The letter “a” has several sounds in Irish. If the “a” has a síneadh (SHEEN-uh) over it – “á” – pronounce it like the vowel in the English word “tot”, but sound it for a longer time. The sound will be between an English (aw) in “paw” and an English (ah) in “ma”.
Make sure that you open the mouth wide and place the tip of the tongue just below the lower teeth. The lips should be spread to the sides more than for English “aw”. Practice on: ál, ádh (aw*), ár, bá, cá, dá, fá, bláth (blaw*), arán (uh-RAW*N).
We use the letter group (aw*) for this sound, indicating that it is similar to but not exactly like English “aw”.
In many cases where the “a” has no síneadh but is alone in the accented syllable, the sound is more likely to resemble English (ah) in “ma”. Examples: mac (mahk), capall (KAH-puhl), cad (kahd), fada (FAH-duh), cara (KAH-ruh). It will be easier for you to give it this sound at first rather than a short (aw*) sound, which is actually what it gets in most of Ireland. Later, you can gradually switch to the more correct sound, as you hear Irish speakers use it.
An “a” in an unaccented syllable often sounds like (uh) in English “uh-huh” or “love”. Examples: fada (FAH-duh), aníos (uh-NEES), capall (KAH-puhl).
When other vowels, such as “e” or “i”, or aspirated consonants, such as “bh, dh, gh, mh” are next to “a”, the pronunciation of the letter group may differ from (aw*), (ah), or (uh). we will review this next week.
For the irregular verbs, the past-tense saorbhriathar (say*r-VREE-huhr), or free form, is fairly irregular. Learn these four this week:
thángthas (HAW*NG-uh-huhs), people come
níor thángthas (NEE-uhr HAW*NG-uh-huhs), people didn’t come
ar thángthas? (r HAW*NG-uh-huhs), did people come?
nár thángthas (naw*r HAW*NG-uh-huhs), didn’t people come?
chuathas (K*OO-uh-huhs), people went
ní dheachthas (nee YAK*-huhs), people didn’t go
an ndeachthas? (un NYAK*-huhs), did people go?
nach (nahk*) ndeachthas?, didn’t people go?
chualathas (K*OOL-uh-huhs), it was heard
níor chualathas, it was not heard
ar chualathas?, was it heard?
nár chualathas?, wasn’t it heard?
chonacthas (K*UHN-uhk-huhs), it was seen
ní fhacthas (nee AHK-huhs), it was not seen
an bhfachthas? (un VWAHK-uhs), was it seen?
nach bhfacthas?, wasn’t it seen?
To make conversation easier, you need words that reduce or increase the force of adjectives. For example, it helps to be able to say that something is “fairly good” or that weather is “very cold”.
One way to do this is by addition of a prefix. “An-” (ahn) means “very”. It aspirates all consonants except “d”, “t”, and “s”. Examples:
an-bheag (AHN-vyuhg), very small
an-chiúin (AHN-HYOO-in), very quiet
an-deas (AHN-dyas), very pretty
an-tirim (AHN-TIR-im), very dry
an-saibhir (AHN-SEYE-vir), very rich
“Ró” (roh) means “too”. It aspirates all consonants. Examples:
róbhaolach (roh-VWAY*-luhk*), too dangerous
róchaol (roh-K*AY*L), too narrow
ródheacair (roh-YAK-ir), too difficult
róthirim (roh-HIR-im), too dry
cuíosach (KWEE-sahk*), fairly
cineál (KIN-aw*l), somewhat
réasúnta (ray*-SOON-tuh), fairly, reasonably
___ go hiomlán (goh HUM-law*n), quite, entirely
measartha (MAS-uhr-huh), fairly, moderately
___ ar fad (er FAHD), quite, entirely
There are other and longer expressions for some of these meanings that are in better style and are more Irish, but they are more difficult, and we will not take them up here. An example is “Is beag nach bhfuil mé marbh”, meaning, “I am almost dead”, literally “It is little that I am not dead”.
Pádraig: Dia dhuit, a Liam. Hello, William.
Liam: Dia’s Muire dhuit, a Phádraig. Conas tá tú inniú? Hello, Patrick. How are you today?
Pádraig: Ó, táim cuíosach maith. Conas tá tú féin? Oh, I’m fairly well. How are you?
Liam: Beagnach marbh leis an obair. Agus tá an aimsir an-te (AHN-te). Nearly dead with the work. And the weather’s very hot.
Pádraig: Ach níl sé rothirim, ar aon chuma (er AY*N K*U-muh). But it’s not too dry, anyway.
Liam: Bhí sé cineál tais (KIN-aw*l tash) inné. It was somewhat damp yesterday.
Pádraig: Tais ar fad. Beidh (be) sé measartha fuar i gceann tamaill. Quite damp. It will be fairly cold in a while.
Liam: Tá orainn bheith (ve) an-churamach in aimsir mar sin. We must be very careful in weather like that.
Pádraig: Tá an ceart (kyart) agat. Bhí an-slaghdán (AHN-sleye-DAW*N) orm ag an am seo anuraidh (eg un oum shuh uh-NOOR-ee). You are right. I had a terrible cold this time last year.
Note: “An-” can precede a noun, too, and give it an intensified meaning. “An-slaghdán” means an outstanding or bad cold. “An-scoláire” (AHN-skuh-LAW*-re) is an outstanding or excellent student.
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