Irish/Basic Sentence Structure

Basic Sentence StructureEdit

Tá and IsEdit

Irish has two different ways of expressing the English verb "to be".

  • is the verb "to be", used for describing people or things, "I am..." eg. "I am tired, I am here" a) where something is or b) what state it is in
  • Is is the copula, and is not quite a complete verb; its most common use is to say what something is, "I am a..." eg. "I am a teacher, I am a man"

The copula is a sort of pseudo-verb. It is used for four main purposes:

  • Identification, or saying that some specific thing, identified by a definite noun (usually a noun with the article) or pronoun is the same as some other specific thing
    • Example: "That is my cow" = "Sin í mo bhó"
  • Classification, or saying that some specific thing fits into some class - in other words, saying that the thing "is a" something, where the something is a general class rather than a specific object
    • Example: "That is a cow" = "Is bó í sin"
  • Emphasis, or moving certain sentence parts earlier in the clause to make them more prominent to the listener or reader. English often uses tone of voice, accented syllables to do this, but Irish primarily relies on word order
    • Example: "In God we trust" = "Is i nDia a cuirimid ár muinín" (compare to "We trust in God" = "Cuirimid ár muinín i nDia")
  • Questions use a special form of the copula: "An." For example "An fear é Seán?": "Is Seán a man?"
    • There are also instances in which the copula may safely be left out: "Is mise Seán" can become simply "Mise Seán."

"Bí" is the verb "to be."

táim I am
tá tú You are
tá sé He is
tá sí She is
táimid, ta muid We are
tá sibh You (plural) are
tá siad They are

If you want to negate "tá sé," you use níl instead of . Níl sé He is not

Some Simple SentencesEdit

Approximate phonetic pronunciations are provided for the phrases below. Pronunciation varies from one dialect to another. If you learned a different way of pronouncing these words, don't worry.

Classification sentencesEdit

In a classification sentence, we tell what class an identified person belongs to. For example, telling the profession of someone. Here are some persons and their professions.

Cad é is gairm bheatha duit? Cén tslí bheatha atá agat? Cén cineál oibre atá agat? What is your profession?

  • Is múinteoir mé. I am a teacher.
  • Is scoláire thú. You are (thou art) a scholar, a pupil. (Scoláire is obviously the same word as the English scholar, but the Irish word is more often used in the sense of a school pupil, which, incidentally, can also be dalta. In the Irish-speaking districts, a person who could read and write - in those days when analphabetism was still common - could also be called a scoláire. Note that the word for "school ide" is scoil íde.)
  • Is dlíodóir í Siobhán. Siobhán (Joan) is a lawyer. (Dlíodóir - in Ulster Irish, dlítheoir - comes from the word for law, dlí.)
  • Is feirmeoir é Seán. Seán (John) is a farmer. (Feirmeoir is obviously related to feirm, a farm. In Connacht, there are the parallel forms feilméir and feilm, respectively.)
  • Is pluiméir é Máirtín. Máirtín (Martin) is a plumber.
  • Is bríceadóir é Colm. Colm (Malcolm) is a bricklayer. (Instead of bríceadóir, you can also use the obvious English loan-word brícléir. A brick is called bríce in Irish.)
  • Is ríomhinnealtóir é Risteárd. Risteárd (Richard) is a computer engineer (a computer is called ríomhaire, an engineer is innealtóir).
  • Is státseirbhíseach í Nóra. Nóra is a civil servant.
  • Is tiománaí tacsaí í Máire. Máire (Mary) is a taxi driver. In Irish, "a driver of taxi". The English of is understood.
  • Is spásaire é James Tiberius Kirk. James Tiberius Kirk is a spaceman, an astronaut.
  • Is arrachtach é The Incredible Hulk. The Incredible Hulk is a monster.
  • Is aisteoir í Nana Visitor. Nana Visitor is an actress (actually, in Irish it is perfectly OK to use the word aisteoir, actor, even for a female actor; if you want to stress the fact that she is female, you can say Is ban-aisteoir í Nana Visitor or Is aisteoir mná í Nana Visitor.)
  • An dochtúir é Liam? Is ea. Is dochtúir é. Is dochtúir maith é. "Is Liam a doctor? Yes. He is a doctor. He is a good doctor." Irish doesn't actually have words for the English "yes" and "no" - this might feel a little funny, but the way Irish does it is actually quite common as languages go. If you ask a question in the form of a classification sentence, such as "is he a doctor?" -an dochtúir é? it is answered either is ea ("is") or ní hea ("isn't"). Please note that the attributive adjective maith, good, comes after the noun it qualifies.

The little word ea (in Ulster and in older texts, eadh) means "it", but it is only used in copula constructions. There is an alternative sort of classification sentence, which uses the word ea and is especially common in southern dialects:

  • Is dlíodóir í. = Dlíodóir is ea í. She is a lawyer.
  • Is feirmeoir é. = Feirmeoir is ea é. He is a farmer.
  • Is pluiméir é. = Pluiméir is ea é. He is a plumber.
  • Is brícléir é. = Brícléir is ea é. He is a bricklayer.
  • Is imreoir sacair é. = Imreoir sacair is ea é. He is a soccer player (imreoir player, sacar soccer, imreoir sacair player of soccer)
  • Is peileadóir thú. = Peileadóir is ea thú. You are (thou art) a player of Gaelic football.
  • Is ríomhinnealtóir mé. = Ríomhinnealtóir is ea mé. I am a computer engineer.
  • Is siúinéir thú. = Síúinéir is ea thú. You are a carpenter. (Siúinéir, which comes from the English word "joiner", is probably the most common word for "carpenter" in Irish nowadays, but you might want to know that there are the alternative terms cearpantóir and saor adhmaid.)
  • Is fisiceoir í. = Fisiceoir is ea í. She is a physicist.
  • Is ceimiceoir mé. = Ceimiceoir is ea mé. I am a (research) chemist (i.e. a laboratory kind of chemist).
  • Is poitigéir thú. = Poitigéir is ea thú. You are a (pharmaceutical) chemist (i.e. you work at the chemist's).
  • Is matamaiticeoir í. = Matamaiticeoir is ea í. She is a mathematician.
  • Is geolaí mé. = Geolaí is ea mé. I am a geologist.
  • Is geoiceimiceoir thú. = Geoiceimiceoir is ea thú. You are a geochemist.
  • Is réalteolaí í. = Réalteolaí is ea í. She is an astronomer.
  • Is réaltfhisiceoir mé. = Réaltfhisiceoir is ea mé. I am an astrophysicist.
  • Is geoifisiceoir thú. = Geoifisiceoir is ea thú. You are a geophysicist.

Greeting SomeoneEdit

There are three ways to say "How are you?", depending on your dialect. Just pick the one you're most comfortable with, and use it.

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
Conas atá tú? How are you? (Munster) KUN-USS ATAW TOO? ?
Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú? How are you? (Connaught) KAY KHWEE A WILL TOO? ?
Caidé mar atá tú? How are you? (Ulster) CA JEY MAR ATAH TOO? ?

Basic ConversationEdit

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
Tá mé go maith. I am well. TAW MAY GUH MAH ?
_____ is ainm dom. _____ is my name. _____ ISS an-im DUM ?
Is mise name. I am name. ISS MISH-ah... ?
Cad is ainm duit? What is your name? KOD ISS AN-im DIT/ditch ?
Tá _____ agam. I have _____. TAW _____ awg-UHM ?
An bhfuil _____ agat? Do you have _____? WILL _____ awg-UHT? ?
__X__ ag __Y__. __Y__ has __X__. TAW ___ EGG ___ ?
Tá mé i mo chónaí i _____. I live in _____. TAW MAY ih MUH KHOH-nee ?
Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí? Where do you live? KAW WILL TOO ih DUH KHOH-nee ?
Rugadh agus togadh mé i _____. I was born and reared in _____. RUG-oo AW-GUSS TUG-oo MAY ih... ?
Is as _____ ó dhúchas mé. I'm originally from _____. ISS AHSS _____ OH GHOO-khus/(doo-kus) MAY ?
Is maith liom _____. I like _____. ISS MAHH LUM... ?
An maith leat _____? Do you like _____? ON MAHH LAT... ?
Is brea liom _____. I really like _____. ISS BRAW LUM... ?
Is fuath liom _____. I hate _____. ISS FOO-ah LUM... ?
Is maith le __X__ __Y__ __X__ likes __Y__. ISS MAHH LUH... ?
Ba mhaith liom _____. I would like _____. BUH WAHH LUM ... ?
Ar mhaith leat _____? Would you like _____? ERR WAHH LAT ...? ?
an _____ seo

this _____

an _____ sin that _____ AN SHIN
ceart go leor fine KyART GUH LOW-R ?
anois now ah-NISH ?
Fáilte! Welcome! FALL-chah ?
Tá a fhios agam I know TAW is awg-UM ?
go raibh maith agat thank you

(Often abbreviated grma on the Internet)


Describing someone or something, part 1Edit

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
Tá sé __adjective__ He/it is _____ TAW SHAY ?
Tá sí __adjective__ She/it is _____ TAW SHEE ?
__name__ __adjective__ Name is _____ ? ?

Here are some words you can use to fill in the blanks above:

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
ard tall ARD /ɑɾˠdˠ/
gairid short GAR-ij /ɡəˈɾʲɪdʲ/
mór big MOHR /mˠoːɾˠ/
beag small ByUG /bʲɑɡ/
sean old SHAN /ʃɑnˠ/
nua new NOO /nˠoː/
óg young OHG /oːɡ/
fada long FAH-duh /fˠɑdˠə/
fuar cold FOO-ur /fˠuəɾˠ/
te hot CHEH /tʲɛ/
fliuch wet FLUKH ?
tirim dry CHIR-im /tʲɪɾʲəmʲ/
dorcha dark DOHR-khuh /ˈdˠɔɾˠəxə/
geal bright GYAL /ɟalˠ/
bán white BAHN /bˠɑːnˠ/
dubh black DUHV /dˠʊvˠ/
dearg red JAR-ug /dʲaɾəɡ/
gorm blue GOHR-um /ɡɔɾˠəmˠ/
buí yellow BWEE /bˠiː/
beo alive ByOH /bʲɔ/
bog soft BUG /bˠɔɡ/
crua hard KROO-uh /kɾˠuə/
glan clean GLAHN /ɡlˠanˠ/
salach dirty SAH-lukh /sˠəˈlˠax/
milis sweet MILL-ish /mʲɪˈlʲɪʃ/
anseo here un-SHUH /ənˠˈʃɔ/
ansin there un-SHIN /ənˠˈʃɪnˠ/

Describing someone or something, part 2Edit

Example: Tá sé __adjective__ = He/it is _____

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
Tá mé (or Táim) I am TAW MAY ?
Tá tú You are TAW TOO ?
Tá sé He/it is TAW SHAY ?
Tá sí She/it is TAW SHEE ?
Tá muid (or Táimid) We are TAW MWIJ ?
Tá sibh You (plural) are TAW SHIV ?
Tá siad They are TAW SHEED ?

Example: Níl sí __adjective__ = She/it isn't _____

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
Níl mé (or Nílim) I am not NEEL MAY ?
Níl tú You are not NEEL TOO ?
Níl sé He/it is not NEEL SHAY ?
Níl sí She/it is not NEEL SHEE ?
Níl muid (or Nílimid) We are not NEEL MWIJ ?
Níl sibh You (plural) are not NEEL SHIV ?
Níl siad They are not NEEL SHEED ?

Asking questionsEdit

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
An bhfuil mé? Am I? (uh) WILL MAY ?
An bhfuil tú? Are you? (uh) WILL TOO ?
An bhfuil sé? Is he/it? (uh) WILL SHAY ?
An bhfuil sí? Is she/it? (uh) WILL SHEE ?
An bhfuil muid (or An bhfuilimid?) Are we? (uh) WILL MWIJ ?
An bhfuil sibh? Are you (plural)? (uh) WILL SHIV ?
An bhfuil siad? Are they? (uh) WILL SHEED ?
Nach bhfuil mé? Aren't I? NAKH WILL MAY ?
Nach bhfuil tú? Aren't you? NAKH WILL TOO ?
Nach bhfuil sé? Isn't he/it? NAKH WILL SHAY ?
Nach bhfuil sí? Isn't she/it? NAKH WILL SHEE ?
Nach bhfuil muid (or Nach bhfuilimid?) Aren't we? NAKH WILL MWIJ ?
Nach bhfuil sibh? Aren't you (plural)? NAKH WILL SHIV ?
Nach bhfuil siad? Aren't they? NAKH WILL SHEED ?

All of the above questions are answered simply or Níl.

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
Cá bhfuil...? Where is ...? KAH WILL ?

Here are some more adjectives to practice with.

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
dathúil or doighiúil good-looking DAW-hyool, DOY-hyool ?
cairdiúil friendly KAR-jool ?
lách pleasant LAHkh ?
breá fine BRAA ?
álainn beautiful AW-lun ?
daor dear, expensive DEER ?
saor cheap, inexpensive SEER ?
tinn sick, sore CHEEN ?
spéisiúil interesting SPAY-shool ?
tabhachtach important TAH-wukh-tukh ?
glic cunning, "cute" GLIK ?
tuirseach tired TOOR-shukh ?
glán clean GLAHN ?
salach dirty SAH-lukh ?
deacair difficult JAA-ker ?
éasca easy AY-skuh ?
láidir strong LAW-jer ?
lag weak LAHG ?
dána bold, naughty DAH-nuh ?

Classification StatementsEdit

The verb , and its other forms (níl, an bhfuil, and nach bhfuil) can be used to describe something, but they can't be used to say what something is. For that you need to use a special verb called the copula.

Think of copula statements as a set of templates you can plug things into. You can change what you plug into the template, but you can't change the template itself. One of the templates available is a classification statement. A classification statement has the form:

Irish English
Is + category-noun + subject-noun. subject-noun is a category-noun


Irish English Pronunciation IPA
Is fear Liam. Liam is a man. ISS FAR LEEM ?
Ní cat Dougal. Dougal is not a cat. NEE KUT GOO-gull ?
An ainmhí é? Is it an animal? un AN-uh-vee AY? ?
Nach madra Dougal? Isn't Dougal a dog? NAKH MAH-druh AY DOO-gull? ?

These questions are answered simply Is ea or Ní hea.


  1. In place of Is, you can have , An?, Nach?, Ba, etc. as appropriate.
  2. In a classification statement, the predicate (category) is always an indefinite noun (a cat, a house, a doctor). There is another type of copula template, the identification statement, that uses a definite noun (the cat, the house, the doctor) as the predicate. This structure will be discussed later.

You can practice classification statements using the nouns below.

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
múinteoir teacher MOON-chore ?
dochtúir doctor DOKH-toor ?
feirmeoir farmer FEHR-mohr ?
meicneoir mechanic MEKH-nohr ?
dlíodóir lawyer DLEE-uh-dohr ?
iriseoir journalist EER-ish-ohr ?
tréidlia vet TRAYD-lee-uh ?
Éireannach Irish person/thing AY-run-ukh ?
Sasanach English person/thing SAH-sun-ukh ?
Meiriceánach American person/thing MEH-rih-kah-nukh

Review: vs IsEdit

One of the most common mistakes learners make is using in place of is, or vice versa. Here's one way to remember the difference:

  • The verb can be used to describe something.
  • To say what something is, you need the copula, is.

Another way to think of it:

  • is used to associate a noun with an adjective.
  • Is is used to associate a noun with a another noun.

Fill in the blanks with either or is, as appropriate. Hover your mouse over each blank to see the answer.

___ sé mór. It is big.

___ fear é. He is a man.

___ an lá go deas. The day is nice.

___ muid sásta. We are happy.

___ dochtúir í. She is a doctor.

___ Máire tinn. Máire is ill.

___ an leabhar sin deacair. That book is difficult.

___ leabhar Gone With The Wind. Gone With The Wind is a book.

___ an leabhar ar an mbord. The book is on the table.

___ mo mhadra Dougal. Dougal is my dog.

___ madra mór é. He is a big dog.

___ an madra mór. The dog is big.

___ an fhuinneog briste. The window is broken.

___ fuinneog bhriste é sin. That is a broken window.

___ sé níos mó ná bosca arán. It is bigger than a breadbox.

Fiche Ceist (Twenty Questions)Edit

Playing Fiche Ceist is an excellent way to become familiar with:

  • the difference between "tá" and "is",
  • how nouns change when preceded by a preposition + definite article, and
  • masculine vs. feminine nouns

Follow the examples below.

  • TO DO: provide translations for all the words that aren't introduced earlier in the text

Is it…? Describing the objectEdit

An bhfuil sé

fuar? (cold)
te? (hot)
fliuch? (wet)
tirim? (dry)
dorcha? (dark)
geal? (bright)
bán? (white)
dubh? (black)
dearg? (red)
gorm? (blue)
buí? (yellow)
beo? (alive)
bog? (soft)
crua? (hard)
glan? (clean)
salach? (dirty)
milis? (sweet)
mór? (big)
beag? (small)
ard (tall)
sean (old)
nua (new)
óg (young)

Tá. (yes)
Níl. (no)
Is deacair a rá. (It’s difficult to say).
Uaireanta. (sometimes)
Beagnach (almost)
Tá sé réasúnta fuar, etc.

(It’s reasonably cold, etc.)

chomh mór le (as big as)
níos mó ná (bigger than)
chomh beag le (as small as)
níos lú ná (smaller than)

bosca arán? (a bread box)

déanta as adhmad? (made of wood)
sa seomra ranga? (in the classroom)

sa (in the)

bhosca, chupán, mhála

ar an (on the)
faoin (under the)
in aice leis an (beside the)
gar don (near the)


Is it…? Identifying or classifying the objectEdit


cóta (a coat)
clog (a clock)
leabhar (a book)
pictiúr (a picture)
páipéar (a paper, newspaper)
bord (a table)
buidéal (a bottle)
forc (a fork)
cupán (a cup)
bía (food)
mála (a bag)
peann (a pen)
fón (a phone)
bosca (a box)
scáthán(a mirror)
fáinne (a ring)


Is ea.
Ní hea.

scian (a knife)
spúnóg (a spoon)
deoch (a drink)
cathaoir (a chair)
fuinneog (a window)
bróg (a shoe)
(a cow)


Is it…? Describing locationEdit

Past and Future: An IntroductionEdit

The table below illustrates how to form simple sentences in the past, present and future tenses.

Past Bhí

An raibh...?

Ní raibh






an cat








go hálainn

go dona


An bhfuil...?


Future Beidh

An mbeidh...?

Ní bheidh

Irish Pronunciation IPA
Bhí VEE ?
An raibh AN ROW ?
Ní raibh NEE ROW ?
Beidh BAY ?
An mbeidh UN MAY ?
Ní bheidh NEE VAY ?

There are also a few combined forms that are used in some dialects. Until you're ready to focus on one dialect in particular, you can use either form:

Irish English Pronunciation IPA
táim I am TAWM ?
táimid we are TAW-mwidj ?
bhíomar we were VEE-mer ?
beimid we will be BAY-midj ?


Practice by answering the questions below. If any of the words below are unfamiliar, you should be able to find them in the previous sections.

Anois... Now...

Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí?

Cad é an aimsir inniú?

An maith leat seacláid?

An bhfuil tú óg? Sean?

An bhfuil Gaeilge easca?

Nuair a bhí tú óg... When you were young...

An raibh tú mór?

An raibh tú beag?

An raibh tú sean?

An raibh tú salach?

An raibh tú dána?

Cá raibh tú i do chónaí?

Nuair a bheidh tú sean... When you are (will be) old...

An mbeidh tú dathiúil?

An mbeidh tú láidir?

An mbeidh tú lag?

An mbeidh tú tuirseach?


In English, we usually make comparisons by tacking the suffix -er or -est onto the adjective. Irish also has special comparative forms.


mór big

níos mó bigger (ní ba mhó in the past tense)

is mó biggest (ba mhó in the past tense)

fuar cold

níos fuaire colder (ní b'fhuaire in the past tense)

is fuaire coldest (ab fhuaire in the past tense)

álainn lovely

níos áille lovelier (ní b'áille in the past tense)

is áille loveliest (ab áille in the past tense)

Note that the same form of the adjective is used for the relative and absolute comparisons. It's the prefix, níos or is, that makes the difference. Also note that the comparison is expressed differently for the past tense. (We're only going to worry about the present tense in this thread.)

The most common structures for comparing things are:

Is comparative X ná Y X is ___er than Y.
Tá X níos comparative ná Y X is ___er than Y.
Is X an Z is comparative X is the ___est Z.

You may have notice something unusual about that first structure. I said earlier that is is used for absolute comparisons, where we use the '-est' ending in English, but I translate the first structure using an "-er" ending. You probably remember your English teacher saying that you compare two things using "-er"; that "-est" could only be used with three or more things. However, Irish doesn't have this rule. A sentence such as Is í an tsúil chlé an tsúil is láidre literally means "My left eye is the strongest eye", where in English we would say "My left eye is the stronger eye." So in short, don't worry about it.

One final comment about the first and third structures. The copula, is, can never be followed directly by a definite noun or a proper noun; you need to insert é, í or iad. If you're not ready to deal with that, don't worry. Just stick with the second structure.

So let's look at some examples of how to make comparisons.


Tá an madra mór. The dog is big.

Tá an madra níos mó ná an cat. The dog is bigger than the cat. (Notice how is used for "than".)

Sin an madra is mó. That is the biggest dog.

Tá an aimsir fuar. The weather is cold.

Tá an aimsir níos fuaire anois. The weather is colder now.

Tá an lá inniu go deas. Today is nice.

Beidh an lá amárach níos deise. Tomorrow will be nicer.

Is airde mise ná tusa. I am taller than you.

Is é Seán an fear is airde sa rang. Seán is the tallest man in the class.

Is fearr Gaeilge briste ná Béarla cliste. Broken Irish is better than clever English.

Comparative FormsEdit

The rules for changing an adjective into the comparative form are fairly simple.

  • If it ends in a consonant, add -e to it. (If the ending isn't slender, you'll need to make it slender first.)
    • glas - níos glaise - is glaise
  • If it ends in a vowel, no change.
    • dána - níos dána - is dána
  • If it ends in -(e)ach, change the ending to -(a)í.
    • bacach - níos bacaí - is bacaí
    • díreach - níos dírí - is dírí
  • If it ends in -(i)úil, change the ending to -(i)úla.
    • flaithiúil - níos flaithiúla - is flaithiúla
    • dathúil - níos dathúla - is dáthúla.

Irregular ComparativesEdit

  • beag - níos lú - is lú
  • breá - níos breátha - is breátha
  • dócha - níos dóichí - is dóichí
  • fada - níos faide - is faide
  • fogus - níos foisce - is foisce
  • furasta - níos fusa - is fusa
  • iomaí - níos lia - is lia
  • ionúin - níos ionúine - is ionúine
  • maith - níos fearr - is fearr
  • olc - níos measa - is measa
  • te - níos teo - is teo
  • tréan - níos tréine/treise - is tréine/treise
  • mór - níos mó - is mó