Modern Welsh can be written in two varieties — Colloquial Welsh or Literary Welsh. The grammar described on this page is for Colloquial Welsh, which is used for speech and informal writing. Literary Welsh is closer to the form of Welsh used in the 1588 translation of the Bible and can be seen in formal writing.
Initial consonant mutation is a phenomenon common to all Insular Celtic languages, although there is no evidence of it in the ancient Continental Celtic languages of the early first millennium. The first consonant of a word in Welsh may change depending on grammatical context (such as when the grammatical object directly follows the grammatical subject), or when preceded by certain words, e. g. i, yn, and a. Welsh has three mutations: the soft mutation, the nasal mutation, and the aspirate mutation. These are also represented in writing:
A blank cell indicates no change.
For example, the word for "stone" is carreg, but "the stone" is y garreg (soft mutation), "my stone" is fy ngharreg (nasal mutation) and "her stone" is ei charreg (aspirate mutation). The examples show usage in the standard language; the soft mutation is slowly supplanting the nasal and aspirate mutations as the mechanism behind the mutations ceases to be understood. These days, the aspirate mutation is only really carried out for words beginning with c in colloquial language and in some areas it is totally unknown (it is sometimes joked that a sign of hypercorrection amongst learners is to order "jin a thonic" in a bar). The nasal mutation is now only used in three circumstances and it is also being replaced by the soft mutation.
*The soft mutation for g is the simple deletion of the initial sound. For example, gardd "garden" becomes yr ardd "the garden".
The soft mutation (Welsh: treiglad meddal) is by far the most common mutation in Welsh. When words undergo soft mutation, the general pattern is that unvoiced plosives become voiced plosives, and voiced plosives become fricatives or disappear; some fricatives also change, and the full list is shown in the above table.
In some cases a limited soft mutation takes place. This differs from the full soft mutation in that words beginning with rh and ll do not mutate.
Common situations where the limited soft mutation occurs are as follows – note that this list is by no means exhaustive.
Common situations where the full soft mutation occurs are as follows – note that this list is by no means exhaustive.
The occurrence of the soft mutation often obscures the origin of placenames to non-Welsh-speaking visitors. For example, Llanfair is the church of Mair (Mary), and Pontardawe is the bridge on the Tawe.
1. The preposition yn becomes ym if the following noun (mutated or not) begins with m, and becomes yng if the following noun begins with ng. E.g. Bangor ("Bangor"), ym Mangor ("in Bangor") Caerdydd ("Cardiff"), yng Nghaerdydd ("in Cardiff").
2. In words beginning with an-, the n is dropped before the mutated consonant (except if the resultant mutation allows for a double n), e.g. an + personol → amhersonol (although it would be retained before a non-mutating consonant, e.g. an + sicr → ansicr).
Under nasal mutation, voiced plosives become nasals, and unvoiced plosives become aspirated nasals.
The aspirated nasals may appear at first hard for English speakers to pronounce. However, in fact they are generally pronounced as an aspirated nasal followed by h, and this does not in practice result in a large cluster of consonant sounds because it is preceded either by the vowel ending of fy, or a form of yn where the -n is possibly replaced with -m or -ng to match the first letter of the mutated word. For example:
Note that yn meaning "in" must be distinguished from other uses of yn which do not cause nasal mutation. For example:
Note also that the ’m form often used instead of fy after vowels does not cause nasal mutation. For example:
The aspirate mutation (Welsh: treiglad llaes) turns the unvoiced plosives into aspirated fricatives. It is easiest to remember based on an addition of an h in the spelling (c, p, t → ch, ph, th), although strictly speaking the resultant forms are single phonemes which happen to contain an h as the second character.
The aspirate mutation occurs:
The aspirate mutation also causes an h to be added before words beginning with a vowel (e.g. oed = age, ei hoed = her age), although a and â before a vowel change to ac and ag and the word beginning with a vowel is itself unaffected.
A mixed mutation occurs when negating conjugated verbs. Initial consonants which change under the aspirate mutation do so; other consonants change as in the soft mutation (if at all). For example, clwyais i ("I heard") and dwedais i ("I said") are negated as chlywais i ddim ("I heard nothing") and ddwedais i ddim ("I said nothing").
Welsh has no indefinite article. The definite article, which precedes the words it modifies and whose usage differs little from that of English, has the forms y, yr, and ’r. The rules governing their usage are:
The article triggers the soft mutation when it is used with feminine singular nouns, e.g. tywysoges "(a) princess" but y dywysoges ("the princess").
Like most other Indo-European languages, all nouns belong to a certain grammatical gender; in this case, masculine or feminine. A noun's gender conforms to its referent's natural gender when it has one (e.g. mam "mother" is feminine), but otherwise there is no pattern, and gender simply must be learnt.
Welsh has two systems of grammatical number. Singular/plural nouns correspond to the singular/plural number system of English, although unlike English, Welsh noun plurals are unpredictable and formed in several ways. Some nouns form the plural with an ending (usually -au), e.g. tad and tadau. Others form the plural through vowel change, e.g. bachgen and bechgyn. Still others form their plurals through some combination of the two, e.g. chwaer and chwiorydd.
The other system of number is the collective/unit system. The nouns in this system form the singular by adding the suffix -yn (for masculine nouns) or -en (for feminine nouns) to the plural. Most nouns which belong in this system are frequently found in groups, for example, plant "children" and plentyn "a child", or coed "forest" and coeden "a tree". In dictionaries, the plural is often given first.
Adjectives normally follow the noun they qualify, while some, such as hen, pob, and holl precede it. For the most part, adjectives are uninflected, though there are a few which maintain distinct masculine/feminine or singular/plural distinctions. After feminine singular nouns, adjectives receive the soft mutation.
Adjective comparison in Welsh is fairly similar to the English system. Adjectives with one or two syllables receive the endings -ach "-er" and -a(f) "-est", which change final b, d, g into p, t, c by provection, e. g. teg "fair", tecach "fairer", teca(f) "fairest". Adjectives with two or more syllables use the words mwy "more" and mwya "most", e. g. teimladwy "sensitive", mwy teimladwy "more sensitive", mwya teimladwy "most sensitive". Adjectives with two syllables can go either way.
These are the possessive adjectives:
|First Person||fy (n)||ein|
|Second Person||dy (s)||eich|
|Third Person||Masculine||ei (s)||eu|
The possessive adjectives precede the noun they qualify, which is often followed by the corresponding form of the personal pronoun, e.g. fy mara i "my bread", dy fara di "your bread", ei fara fe "his bread", etc.
The demonstrative adjectives are 'ma "this"' and 'na "that". They follow the noun they qualify, which also takes the article. For example, y llyfr "the book", y llyfr 'ma "this book", y llyfr 'na "that book".
The Welsh personal pronouns are:
|First Person||(f)i, mi||ni|
|Second Person||ti, di||chi|
|Third Person||Masculine||(f)e, (f)o||nhw|
The Welsh masculine-feminine gender distinction is reflected in the pronouns. There is, consequently, no word corresponding to English "it", and the choice of e or hi depends on the grammatical gender of the antecedent.
The English dummy "it" construction in phrases like "it's raining" or "it was cold last night" also exists in Welsh and other Indo-European languages like French. Unlike other masculine-feminine languages, which often default to the masculine pronoun in the construction, Welsh uses the feminine singular hi, thus producing sentences like:
Third-person masculine singular forms o and fo are heard in North Wales, while e and fe are heard in South Wales.
The pronoun forms i, e, and o are used as subjects after a verb. In the inflected future of the verbs mynd, gwneud, dod, and cael, first-person singular constructions like do fi may be heard. I, e, and o are also used as objects with compound prepositions, for example o mlaen o 'in front of him'. Fi, fe, and fo are used after conjunctions and non-inflected prepositions, and also as the object of an inflected verb:
Fe and fo exclusively are used as subjects with the inflected conditional:
Both i, e, and o and fi, fe, and fo are heard with inflected prepositions, as objects of verbal nouns, and also as following pronouns with their respective possessive adjectives:
The use of first-person singular mi is limited in the spoken language, appearing in i mi "to/for me" or as the subject with the verb ddaru, used in a preterite construction.
Ti is found most often as the second-person singular pronoun, however di is used as the subject of inflected future forms, as a reinforcement in the imperative, and as following pronoun to the possessive adjective dy ... "your ..."
Chi, in addition to serving as the second-person plural pronoun, is also used as a singular in formal situations. Conversely, ti can be said to be limited to the informal singular, such as when speaking with a family member, a friend, or a child. This usage corresponds closely to the practice in other European languages; however, Welsh has a more complex system, involving a third form, chdi, used almost exclusively in the language's northern varieties.
The reflexive pronouns are formed with the possessive adjective followed by hun "self". There is variation between North and South forms.
|North||First Person||fyn hun, y hun||ein hun|
|Second Person||dy hun||eich hun|
|Third Person||ei hun||eu hun|
|South||First Person||fyn hunan, y hunan||ein hunain|
|Second Person||dy hunan||eich hunain, eich hunan|
|Third Person||ei hunan||eu hunain|
Note that there is no gender distinction in the third person singular.
Welsh has special emphatic forms of the personal pronouns. They are not too common, though nevertheless alive in the language, especially in set phrases like a finnau "me too".
|First Person||innau, finnau, minnau||ninnau|
|Second Person||tithau, dithau||chithau|
|Third Person||Masculine||yntau, fintau||nhwthau|
The emphatic pronouns can also be used in place of the regular pronouns with possessive adjectives to add emphasis to the possessives.
In addition to having masculine and feminine forms of this and that, Welsh also has separate set of this and that for intangible, figurative, or general ideas.
|that||hwnnw, hwnna||honno, honna||hynny|
In certain expressions, hyn may represent "now" and hynny may represent "then".
There are four periphrastic tenses in Welsh which make use of bod: present, imperfect, future, and conditional. The preterite, future, and conditional tenses have a number of periphrasitic constructions, but Welsh also maintains inflected forms of these tenses, demonstrated here with talu 'pay'.
In the preterite, questions are formed with the soft mutation on the verb, though increasingly the soft mutation is being used in all situations. Negative forms are expressed with ddim after the pronoun and the mixed mutation, though here the soft mutation is taking over (dales i ddim for thales i ddim).
Bod 'to be' is highly irregular. In addition to having inflected forms of the preterite, future, and conditional, it also maintains inflected present and imperfect forms which are used frequently as auxiliaries with other verbs. Bod also distinguishes between affirmative, interrogative, and negative statements for each tense.
The present tense in particular shows a split between the North and the South. King (2003) notes the following spoken variations in the present forms:
|Affirmative (I am)||Interrogative (Am I?)||Negative (I am not)|
|Second Person||—, (r)wyt||dach||wyt?||(y)dach?||dwyt||(dy)dach|
|South||First Person||rw, w||ŷn, —||ydw?||ŷn?||(d)w||ŷn|
|Second Person||—, (r)wyt||ych||wyt?||ych?||—||(ych)|
|Third Person||mae||maen||ydy?, yw?||ŷn?||dyw||ŷn|
|Affirmative (I am)||Interrogative (Am I?)||Negative (I am not)|
Bod also has a conditional, for which there are two stems:
A few verbs which have bod in the verbnoun display certain irregular characteristics of bod itself. Gwybod is the most irregular of these. It has preterite and conditional forms, which are often used with present and imperfect meaning, respectively. The present is conjugated irregularly:
The common phrase dwn i ddim "I don't know" uses a special negative form of the first person present.
The four verbs mynd "to go", gwneud "to do", cael "to get", and dod "to come" are all irregular in similar ways.
The forms caeth, caethon, caethoch often appear as cafodd, cawson, cawsoch in writing, and in places in Wales these are also heard in speech.
In the conditional, there is considerable variation between the North and South forms of these four irregular verbs.
|First Person||dana i||danon ni|
|Second Person||danat ti||danoch chi|
|Third Person||Masculine||dano fe/fo||danyn nhw|
There is some dialectal variation, particularly in the first and second person singular forms. In some places one may hear dano i, danot ti, or danach chi.
The majority of prepositions trigger the soft mutation.