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Word Building in Irish Gaelic

A very handy skill to cultivate in any language is “word building.”

For example, take the English word “walk.” Think of all the different words you can make from it:

  • Walking
  • Walker
  • Sidewalk
  • Catwalk
  • Walk-up
  • Walkabout
  • Etc.

A useful skill

“Word building” is a useful skill to cultivate for a couple of reasons, most notably:

  • It can help you puzzle out the meaning of new or unfamiliar words.
  • It expands your vocabulary almost effortlessly, while reducing the time you need to spend memorizing new words.

That said, let’s take a look at a few ways in which words are “built” in Irish.

The suffix “-lann”

Adding a “suffix” to a root word is one of the more common methods of word building. A suffix most Irish learners encounter fairly early on is “-lann,” which roughly translates to “place/location.”

Bia (food) + -lann = Bialann: Restaurant/dining hall/refectory

Leabhar (book) + -lann = Leabharlann: Library

Cultúr (culture) + -lann = Cultúrlann: Cultural center”

Othar (invalid/patient) + -lann = Otharlann: Infirmary

(Here’s a side bonus for Irish learners: All words ending in “-lann” are grammatically feminine, no matter what the gender of the root word is.)

Word endings that describe people

Irish has several word endings that can change a thing or a concept into a person associated with that thing or concept. The most common are “-oir/óir,” “-aí,” and “-ach.”

Using “-oir/óir”:

Siopa = “Shop.” Siopadóir = “Shopkeeper”

Múin = “Teach.” Múinteoir = “Teacher”

Cruit = “Harp.” Cruiteoir = “Harper/harpist”

Using “-aí”:

Seanchas = “Folklore.” Seanchaí = “Traditional storyteller”

Amhrán = “Song.” Amhránaí = “Singer”

Bodhrán = “Traditional Irish frame drum.” Bodhránaí = “A bodhrán player”

Using “-ach”:

“-ach” is “two-for-the-price-of-one” suffix, as words made using “-ach” can be either nouns or adjectives:

Éire = “Ireland.” Éireannach = “An Irish person” (noun)/”Irish” (adjective)

Sasana = “England.” Sasanach = “An English person” (noun)/”English” (adjective)

Meiriceá = “America.” Meiriceánach = “An American person” (noun)/”American” (adjective)


Prefixing one word to another is less common in Irish than in some languages, but it does happen. When one noun is prefixed to another, the second noun is “lenited” (i.e., its initial sound is softened, represented by writing an “h” after it). For example:

Clós = “yard/courtyard.”

Carr = “car/automobile”

Carrchlós = “car park/parking lot”

Another example:

Carr = “car/automobile”

Othar = “patient/invalid”

Otharcharr = “ambulance”

Just the tip of the iceberg!

Of course, these aren’t the only word-building tools you’ll discover as you progress in your Irish studies! They’re common enough patterns, though, that they make a good start.

Spotting the patterns

And that really is the trick: Spotting the patterns.

When you’re learning a language, you should start making note of the patterns right away — as soon as you can spot them.  It’s an easy and painless way of increasing your vocabulary.

Happy word building!

2 thoughts on “Word Building in Irish Gaelic”

  1. Is the -een name suffix for either male or female names? My daughters are Colleen and Kathleen, but I’ve heard Michaeleen and Pateen in reference to men.

    1. Zandi, a chara
      the -een at the end of names or words comes from the Irish spelling -ín (pronounced the same way) It is a diminutive so it implies ‘small’ or ‘little’. It can be used on both male and female names.
      It would be the same idea as in English -ette or -ling i.e kitchenette and duckling.
      Hope this helps!

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