Irish has no words that directly translate to “yes” and “no”. The closest equivalents are sea (“it is”), (“is/am”), and níl (“is not/am not”).

To answer a yes/no question in Irish, you repeat the verb, positively or negatively. For example:

  • An bhfuil tú…? [Are you…?]
  • Tá mé. [I am.]
  • Níl mé. [I am not.]

This pattern carries over into English in Ireland.


Origin of oui, the French word for “yes”:

By the fourteenth century, Romance dialects belonged to two broad categories. Those in which “yes” was pronounced oc—mostly south of the Loire River—were called langues d’oc (oc languages). Those in which speakers said oïl for “yes”—in the north—were called langues d’oïl, a term which came to be used interchangeably with Françoys. Oïl and oc are both derivatives of the Latin hoc (this, that), which at the time was used to say yes. In the south they simply chopped off the h. In the north, for some reason, hoc was reduced to a simple o, and qualifiers were added—o-je, o-nos, o-vos for “yes for me,” “yes for us” and “yes for you.” This was complicated, so speakers eventually settled for the neutral o-il—“yes for that.”