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    English influence on Irish

Syntactic transfer

That English has had a considerable influence on the structure of Irish is only to be expected given the dominant position of English in Ireland since at least the mid 19th century (Stenson 1991, 1993). But for native speakers the influence is not so much felt in phonology or in morphology, given the considerable differences between the two languages on these levels. Lexical influence can be recognised in Irish, especially through code-switching which can help to establish words permanently in the language. Pragmatic markers, such as well, just, now, by dad, are also commonly inserted into Irish sentences.


The reasons for using English words in Irish speech are not always easy to discern. Many native speakers code-switch because they know the words from an English-speaking context and perhaps wish to show to their interlocutors that they know the English word, especially when this is of a technical or scientific nature. For instance, words which have to do with medicine are often used in their English form although Irish equivalents exist already. Conversely, non-native speakers can often be quite purist and use existent, but perhaps not common Irish words to show, again to their interlocutors, that they know these.









In other cases, the speakers would seem to spontaneously prefer the English expression, perhaps because it is fashionable, or for younger speakers, just ‘cool’.

English Irish
active gníomhúil
boring leadránach
super sármhaith, thar barr

One measure of the extent to which English words have been integrated into Irish is whether they can combine with Irish prefixes and suffixes. For instance, the augmentative prefix an-, found in native combinations like an-suimiúil ‘very interesting‘, an-bhródúil ‘very proud‘, is also found with many English words, e.g. an-funny (no lenition), an-weird. Sometimes, the English word occurs in combination with the prefix in one specific meaning from English, Bhí an-night againn san ostán ‘We had a great night (of entertainment) in the hotel‘, Bhí an-time againn ‘We had a great time’.

Irish also has productive endings, for instance the adjective suffix -(e)áilte, which can be attached to stems, many of which are quasi-loans from English, or just spontaneous uses during code-switching: faireáilte ‘fair’, trickeáilte ‘tricky’, stubbornáilte ‘stubborn’, sureáilte ‘sure’.

Beyond vernacular usage there is the level of formal usage in which code-switching is avoided and equivalents to recent English words are used consistently. Some of these have become generally established, especially those from the realm of computing (though some, like bogearraí [soft + produce] ‘software’ sound quite strained).

English Irish
feedback aiseolas [back + knowledge]
take-away béilín amach [meal-DIMINUTIVE away]
foodchain biaslabhra [food chain]
streamlined sruthlíneach [stream lined]

English Irish
computer ríomhaire
email ríomhphoist
website suíomh idirlín
download íoschóipeáil, íoslódáil

Syntactic transfer

On the level of syntax there is a strong influence of English, despite the typological differences between the two languages. The reason for this somewhat paradoxical situation is that there are certain structural parallels between Irish and English which facilitate the transfer of English patterns. English phrasal verbs and verbs with prepositional complements are particularly common in Irish (Doyle 2001a, 2001b, Veselinović 2006) as are direct translations of English idioms. These are usually translated word for word, something which is possible in quite a number of cases.

Bhí sí déanta suas mar cailleach. ‘She was done up as a witch.’
[was she done up as a witch]

Thóg sé tamall fada ceart go leor. ‘It took a long time sure enough.’
[took it time long right enough]

Bhí orm súil ar an t-am a choinneáil. ‘I had to keep an eye on the time.’
[was on-me eye on the time COMP keep]

Caithfidh tú d’intinn a dhéanamh suas. ‘You have to make your mind up.’
[must you your mind COMP make up]

Some cases of transfer represent a departure from Irish by calquing English syntax rather than just transferring words one by one. The following cases show (i) a calque on the absolute infinitive construction of English which is realised in Irish by le + verbal noun and (ii) another calque on the absolute participal construction by using the progressive of Irish with ag + verbal noun.

Le bheith faireáilte díobh, . . . ‘To be fair to them, . . .’
Ag dul thar ais go dtí an siúineoireacht, . . . ‘Going back to carpentry, . . .’

Semantic transfer

Instances of transfer may involve the imposition of secondary meanings of English onto near equivalents in Irish. For instance, the verb to look (at something) in English is breathnaigh (ar rud) in (western) Irish. But there is an intransitive use of look in English meaning ‘have a certain appearance’. This use has been realised by intransitivising breathnaigh in Irish as in the following case:

Tá an teach nua ag breathnú go maith anois.
‘The new house is looking nice now.’


Doyle, Aidan 2001a. ‘Verb-particle combinations in Irish and English’, in: John M. Kirk and Dónall P. Ò Baoill (eds), Language Links: The Languages of Scotland and Ireland. Belfast: Queen’s University, pp. 81-99.

Doyle, Aidan 2001b. ‘Tá “sorry” orm, ach níl sé suas chugat féin’ [I am sorry, but it is not up to you], in: M. Ó Cearbhaill (ed), An Aimsir Óg 2000. Baile Átha Cliath: Coiscéim, pp. 275-9.

Stenson, Nancy 1991. ‘Code-switching vs. borrowing in Modern Irish’, in Ureland and Broderick (eds), pp. 559-79.

Stenson, Nancy 1993. ‘English influence on Irish: The last 100 years’, Journal of Celtic Linguistics 2: 107-28.

Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (ed.) 2006. The Celtic Englishes IV. Potsdam: University Press.

Ureland, P. Sture and George Broderick (eds) 1991. Language Contact in the British Isles. Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on Language Contact in Europe. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Veselinović, Elvira 2006. ‘How to put up with cur suas le rud and the bidirectionality of contact’, in Tristram (ed.), pp. 173-90.