Consonants

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Gaelic spelling only uses 13 consonant symbols (b, c, d, f, g, h, l, m, n, p, r, s, t) to represent almost 30 different Gaelic consonant sounds. In Gaelic, the consonants are divided into two groups, the 'broad' consonants and the 'narrow (slender)' consonants.

Susbaint

Broad and slender pairs

For every broad consonant, there's a corresponding narrow consonant; so, we may speak of a broad and slender s, d, and so on. Listen to the difference between:

Broad s Slender s
[kas] cas leg [kaːʃ] càis cheese
[suːl] sùil eye [ʃuːl] siùil sails
Broad d Slender d
[bad] bad clump (n.) [badʲ] baid clump (genitive)
[duːd] dùd blast (n.) [dʲuːdʲ] diùid shy

Note that broad d and broad t are dental sounds in Gaelic (i.e. the tongue touches the teeth).

How does the spelling show broad and slender?

A consonant is broad if it's preceded or followed by any of the broad vowels a o u, short or long, and a consonant is slender if it's preceded or followed by any of the slender vowels i e, short or long. Therefore, a consonant preceding or following a o u indicates that a consonant is broad. Similarly, a consonant preceding or following i e indicates that a consonant is slender. Since a consonant can not be both broad and slender, vowels on both sides of a consonant must be in accord as to their broad or slender colouring. This is sometimes stated as a rule:

caol ri caol is leathann ri leathann
slender with slender and broad with broad

Consider the following examples:

[kalag] [baLə] [gʲiLʲə] [dɯːNʲə] [bagə] [pɛhbɛr] [ʃeːməs] [maːrʲɪ] [brɔːgən]
caileag balla gille daoine baga pàipear Seumas Máiri brògan
girl wall boy people bag paper James Mary shoes

The Pronunciation of Gaelic Consonants

In some cases, the pronunciation of the broad consonants is similar to their English counterparts, but there are many differences. In Gaelic, the pronunciation of l n r is radically different and their pronunciation is treated in a special section, although some of the sound files are located on this page.

The only accurate guide to the pronunciation of these sounds is the IPA representation. Ideally, you should use these guides in conjunction with the help of a native speaker. But, even without such help, the IPA gives a very good guide to pronunciation. Don't shun it - it's a tool especially designed by professionals as a pronunciation guide, and a complete IPA chart offers an accurate representation of the sounds of the world's languages. See also our Rough Guide to the IPA.

B sounds

Broad b is like the p in spit or sport.

This is a devoiced and unaspirated bilabial stop. Devoiced means that your vocal chords are not vibrating. You can check this by putting your hand on your throat - if you feel vibration, it's voiced, if there is no vibration, it's devoiced. The hardcore IPA transcription is [b̊] or [p].

[baLə] balla wall (n.)
[bad] bad clump (n.)
[bahdə] bata stick (n.)
[balə] baile town
[basgadʲ] basgaid basket
[ab] ab(a) abbott
[kab] cab gap (n.)
[piːb] pìob pipe (n.)
[dʲiːləb] dìleab legacy
[abɪrʲ] abair say!
[kabər] cabar rafter

Slender b is pronounced similarly to broad b, but is accompanied by a /j/ sound like the <y> in <yes> if followed by a back vowel. The hardcore IPA symbol for this is [b̊j].

[biː] bidh will be
[bir] bior sharp
[bɛn] bean wife
[bjɔː] beò alive
[bjuːg] biùg faint sound
[kaibə] caibe spade
[Luib] lùib bend (n.)

D sounds

Broad d is close to <t> as in <start> or <stuck>.

This is a devoiced and unaspirated dental stop. Dental means that the tip of your tongue touches your teeth. Devoiced means that your vocal chords are not vibrating. You can check this by putting your hand on your throat - if you feel vibration, it is voiced, if there is no vibration, it's devoiced. The full IPA symbol is [d̪̊] or [t̪].

[dah] dath colour (n.)
[darə] dara second (adj.)
[dãv] damh stag
[duːl] dùil hope, expectation
[bad] bad clump (n.)
[dad] dad anything
[sad] sad shake!
[kLɔgəd] clogad helmet
[kadəL] cadal sleep

Slender d is somewhat similar to <j> in <judge>, but devoiced.

This is both devoiced and dental. Note: use the blade of the tongue rather than the tip and with less lip rounding. In full IPA, we'd write [d̊ʲ] or [tʲ].

[dʲeː] what?
[dʲigʲ] dig come (future dependent)
[dʲɛrɛg] dearg red
[dʲɛLɛv] dealbh picture
[madʲə] maide stick (n.)
[karɪdʲ] caraid friend
[bɔːdʲ] bòid vow (n.)

G sounds

Broad g is like the <k> or <c> in <skunk> or <scorn>.

This is a devoiced and unaspirated stop. Devoiced means that your vocal chords are not vibrating. You can check this by putting your hand on your throat - if you feel vibration, it's voiced, if there is no vibration, it's devoiced, so the pure IPA symbol would be [g̊] or [k].

[gad] gad withe
[gax] gach every
[gav] gabh take!
[gaL] gal crying
[Lag] lag weag
[pɔːg] pòg kiss
[tog] tog lift!
[adag] adag haddock

Slender g is somewhat similar to the <g> in <argue>.

This sound is very much like [g] only much more forward in your mouth, at your palate. It is a devoiced and unaspirated, palatalised stop. In full IPA, [g̊ʲ] or [kʲ].

[gʲiLʲə] gille boy
[gʲaL] geal white
[gʲaːR] gearr cut!
[gʲɔːLə] geòla yawl
[agʲə] aige at him
[Lagʲə] laige weaker
[Rugʲ] ruig arrive!

P sounds

Broad p is like the

in <pad> at the beginning of a word. In full IPA, we'd write [pʰ].

[puhd] put push!
[paːʃdʲə] pàiste infant
[pɔuL] poll mud

Elsewhere, non-initially, <p> as in <pad> is preceded by <h> and pre-aspirated in a stressed syllable. In full IPA this would be [ʰp].

[Rahb] rap rope (n.)
[drahb] drap
[kuhban] cupan cup (n.)

Slender p is pronounced like broad <p>, but is accompanied by a /j/ sound like the <y> in <yes> after a back vowel. [pʰj] in full IPA.

[pian] pian pain (n.)
[pju.ər] piuthar sister
[pjauN] peann pen (n.)

Like <p> in <pea> preceded by <h>, in all other positions, in a stressed syllable.

[kʲihban] cipean stake (n.)

T sounds

Broad t is somewhat like <t> in <tap> at the beginning of a word, but dental. Dental means that the tip of your tongue touches your teeth. This sound is also aspirated, so in pure IPA we'd write [t̪ʰ].

[taLə] talla hall
[taLəv] talamh ground, earth
[tog] tog lift!

Like <t> in <tap> preceded by <h> otherwise but dental. This sound is also pre-aspirated, [ʰt̪] in full IPA.

[kahd] cat cat
[bahdə] bata stick (n.)
[baːʰdə] bàta boat

At the beginning of words, slender t is somewhat similar to <c> in <chew>, but unvoiced. This sound is palatalised and aspirated. Note: use the blade of the tongue rather than the tip. Pure IPA writes this as [tʲʰ].

[tʲeː] (female) one
[tʲauN] teann tight
[tʲaLəx] teallach hearth

Similar to <j> in <judge> preceded by <h>, but in all other positions it's unvoiced. This sound is palatalised and pre-aspirated. Note: use the blade of the tongue rather than the tip. [ʰtʲ] in full IPA.

[aːʰdʲə] àite place (n.)
[içdʲag] iteag feather
[Lʲihdʲɪrʲ] litir letter (n.)

C sounds

Broad c is the same as <c> in <can> at the beginning of a word. In full IPA, [kʰ].

[kahd] cat cat
[kuː] dog
[kaLʲəx] cailleach old woman

Like <c> in <cat> but in all other positions preceded by [x], [xk] in pure IPA.

[maxg] mac son
[saxg] sac sack (n.)
[bɔːʰgan] bòcan spectre

Slender c is similar to the <c> in <cue> at the beginning of a word.

This sound is very much like [k] only much more forward in your mouth (at your palate). It's a voiceless and aspirated, palatalised stop. In full IPA, this would be [kʲʰ].

[kʲauN] ceann head
[kʲiːLʲ] cill churchyard
[kʲed] cead permission

Similar to the <c> in <cue>, but pre-aspirated in all other positions. It's a voiceless and pre-aspirated, palatalised stop.

[miçgʲ] mic sons
[açgʲə] aice at her
[façgʲ] faic see!

M sounds

Broad m is exactly like <m> in <mat>.

[maxg] mac son
[mahb] map map (n.)
[maːhɪrʲ] màthair mother
[maːrʲɪ] Màiri Mary

Slender m is pronounced just like broad <m> but accompanied by a /j/ sound like the <y> in <yes>, as in English <mule>, if a back vowel follows.

[mi] mi I, me
[miːn] mìn soft
[mjauL] meall lump
[mjuːg] miùg whey

F sounds

Broad f is like <f> in <fat>.

[faːg] fàg leave!
[faːs] fàs grow!
[faLd] falt hair

Slender <f> is pronounced like broad <f>, but is accompanied by a /j/ sound like the <y> in <yes>, similar to English <few>, if followed by a back vowel.

[fis] fios knowledge
[feːLʲ] féill festival
[fjuː] fiù even
[fju.ər] fiughair expectation

S sounds

Broad s is a bit like s in sat, but dental. In pure IPA, [s̪].

[sɔhb] sop wisp
[sɔn] son sake
[kas] cas foot
[Lus] lus plant

Slender s is a bit similar to <sh> in <shoe> but without the lip rounding i.e. spread lips.

[ʃɛn] sean old
[ʃauL] seall look!
[kaːʃə] càise cheese



Fuaimean na Gàidhlig
Vowels - Consonants - Fricatives - Slenderisation - Pre-aspiration - Lenition - Helping vowel - Diphthongs
Hiatus - l n r - rt & rd - Vowels before rr ll nn - Unstressed vowels

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