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Which one is easier - Irish Gaelic or Scottish Gaelic ( Gaidhlig ) ?

Which of the two are easier ? Will the time taken to reach each level be more or less similar ?

December 30, 2019



This is unverified, but I have heard that Irish is a particularly difficult language to learn, because of the level of inflection, mutation, etc. These tendencies are present in Scots Gaelic (and Welsh) but to a lesser extent. I would therefore suspect that Scots Gaelic is slightly easier to learn in that respect. I also suspect that the Scots Gaelic has a higher proportion of Anglic loanwords which may make comprehension easier.

In terms of time to reach each level on Duolingo, though, Scots Gaelic will almost certainly be quicker because it's a relatively short course, with only 34 skills, whereas Irish has 64.


Generally they are very similar. They use a lot of verbal nouns (eg. Sc. tha mi ag ithe an ubhaill, Ir. táim ag ithe an úill for I am eating the apple), they both use two different to be verbs, the Sc. bi, Ir. verb for describing things and their whereabouts and the copula is for classifying (defining) and identifying things. They both use lenition as a grammatical concept (and lenition works basically identically in both). They both mostly lost noun declension but vocative and genitive forms are still used to some extent. They share a lot of similar idioms (tha X agam, tá X agam for I have X; X a tha annam, X atá ionam for I am X, I act as X; etc.). Both have conjugated prepositions (orm, ort, agam, etc.). Both have distinct slender and broad consonants…

Irish (especially Munster dialects) retain a bit more complex verbal system (it has a present simple tense, past habitual, present subjunctive – used to form wishes; more conservative writers might also use past subjunctive though I think this died out in spoken language).

Munster dialects retain a lot of synthetic endings for those tenses (eg. déinim instead of déanann mé or deineann mé for I do, (do) shiúlais instead of shiúl tú for you walked, buailfid instead of buailfidh siad for they will strike, etc.), but in Ulster and Connacht mostly analytical forms like in Scottish are used (so déanann mé, shiúl tú, buailfidh siad, etc.).

Then Scottish has separate dependent and independent endings (bidh will be vs cha bhi will not be) where Irish uses only one form (beidh, ní bheidh), although some irregular verbs still have separate dependent forms in Irish (chím for I see, but ní fheicim for I do not see, although feiceann mé as an independent form is also used in Connacht and the standard language).

Irish retains eclipsis as another consonant mutation (besides lenition) which no longer exists in Scottish as a grammatical feature (although there are some traces of it). For example in Irish he is… is tá sé…, he is not… is níl sé… (from ní fhuil sé) or chan fhuil sé…, is he…? is an bhfuil sé…?, and isn’t he…? is nach bhfuil se…? or ná fuil sé…?. From that you can see that the verb has two present forms: independent and dependent fuil that can be lenited to fhuil and eclipsed to bhfuil. In Scottish you have three forms: tha, chan eil, nach eil, and a’ bheil with no apparent connection between them.

Irish, I think, is a bit less regular in forming plurals – there are more endings. In written Irish the genitive is consistently used (and taught by schools, and in the Duolingo course), although in spoken dialects it mostly went out of use.

Relative clauses are similarly formed in both with a particle a, but Irish has a clear distinction between:

  • a direct relative clause (which takes the independent form of a verb and lenites it, except for a few verbs), when the thing described by a relative clause is a subject or a direct object of a relative clause: an fear atá ann the man that is there (the man is a subject), an cat a chonac the cat that I saw (the cat is the direct object) or with analytical form an cat a chonaic mé (but this can also mean the cat that saw me),
  • an indirect relative clause (the dependent form of verb, eclipsed), when there is a more complex relation between the clause and the thing it describes (also, Munster here uses go as the relative particle, but it uses a after prepositions), eg.: an buachaill a bhfuil a mháthair tinn (Munster: an buachaill go bhfuil) the boy whose mother is sick (the boy is neither the subject nor the object of the relative clause), an bord a bhfaca mé cat air (Munster: an bord go bhfacas cat air) or an bord ar a bhfaca mé cat the table on which I saw a cat (again, the table is not a subject nor a direct object); an bhean a bhfuil tú ag caint léi (an bhean go bhfuil) or an bhean lena bhfuil tú ag caint the woman with whom you are speaking.

In Scottish also two constructions exist, but the construction with dependent verb is only used when the preposition is placed before the relative particle (or so I think, if I’m wrong, correct me): am fear a tha ann, an cat a chunnaic mi (all those like in Irish), am balach a tha a mhàthair bochd (here, the independent form used, unlike Irish), am bòrd a chunnaic mi cat air (independent form) but also: am bòrd air am faca mi cat (dependent form), a’ bhean a tha thu a’ cainnt rithe (or a’ cainnt ris? I found a PDF suggesting Scottish doesn’t have gender agreement here, see p. 7, ex. 21) (indep. form) or a’ bhean ris a bheil thu a’ cainnt (dep. form).


I started the Irish course a while back but eventually abandoned it because there weren't enough recordings in place for me to remember how the words were spelled and pronounced. The Scottish Gaelic course has provided recordings from a variety of Gaelic speakers which has made it much easier to associate the written words with the spoken words. So far I find both languages harder than Welsh but I am having a much easier time remembering how the words sound in the Scottish course thanks to all the recordings, so well done Duolingo!


I don't know how the languages themselves would compare (they're very similar, right down to having the exact same spelling rule and similar grammar/vocabulary), but I've heard that the Irish course is one of the harder ones on Duolingo. People have been saying that the Scottish-Gaelic course is easier. (I personally haven't gone far enough in either one to know.) I'd say to try them both and see which one you prefer; this is just what I've heard.

Volgav vitsenanieff nivya kevach varatsach.


I also can't say which one is easier (though I would also be interested in knowing if there is some sort of consensus for that for the Celtic languages (I know there is an approximate ranking for the Romance languages)).

I have, however, done both trees to at least the second checkpoint, so I have a bit of an impression of how the duolingo courses are.

The Irish course is fairly grammar focused and the skills are often sorted by word types. So you'll get a number of new verbs and their conjugations to learn in one skill, for example, and in the next one, a number of prepositions. There are also usually more words to learn per skill than in the Scottish Gaelic course. The Irish course also throws the occasional curveball at you and will ask for genitives or verb nouns without really having introduced them properly, so that can be fun for people who like a challenge. ;)

The Scottish Gaelic course is sorted more by topics than by word types. So you'll learn the words for food in one skill and the words for weather in another. The grammar is in there, but it's more evenly spaced: you'll get the words for two or three verbs in a skill, together with maybe a preposition and it's different forms, a few adjectives plus a number of nouns. I'm not sure if this makes learning the language faster in the long run, but at least for me, this method makes it easier to remember things.


Well, from my experience, being fairly fluent in Gaelic, and understanding the grammatical rules very well, so I am in a position to identify the differences when I study Irish. silmeth goes through the details, but, honestly, none of these differences is significant in the scheme of things. True, they have an extra mutation, but once you have got the idea, the second is easier than the first, and it's less complicated anyway. There are a few extra verb endings to learn, and a couple of extra verb constructions (which you will actually need in Gaelic if you want to reach a reasonable level anyway).

The much bigger difference is in the courses. The Gaelic course is much more user friendly, and you can always get an answer from the comments if you don't understand something. The most common type of comment on the Irish course is 'This was reported 4 years ago. Why hasn't it been fixed?' Overall I found the Irish course so badly made that I just gave up.

A much more interesting comparison between the languages is between Gaelic/Irish and Welsh. Gaelic/Irish is much more like German. There are lots of rules. This seems bad until you consider the alternative. In Welsh, like in English, it's not the rules that are the problem, but the things that don't follow rules. As any learner of English or Welsh will tell you, there is nothing more infuriating that being told the rule you thought you knew does not apply anymore. I have just lost count of how many different ways to say tha they have in different sentences. And if you think Irish is bad with two mutations, you could try Welsh with four, or Breton with five. The general rule is that there are more as you go south. And the spelling system we have in Gaelic/Irish that tells you clearly what mutation has occurred and what the original letter was is a godsend compared to Welsh, where they just write it how it sounds.

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