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Two More Questions, about Accents

I read that traditionally both grave and acute accents were used, and that they indicated different things ... grave meant the vowel sound was lengthened and acute meant the quality of the sound changed (please correct me if I have that wrong). How did the change to grave accents only come about? It seems that some very useful information was lost.

And question 2 ... it has only just dawned on me that the accent does not indicate stress on the syllable. I took it for granted that it did, so I was confused about some pronunciations, e.g., beò. Is this correct? Is the accent unrelated to stress? If so, for those few (I believe) words in which the first syllable is not stressed, how does one know where to place the stress?

January 15, 2020



Ad 1: both grave (`) and accute (´) accents were used to mark long vowels (so both lengthened the vowel), but yes, the sound quality of long vowels were different:

  • ò and è were used for more open sounds [ɔː] and [ɛː] (òl, sèimh),
  • ó and é for more close long vowels: [oː] and [eː] (mór, céile, in modern spelling mòr, cèile).

Apparently there is also the same quality difference between short open [ɔ] in bochd and close [o] in bog, and open [ɛ] in fear and close [e] in beag. Not sure what their distribution exactly is (though it looks to me like the open variants tend to happen next to broad aspirated consonants – p, t, c, ch, etc.; while close ones next to unaspirated ones: b, d, g, etc., and slender ones).

See Vowels on Akerbeltz and Scottish Gaelic phonology on Wikipedia.

As for 2:

  1. Acc. to Akerbeltz, unstressed vowels are never long (so if you see a long vowel in a center of a word – it is stressed). In that regard, a grave or acute accent does mean both long vowel and stress.
  2. Majority of words have stress on first syllable, so just assume stress on first syllable.
  3. Many exceptions are compound words written with a hyphen with first element being a short unstressed word (eg. a-muigh with stress on muigh).
  4. The remaining exceptions – with no long vowel or hyphen – you’ll just need to learn by heart.

See Unstressed vowels on Akerbeltz.


Thank you for all this information. It will take a while to digest it. Also, after listening to the pronunciation of beò on the Words page I've realized that the stress is on the second syllable, consistent with your observation above.


Since many people (especially in Nova Scotia and places where the difference is more apparent) intentionally choose to preserve the acute accent when appropriate in their Gaelic, I wish that when acute accents were appropriately used they wouldn’t be marked as having incorrect accent usage on Duolingo exercises.

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