How to Pronounce Irish

[Please note: This was compiled from several sources and interpreted and simplified according to a rather modest personal experience of the language. See also Irish Phrases, Irish Words, and Focal an Lae (A Word a Day). A good course for learning Irish was published by The Irish People in New York (click).]


There are 18 letters in the Irish alphabet. From earliest times there has been a literary standard, but four distinct spoken dialects (of which three remain: Munster (south), Connacht (west), and Ulster (north) – listen to the distinct (and typical) difference of the Ulster pronunciation of maith and taobh) as well as myriad local ones. Note that equivalent English and othre sounds as provided here are only approximate and greatly simplified. This is a rough guide only, as there are many exceptions (compare, e.g., labhair (‘lauer’), tabhair (‘toor’), and tábhairne (‘TAverna’); Éire (‘āra’) and éirí (‘īree’)), and pronunciation is greatly affected by position in the word and stress. Furthermore, the same word may be pronounced differently according to context, custom, and dialect (e.g., éigin and madra).

Stress is usually placed on the first syllable. Sometimes, and more so in the south, the syllable containing a long vowel (see below), especially in the root of the word, is stressed, e.g., scannán, arán.

Regarding the diacritical mark:  It is called the síneadh fada, or just fada, and indicates a long vowel in contrast to a short vowel, not stress. Long vowels should be viewed as distinct letters from their short counterparts, as is clear in many words where the fada is the only difference: e.g., Seán (‘shawn’) = John; sean (‘shan’) = old; and séan (‘shay-n’) = happiness (noun), renounce (verb). (A couple of other names: Órla vs. orla (vomit); Síne (‘Sheena’) vs. sine (nipple). Also: các (cake) vs. cac (shit).


Vowels are either short or long, the latter indicated with a fada, and either broad (a, o, u) or slender (e, i). When unstressed, the short vowels are generally pronounced very short, i.e., as the schwa sound (‘uh’).

  Short vowels   Long vowels
Broad vowels: a á = ‘aw’ or ‘ah’
o ó = ‘oh’
u ú = ‘oo’
Slender vowels: e é = ‘eh’
i í = ‘ee’

Short vowels (without a fada) may be pronounced longer before m, rd, doubled consonants ll, nn, and rr, and softened consonants gh and th. Examples: peann (pen) can be pronounced ‘pyown’ (‘ow’ as in cow); thall (yonder) can be pronounced ‘howl’.

Before th, gh, or dh, a may indicate an ‘ah’ sound, e.g., dath (color), pronounced ‘dah’.

Between an initial consonant, e.g., c, n, p, or t, and a broad vowel, the slender vowels e and i may be seen as indicating the resulting faint ‘y’ sound (e.g., peann = ‘pyown’).

Double and triple vowels

Often, one of the vowels is completely silent, inserted to make the preceding or following consonant or consonant group broad (a, o, or u) or slender (e or i; see below and peann, above). Common examples include eo or ea after a consonant, in which the e is silent but indicates that the preceding consonant is slender, and ai after a consonant, the a being silent but indicating that the preceding consonant is broad. In Irish spelling, a broad or slender consonant (see the Consonants section below) must have, respectively, broad or slender vowels both before and after it (when the consonant is not at the start or end of a word).

Other than the above cases, most combinations of short vowels combine (roughly) the sounds of the vowels as written to create (generally) a longer short vowel sound. Combinations that include a long (fada) letter are mostly shaped by that letter. Some combinations stand out:

ae, aei = é
ai = ‘ă’ as in ban at start of a word, else a
ái = á or sometimes ‘oy’ or ‘ī’ as in fine
ao, aoi = í or é (Munster)
ea, eai = ‘ă’, or ‘ĕ’ as in ben
ei = usually ‘ĕ’ as in ben, or ‘ĭ’ as in bin
eo, eoi = ó
ia, iai = í-a
oi = ‘ĕ’ or ‘ĭ’
ua, uai = ú-a
ui = ‘ĭ’ at start of word, ‘wĭ’ between consonants

As with ui, combinations such as ao, aoi, ae, aei, oi, and ai after a consonant are sometimes pronounced with a slight ‘w’ before them, e.g., faoi (under) = ‘fwee’.

Hidden vowel sound

Many Irish people pronounce the English word film as ‘fillum’. This reflects Irish pronunciation. When some consonant pairs are preceded by a short stressed vowel, an additional short vowel is heard between them. For example: bolg (stomach) is pronounced ‘bolug’; garbh (rough) ‘garev’; dorcha (dark) ‘doraha’; gorm (blue) ‘gorum’, and ainm (name) ‘anum’. But: olc (bad) ‘olk’; corp (body) ‘corp’.


The consonants — b, c (always hard ‘k’), d, f, g (always hard), h, l, m, n, p, r, s and t — are said more or less as in English (though see below), particularly with broad vowels.

Consonants are broad or slender, which is indicated in spelling by the vowel(s) before and/or after (therefore, a consonant or consonant group can not be flanked by a broad vowel (a, o, u) on one side and a slender (e, i) on the other).

• Broad d = towards ‘th’ (hard)
• Slender d = towards ‘j’
• Slender l = towards ‘th’, esp. at end of word
• Slender nn = towards ‘ng’
• Slender r = towards ‘th’, esp. at end of word
• Slender s = ‘sh’
(except in assertive verb ‘to be’ is (‘iss’)
• (and emphatic suffix -se (‘suh’))
• Slender sc, scr, sl, sn, st = ‘shk’ etc.
• Slender sm, sp, sr, str = ‘sm’ etc.
• Broad t = towards ‘th’ (soft)
• Slender t = towards ‘ch’
dl = l; dn = n
ln = l; lng = l or n
f = silent or ‘h’ in future or conditional verbal suffix
• (but not always, esp. in Connacht)

In Ulster and Connacht, n after c, g, or m is pronounced more like ‘r’, in Kerry more like ‘l’.

The letters j, k, q, v, w, x, y, and z do not exist in Irish except for borrowed words (e.g., júdó, vaimpír, tvuít).

The sounds of consonants can be changed by softening or eclipsis.

Softening (séimhiú)

Aspiration of a consonant is indicated by adding the letter ‘h’ (or in the past a dot, called the séimhiú, over the letter). This is also called lenition when changing the case of nouns and associated adjectives: cóta (a coat), mo chóta (my coat); Máire (Maura), a Mháire (being addressed).

• slender bh = ‘v’
-aibh = ‘ah’, sometimes ‘oh’ (esp. Ulster) or ‘ev’ (esp. Munster)
• slender mh = softer ‘v’, almost ‘f’
• broad bh or mh = ‘w’, sometimes ‘v’ (esp. in Munster)
• broad mh = ‘v’ at end of word
ch is guttural (Greek chi), softer when slender
• slender dh or gh = ‘y’; almost silent ‘gh’ when final;
• slender dh or gh = silent when followed by consonant
-(a)idh or -(a)igh = i or ‘uh’ when unstressed;
-(a)idh or -(a)igh = ‘uh’ in past and future;
-(a)idh or -(a)igh = sometimes ‘oh’ in future;
-(a)idh or -(a)igh = í in genitive or plural noun
• broad dh or gh = guttural ‘gh’; ‘y’ or ‘w’, respectively, inside word
• broad dh or gh = ‘kh’ at end of conditional verb
-(e)adh or (e)agh = ‘ah’ at end of past habitual verb
-(e)adh = ‘oo’ at end of verbal noun or autonomous past
fh is silent
ph = ‘f’
sh = ‘h’
th = ‘h’; silent at end of word

Note that in compound words, each part is usually pronounced as if alone, e.g., leathuair (leath + uair). The second part is usually lenited if possible, e.g., neamhfhaiseanta (unfashionable).


A consonant can also be silenced (or nasalised) at the start of a word by another consonant placed before it (eclipsis, urú). This generally happens in the prepositional and possessive cases of nouns and interrogative forms of verbs, as well as some nouns with articles. Pronunciation is determined by the eclipsing consonant only. Examples: na mban (of the women’s) = nah mon; sa bpaipéar (in the paper) = sa bapair; sa gcathair (in the city) = sa gahar; an bhfuil …? (is …?) = unh wil; a fháil (to get, available) = a awl; an tsráid (the street) = un trawd.

b is eclipsed by m (mb)
c is eclipsed by g (gc)
d and g are eclipsed by n (nd, ng, =‘ñ’)
f is eclipsed by bh (bhf)
p is eclipsed by b (bp)
t is eclipsed by d (dt)
s is eclipsed by t (ts) (caused by declension rules other
s is eclipsed by t (ts) (than those for normal eclipsis)

[Dictionary note:  Remember to consider the fact that the beginnings of words are often mutated in Irish, as in the above examples of séimhiú and urú, when looking up words in a dictionary. For example, cathaoir (chair) will appear in various sentences as gcathaoir and chathaoir; only cathaoir will be found in a print dictionary.]