How To Say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in Irish – Let Me Count The Ways

Posted on 15. Sep, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Actually I can’t really count the number of ways. As I mentioned in a recent blog, there are thousands of ways to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Irish. Remember, almost every verb in Irish can be used to formulate a yes- or no-answer. And the good news is … some of them are used a lot more frequently than others. These include:

Forms of the verb “” (an briathar substainteach): tá, níl, táim, nílim, bhí, ní raibh or its variant “cha rabh/robh,” beidh, ní bheidh, bheadh, ní bheadh, bhíodh, ní bhíodh, srl. (that’s just a sampler)

Forms of the verb “is” (an chopail): ‘sea, ní hea, ‘sé, ní hé, ‘sí, ní hí, ‘siad, ní hiad, b’ea, níorbh ea, b’é, níorbh é, b’í, níorbh í, b’iad, níorbh iad (again, just a sampler)

Samples with “an chopail” plus an “aidiacht”: is maith, ní maith, ba chóir, níor chóir, srl.

And then the wide world of verbs in general, with just the tiniest tip of the iceberg represented here, bouncing around with positive/negative, tenses, persons, number, and mood, in other words, a stream-of-consciousness sampling of verbs that might answer a wide range of questions: éirím, castar (daoine vs. cnoic), nífidh, bhris (the eternal fuinneog question), buaileann (an t-asal bocht!), ní itear (re: that memorable “feoil capaill” comment in the classic textbook, Progress in Irish), agus d’íosfaidís (quoting De Bhaldraithe on the same topic, although he calls it “feoil chapaill,” with lenition).

Tuilleadh samplaí uait?

fuair, ní bhfuair (le hurú; ní shéimhítear é), ní shéimhítear, ní bhfaighidh, ní fhaca, ní dúirt (gan séimhiú, ach séimhítear leagan eile de seo: níor dhúirt, scríofa amanna mar ‘níor ‘úirt), ní fhoghlaimeoidh, rinne, léim, d’imir, d’ith, phéinteáil, agus cheannóinn. And once again, that’s just a random sampling. Well, as random as anyone’s subconscious will allow.

Getting back to the introductory qualification for this blog, why did I say almost every verb in Irish can be used to answer “yes” or “no”?

Well, there’s “arsa” and its variation “ar” (not “ar,” the word meaning “on,” but “ar,” the variation of “arsa”). “Arsa,” which means “says,” “say,” or “said,” is a (so-called) “defective verb,” meaning it doesn’t have full complement of forms for all tenses and moods and persons. The term may not be very PC (de réir na dtuairimí ‘cearta’ poiblí) today, but it still seems to be in use. I remember learning it in Latin, so I guess that gives it some precedence.

Anyway, the point here is “arsa” can’t be used to ask questions or answer them, so it can’t be used for “yes” or “no.” It’s only used for quoting direct speech. Come to think of it, how about “quoth” in English? Defective? We can’t use “quoth” in the present tense or with “will,” etc. Did it just split off from “quote? Is there something about the nature of reporting direct speech that causes us to create specific verbs for just that purpose? Bhuel, sin ábhar machnaimh a deirim, but more than we can deal with here.

There are a handful of other similar (“defective”) verbs in Irish, i.e. verbs that are not fully conjugatable. But that doesn’t change our basic point – there almost as many ways to answer “yes” or “no” in Irish as there are verbs in the language, whether they are down to earth (rinne, íosfaidh) or a little more esoteric (phostaláidigh, mionsaothróidh).

So from this very brief sample, we can see that there are many, many ways to answer “yes” and “no” in Irish. Almost every verb in the language can be used. And with the “yes/no” theme very prominent right now, because of the Scottish Referendum, we can see that not only is the Independence question itself important, but from a Gaelic language viewpoint (Gaeilge and Gàidhlig being very similar in many ways), answering “yes” or “no” gives us a good grammar workout as well.

Ag tnúth leis an nuacht ar lá an Reifrinn. – Róislín

P.S. This blog included a lot of yes/no answers. If any volunteers would like to send in a question or two answerable by some of these “freagraí,” we could have a great practice session for all and discuss the topic further.

How to say ‘Scottish,’ ‘Scotland,’ and ‘Scot’ in Irish (and how about ‘scot-free’?)

Posted on 12. Sep, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Bratach na hAlban, or, in Scottish Gaelic: Bratach na h-Alba (public domain:

Bratach na hAlban, or, in Scottish Gaelic: Bratach na h-Alba (public domain:

As the Scottish Referendum vote comes ever closer, let’s look at some of the basic terms for Scotland itself, the Scottish people, and some specifically Scottish things.  For the latter, I mean things actually labeled Scottish, or as it sometimes occurs, “Scotch.”  I don’t mean things we simply associate with Scotland, like “haggis.”  I don’t think we have to specify that “hagaois” is “Albanach,” since I know of no other country that makes such a delicacy.  (No other?  Bhuel, féach an nóta thíos).  Whatever one thinks of the spelling, the traditional egg dish is usually called “Scotch,” not “Scottish.”  Eggs aren’t “Scottish” unless you’re talking about importing or exporting eggs from hens raised in Scotland or some such context.  And then, of course, there’s the beverage, scotch, but is that ever anything other than “uisce beatha” or “fuisce” in Irish (uisge-beatha anns a’ Ghàidhlig).

Let’s start with the country.  Originally, and sometimes still given as “Alba,” it has mostly settled into “Albain” in modern Irish.  Traditionally, “Albain” was specifically the dative case, used after prepositions, as in “go hAlbain,” “ó Albain,” “in Albain” (or the earlier version, “i nAlbain“).

Like “Éire” and “na hÉireann,” the word “Albain” picks up the word “the” when it’s possessive.  This is fairly unusual.  Most country names in Irish either take the definite article (an t-alt cinnteach) all the time, as in “An Fhrainc” and “An Spáinn” (and in the genitive: muintir na Fraince, muintir na Spáinne) or they don’t take the definite article at all, as in “Cúba” (in the genitive: muintir Chúba).  But “Éire” and “Albain” add the word “the” (as “na“) specifically in the genitive case: Banc na hÉireann, uachtarán na hÉireann, rialtas na hAlban, muintir na hAlban).  Note that there are also changes to the end of each place name (“-ann” for “Éire” and dropping the “i” for “Albain“), but those aren’t the main point here.

So, to say “Scotland,” we have:

Albain [AH-luh-bin, with 3 syllables], Scotland

go hAlbain, ó Albain, in Albain, to / from / in Scotland (the prefixed “h” will have to be ábhar blag eile)

na hAlban, of Scotland; Reifreann ar Neamhspleáchas na hAlban, the Scottish Independence Referendum (lit. the referendum on independence of Scotland)

And the people:

Albanach [AH-luh-buh-nukh, 4 syllables) , a Scotsman, a Scot (“Albanach mná” can be used for “Scotswoman” if the distinction is desired, but in my experience, the “mná” part isn’t used all that often)

an tAlbanach, the Scotsman

Albanaigh, of a Scotsman (filleadh beag Albanaigh, a Scotsman’s kilt)

an Albanaigh, of the Scotsman, (filleadh beag an Albanaigh, the Scotsman’s kilt)

na hAlbanaigh, the Scots (na hAlbanaigh ina bhfillteacha beaga, the Scotsmen in their kilts)

na nAlbanach, of the Scots (fillteacha beaga agus cosa deasa na nAlbanach, the kilts and nice legs of the Scotsmen)

The adjective for “Scottish” is the same as the ethnonym, so we have the following.   Sometimes, as in the third example, a thing will be called “Scotch” or “Scottish” in English, but not in Irish.  Can you translate these?  Freagraí thíos:

brocaire Albanach

ubh Albanach

fraoch fireann

“Scotch tape,” for anyone wondering, is simply a brand name.  In Irish, it’s “seilitéip” (based on the trademark “Sellotape”) or simply “téip ghreamaitheach.

To differentiate Scotch (“whisky,” no “e”) from Irish “whiskey,” we can say “fuisce na hAlban” or “uisce beatha Albanach.”  For the spelling issue (never mind the taste), check out:

The verb, “to scotch,” is not related to anything “Albanach” per se.  In fact, there are several meanings of “to scotch,” but probably the most basic are:

gearradh ([GYAR-uh], also means “to cut”)

lot ([pronounced more like “lut,” with the Irish short “o,” not like the English word “lot,” which is more like “laht”], also means “to hurt” or “to wound”)

ciorrú [KYUR-oo], also means “to cut” or “to hack,” or in references to boats, “to lower (sails)”

As for the traditional phrase, “scot-free,” there’s no linguistic connection to Scotland or things Scottish.  The irony is conspicuous though, isn’t it?  Scot?  Free?

The ‘scot’ in ‘scot-free’ comes from the Middle English ‘scot,’ based on Scandinavian roots, like the Icelandic word “skot.”   In Irish, this word would simply be ‘scot’ or “airgead scoit,” (“-it” ending because it’s really saying “money of scot” or “scot-money,” as it were).

And then there’s “He got away scot-free,” with “getting away” or “getting off” probably the most English typical expression using “scot-free.”  The Irish surprised me the first time I encountered it:

Thug sé na haenna leis slán sábháilte. 

If your Irish is somewhere in the intermediate range, you probably got most of the words there, but maybe not “haenna,” from “ae,” which mostly means, yes, liver (the organ).  Here it’s plural (shades of the two-hearted Dr. Who?), and very literally means, “He took the livers with him safe (and) sound.”  Go figure.  Or as I’ve seen on some Irish t-shirts, “Ná cuir ceist ormsa.  Níl a fhios agam.”

We see this same basic construction in:

Thug sé na haenna leis (He escaped with his life).

The word “ae” is probably worth a blog of its own, around Valentine’s Day, I think.

Why Valentine’s Day?  One of the more surprising greetings in Irish is “a chara na n-ae istigh,” meaning “dear friend,” figuratively “O friend of the(my) innermost heart” and very literally, “O friend of the internal livers,” with “n-ae” as an alternate genitive plural form, the standard being “na n-aenna.”   At some point I’ll have to check how much that phrase is actually used.  All I can say is I’m sure I’ve never been treated to that salutation.  The phrase does make one wonder–are we supposed to postulate “aenna amuigh,” external livers or for that matter, external hearts?  Mh’anam (which hopefully is “istigh” and not “amuigh“)!

On that note, eagerly waiting to see what happens on lá an ReifrinnRóislín

Nóta faoi hagaois: Wikipedia lists 15 similar dishes, from Andouillette to Weckewerk.  The list includes the Pennsylvania German dish, scrapple, but, that is not served very ceremoniously (a mhalairt) and there’s no suggestion of the original “bolg” into which the rest of the “comhábhair” are stuffed.  “Saumagen” really does look pretty similar.  But is it ever piped in and saluted?


brocaire Albanach, Scottish terrier

ubh Albanach, Scotch egg, consisting of an ubh chruabhruite, wrapped in feoil ispín, coated with grabhróga aráin and then served domhainfhriochta  or bácáilte

fraoch fireann, Scotch heather (but literally it means “real heather,” not the more typical meaning of “fireann,” which is “male”).  So what’s “not-real” heather?  Níl a fhios agam ach má fhaighim amach é is ábhar blag eile a bheas ann!

P.S. All that discussion about internal and external hearts and livers makes me wonder if we could establish a connection to the fairy tale “Giant Who Had No Heart in his Body,” but, at best that’ll have to wait for a rainy day.

How to say “Yes Vote” and “No Vote” in Irish (with a nod to the Gàidhlig)

Posted on 08. Sep, 2014 by in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

So I’ve been listening and listening to the coverage of the Scottish independence vote.    While this blog is not really a platform for polaitíocht, it does give us an opportunity to look at the words “yes” and “no” in Irish, with a brief comparison to Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig).

With most languages I’ve studied, “yes” and “no” are fairly cut and dried.  Oui, non.  Sí, no.  Sim, não.  Da, nyet.  With slight trepidation, I add “kyllä” and “ei” (the trepidation because I don’t always trust dictionary entries, but going ahead anyway because it’s fun to compare languages, and well worthwhile, especially if an issue such as how to say “yes” and “no” affects your sovereign independence, as in the Scottish situation.  “Cén teanga úsáideann “kyllä” agus “ei”?” you ask.  Read on, tá ainm na teanga sin thíos sa nóta. 

Confirmation or further yes/no pairings are welcome here, for any language.   Navachóis, anyone?

Anyway, back to our main issue — basically there are probably about 25,000 ways to say “yes” and “no,” in Irish.  Why 25,000?  Well, I’m leaping to a bit of conclusion and thinking that the answer might be somewhat similar to the minimum figure cited for the number of verbs in English, cited in this interesting, if inconclusive, debate:   That discussion concludes about 25,000 (or perhaps up to 100,000) verbs for English, with the English propensity to verbify nouns, like “uncle” and “Google,” contributing to the large number (“Uncle me no uncle”; “I Googled it.”).

The possible answer of 25,000 for Irish reflects that fact that almost every Irish verb can be used to answer “yes” or “no.”  There are no all-purpose, generic, words in Irish that just mean “yes” or “no” and nothing else.

Having said that, two pairs of words that occur frequently are “” and “níl,” and ” ‘sea ” and “ní hea.”  Technically, these really mean “is (am, are),” “is (am, are) not,” “it is,” “it is not.”  These can be changed to the past tense (bhí, ní raibh, b’ea, níorbh ea), and then on to future, conditional and all the other tenses and moods.  And all the other verbs in Irish can be used similarly, as in:

A) Do you eat breakfast every day? An itheann tú bricfeasta gach lá?

Yes answer: Ithim, ithim bricfeasta gach lá.  Yes (lit. I eat), I eat breakfast every day.

No answer: Ní ithim, ní ithim bricfeasta gach lá.  No, (lit. I don’t eat), I don’t eat breakfast every day.

B) Is everything I say a lie? An bréag é gach rud a deirim?

Yes answer: ‘Sea, is bréag é gach rud a deir tú.  Yes, (lit. it is ), everything you say is a lie.

No answer: Ní hea, ní bréag é gach rud a deir tú.  No, (lit. it is not), everything you say is not a lie.

Past and future tenses take us, for example A, to d’ith, níor ith, íosfaidh, and ní íosfaidh, and for B to b’ea, níorbh ea, and a repeat of ‘sea and ní hea.  The possibilities are as vast as the total number of verbs in Irish, however many that turns out to be, a figure certainly in the thousands.

So, in a nutshell, two very common ways to say “yes” and “no” in Irish are: tá, níl, ‘sea, ní hea.  Beyond those, the possibilities are nearly endless.

Getting back to the voting issue for Scotland, I haven’t readily found any indication of the phrase that would be used in Gaelic to ask the question, but my guess is that it would start out: A’ bheil thu …?” (comparable to Irish “an bhfuil tú …?”).  In that case, the yes/no for independence would be “tha” ([yes; pronounced like the “ha” of “half,” the “t” is silent]) or “chan eil” (no).  But if the question is formulated differently, the yes/no answer would be different.   In other words, if the question is “Should Scotland be independent?”  or “Should Scotland leave the UK?,” the yes/no answer would be different and beyond the scope of this blog.  I looked briefly online for examples of the question in Gaelic but didn’t see anything, most notably on this otherwise interesting site:

As for the phrases “yes vote” and “no vote,” I assume they would be either “bhòt ‘tha’” and “bhòt ‘chan eil,” or “guth-taghaidh ‘tha” and “guth-taghaidh ‘chan eil,” but of course, the phrasing could be different.   Tuilleadh eolais ag duine ar bith faoi seo?

I hope that the issue is being discussed “anns a’ Ghàidhlig,” at least in the Gaelic-speaking areas, and I assume that Gaelic-speakers will have the opportunity to vote on this in Gaelic.

And so, since this is an Irish blog, what would the answer be in Irish?  And what does this tell us for Irish in general?  The yes/no answer would probably be “” or “níl,” depending on how the question would be phrased (An bhfuil …? ).  If it’s phrased “Should it be …? (Ar chóir go mbeadh … ,” the answer would be “ba chóir” or “níor chóir,” (or, for the question, “Ar cheart …?,” the answers would be “ba cheart” and “níor cheart“) and there are other options.   If it’s “Do you agree …?” (An aontaíonn tú …?), the answer would be “aontaím” or “ní aontaím.”  And so on.

For the phrases, “yes vote” and “no vote,” as such, “vóta ‘tá’ ” and “vóta ‘níl’ ” would seem most appropriate and general in Irish.

So that’s just a sampler of the possibilities involving “yes” and “no” in Irish.  Suimiúil, nach ea?  And the answer for that question tag is, I hope, ” ‘Sea.”

Maybe there’s an Albanach on this list, who could fill us in with exactly how the discussion is framed in Gaelic.  And after this vóta is thart, maybe we can turn our attention to the famous use of “yes” in Molly Bloom’s reverie in Ulysses.  In fact, yes I say yes we will, Yes. SGF – Róislín


Actually I’ve never studied Russian (Rúisis), but somehow I learned “da” and “nyet” anyway.   Come to think of it, it must have been Anna Russell (  She translated “da, nyet” as “Let’s do it” (!), but that was the Anna Russell comedic touch, clearly, and appropriately, tongue in cheek.

And I’ve never studied Finnish (Fionlainnis) either.  My loss, I know.  Nor have I ever really learned even a smattering of Finnish, except perhaps for “Marimekko,” which I just found is, as a name, a fun example of word play.  Intrigued?  Féach anseo:

Somehow I have never even learned a few odds and ends of Finnish words the way bits of Russian have drifted into my consciousness through literature, movies, politics or popular culture.  Examples of such Russian words include “dacha,” “pechniki,” “troika,” “perestroika.”  The latter two have been translated/gaelicized as “triúracht” and “peireastráice“; there’s no “leagan Gaeilge” for “dacha” or “pechniki” as such, fad m’eolaisÓ, agus, “balalaika” (gaelicized as “balaláice“).  For the Finnish yes/no, I can only hope that the several dictionaries I consulted are on target with the definitions “kyllä” and “ei.”  And, yes, “Fionlainnis” is Finnish.