Medieval Welsh

A Self-Instruction Course created by Heather Rose Jones

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Unit: 3b

Predicate Adjectives and Nouns


Predicative Sentences

One of the simplest types of sentence uses the verb "to be" to describe the subject with an adjective or to label the subject with a noun. You may recall once having been taught that sentences can be divided into subject and predicate, which is why this type of sentence is said to contain a "predicate adjective" or "predicate noun". In English, you might have sentences like:

In Welsh, in the "normal" form of the sentence, these predicates are preceded with a particle called "the predicative yn". (You will run into several different words that appear as yn, so it's best to have clear ways to describe them when talking about them.) This particle simply marks what follows as describing the subject. THE PREDICATIVE "YN" CAUSES THE FOLLOWING WORD TO LENITE.

So, combining this with what we described as our "normal" sentence structure from the preceding lesson, we get sentences like the following:

Let's break that down in more detail.

Ydd oedd y mab yn vawr
preverbal particle BE 3sg imperfect the boy predicative particle big
Ydd oedd y wreig yn vrenhines
preverbal particle BE 3sg imperfect the woman predicative particle queen

That's fairly simple and straightforward. In some texts you may find that the predicative particle (yn) is optional in this type of sentence, so you may run into things like:

However, it is most common for the particle to be used.

Keep in mind that a predicate noun can also be modified.

Word order, however, is somewhat flexible in Welsh. Almost any part of a sentence that you want to emphasize and call attention to can be moved to the front of the sentence. (In English, we usually do this sort of emphasis with tone of voice: "He was bad." not "Bad was he.") If a major part of the sentence (such as the subject, object, or these types of adjective and noun predicates) is moved to the front, there will be repercussions elsewhere in the sentence. So if we wanted to emphasize "The boy was big." or "The woman was a queen." rather than simply making descriptive statements, we could say:

Two major things have happened. The predicative particle has disappeared (and with it, the lenition that it caused); and the pre-verbal particle has disappeared. If it helps in understanding the latter, the "meaningless" pre-verbal particles (as opposed to those that add some meaning, like the negative) sometimes seem to be there just to keep the verb from standing naked at the beginning of the sentence. There is this tension between the verb "wanting" to come before as much as possible, and it "not wanting" to actually be the first word.

In the medieval texts, this sort of emphatic form is far commoner than the "normal" form of this type of sentence. This may be partly stylistic, but partly because we are usually aware of the subject's existence already and the interesting information (the emphasized information) is the characteristic that is being introduced.


Additional vocabulary for the exercises:

Word Gender Plural Gloss
beichawg adj.   pregnant
cyvlym adj.   swift, fast
cyvoethawg adj.   rich, wealthy
diweir adj.   faithful, chaste
esgob n.m. -yon bishop
gweith n.m. -yeu work
iach adj.   well, healthy
dall adj.   blind
Ysgot n.m. -yeid Scot

Exercise 1 - Welsh to English

Here are sentences adapted from actual medieval examples. (It is often hard to find first and second person examples, so I have altered a few to supply these.)

  1. Ydd oeddewch yn wyr ieueinc.
  2. Neuadd vawr oedd. (Remember that the subject pronoun is optional.)
  3. Ydd oeddynt yn gyvoethawg.
  4. Diweir oedd hi.
  5. Ydd oedd ef yn ddall.
  6. Ydd oedd y mab yn varw.
  7. Cyvlym oedd y gweith.
  8. Beichawg oedd hi.
  9. Ydd oeddem ni yn iach.
  10. Ysgot oeddwn.
  11. Esgob oeddut ti.

Exercise 2 - English to Welsh

Construct a complete paradigm using each of the words following the example. Then make each example an emphatic sentence emphasizing the predicate. Always pay attention to correct masculine, feminine, and plural forms when relevant. (For sake of variety -- consider the "you" of your examples to be the opposite gender to yourself, so that "I" and "you" use different genders where relevant.)

Example: "to be short" (byrr)

Gloss "Normal" Emphatic
I was short. Ydd oeddwn i yn ferr/fyrr. Berr/byrr oeddwn i.
You were short. Ydd oeddut ti yn fyrr/ferr. Byrr/berr oeddut ti.
He was short. Ydd oedd ef yn fyrr. Byrr oedd ef.
She was short. Ydd oedd hi yn ferr. Berr oedd hi.
The man was short. Ydd oedd y gwr yn fyrr. Byrr oedd y gwr.
The woman was short. Ydd oedd y wreig yn ferr. Berr oedd y wreig.
We were short. Ydd oeddem ni yn fyryon. Byryon oeddem ni.
You (pl) were short. Ydd oeddewch chwi yn fyryon. Byryon oeddewch chwi.
They were short. Ydd oeddynt wynt yn fyryon. Byryon oeddynt wynt.

Use the following predicates:

  1. cryv "strong"
  2. ieuanc "young"
  3. teg "pretty, handsome"
  4. plentyn "a child"
  5. tad, mam "father, mother" (as appropriate to gender)
  6. swyddawg gweddus "a suitable officer"

Key to the Exercise

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