːnʲ/ "violin"|
|z (loan consonant)||broad||/zˠ/||zú /zˠuː/ "zoo"|
|slender||/ʒ/; /ʑ/ in northern dialects||Zen /ʒɛnʲ/ "Zen"|
|zs (uncommon representation of Cape Clear eclipsis of s)||broad||/zˠ/||zsolas /zˠɔl̪ˠəsˠ/ "light" (eclipsed)|
|slender||/ʒ/||zsean /ʒan̪ˠ/ "old" (eclipsed)|
Sequences of vowels are common in Irish spelling due to the "caol le caol agus leathan le leathan" ("slender with slender and broad with broad") rule. This rule states that the vowels on either side of any consonant must be both slender (e or i) or both broad (a, o or u), to unambiguously determine the consonant's own broad vs. slender pronunciation. An apparent exception is the combination ae, which is followed by a broad consonant despite the e.
In spite of the complex chart below, pronunciation of vowels in Irish is mostly predictable from a few simple rules:
- Fada vowels (á, é, í, ó, ú) are always pronounced.
- Vowels on either side of a fada (except for other fada vowels) most often do not spell any phoneme (there are several exceptions). Their presence is almost always necessary to simply satisfy the "caol le caol agus leathan le leathan" rule. These letters are not entirely silent, however. The fada vowel and the adjacent consonant require the tongue body to be in different positions, and these letters capture the transient sound produced while it is moving from one position to the other.
- Between a consonant and a broad vowel, e and i are usually non-phonemic in the same way. This applies to:
- The short vowels io, oi and ui have multiple pronunciations that depend on adjacent consonants.
The following series of charts indicates how written vowels are generally pronounced. Each dialect has certain divergences from this general scheme, and may also pronounce some words in a way that does not agree with standard orthography.
Unstressed vowels are generally reduced to schwa (/ə/).
|a||stressed||/a/||fan /fˠan̪ˠ/ "stay" (imper.)|
|/aː/ before rl, rn, rd
before syllable-final ll, nn, rr
before word-final m
|tarlú /ˈt̪ˠaːɾˠl̪ˠuː/ "happening", carnán /ˈkaːɾˠn̪ˠaːn̪ˠ/ "(small) heap", garda /ˈɡaːɾˠd̪ˠə/ "policeman"
mall /mˠaːl̪ˠ/ "slow, late", ann /aːn̪ˠ/ "there", barr /bˠaːɾˠ/ "tip, point"
am /aːmˠ/ "time"
|unstressed||/ə/||ólann /ˈoːl̪ˠən̪ˠ/ "drink" (present), mála /ˈmˠaːl̪ˠə/ "bag"|
|e||stressed||/ɛ/||te /tʲɛ/ "hot"|
|unstressed||/ə/||míle /ˈmʲiːlʲə/ "thousand"|
|i||stressed||/ɪ/||pic /pʲɪc/ "pitch", ifreann /ˈɪfʲɾʲən̪ˠ/ "hell"|
|/iː/ before syllable-final ll, nn
before word-final m
|cill /ciːlʲ/ "church", cinnte /ˈciːnʲtʲə/ "sure"
im /iːmʲ/ "butter"
|unstressed||/ə/||faoistin /ˈfˠiːʃtʲənʲ/ "confession"|
|/ɪ/ finally||aici /ˈɛcɪ/ "at her"|
|o||stressed||/ɔ/||post /pˠɔsˠt̪ˠ/ "post"|
|/ʊ/ before n, m||Donncha /ˈd̪ˠʊn̪əxə/ (man's name), cromóg /ˈkɾˠʊmˠoːɡ/ "hooked nose"|
|/oː/ before rl, rn, rd
before syllable-final ll, rr
|bord /bˠoːɾˠd̪ˠ/ "table", orlach /ˈoːɾˠl̪ˠəx/ "inch"
poll /pˠoːl̪ˠ/ "hole", corr /koːɾˠ/ "odd"
|/uː/ before syllable-final nn
before word-final m, ng
|fonn /fˠuːn̪ˠ/ "desire, inclination"
trom /t̪ˠɾˠuːmˠ/ "heavy", long /l̪ˠuːŋɡ/ "ship"
|unstressed||/ə/||mo /mˠə/ "my", cothrom /ˈkɔɾˠəmˠ/ "equal"|
|u||stressed||/ʊ/||dubh /d̪ˠʊw/ "black"|
|/ɔ/ in English loanwords, corresponds to /ʌ/||bus /bˠɔsˠ/, club /kl̪ˠɔbˠ/|
|/uː/ before rl, rn, rd||burla /ˈbˠuːɾˠl̪ˠə/ "bundle", murnán /ˈmˠuːɾˠn̪ˠaːn̪ˠ/ "ankle", urlár /ˈuːɾˠl̪ˠaːɾˠ/ "floor"|
|unstressed||/ə/||agus /ˈaɡəsˠ/ "and"|
|/ʊ/ finally||urthu /ˈʊɾˠhʊ/ "on them"|
Vowels with a fada
Vowels with a fada are always pronounced long. In digraphs and trigraphs containing a vowel with an acute, only the vowel with the accent mark is usually pronounced, but there are several exceptions, for instance in trigraphs where the two letters without an accent are right next to one another rather than on either side of the accented vowel.
|á||/aː/||bán /bˠaːn̪ˠ/ "white"|
|ái||dáil /d̪ˠaːlʲ/ "assembly", gabháil /ˈɡawaːlʲ/ "taking"|
|aí||/iː/||maígh /mˠiːj/ "claim" (imper.), gutaí /ˈɡʊt̪ˠiː/ "vowels"|
|aío||naíonán /ˈn̪ˠiːn̪ˠaːn̪ˠ/ "infant", beannaíonn /ˈbʲan̪ˠiːn̪ˠ/ "blesses"|
|aoú||/iː.uː/||naoú /ˈn̪ˠiːuː/ "ninth"|
|é||/eː/||sé /ʃeː/ "he"|
|éa||déanamh /ˈdʲeːn̪ˠəw/ "doing", buidéal /ˈbˠɪdʲeːl̪ˠ/ "bottle"|
|eá||/aː/||Seán /ʃaːn̪ˠ/ "John", caisleán /ˈkaʃlʲaːn̪ˠ/ "castle"|
|eái||meáin /mʲaːnʲ/ "middles", caisleáin /ˈkaʃlʲaːnʲ/ "castles"|
|éi||/eː/||scéimh /ʃceːvʲ/ "beauty", páipéir /ˈpˠaːpʲeːɾʲ/ "papers"|
|í||/iː/||gnímh /ɟnʲiːvʲ/ "act, deed" (gen.), cailín /ˈkalʲiːnʲ/ 'girl'|
|ío||síol /ʃiːl̪ˠ/ "seed"|
|iá||/iː.aː/||bián /ˈbʲiːaːn̪ˠ/ "size"|
|iái||liáin /ˈlʲiːaːnʲ/ "trowel" (gen.)|
|ió||/iː.oː/||sióg /ˈʃiːoːɡ/ "fairy", pióg /ˈpʲiːoːɡ/ "pie"|
|iói||grióir /ˈɟɾʲiːoːɾʲ/ "weakling"|
|iú||/uː/||siúl /ʃuːl̪ˠ/ "walk", bailiú /ˈbˠalʲuː/ "gathering"|
|iúi||ciúin /cuːnʲ/ "quiet", inniúil /ˈɪnʲuːlʲ/ "able, fit"|
|ó||/oː/||póg /pˠoːɡ/ "kiss", armónach /ˈaɾˠəmˠoːn̪əx/ "harmonic"|
|ói||móin /mˠoːnʲ/ "sod, turf", bádóir /ˈbˠaːd̪ˠoːrʲ/ "boatman"|
|oí||/iː/||croíleacán /ˈkɾˠiːlʲəkaːn̪ˠ/ "core"|
|oío||croíonna /ˈkɾˠiːn̪ˠə/ "hearts"|
|ú||/uː/||tús /t̪ˠuːsˠ/ "beginning"|
|úi||súil /suːlʲ/ "eye", cosúil /ˈkɔsˠuːlʲ/ "like, resembling"|
|uá||/uː.aː/||ruán /ˈɾˠuːaːn̪ˠ/ "buckwheat", duán /ˈd̪ˠuːaːn̪ˠ/ "kidney, fishhook"|
|uái||fuáil /ˈfˠuːaːlʲ/ "sewing, stitching"|
|uí||/iː/||buígh /bˠiːj/ "turn yellow" (imper.)|
|uío||buíon /bˠiːn̪ˠ/ "band, troop"|
|uó||/uː.oː/||cruóg /ˈkɾˠuːoːɡ/ "urgent need"|
|uói||luóige /ˈl̪ˠuːoːɟə/ "pollock" (gen.)|
Fada vowels will occasionally also appear in succession, where adjacent vowels are not pronounced: séú /ˈʃeːuː/ "sixth", ríúil /ˈɾˠiːuːlʲ/ "royal, kingly, majestic", báíocht /ˈbˠaːiːxt̪ˠ/ "sympathy", etc.
Di- and trigraphs
A vowel or digraph followed by i is usually pronounced as that vowel. The i is not pronounced in that case, and just indicates that the following consonants are slender. However, it may be pronounced in the digraphs ei, oi, ui.
|ae, aei||/eː/||Gaelach /ˈɡeːl̪ˠəx/ "Gaelic", Gaeilge /ˈɡeːlʲɟə/ "Irish (language)"|
|ai||stressed||/a/||baile /ˈbˠalʲə/ "home"|
|/aː/ before rl, rn, rd
before syllable-final ll, nn, rr
|airne /aːɾʲnʲə/ "sloe"
caillte /ˈkaːlʲtʲə/ "lost, ruined", crainn /kɾˠaːnʲ/ "trees"
|/ɛ/ in three words||daibhir /ˈd̪ˠɛvʲəɾʲ/ "poor", raibh /ɾˠɛvʲ/ "was" (dependent), saibhir /ˈsˠɛvʲərʲ/ "rich"|
|unstressed||/ə/||eolais /ˈoːl̪ˠəʃ/ "knowledge" (genitive)|
|ao||/iː/ (/eː/ in Munster and South Ulster)||saol /sˠiːlˠ/ "life"|
|/eː/ in aon and derivatives in all dialects||aon /eːnˠ/ "any"|
|aoi||/iː/||gaois /ɡiːʃ/ "shrewdness",|
|ea, eai||stressed||/a/||bean /bʲan̪ˠ/ "woman", veain /vʲanʲ/ "van"|
|/aː/ before rl, rn, rd
before syllable-final ll, nn, rr
|bearna /ˈbʲaːɾˠn̪ˠə/ "gap", feall /fʲaːl̪ˠ/ "treachery", feanntach /ˈfʲaːn̪ˠt̪ˠəx/ "severe"|
|unstressed||/ə/||seisean /ˈʃɛʃən̪ˠ/ "he" (emphatic)|
|ei||/ɛ/||ceist /cɛʃtʲ/ "question"|
|/ɪ/ before m, mh, n||creimeadh /ˈcɾʲɪmʲə/ "corrosion, erosion", geimhreadh /ˈɟɪvʲrʲə/ "winter", seinm /ˈʃɪnʲəmʲ/ "playing"|
|/eː/ before rl, rn, rd||eirleach /ˈeːɾˠlʲəx/ "destruction", ceirnín /ˈceːɾˠnʲiːnʲ/ "record album", ceird /ceːɾˠdʲ/ "trade, craft"|
|/əi/ before syllable-final ll||feill- /fʲəilʲ/ "exceedingly"|
|/iː/ before syllable-final nn and word-final m||greim /ɟɾʲiːmʲ/ "grip"|
|eo, eoi||/oː/||ceol /coːl̪ˠ/ "music", baileofar /ˈbˠalʲoːfˠəɾˠ/ "one will gather", dreoilín /ˈdʲɾʲoːlʲiːnʲ/ "wren", baileoimid /ˈbˠalʲoːmʲədʲ/ "we will gather"|
|/ɔ/ in four words||anseo /ənʲˈʃɔ/ "here", deoch /dʲɔx/ "drink", eochair /ˈɔxəɾʲ/ "key", seo /ˈʃɔ/ "this"|
|ia, iai||/iə/||Diarmaid /dʲiərmədʲ/ "Dermot", bliain /bʲlʲiənʲ/ "year"|
|io||/ɪ/ before coronals and th||fios /fʲɪsˠ/ "knowledge", bior /bʲɪɾˠ/ "spit, spike", cion /cɪn̪ˠ/ "affection", giota /ˈɟɪt̪ˠə/ "bit, piece", giodam /ˈɟɪd̪ˠəmˠ/ "restlessness", friotháil /ˈfʲɾʲɪhaːlʲ/ "attention"|
|/ʊ/ before noncoronals||siopa /ˈʃʊpˠə/ "shop", liom /lʲʊmˠ/ "with me", tiocfaidh /ˈtʲʊkiː/ "will come", Siobhán /ˈʃʊwaːn̪ˠ/ "Joan", briogáid /ˈbʲɾʲʊɡaːdʲ/ "brigade", tiomáin /ˈtʲʊmaːnʲ/ "drive" (imper.), ionga /ˈʊŋɡə/ "(finger)nail"|
|/iː/ before syllable-final nn||fionn /fʲiːn̪ˠ/ "light-haired"|
|iu||/ʊ/||fliuch /fʲlʲʊx/ "wet"|
|oi||stressed||/ɛ/||scoil /sˠkɛlʲ/ "school", troid /t̪ˠɾˠɛdʲ/ "fight" (imper.), toitín /ˈt̪ˠɛtʲiːnʲ/ "cigarette", oibre /ˈɛbʲɾʲə/ "work" (gen.), thoir /hɛɾʲ/ "in the east", cloiche /ˈkl̪ˠɛçə/ "stone" (gen.)|
|/ɔ/ before s, cht, rs, rt, rth||cois /kɔʃ/ "foot" (dat.), cloisfidh /ˈkl̪ˠɔʃiː/ "will hear", boicht /bˠɔxtʲ/ "poor" (gen. sg. masc.), doirse /ˈd̪ɔɾˠʃə/ "doors", goirt /ɡɔɾˠtʲ/ "salty", oirthear /ˈɔɾˠhəɾˠ/ "east"|
|/ɪ/ next to n, m, mh||anois /əˈn̪ˠɪʃ/ "now", gloine /ˈɡl̪ˠɪnʲə/ "glass", cnoic /kn̪ˠɪc/ "hills", roimh /ɾˠɪvʲ/ "before", coimeád /ˈkɪmʲaːd̪ˠ/ "keep" (imper.), loinge /ˈl̪ˠɪɲɟə/ "ship" (gen.)|
|/əi/ before syllable-final ll||coill /kəilʲ/ "forest, woods", coillte /ˈkəilʲtʲə/ "forests"|
|/iː/ before syllable-final nn and word-final m||foinn /fˠiːnʲ/ "wish" (gen.), droim /d̪ˠɾˠiːmʲ/ "back"|
|/oː/ before rl, rn, rd||coirnéal /ˈkoːɾˠnʲeːl̪ˠ/ "corner", oird /oːɾˠdʲ/ "sledgehammers"|
|unstressed||/ə/||éadroime /eːdrəmʲə/ 'lightness'|
|ua, uai||/uə/||fuar /fˠuəɾˠ/ "cold", fuair /fˠuəɾʲ/ "got"|
|ui||stressed||/ɪ/||duine /ˈd̪ˠɪnʲə/ "person"|
|/ʊ/ before cht, rs, rt||tuirseach /ˈt̪ˠʊɾˠʃəx/ "tired", cluichte /ˈkl̪ˠʊxtʲə/ "harassment" (gen.)|
|/iː/ before syllable-final ll, nn
before word-final m
|tuillteanach /ˈt̪ˠiːlʲtʲən̪ˠəx/ "deserving", puinn /pˠiːnʲ/ "much"
suim /sˠiːmʲ/ "interest"
|/uː/ before rl, rn, rd||duirling /ˈd̪ˠuːɾˠlʲənʲ/ "stony beach", tuirne /ˈt̪ˠuːɾˠnʲə/ "spinning wheel"|
|unstressed||/ə/||aguisín /ˈaɡəʃiːnʲ/ "addition"|
Followed by bh, dh, gh, mh
When followed by the lenited consonants bh, dh, gh or mh, a stressed vowel usually forms a diphthong.
For aidh, aigh, adh, eadh, idh and igh, see also Special pronunciations in verb forms.
|(e)abh, (e)abha, (e)abhai||/əu/||leabhair /lʲəuɾʲ/ "books", Feabhra /ˈfʲəuɾˠə/ "February"|
|(e)amh, (e)amha, (e)amhai||Samhain /sˠəunʲ/ "November", amhantar /ˈəun̪ˠt̪ˠəɾˠ/ "venture", ramhraigh /ˈɾˠəuɾˠiː/ "fattened"|
|(e)obh, (e)obha, (e)obhai||lobhar /l̪ˠəuɾˠ/ "leper"|
|(e)odh, (e)odha, (e)odhai||bodhar /bˠəuɾˠ/ "deaf"|
|(e)ogh, (e)ogha, (e)oghai||rogha /ɾˠəu/ "choice"|
|(e)omh, (e)omha, (e)omhai||/oː/ ~ /əu/||tomhail /t̪ˠoːlʲ/ "consume" (imper.), Domhnach /ˈd̪ˠoːn̪ˠəx/ "Sunday"|
|(i)umh, (i)umha, (i)umhai||/uː/||Mumhan /ˈmˠuːn̪ˠ/ "Munster" (gen.)|
|(e)adh, (e)adha, (e)adhai||/əi/||adhairt /əiɾˠtʲ/ "pillow", meadhg /mʲəiɡ/ "whey"|
|(e)agh, (e)agha, (e)aghai||aghaidh /əij/ "face", saghsanna /ˈsˠəisˠən̪ˠə/ "sorts, kinds"|
|aidh, aidhe, aidhea||aidhm /əimʲ/ "aim"|
|aigh, aighe, aighea||aighneas /əinʲəsˠ/ "argument, discussion"|
|eidh, eidhea, eidhi||feidhm /fʲəimʲ/ "function"|
|eigh, eighea, eighi||leigheas /lʲəisˠ/ "healing"|
|oidh, oidhea, oidhi||oidhre /əirʲə/ "heir"|
|oigh, oighea, oighi||loighic /l̪ˠəic/ "logic"|
|adh, eadh||/ə/||briseadh /ˈbʲɾʲɪʃə/ "breaking"|
|agh, eagh||margadh /ˈmˠaɾˠəɡə/ "market"|
|aidh, idh||/iː/||tuillidh /ˈt̪ˠɪlʲiː/ "addition" (gen.), cleachtaidh /ˈclʲaxt̪ˠiː/ "practice" (gen.)|
|aigh, igh||coiligh /ˈkɛlʲiː/ "rooster" (gen.), bacaigh /ˈbˠakiː/ "beggar" (gen.)|
In the sequence of short vowel + /l, n, r/ + labial, palatal, or velar consonant (except for voiceless stops) within the same morpheme, an unwritten /ə/ gets inserted between the /l, n, r/ and the following consonant:
- gorm /ˈɡɔɾˠəmˠ/ "blue"
- dearg /ˈdʲaɾˠəɡ/ "red"
- dorcha /ˈd̪ˠɔɾˠəxə/ "dark"
- ainm /ˈanʲəmʲ/ "name"
- deilgneach /ˈdʲɛlʲəɟnʲəx/ "prickly, thorny"
- leanbh /ˈlʲan̪ˠəw/ "child"
- airgead /ˈaɾʲəɟəd̪ˠ/ "silver, money"
- corp /kɔɾˠpˠ/ "body"
- olc /ɔl̪ˠk/ "bad"
- téarma /tʲeːɾˠmˠə/ "term"
- dualgas /ˈd̪ˠuəl̪ˠɡəsˠ/ "duty"
The rules of epenthesis do not apply across morpheme boundaries (e.g. after prefixes and in compound words):
- garmhac /ˈɡaɾˠwak/ "grandson" (from gar- ("close, near") + mac ("son"))
- an-chiúin /ˈan̪ˠçuːnʲ/ "very quiet" (from an- ("very") + ciúin ("quiet"))
- carrbhealach /ˈkaːɾˠvʲal̪ˠəx/ "carriageway, roadway" (from carr ("car") + bealach ("way, road"))
Special pronunciations in verb forms
In verb forms, some letters and letter combinations are pronounced differently from elsewhere.
- mholadh sé /ˈwɔl̪ˠətʲ ʃeː/ "he used to praise"
- bheannódh sibh /ˈvʲan̪ˠoːtʲ ʃɪvʲ/ "you (pl.) would bless"
- osclaíodh sí /ˈɔsˠkl̪ˠiːtʲ ʃiː/ "let her open"
Otherwise it is pronounced /x/:
- mholadh an buachaill /ˈwɔl̪ˠəx ə ˈbˠuəxəlʲ/ "the boy used to praise"
- bheannódh na cailíní /ˈvʲanoːx n̪ˠə ˈkalʲiːnʲiː/ "the girls would bless"
- osclaíodh Siobhán /ˈɔsˠkl̪ˠiːx ˈʃʊwaːn̪ˠ/ "let Siobhán open"
In the preterite impersonal, -dh is pronounced /w/:
- moladh é /ˈmˠɔl̪ˠəw eː/ "he was praised"
- beannaíodh na cailíní /ˈbʲan̪iːw nə ˈkalʲiːnʲiː/ "the girls were blessed"
-(a)idh and -(a)igh are pronounced /ə/ before a pronoun, otherwise /iː/:
- molfaidh mé /ˈmˠɔl̪ˠhə mʲeː/ "I will praise"
- molfaidh Seán /ˈmˠɔl̪ˠhiː ʃaːn/ "Seán will praise"
- bheannaigh mé /ˈvʲan̪ˠə mʲeː/ "I blessed"
- bheannaigh Seán /ˈvʲan̪ˠiː ʃaːn/ "Seán blessed"
In the future and conditional, f (broad or slender) has the following effects:
- After vowels and sonorants (/l̪ˠ lʲ mˠ mʲ n̪ˠ nʲ ɾˠ ɾʲ/) it is pronounced /h/:
- molfaidh /ˈmˠɔl̪ˠhiː/ "will praise"
- dhófadh /ˈɣoːhəx/ "would burn"
- déarfaidh /ˈdʲeːɾˠhiː/ "will say"
- It makes a voiced obstruent (/bˠ bʲ vʲ d̪ˠ ɡ/) voiceless; and makes /w/ turn into /fˠ/:
- scuabfadh /ˈsˠkuəpəx/ "would sweep"
- goidfidh /ˈɡɛtʲiː/ "will steal"
- leagfadh /ˈlʲakəx/ "would lay"
- scríobhfaidh /ˈʃcɾʲiːfˠiː/ "will write"
- shnámhfadh /ˈhn̪ˠaːfˠəx/ "would swim"
- It is silent after a voiceless obstruent (/k c x ç pˠ pʲ sˠ ʃ t̪ˠ tʲ/)
- brisfidh /ˈbʲɾʲɪʃiː/ "will break"
- ghlacfadh /ˈɣl̪ˠakəx/ "would accept"
- But in the future and conditional impersonal f is often /fˠ, fʲ/
- molfar /ˈmˠɔl̪ˠfˠəɾˠ/ "one will praise"
- dhófaí /ˈɣoːfˠiː/ "one would burn"
- scuabfar /ˈsˠkuəbˠfˠəɾˠ/ "one will sweep"
- brisfear /ˈbʲɾʲɪʃfʲəɾˠ/ "one will break"
In the past participle th (also t after d) is silent but makes a voiced obstruent voiceless:
- scuabtha /ˈsˠkuəpˠə/ "swept"
- troidte /ˈt̪ˠɾˠɛtʲə/ "fought"
- ruaigthe /ˈɾˠuəcə/ "chased"
Irish spelling makes use today of only one diacritic, and formerly used a second. The acute accent (Irish: síneadh fada "long sign") is used to indicate a long vowel, as in bád /bˠaːd̪ˠ/ "boat". However, there are some circumstances under which a long vowel is not indicated by an acute, namely:
- before rd, rl, rn, rr, for example ard /aːɾˠd̪ˠ/ "high", eirleach /ˈeːɾˠlʲəx/ "destruction", dorn /d̪ˠoːɾˠn̪ˠ/ "fist"
- in the groups ae, ao, eo, for example aerach /ˈeːɾˠəx/ "gay", maol /mˠiːl̪ˠ/ "bare", ceol /coːl̪ˠ/ "music"
- in the groups omh(a) and umh(a), for example comharsa /ˈkoːɾˠsˠə/ "neighbour", Mumhain /mˠuːnʲ/ "Munster"
- long /iː/ and /uː/ before /aː/ or /oː/, e.g. fiáin /ˈfʲiːaːnʲ/ "wild", ruóg /ˈɾˠuːoːɡ/ "twine"
The overdot (Irish: ponc séimhithe "dot of lenition", buailte "struck", or simply séimhiú, "lenition") was formerly used, especially in Gaelic script, to indicate the lenited version of a consonant; currently a following letter h is used for this purpose. Thus the letters ḃ ċ ḋ ḟ ġ ṁ ṗ ṡ ṫ are equivalent to bh ch dh fh gh mh ph sh th. In Old Irish orthography, the dot was used only for ḟ ẛ (ṡ), while the following h was used for ch ph th; lenition of other letters was not indicated. Later the two systems spread to the entire set of lenitable consonants and competed with each other. Eventually the standard practice was to use the dot when writing in Gaelic script and the following h when writing in Roman letters.
As with most European languages such as Spanish or German, Irish diacritics must be preserved in uppercase forms. If diacritics are unavailable (for example, on a computer using ASCII), there is no generally accepted standard for replacing it (unlike some languages like German, where the umlaut is replaced by a following e and ß is replaced by ss), and so it is generally just omitted entirely or replaced with an apostrophe (especially in names, for example Dara O'Briain rather than Dara Ó Briain).
Lower-case i has no tittle in Gaelic script, and road signs in the Republic of Ireland, which use a typeface based on Transport, also use a dotless lowercase i (as well as a Latin alpha glyph for a). However, as printed and electronic material like books, newspapers and web pages use Roman hand almost invariably, the tittle is generally shown but it is not a diacritic and has no significance. (In Irish, the graphemic distinction between dotted i and dotless ı does not arise, i.e. they are not different letters as they are in, for example, Turkish and Azeri).
According to Alexei Kondratiev, the dotless i was developed by monks in the manuscripts to denote the modification of the letter following it. In the word go deimhin for example, the first i would be dotless, softening the m, and the second dotted i would be a normal vowel. The dotting of every occurrence of i in Irish became a convention, as did the letter h, when the language became more usually typed than handwritten, and the limitations of the machine to accommodate a scribe's flicks and notations imposed standardization. This meant that "letters" that were more intended to modify other letters (h and dotless i) became equal letters.
In general, punctuation marks are used in Irish much as they are in English. One punctuation mark worth noting is the Tironian et ⁊ which is generally used to abbreviate the word agus "and", much as the ampersand is generally used to abbreviate the word and in English.
The hyphen (Irish: fleiscín) is used in Irish after the letters t and n when these are attached to a masculine vowel-initial word through the rules of the initial mutations, as in an t-arán "the bread", a n-iníon "their daughter". However, the hyphen is not used when the vowel is capitalised, as in an tAlbanach "the Scotsman", Ár nAthair "Our Father". No hyphen is used with the h that is attached to a vowel-initial word: a hiníon "her daughter".
The hyphen is also used in compound words under certain circumstances:
- between two vowels, e.g. mí-ádh "misfortune"
- between two similar consonants, e.g. droch-chaint "bad language", grod-díol "prompt payment"
- in a three-part compound, e.g. buan-chomhchoiste "permanent joint committee"
- after the prefixes do-, fo-, so- before a word beginning with bha, bhla, bhra, dha, gha, ghla, ghra, mha, for example: do-bhlasta "bad tasting", fo-ghlac "subsume", so-mharfacht "mortality"
- in capitalised titles, e.g. An Príomh-Bhreitheamh "the Chief Justice"
- after an- "very" and dea- "good", e.g. an-mhór "very big", dea-mhéin "goodwill"
- the prepositions de "from" and do "to" both become d’ before a vowel (or fh + vowel, since fh is silent), as in Thit sí d'each "She fell from a horse" and Tabhair d'fhear an tí é "Give it to the landlord"
- the possessive pronouns mo "my" and do "your (singular)" become m’ and d’ before a vowel or fh + vowel, as in m'óige "my youth", d'fhiacail "your tooth"
- the preverbal particle do becomes d’ before a vowel or fh + vowel, as in d'ardaigh mé "I raised", d'fhanfadh sé "he would wait"
- the copular particle ba becomes b’ before a vowel or fh + vowel, as in B'ait liom é sin "I found that odd" and b'fhéidir "maybe". However, ba retains its vowel before the pronouns é, í, iad, as in Ba iad na ginearáil a choinnigh an chumhacht "It was the generals who kept the power"
Capitalisation rules are similar to English. However, a prefix letter remains in lowercase when the base initial is capitalised (an tSín "China"). For text written in all caps, the prefix letter is often kept in lowercase, or small caps (STAIR NA HÉIREANN "THE HISTORY OF IRELAND"). An initial capital is used for:
- The first word of a sentence
- Personal names and placenames, though not the words an, na, de (Micheál Ó Murchú "Michael Murphy"; Máire Mhac an tSaoi "Mary McEntee" de Búrca "Burke"; Sliabh na mBan "Slievenamon")
- Adjectives from personal names and placenames; though not for adjectives used in extended senses (bia Iodálach "Italian food", but cló iodálach "italic type")
- Names of months, feast-days, and languages (Meán Fómhair "September"; Oíche Nollag "Christmas Eve"; Fraincis "French")
- Names of days of the week (an Luan "Monday"), as well as Dé (Dé Luain "on Monday")
- Definite titles
- Names of God; though not pronouns referring to God
Irish has a number of abbreviations, most of which, like lch. for leathanach ("p."/"page") and m.sh. for mar shampla ("e.g."/"for example" "exempli gratia") are straightforward. Two that may require explanation are .i. (which begins and ends with a full stop) for eadhon ("i.e."/"that is") and ⁊rl. or srl. for agus araile ("etc."/"and so forth" "et cetera").
The literary Classical Irish which survived till the 17th century was already archaic and its spelling reflected that; Theobald Stapleton's 1639 catechism was a first attempt at simplification. The classical spelling represented a dialect continuum including distinctions lost in all surviving dialects by the Gaelic revival of the late 19th century. The issue of simplifying spelling, linked to the use of Roman or Gaelic type, was controversial in the early decades of the 20th century. The Irish Texts Society's 1904 Irish–English bilingual dictionary by Patrick S. Dinneen used traditional spellings. After the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, all Acts of the Oireachtas were translated into Irish, initially using Dinneen's spellings, with a list of simplifications accruing over the years. When Éamon de Valera became President of the Executive Council after the 1932 election, policy reverted to older spellings, which were used in the enrolled text of the 1937 Constitution. In 1941, de Valera decided to publish a "popular edition" of the Constitution with simplified spelling and established a committee of experts, which failed to agree on recommendations. Instead, the Oireachtas' own translation service prepared a booklet, Litriú na Gaeilge: Lámhleabhar an Chaighdeáin Oifigiúil, published in 1945. The following are some old spellings criticised by T. F. O'Rahilly and their simplifications:
|old spelling||new spelling|
The booklet was expanded in 1947, and republished as An Caighdeán Oifigiúil ("the official standard") in 1958, combined with the standard grammar of 1953. It attracted initial criticism as unhistorical and artificial; some spellings fail to represent the pronunciation of some dialects, while others preserve letters not pronounced in any dialect. Its status was reinforced by use in the civil service and as a guide for Tomás de Bhaldraithe's 1959 English–Irish dictionary and Niall Ó Dónaill's 1977 Irish–English dictionary. A review of the written standard, including spelling, was announced in 2010, with a view to improving "simplicity, internal consistency, and logic". The result was the 2017 updated Caighdeán Oifigiúil.
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