A Pattern You’ll See in Every Irish Gaelic Word

Does the following sentence just look like a mixture of letters to you?

Rith mo mhadra Uisce amach sa gháirdín.

I’ll tell you a pattern to help you start approaching words and spelling. You’ll see it everywhere in Irish Gaelic. Once it clicks, you won’t be able to stop seeing it!

Oh, and I’ll tell you what it means at the end 😉

“mhadra”

Let’s take the word “mhadra” out of the sentence.

Here’s the pattern: Do you see the first “a” in the word? That little letter basically guarantees that the next vowel will be a, o or u.

And it’s true. The next vowel after “dr” is again “a”.

“amach”

Here’s the pattern showing again in “amach”!

The first vowel is “a”, and what do you know, the next is another “a”.

Vowels

Remember, vowels are:

a e i o u

“Uisce”

This one’s a little more complex, but it still follows the pattern.

You see the little “i” in that word? That little letter basically guarantees that the next vowel coming after the consonants will be either i or e.

“gháirdín”

Just like in “Uisce”, the first “i” in “gháirdín” pretty much guarantees that the following vowel to be an “í” or “e” (accent marks don’t affect this rule.

The Rule

This pattern, in Irish Gaelic, is called “Caol le caol, leathan le leathan”.

Let me explain:

  1. If the vowels “a”, “o” or “u” are immediately followed by one or more consonants, then any vowel immediately following those consonants will also be “a”, “o”, or “u”.
  2. If the vowels “i” or “e” are immediately followed by one or more consonants, then any vowel immediately following those consonants will also be “i” or “e”.

We saw the first rule for “mhadra” and “amach”.

We saw the second rule for “Uisce” and “gháirdín”.

(Oh, and yes, there are always exceptions to a rule!)

I want to know more!

  1. “a”, “o” and “u” are the broad vowels.
  2. “í” and “e” are the slender vowels.
  3. These properties even affect how you pronounce the word!

If you really want to know more about broad and slender and their effect on pronunciation, check out our Pronunciation Cheat Sheets for Irish Gaelic.

To get an alternative explanation on this golden rule of spelling, check Amy’s explanation on nualeargais.ie.

Still here? The sentence above means “My dog Uisce ran out to the garden“. Yes, our dog’s name is Uisce, which literally means water. We say that her middle name is Beatha (“uisce beatha” means whiskey).

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Comments

  1. Irina says:

    An extremely interesting language, not easy. Real challenge, so – Irina, do not give up)))

  2. Eoin says:

    True, don’t give up! One bite at a time, that’s our philosophy.

  3. Séamas says:

    Here’s another pattern: ard, garda, cairde.

    Note therefore that there is no síneadh fada on the a in the word ‘gairdín’.

  4. una boyle says:

    dia diut eion you are right one bite at a time works well for me

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