Up, Down…In Irish, It’s All Relative!

Now, now…don’t be upset! That’s not the “f” word you’re thinking of! What comedian Des Bishop says in the hilarious (for Irish learners) video above is focal suas: “word up.” As he points out, though, it’s not QUITE correct!

Seems simple, doesn’t it?

Some concepts just seem basic, don’t they? Little things, such as “up is up, and down is down.”

In English, these two little words cover so much territory:

“I’m going upstairs.”

“The bird is up in the tree.”

“Come down from there!”

No matter who’s doing the speaking, who’s doing the going, or who (or what) is in position, up is up and down is down, right? Simple.

Ah, but that’s English!

In Irish, it’s all relative

In Irish, the words you use for “up” and “down” are relative to the speaker:

  • Is the speaker him or herself moving up or down?
  • Is something moving away from the speaker?
  • Is something moving toward the speaker?
  • Is the speaker simply talking about where something (or someone) more or less stationary is positioned?

Sounds complicated, but it’s really not all that bad! Let’s sort it out!

Suas/Síos

Let’s start with the word Des Bishop used: Suas.

Suas: “up” (pronounced SOO-uss) and síos: “down” (pronounced SHEE-uss) are usually the first words Irish learners learn for “up” and “down.” They’re what you use if you are moving up or down. 

They’re also the words you use if you’re talking about someone (or something) who is  moving in the same direction as you or away from you.

For example, let’s say I decide to go upstairs to get a book. You ask me where I’m going. I might respond with:

Tá mé ag dul suas : “I’m going up.

So now let’s say you decide to join me in climbing the stairs. Someone else enters the room and asks us where we’re going. I might reply with:

Tá muid ag dul suas : “We’re going up.

Yet another person enters the room and asks “where are they going?” Because we’re moving away from him, the first person who entered the room might say:

Tá siad ag dul suas “They’re going up.”

Or maybe I’m the lazy type, and I decide to send YOU upstairs to get my book. I’m sending you away from me, so I’d say:

Téigh suas! “Go up!”

Síos: Same idea; different direction

It works the same way with síos for “down”:

Tá mé/Tá muid ag dul síos : I am/we are going down.

Tá siad ag dul síos : They are going down.

Téigh síos! : Go down!

Anuas/Aníos

Let’s change the situation a bit. Let’s say I’m upstairs; you’re downstairs; and you want me to come down to where you are.

You MIGHT think you’d say “A Audrey…tar síos!” (“Audrey…come down!”). You might think that, but you’d be wrong!

Instead, you’d use anuas (uh-NOO-uss):

A Audrey…tar anuas! : Literally “Come from up!”

You’re “down.” You want me to come toward you. So rather than saying “come down,” you say “come from up.”

Aníos. Once again, the reverse is true

Likewise, if I’m upstairs and want you to come to me, I’d say:

Tar aníos! : Literally “Come from down!”

And then there’s Thuas/Thíos

Let’s change the scenario once again. Let’s say that you’re downstairs, I’m upstairs, and someone comes into the room and asks you where I am.

I’m not GOING upstairs. I’m already there. So you can’t use suasLikewise, I’m not on my way back down, so you can’t use anuas. 

Fortunately, there is a word you CAN use to that doesn’t imply movement; a word that means that something or someone is positioned above you: Thuas (HOO-uss).

Tá sí thuas: She is up/above.

And the reverse: thíos

By now, you’re probably seeing the pattern, yes? The reverse of thuas is thíos (HEE-uss).

So if I’m upstairs, and I’m talking about you (downstairs), I’d say:

Tá sé/sí thíos : He/she is down/below.

The Pattern

If you’re learning Irish, this will become second nature fairly quickly, but in the meantime, here are some memory aids:

  • If you can paraphrase the sentence to use any form of the verb “to go,” you need suas/síos. One way to remember this is that suas and síos begin with “s,” as does the English word “send.”
  • If you can paraphrase the sentence to use any form of the verb “to come,” you need anuas/aníosThe easiest way I’ve found to remember these is that the “a” in these words means “from.”
  • If the sentence can be paraphrased using any form of the verb “to be,” you need thuas/thíos. A mnemonic I’ve used for this, which seems to work (even though the initial “th” in Irish sounds different from “th” in English) is that, if you could point to a location and say something like “he/she/it is/was/will be there,” you need thuas/thíos*. 

*If you find the initial sound of the word to be easier to remember than how it’s spelled, you could substitute “here” for “there”…the concept is the same. I originally learned Irish as a written language only, so I tend to think in terms of spelling.

A useful pattern to remember!

You’ll encounter a similar pattern in other aspects of the language, particularly when talking about directions (north/south/east/west), so if you’re new to learning Irish, it’s something worth devoting your time to!

Focal thuas!

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4 thoughts on “Up, Down…In Irish, It’s All Relative!”

  1. Is breá liom an chaibidil sin!
    It is the same like in german! So I sit back and relax while you are struggling 8-))))

    Le meas
    Michi

  2. Patrick McNally

    I see the point Audrey. I hear “le blianta beag anuas” a lot on TG4. An Irish way of saying things. Padraig.

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