A. THE VOWELS
B. VOWEL SURPRISES
C. OTHER VOWEL
D. THE CONSONANTS
E. THE LAST FEW RULES -
F. PRACTICE - IRISH
WORDS IN ENGLISH
The Irish Consonants
The modern Irish consonants are b, c, d, f, g, l, m, n, p, r, s, and t.
We don't use j, k, q, v, w, x, y, or z.
'h' is sometimes used at the beginning of a word for grammatical reasons, and constantly used in
combination with certain Irish consonants in order to change how they're pronounced. When an 'h' is used
to change the way a consonant is pronounced, the consonant is said to be 'aspirated' or 'lenited.' We'll
learn more about these sound changes below.
Broad and Slender Consonants
Consonants are either broad or slender, depending upon the closest vowel.
If the closest vowel to the consonant in the same word is a broad vowel (i.e., a, o, or u), then the consonant
is a broad consonant.
If the closest vowel to the consonant in the same word is a slender vowel (i.e., e or i), then the consonant is
The poets took over the structure of the language in the 12th century and regularized its spelling and
grammar. Therefore, you won't see a broad vowel on one side of a consonant and a slender vowel on the
other side of the same consonant (thereby confusing whether it's broad or slender) unless the word is a)
written before the 12th century, 2) misspelled, 3) a foreign import, or 4) one of the few exceptions to this
rule. The rule is called "leathan le leathan, caol le caol" ("broad to broad, slender to slender"). Examples
Liam The l is slender. The m is broad.
leabhar The l is slender. The bh is broad. The r is broad.
Meadhbh The m is slender. The dh and bh are both broad.
mainistreacha The m is broad. The n, s, t, and r are slender. The ch is broad.
It just depends on which vowel is closest.
Pronunciation of Simple Consonants
Simple consonants are consonants which are not aspirated, i.e. they don't have an 'h' directly following
them. For example, the 't' in tae is a simple consonant. The 't' in thae is an aspirated consonant.
You'll find that broad consonants are mostly pronounced the way they are in English. One major distinction
is that in proper Irish C can never be pronounced as an S, and G can never be pronounced as a J.
You'll also see and hear that all slender consonants can be pronounced with or without a y-glide. The
y-glide sounds like 'yih' and is very short and faint. For example, ceann ('head') can be pronounced 'can',
or 'c-yan' (with stress on the front as always).
Click below to see and hear how the simple consonants are pronounced. Memorize them.
Definition of a Broad Consonant
Definition of a Slender Consonant
Here's a summary of pronunciation for the simple consonants:
Consonant Broad Slender
b B B or By (here the little y stands for the y- glide pronounced 'yih')
c K K or Ky
d D or like the English word 'THE' or the 'th' in THRONG. For example, the Irish word drong is
pronounced 'drong' or 'throng' and is the origin of the English word 'throng'. D or Dy, J or Jy
f F F or Fy
g G G or Gy
l L L or Ly
m M M or My
n N N or Ny
p P P or Py
r R R or Ry
s S SH or SHy (SHAWN or SH-YAWN)
t T or THE (either T or THE as in English word 'throng') T or TCH (like ch as in 'checkers') or Ty or
Pronunciation of Aspirated Consonants
As noted above, when an 'h' is used to change the way a consonant is pronounced, the consonant is said
to be 'aspirated' or 'lenited.' This system of sound changes is the major difference between pronunciation
of Irish and other languages. L, N, and R have not been aspirated since the 12th century. Like the simple
consonants, all slender aspirated consonants can be pronounced with or without a y-glide. Click the blue
letters below to see and hear how the aspirated consonants are pronounced. Memorize them.
Here's a summary of pronunciation for the aspirated consonants:
bh W V, Vy
ch KH KH or KHy This sound is made while trying to say a K and blowing air across the roof of your
mouth at the same time.
dh GH This sound is made while trying to say a G and gargling at the same time. Same as the German
GH. Yih (This is the y-glide.)
fh silent, go on and pronounce what follows silent, go on and pronounce what follows
gh exactly the same as dh broad exactly the same as dh slender
l has not been aspirated since the 12th century has not been aspirated since the 12th century.
mh exactly the same as bh broad. exactly the same as bh slender.
n has not been aspirated since the 12th century has not been aspirated since the 12th century.
ph F F or Fy
r has not been aspirated since the 12th century has not been aspirated since the 12th century
sh H H or Hy (h with a y-glide)
th H H or Hy (h with a y-glide)
In all cases above, 'y' stands for the y-glide pronounced 'yih'.
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