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Our Fada: The Importance of the Accent Mark in Irish Gaelic

Accent Mark in Irish Gaelic

(If you prefer to learn from video, see our How to type the fada videos.)

One of the thing that frustrates me, living where I do, is the complete and utter lack of respect for diacritic marks.

I don’t know if it’s an American thing or an English language thing (I rather suspect the former), but to those of us who speak and use languages that have diacritic marks (including Irish Gaelic), it’s really a frustrating situation.

Most American registries, including the American Kennel Club and most DMVs, don’t allow diacritic marks (also sometimes called “accent marks”). You typically can’t put them on birth certificates. It’s enough to drive a linguist mad!

What difference does it make?

Diacritic marks aren’t just there for decoration. They supply a lot of information about the word in question, including how certain letters should be pronounced and often which syllables should be emphasized.

In most languages that use them, a letter with a diacritic mark is considered to be a different letter from its unmarked equivalent, and words that are supposed to have diacritic marks and don’t are considered to be misspelled.

Also, in many languages (and Irish is one), sometimes the only difference between one word and another is the presence and placement of that little mark!

The Síneadh Fada

Irish Gaelic only has one diacritic mark: the síneadh fada (SHEEN-oo FAH-duh), or “long accent.” It’s also known in linguistic circles as an “acute accent.” Most Irish speakers and learners simply refer to it as a “fada.”

The fada is a right-slanting line placed over a vowel (as in the í in síneadh, above). It indicates that the vowel is to be pronounced “long.” In the Munster (southern) dialect of Irish, a syllable with a long vowel is typically emphasized (in other dialects, emphasis is typically on the first syllable, regardless of accents).

Pronunciation of accented and unaccented vowels

The presence of a fada can make a huge difference in how vowels are pronounced:

– “a” as in cat (sometimes closer to a short “u” sound)

á – “ah” as in bought

– “eh” as in bet

é – “ay” as in bay

– “ih” as in bit

í – “ee” as in beet

– “uh” or “ah”: kind of a cross between dug and dog

ó – “oh” as in go

– “uh” as in dug

ú – “oo” as in boo

Irish has a lot of words that are identical in spelling except for the presence and placement of the fada.

The importance of the accent

Here are a few Irish words that can take on very different meanings if the fada is omitted, added where it isn’t needed, or misplaced (Bitesize members can access an entire lesson on this topic, complete with audio, at Lesson: The Importance of Accent Marks) Uppercase indicates a stressed syllable:

Éire (AY-reh): “Ireland”

Eire (EH-reh): “Burden”

Céad (kayd): “First” or “a hundred,” depending on context

Cead (kad): “Permission”

Té (chay): “Person”

Te (cheh): “Hot/warm”

Císte (KEESS-cheh): “Cake”

Ciste (KISS-cheh): “Fund” or “treasure coffer”

Bríste (BREESS-cheh): “Trousers”

Briste (BRIS-cheh): “Broken”

Cáca (KAH-kuh): “Cake”

Caca (KA-kuh): “Excrement”

Seán (shawn): A man’s name; a form of “John”

Séan (shayn): Noun: “characteristic,” Verb: “deny/refuse”

Sean (shan): “Old”

And these just scratch the surface! As you can see, it really is a major deal.

So how can I type a fada?

If you’re in Europe, you may be in luck: Your computer keyboard probably has an “ALT GR” key. All you have to do is hold down that key while typing the vowel you want and voilà! The accented vowel will appear!

If you’re in the U.S. or Canada and running Windows on a PC, you pretty much have two choices: choose an alternate keyboard layout or use ALT codes.


The U.S. International Keyboard Layout lets you type a variety of special characters. For our purposes, you can get a fada over a vowel by typing first the apostrophe key and then the vowel. For example:

‘ + O = Ó

To set up this keyboard layout on your computer, follow the instructions in the link above.


Sometimes it’s not practical to use an alternate keyboard layout. In those cases, ALT codes are a good alternative, assuming you have a keyboard with a separate number pad on the right-hand side. To use ALT codes:

  • Make sure your NUM LOCK key is on
  • Hold down the left ALT key while typing the following combinations

ALT + 0225 = á

ALT + 0193 = Á

ALT + 0233 = é

ALT + 0201 = É

ALT + 0237 = í

ALT + 0205 = Í

ALT + 0243 = ó

ALT + 0211 = Ó

ALT + 0250 = ú

ALT + 0218 = Ú

This may seem like a lot of effort at first, but if you write Irish a lot, you’ll be surprised at just how quickly you’ll start to automatically touch-type these combinations!


If you’re using a Mac, as you might expect, this is quite a bit simpler.It’s not too bad.

Hold OPT + e and then type the letter you want accented.

For example:

OPT + , then type a = á


If you have a smart phone and you need an accented character, all you have to do is hold down the letter. A selection of accented letters will appear above the keyboard. Then you simply slide your finger up and tap the one you want.

It’s all about respect

Now that you know how easy it is to type fadas, there’s no avoiding them. They’re an essential part of the Irish language, and knowing how to produce them is an essential part of learning the language.

Just because English tends to avoid diacritic marks is no reason for people who love and respect other languages to avoid them.

Now, if we could just persuade those U.S. government agencies and registries to show that same respect!

94 thoughts on “Our Fada: The Importance of the Accent Mark in Irish Gaelic”

  1. If you’re using Windows, by far the best option for typing accented characters is WinCompose.

    You dedicate a key to become a Compose key (ALTGR would be a good candidate if you have it – my keyboard doesn’t so I use right ALT key) – then you type the parts of the character you want to get the accented character.

    E ‘ = É
    E ` = È
    A * = Å
    n ~ = ñ

    Beats having to remember a million combinations because most of the time, you just type the parts in and it works. But it lets you input all kinds of stuff, like →, ♯, ★, ⓒ, ™, … the only time I look up key codes anymore is when it’s something really exotic like a control character.

    On Linux, you have XCompose which is where this sort of input originated. On macOS you can set it up as well, but it’s a lot more fiddly to get it working just right.

  2. Hello!
    Great to find you. I’d love your help. I’m wondering how to correctly pronounce Éimhín. Any tips appreciated.
    Go raibh maith agat

  3. Yes, my name has been papered over as you well put it by my government.
    Instead of Tadáias, it’s Tadaias on official government documents which leads to everyone pronouncing it completely different including myself. Ugh.

  4. Do you put a fada on a capital letter, such as in Áine?

    At school I’m sure they told us there were restrictions on these.

    Thank you,


  5. Hi everyone,

    I’m not native to Ireland, not even to England, so neither languages are my mother tongue.
    That being said, I’m currently pregnant with a little boy and I’d love to give him an Irish name.
    Could someone please help me explain the difference both in meaning and in pronunciation between Daire and Dáire ? I’m getting a lot of different explanations while researching.
    Thanks so much in advance. 🙂

  6. Hi there, Is it correct that you don’t put a fada on a capital letter? Would that be the same for a name with a capital letter? For instance the name Íde. Or is it right to always include the fada for a name? Thanks!

    1. Fiona, a chara
      Yes you must still put a fada on a capital. Since the fada changes the sound of the letter, it doesn’t matter if it is upper or lower case, it still needs to be there to create the sound you want. Just think of the Irish name for Ireland is Éire 🙂

      Le beannacht

      1. I just saw this great page and this reply (as well as a similar one above). I wonder where this idea of not putting a fada on a capital letter came from. I can remember reading the introduction of an Irish-English dictionary in school and it stated not to put a fada on a capital letter. I was always then confused when I saw fadas over capital letters in official government documents etc. And of course in Éire and even RTÉ.
        Anyway, thanks for explaining.

  7. Reading the example pronunciation words, as a Brit, I just realised how many of our colloqialisms in UK English come directly from Irish. Maybe I will get the hang of the language one day after all 🙂

      1. Hi Emma. Our son’s name is Tiernan. A native Irish speaker we met wrote it with a fada. I believe it is over the e ? Would that make the pronunciation ‘tEEr-nan’?

        1. Suzanne, a chara
          I more often see the fada on the ‘a’
          Tiernán – making it /Teer-nawn/
          The ‘ie’ already would cause an ‘ee’ sound so no need for a fada on the ‘í’.

          I hope this helps!
          Le beannacht

  8. Hi there
    I’m wanting to name my daughter Fianna but was wondering is there anywhere I can place a fada
    Example Fíanna or Fiánna? Thank you

  9. Hi!

    I named my daughter Aibhlínn and after some research before she was born thought it was pronounced Ave-Leen and now I’m starting to doubt myself due to the fada. Should it have been spelt Aoibhlin?

    1. Hi Carlee. I’d pronounce “Aibhlinn” as AV-ling (in some dialects it would be closer to “AV-lin”). Compare it to the name “Aisling/Aislinn,” both pronounced “ASH-ling.”

      “Aoibhlin” can be pronounced either “AVE-lin” or “EEV-lin,” depending on dialect. To get the long sound on the second syllable, you’d either need “í” (a right-slanting accent over the “í”) or that double “n” on the end.

      1. I would pronounce Aibhlínn as Av-leen given both the í and the double n. It’s not a name I’m particularly familiar with so it wouldn’t surprise if there are a few different pronunciations.

        I would pronounce Aoibhlin as Eev-lin. Again, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are a few different pronunciations. I’d say it’s a different name from Aibhlínn.

  10. Hi, I have a question on the correct use of a fada.

    I want to call my daughter Raina but spelt in Irish and I am unsure which way the fada should go, can anyone help?

    Is it Ríonach or Rìonach

    Many thanks!

      1. That said, if she wants it pronounced like “Raina” would be in English (where we’d pronounce it “RAY-nuh”), she’d need to play around with the spelling further. “Ríonach” is pronounced “REE-nuh.”

  11. Hi Gráinne,

    Thank you for sharing your lovely story! We must be proud of our fadas and Irish names! I know my name causes confusion every time I am abroad but I’m always happy to help people with pronunciation.

    We have lots of beginner/introductory lessons in our Bitesize cúrsaí. You can try our material for free through our taster program, and then if you find our resources helpful, you can sign up to become a member.

    Here is a link to our taster program: http://bitesize.irish/membership/taster/

    Hope this helps!

    Le beannacht,

    1. Visited Ireland a few years back. Saw where my family comes from in Ballycastle. Was told Gaelic was taught in Irish public schools. The names Sean but haven’t spelt with a Fada….what the Fada??!??!

      1. Sean is the anglicised version of ‘Seán’, the fada in this case gives it the ‘aw’ sound in ‘Seán’. Many people have the anglicised version nowadays 🙂

        Le beannacht

      2. Hiya, my son & partner have just had a beautiful baby girl & they have picked the name Ava for her but they wish to spell it in irish .. is there a fada on the first letter Èabha can you tell us please. Anna

          1. Hi Emma!

            My partner and I love the name Clodagh for a baby girl. However, I have seen it spelled with a fada in a few different places, “Clódagh” and “Clodágh”. Is there a “correct” way to spell the name or is the fada more of a preference over either the O or the A? I know it can be spelled without, be we really love having a fada in! Really want to spell it “Clódagh” but afraid we might be using it wrong.

            Le grá

            Lucy xxx

          2. Lucy, a chara

            Lovely choice for a name. I did a little research and I did indeed find ‘Clodagh’, ‘Clódagh’ and ‘Clodágh’. I was trying to find the origin of the name, many pointed in the direction to the ‘Clodiagh’ river in Co. Waterford, the Irish of that being ‘An Chlóideach.
            If I were to choose out of your 2 options, ‘Clódagh’ would make the most sense according to Irish spelling and pronunciation. /Klo-dah/

            I hope this helps!
            Le beannacht

          3. Apologies I see this page is moderate by more people than just Emma! So would like to ask any of you good gaelgeoir’s to help me out kindly! Xxx re my question on is it Clodagh, Clódagh or Clodágh! Many thanks xx

          4. For a name that begins with a fada like Éabha, do you include the fada when doing initials? Like would her name be É. Jones when abbreviated for example?

  12. Hi I’m Irish and have lived in the UK most of my life. My family are mostly living in Ireland.
    My mother was the only person to put an accent on my name Gráinne – so it got lost along the way – except I always use it when handwriting. I will now put in typed messages as just learned about holding the !a’ down ion an iPhone/computer etc..
    I have to say I get nice positive comments every single time I say or write my name from everyone.. My answer is always ‘It’s Irish’’ !
    I would really like to learn basic (easy) phrases/alphabet etc in Irish if you could recommend something.
    Thank you.

  13. If you’re using Linux with a standard keyboard in the US, you can type letters with fadas using Ctrl-Shift-u and then entering the Unicode for those characters:
    á – e1 Á – c1
    é – e9 É – c9
    í – ed Í – cd
    ó – f3 Ó – d3
    ú – fa Ú – da

    1. Thanks, Patrick! That’s good to know! Sadly I can’t change these old blog posts, but maybe someone at Bitesize can.

      That wouldn’t be a fada (long accent) though…it’s a grave (short accent), which Irish doesn’t have (Scottish Gaelic does though!). If anyone out there is using ALT codes, to get this accent you use the same procedure, but one number lower. For example, the long accent for “a” is ALT 0225, so the short accent is ALT 0224.

    2. French uses diacritic marks but they are different to the Irish fada. In French left learning “grave” tends to shorten vowels and can be used to distinguish homophones. The right learning “acute” , which looks identical the the fada, tends to soften vowels ( E grave is pronounced similiar to “ay”) When learning a new language you need to study its spelling conventions because that will help with pronouciation and how its diacritic marks works. We English speakers tended to be ignorant of these marks and how they work

  14. Yes Gabrielle, wish I was fluent enough to read older books! Yes the Caighdeán finally did away with the the buailte, though I suspect it had earlier begun to fall out of use with the advent of the typewriter. Prior to the Caigdéan it was still used in written script – my elder cousin was taught it in school in the ’50s, and to this day never uses ‘h’ when typing in Irish, eg “go mait”!
    IMBF An Caigdéan has gone a long way towards destroying the dialects, which are a rich part of our language. In Belfast the Canuint Uladh is not often heard, though hopefully it survives in Donegal.
    As a ‘Tuaisceartach’ I would say that, wouldn’t I?!!
    (Tuaisceartach has a double meaning in Irish!).
    Lots more about fada and séimhiú at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_orthography

  15. There is another diacritic, called the “Ponc Séimithe”, which serves to lenite (soften) the letter. It can be achieved easily on a computer by using Hex Codes, or by installing a dedicated Gaelic font such as the “Gael” family (which uses the ‘unused’ letters q,w,y,j,k,\, z, x, v).

    Unfortunately the ponc séimithe has gone out of use, possibly because of the lack of the ponc on typewriters. It is replaced by adding an “h”, leading to a proliferation of h’s everywhere.

    The ponc makes it much easier to recognise the séimhiú in a passage.
    This diacritic is in use in other languages too, and can be achieved in most common Latin fonts.

    1. Thanks for your comment Denis.

      Yes I believe the ponc séimhithe went out of use with the introduction of an Caighdeán Oifigiúil in the late 1950’s. The Caighdeán brought together the “standard” of Gaeilge and amalgamated the three main dialects with the purpose of making learning and understanding Gaeilge easier.

      I love reading older books from before this time, and agree it makes the séimhiú easier to locate.

      – Gabrielle

  16. Back in the 1950’s when I was learning Irish, I was thought to think of there being 10 vowels in Irish.
    A: pronounced as in bad, sad, Á: pronounced as awe.
    E: pronounced Leh as in letter É: pronounced ay as in hay, gay may.
    I: pronounced as in bit Í: pronounced as ee as in bee, tee
    U: pronounced as but, rut, cut Ú: pronounced as the OO in scooter, hooter.
    O: pronounced as in cot, dot Ó: pronounced as the OA in coat, boat.

    However there can be regional differences in pronunciation.

    1. Bernice McMaster

      Codswallop!! 😂😆🤣🙈🤦‍♀️❤🙏 will ya stop with yer (SHEEN-oo FAH-duh)!!! It is (SHEEN-ah FAH-dah) !! No fadooo or sheenoo! 😁👍☘🇮🇪💋

  17. Some of the pronunciation is questionable. It says first á is pronounced as the ‘ou’ sounds in bought so an ‘aw’ or ‘au’ sound and when explaining how to pronounce the word cáca it’s changed to an ‘ah’ sound, which contradicts the first explanation and is incorrect.

    1. Hi Éanna,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Á is described as “ah” as in bought and is then the pronunciation of “cáca” is transcribed as “KAH-kuh”. “Ah” stands for “á” in both cases.

      Le meas,

  18. Wow! Thanks for sharing… I never knew what the Fada marks were for, until I read your blog post. I didn’t know how to type them on a Windows 7 keyboard until now! Thanks so much!

  19. My name is Ciara but I remember when I was young I would write it as Ciára or Ciàra. I can’t remember which of them would have been the correct spelling, if it even contains an accented “a” in the first place. Can anyone shed some light to whether it does or not?

    1. Hi Ciara,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I’ve never come across Ciara with a fada over any of its letters. According to the pronunciation, there’s no reason to have a fada anywhere in this name.

      Le meas,

  20. The usual Irish version of the surname Connolly is Ó Conghaile (Oh Cun-ill-eh) for a male an unmarried female is Ní Conghaile and for a married female Uí Conghaile.

    Try the following to get a fada: Ctrl+Alt+A/E/I/O/U. This works on Word here in Ireland.

      1. don’t forget the ‘h’
        Ní Chonghaile and Uí Chonghaile
        Knee ‘hun-ill-eh
        [‘ch’ is rendered as ‘h’ in donegal but in the rest of the country is pronounced as the sound of bringing flew up from the throat – the sound no longer remains in english but is always in German i.e. Nach, Nacht etc]

  21. I can see no difficulty with calling Gaeilge “Irish Gaelic”. It seems clear enough to me and I have no argument at all about it. The accent marks over the vowels are very important, and as said above if they are misplaced or missing then the whole meaning can change:
    Tá an fear ar an bhféar = The man is on the grass
    Tá an féar ar an bhfear = The grass is on the man
    Tá an fear ar an bhfear = … just be very careful with the síneadh fada / accent mark

      1. Hi Ana, can you please advise how you pronounce Fionn and Fíonn. I believe one is pronounced as Finn and the other fee-on. Many thanks

        1. Áine, a chara

          The difference is
          Fionn – Fy-un or Finn(Ulster Irish dialects)
          Fíonn – Fee-on
          I must note that ‘fíonn’ in modern Irish is a form of the verb meaning ‘to weave’.
          Fionn is the more common historical characters name ‘Fionn mac Cumhaill’ coming from the word ‘finn’ meaning “white” or “fair-haired.

          Le beannacht

  22. Actually if you’re using Office 365 or Office 2016 and you only need type a few names or words with the fada mark used then there is slightly an easier way to do so. Say I wanted to type Ciarán in Word and that was the only name I was going to use throughout my document. Proceed to the File Tab on Word. Select Options. Select proofing options. Click “Auto Correct Options.” In the replace with button, type it without the Fada, i.e. Ciaran. Then find the accurate spelling online using a typical google search. Copy and paste it in the box next to it. Click Ok in the AutoCorrect Options dialog box. Click ok in the Options dialog box. Now every time you type Ciaran it will automatically change to Ciarán. It sounds twistier but it’s helping with a novel I’m writing and there’s a lot of Celtic names in there. It’s a little difficult at first to set it all up but it’s well worth it in the end when you don’t have to utilize alt keys or inserting special characters or installing a new keyboard (all of which can be more work than it’s worth).

  23. There’s a simple way to accent vowels MS Office applications that’s not mentioned here. Use the Ctrl key (like a shift key) and hit the single quote, then the vowel. This doesn’t require shifting keyboard layouts or anything like that. It’s a feature implemented in applications, though, not the operating system, so it depends on which program you’re using and whether this feature has been implemented:

    Ctrl-‘ + o = ó
    Ctrl-‘ + Shift-a = Á

    You can even make tildes in Spanish, using the squiggle character to the left of the number 1 key:

    Ctrl-Shift-~ + n = ñ
    Ctrl-Shift-~ + Shift-n = Ñ

    And umlauts in German, using the colon key:

    Ctrl-Shift-: + o = ö
    Ctrl-Shift-: + Shift-u = Ü

    And backslanted accents, using the character on the same key as the ~, to the left of the 1 key:

    Ctrl-` + e = è

    If I’m working in an application that doesn’t support this feature, I quickly create the character I need in Word, then copy it to where I want it to go. That’s how I created the characters above, since it doesn’t work in most browsers.

    For things that don’t work with this method, I use “Insert Symbol” in Word, which gives access to nearly everything without having to shift keyboards.

  24. I ordered a CD from an Irish musician. When it was sent to me, the handwritten address put a fada over a vowel in my last name. It was the first time that this diacritic came to my attention. I felt ingathered.

  25. Steffanie in California

    Sadly, I have Windows 7 Home version. Microsoft no longer allows an upgrade to an international keyboard. My workaround is to keep a Word document open with all fadas at the ready (“Insert Special Character”). Then, I can go there, type the word I want, and copy/paste. Once a word is created, I just leave it for later. It’s a pain, but still a lot better than no fadas. Thanks for a great explanation on this subject!

    1. Katrina Chassé

      Hi Stephanie.
      I as well use WIN 7. At least for the next few months. I have ALWAYS used the included WINDOWS CHARACTER MAP that has existed since Windows inception. I have it pinned to my taskbar for those commands I do not remember.
      These are the ALT+ codes they have been listing so you can type them instead of copy and pasting. Some of which are for other languages as well. I use these because I am bilingual and write in French often. When using anything Windows created, you and I do not have the option of adding languages or even dialects to the built-in spelling and grammar bots. I was SHOCKED, shocked I tell you, that Grammarly has Irish, Gaelic, British, and some French names in their dictionary considering you are only allowed one language and ONE COUNTRY OF ORIGIN for that language. I joined the company’s beta program long before the US launch.

      I hope this helps you move faster in your typing journey!

      P.S. I found this website because I remembered my childhood friend Aoife. I loved how she said, “Turtie-tree.” We were 10 years old, and she had just immigrated to the United States. Everything she said made me smile.
      I begged her daily to say 33.

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  28. With Windows 8 you can have many keyboard layouts installed. It makes the process very easy for adding a fada.

    windows key + space will switch the layout and the right ALT key becomes ALT GR (assuming the second layout is Irish).

    Once you have tried it a few times, you should find it to be very easy to switch keyboard layouts. Plus no need to remember ALT codes.

    1. That can work well if one isn’t on a shared computer. I used an alternate keyboard layout on a little netbook I had once (it didn’t have a separate number pad).

      As it is, though, I’ve long since memorized the alt codes for Irish, and touch type them without thinking.

    2. James A. Dunleavy

      Dear Audrey, I just came across your article accidentally and I wish to draw your attention to a feature article in The Irish Times on Feb. 18th. by ‘Eanna O Caollai that the Irish Central Statistics Office, [ C.S.O}. on recommendation of the State Statistician has decided to reverse the practise of not recognising the sineadh fada in the birth data of newborn children. “This would treat fadas as significant for the purposes of name differentiation and would confirm the position that the fada matters ” My particular interest in this issue has concerned me for years. I am a U. S. citizen and I can speak Gaelic fluently though have little opportunity to practise it but I continue to read Gaelic literature and articles. I am also an avid Stamp collector or Philatelist and am considering writing an article for a specialist magazine on some serious errors by the Dept. of Post and Telegraph in many issues of Irish stamps because they have omitted the sineadh fada in Eire on many occasions and having it mean “burden”,as I have just done until I Iearn how to type properly on my laptop. It seems in the early days when the civil servants were using a gaelic font or script they got it right but for the year 1952 on the centenary of the death of Thomas Moore they printed Eire and on other years. Amazingly in all issues celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising they got it wrong.There is no consistency .they are correct in 1963 and 64 and in 1965 they are correct on a Yeat’s stamp and wrong on three others,but 1966 is sheer disrespect to the 1916 leaders There are many others including the famous 3rd definitive series of 1968-69. The irony of this situation for Stamp enthusiasts is the fact that stamp collectors are always seeking accidental errors and here are many among their collections where they are unaware.I have gone on at some length but I wanted you to see my point regarding a govt. dept considering that Irish is the first language . I would appreciate a comment, Yours faithfully, James A.Dunleavy.

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