Irish Language Blog

How to say “Yes Vote” and “No Vote” in Irish (with a nod to the Gàidhlig) Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 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.

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  1. Seamas O Fearghuis:

    Bu choir is the Gaelic for Yes in the referendum. 🙂

    • róislín:

      @Seamas O Fearghuis GRMMA, a Shéamais. So it’s not an “a bheil” question after all, but, if my “Gàidhlig mheirgeach” serves me right, “Am bu chòir …?” That would be parallel to the Irish construction mentioned above, “Ar chóir …?” (Ba chóir / níor chóir). Aha, just found the full question: Am bu chòir do dh’Alba a bhith na dùthaich neo-eisimeileach?

      And now that I search further, I see some interesting discussion on the matter, anns a’ Ghàidhlig or showing the yes answer in Gaelic, at and GRMA arís, a Shéamais, or should I say “a-rithis.” In fact, I really should say, “Tapaidh leat!”

  2. Seamas O Fearghuis:

    Ná habair é. Is Éireannach mé agus dá bhrí sin is fear liom go raibh maith agat. 🙂 Bainnim an taitneamh as do bhlag – go raibh maith agatsa!

    • róislín:

      @Seamas O Fearghuis Tá áthas orm go mbaineann tú sult as an mblag. Agus tuigim gur fearr leat “go raibh maith agat” mar fhrása buíochais. Tá sé suimiúil go mbíonn Gaeilge na hÉireann agus Gaeilge na hAlban an-chosúil le chéile amanna ach amanna eile bíonn difríochtaí go leor ann. Is dócha go bhfuil baint idir “Tapaidh” i nGaeilge na hAlban agus “tapa/tapaidh” i nGaeilge na hÉireann ach níl siad go díreach mar a gcéanna. Ar a laghad, is féidir linn a rá nach bhfuil baint acu le “tapas” na Spáinne!

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