How to Speak English Like the Irish

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with some Irish turns of phrase.

Benny Lewis, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #267


Singular and Plural “You”

Also, come on rest-of-the-English-speaking-world. One word word for both singular and plural “you”? What were ye (pronounced “yee”) thinking? Like pretty much every other language in the world, Irish Gaelic has a word for addressing one person (“tú”) [too] and a word for addressing a group of people (“sibh”) [shiv]. So when we speak English, we keep the handy separation. “We say “ye,” “yis,” or even “yous” (depending on the part of the country) to speak to a group of people, and “ya” to speak to one person.

What Are Some Irish Phrases?

How about some fun phrases?

Story? Don't give out about your man! Where's the yoke?

These are very common things you would hear from an Irish person, but sadly I've had to water down my English over the years to be understood when abroad and avoid such interesting words.

“Story?” or “What's the story?” Is a translation of the Irish “Aon scéal?” or “Cad é an scéal?”--where "story" means "news." In other words, “What's going on?” or “What's up?” It’s usually used as a greeting. The more rural of us prefer "How's she cuttin’?" (“She” being used in Ireland more than in other places for inanimate objects.)

“To give out” has nothing to do with distributing leaflets. This is from the Irish “tabhairt amach” and means “to complain.” This is another phrase that Irish people are always surprised to hear isn't international!

"Your man" is a nice avoidance technique for not using someone's name. It is usually clear from the context who you're taking about, and the "your" definitely can't be taken literally, he may have no connection whatsoever to you and even be a complete stranger (although a close friend is just as likely). If we’re talking about a woman, she’s “your one.” “Don’t give out about your one,” for example, if you’re telling someone to stop complaining about Lady Gaga.

“Yoke” is a synonym for "thing" and usually refers to something that we may not be too familiar with and don’t know the actual name of. It’s like “thingamajig” and “watchamacallit,” but we use it way more often.


Then, of course, there are Irish words that we use even when speaking English. The most famous of these is “craic,” which means "fun" or “enjoyment,” but is also used to ask how things are: “How's the craic?” “Any craic?”