Irish has two sounds for the letter “n”. If “n” starts a word and is followed by a broad vowel – “a”, “o”, or “u” – then “n” gets its broad sound To learn this sound, place the front part of the tongue along the mouth top, with the tongue end touching the inside of the upper front teeth. Then pronounce “n”. Try: ná (naw*), nach (nach*), náire (NAW*-re), nó (noh), nua (NOO-uh), nóis (NOH-ish), Nollaig (NUHL-ig).
If “n” starts a word and is followed by a slender vowel – “e” or “i” – then “n” gets its slender sound. Place the front of the tongue on the hard ridge in the roof of the mouth behind your upper front teeth and pronounce “n”. It will have a faint (yuh) sound at the end as you go to the rest of many words. try: néall (nyay*l), nead (nyad), neamh (nyav), ní (nee), níl (neel), neodrach (NYOH-druhk*).
In pronouncing slender “n”, do not pronounce a separate (yuh) sound. For example, don’t pronounce “néall” as (nyuh-AY*L), but as (nyay*l). In “níl”, the faint (yuh) sound disappears in the (eel).
If “n” is inside or at the end of a word and has “a”, “o”, or “u” near it, pronounce it more like an English “n”. Examples: bean (ban), bán (baw*n), lón (lohn), dúnadh (DOON-uh).
This gives you most of the pronunciation for “n”. One more sidelight will show how noticeable is the difference between broad and slender sounds in Irish. In Lesson 10 you learned that “aoi” is pronounced (ee), as is “í” (ee). If “n” is before “aoi”, the “n” gets its broad sound, made as described in the first paragraph above. Say “naoi” (nee) and then “ní” (nee) with a slender “n”, described in the second paragraph.
There is a clear difference. Remember that our simple pronunciation guide does not show this difference, so you must learn to watch for the vowel next to the consonant, as Irish people do when they read Irish.
Before we return to “tá” next week, we will look at another use for “is” (is). Irish speakers often make a statement stronger by “is”. For example, instead of saying “Tá an lá go breá” (taw* un law* goh bir-RAW), meaning “the day is fine”, they will say “Nach breá an lá é?” (nahk* bir-RAW* un law* ay*), Isn’t it a fine day? The answer is “Is breá, go deimhin” (is bir-RAW* goh DEV-in), It’s fine, certainly.
Here are some examples to repeat until you understand how the Irish do this:
Nach fliuch an aimsir í?” (nahk* flyuk* un EYEM-sheer ee)
Is fliuch, go deimhin (is flyuk* goh DEV-in), It is indeed wet.
Is deas an cailín í (is das un kah-LEEN ee), She’s a pretty girl.
Is deas, go deimhin, She is indeed pretty.
Is mór an fear é (is mohr un far ay*), He’s a big man.
Is mór, gan amhras (is mohr, guhn OU-ruhs), He’s big, without a doubt.
Nach fada an bóthar é seo? (nahk* FAH-duh un BOH-uhr ay* shuh), Isn’t this a long road?
Is fada, go cinnte (is FAH-duh, goh KIN-te), It’s long, certainly.
Ní dona an lá é (nee DUH-nuh un law* ay*), It’s not a bad day.
Ní dona, ar chor ar bith (nee DUH-nuh, er HUHR er BI), it’s not bad at all.
This last sentence pair shows you how to disagree with the original statement or question. For example:
Nach fuar an lá é? Ní fuar, ar chor ar bith, ach te.
Note that in all sentences above, the verb “tá” could have been used, as in “Tá an aimsir fliuch”. Irish speakers like variety, however, and often think that “Tá an aimsir fliuch” will sound flat and dull. They say “Nach fliuch an aimsir í?” instead.
Bríd (breed): Seo duit do uibreacha agus do bhagún (shuh git duh IV-ruh-huh AH-guhs duh vwuh-GOON). Tá an bagún beagán dóite, ach ná bac leis (taw* un buh-GOON beg-AW*N DOH-i-te, ahk* naw* bahk lesh). Here are your eggs and bacon. The bacon is a little burned, but don’t worry about it.
Seán (shaw*n): Is cuma liom (is KUM-uh luhm). Tá an caife te, ar aon chuma (taw* un KAH-fe te, er AY*N K*UM-uh). Cuir braon bainne air, mas é do thoil é (kir BRAY*-uhn BAHN-ye er, MAW* shay* duh HIL-ay*). I don’t care. The coffee is hot anyway. Put a drop of milk in it, please.
Bríd: Déanfaidh mé sin (DYAY*N-hee may* shin). I’ll do that.
Seán: Ba mhaith liom sú oráiste (buh VWAH luhm soo oh-RAW*SH-te), mas é do thoil é. I would like orange juice, please.
Bríd: Seo duit gloine de (shuh git GLIN-e de). Here’s a glass of it.
Seán: Go raibh maith agat, a Bhríd (guh ruh MAH huh-guht, uh vreed). Anois, rud amháin eile (uh-NISH, rud uh-WAW*-in EL-e. Cuir chugam píosa arán (kir HOO-uhm PEES-uh uh-RAW*-in), mas é do thoil é. Thank you, Bridget. Now, one other thing. Pass me a piece of bread, please.
Bríd: Seo duit é, agus bíodh im agat, freisin (AH-guhs BEE-ohk* im uh-GUHT FRESH-in). Here it is, and have butter, too.
Seán: Beidh mé chomh ramhar le muc (beg may* hoh ROU-wuhr le muk). I will be as fat as a pig.
Bríd: B’fhéidir (BAY*-dir). Perhaps.
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