Hiberno-English is the form of the English language used in Ireland. Hiberno-English is also called Irish English and rarely Anglo-Irish.

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The basis for the type of English spoken in Ireland is the grafting of types of English and Scots English, that were brought to Ireland during the English and Scottish colonisation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, onto an Irish language / Gaedhilge stem. The linguistic interference of the Irish language on the English spoken in Ireland is most clearly seen in those areas where Irish is still spoken as a mother tongue or where it has survived until recently.

The standard spelling and grammar are the same as UK English, but especially in the spoken language, there are some unique characteristics, due to the influence of Irish on pronunciation.



Hiberno-English retains many phonemic differentiations merged in other accents of English. Phonetic transcriptions are given using IPA.

  • 'r' is pronounced wherever it occurs in the word, making Irish English a rhotic dialect.
  • The distinction of w and wh , as in wine vs whine is preserved.
  • Merger of the vowels in father and bother in Southern Irish English; and .
  • In some varieties and [t], and and [d] merger, making thin and tin and then and den homonyms; and .
  • The distinction between and in horse and hoarse is preserved.
  • The distinction between -- in herd-bird-curd is preserved.
  • "l" is clear wherever it occurs in a word, as in French
  • 'Pure' vowels: "boat", in a traditional accent, is pronounced , and cane is pronunced
  • The "i" in "night" may be pronounced .
  • The "u" in Dublin may be pronounced .
  • In County Cork, some vowel sounds are often altered. An "e" sound becomes an "i" ("well" becomes "will"). Also "Cork" is locally pronounced as .
  • An accent unique to Dublin known as the Dublin 4 intonation (referring to the local postal district) is an urban/suburban middle class feature. This is an oft derided posh dialect that renders words such as 'car' as 'core' and 'far' as 'fore'. Dublin 4 speakers often end a sentence with the rising question 'Do you know what I mean?' contracted and pronounced rapidly as 'Dja kneww whad I min?'
  • Similarly the working-class Dublin accent is a unique urban feature resembling the blue-collar accents of Manchester and Liverpool in England. This dialect includes phrases such as 'What's the story, Bud?' meaning 'How are you, friend?' pronounced 'Wats de stary bud?' and 'Mad out of it!' pronounced 'Mad ou vih!' meaning drunk or high.
  • In some old-fashioned varieties, words spelled with ea and pronounced with in RP are pronounced with , for example meat, beat.

Grammar derived from Irish

Irish has no words which directly translate as "yes" or "no", instead the verb in a question is repeated in an answer. People in Ireland have a tendency to use this pattern of avoiding "yes" or "no" when speaking English:

  • "Are you finished debugging that software?" "I am."
  • "Is your mobile charged?" "It is."

Irish verbs have two present tenses, one indicating what is occurring at this instant and another used for continuous actions. For example, 'you are now' is tá tú anois (literally 'are you now'), but 'you are every day' is bíonn tú gach lá (literally 'be you each day').

Irish speakers of English, especially in rural areas, use a "does be/do be" (or "bes", although less frequently) construction to indicate this latter continuous present:

  • "He do(es) be coding every day."
  • "They do be talking on their mobiles a lot."
  • "They bes doing a lot of work at school." (rare)

Irish has no pluperfect tense: instead 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. This can most commonly be heard used by Dubliners.

  • "Why did you hit him?" "He was after insulting me."

A similar construction is seen with the 'hot news perfect', used to express extreme excitement at something which has happened recently:

  • "Jaysus, I'm after hitting him with de car!"
  • "Would ya look at yer one — she's after losing five stone in five weeks!"

Less explosively, using what might be termed the 'warm news perfect', the Irish perfect can indicate a recent action of less stellar importance:

  • "I have the computer rebooted." Tá an ríomhaire atosaithe agam.
  • "I have me breakfast eaten." Tá an bricfeasta ite agam.

Mirroring the Irish language and almost every other European language, the plural 'you' is distinguished from the singular, normally by using the otherwise archaic English word 'ye' (the word 'yous' also occurs, but primarily only in Dublin and north Ulster, from Co. Donegal across to Co. Antrim.):

  • "Did ye all go to see it?"

Also in some areas in South Leinster the hybrid word 'ye-s' pronounced 'yis' may be used.

In rural areas the reflexive version of pronouns is often used for emphasis or to refer indirectly to a particular person, etc., according to context:

  • "Was it all of ye or just yourself?"
  • "'Tis herself that's coming now." Is í féin atá ag teacht anois.

- where 'herself' might, for example, be the boss or the woman of the house. Note also the indirectness of this construction relative to, for example, 'She's coming now' and the use of "'Tis" rather than the more standard contraction "It's".

It is also common to end sentences with 'no?' or 'yeah?'

  • "He's not coming today, no?" Níl sé ag teacht inniú, nach bhfuil?
  • "The bank's closed now, yeah?" Tá an banc dúnta anois, an bhfuil?

Irish English also always uses the "light l" sound, and the pronunciation of the letter 'h' as 'haitch' is standard.

When describing something, rural Hiberno-English speakers may describe this as something that is 'in it', which can also be translated into English as 'so it is', or for comical effect 'that it be'.

  • The day that is in it. An lá atá ann.
  • That's John, so it is. Is Seán é, atá ann.

It ought to be noted that this construction is generally limited to the northern half of the country. This isn't just limited to the verb 'to be': it's 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.

  • This Wintel box suck, so it does.
  • I've finished debugging, so I have.

Similarly, somebody who can speak a language, 'has' a language - a very rural construction.

  • She doesn't have Irish. Níl Gaeilge aici.

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.
  • That man there. An fear sin.

The reported clause is also often preserved in its direct form, for example 'John asked me to buy a loaf of bread' becomes 'John asked me would I buy a loaf of bread'.

Preservation of older English usage

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

The word "ye" or "yous", otherwise archaic, is still used in place of "you" for the second person plural.

The verb "mitch" is common in Ireland indicating playing truant from school. This word appears in Shakespeare, but is seldom heard these days in British English, although pockets of usage persist in some areas (notably South Wales, Devon, and Cornwall).

For influence from Scotland see Ulster Scots.

Turns of phrase

"Am not" is abbreviated amn't by analogy with "isn't" and "aren't". This can be used as a tag question:

  • I'm making a mistake, amn't I?

or as an alternative to "I'm not":

  • I amn't joking.

and the double negative is also used:

  • I'm not late, amn't I not?

Reduplication is not an especially common feature of Irish; nevertheless in rendering Irish phrases into English it is occasionally used:

  • 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 money 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'.

Casual conversation in many parts of Ireland includes a variety of colourful turns of phrase. Some examples:

  • Yer man (your man) and Yer wan (your one) are used in referring to an individual known by the party being addressed, but not being referred to by name. The phrases are an unusual sort of half-translation of a parallel Irish-language phrase, "mo dhuine" (literally 'my person'). The nearest equivalents in colloquial English usage would be "whatsisname" and "whatsername".
  • a soft day – referring to a rainy day with that particular soft drizzle, and an overcast sky, but yet relatively bright. This is a translation of the Irish "lá bog".
  • Fecking is a mild abusive equivalent in force to "bleeding" or "darned." It is not a parallel of the English word "fucking", despite their similarity, and is generally less offensive. "Feck" is the corresponding expletive. The noun "fecker" is slightly stronger but not vulgar. These terms were lately introduced to Britain by Father Ted. In old Dubliner slang, "to feck' is also slang for "to steal", as in the phrase, "We went to the orchard and fecked some apples." It can also mean "to throw", especially if something is being thrown where it shouldn't, as in "We fecked his schoolbag into the river."
  • Yoke is typically used in place of the word "thing", for instance "gimme that yoke there". It's also used as an insult: "you're some yoke".
  • 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"), etc. This usage is universal among English dialects, but occurs more frequently in Hiberno-English.

There are many terms for having consumed a drop too much drink, many are used elsewhere, but the Irish tendency is to attempt to find the most descriptive adjective yet on each occasion. Some examples: "scuttered", "locked", "langered", "mouldy" (pron. mowldy as in "fowl"), "polluted", "flootered", "plastered", "bolloxed", "well out of it", "wankered", "fucked", "binned", "gee-eyed", "buckled", "steaming", "messy", "sloppy", "wasted", "paratic" "full as a boot" "legless". (Phrases in italics are more "colourful")

Some turns of phrase are more localised and their meaning may not be widespread throughout the country, while others are more transient and fall out of use after a number of years.

See also


  • Dolan, Terence Patrick (Ed.) (1998). A Dictionary of Hiberno-English. Gill & Macmillan (Dublin). ISBN 0-7171-2942-X
  • Sammon, Paddy (2002). Greenspeak - Ireland in her own Words. TownHouse (Dublin) ISBN 1-86059-144-2; (N. Am.): 0-684-02015-7

Website (complements the book Greenspeak - Ireland in her own Words) Sammon, Paddy: www.greenspeak.info (2003)de:Hiberno-Englisch


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