Irish Language Blog

‘Tá mé tinn’ and other ways to say “I’m ill” in Irish Posted by on Oct 18, 2014 in Irish Language

Cad atá ar Tommy Beag?  Tinneas fiacaile nó tinneas cluaise?  (fearann poiblí: Little Tommy Grace, sa leabhar _The crooked man and other rhymes_ [ca. 1851 - 1870], ag an suíomh seo:

Cad atá ar Tommy Beag? Tinneas fiacaile nó tinneas cluaise? (fearann poiblí: Little Tommy Grace, sa leabhar _The crooked man and other rhymes_ [ca. 1851 – 1870], ag an suíomh seo:

(le Róislín)

Well, it’s not surprising that the English expression “to be under the weather” doesn’t translate literally into Irish. Most idioms don’t translate well from language to language.  The closest equivalents can be found at the end of this blog. But what are the typical ways to say “I’m ill” in Irish or to mention some of the illnesses that people suffer from?

We’ll start with some of the most typical situations and then suggest a few others that are less common. With all the recent talk about “galar víris Ebola,” it’s especially timely (tráthúil), but of course, health (an tsláinte) is a typical topic of conversation all the time anyway.

I’m ill: Tá mé tinn. OR: Tá mé breoite.

Next, what’s a common illness that we all suffer from soemtimes? Probably the “common cold,” which is “slaghdán” [remember, the “gh” is silent here].

And how do we say we have a disease or illness? It’s “on” us, so we use the preposition “ar” (on), the same one we discussed in the last blog (

I have a cold: Tá slaghdán orm, lit. A cold is on me. Pronunciation tip: remember that “orm” has two syllables, pronounced “orr-um,” with the flapped/broad “r.” It rhymes with “gorm” [GORR-um], which you might remember from the passing reference to “duine gorm” in the 2002 movie, In America, which starred Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, and
Djimon Hounsou.

To be a bit more technical, one could say, “Tá géarfharaingíteas sróine orm.” And what’s that when it’s at home? Acute nasopharyngitis, lit. acute pharyngitis of nose, that is to say, “a cold.”

By the way, I see no substantial or consistent evidence of actually using the Irish words “coitianta,” “coiteann,” “comónta,” “gnáth-,” or “leitheadach” (all meaning “common,” in various contexts) with “slaghdán” (a cold). In fact, what did I find, from searchable online texts? A few stray uses of “coitianta” (one from an Vicipéid, and one dating back to 1920), two more for “coiteann” (both from an Vicipéid), one for “leitheadach” (ón Vicipéid, freisin) a handful for the prefix “gnáth-“, and no use of “comónta.” So, what’s so coitianta / coiteann /comónta / gnáth- / leitheadach about the “common cold”? Bhuel, it may be widespread, but it’s not so common to actually use the word “common” in referring to colds (slaghdáin) in Irish.

Here are some other typical ailments:

I have a headache: Tá tinneas cinn orm, lit. A sickness of head is on me.

I have an earache: Tá tinneas cluaise orm, lit. A sickness of ear is on me.

I have a toothache: Tá tinneas fiacaile orm, lit. A sickness of tooth is on me.

I have a fever: Tá fiabhras orm, lit. A fever is on me. [fiabhras: FyOW-russ, with the “Fy” like the “f” of “few” and the “-ow” like “cow or “now,” not like “row” or “show”]

He has a high fever: Tá fiabhras ard air, lit. A high fever is on him.

She has a low fever: Tá lagfhiabhras uirthi, lit. A low fever is on her. [lagfhiabhras: LAHG-YOW-russ, note that the “fh” is completely silent]

I am nauseous: Tá samhnas orm, lit. Nausea is on me.

And now for some less typical illnesses, some of which are probably recognizable from English (freagraí thíos):

1) diftéire

2) an bholgach [un WOL-ug-ukh]

3) plucamas

4) leicneach (leid: it means the same thing as “plucamas)

5) an deilgneach (leid: baint ag an fhocal seo le “dealg,” a thorn)

6) an galar corcra (leid: “corcra” means “purple”)

7) porfaire (leid: An Rí Seoirse III)

8) polaimiailíteas

9) gúta

10) impitíogó

And speaking of being under the weather, here are some typical phrases to suggest being somewhat, but not severely, ill:

Tá sí meath-thinn [/m’æ-hin’/ in IPA or “mya-hin,” in my rough guide, with the “my” like the “m” of “mew” and the “a” as in “bat” or “cat”; the prefix “meath-,” means “middling,” “fairly,” etc.], she is fairly ill.

Níl Seán ar fónamh, Seán is not well (ar fónamh: fit, well; the basic meanings of “fónamh” are “service,” “benefit,” or “usefulness”)

Níl Síle aici féin, lit. Sheila is not “at” herself (i.e. she’s not feeling like normal)

and on a more general level,

Níl siad rómhaith [roh-wah], They’re not very well.

Bhuel, this blog certainly lets me say “slán agaibh,” in its most literal sense (“health at you”), agus “go raibh sibh chomh folláin le breac,” a saying that really deserves a blog entry of its own. Slán go fóill — Róislín

Gluais: breac, trout; folláin, healthy (another, more predictable word for “healthy” is “sláintiúil“); go raibh sibh … , may you be …


1) diftéire, diphtheria

2) an bholgach, smallpox

3) plucamas, mumps

4) leicneach, mumps

5) an deilgneach, chickenpox

6) an galar corcra, purpura

7) porfaire, porphyria

8) polaimiailíteas, poliomyelitis

9) gúta, gout

10) impitíogó, impetigo

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  1. Marie malo:

    How do you ask… I’ve been sick? (Like you wake up and don’t know you’ve been sick. So ask someone.)

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