Medieval Welsh

A Self-Instruction Course created by Heather Rose Jones

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Unit: 2e

Noun Plurals


This unit discusses and presents the major ways in which noun plurals are formed. There will be no exercises.

There is no easy way to get around the complexities of Welsh plurals. You just have to learn them. The person who simply wants to read Medieval Welsh texts can limit their efforts to recognizing the various possible ways of forming plurals rather than being able to produce the correct one for a particular word.

There are five general ways in which plurals are formed:

  1. the addition of an ending
  2. the change of an internal vowel(s)
  3. the change of a vowel and addition of an ending
  4. the removal of a singulative suffix
  5. other

These are shown below using the vocabulary you have already learned (with supplements where necessary).

1. The addition of a suffix is the simplest way to form a plural. The most common plural suffix is "-(y)eu".

cynneddv n.f -eu quality, property
cam n.m -eu injury
taryan n.f -eu shield
ryd n.m -eu ford
barv n.f -eu beard
oed n.m -eu appointment, date
brenhine s n.f -eu queen
tad n.m -eu father
arglwydd es n.f -eu lady
neges n.f -eu errand
gorsedd n.f -eu mound, hill
mam n.f -eu mother
neuadd n.f -eu hall
modrwy n.f -eu ring
hebawg n.m (og)-eu falcon (i.e. hebogeu)
ael n.f -(y)eu eyebrow
esgeir n.f -yeu leg
geir n.m -yeu word

Spelling/Pronunciation Note 1

For "hebawg" (falcon), note that the diphthong "aw" changes to "o" in the plural form. This is not a change due to the plural (as seen below) but simply a change that happens to "aw" when it is no longer in the final syllable of a word. In Modern Welsh (and thus in any dictionary you use) "aw" will usually be spelled "o" everywhere except in a few one-syllable words. So, for example, the dictionary will list "hebog", not "hebawg".

Spelling/Pronunciation Note 2

This plural suffix is one of a number that are sometimes prefixed by "y". Sometimes this alternation is dictated by the last vowel in the stem of the word that the suffix is added to. Notice that in the three nouns above that take "-yeu", the last vowel before the suffix is either "i" or "e". This pattern isn't consistent enough to use as a rule (see the examples under " (y)on" below), but it is worth noticing.

The common thread in a number of plural suffixes is a vowel followed by either "d" or "dd".

merch n.f -ed girl, daughter
macwyv n.m. -eid squire, lad
baedd n.m -od boar (see also below)
ewig n.f -od,-edd doe, hind
cath n.f -od,-eu cat
brenhin n.m -edd king
bys n.m -(s)edd finger, toe
lle n.m -oedd place
daear n.f -oedd earth, land
gwisg n.f -oedd clothing
llys n.f -oedd court
hyd n.m -oedd length
hynt n.f -oedd path
pont n.f -ydd bridge
coed n.m -ydd wood
cyvoeth n.m -ydd,-eu realm

But life couldn't be that simple, so we have a number of other suffixes, too.

caryad n.m -on,-eu love
cyffes n.f -yon confession
rodd n.f -yon gift
marchawg n.m (og)-yon rider, knight
swyddawg n.m (og)-yon officer
achaws n.m (os)-yon cause
penn n.m -awr,-eu head
brawd n.m (od)-yr brother
llenn n.f -i cloak
arglwydd n.m -i lord

You may have noted above that some words have more than one possible suffix noted. Sometimes there is no agreement in the texts on which suffix a word takes, and sometimes the original suffix is gradually replaced by another, usually one of the very common ones like "-eu". Occasionally, we find a plural that is a combination of more than one suffix.

can n.f -euon song

2) Forming a plural by changing the vowels of a word presents a few problems to the reader. Besides being able to recognize when a word is likely to be a plural, you need to have some notion of what the vowels might have been changed _from_ if you are to look the word up. There are some clear patterns to follow, but they are not unambiguous. (It should be pointed out that the _concept_ of pluralizing by vowel change is found in English -- man/men -- but not nearly as commonly as in Welsh.)

In explaining the general phenomenon, it's useful to speak in phonological terms. So let us digress for a rather simplified description of Welsh vowels. In phonology, vowels are described in terms of "front/back", "low/high", and "rounded/unrounded. Ignoring the last, the relevant vowels look something like this:

front i

(The description tells where it "feels" the vowel is being produced in the mouth.) When vowels are changed to form a plural, they move generally up and toward the center. So, for example, "e", "o", and "w" become "y" in the plural.

unben n.m unbyn chieftain
cynghor n.m cynghyr advice
corff n.m cyrff body
ffordd n.f ffyrdd road
twrch n.m. tyrch boar

Both "a" and the diphthong "ae" are raised to the diphthong "ei".

carw n.m ceirw stag
gast n.f geist bitch
llygad n.b llygeid eye
march n.m meirch horse
baedd n.m. beidd boar (also found with " od")

Similarly, the diphthong "oe" is raised to "wy".

croen n.m crwyn skin

To summarize, this type of sound-change in plurals can take the following forms:

singular plural
e y
o y
w y
a ei
ai ei
oe wy

If there is more than one syllable and the prior one contains "a", it may be raised to "e" as well as the change in the final syllable.

caseg n.f cesyg mare

There are also some idiomatic words that don't follow the above patterns.

gwr n.m gwyr man
troed n.b traed foot

3) Sometimes, both a vowel change and a suffix are used. In some cases, earlier forms of the same plurals used only the vowel change. So, for example, the plural of "maen" (stone) can be found as both "mein" and "meini".

gwas n.m gweisson lad, servant
gwlad n.f gwledydd land, country
mab n.m meibyon boy, son
maen n.m meini stone
hwch n.f hychod sow
meddwl n.m meddylye u thought
morwyn n.f morynion maiden

Just to confuse the issue, in some cases the singular has the "raised" vowel and the plural suffix is added to a stem with the corresponding "lowered" one. (This "raising" is called "vowel affection" in Welsh.)

gwreig n.f gwragedd woman

4) For some items that are normally thought of as coming in groups rather than singly, the root word is the plural and a singular is formed by adding a "singulative" suffix: either masculine "-yn" or feminine "-en". (This was mentioned in passing in the section on noun gender.) Note that the (plural) stem can undergo vowel affection in the singular.

aderyn n.m adar bird
plentyn n.m plant child
coeden n.f coed tree
llygoden n.f llygod mouse
seren n.f ser star

5) And then there are a few nouns whose plurals don't fit even the generous assortment of patterns above. In some cases, the irregularity is a remnant of the old noun declension.

ci n.m cwn dog

Paired body parts are the one place where traces of the old dual number remain. The gender-appropriate form of the number "two" is prefixed to the noun. (More details on the use of numbers will be given later.) These expressions sometimes correspond to a meaning like "a pair of X" in English, but more often have an ordinary plural meaning.

llaw n.f dwylaw hand
glin n.m deulin knee (but also "glinyeu ")

No exercises for this unit

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