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Lesson Highlight: Word Order in Irish

It’s time for another Bitesize Irish Gaelic lesson highlight!

From time to time, we’d like to offer you a little taste of what the Bitesize Irish Gaelic on-line learning program has to offer by highlighting one of our lessons.

(I guess you could call that “a nibble”!)

In this highlight, we’ll look at one of our grammar lessons: Word order in sentences.

You can spot ’em a mile away

The fakers, that is.

If you want to know if someone who doesn’t speak Irish has attempted a translation with the aid of a dictionary (yes, this really happens…quite frequently, actually) , just look at the word order.

Almost inevitably, you’ll find that he or she has plugged the Irish words into English syntax, creating utter gibberish.

That’s right: The word order in Irish is completely different from English.

English is a “Subject/Verb/Object” language

English is what’s known as a “Subject/Verb/Object” language (often abbreviated “SVO”). That’s because the subject will generally come first in a simple sentence, followed by the verb, and then followed by the rest of the sentence.

For example, a simple English sentence might be:

Seán [subject] buys [verb] milk [object].

In the example above, for clarity, the subject is in green, the verb is in red, and the object is in blue.

Irish is a “Verb/Subject/Object” language

Irish, on the other hand, is what’s known as a “Verb/Subject/Object” (or “VSO”) language. The verb (including any preverbal particles) comes before the subject in the sentence.

So, if we want to say “Seán is buying milk” in Irish, we’d say:

Ceannaíonn [verb] Seán [subject] bainne [object]. Literally “Buys Seán milk.”

Word order in Irish follows the pattern below:

  1. Verb (including preverbal particle, if necessary)
  2. Subject
  3. Direct object
  4. Indirect object
  5. Location descriptor
  6. Manner descriptor
  7. Time descriptor

Here’s how it looks (and sounds) in practice:

Here’s an example from the Bitesize lesson Word order in sentences:






im, bainne agus arán

/im, bon-yeh ogg-us a-rawn./


Ceannaíonn im, bainne agus aránYou buy butter, milk and bread. (Literally “Buy you butter, milk and bread.”)

In the example above, for clarity, the subject is in green, the verb is in red, and the object is in blue.

Types of lessons available at Bitesize

As of this writing, Bitesize currently offers three types of lessons:

  • Vocabulary: These lessons help you learn new words and terms in the language, and show you how to apply them by putting them into useful, everyday, sentences.
  • Grammar: These lessons give you the basic building blocks of the language in easy, “bitesized” steps, so it doesn’t get overwhelming.
  • Conversation: These lessons give you a chance to use what you’re learning in real-world situations, such as meeting and introducing people, ordering in a restaurant, giving directions, etc.

All of the lessons are audio-rich, so you can learn the correct pronuciation by listening to and emulating the speaker.

In addition, the conversation lessons offer both a “slow” and “normal” speed: The first to help you get the correct pronunciation of the words, and the second to help you learn to hear and use them in a more natural situation.

These lesson highlights will include some of the audio from the lesson being featured, so you can get a feel for how the program works. Bitesize members, of course, can always access the complete lesson, with full audio.

Happy learning!

2 thoughts on “Lesson Highlight: Word Order in Irish”

  1. Sorry to correct but ceannaíonn Seán bainne means Seán buys milk ( everyday) tá Seán ag ceannach bainne (right now he is buying milk) means Seán is buying milk .
    Le Gach Dea-ghuÍ

    1. Ceannaíon can be used for habitual or for simple present. That said, yes, it’s true it would be more usual to use “ag ceannacht” for something that’s happening right at this minute. To avoid confusion, I’ll change the way it’s worded in the post. GRMA!

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