Irish Language Blog

Smaoinigh air sin! Smaoinigh air seo! Or, A Penny for your “Smaointe” Posted by on May 13, 2009 in Irish Language

Transparent Language’s Word of the Day recently featured “smaoineamh,” a word whose pronunciation has intrigued many of my students over the years.  Fortunately, now all you have to do is click on the WOTD link to hear it (  Some speakers don’t pronounce the final –mh at all (SMWEEN-yuh); others pronounce it as a “v” or “oo” (SMWEEN-yuv, SMWEEN-yoo).  Here are a few more forms of the word:


Smaoineamh: an idea, a thought.  This is the verbal noun and can serve either as an actual noun or, with “ag,” to indicate that the action is ongoing. 


Smaointe: You may remember that Enya’s early album Shepherd’s Moon included the song, “Smaointe” (thoughts, reflections).  This is the plural of the verbal noun “smaoineamh.”  Yes, Irish verbal nouns usually have plurals AND grammatical gender AND genitive cases, but more on those for blag lá fearthainne (a rainy day blog).


Ag smaoineamh: thinking, the act of thinking, as in “Tá mé ag smaoineamh ar uimhir idir a haon agus a deich,” (I’m thinking of a number between one and ten).  This form is used after the verb “to be” to indicate that the action is in progress.  


Smaoinigh: think, or reflect, in the “command form,” used to tell someone to think about or reflect upon something.  Examples: “Smaoinigh air sin!” or “Smaoinigh air seo!  It is followed by a form of the preposition “ar” (literally “on” but here with the sense of “about”), giving us “air sin” (on that) or “air seo” (on this).  Another example I noticed recently was “Smaoinigh ar na buntáistí ar fad a bheadh ag do pháistí dá mbeidís dátheangach,” as stated on the website for, an organization promoting Irish-English bilingualism for children [the phrase means “think on/about all the advantages that your children would have if they were bilingual”].


Smaoinigh: The past tense form of the same verb, as in “Smaoinigh sé air sin” (he thought about that).  For this particular verb, the past tense looks exactly the same as the command form. 


Smaointeoir: “The Thinker,” probably the best name for Rodin’s famous statue if we had reason to discuss it in Irish. 


And finally, the rhyming connection between “smaoinigh” [SMWEEN-yee] and the surname “Sweeney” has not gone unnoticed, as I recently saw in a young Dubliner’s profile page, “Smaoinigh An Sweeney.”  Here the verb is in the past tense, so the phrase means “Sweeney thought.”  The word “an” (the) here is a carryover from an Irish naming tradition, giving us forms like “An Conallach,” (Mr. O’Connell / the O’Connell man), “An Flaitheartach “ (Mr. O’Flaherty), and “An Paorach,” as in the proverb, “Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach” (Mr. Power will have another day, i.e. chance).  Of course, if “Sweeney” were in its original form, we’d have “Smaoinigh an Suibhneach” [SMWEEN-yee un SWIV-nyukh] so we wouldn’t have the rhyme (An Suibhneach, Mr. Sweeney or “The Sweeney man”).


Like most figurative idioms, the English phrase “a penny for your thoughts” doesn’t really translate into traditional Irish, but the equivalent idea is “Cad é a bhfuil tú ag smaoineamh air?” (What are you thinking of?). 


Ach ná bí ag smaoineamh gurb é seo deireadh an scéil, áfach.  Tá ceithre fhocal eile i nGaeilge ar a laghad a chiallaíonn “to think.”  But don’t think that this is the end of the story, however.  There are at least four other words in Irish that mean “to think.”  Intrigued?  Check back i mblag eile.


Bhur mblagálaí – Róislín

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  1. kathleen:

    I wonder how the idea of thinking long on something, or thinking deeply on something, would be expressed in Irish?

    have been very much enjoying reading your blog by the way.
    go raibh maith agat,

  2. Róislín:

    A Chaitlín, a chara,

    “machnamh” (or the variant “machtnamh”) is probably the best choice for that.
    You might remember the term from the book title Machtnamh Seana Mhná, by Peig Sayers (An Old Woman’s Reflections).

    Tá áthas orm go bhfuil tú ag baint suilt as na blaganna. Glad you’re enjoying the blogs.

    Go raibh maith agat as scríobh. Thanks for writing – R

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