The verb "to be" is more important in Welsh than in most languages, since it is often used as a helping verb, as it is in English
when we say "I am going". We will explain more about this in Section 3.2, but for now we will concentrate on just the verb "to be". Here is the conjugation of the present tense of "bod", the verb "to be" .
Mae e Mae hi
He is She is
Welsh adopts the position that the verb comes first,
followed by the subject, which in this case is the personal pronoun.
personal pronouns actually vary somewhat. The most important distinction to recognize is with respect to the third person
singular masculine pronoun "e". The form given is for the dialect of Welsh spoken in the South; the Northern form is "o".
Many of the pronouns also differ in literary Welsh; we concentrate in this course on spoken Welsh (unless asked, of course).
Like many Indo-European languages, Welsh makes a distinction
between the familiar form of "you" ("ti") and the polite form ("chi") which doubles as the plural. The rule of thumb is that you use "ti" when talking to friends whom you know well (peers),
children, animals (except maybe those bigger than you that you don't want to offend, like that bull over there), and Deity.
However, there is a great deal of variation among speakers as to which form to use, and even sometimes a discrepancy between
what a person thinks they use in various situations and what they actually use. There may be a somewhat different standard
between young people and old people as to when you know somebody well enough to start using "ti", with the young people tending
to be more informal. I know one person who called his wife "chi" through 50 years of marriage, using the "ti" form only when
addressing Deity. You should use "chi" towards anyone to whom respect is due, either because that person is older than you,
is a complete stranger (like a shopkeeper), or has some authority over you, like being your boss or the person who is examining
you for fluency in Welsh. Which form to use is a matter of society, not of language.
Failure to use the formal form when you should could
make you appear to be pushy or American or both; it could also be construed as insulting. Using the formal form with someone
to whom you would normally say "ti" comes across as coldness or anger.
One of the first things one learns in another language
is how to ask questions, presumably so that one can enquire things of the natives. Never mind the fact that most of the time,
you won't understand the answer anyway.
Ydy e? Ydy
Is he? Is she?
Notice that in the first and second persons, you just
drop the "R"  and add a question mark. In speaking, there is a rising inflection for questions (the question mark is not completely decorative).
You should notice that there is an underlying pattern
exposed in the interrogative form that is broken only by the "ti" form.
So far, so good. Now we come to the issue of answering
the questions posed in the previous section. I wish I could just tell you the Welsh word for "yes", and then you could all
go home feeling like you'd accomplished something. Unfortunately, Welsh does not have a word for "yes". Or rather, Welsh has
many dozens of words for "yes", each of which is reserved for and applicable only to a small set of circumstances. I figure
some of you guys are wondering how you can pick up a Welsh girl, if it's so complicated for her to figure out the right word
to use to say "yes". But don't despair: it's equally difficult for her to say "no".
Anyway, since there is no general word for "yes",
you indicate a positive answer by affirming what was asked (at least the verb part). So we have:
Yes I am.
Yes we are.
Yes you are.
Yes you are.
Yes he/she is.
Yes they are.
So, for example, if someone asks you "Wyt ti?", you
could answer "Ydw". If asked "Ydyn ni?", the answer would be either "Ydyn" or "Ydych", depending on whether the person answering
the question considered himself/herself part of the "ni" in the original question.
To say "no", just use the word "Nag" followed by the
word "yes" :
No I'm not.
No we aren't.
No you aren't.
No you aren't.
No he/she isn't.
No they aren't.
The great advantage of this way of saying "yes" and
"no" is that it avoids potential ambiguities in the answer, especially when dealing with negative questions. For example:
In English, we have two kinds of article: a definite article ("the") and an indefinite article ("a", "an"). Welsh has no word for "a" (you can still say "uh", though,
when you're trying to think of what to say next). The Welsh language thus proves the indefinite article to be superfluous
by omitting it. (Some languages, such as Russian and Latin, omit both articles, but that's for a different set of lessons.)
Thus, the word "car" can be translated either "car" or "a car", depending on the context.
The definite article in Welsh has three different
forms, just as the English indefinite article has two forms. They are summarized in the table below:
If the preceding
word ends in a vowel
Else if the next
word starts with a vowel
"h" at the beginning of a word is considered a vowel. Contrarily, sometimes a "w" at the beginning is not considered a vowel.
y gwely yr
achos yr haf Mae'r gwely yma.
the bed the
cause the summer The bed is here.
Although most place names do not use the definite
article, there are a few that do, including:
As mentioned back in Section 2.1, the verb "to be" is used as a helping verb in making the present tense of other verbs. The particle "yn" is used to do the
linking. (The "y" sound in "yn" is obscure.) Here's the general sentence pattern:
Mae Alun yn darllen.
Alun is reading.
After pronouns ending in vowels, the "yn" is contracted:
Mae hi'n darllen.
She is reading.
The sentences in this can be translated "is reading",
"reads", or "does read". A direct object can be placed after the verb:
Rydyn ni'n darllen
We are reading
Negative sentences can be constructed in a similar
Dydy hi ddim yn
She doesn't read.
singular form of the verb is always used with a compound or plural subject. The "maen" form only occurs with the pronoun "nhw".
Thus, we have
Mae Alun a Mari yn mynd. Mae llewod yn mynd. Maen nhw'n mynd.
No language would be complete without adjectives (although
I am told Hebrew has only a few), and Welsh is no exception. Welsh is like French in that it places the adjective after the
noun that it modifies:
a little bed
The adverb "iawn" (very) goes right after the adjective
a (ac) - (conj.) and achos - (conj.) cause, because
Affrig, yr - Africa bach - (adj.) small ble - where byw - (v.) to live ci - dog da - (adj.) good darllen
- (v.) to read Eidal, yr - Italy gadael - (v.) to leave, to let geirfa - vocabulary gweld - (v.) to see gwely
- bed haf - summer iard - yard iawn - (adv.) very llewod - lions llyfr - book mam - mother mawr
- (adj.) large meddwl - (v.) to think mynd - (v.) to go osgoi - (v.) to avoid pam - why plentyn - child
sgwrs - talk, chat, conversation Swistir, y - Switzerland ty+ - house yma - here ymarfer - practice yn
- (prep.) in yn - <untranslatable particle>
Note: This lesson refers to the soft mutation and
limited soft mutation that are presented in Appendix A. For those who do not have Appendix A in front of them, I review the
changes of the limited soft mutation here:
Welsh falls within the majority of the Indo-European
languages (of which English is an exception in this regard) in assigning an often arbitrary gender to every noun. Welsh has only two genders: masculine and feminine. You can always tell feminine nouns, because they're the ones that wear
More seriously, those nouns for which the gender is
obviously intrinsic to the noun (e.g., girl, son) have the obvious gender (unlike in German, which considers girls, for example,
to be neuter), but there remain many nouns for which assignment of gender is simply a linguistic convention. The long and
short of is that you need to learn the gender for nouns at the time you learn the noun itself. Consider it part of knowing
the word itself.
Welsh nouns can be either singular or plural. (This
is a marked simplification over Homeric Greek, which has a dual number to indicate two of something , or even over Russian, which puts two, three, and four into a special class when counting.) There are a number of different
ways that nouns in Welsh form plurals:
1.Addition of -(i)au to the stem. For example: "mamau" (mothers), "tadau" (fathers),
"pethau" (things), "hetiau" (hats).
2.Addition of -oedd to the stem. For example: "lleoedd" (places), "niferoedd" (numbers).
3.Addition of -i to the stem. For example: "bisgedi" (biscuits), "basgedi" (baskets).
4.Dropping a final -yn or -en. That's right: these nouns actually get shorter when
you make the plural. These nouns seem to be generally the names of plants (or plant parts) and animals that are normally encountered
collectively rather than individually. For example, "rhosyn" (rose) becomes "rhos" (roses); "malwoden" (snail) becomes "malwod"
(snails). Note: Nouns in this category that end in
"-yn" are masculine and those that end in "-en" are feminine.
are many other "regular" ways that Welsh nouns form the plurals (though none quite so regular as the "add -s or -es" in English);
in fact there are too many to list them all here.
Occasionally, the formation of the plural causes a
modification of the vowels. For example: "mab" (son) becomes "meibion" (sons); "aderyn" (bird) becomes "adar" (birds).
And, of course, there are nouns with irregular plurals
like "brawd" (brother) becoming "brodyr" (brothers).
Since there have been nouns presented in previous
lessons, all of those nouns are repeated in this lesson, along with their genders and how to form their plurals (where applicable).
Note on pronunciation
a plural is formed by adding -(i)au, the "au" part is pronounced as a short "e" in S. Wales and as "a" in N. Wales.
(It is sometimes even spelled that way informally: there is a shop in Aberystwyth with the word "pethe" in its name.) It can,
of course, be pronounced the normal way.
The Welsh word
for the number "one" is "un" (if you'll pardon my French ), pronounced (roughly)
"een". It precedes the noun it modifies, and causes a limited soft mutation in exactly the
same places that "y" does, i.e., for feminine, singular nouns:
are not only mutated by "y" and "un", but they also spell trouble for adjectives that modify them. Specifically, they cause
a full (not limited!) soft mutation of any following
One of the major uses for any language is to get what
you want, so you need to know how to say it. (Of course, being polite also helps.) The word used to express wanting in Welsh
is "eisiau". However, it is not treated like a normal verb in that it is not preceded by "yn" when combined with "bod" :
Mae Tom yn dysgu. Mae
Tom eisiau coffi.
Tom is learning. Tom
You can put a verb right after the "eisiau":
Mae Tom eisiau
mynd i'r dre.
Tom wants to go
to the town.
Note on pronunciation
"ei" is pronounced like Welsh "i", the "si" like English "sh" and the "au" like Welsh "o" (in the North) or "e" (in the South).
It is common to see the word spelled "isio" by authors from N. Wales.
achos [-ion, m.] - cause allan - (adv.) outside
anrheg [-ion, f.] - present, gift ar o+l - (prep.) after aros - (v.) wait, stay basged [-i, f.] - basket bore
[-au, m.] - morning braf - (adj.) fine ci [cw+n, m.] - dog dawns [-iau, f.] - dance dod - (v.) come  drws
[drysau, m.] - door dysgu - (v.) learn eisiau - (n.) want gardd [gerddi, f.] - garden gwely [-au, m.] - bed
gwybod - (v.) know gyda - (prep.) with haf [-au, m.] - summer heddiw - (adv.) today hefyd - (adv.) also,
too i - (prep.) to, in order to, for llew [-od, m.] - lion llyfr [-au, m.] - book mam [-au, f.] - mother merch
[-ed, f.] - girl, daughter, woman neithiwr - (adv.) last night o hyd - (adv.) still peth [-au, m.] - thing plentyn
[plant, m.] - child pobl [-oedd, f.] - people prynu - (v.) buy rhesog - (adj.) striped sgwrs [sgyrsiau, f.]
- talk, chat, conversation stafell [-oedd, f.] - room tre [-fi, f.] - town  ty+ [tai, m.] - house un -
We will take it on faith that you actually are happy, and need to express that fact. Back in Section 3.2, we learned that we could express the present tense of a verb by using "bod" as a helping verb together with "yn", as in
Mae Tom yn siopa.
Tom is shopping.
But what if we want to describe what Tom is rather than what he does? To do that, we can place either an adjective or a noun in place of the verb in the above construction:
Mae Tom yn hapus. Mae
Tom yn helpwr.
Tom is happy. Tom
is a helper.
There is one critical difference between these two
constructions and the one with the verb: any adjective or noun used after "yn" suffers from the limited soft mutation (i.e., "ll" and "rh" do not mutate):
Mae Tom yn bell. Mae
Tom yn blismon.
Tom is distant. Tom
is a policeman.
word "braf" ("fine") is not mutated in this (or any other) context (as mentioned in Section 4.6). Thus, we have
So far, we have stuck with sentences where the subject is definite, in other words, it is either a noun with the definite article or a proper noun. However, a sentence may have an indefinite subject (like this sentence). There are many examples of sentences that fall
into this category (like this sentence, or the title of this chapter). You might be tempted to think that a subject is a subject,
and you should just go ahead and use it with "mae", just as you would do with a definite subject. For example, you might try
to extend from
Mae'r bobl yn
The people are
Mae pobl yn dod.
People are coming.
You would be correct (congratulations!). What you
might not expect is that the latter sentence can also be translated "There are people coming." Likewise,
Mae'r dyn yma. Mae dyn yma!
The man is here. There
is a man here!
However, the biggest differences between a definite
subject and an indefinite one come either when you want to ask a question (or answer it), or when you want to say there isn't
To ask a question, the verb form to use is "oes" rather
Ydy'r tegell yn
y gegin? Oes tegell yn y gegin?
Is the kettle
in the kitchen? Is there a kettle in the kitchen?
To say there is not something, you use "does dim"
Does dim lle i
There is no place
The answer to questions starting with "oes" is "oes"
(yes-there-is) or "nag oes" (no-there-is-not) .
Oes gwely yn y
gegin? Oes gwely yn yr ardd?
Nag oes. Does
dim gwely yn y gegin. Oes. (Gwely blodau - a flower bed)
As mentioned back in Section 4.3, when you need to pick a pronoun to refer back to a previously-mentioned noun, you need for it to agree in gender and number with that noun. Since all nouns are either masculine or feminine, if the noun is singular, you wind up using either "e" or
"hi". But what do you do if you need to say "it" and there isn't a noun to refer back to? Do you use "e"? Do you use "hi"?
(Or do you rephrase your sentence to avoid using either?) Well, why don't we just flip a coin to decide between "e" and "hi"?
Here goes ... it's tails. I guess we'll use "hi" in that
Mae hi'n braf
heddiw. Mae hi'n bwrw glaw.
It's fine today. It's
Notice that if the noun is explicit, you still use
the appropriate pronoun:
Sut mae'r tywydd? How
is the weather?
Mae e'n braf. It
It is also common to leave out the pronoun completely:
The preposition "i" ("to") causes a contact mutation. No, this is not related to corrective lenses that change your eye colo(u)r. A contact mutation means that a word causes
the next word, whatever it is, to mutate. The soft mutation is the particular mutation "i" causes:
i Bwlleli i
to Pwlleli to
The range of a contact mutation is only a single word,
so it's more like hitting the "shift" key than the "caps lock". This range contrasts with that of the functional mutation
caused by feminine nouns, which can propagate considerably: e.g., "y fasged bicnic goch fawr", "the large red picnic basket".
names are not mutated by contact mutations. Thus, you would say "i Tom". Also, non-Welsh place names are generally not mutated,
so you "mynd i Paris" .
There are many times when you need to say "many something".
The Welsh word for "many" is llawer. It is used with the preposition "o" (which causes a soft contact mutation) followed by the plural of the noun. For example,
llawer o bethau llawer
many things many
Other words that are used in this context are ychydig ("(a) few"), digon ("enough", "plenty"), gormod ("too much"), rhagor ("more") and nifer ("a number") . Numbers can also be used in this way, especially large numbers and special numbers like "dwsin" ("dozen"). Finally, words
that indicate a measured quantity take this construction, like "paned" (cupful) and "llwyed" (spoonful).
Since all of these subjects are indefinite, they can
be combined with the ideas from Section 5.3:
Oes digon o afalau
yn y fasged? Oes.
Thus, to say "There are Many Things in this Lesson",
In Welsh, "mynd" means "go". There is one place that all of us are constantly going, and that is to the future, so I guess it's appropriate
that future action can be expressed using "mynd". We can actually say the same thing in English:
Rydw i'n mynd
i aros yma.
I am going to
As before, the preposition "i" causes a soft contact mutation on the word that follows it.
There are times when you need to be emphatic. Crashing
your hand on the table may achieve this effect, but that method is limited in its applicability, since you may not happen
to have a table handy (not to mention that it's totally out of the question for written communication). Not to worry! In Welsh,
you can emphasize part of a sentence by putting it first. Unfortunately, changing the word order also changes the verb that is needed. In this section, we concentrate on sentences where the subject of the sentence is what is emphasized.
The normal word order has a form of "bod" first, followed
by the subject, followed by the complement:
Mae Aled yma. Rydw
Aled is here. I
To emphasize the subject, place it first in the sentence,
and use the special verb "sy" (or "sydd"):
Aled sy yma. Fi
sydd yn darllen.
Aled is here (i.e., not Elwyn). I
am reading (i.e., not you).
As far as I can tell, "sy" and "sydd" may be freely
interchanged, and are not related to such things as whether the following word begins with a vowel, with the former probably
being more common in spoken Welsh. As we will see in Section 0.0,
these sentences can actually be thought of as containing a simple form of a relative clause.
Emphatic subjects are common in "who" and "what" questions
and in the answers to those questions (in fact, there is no other way to ask them):
Pwy sy'n dod i
fwyta heno? Aled sy'n dod. Beth sy'n digwydd yma? Dim.
Who's coming to
eat tonight? Aled is coming. What's happening here? Nothing.
No, I'm not talking about statements like "Wow, that's
absolutely the most fantastic hair style I've ever
seen; how'd you get it to stick like that?". I'm talking about a grammatical complement, not a compliment. The common thread among these sentences
is that the subject comes after the verb, which is itself preceded by something that needs emphasis. So, for example, in the
following two sentences, the second is emphatic.
Rydw i'n ddysgwr. Dysgwr
I am a learner. I
am a learner. (i.e., not a teacher)
Notice that "dysgwr" is no longer mutated in the emphatic
sentence, since it does not follow "yn". Also notice that the form of "bod" used in the emphatic form is the kind we associated
with questions (see Section 2.2). That observation holds all the way through, except that in the third personsingular, where either the form "ydy" or "yw" may be used :
Problem ydy e. Problem
mawr yw Aled. Problem mawr iawn ydyn nhw.
He is a problem. Aled
is a big problem. They are a very big problem.
Note on pronunciation
"w" in "yw" is a consonant; thus, the "y" has the clear sound.
Emphatic questions are easy. Just take your emphatic
sentence and pass it through the "sed" program with the following script "s/\./?/". In English, this means to substitute a
question mark for the period at the end of the sentence. In spoken Welsh, it means to end the sentence with a rising inflection.
Bachgen yw e. Bachgen
yw e? Fi sy'n achosi'r broblem. Fi sy'n achosi'r broblem?
He is a boy. Is he a boy? I'm causing the problem. Am I causing
So how does one answer these questions? To say "yes",
use "ie". "No" is "nage". So
Bachgen yw e?
Nage. Fi sy'n achosi'r broblem? Ie, wrth gwrs.
Being possessive isn't always a bad thing. People
have things, and things have things. To say that noun A has noun B, just put A after B. Thus, we have
drws y ty+ siop
the door of the
house Will Jones's shop
What could be simpler, right? Well, there is one caveat:
in this construction, noun B always winds up being a definite noun, and therefore to use the definite article with it is superfluous (can you say "wrong"?). Thus, you can say
3.Glomming nouns together: a "foreign language communication skills training program"
(taken from an actual radio advertisement) is a "program of training of skills of communication of (in) a foreign language".
"Glomming" is used in its technical sense of "putting next to each other".
you think of the Welsh possessives as true possessives, you should have no trouble remembering which definite article doesn't
belong. In English, you could say
a house's door
(i.e., the door of a house) the house's door (i.e., the door of the house)
but you would never say
*the house's the
leaving out of the article often exposes a noun to mutations that would otherwise have been "blocked" by the article: