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A Quick Guide to Irish English

Image representing a student learning Irish English

St Patrick’s Day is a very popular celebration all over the world and there is a good chance that, wherever you live, there was a Paddy’s Day-themed night on Friday, with plenty of people wearing green and drinking pints of Guinness, whether they are Irish or not.

But, while Irish culture is loved everywhere, many English learners struggle with the Irish accent. In fact, native English speakers often find a strong Irish accent difficult to understand!

The main reason for this is that English has only been the main language in Ireland for a short time. Until recently, more people spoke Gaelic than English. As English became more widespread, the Irish would often just translate literally from Gaelic, which has a very different grammar and structure to English. That doesn’t apply to formal, written English, but the casual English you hear spoken in Ireland today sounds quite different to the English you hear spoken in most of the UK, the US or elsewhere.

What’s more, Irish people speak VERY fast. If you are learning English and you want to live, work or study in Ireland, it’s a good idea to focus on improving your listening stills. Be prepared to concentrate hard on what people are saying and don’t be shy about asking them to slow down or repeat something. Luckily, Irish people tend to be very friendly and happy to help.

Another thing you will notice very quickly is that the Irish don’t pronounce the “th” sound, especially if they are from the South of the country. This means that any words you might be used to hearing with a “th” will be pronounced with a “t” or a “d” instead. For example, “thirty-three” is pronounced “tirty-tree” and “that” is pronounced “dat”.

To make things even more confusing, in Irish English, you tend not to voice hard consonants at the end of a word – especially if it’s a “t”. That means that words like “light” and “right” end with a soft sound that’s almost like a “sh”, or sometimes the “t” is lost altogether.

Many vowels are pronounced differently, too. In words like “time” and “mine”, the “I” is pronounced more like an “ai” sound. So in Irish English, the word “time” sounds more like the British English word “tame”. But, when you put it before a “gh”, it sounds more like a “oi” or “oy” sound. For example the words “tight” and “night” sound like “toy-t” or “noy-t”.

Also – and this may seem very strange at first – you hardly ever hear an Irish person say “yes” or “no”. Again, this is simply because these words don’t exist in Gaelic! That doesn’t mean you can’t ask a direct question that would usually be answered with a yes or a no, but it means the answer will be longer than a single word.

For example, if you ask an Irish person if they have something or can do something, they are more likely to say “I have” or “I can” than “yes”, and “I don’t” or “I can’t” than “no”.

Irish English is also full of lovely expressions and interesting slang, which you will hear all the time! Here are a few of the most popular expressions:

Craic

This is pronounced “crack” and means fun, as in “it’s good craic”. You can also say “what’s the craic?” to mean, “what’s happening?”

What’s the Story?

This is a friendly way of asking someone how they are, or specifically, what’s been happening in their life. Irish people also say, “What’s the story, horse?” which means the same thing. Sometimes you’ll even hear that shortened to “Story, horse?”

Hatchet

This means great, as in “my night was hatchet”.

Your Man / Your One

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person knows the man or woman you’re talking about very well – Irish people often say this just when they don’t know the person’s name.

Gas

Fun, or funny, e.g. “Your man there’s a gas”.

Grand

A very popular way of saying that someone or something is good, fine or well. So, if someone asks how you are, you might answer, “I’m grand, thanks”.

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