Irish Language Blog

How many ways can we say ‘bliain’ (year) in Irish, including ‘athbhliain’? Posted by on Jan 11, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

arú anuraidh (sa bhliain 2014), an bhliain seo caite (sa bhliain 2015), agus i mbliana (sa bhliain 2016) (

arú anuraidh (sa bhliain 2014), an bhliain seo caite (sa bhliain 2015), agus i mbliana (sa bhliain 2016) (

As we settle into the new year (an bhliain nua, an bhliain úr, an athbhliain, srl.), let’s think of how many ways we can say and use the word ‘year’ in Irish.

Most recently, you’ve probably seen the phrase “Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise” (A happy and prosperous New Year).

But let’s look into the word ‘year’ (the “bliain” part of “athbhliain“) in a little more depth.  First, we’ll look at the basics (singular, plural, etc.), then we’ll use the phrase to indicate ages (three years old, one hundred years old, etc.), and then we’ll look at a few compound words (solasbhliain, etc.) and phrases.  And what was that about “athbhliain” anyway and didn’t I see it somewhere before in this blog series?  Yes, it’s been discussed several times in this blog series (naisc thíos).

The basic forms are:

bliain, a year (bliain mhaith, a good year)

an bhliain [un VLEE-in], the year

bliana, of a year, as in “searrach bliana” (yearling foal), also used in giving ages with certain numbers (cúig bliana d’aois, five years old)

na bliana, of the year, as in the book title, Ó Cheann Ceann na Bliana, the Irish version of one of Eric Hill’s Spot the Puppy books

bhliain [VLEE-in], used a) specifically after the number two (dhá bhliain), b) to say “eleven years” (aon bhliain déag), c) in certain phrases, like “sa bhliain,” and d) also used when we make compound words like “solasbhliain” and “idirbhliain” (discussed further below)

mbliana [MLEE-uh-nuh], used in giving ages with the numbers 7, 8, 9, 10,17, 18, 19, 27, 28, 29, etc. (seacht mbliana, seacht mbliana déag, seacht mbliana is fiche, srl.) and also in the phrase “i mbliana.”

mbliain [MLEE-un], used in certain phrases, like “i mBliain na bhFrancach” (in the Year of the French, i.e. 1798).  And, no, although it could, if capitalized in a title, be translated as the “in the Year of the Rats,” it’s not generally understood that way!

And no worries that “Bliain na bhFrancach” could be mistaken for the Chinese zodiac year, Bliain an Fhrancaigh, because the latter is singular, so it just means, “The Year of the Rat,” or depending on context, “The Year of the Frenchman” (singular).  Either way, if you wanted to say, “in the Year of the Rat” (for a Chinese New Year) or “in the Year of the Frenchman” (for whatever context you can dream up), it would be “i mBliain an Fhrancaigh.”  Bottom line to all of that confusion: “Francach” (upper-case) means “Frenchman,” and “francach” (lower-case) means “rat.”  But if your phrase with “rat” needs to be capitalized, as in a title or recognizing the Chinese usage as a proper noun, readers won’t be able to tell the difference.  In other words:

Bliain na bhFrancach, the Year of the French (1798), the stock phrase for this episode in Irish history, and in English, the name of a highly regarded novel by Thomas Flanagan; this is a plural construction and could also be translated as “the Year of the Frenchmen.”  This could also mean “The Year of the Rats” if the phrase were capitalized for some reason.

Bliain an Fhrancaigh, the Year of the Rat (as in the Chinese zodiac system).  This could also mean “The Year of the Frenchman” (singular), if you had some reason to use such a phrase.

Bottom line:

Francach, a Frenchman; an Fhrancaigh, of the Frenchman; na bhFrancach, of the Frenchmen

francach, a rat; an fhrancaigh, of the rat; na bhfrancach, of the rats — usually lower case, except, as I’ve noted if, it’s capitalized as in a title or in the Chinese zodiac phrase

Anyway … back to the so-called “basics”

mbliain is also an alternate form for “bhliain,” found in phrases like “sa mbliain

And now for the plural forms:

blianta, years

na blianta, the years

blianta, of years (I can’t really think of too many examples of this usage)

na mblianta [nuh MLEE-un-tuh], of the years

So that’s just the basics!

And now for some more practice with ages:

one year old: bliain d’aois (usually no number is used, though one could say “bliain amháin d’aois” for clarity or contrast)

two years old: dhá bhliain d’aois

three years old: trí bliana d’aois (although not all dialects use this special “bliana” form)

seven years old: seacht mbliana d’aois

eleven years old: aon bhliain déag d’aois, lit. “one-year-teen” of age

twenty years old: fiche bliain, and the good news is the multiples of ten don’t undergo all those consonant changes: tríocha bliain, ceathracha bliain OR daichead bliain, caoga bliain, seasca bliain, srl.

one hundred years old: céad bliain d’aois

And the higher numbers would include:

míle bliain, deich míle bliain, céad míle bliain, milliún bliain, srl.

Of course, we could also count in “scores” (dhá scór, trí scór, srl.) but a full account of that system will have to wait for blag éigin eile, sa todhchaí.

Now for a few other expressions with the word “bliain“:

bliain go leith, a year and a half

bliain bhisigh, leap year

an bhliain seo chugainn, next year, lit. the/this year toward us

an bhliain seo caite, last year, lit. the/this year spent/used up.  Remember, there is also a completely different way to say ‘last year,’ which is “anuraidh,” with the “-aidh” pronounced either like “uh” or like “ee” [un-UR-uh OR un-UR-ee].  “Anuraidh” preceded by the word “arú” is also used to say that something happened the year before last (Tharla sé sin arú anuraidh), which from the perspective of January, 2016, would mean that something happened in 2014.  A third option for “last year” is “an bhliain seo chuaigh thart,” lit. the/this year gone past.

And a few more related words:

bliantúil, annual (adjective), yearly

bliainiris, annual (a yearbook)

bliantóg, an annual plant

And some compounds:

idirbhliain, a transition year (TY), lit. “a between-year”

réamhbhliain, reception year, lit. “pre-year,” i.e. the year before primary school

solasbhliain, a light-year

And now back to our “Happy New Year” phrase.  The word “athbhliain” is a combination of “ath-” (re-, second, return, later, after) + “bliain,” which gets lenited, becoming “-bhliain” [VLEE-in] in the compound word.  While “athbhliain” is usually translated as “new year,” it more literally means something like “returning year” or “coming year.”  And ironically, “ath-” as a prefix can also mean “old” or “ex-” as in “athbhall” [ah-wahl], a discarded item of clothing OR a former member of an organization or, as in “athléine,” a “cast-off shirt.”  To which I can really just add, “Go figure!”

At any rate, however exactly you parse it, “Athbhliain faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise dhuitagus má tá dea-rún Athbhliana déanta agat, go maire tú é!   SGF — Róislín

Naisc: Previous blogs dealing with “New Year”

a) (Samhain (November 1st) and Lá Caille (January 1st): Two New Years!  Posted on 27. Oct, 2010 by róislín in Irish Language

b)  Happy vs. Merry and All That! (Sona, Meidhreach, srl.)Posted on 12. Dec, 2010 by róislín in Irish Language

c)  New Year’s – Celtic Style (1 Mí na Samhna in ionad 1 Eanáir) Posted on 31. Oct, 2012 by róislín in Irish Language

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