Irish/Unit 1/Lesson 2

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Unit One: 1 2 3

Unit Two: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Unit Three: Lesson Index

Spelling and Pronunciation - Grammar

More Irish language resources can be found at
Wikiversity's Department of Irish Studies

In this lesson, you will learn about:

  • Caol (broad) and leathan (slender) verbs and consonants
  • The definite article
  • Forming sentences with "tá"

Caol agus Leathan (Broad and Slender)[edit]

caol broad pronunciation
leathan slender pronunciation
anois now pronunciation

Broad and Slender Vowels[edit]

Irish vowels are classified as either broad (caol) or leathan (slender). The broad vowels are a and á, o and ó, and u and ú. The slender vowels are e, é, i, and í.

Broad and Slender Consonants[edit]

Consonants are considered broad or slender based on the surrounding consonants. In Irish, if a consonant has a vowel on either side of it (before and after), both vowels must be the same type, either both broad or both slender. So the Irish word for "now" is "anois". The "o" is not pronounced, but it could not be omitted--otherwise the "n" would have a broad "a" on one side and a slender "i" on the other.

This is important because, in Irish, most consonants are pronounced differently in their broad and slender forms. One of the most obvious changes to an English speaker is with the letter "s". A broad "s" is pronounced like an English "s", and a slender "s" is pronounced like an English "sh". Think of two Irish names as examples:

Seán Suileabháinan

In English-speaking countries, the Irish name "Séan" is sometimes spelled "Shawn", reflecting the pronunciation of "s" followed by a slender vowel. " Suileabháin" is also changed in English-speaking countries, to "Sullivan", with the initial "s" reflecting the broad vowel that follows.

If you've ever wondered why some Irish words, like Seán, Sinéad, and Séamus, pronounce "s" as an "sh" sound, now you know: it's because of the slender vowel that follows it.

Broad and Slender Consonants in English[edit]

This may seem like a strange concept, but it actually occurs in English, too. Consider the letter "C". When "c" is followed by a broad vowel, a, o, or u, it is usually pronounced with a hard "c" sound:

cat cab candle
cob con court
cub curdle cult

When followed by a slender vowel, it it is usually pronounced with a soft "c" sound:

city cinema cite
cell cent cedar

If English is your native language, you probably never thought about that rule--but you follow it instinctively when you see a new word. If you concentrate on properly pronouncing Irish words, you will develop the same instincts in Irish that you have now in English.

Reviewing Broad and Slender Consonants[edit]

With that in mind, let's review the consonants we've learned so far in their broad and slender forms:

spelling caol (broad) leathan (slender)
example IPA phoneme English equivalent example IPA phoneme English equivalent
L caol /lˠ/ léigh /lʲ/ "l" as in "lure"
n / nn leann /nˠ/ Niamh /nʲ/

Irish Articles[edit]

an singular definite article pronunciation
na plural definite article pronunciation

You may have noticed in the last lesson that we translated the sentence:

Leann Niamh leabhar

as "Niamh reads a book." In English, the sentence would be incorrect without the indefinite article "a".

Irish does not have an indefinite article. If a sentence in English would use "a" or "an", in most cases the Irish translation would simply use the noun with no article, as we see above.

However, Irish does have a definite article, the equivalent of the English word "the". In Irish, the definite article used with singular verbs is an.

Leann Niamh leabhar Niamh reads a book
Leann Niamh an leabhar Niamh reads the book

English uses the same definite article for all nouns, singular and plural. In Irish, there is a separate form of the article, na, used with plural nouns:

an leabhar the book
na leabhair the books

We will look more at plural nouns in a later lesson.


Exercise 1[edit]

Follow the links below to and listen to how each word is pronounced in the three major dialects of Irish. Try to pronounce each word out loud both before and after you listen to the example. When you reach the end of the list, go back to the beginning. Repeat until you can predict the pronunciation with reasonable accuracy. You don't have to be perfect, but you should not be pronouncing any words in inappropriate "English" ways.

ní (not) nó (or)

Next Lesson[edit]

Next Lesson

In Lesson 3, you'll learn about:

  • The initial mutations, séimhiu and úrú
  • Tá and Is
  • Negatives
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