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Comhfhocail / Compound Words

easy grammar tips

A ‘comhfhocal’ (compound word) is a word which is made up of two (or more) parts. 'Compound words are very common in Irish, so it's good to know a little about them.


The first part of a comhfhocal can be made up of a particle (i.e. not a 'full' word which means something on its won); an adjective; or a noun. The second part of a comhfhocal will be a noun.


Some examples of compound words

The particle 'oll' means 'huge'. Here are some examples of compound words using this particle:

Oll + margadh (market) = ollmhargadh (supermarket)

Oll + scoil = ollscoil (university)

Oll + péist (worm) = ollphéist (monster / a superworm 😉)


The particle 'mí' is similar to 'un', 'in', or 'dis' before a word in English, and has the effect of giving the opposite meaning to a word.

Mí + ceart = mícheart (‘uncorrect!’/ wrong)

Mí + buntáiste = míbhuntáiste (disadvantage)

Mí + compordach = míchompordach (uncomfortable)

Mí + cúramach = míchúramach (uncareful, i.e. careless)

Mí + cumas (ability)  = míchumas (disability)


‘Droch’ = bad

Droch + duine = drochdhuine

Droch + nós (habit) = drochnós


Compound words are affected by lenition (séimhiú)

Notice that a séimhiú (the letter 'h') is inserted into the second part of the word, if possible. (e.g. – it’s not possible to insert a ‘h’ after ‘n’ therefore ‘drochnós’). (h,l,n,r cannot take a séimhiú)


There is one big exception to this rule. Have you spotted it from the examples above?

If any two of these letters meet in the middle then lenition does not happen:

D, N, T, L, S

Here is an easy way to remember this rule – just remember these two compound words:   

An old woman               Seanbhean

An old person               Seanduine           (no 'h' as two of d,n,t,l,s 'collide')    


A compound word made up of two nouns

In Irish, a compound word can also be made up of two nouns.

The Irish word for 'village' is 'sráidbhaile'.

This word is made up of the noun 'sráid' (street) and the noun 'baile' (town).

So, the literal meaning of an Irish village is 'street-town'! ;-)

Sráid (f.) + baile (m.)  = sráidbhaile


As you can see from this example the first part of the new word is feminine (sráid/ an tsráid), and the second part is masculine (baile/ an baile) – so will the new compound word be masculine or feminine?!

The answer to this question is that the second part will determine if the new compound word is masculine or feminine. In this case, 'sráidbhaile' will be a masculine noun:

an sráidbhaile (m)


If you want to know a little more about masculine and feminine nouns in Irish have a read of my blog post: Learn Irish with Father Ted


Knowing about compound words is useful because it makes it much easier to recognise and understand really long words, as they can now be broken down into separate words. This is a good trick when learning Irish! 

If you want to know more about learning Irish with me have a look at the courses I offer, or contact me to find out more.

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