How to use this dictionary

(Please see the Editors’ Help for help with the additional features available to editors)

If you are used to Dwelly-d, you will notice several familiar features in Am Faclair Beag (AFB).  But there are also many new features.  Here’s how to get the best out of the dictionary:


1. Search Features
1.1 Basic Search
1.2 Advanced Searches
1.2.1 Accent Sensitive Searches
1.2.2 Language Selection
1.2.3 Whole/Part Word Searches
1.2.4 Exact/Similar Word Searches
1.2.5 Results Ordering
1.2.6 Phrase Searches
1.2.7 Regular Expression Searches
2. Dictionary Features
2.1 The Stars and Maps
2.2. The Relevance Bar
3. The New Layout
4. The “New” Am Faclair Beag Entries
5. Abbreviations
6. Faclair nan Gnàthasan-cainnte
    6.1 Using the Gnàthasan-cainnte
7. Our Phonetic Transcription and hardcore IPA - what’s the difference?
8. Our Logo
9. Becoming an Editor

1. Search Features
1.1 Basic Search
For the most basic type of search, you can just enter a Gaelic or English search term and hit Enter or press Search!  This will result in:
1.2 Advanced Searches
You can modify the search in various ways.  You might want to do that if you got too many results, no results or have a search term that isn’t just a single word.  Most of these you can select using the search options.  At the moment, you can do the following:

1.2.1 Accent Sensitive Searches

By selecting the Accent Sensitive option, your search will be accent sensitive.  This means a search for cas will only return cas and a search for càs only càs:
The enter the accents, we suggest you install the Extended UK Keyboard, it’s the most straightforward way to deal with them without buying new hardware.  Alternatively, you can click on the accented vowels underneath the search options to insert them:

1.2.2 Language Selection
The default search option is Universal, which means that both English and Gaelic data fields are searched. Practically speaking, if you search for put, you will get both results for the English verb to put and the Gaelic word for push!

If you select either English to Gaelic or Gaelic to English, the dictionary will search only in the direction selected:

1.2.3 Whole/Part Word Searches
The default setting here is for full word searches.  This means that the dictionary will be searched for the whole word.  If you enter dogfish for example, the dictionary will look for entries containing that word.

If you select Part Word and enter dog as a search term, the dictionary will return entries for words that contain the word dog, for example dog, dog-kennel, doggish, dogfish...:

1.2.4 Exact/Similar Word Searches
The default setting always tries to locate (the accents aside) words which have  exactly the same spelling as your search term.  Hence a search for sgrìobh (or sgriobh) will look for exactly that spelling.

If you select Similar Word as an option, the dictionary will use an algorithm to find words that are similar in spelling (you probably want to restrict to search to Gaelic to English too in most cases).  So a search for sgrìobh (or sgriobh) using that option will return words like sgrìobh, sgarbh, sgrìbh, sgrìobha, sgreubh...:

This is a useful option when you’re looking for a word and aren’t entirely sure about the spelling.

1.2.5 Results Ordering
Results are automatically ordered by relevance.  We are using a fairly sophisticated algorithm that determines which results are most likely to be relevant for your search.  But since all automated processes like that are imperfect, it is also capable of learning (see The Bar for more on that).

Sometimes, especially when you are getting a large number of results and you’re looking for a specific term, it can be quicker if you order results alphabetically:

Please do consider using the Relevance Bar (, see The Bar) to help improve the relevance ordering for all users.

1.2.6 Phrase Searches
Sometimes you may be looking for a string of words rather than just a single word.  There are various ways in which you can do this.  If you expect the words you are looking for to be next to each other, simply enter both words in the search box:

This will return all entries where the words put down appear next to each other like that.

If you’re not expecting the words to be next to each other, the easiest way to find the desired result is by using the % operator between your search terms.  If you are looking for the phrase a cat may look at the king for example, you would enter cat%king:

This search looks for entries where cat and king are separated by other letters or numbers, so you will also get things like ...cattle, making... or ...cathag. 2‡‡ Ransacking... in your search results.  If you want to avoid those additional results, you can select Part Word (also select Accent Sensitive for technical reasons) and enter the search terms in the following format: {cat}.*{king}. That will only get you a cat may look at the king:

Generally that won’t be a problem for you but if you want more powerful search options, check out the next section on Regular Expression searches.

1.2.7 Regular Expression Searches
The dictionary is capable of handling something called Regular Expression searches.  While very powerful, they can be difficult to understand at first.  For example, the above {cat}.*{king} search in Regular Expression would be [[:<:]]cat[[:>:]].*[[:<:]]king[[:>:]].  For the above, fortunately there’s the shorter form with the curly brackets.

With Regular Expression you can do things like searches for both lenited and unlenited words at the same time or words that begin or end in a particular string of letters.  If you are interested in learning more about these, check our (very small) Regular Expression Help page.

2. Dictionary Features
2.1 The Stars and Maps

As a non-registered user, you will notice a set of stars in each dictionary entry.  These stars are there to help you understand how common a word is.  They are the result of native speakers and fully fluent learners who are judging entries each time they use AFB.  They decide whether they a) don’t know a word, b) understand a word but don’t use it themselves or c) both understand and use a word.

This data is collected by the dictionary and in turn feeds the stars you can see:

No star means that a word has not received any votes yet

One star means that most editors are not familiar with this word

Two stars mean that most editors at least understand the word

Three stars mean that this word is in common use and most native speakers and fluent learners will understand it.

At the bottom of each full AFB entry you can also see exactly how many people have voted for what rating.

The aim of this system is twofold.  On the one hand, it will enable the community to “audit” the thousands of words listed in the dictionaries.  This is important because in many cases, we don’t have any idea of how alive a certain word may be or if it is restricted to certain areas only. But most importantly it will also promote a sense of ownership amongst native speakers.  Historically, many of the people working on Gaelic dictionaries were not native speakers (Dwelly being a good example).  This does not dimish the stalwart efforts made to create dictionaries, word-lists and even new words but often left the native speaker community feeling that “someone else” was taking over “their language”.  By introducing a democratic element into AFB, we are aiming to counter this feeling.

There is more information on why we have restrictions on who gets to vote and how to become an “editor” in the Becoming an Editor section.

Anyway, the kinkiest outcome of all this voting are our increasingly useful usage maps, like this one:

To find our more, check out the special pages on the maps.

2.2 The Relevance Bar
You will also see a yellow bar next to each entry:

This relates to what is called the “search relevance”.  When you do a search in the dictionary, a search algorithm tries to figure out the entries most relevant to your search and put them at the top of the list.  But as many automated systems, this one isn’t flawless either but here’s how you can help improve the dictionary:

When you have searched for a word and found the one you were looking for, you can use your mouse pointer to slide the red bar across until it turns green.  The further right you slide it, the higher the recorded relevance will be.

For example, if you searched for “goat”, you would intially have found ”gobhar” on the third page of the results (if sorted by relevance):

By sliding the bar across, you tell the dictionary that “gobhar” is more relevant to someone searching for “goat” than most of the other entries:

Next times someone searches for “goat”, the dictionary remembers this and will place “gobhar” nearer to the top.
You don’t have to rate the relevance but if you do, it will improve the dictionary for everyone over time.  You can vote on as many search results as you wish but normally people only vote on the 1 or 2 most relevant search results.  The Bar is gradable, which means you can judge a result to be “sort of relevant but not totally” by only sliding it part-way across.

3. The New Layout
To make your search results easier to navigate, we have reduced each entry to a standard size.  You can still see the full entry by clicking on corr, which will bring up the full entry.

However, to prevent you from developing tennis elbows from clicking too much, we have also devised a way of showing you the full entry without you having to click at all.  Simply move your cursor over the entry, and a box will apear showing you the full entry:

3.1 Links to Dwelly’s Original Pages
When you click on the blue headword for a Dwelly entry, you will find another new feature.  Just below the entry you will find a link that looks like this:

If you click on it, it will take you to another website which has the scanned pages of Dwelly’s dictionary.  This may be useful if you want to look at Dwelly’s original illustrations or perhaps when you think you may have encountered a spelling mistake in AFB’s version of Dwelly’s.

4. The “New” AFB Entries
If you search for the term “water”, you will see one of the new AFB entries.  The initial view is what we call the “condensed view”.  It gives you all the vital information you need for dealing with a Gaelic word if you’re a more advanced user of the language such as gender, plurals, verbal nouns, concise meanings etc.  

There are also some exciting features planned to help with pronunciation.  Each entry will have a phonetic transcription of the Gaelic word in the International Phonetic Alphabet.  This is slowly becoming more common in teaching Gaelic as most other systems are not capable of indicating pronunciation correctly.  But because we know that not everyone is fully familiar with the IPA, each AFB entry will ultimately also have a sound file which you can play by simply moving the cursor over the speaker symbol.  By visually seeing the transcription and hearing the recording, it will help learners get a much better grasp on pronunciation.

You can also click on the blue headword.  This will take you to the Full Entry.  These new full entries will contain a host of information which will be especially useful for learners but also of interest to other users, such as detailed information on how the grammar of a word works, dialectal variations and pronunciation, the history of the word and other information that may be relevant.

5. Abbreviations
Dwelly’s dictionary uses a number of abbreviations to mark sources or parts of speech (e.g. sm for masculine nouns, sf for feminine nouns, a for adjectives). For the most part, these are fairly obvious but in case there’s one that confuses you, you will find a full list here.

Our own are as follows:
To indicate the geographical region of a placenames in Scotland, we use the standard abbreviations used on British maps:

6. Faclair nan Gnàthasan-cainnte
As part of our aim to merge as many dictionary resources as possible for people’s convenience, our first step was to merge the FnanGC, formerly hosted on the Akerbeltz site, into the Faclair Beag.  This collection of idioms and expressions used a whole load of abbreviations but these have now been replaced by full examples.

6.1 Using the Gnàthasan-cainnte
Please note that the translations of Gaelic idioms are not literal.  This is deliberate to make sure that the meaning of an idiom is clear, especially to learners.

For example, the Gaelic idiom cho righinn ri cat is given in English as as stubborn as a mule.  In English, mules are considered stubborn but not cats, hence giving as stubborn as a cat would not make sense from the English point of view.  

In this particular case, the meaning would still be clear even if we did give you as stubborn as a cat in English. However, there are Gaelic idioms where the meaning of an expression is so far removed from its literal translation that it would be totally opaque to someone not already fully fluent.  For example the expression tha mo cheann a’ dol tuathail would be totally meaningless if given literally as my head is going counter-clockwise.  So it is translated as I’m frazzled and my head is spinning, which are the appropriate English expressions for this concept.

So please use the Gnàthasan-cainnte bearing this in mind!

7. Our Phonetic Transcription and hardcore IPA - what’s the difference?
Well spotted, out phonetic transcription and “pure” IPA are not quite the same. When I started out teaching classes on Gaelic pronunciation, I used “pure” IPA - with all the squiggles and hooks but I soon learned that people tended to ignore them or got somewhat confused and that I got better results by drilling the pronunciation of a simplified form of some of the symbols and then using those. I then also used the same version in my book on pronunciation, Blas na Gàidhlig, so when we did the dictionary, it seemed best to stick to the same system. Those of you who have done Celtic studies will recognise a lot of the modified symbols, as the only difference between the system used commonly in Celtic studies and mine is that instead of the ´ symbol to mark a palatal sound I stuck with the IPA symbol ʲ for that because ´ is too close to the IPA symbol ' (which marks a stressed syllable).

So here’s a list of the differences (any which aren’t listed are the same in both systems):
Pure IPA
[ p ]
[ pʰ ] /p/
[ k ] /g/
[ kʰ ] /k/
[ t̪ ] /d/
[ t̪ʰ ] /t/
[ l̪ˠ ] /L/
[ ʎ ] /Lʲ/
[ n̪ˠ ] /N/
[ ɲ ] /Nʲ/
[ ɾ ] /r/
[ rˠ ] /R/
[ ɾʲ ]
[ s̪ ] /s/

8. Our Logo
The logo we have chosen for the Faclair Beag is a symbol originally used by Irish and Gaelic scribes.  It is called the ceann fo ite or “head under wing”; ceann faoi eite and cor faoi chosán “twist in the path” in Irish and exists in a number of variations.  Ours is based on a Scottish manuscript.

The original use of the ceann fo ite was as a type of insertion mark.  It was used when a scribe used space at the end of the next line to complete a sentence in the line above in order to save vellum, which was expensive.  To us, it represents “insertion” in the sense of participation in the Faclair Beag by the Gaelic community.

If you want to learn more about the ancient tradition of writing amongst Gaels, try this website.

9. Becoming an Editor
There are currently not many new entries with all these exciting features, but we’re working on it.  Only native speakers or learners with near-native abilities can obtain the voting rights that allow you to vote on whether you use or know a word.  The dictionary distinguishes votes by native speakers and votes cast by fluent learners too, so it’s easy to see which group is voting, and how.

If you are a native speaker or fully fluent learner and would like to contribute by voting on entries, please email us at fios (at)  Getting an account is completely free and the voting is quick and easy - a single click on a star.  There will be a short telephone interview to determine your language status but once that is completed, you can start logging in and voting.

Also, if you have academic experience in dictionary work and would like to contribute, please do get in touch.