Medieval Welsh

A Self-Instruction Course created by Heather Rose Jones

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Unit: 3h

Comparison of Adjectives


In English, adjectives have the standard form (big), a comparative (bigger), and a superlative (biggest). These can be formed either by adding endings (as above), or by using "more" and "most" (intelligent, more intelligent, most intelligent), or with an irregular paradigm (good, better, best).

Given this, the Welsh system will seem rather familiar. It adds one more variant, the equative (as big as), but it too creates the forms either with suffixes, by using a prefixed word, or in a few cases with irregular forms.

In this unit we will learn how to form comparative adjectives and how to use them in phrases.

The standard comparative suffix is -ach.

In Modern Welsh, the word mwy "more" is sometimes used instead, especially with polysyllabic adjectives. This seems to be rare in Medieval Welsh, although mwy is used in some more complex comparative constructions (see below).

Just as in English, the irregular comparative forms are found with some of the commonest adjectives. Here are some it is useful to know.

Adjective Gloss Comparative Gloss
agos near nes nearer
bychan small llei smaller, less
da good gwell better
drwg bad gwaeth worse
ieuanc young ieu younger
issel low is lower, below
mawr big mwy bigger, more
uchel high uch higher, above

And just as English uses "than" when forming comparative phrases, Medieval Welsh also uses a word to conjoin the comparison and the comparand (i.e., a comparative conjunction). This can either be no(g) or an extended form nogyd. As I expect you to be able to predict by now, the alternation between no and nog depends on whether the following word begins with a consonant or a vowel.

The only tricky thing to remember is that no(g) + yr (the definite article) appears as no'r not as nog yr.

No(g) causes aspiration in the following word, but nogyd does not. There does not appear to be a meaningful difference between them other than emphasis.

Given the basic elements of a comparison -- the item being compared, the nature of the comparison, and the thing it's being compared to -- these can show up in a number of constructions. What will help you keep track is that the comparative suffix (or form) will signal a comparison, and the comparative conjunction (no(g), nogyt) will come immediately before the thing being compared to. If we label the elements as follows:

comparison comparative adj comp. conj. comparand
hair blacker than night

then it will be easier to keep track of what is going on in the following examples. Don't worry about the vocabulary and grammar that you haven't been introduced to yet.

  comparative adj.   comparison comp.conj. comparand
Ni bu newyddach ganthunt y ddyvodyad no chynt
Not was newer to them his coming than before
His arrival was not more novel/surprising to them than before.


comparative adj.   comparison comp. conj. comparand
Mwy a wneuthum i no thi.
More did I than you
I did more than you.


  comparative adj. comparison comp.conj . comparand
Ny bu vuscrellach gwr no ry vuost ti
Not was stupider man than have been you
There has never been a stuperder man than you have been.


  comparative adj.   comparison .comp.conj comparand
Yr oedd yn degach genthi cymryd y phenyd nog ymdaeru a'r gwragedd.
was fairer to her accepting her punishment than arguing with the women
It was pleasanter to her to accept her punishment than to argue with the women.


  comparative adj.   comparison .comp.conj comparand
Yr oedd yn tebygach ganthunt cael cywilidd a vei vwy no chael iawn a vei vwy.
was likelier for them getting shame that was greater than getting benefit that was greater
It was likelier that they would get greater shame than greater benefit.

Note: the above is the most common use of mwy "more" in forming comparatives in Medieval Welsh.

  comparative adj. comparison .comp.conj comparand
Oedd cochach y deu rudd no' r ffion.
were redder her two cheeks than the foxglove
Her two cheeks were redder than foxglove.

So you see, it is difficult to provide simple rules as to how comparatives are found or constructed. The most important thing is to be able to recognize and disentangle them.


Following is the passage you will be translating at the end of this unit. Don't worry about trying to translate the whole thing now, but go through and identify the comparative constructions and label them as shown above. The last example is a give-away. Label them like this:

Oedd melynach y phenn no blodeu y banadl. Oedd gwynnach y chnawd no distrych y donn. Oedd gwynnach y phalveu a'y byssedd no chanawon godrwyth o blith man graean ffynhawn ffynhonus. Na golwg hebawg mud, na golwg gwalch trimud, nyd oedd olwg tegach no'r eiddi. No bronn alarch gwynn oedd gwynnach y dwy vron. Oedd cochach y deu rudd no'r ffion.

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