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Basic Word Order

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In this post, we will be looking at the basic word order of Irish. This is quite different to English and is one thing many learners are confused about in the beginning.


Irish uses a word order known as "VSO". This stands for Verb - Subject - Object. To understand this a bit better, let's look at what each of these words mean.

  • Verb: A word that conveys an action ("an action word") e.g. eat, run, walk

  • Subject: The person/thing doing the action. This can be a noun, name or pronoun ("the doer of the action") e.g. he, we, the woman, Alex

  • Object: The entity that is acted upon by the subject ("the receiver of the action") e.g. him, them

Before we look at the Irish, let's look at an example sentence in English so you understand all this grammatical mumbo jumbo...I mean....useful information. (Note: English word order is subject-verb-object)

The dog (1) bites (2) the girl (3)

Let's break it down:

The dog (1) is the subject. It is performing the action.

bites (2) is the verb. It is an action. It is being performed by the dog.

the girl (3) is the object. The subject is acting upon the object.

Do you get it? Great! Now give the dog a stern look and tell him/her not to bite people and let's move on to what you're here for: Irish!

As I said, Irish word order is VSO. Since you now understand what this means, let's look at a sample sentence in Irish.

Itheann (1) siad (2) bia (3)

Again, let's break it down: (translation in bold)

Itheann (1, eat) is the verb. It is an action.

siad (2, they) is the subject. They are performing the action.

bia (3, food) is the object. It is the item being eaten. The subject is performing an action upon it.

The whole sentence translates to: They eat food. But, if this is translated, word for word, without taking word order into account, it is: Eat they food. (But this is wrong! I am showing this to you for the purposes of understanding, but you should never use this translation)

I hope you now have a better understanding of Irish word order! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments of this thread!


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September 11, 2014



Thank you so much for this!

I was still uncertain about the sentence structure and was going to find some guides based on grammar but thanks to your post, you've saved me a lot less hassle!

Musiclover23 :)


Hello, I'm loving the site, so fun to try and get not just the language right but the rhythm as well! One suggestion, could you give the audio pronunciation for the words used in the introduction? Thanks


I believe they are in the process of updating this. It has been my question also. :) I am also doing the French and Italian course and there is a lot more audio, for sure.

The awesome thing is, that outside of Rosetta Stone and Transparent, I have not found an Irish/Gaeilge language learning course. So Duolingo is right up there as one of the top 2 courses for learning, starting Irish language learning.

There are actually more and more videos on Youtube *(and I try to find them all) but it is not the same, at this point.


Wow! Thanks. But how would you form a sentence like. "I know you can do it because I said so"? It is a random sentance, but a perfect example for what I am confused about.


I know you can do it because I said so. = I know that you can do it, because I said that you can do it. You need to have the full sentence without shortcuts to be able to translate more easily, because different languages do not use the same shortcuts. That being said, I also feel that the word order with "Tá" should have also been covered. An easier sentence would have been "I have a dog." with the intended meaning of "I own a dog." In Irish this is "Tá madra agam." which technically looks like "Is a dog at me." not to be confused with "There is a dog with me." which would be "Tá madra ann liomsa." So their way of talking uses a lot of prepositions, not the same ones we would use and sometimes where we would not use any preposition at all. Worse, they combine the object of the preposition when it is a pronoun with the preposition so that "at me." is "agam" and "at you" is "agat" while "ag" will be the preposition that precedes a noun. Here is a table of these prepositions combined with pronouns: http://www.irishpage.com/quiz/preppron.htm If you have done all the lessons before Prepositions, you will be able to see the Tips and notes for Prepositions 1 on this page by scrolling down. https://www.duolingo.com/skill/ga/Prepositions-1 There they describe some other uses of prepositions for sentences in which we would not use them. For example, "I must run." uses the preposition "ar" in Irish and checking the table the combined form with "I" gives you "orm", so that it becomes "Tá orm rith." which looks technically like "Is on me to run."

So, now every time you see a preposition in Irish, you have to look for the hidden meaning. I mean I totally did not expect "I want food." to be "Tá bia uaim." which uses the preposition "from" as if one could anticipate that from the literal "Is food from me."!!! Then there is another form: "Teastaíonn uaim snámh." I want/need to swim. They even use it for "I need" as well as "I want"... I mean if we were to reverse the order for "I want food." or "I need to swim." we would say "Food is wanted by me." or "Swimming is needed by me." or "Swimming is wanted by me." Yet, in Irish they use the preposition "from"!!!

The other word order that should not have been left out is when Irish uses the "Copula" When we say "He is a doctor.", the Irish say "Is dochtúir é." which is literally, "Is doctor he." So much for the basic word order, because the Copula uses "VOS" or verb-object-subject word order. I highly recommend checking out this free grammar site which explains the Copula in detail as well as prepositions and so much more: http://www.nualeargais.ie/gnag/gram.htm

Added later for your specific question: Here is a dictionary that will help if you break it into pieces. http://www.teanglann.ie/en/eid/i_know http://www.teanglann.ie/en/eid/You_can_do_it http://www.teanglann.ie/en/eid/I_said_so

Google translate cannot really be trusted, but it can sometimes give you an overall idea and clues that you can verify with the real dictionary. Sometimes it is wrong, but it is not always completely wrong. I looked here before I pulled out the real dictionary and surprisingly it was not too far off.


Thank you! You are amazing!


I added the dictionary pages above which might also help.


Thank you so much! This portal has been really helpful to me, as I have been struggling with Irish grammar a bit. Thanks again!


Thank you, this is so helpful!

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