Here is the setext version of this lesson.

Lesson 2. To Be or Not to Be


Revision 1.14 of this page, last updated on 2003/02/17.
(C)opyright 1994-2003 Mark H. Nodine

2.1. How to say "I am", "you are", etc.

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" [1].

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
Mae hi
He is
She 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
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 anger.

2.2. How to say "Am I?", etc.

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?
Ydy hi?
Is he?
Is she?
Ydyn nhw? Are they?

Notice that in the first and second persons, you just drop the "R" [2] 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.

2.3. How to say "Yes" and "No"

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 original question.

To say "no", just use the word "Nag" followed by the word "yes" [3]:

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:

You don't beat your wife?


Lawyer (to jury)
You heard it yourself.
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 him.

2.4. How to say "I am not", etc.

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 [4] and the word "ddim" taped on behind.

Vocabulary 2

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.

Exercises 2

[The answers can be found in a separate file.]

1. Translate the following sentences into English.

Maen nhw yma.
Rydyn ni mewn pryd.
Rydw i.
Mae hi yn Aberystwyth.
Rydych chi yna.
Mae e.
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?
Ydy hi?
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.

Footnotes 2 (for the terminally curious)

"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 letters).
The standard written form of "nag" is "nac".

The "d" is actually the remnants of the negative particle "nid".

Top Previous Next Contents Lexicon Glossary Index Comment -- Mark H Nodine,visitor
14 June 2003 at 23:33:22