Irish Words and Phrases: 
Express Yourself the Irish Way!

Learning a few key Irish words and phrases is such a great way to express your love of the Emerald Isle.  A common Irish phrase or two will not only endear you to your native Irish friends, it could also save you some embarrassment the next time you try to find the washroom at the local Irish pub.  

Irish Expressions:  Irish words and phrases. Image of sign directing patrons to the washroom, courtesy of Flickr.

Trust me, it's important.  It happened to a friend of mine. Yes, a friend. It wasn't me. Honest...

Let's Get Started With Irish Words and Phrases

To begin with, you will definitely want to know what we believe is the most recognized word in the Irish language!  Here it is (drum roll please...) Slainte - pronounced SLAWN-chuh, which means ‘health,’ ‘cheers’ and in most cases ‘drink up!’

Irish Expressions: Irish Words and Phrases. Tile image of the word Slainte from Blarney Woolen Mills.

And being willing to venture out and use the Irish expression for ‘hello’ (Dia Duit: pronounced JEE-uh-gwich) and ‘goodbye’ (Slan: pronounced slawn) would be appreciated in many parts of Ireland, the way it is anywhere you use the local language.

We recommend you get comfortable with the meaning of the words in these basic Irish phrases. They are easy to say, easy to use, and they work in nearly any Irish drinking establishment in the world!

Learn a Bit 'O Irish Slang

In some of our earlier visits to Ireland, and even in talking with Irish people in the US, we have had many chances to practice our Irish words and phrases.

On our way to learning the beautiful Gaelic language, we have found it fun and rewarding to practice common Irish slang words in English.  On rare occasions, we are ‘Bang On’ (pronounced Bang On, meaning we got it right).  More often we ‘make a bags of it’ and have to be corrected.

For example, knowing the various uses of the Irish word 'craic' (loosely translated as 'good times' in the English language) can be useful, even if it’s just a matter of not looking confused when somebody asks you ‘What’s the crack?’ or ‘Where’s the crack?’

Irish Expressions:  Irish Words and Phrases.  Image of tricolor top-hat with the words "What's the Craic?" courtesy of Flickr.

In such cases you are being asked ‘what’s up?’ and you should respond with what you are doing, where you are going, and whether you care to invite the asker to join you.  (Fair warning:  looking around - as if the ‘crack’ were a thing to be pointed at - is a sure sign that Irish slang is not your first language.)

While certain phrases may confuse you, we imagine others will be perfectly understandable. For example if your companion looks over your shoulder at an attractive man or woman and describes them as a ‘fine (foin) thing,’ we’re pretty sure you’ll get it.

On the other hand, if your companion frowns and nods at that ‘shower of savages,’ across the room, you may have a more difficult time figuring out what they’re talking about (let’s just say – it’s something you don’t want to be).

And by the way, if somebody tells you you’re ‘suckin’ diesel,’ don’t get angry – it’s a good thing (means you’re doing great, making sense).

Irish Expressions: Irish Words and Phrases.  Image of pulling jacket open to reveal Irish tricolors, courtesy of Flickr. Now THIS is how you show your Irish side!

If it's 'lashing' outside, you will probably find bad weather if you open the door.  There are many words for rain in the Irish culture as you might imagine :-).

Finally, if you see a raised eyebrow or raised hands and hear the words 'sure look,' - the conversation is probably over.  Your companion is basically saying 'it is what it is' - or even expressing disinterest in what you are saying.

For much more on Irish slang, visit our section on Irish slang words and phrases here.

True Irish Words and Phrases

If you prefer to kick it up a notch and actually impress native speakers by speaking a few common Irish sayings like an Irish person, there are a few Irish Gaelic words and phrases you should definitely know.

The most basic greeting, ‘how are you,’ is Conas ata tu? (CUN-es uh-TA tu).

The standard reply ‘I’m doing fine,’ is Taim go maith (TAHm g’ MAW).

Goodbye (slan) is pronounced SLAWN.  

Other greetings could be ‘good morning,’ maidin maith (May jun my) or ‘good evening’ trathnona maith (traw no nuh my).

To say ‘please,’ le do thoil (LE doh HUL). To say ‘thank you,’ Go raibh maith agat (GUH ROW MAW ug ut). And ‘you’re welcome,’ is go ndeanai mhaith duit (Go nia-nee wa ditch).

Finally, if you need the classic 'where do I find the bathroom?’ try Ca bhfuil an leithreas (CA wil awn LE HER as?).

Irish Sayings

When it comes right down to it, the proper use of Irish words and phrases in real-life conversations comes down to context.  

Celebrating a birthday with an Irish theme?  Check out our section on Irish birthday traditions.

Learning to sing along with a popular Irish pub song?  Pay a visit to our section on Irish song lyrics!

Want to impress your friends with your knowledge of Irish poems and fun Irish limericks? You will find many of those here.

And how about sharing a beautiful Irish proverb or story of Irish history and folklore.  Yep, we have them all.

Want More Irish Sayings?

It is probably obvious - at Irish Expressions, we love Irish wit and wisdom!  Learning Irish sayings gives us a deeper sense of connection with Ireland, wherever in the world we happen to be!

We have captured many of our favorite Irish sayings in an e-book called "77 Favorite Irish Sayings."  In it you will find Irish proverbs, jokes, limericks, blessings and quotes on many, many topics!

This fun, free guide is available to you to download.  Simply scroll to the bottom of the page and share your email address for instant access!