Irish Language Blog

Dóigheanna le “I Love You!” a Rá i nGaeilge: Let Me Count the Ways! Posted by on Feb 12, 2011 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Many languages, perhaps most, have numerous ways to say “I love you!” and Irish is no exception.  But, compared to other languages, Irish may be somewhat unusual in not really using the verb “to love,” as such, as much as it uses noun phrases.  Examples would include calling the object of your affection “pulse of my heart” (cuisle mo chroí) or “little treasure” (stóirín)   And for a fuller sentence, “You are my love” is more typical than “I love you.”

The verb “love” is “gráigh” but those of you who have been learning or speaking Irish for a while will probably recognize that it is relatively uncommon, even in the first-person singular form, gráím (I love).

So, instead, let’s start with:

Mo ghrá thú!  You (are) my love!, or in very literal word order, “my love you.”  No verb is actually needed in this expression, as with other traditional expressions like “Mo cheol thú!” or “Mo ghairm thú!”  This phrase might be a good motivational factor for revisiting the sound in Irish known by linguists as the ‘voiced velar fricative.”  We’ve actually dealt with this before in some previous blogs (see below).

I’d beware of pronunciation guides that simply repeat “gh” in their transcription, since that’s very very vague, and yes, I’ve seen a number that do just leave it at that.  The sound does not occur in English, and leaving it in an English-based pronunciation guide could suggest “f” (laugh) or various vowel sounds, as in “through” or “though.”  This Irish “gh” is sort of like the German “ch” as in “Buch” or the Irish “ch” in “loch,” but the vibration is lower down in the throat. The phonetic symbol for this sound is γ (gamma).

So, to say “I love you!” (You are my love!) in Irish, you really have to work your vocal cords.  A small request, I’d say, given the potential payback!

And how to respond?  Well , there’s lots of ways, of course, but a nice, back-at-you type of response would be “Mo ghrá thusa!” (You yourself are my love!).  Note that the long “ú” of “thú” becomes short in the form “thusa,” which is used for contrast.

We’ll have more on the actual verb “to love” in the next blog, and some more phrases as well.

If any of this seems a little over-the-top poetic to you, it’s just the tip of the iceberg really.  There are phrases out there that are even more flowery, such as playwright John Millington Synge’s Christy declaring that the “love-light of the star of knowledge” shines from the brow of his beloved Pegeen.  This is quite likely based on a phrase in the Irish language, though last I checked, no one had found a specific source that Synge might have used.

In a more humorous vein, you might like to check out Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin’s love-song, “Is Tú Mo Chiaróg” (You are my beetle), which you can hear or download at  In this song, Mac Dhonnagáin piles on the metaphors, to a point of deliberate and delightful exaggeration.  He uses comparisons that aren’t traditionally addressed to one’s sweetheart, however enticingly they can be crooned.  He culls them from traditional Irish songs, proverbs, and sayings.  His beloved is likened to the beetle of the proverb “Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile,” and to the “staicín eorna” and “beinnsín luachra” of Irish traditional song.  Hmmm, “de-liberate and de-lightful exaggeration” – guess I’ll have to end with “dí-lis,” if not “de-lovely!  Slán go fóill, Róislín

Gluais: aithníonn, knows, recognizes; beinnsín luachra, little bench of rushes; cuisle, pulse; dílis, loyal, dear (related to “A dhílis!”, which means “My dear!” or “My treasure!”); staicín eorna, little stack of barley

Other phrases using the “Mo ghrá thú!” word order: Mo cheol thú!, Bravo! Good yourself!, lit. you are my music; Mo ghairm thú!, Bravo!, lit. you are my acclaim, i.e. you are acclaimed by me;

Webliography (other Irish blogs dealing with the voiced velar fricative):

Treoir don Treoir: A Guide to the Guide (for Pronunciation), Cuid a 2 (27 Iúil 2010; this blog entry is completely dedicated to the voiced velar fricative sound)

An Ghaeilge sa Leabhar _Galway Bay_: “Guilpín,” “Grá” agus Go Leor Eile (2 Mí na Samhna 2009; discusses a few terms of endearment, such as “A ghrá!” and “A ghrá mo chroí!”)

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