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Irish Endearments (with Video!)

irish-endearments

Dude. Sweetie Pie. Buddy. Honey. Mack. Soulmate. Darling. Love. Sweetheart.

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English is full of friendly, sometimes casual, often endearing, terms that people use for one another — some used for acquaintances; others reserved for those nearest and dearest.

Irish is the same way. What seems to surprise people, though, is that Irish endearments typically are NOT direct translations of English endearments. In fact, often what seems like  sweet phrase in English makes no sense in Irish at all (and vice versa).

A Common Request

On Irish translation forums, we are often asked to translate endearments and friendly expressions. In fact, after tattoo requests, endearments (usually for personalized gifts) are the most common.

Sometimes these requests are oddly specific, and it can be a bit amazing sometimes what people think can be translated (sorry, folks, but there just isn’t an Irish translation for “My sweet baboo.”)

When you’re willing to accept that exact translations aren’t always possible, however, the realm of Irish endearments is a very rich and satisfying one.

First, just a little grammar

The first thing we ask someone with such a request is “do you want it to sound as if you were talking TO the person or ABOUT the person?” It doesn’t matter in English, but it matters hugely in Irish.

In Irish, if you’re speaking directly to someone (or want it to sound as if you are), you use  a special construction called “the vocative case.”

For the purposes of this article, however, we’re going to assume the vocative case is what’s wanted.

Casual/friendly endearments

In English, there are often occasions when we want to use a friendly, or at least non-threatening, term for someone else:

“Hey dude!”

“How’s it going, buddy?”

“Watch it, Mack!”

“It’s OK, sweetie.”

In Irish, one of the most basic terms used in these situations would be “a chara” (uh KHAR-uh): “friend.”

In fact, you’ll find a chara used in everything from formal letter salutations to greeting cards. It’s used for both men and women.

A slightly more informal form of address in these situations (one reserved pretty much for males) would be a mhac (uh wak), which literally means “son,” but is used where an English speaker might say “dude” or “mate” or “buddy.”

An interesting side note

As an interesting side note, it’s likely that the English term “mack” came from the Irish a mhac!

More endearing endearments

As you get beyond the basic “buddy/dude/mate” endearments, the options increase. There are quite a few endearments that will be used for affectionate friendships as well as for closer relationships.

I tend to think of these as “midrange endearments.” They’re expressions that can be used between friends or between lovers. Often they’re also used as endearments for children.

Some of the more common include:

A stór (uh stohr): Literally “my treasure.”

A thaisce (uh HASH-keh): Also “my treasure.”

A leanbh (uh LAN-uv): Literally “my child.” (special note: this one often gets transcribed as “alanna” in Irish songs.)

More romantic endearments

Moving on, endearments become more romantic, intense, or passionate:

A mhuirnín (uh WUR-neen): Darling

A ghrá (uh GHRAH): Love

A chroí (uh KHREE): Heart

A chuisle (uh KHUSH-leh): Pulse

A rún (uh ROON): Secret

A chuid (uh KHWIJ): Portion/share

These will often be combined, to intensify the feeling. For example:

A rún mo chroí (uh ROON muh KHREE): Literally “Secret of my heart.”

A chuid den tsaol (uh KWHIJ den TEEL): Literally “My share of life”)

You’ll also find them intensified by adding adjectives, for example:

A ghrá geal (uh GHRAH gyal): Literally “bright love.”

Even more passionate

As we move along, we find terms that are even more passionate…terms that are reserved for lovers. Many of these are based on another word for “love”: searc (shark).

A chéadsearc (uh KHAYD-shark): First love (not “first” as in a series, but “first” as in “primary”).

A rúnsearc (uh ROON-shark): Literally “secret love” — a very passionate way of saying “beloved.”

A special case: soulmate

“Soulmate” is an especially popular request, and one that causes a lot of confusion, primarily because no one can seem to agree on what it means.

When Americans say “soulmate” they usually mean a romantic partner…someone with whom they are fated to be.

When Europeans say “soulmate” they usually mean someone with whom they have a lot in common — a very close friend, for example — but not necessarily someone with whom they have a romantic bond.

To make things even more confusing, misunderstandings of Irish grammar have resulted in constructions that are assumed to mean “soulmate,” even though they’re actually nonsensical.

Summing up the “soulmate” issue

A common assertion is that the phrase anam cara means “soulmate.” This is, frankly, pure nonsense, based on jamming two Irish words together using English syntax.

At best, anam cara could be taken to mean “a soul of a friend.”

There is an existing compound word — anamchara — that literally means “soul friend.” But this really doesn’t work as “soulmate” in either definition.

Anamchara is traditionally used to refer to one’s confessor or spiritual advisor.  Originally, it was used to refer to the spiritual advisor a young monk would be assigned when he joined the monastery.

In more modern terms, it’s used to refer to the priest to whom one offers confession before mass. Definitely nothing romantic there!

So what do I call my soulmate?

If you mean “soulmate” in the romantic sense, the more passionate Irish endearments should suit, including:

A ghrá geal

A chuid den tsaol

A chéadsearc

A rúnsearc

There are also a few words of more recent coinage (formed, really, from English terms), including:

Mo shíorghrá (muh HEER-ggrah) My eternal love

M’fhíorghrá (MEER-ggrah) My true love

Though, to be perfectly honest, these terms wouldn’t come naturally to native speakers, and are condemned by some as “Béarlachas” (Anglicisms).

If you’re using “soulmate” to refer to a very close friend, you also have several options:

A chara mo chléibh (uh KHAR-uh muh khlayv) My bosom friend

A bhuanchara (uh WOON-khar-uh) My eternal/enduring friend

 A dhlúthchara (uh GGLOO-khar-uh) My best/closest friend

How to say Irish Gaelic Endearments (VIDEO)

You can also check this blog post for written pronunciation.

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59 thoughts on “Irish Endearments (with Video!)”

  1. Mindy Corcoran Turley

    My new little niece’s name is Charlotte. I just started calling her my “seaircín” because of the similarities in sounds and because she’s my little love. So I have two questions. One, would that be the proper way to spell that? Two, I know “searc” is usually used in romantic love endearments so is that weird to call a child that?

  2. This was awesome thank you. I recently saw some Irish Terms of Endearment in a story I read online and was really interested to find out the true meaning. These terms are really intimate and nice…. Thank you for this free resource.

      1. One where a man of Irish descent expressed his undying love for his partner, it wasn’t an official story though

  3. I was just wondering if getting a tattoo of Anam Cara written in Ogham for my grandma who has died would fit the narrative since she was my religious and spiritual leader or if there is another term used in that situation or symbol.

  4. Nichole Wojtanowski

    Good day to you all! I just want to first say how much I am enjoying watching your videos and reading your explanations on this beautiful language since I found your site. I am reaching out in hopes of getting a small bit of assistance. I am wanting to engrave the inside of my daughter’s birthstone ring and I haven’t been able to find much in the way of endearments addressed to a daughter (or child) from both parents. (I have however found MANY “translations” that take two Irish words and sticks them together as if they will mean the same thing as the English words…similar to the issue experienced with “soulmate”). I am really hoping you could possibly suggest an endearment proper for a daughter and written as both parents to the child. So, instead of “my” I am hoping for it to say “Our”….but, other than that, i am pretty open to any any endearment that could express how much we love and cherish our daughter. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. A stór (uh stohr): Literally “my treasure.”
      A thaisce (uh HASH-keh): Also “my treasure.”
      A leanbh (uh LAN-uv): Literally “my child.”
      A chuisle (uh KHUSH-leh): Pulse
      A mhuirnín (uh WUR-neen): Darling
      All of the above would be perfectly suitable for a daughter.
      The words above in this form would work as they are, they don’t mean ‘my’ or ‘our’, but rather is addressing the person.
      If you would like ‘our treasure / our child’ it would be

      Ár stór
      Ár dtaisce
      Ár leanbh
      Ár gcuisle
      Ár muirnín

      1. Nichole Wojtanowski

        THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I truly appreciate that you took the time to reply to me! I was also pleasantly surprised with how quickly you responded!. Especially considering you gave me such a thorough & helpful response!
        This tradition of my family,(to give the daughter a customized birthstone ring), is extremely important and special to us, even possibly more-so, this time, than others.
        Firstly, because after having four boys, (and 2 losses) we were told it was likely that I could no longer get pregnant). So, even though we would have loved more, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we were not going to have any more children and therefore, would also, never have a daughter.
        Even more importantly than that though, was because we almost lost her (and I) during the delivery. After lots of “high risk pregnancy”precautions, when it was finally time to give birth. It went from “normal” to emergency, VERY QUICKLY. So, in seconds, it became the hardest and scariest 3-5 minutes of my entire life; until, after all was said and done, we FINALLY heard her soft, weak cry suddenly became that loud, strong, wail of a healthy newborn)! That then became the most amazing, awe-inspiring (and relieving) moment of my entire life as well. So now, her birth is remembered as both!.
        Thankfully, seeing the events as they playback in my mind (in slow-mo), shows me the power of Faith and Trust. Not just in God but, also in those he sends to help us. We both survived that day and she does not have any lasting trauma from her birth. She is very precious to our whole family and I believe you have really helped her father & I to convey that through our message. Now, no matter where she is or what she’s going through, she will (hopefully) look at her ring and remember she is treasured. That her family loves and cherishes her.
        (I apologize that my reply is a bit excessive. It was quite important that I expressed my thanks and conveyed why your reply meant so much to us)!
        Thanks Again!
        Sincerely,
        Phillip, Nichole
        &
        Our Kids
        (Brandon, Anthony, Edward,
        Dominic, & Cheyenne)!

  5. My mother uses the term ohonoshon for a child that needs cuddling or has a cut or scrape. Family tradition is that it comes from a Gaelic word from her Irish immigrant grandfather. Do you know?

  6. Real quick question. I am in the process of purchasing an engagement ring and was thinking about the engraving. I wanted to get “My Precious” engraved as she is a big Lord of the Rings nerd and I thought that getting in done in Irish would be a nice little nod to my Irish Heritage I hold dear. Would ‘a thaisce’ be the best/closest translation to go with in this situation or am I way off somewhere in left field here?

  7. Just wondering if searcín can be used as a term of endearment for a child? Or is that more for romantic love?
    Mo shearcín or A shearcín