Irish Language Blog

As Easy as “a hAon, a Dó, a Trí” – Na Maoluimhreacha i nGaeilge Posted by on Mar 19, 2009 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Quite a few of the basic Irish numbers from one to ten are recognizable if you know at least one other European language.  In each case, the actual number is preceded by the single letter “a,” which here is the numerical particle.  It has no actual meaning.  It simply indicates that a “maoluimhir” (independent number) is coming up.  It’s unstressed in pronunciation, like the “a” in English “about.”

The term “maoluimhir” in Irish refers to numbers not directly followed by a noun.  “Maoluimhreacha” (plural) are used in telling time, phone numbers, arithmetic problems when spoken aloud, countdowns, bus or train routes, the abbreviation “TG4” for the Irish language TV, raffle tickets, bingo, and similar situations. We’ll eventually learn other forms of numbers for counting objects and people.

Seo iad na maoluimhreacha (here are the independent numbers):

a haon: Think of “un” or “uno.”  Always be prepared for lots of vowel change when looking for European parallels to Irish words.  Vowel change happens in many words that really are related, like Irish “tír” (land) and Italian “tèrra” (land), although they may not appear so at first glance.

 But of course, it’s not just vowel change here.  The basic number is “aon.”  The numerical particle “a” causes the letter “h” to be prefixed, making “aon” look a lot less like “un/uno.”  In capitalized words, like titles, the “h” remains lower case and “aon” is capitalized, as you can see i teideal an bhlag seo (the title of this blog).  Before the streamlining of Irish spelling and punctuation which started in the 1950s, this used to be written “a h-aon” and I think it’s still useful today to recall that, since it indicates more clearly that the “h” is a prefix.

a dó: Not too far from “two,” “deux,” or “dos,” or even Hindi “do” (yes, Hindi is related because it’s Indo-European).  Examples include “RTÉ a Dó” (an Irish television station) and “Séamas a Dó” (James II)

a trí: Not unlike “three,” “trois,” “tre,” “tres,” or “drie.”  You could use this to indicate the region known as “Dublin 3,” which would be “Baile Átha Cliath a Trí” if spoken aloud.  And by the way, as of this writing, only Dublin has post codes in the Republic of Ireland; so far, the rest of the Republic of Ireland manages with just the actual place names.  Post codes are used in Northern Ireland (as part of the UK post code system).

a ceathair: quatre,” anyone?  Example: “TG4,” spoken as “tee-gee a ceathair,” “TG” standing for “Teilifís Gaeilge.”

a cúig: Admittedly a stretch from “five” but think “cinq” or “cinco.” Example: iarann a cúig (a “five iron” in golf)

a sé: A near match to Esperanto “ses,” not to mention “sis” or Bulgarian “shest.”  Very prevalent in Irish, as in the phrase “Nuacht a Sé” (the six o’clock news)

a seacht: Think “sette” or “siete,” and listen next time you go to an Irish dance lesson.  Even if most of the instruction is in English, the basic footwork sequence of “sevens” and “threes” is often taught in Irish: “A haon, a dó, a trí, a ceathair, a cúig, a sé, a seacht, A haon, a dó, a trí, is a dó, a dó, a trí.”  Those “a’s” really get swallowed here!

a hocht: Change just the first three letters and you’ve got the English equivalent, eight.  Other languages follow suit: Italian and Norwegian “otto” and German “acht.”  “The Group of Eight” (G8) in Irish?  Usually written as “G8” in Irish, which uses the same first letter, but said as “Grúpa a hOcht.”  The “h” is prefixed here for the same reason as with the number “one”: numerical particle “a” + h + number that happens to begin with a vowel.

a naoi: Swedish “nio” or Danish “ni,mar shampla (for example).  Example: “tairseach a naoi” (the “9 o’clock watershed,” in broadcasting).

a deich:  Think “decimal,” “deciliter,” or even “decimate” (the latter originally meant killing every tenth soldier if there had been a transgression).  Example: spásáil chéim a deich?  Hint: means the same as “spásáil phíoca” (“pica spacing,” in computerese).  Got it?  Ten-pitch spacing!

Sin é!  That’s it!  A haon go dtí a deich as Gaeilge!  One to ten in Irish!

Bhur mblagálaí, Róislín

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  1. GaryDubh:

    Dublin and Cork both have An Post related Post Codes but the whole country including Northern Ireland has PON Codes or “Ponc”.

    These codes are Geo PostCodes defining the position of any location to within +/- 6 meters and are used in conjunction with placenames to iron out address ambiguity and allow SatNav users navigate directly to a property entrance. Already tested by Garmin and compliant with Conradh Na Gaeilge’s requirement that any new PostCoding system be both Irish and English language capable.

    more at

  2. An Teanga Beo:

    Gary, stop using every internet forum as a soapbox for your PON code system – it has its merits, but it’s not relevant to this discussion.

    As Irish is an Indo-European language, there are even similiarties with Indian languages, through Sanskrit.

    1 éka
    2 dvi
    3 trí
    4 catúr
    5 pañca
    6 ṣáṣ
    7 saptá
    8 aṣṭá
    9 náva
    10 dasa

    Pañca is where the drink ‘punch’ gets its name from – made in five parts. The Greek for five is ‘pente’ – which is where we get ‘pentagon’ from.

    The Welsh for five is ‘pump’ – many words in Irish like ‘ceann’ or ‘head’ start with ‘p’ in Welsh – ‘pen’, ‘ceathar’ or ‘four’ is ‘pedwar’. (The Welsh equivalent of TG4, S4C, is pronounced ‘ess pedwar ec’.)

    Punjab comes from the Sanskrit for ‘five rivers’ – ‘abh’ is like ‘abhainn’ in Irish, or ‘afon’ in Welsh.

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