Does the following sentence just look like a mixture of letters to you?
We’ll tell you a pattern to help you start approaching words and spelling. You’ll see it everywhere in Irish.
Once it clicks, you won’t be able to stop seeing it!
Oh, and I’ll tell you what it means at the end.
Let’s take the word “mhadra” out of the sentence (without lenition, this word would be written as madra).
Here’s the pattern: Do you see the first “a” in the word? That little letter basically guarantees that the next vowel will be a, o or u. I or e will not show up as the next vowel.
And it’s true. The next vowel after “dr” is again “a”.
Here’s the pattern showing again in amach!
Amach – out
The first vowel is “a”, and what do you know, the next is another “a”.
Remember, vowels are:
a e i o u
You can review the Irish alphabet in Lesson: Irish language alphabet.
Uisce is a little more complex, but it still follows the pattern.
Uisce – water.
You see the little “i” in that word? That little letter basically guarantees that the next vowel coming after the consonants will be either i or e. For our method to pronounce any Irish word, you might like our Crack Irish Gaelic Pronunciation video course.
Just like in Uisce, the first “i” in “ghairdín” pretty much guarantees that the following vowel will be an “i” or “e” (or í or é — the accent mark doesn’t make a difference to this rule).
Uisce – water.
Accent marks don’t affect this rule.
“Ghairdín” before lenition is written as gairdín.
This pattern, in Irish, is called Caol le caol, leathan le leathan.
Let me explain:
- If the vowels “a”, “o” or “u” are immediately followed by one or more consonants, then any vowel immediately following those consonants will also be “a”, “o”, or “u”.
- If the vowels “i” or “e” are immediately followed by one or more consonants, then any vowel immediately following those consonants will also be “i” or “e”.
We saw the first rule for “mhadra” and “amach”.
We saw the second rule for “Uisce” and “ghairdín”.
(Oh, and yes, there are always exceptions to a rule!)
I want to know more!
- “a”, “o” and “u” are the broad vowels.
- “i” and “e” are the slender vowels.
- These properties even affect how you pronounce the word!
- We cover these properties further in Lesson: Something about consonants – Part 1.
To get an alternative explanation on this golden rule of spelling, check Amy’s explanation on nualeargais.ie.
What it means
Still here? The full sentence means:
Yes, our dog’s name is Uisce, which means water. We say that her middle name is Beatha (uisce beatha is one way to say “whiskey”).