Irish Language Blog

When Is ‘dh’ pronounced like ‘y’ in Irish words?  Think ‘a Dhia’ and ‘a Dhiarmaid’ Posted by on Oct 6, 2015 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

We recently looked at some Irish words that start with “gh” followed by “e” or “i,” and noted that the “gh” now sounds like “y” as in “year” or “yet” (nasc thíos).  In other words, nothing like a “broad” Irish “gh” (as in “a Ghráinne” or “a ghort“), and, needless to say, nothing like the occasional “gh” we see in English, usually in a loan word or place name (ghat, Western Ghats, ghee, Afghanistan, etc.).

The good news about “dh” followed by “e” or “i,” is that it’s the same sound as the “gh” followed by “e” or “i.”

Some of the circumstances in which “d” typically becomes “dh” are:

Nouns of direct address:

a Dhia [uh YEE-uh], said when addressing Dia (God)

a Dhiarmaid, said when addressing Diarmaid (Dermot), as in “Dia dhuit, a Dhiarmaid” (Hello, Diarmaid)

Past tense of verbs:

dheisigh sé é [YESH-ee … ] he repaired it, from the verb deisigh (repair)

Negative of verbs, after “” (though there are some rare exceptions) or “níor

ní dhearna [nee YARrr-nuh], didn’t make/didn’t do; the underlying form ” *dearna ” doesn’t really exist as such in Modern Irish, but we see the same root in “An ndearna …?” and “Nach ndearna …?”

níor dheisigh [NEE-ur YESH-ee], didn’t repair


mo dheartháir [muh YÆR-hawrzh], my brother — I know, just one of many ways to say this

do dheirfiúr [duh YERzh-ih-fyoor], your sister — again, just one of several versions

Actually there don’t seem to be that many other really basic vocab words starting with “de-” or “di” that lend themselves to this exercise, so we could continue with some, um, far-fetched but accurate examples like:

do dhealgán, your knitting-needle

mo dhearcán, my acorn

a dhineasár, my dinosaur

mo dhiúlfhiacail, my milk-tooth

and although questions have been raised as to its grammaticality, the implied “mo Dhia” in the catchphrase “OMD,” pronounced as “oh muh YEE-uh”, a nice parallel to “OMG” in English.

Here are some more names with the slender “dh” as “y” pronunciations:

a Dhearbháil, said when addressing Dearbháil (Derval, Dervilla, Dervla)

a Dheirdre, said when addressing Deirdre, generally the same in English.  This is a beautiful name with a tragic romantic history, but my experience shows that learners find this challenging to pronounce, because of the combination of slender r’s plus the slender “d.”  So the initial “dh” being pronounced “yuh” isn’t really the most challenging aspect of this name, just a bit eye-boggling till you get used to it.  And I think people generally do get used to the appearance of the various DHs, GHs, BHs, and MHs, etc., in Irish, fairly rapidly because they occur so frequently.

a Dhiána, said when addressing Diána (Diana)

a Dhéagláin, said when addressing Déaglán (Declan)

a Dheasúin, said when addressing Deasún (Jason)

In case you were wondering about the various names related to Delia, Dillie, and Dina, they all seem to default to “Bríd” (older spelling: Brighid; still older spelling: Brigid).  So while there’s a direct address form for “Bríd” (Dia dhuit, a Bhríd, pronounced like “vreedj”), there’s no Irish direct address form per se for Delia and company.  How “Delia” became a nickname or pet name for “Bridget” is a topic I’ve yet to investigate.  Any leads from any Bríds out there?

At any rate, that’s the slender Irish “dh” for you, so remember, it’s nothing like the handful of other non-Irish words that you might typically see that have a “dh” in them (it’s almost non-existent in English): Gandhi, dharma, dharna (yes, both words exist, one with “m,” in Hinduism and Buddhism, and one with “n,” the former practice of fasting at someone’s door until they grant your request or honor your demand — hmm, seems like I’ve heard of that outside India as well!), Dhaulagiri (the mountain), dhow (the boat, which, btw, is “dabha” in Irish, pronounced more or less like “Dow” of “Dow Jones,” but slightly 2-syllable-ish), and the noteworthy “Dhrystone” of “Dhrystone benchmark” in computing.  That last word is a deliberate pun on “whetstone” (as in “Whetstone benchmark, natch), presumably by its developer, Reinhold P. Weicker.  Anyone know otherwise?

So what is “Dhrystone benchmark” in Irish, anyway?  “Tagamharc próiseála,” so the whole “Dhrystone” bit, humorous as it is word-wise, disappears, lock, stock, and barrel.  But “benchmark” in terms of marking elevation is simply “marc airde.”  And so one vocab item leads to another, but the other permutations here will have to wait for “blag éigin eile.”  SGF — Róislín

NascWhen Is “gh” pronounced like “y” in Irish words?  Think ‘gheobhaidh’ and ‘gheocaigh’ Posted on 30. Sep, 2015 by in Irish Language (

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