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Irish Endearments (with Video!)


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

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. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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!
        Phillip, Nichole
        Our Kids
        (Brandon, Anthony, Edward,
        Dominic, & Cheyenne)!

  4. 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?

  5. 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?

  6. 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

  7. Are the ‘A’s at the beginning of the words important for the use in a sentence, or do you cut them out if actively using them?

  8. I’m editing a book for an indie author and she has her male lead calling the female lead ‘A rúnsearc’ but I need to know if the A should be capitalized within the sentence? Thanks!

      1. Pretty sure the question was, should the “A” be capitalized when used in a sentence. As in: “Since we first fell in love, John has always called me A rúnsearc.” OR, “Since we first fell in love, John has always called me a rúnsearc.”

  9. Therese Dalessio (nee Murray)

    This site has been very helpful. I am losing a close friend that I’ve known since we were very young. I’ve been closer to her older sister since we’re the same age, but we were even pregnant at the same time with her one and only child and my third child. Her and I are both of Irish descent. Like many others I am trying to find a way to embody what she means to me for a tattoo but I am learning more than just that here. Thank you for what you offer here.

    1. Hi Therese,

      Thanks for sharing, I am very sorry to hear about your close friend. It’s lovely that you share that Irish connection and I hope that this beautiful language can offer you comfort.

      Also, thanks for the feedback, always nice to hear. I will share this with the Bitesize team.

      Slán agus beannacht,

      1. 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.

  10. Christopher Kavanaugh

    Accents? The writer Flann O’Brian AKA Brian O’Nolan aka Miles na Gopalene wrote of a linguist seeking the purest form of the Gaelic. He found himself one night in a remote pub and heard irish so pure and fine he was overjoyed recording it.
    I will leave my readers to discover this story and the truth behind his encounter.

  11. There is a Scottish Gaelic forum on the Irish Language Forum (www.irishlanguageforum.com), and they are happy to help people searching for info on Scottish Gaelic.

    I’ve seen several references to the Irish Language Learners Facebook page in responses above, and I have to say I don’t recommend it. They have a history of providing very iffy “learning” materials, often with serious mistakes. Despite the similarity of names, it is NOT affiliated with the Irigh Language Forum.

  12. I been stumbling around on the internet reading about the history of the goidelic dialects. I was wondering what the word Sojouner translates to in Scots-Gaelic or the equivalent word/ saying in that particular dialect

    1. Hi Joseph,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to your question. Irish Gaelic is a different language from Scots-Gaelic. I would recommend that you post your query on a Scots-Gaelic language site or forum.

      I hope you find an answer to your question.

      Le meas,

  13. M Mahoney (O'Mahony)

    Hello Eoin

    I too, am looking at getting a tattoo and wanted to know how you write “Save My Soul” in Irish…as my ancestry is Irish and my Irish grandmother would sometimes say this under her breath (in English) when we little. I can only assume now as an adult, with her being superstitious, that she said it when she had an evil thought, comment or deed (like lining us up for a “flogging”)? I find her words now somewhat sentimental’, I’ve come across shábháil m’anam and sábháil m’anam,can you please tell me which one is correct?

  14. Hello, I would first like to say THANK YOU! I’m very happy I found this website (and the insight into the language that you give) when I did. I’m planning on getting a tattoo for a very close friend, a brother really, that passed recently and am planning on getting it in the Ogham Alphabet. I was originally going to get Anam Cara with his name in Ogham, but like I said, you guys have already helped me out of that mess.
    Now I would like to get Cara M’anama and his name in Ogham.
    Do you know of any good resources for Ogham? Or if I can even do this accurately?
    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
    Again thank you for the great eye opener =)

  15. i’m looking to get a tattoo that says ” My love, my life, my child” and want to make sure i translate it correctly . please help 🙂


  16. I wanted to know how to say “Little Sister” and “Big Sister” my sister and I wanted to get that as our first tattoos. Any one know the proper way to say this?

  17. Thank you for all your linguistic wisdom! I have atee shirt that reads, “St.Patrick is my homeboy.”
    I’ve always wanted an Irish version of this, and, thanks to your info, I’m comfortable with creating a shirt that says, “Is Padraig Mo anamchara” and I think it more spiritually appropriate then “homeboy”!

  18. Columcille,

    Eoin does the recordings, and his dialect leans more toward Munster. I use more Ulster-geared pronunciations in the blog posts because that’s the dialect I speak. The differences are fairly minor, however.

  19. I noticed that youre pronunciations sound like Ulster Dialect. Would your course also be more geared to ulster or the Gaoth Dobhair dialect?

  20. It isn’t a matter of “not having it exact.” It’s a matter of it being completely wrong. Your wedding ring says “My Soul of a Friend,” and that’s all it can possibly say. It IS criminal that people are selling these things that are incorrect…that a tiny bit of research would SHOW to be correct…and making a profit off people who don’t know any better. These people decided to pick up a dictionary for a language they didn’t speak, jam the words together using English syntax, and sell the results as Irish. Frankly, you SHOULD get in their faces about it, as they are either criminally ignorant or willfully selling shite translations. This is not a matter of language evolution, it’s a matter of ignorant people capitalizing on the ignorance of others.

  21. Unfortunately, we purchased our rings from Westport. I love the owners, so I wouldn’t get in their face about it, when it was over 10 years ago. And have purchased many things from them, through the years, when we have returned. I do think the best way to carry on with the language is to learn it, unfortunately, not much opportunity to practice it. But I do enjoy symbolism. I just don’t think it is “criminal”, as you do, for not having it exact. If you look at history, many things change as time goes by…Look at many last names from Ireland and England…etc.
    If items begin to sell with the correct spelling, I will buy them. In the meantime, I still love my wedding ring and will never replace it – it has the meaning all the same, no matter what the letters read.
    Take Care.

  22. jgunther…the problem is, it DOES mean something. It just doesn’t mean what it was sold to you as meaning. It means “my soul of a friend.” Written that way (with the words separated and no inflection on the second word) that’s all it CAN mean, sadly. And not eliding the “mo” to “m'” is just plain wrong. I think it’s criminal, frankly. If I’d been sold something like that and learned how wrong it is, I’d be in the jeweler’s face about it. BTW, we’re keeping Irish alive by learning it and speaking it…that’s the best way to honor any language. Mistranslating it does it no favors.

  23. Irish endearments- I have been really stumped on locating something special for my daughter. Her “Golden” birthday is coming up and I was trying to find something with Anam Cara on it (as my husband and I both have the wedding bands). We do believe that the three of us are eternally connected and that it does not only apply to “marriage”. I was disheartened to read that Mo Anam Cara doesn’t reflect what we were lead to believe, yet, now after 10 years, this is what we have come to cherish as a term of endearment. I know it might be upsetting because it is not translated correctly, but if there is no translation for it, at least it is perhaps keeping Gaelic alive, and gives some sort of connection to our heritage.

  24. That’s interesting. I work for a company that sells Irish products and gifts via catalog and Internet. We have several jewelry items engraved with “Mo Anam Cara” which we thought was translated as “my soulmate.” Many of our items are sourced from Ireland, so I’m surprised to learn the phrase is considered “pure nonsense.”

    1. Hi Angela. Yep, sad, but true. Sadly, not everyone in Ireland speaks Irish at all well, and these things happen a lot. I’ve seen those rings and pendants (a lot of people sell them) and they always make my blood boil.

      At best, “anam cara” could be translated as “soul of a friend.” The “mo” is wrong in any case, as when two vowels come together like that, they elide (so “my soul” is “m’anam,” not “mo anam.”) So you COULD have “M’anam cara,” but that would be even odder, as it would come out to “My soul of a friend.”

      If you really wanted to use those two Irish words to mean “soul friend,” you’d need “cara m’anama.” In Irish, the word being modified (in this case, “friend”) comes first and the modifier (in this case “of my soul”) comes after. Even then, though, it would be kind of iffy to use it in much of a romantic sense.

  25. Some of my ancestors are Irish, and I’ve always felt a strong connection there. I would like to know for a tattoo, my true love.

  26. Audrey,

    I went to purchase a copy of your e-book “Top 50 Irish Gaelic Tattoo Ideas” but kept getting an error message that the product was unavailable. Is your book no longer for sale? I’m very interested in purchasing – please let me know if there is some other way I can buy this!



    1. Hi Dan,

      That e-book was written under contract to IGTF when Eoin still owned the forum, and was acquired by the new owners when they bought the forum. I’m afraid I have no control over it. I have no idea what they’re doing with the book…if they’re still marketing it, or even if they’re doing much in terms of maintaining the forum (sadly, the forum pretty much fell apart a little less than a year ago, and I’m no longer involved with it). Your best bet would probably be to go to http://www.irishgaelictranslator.com and see if there’s some kind of contact information there.

      Sorry…I wish I could be of more help!


  27. I am looking to get my Celtic tattoo to honor my family background as I am 2nd gen Irish on my mothers side and 4th gen Irish on my fathers side. It is a design that is made of the Trinity knot but I have 3 words that I want to place in it. Beauty, Love, Passion. I know the proper translation of Beauty and Love but I am having a difficult time pinning the proper translation for Passion. I am looking for the correct one that would translate into meaning “strong emotion, desire”. If I could please get the correct translation for it I would be very grateful. Thank you.

    1. Amy, as this is for a tattoo, I strongly recommend you post your question on the Irish Language Forum (www.irishlanguageforum.com). As you’ve already found, there can be different ways to say a thing in Irish, and for tattoos we always recommend getting at least three Irish speakers in agreement before proceeding. There are several very good Irish speakers there who will be more than willing to help you. You do have to register, but it’s free.

  28. Nan Schlumbrecht

    My Irish grandmother used to call me her “little heathen” in Irish; I’ve forgotten the actual words. She would often say it was a term of endearment, but I’m not really sure of that!