Lesson 2. To Be or Not to Be
Here is the setext version of this lesson.
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" .
| Person|| Singular|| Plural
| || Welsh|| English|| Welsh|| English
| 1st|| Rydw i|| I am|| Rydyn ni|| We are
| 2nd|| Rwyt ti|| You are|| Rydych chi|| You are
| 3rd|| Mae e|
| He is|
| Maen nhw|| They are
Welsh adopts the position that the verb comes first, followed by
the subject, which in this case is the personal pronoun.
The 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).
- Notes on pronunciation
- The "y"s follow the normal rule so that, for example, in
"Rydyn", the first "y" is obscure and the second is clear.
- The "wy" diphthong in "Rwyt" is a falling one (i.e., it is
- Important point
The "maen" form is only used with the pronoun "nhw". A plural or
compound subject uses the "mae" form:
| Mae afalau yma|
Mae Tom a Mary
| Apples are here|
Tom and Mary are
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
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.
| Singular|| Plural
| Ydw i?|| Am I?|| Ydyn ni?|| Are we?
| Wyt ti?|| Are you?|| Ydych chi?|| Are you?
| Ydy e?|
| Is he?|
| Ydyn nhw?|| Are they?
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:
| Singular|| Plural
| Ydw.|| Yes I am.|| Ydyn.|| Yes we are.
| Wyt.|| Yes you are.|| Ydych.|| Yes you are.
| Ydy.|| Yes he/she is.|| Ydyn.|| 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
To say "no", just use the word "Nag" followed by the word "yes" :
| Singular|| Plural
| Nag ydw.|| No I'm not.|| Nag ydyn.|| No we aren't.
| Nag wyt.|| No you aren't.|| Nag ydych.|| No you aren't.
| Nag ydy.|| No he/she isn't.|| Nag ydyn.|| 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:
But what has the jury heard? Has the defendant said, "Yes, I
don't beat my wife," or "Yes, I do beat my wife"? In Welsh, if
he says, "Ydw," you've extracted an unambiguous confession from
- You don't beat your wife?
- Lawyer (to jury)
- You heard it yourself.
Since we cannot be all things to all people, it is inevitable
that we sometimes need to say we are not something. Here's how:
| Singular|| Plural
| Dydw i ddim|| I am not|| Dydyn ni ddim|| We are not
| Dwyt ti ddim|| You are not|| Dydych chi ddim|| You are not
| Dydy e/hi ddim|| He/she is not|| Dydyn nhw ddim|| They are not
These forms are just like the interrogative forms from Section 2.2,
with the letter "d" stuck in front of them  and the word
"ddim" taped on behind.
chi - you (plural and polite)
e (fe) - he
gartre - at home
hi - she
i (fi) - I
mewn pryd - in time
nhw - they
ni - we
ti - you (familiar)
yma - here
yna - there
yn Aberystwyth - in Aberystwyth
The forms "fi" and "fe" are used in some contexts.
[The answers can be found in a separate file.]
1. Translate the following sentences into English.
| Maen nhw yma.|
Rydyn ni mewn pryd.
Mae hi yn Aberystwyth.
Rydych chi yna.
Rwyt ti gartre.
2. Translate the following sentences into English.
| Dydw i ddim mewn pryd.|
Dydy e ddim yma.
Dydych chi ddim yn Aberystwyth.
Dydyn ni ddim gartre.
Dwyt ti ddim yna.
Dydy hi ddim mewn pryd.
Dydyn nhw ddim yn Aberystwyth.
3. Answer the following questions in Welsh affirmatively.
| Ydy e gartre?|
Ydyn nhw yna?
Ydyn ni mewn pryd?
Wyt ti yma?
Ydych chi mewn pryd?
Ydw i yn Aberystwyth?
4. Answer the questions in exercise 3 negatively.
5. Make up five sentences from the vocabulary
| Using the positive forms.|
Using the negative forms.
Using question forms.
Answer your questions from 5c.
- "Rydw i" is often abbreviated (especially in net mail) to "Dwi".
But you should learn the full form given above. (There's an even
"fuller" form used in literary Welsh.)
- The "r" at the beginning of the verb in the first and second
persons is a remnant of the particle "yr", which looks like, but
isn't, the definite article (which we introduce in Section 3.1). I
mention this only because I don't want it to seem like we are
arbitrarily plucking off the "r" (and later replacing it with other
- The standard written form of "nag" is "nac".
- The "d" is actually the remnants of the negative particle "nid".
Mark.Nodine@mot.com -- Mark H Nodine,visitor
14 June 2003 at 23:33:22