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Our Fada: The Importance of the Accent Mark in the Irish language (with recordings)

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.

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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

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.

USING ALT CODES

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!

TYPING FADAS ON A MAC

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

USING A SMART PHONE

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.

98 thoughts on “Our Fada: The Importance of the Accent Mark in the Irish language (with recordings)”

  1. Please can you tell me how does the fada affect the pronunciation of the name Emer if it’s placed over the first e, eg. Émer?
    Thank you

  2. 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.

  3. 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
    Clare

  4. 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.

  5. 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,

    Liam

  6. 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. 🙂

  7. 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
      Emma

      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.

  8. 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
          Emma

  9. 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

  10. 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.

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