Hiberno‐English or Irish English is the set of English dialects natively written and spoken within the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland. It comprises a number of sub-varieties; for example, mid Ulster English, local Dublin English, supraregional Irish English, and Cork English.

English was brought to Ireland as a result of the Norman invasion of the late 12th century. Initially, it was mainly spoken in an area known as the Pale around Dublin, with mostly Irish spoken throughout the rest of the country. By the Tudor period, Irish culture and language had regained most of the territory lost to the colonists: even in the Pale, "all the common folk… for the most part are of Irish birth, Irish habit, and of Irish language". However, the English conquest and colonisation of Ireland in the 16th century marked a revival in the use of English. By the mid-19th century, English was the majority language spoken in the country. It has retained this status to the present day, with even those whose first language is Irish being fluent in English as well.

Modern Hiberno-English has some features influenced by the Irish language and it also retains some archaic English elements. Most of these are more used in the spoken language than in formal written language, which is much closer to Standard British English, with a few differences in vocabulary. Hiberno-English uses British English spelling.


Loan words from Irish

A number of Irish-language loan words are used in Hiberno-English, particularly in an official state capacity. For example, the head of government is the Taoiseach, the deputy head is the Tánaiste, the parliament is the Oireachtas and its lower house is Dáil Éireann. Less formally, people also use loan words in day-to-day speech, although this has been on the wane in recent decades and among the young.

Derived words from Irish

Another group of Hiberno-English words are those derived from the Irish language. Some are words in English that have entered into general use, while others are unique to Ireland. These words and phrases are often Anglicised versions of words in Irish or direct translations into English. In the latter case, they often give a meaning to a word or phrase that is generally not found in wider English use.

Derived words from Old and Middle English

Another class of vocabulary found in Hiberno-English are words and phrases common in Old and Middle English, but which have since become obscure or obsolete in the modern English language generally. Hiberno-English has also developed particular meanings for words that are still in common use in English generally.

Other words

In addition to the three groups above, there are also additional words and phrases whose origin is disputed or unknown. While this group may not be unique to Ireland, their usage is not widespread, and could be seen as characteristic of the language in Ireland.

Grammar and syntax

The syntax of the Irish language is quite different from that of English. Various aspects of Irish syntax have influenced Hiberno-English, though many of these idiosyncrasies are disappearing in suburban areas and among the younger population.

The other major influence on Hiberno-English that sets it apart from modern English in general is the retention of words and phrases from Old- and Middle-English.

From Irish


Reduplication is an alleged trait of Hiberno-English strongly associated with stage-Irish and Hollywood films.

  • the Irish ar bith corresponds to English "at all", so the stronger ar chor ar bith gives rise to the form "at all at all".
    • "I've no time at all at all."
  • ar eagla go … (lit. "on fear that …") means "in case …". The variant ar eagla na heagla, (lit. "on fear of fear") implies the circumstances are more unlikely. The corresponding Hiberno-English phrases are "to be sure" and "to be sure to be sure". In this context, these are not, as might be thought, disjuncts meaning "certainly"; they could better be translated "in case" and "just in case". Nowadays normally spoken with conscious levity.
    • "I brought some cash in case I saw a bargain, and my credit card to be sure to be sure."

Yes and no

Irish lacks words that directly translate as "yes" or "no", and instead repeats the verb used in the question, negated if necessary, to answer. Hiberno-English uses "yes" and "no" less frequently than other English dialects as speakers can repeat the verb, positively or negatively, instead of (or in redundant addition to) using "yes" or "no".

  • "Are you coming home soon?" â€" "I am."
  • "Is your mobile charged?" â€" "It isn't."

Recent past construction

Irish indicates recency of an action by adding "after" to the present continuous (a verb ending in "-ing"), a construction known as the "hot news perfect" or "after perfect". The idiom for "I had done X when I did Y" is "I was after doing X when I did Y", modelled on the Irish usage of the compound prepositions i ndiaidh, tar éis, and in éis: bhí mé tar éis/i ndiaidh/in éis X a dhéanamh, nuair a rinne mé Y.

  • "Why did you hit him?" â€" "He was after giving me cheek."

A similar construction is seen where exclamation is used in describing a recent event:

  • "I'm after hitting him with the car!" Táim tar éis á bhualadh leis an gcarr!
  • "She's after losing five stone in five weeks!"

When describing less astonishing or significant events, a structure resembling the German perfect can be seen:

  • "I have the car fixed." Tá an carr deisithe agam.
  • "I have my breakfast eaten." Tá mo bhricfeasta ite agam.

This correlates with an analysis of "H1 Irish" proposed by Adger & Mitrovic, in a deliberate parallel to the status of German as a V2 language.

Reflection for emphasis

The reflexive version of pronouns is often used for emphasis or to refer indirectly to a particular person, etc., according to context. Herself, for example, might refer to the speaker's boss or to the woman of the house. Use of herself or himself in this way often indicates that the speaker attributes some degree of arrogance or selfishness to the person in question. Note also the indirectness of this construction relative to, for example, She's coming now

  • "'Tis herself that's coming now." Is í féin atá ag teacht anois.
  • "Was it all of ye or just yourself?" Ar sibhse go léir ná tusa féin a bhí i gceist?

This is not limited only to the verb to be: it is also used with to have when used as an auxiliary; and, with other verbs, the verb to do is used. This is most commonly used for intensification, especially in Ulster English.

  • "This is strong stuff, so it is."
  • "We won the game, so we did."

Prepositional pronouns

There are some language forms that stem from the fact that there is no verb to have in Irish. Instead, possession is indicated in Irish by using the preposition at, (in Irish, ag.). To be more precise, Irish uses a prepositional pronoun that combines ag "at" and mé "me" to create agam. In English, the verb "to have" is used, along with a "with me" or "on me" that derives from Tá … agam. This gives rise to the frequent

  • "Do you have the book?" â€" "I have it with me."
  • "Have you change for the bus on you?"
  • "He will not shut up if he has drink taken."

Somebody who can speak a language "has" a language, in which Hiberno-English has borrowed the grammatical form used in Irish.

  • She does not have Irish. Níl Gaeilge aici. literally "There is no Irish at her".

When describing something, many Hiberno-English speakers use the term "in it" where "there" would usually be used. This is due to the Irish word ann (pronounced "oun" or "on") fulfilling both meanings.

  • "Is it yourself that is in it?" An tú féin atá ann?
  • "Is there any milk in it?" An bhfuil bainne ann?

Another idiom is this thing or that thing described as "this man here" or "that man there", which also features in Newfoundland English in Canada.

  • "This man here." An fear seo. (cf. the related anseo = here)
  • "That man there." An fear sin. (cf. the related ansin = there)

Conditionals have a greater presence in Hiberno-English due to the tendency to replace the simple present tense with the conditional (would) and the simple past tense with the conditional perfect (would have).

  • "John asked me would I buy a loaf of bread." (John asked me to buy a loaf of bread.)
  • "How do you know him? We would have been in school together." (We went to school together.)

Bring and take: Irish use of these words differs from that of British English because it follows the Gaelic grammar for beir and tóg. English usage is determined by direction; person determines Irish usage. So, in English, one takes "from here to there", and brings it "to here from there". In Irish, a person takes only when accepting a transfer of possession of the object from someone else â€" and a person brings at all other times, irrespective of direction (to or from).

  • Don't forget to bring your umbrella with you when you leave.
  • (To a child) Hold my hand: I don't want someone to take you.

To be

The Irish equivalent of the verb "to be" has two present tenses, one (the present tense proper or "aimsir láithreach") for cases which are generally true or are true at the time of speaking and the other (the habitual present or "aimsir ghnáthláithreach") for repeated actions. Thus, "you are [now, or generally]" is tá tú, but "you are [repeatedly]" is bíonn tú. Both forms are used with the verbal noun (equivalent to the English present participle) to create compound tenses.

The corresponding usage in English is frequently found in rural areas, especially Mayo/Sligo in the west of Ireland and Wexford in the south-east, Inner-City Dublin along with border areas of the North and Republic. In this form, the verb "to be" in English is similar to its use in Irish, with a "does be/do be" (or "bees", although less frequently) construction to indicate the continuous, or habitual, present:

  • "He does be working every day." Bíonn sé ag obair gach lá.
  • "They do be talking on their mobiles a lot." Bíonn siad ag caint go leor ar a bhfóin póca.
  • "He does be doing a lot of work at school." Bíonn sé ag déanamh go leor oibre ar scoil.
  • "It's him I do be thinking of." Is air a bhíonn mé ag smaoineamh.

From Old and Middle English

In old-fashioned usage, "it is" can be freely abbreviated ’tis, even as a standalone sentence. This also allows the double contraction ’tisn’t, for "it is not".

Irish has separate forms for the second person singular (tú) and the second person plural (sibh). Mirroring Irish, and almost every other Indo European language, the plural you is also distinguished from the singular in Hiberno-English, normally by use of the otherwise archaic English word ye [jiː]; the word yous (sometimes written as youse) also occurs, but primarily only in Dublin and across Ulster. In addition, in some areas in Leinster, north Connacht and parts of Ulster, the hybrid word ye-s, pronounced "yiz", may be used. The pronunciation differs with that of the northwestern being [jiːz] and the Leinster pronunciation being [jɪz].

  • "Did ye all go to see it?" Ar imigh sibh go léir chun é a fheicint?
  • "None of youse have a clue!" Níl ciall/leid ar bith agaibh!
  • "Are ye not finished yet?" Nach bhfuil sibh críochnaithe fós?
  • "Yis are after destroying it!" Tá sibh tar éis é a scriosadh!

The word ye, yis or yous, otherwise archaic, is still used in place of "you" for the second-person plural. Ye'r, Yisser or Yousser are the possessive forms, e.g. "Where are yous going?"

The verb mitch is very common in Ireland, indicating being truant from school. This word appears in Shakespeare, (though he wrote in Early Modern English rather than Middle English,) but is seldom heard these days in British English, although pockets of usage persist in some areas (notably South Wales, Devon, and Cornwall). In parts of Connacht and Ulster the mitch is often replaced by the verb scheme, while Dublin it is replaced by "on the hop/bounce".

Another usage familiar from Shakespeare is the inclusion of the second person pronoun after the imperative form of a verb, as in "Wife, go you to her ere you go to bed" (Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene IV). This is still common in Ulster: "Get youse your homework done or you're no goin' out!" In Munster, you will still hear children being told, "Up to bed, let ye" [lɛˈtʃi]

For influence from Scotland see Ulster Scots and Ulster English.

Other grammatical influences

Now is often used at the end of sentences or phrases as a semantically empty word, completing an utterance without contributing any apparent meaning. Examples include "Bye now" (= "Goodbye"), "There you go now" (when giving someone something), "Ah now!" (expressing dismay), "Hold on now" (= "wait a minute"), "Now then" as a mild attention-getter, etc. This usage is universal among English dialects, but occurs more frequently in Hiberno-English. It is also used in the manner of the Italian 'prego' or German 'bitte', for example a barman might say "Now, Sir." when delivering drinks.

So is often used for emphasis ("I can speak Irish, so I can"), or it may be tacked onto the end of a sentence to indicate agreement, where "then" would often be used in Standard English ("Bye so", "Let's go so", "That's fine so", "We'll do that so"). The word is also used to contradict a negative statement ("You're not pushing hard enough" â€" "I am so!"). (This contradiction of a negative is also seen in American English, though not as often as "I am too", or "Yes, I am".) The practice of indicating emphasis with so and including reduplicating the sentence's subject pronoun and auxiliary verb (is, are, have, has, can, etc.) such as in the initial example, is particularly prevalent in more northern dialects such as those of Sligo, Mayo and the counties of Ulster.

Sure is often used as a tag word, emphasising the obviousness of the statement, roughly translating as but/and/well. Can be used as "to be sure", the famous Irish stereotype phrase. (But note that the other stereotype of "Sure and …" is not actually used in Ireland.) Or "Sure, I can just go on Wednesday", "I will not, to be sure." The word is also used at the end of sentences (primarily in Munster), for instance "I was only here five minutes ago, sure!" and can express emphasis or indignation.

To is often omitted from sentences where it would exist in British English. For example, "I'm not allowed go out tonight", instead of "I'm not allowed to go out tonight".

Will is often used where British English would use "shall" or American English "should" (as in "Will I make us a cup of tea?"). The distinction between "shall" (for first-person simple future, and second- and third-person emphatic future) and "will" (second- and third-person simple future, first-person emphatic future), maintained by many in England, does not exist in Hiberno-English, with "will" generally used in all cases.

Once is sometimes used in a different way from how it is used in other dialects; in this usage, it indicates a combination of logical and causal conditionality: "I have no problem laughing at myself once the joke is funny." Other dialects of English would probably use "if" in this situation.

Major dialects and accents

Modern phonologists often divide Irish English into five major varieties:

Ulster English

Ulster English (or northern Irish English) here refers collectively to the varieties of the Ulster province, including Northern Ireland and neighbouring counties outside of Northern Ireland, which has been greatly influenced by Ulster Irish as well as the Scots language, brought over by Scottish settlers during the Plantation of Ulster. Its main subdivisions are mid Ulster English as well as Ulster Scots English, more directly and strongly influenced by the Scots language.

Ulster varieties distinctly pronounce:

  • /ɪ/ as lowered, in the general vicinity of [ë~ɘ~ɪ̈].
  • /ÊŒ/ as fronted and slightly rounded, more closely approaching [Éž].
  • /uː/ and /ÊŠ/ both in the general vicinity of [ʉ].
  • /aÊŠ/ with a backed on-glide and fronted off-glide, putting it in the vicinity of [ɐʏ~ɜʉ].
  • /aɪ/ as [ɛɪ~ɜɪ], particularly before voiceless consonants.
  • /eɪ/ as [eː], though nowadays commonly [eːə] or even [ɪːə] when in a closed syllable.
  • /oÊŠ/, almost always, as a slightly raised monophthong [o̝(:)].
  • A lack of happy-tensing; with the final vowel of happy, holy, money, etc. as [e].
  • Syllable-final /l/ occasionally as "dark [É«]", though especially before a consonant.

Notable lifelong native speakers

  • Christine Bleakley â€" "The Northern Irish accent is the sexiest in the UK, according to a new poll. The dulcet tones of Liam Neeson, Jamie Dornan, Christine Bleakley and Rory McIlroy helped ensure the accent came top of the popularity charts"
  • John Cole â€" "His distinctive Ulster accent"
  • Nadine Coyle â€" "her strong Londonderry dialect"
  • Jamie Dornan
  • Rory McIlroy
  • Daniel O'Donnell â€" "the languid Donegal accent made famous by Daniel O'Donnell"
  • Liam Neeson

West and South-West Irish English

West and South-West Irish English here refers to broad varieties of Ireland's West and South-West Regions. Both are known for:

  • The backing and slight lowering of /aÊŠ/ towards [ɐʊ~ʌʊ].
  • The more open starting point for /É"r/ and /É"ː/ of [É'ːɹ~äːɹ] and [É'ː~ä], respectively.
  • The preservation of /oÊŠ/ as monophthongal [oː].
  • /θ/ and /ð/, respectively, as [t(Ê°)] and [d].

South-West Irish English (commonly known, by specific county, as Cork English, Kerry English, or Limerick English) also features two major defining characteristics of its own: the raising of /ɛ/ to [ɪ] when before /n/ or /m/ (as in again or pen), and the noticeable intonation pattern of a higher pitch at the start of a sentence followed by a significant drop in pitch on stressed long-vowel syllables, which is popularly heard, in rapid conversation, as a kind of up-and-down "sing-song" pattern.

Notable lifelong native speakers

  • Roy Keane â€" "Cork accent"
  • Dáithí Ã" Sé â€" "his Kerry dialect"
  • The Rubberbandits â€" "Rubberbandits' strong Limerick accent... sits on a frequency like a tambourine which can cut through any noise"

Local Dublin English

Local Dublin English (or popular Dublin English) here refers to a traditional, broad, working-class variety spoken in the Republic of Ireland's capital of Dublin. It is the only Irish English variety that in earlier history was non-rhotic; however, it is today weakly rhotic, and it uniquely pronounces:

  • /aɪ/ as [əɪ].
  • /aÊŠ/ in the vicinity of [ɛʊ~eÊŠ].
  • /É"ɪ/ as [aɪ~äɪ].
  • /oÊŠ/ as [ʌʊ~ÊŒo].
  • /ÊŒ/ as [ÊŠ].
  • /θ/ and /ð/, respectively, as [t(Ê°)] and [d].

The local Dublin accent is also known for a phenomenon called "vowel breaking", in which the vowel sounds /aʊ/, /aɪ/, /uː/, and /iː/ in closed syllables are "broken" into two syllables, approximating [ɛwə], [əjə], [uwə], and [ijə], respectively.

Notable lifelong native speakers

  • Damien Dempsey â€" "his distinctly Dublin sound" and "a working class Dublin accent"

Non-local Dublin English

Non-local Dublin English here refers collectively to non-localised, non-working class, and more recent varieties of Dublin and the surrounding eastern region of Ireland. It includes mainstream Dublin English, a widely common, middle-class variety that preserves a few local Dublin features while setting the basis for an otherwise supraregional (excluding the north) Irish English accent, as well as new Dublin English (also, advanced Dublin English and, formerly, fashionable Dublin English), a youthful variety beginning in the 1990s among, originally, the "avant-garde" and now those aspiring to a non-local "urban sophistication". New Dublin English itself, first associated with affluent and middle-class inhabitants of southside Dublin, has replaced (yet was largely influenced by) the moribund Dublin 4 accent (popularly known as "DART speak" or, later, "Dortspeak"), which originated around the 1970s from Dubliners who rejected traditional notions of Irishness, regarding themselves as more trendy and sophisticated; however, particular aspects of the Dublin 4 accent became quickly noticed and ridiculed as sounding affected, causing these features to fall out of fashion by the 1990s.

For more on the non-local Dublin sound system, see the section below on supraregional southern Irish English.

Notable lifelong native speakers

  • Andrew Scott â€" "his soft-as-rain Dublin accent"

Supraregional southern Irish English

Supraregional southern Irish English (sometimes, simply, supraregional Irish English) here refers to a variety crossing regional boundaries throughout all of the Republic of Ireland, except the north. As mentioned earlier, mainstream Dublin English of the early- to mid-1900s is the direct influence and catalyst for this variety. Most speakers born in the 1980s or later are showing fewer features of the twentieth-century mainstream supraregional form and more characteristics of an advanced supraregional variety that aligns clearly with the rapidly-spreading new Dublin accent (see more above, under "Non-local Dublin English").

Ireland's surparegional dialect, uniquely pronounces:

  • /aɪ/ along a spectrum [aɪ~äɪ~É'ɪ], with innovative [É'ɪ] particularly more common before voiced consonants, notably including /r/.
  • /É'r/ may be [É'ːɹ], with a backer vowel than in other Irish accents.
  • /É"ː/ as [É'ː].
  • /É"r/ as [É'ːɹ].
  • /É"ɪ/ as [É'ɪ].
  • /oÊŠ/ as a diphthong, approaching [oÊŠ], as in the mainstream United States, or [əʊ], as in mainstream England.

Pronunciation and phonology


The following charts list the vowels typical of Irish English dialects as well as the several distinctive consonants of Irish English. Phonological characteristics of overall Hiberno-English as well as of the five aforementioned sub-divisions of Hiberno-Englishâ€"northern Ireland (or Ulster); West & South-West Ireland; local Dublin; non-Local Dublin; and supraregional (southern) Irelandâ€"are all listed in the charts below:

Other phonological characteristics of Irish English include that consonant clusters ending in /j/ are distinctive:

  • /dj/ becomes /dÊ'/, e.g. dew/due, duke and duty sound like "jew", "jook" and "jooty".
  • /tj/ becomes /tʃ/, e.g. tube is "choob", tune is "choon"
  • The following show neither dropping nor coalescence: /kj/ (as in cute), /hj/ (as in huge), and /mj/ (as in mute).

The naming of the letter H as "haitch" is standard, while the letter R is called "or", the letter A is often pronounced "ah", and the letter Z is often referred to as "e-zed" in working-class Dublin and Belfast accents or parodies of same.

Some words gain a syllable in Irish speech, like film, which for some speakers sounds more like "fillum".

See also




  • Hickey, Raymond (1984). "Coronal Segments in Irish English". Journal of Linguistics 20 (2): 233â€"250. doi:10.1017/S0022226700013876. 
  • â€"â€"â€" (2007). Irish English: History and Present-day Forms. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-85299-4. 
  • Adger, David (2003). Core Syntax: A Minimalist Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924370-0. 
  • Kortmann, Bernd; Schneider, Edgar W., eds. (2004). A Handbook of Varieties of English: CD-ROM. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3110175320. 

External links

  • Everyday English and Slang in Ireland

Post a Comment