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CONSANAÍ
CONSONANTS
setstats
CUMANN CARAD NA GAEILGE
The Philo-Celtic Society
Consonant
b
c
d
f
g
l
m
n
p
r
s
t
Consonant
bh
ch
dh
fh
gh
l
mh
n
ph
r
sh
th
 
NA CONSANAÍ
The Consonants

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 a
slender consonant.

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
include:

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.

Definition of a Broad Consonant       

Definition of a Slender Consonant    


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, which is
depicted by a y below.  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 on the consonants highlighted in blue below to see and hear how they are pronounced.  Memorize
them.


Here's a summary of  pronunciation for the simple consonants:
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 aspirated consonants highlighted in blue below to see and hear how they are pronounced.  
Memorize them.
Consonant
Broad
Slender
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 broad
n
This cannot be aspirated.
This cannot be aspirated.
ph
F
Fy
r
This cannot be aspirated.
This cannot be aspirated.
sh
H
H or Hy (h with a y-glide)
th
H
H or Hy (h with a y-glide)
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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 TCHy