Here is the setext version of this lesson.
The first step to being able to look words up in a Welsh-English
dictionary is to know the Welsh alphabet. Here it is: 
| Letter|| Welsh|
/ex/ ech (gutteral "ch") 
/eth2/ edd ("th" as in "the")
ay (as in "day" but without being a diphthong)
oh (without being a diphthong)
eth ("th" as in "think")
Notice that there are many cases where something that would be two
letters in English is a single digraph in Welsh. This means, for
example, that words beginning with "CH" are not alphabetized between
any words that might begin with "CG" and words beginning with "CI";
they are alphabetized as a separate letter after all the "C"'s are
done. To complicate matters further, "NG" is not always a single
letter; sometimes it really does mean the letter "N" followed by a "G"
(actually, it's pronounced more like the letter "NG" followed by a
"G"), for example in the town "Ban.gor" (the period is not part of the
spelling of the word, but is there to indicate that the "N" and "G"
are separate letters). Likewise, "RH" is sometimes "R" followed by
"H" as in "ar.holiad".
It is helpful in looking words up in the dictionary that there are
many "gotchas" that will frustrate the learner. Many of the words you
will read do not appear in any dictionaries, for several reasons:
Even if the word is in the dictionary, it can be hard to find at
times. The digraph "ng" is alphabetized after "g", for example;
likewise with "ch" after "c" and so on, as mentioned in Section D.1.
- They could be mutated forms. See Section A.6 for back-transforming
mutations to give you a list of possible words to look up.
- Loan words from English tend not to be in dictionaries.
- Inflected and irregular forms of verbs (e.g., "tyrd") do not appear.
- Adjectives sometimes have feminine and plural forms, or change
their final consonant when making the equative, comparative, or
- Spoken Welsh (and written transcription of spoken Welsh)
sometimes drops the first syllable of words and otherwise alters words
in a way that makes things difficult for learners. It took me a long
time to figure out what "tawn" meant (it means "buaswn", which is also
not in the dictionary; see point 3).
- Internal vowels often change if the stress changes in making a
different form of the same word (e.g., making the plural).
- The letter "h" can appear and disappear internally with stress
shifts. The letter "n" can also double or undouble (sometimes with
the appearance of "h" as in "cannwyll -> canhwyllau") with stress shifts.
- Many times, the plural form of the noun is what is listed in the
dictionary. This phenomenon occurs when the common form of the word
is the plural (e.g. "pys" -- peas) and the singular is formed by
adding "-en" or "-yn" to the plural form.
So, here is a step-by-step way of looking up words in the dictionary.
Of course, you stop at the first step that produces the answer.
- Look up the plain word as you find it.
- Check all the possible back-mutations of the word as listed in
Section A.6. Check to see if putting a "g" before the word results in a
word that is in the dictionary. If the word begins with an "h", check
to see if dropping the "h" results in a word in the dictionary.
- Check to see if the word has one of the endings found in
Section C.2; if so, your word has the form X.E, where E is the
ending and X is what is left over after the ending has been removed.
Try looking up words of the form X.E', where E' is an ending used
to form a verb-noun (common values of E' are null, -(i)o, -i,
-u; the complete list is the above plus -(a)el, -ach, -aeth,
-ofain, -fan, -ain, -ad, -ed, -yd, -eg, -w+yn, -ain,
-(i)an, -ial, -(h)a, -yll, -as, and sach) [Williams80]
using all of the techniques from (1) and (2).
Furthermore, if the last vowel in X is "e" and E is one of -ir,
-id, -ais, -aist, -i, -wch, or -ych, try substituting "a"
for the "e". For example, lleddaist has X = lledd, E = aist,
and the form in the dictionary is lladd.
- Check to see if the word is a form of one of the irregular verbs
found in Section C.3.
- While you're at it, the word may be an adjective or a
preposition with an ending. You can check the endings appropriate for
adjectives and prepositions in Section C.4 and Section C.5,
respectively. Adjectives ending in "g", "d", or "b" (possibly with
another consonant after them, such as "l" or "r") may have that
consonant "hardened" to "c", "t", or "p", respectively, when adding an
ending. For example, tecach is the comparative of teg and
butred is the equative of budr. There may also be a vowel change
of the final vowel (see (7) below) such as o<-aw or
y<-w. For example, huotlach is the comparative of huawdl,
showing both the hardening and the vowel change.
You can find the irregular prepositions in Section C.6.
- If the word has the form s.X where X begins with a
consonant like "b", "g", or "t", chances are, it is missing an initial
vowel. Try looking up (in this order) ys.X, es.X, and as.X.
For example, stafell can be found under ystafell, sgidiau can be
found under esgidiau (actually under esgid, since it's a plural),
and sglodion under asglodion (or asglodyn, depending on the
dictionary). If you still don't find it, it's probably a loan
word from English.
- Many times a word will undergo a change in the vowel of its
next-to-last syllable or penult if it adds syllables to the end, such
as making a plural (for nouns), conjugating (for verbs) or comparing
(for adjectives). A fairly complete list of changes is: a<-ai,
ai<-a, e<-a, ei<-a, ei<-ai, eu<-au, o<-aw,
y<-w. See Examples of Vowel Shifts below.
- Additionally, some adjectives have feminine or more rarely
plural forms that result in changing the last vowel. The most common
changes are o<-w and e<-y for feminine forms. Since plural forms add
syllables, see case (7) for the possible vowel shifts.
Furthermore, feminine forms of adjectives almost always occur in a
context that undergoes a soft mutation (exercise for advanced
students: think of a context where the soft mutation won't occur).
Thus, drom is the form you're most likely to see for trwm and
lem for llym.
- If the penult begins with an "h", try dropping the last
syllable and either dropping the "h" or replacing the "h" with the
consonant that immediately precedes it. For example, cynhesach is
the comparative of cynnes, cynhaliaf is a conjugated form of
cynnal and anghenion is the plural of angen.
- Rack your brain to think if this word (or a back-mutated version
of the same) could possibly be a loan word from English.
- Sometimes (especially on the WELSH-L list), people
transliterate English words into Welsh as in "bei ddy we+" -- "by the
way". So try pronouncing the Welsh letters and see if some English
word pops out the other end.
- Send mail to WELSH-L asking for help.
- Examples of Vowel Shifts
It is not uncommon to have two changes:
- gwragedd is the plural of gwraig
- brain is the plural of bran
- ffermydd is the plural of ffarm
- beirdd is the plural of bardd
- breintiau is the plural of braint
- euraidd is the adjectival form of aur
- brodyr is the plural of brawd
- cyrsiau is the plural of cwrs
- bechgyn is the plural of bachgen
- cerrig is the plural of carreg
- Thanks to Robert Jones
<BR00321%BINGVMB.bitnet@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> for providing much of this
information on-line. The Welsh spellings for the letters come
- See Lesson 1 for detailed information on pronouncing this letter.