Medieval Welsh

A Self-Instruction Course created by Heather Rose Jones

Copyright © 2003, 2004 all rights reserved. This page most recently revised on: May 31, 2004

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Unit: 4a

Compound Numbers


In the previous unit, we learned how to use the numbers one through ten. In this lesson, we will learn two things: how higher numbers are created and used; and a slightly different way of using numbers with nouns.

Higher Numbers

In archaic English, one sometimes runs into constructions like "five and twenty blackbirds" and this is very similar to the way large numbers are composed in Medieval Welsh. The number is "factored out" and the units are listed from smallest to largest. A minor complication is that Medieval Welsh numbers follow a vigesimal system -- one based on twenties rather than tens. So a number like 275 would "factor out" as "fifteen and three twenties and two hundreds".

If this "compound number" only has two elements, rather than saying "X and Y" we use "X on Y". In Medieval Welsh, this preposition is ar and causes lenition in the following word. But in more complicated compound numbers (and sometimes in two-element compounds) the conjunction (i.e., a(c)) is used. (In the exercises, follow the rule of 2 elements = ar, > 2 elements = a(c).)

Evidence suggests that in Old Welsh, the numbers from eleven to nineteen were formed simply by compounding 1-9 with an appropriately mutated form of "deg" (ten). Modern Welsh has returned to a different, but similarly regular system. But during the Medieval Welsh period (and up until fairly recently) the numbers from 11-20 can be very confusing. Here are how they translate out in English:

(It's interesting that Breton, a close relative of Welsh, similarly breaks the pattern for 18, but uses "thrice six" instead.)

Here are the Medieval Welsh numbers:

Counting on past twenty, we simply add our numbers 1-19 to ugein:

When we reach 40, we start building all over again on deu ugein or deugein (twice twenty).

For 100, you don't use "five twenties", but rather the word for "hundred".

Exercise 1

Here are some actual compound numbers from Medieval Welsh texts. I've left them in the original spellings to give you practice. They may also show variations from the "standard order" that I've described above, but this should not cause problems. Translate them.

  1. dec a deugeint
  2. cant ac un
  3. deng a thrugeint a phetwar cant
  4. chue a thri ugeint a chuechant a chue mil
  5. deng a thrugeint
  6. chue a chue ugeyn
  7. dec ar ugeynt
  8. pedeyr ar ugeynt
  9. vn ar bymthec ar vgeynt
  10. pedeirdeg a seithugeint

Exercise 2

Translate the following numbers into Medieval Welsh.

  1. 25
  2. 33
  3. 38
  4. 55
  5. 61
  6. 99
  7. 116
  8. 124
  9. 549

Compound Numbers Used With Nouns

When you use a compound number to modify a noun, the noun (in the singular, as before) goes directly after the first element of the number. This first element follows the gender of the noun, if applicable. The noun mutates according to the rules of this first element of the number.

("buw" is a special form of "buwch" (cow) used with numbers)

Exercise 3

Combine the following nouns with each of the following numbers.

  1. ci (dog) m.
  2. cath (cat) f.
  3. twrch (boar) m.
  4. pont (bridge) f.

Another System for Combining Nouns and Numbers

There is an alternate system that can be used, in which the entire number is followed by the preposition o (of) and the plural form of the noun. This can be used with any number, simple or compound, but is the normal construction for mil (1000) and its compounds.

The preposition o causes lenition in the following word. (You'll learn more about o in the lesson on prepositions later in this unit.)

Exercise 4

Translate the following into Medieval Welsh using both systems that you have learned.

  1. two boys
  2. sixteen stones
  3. twenty four trees
  4. seven strong stags
  5. three kings
  6. a thousand flowers
  7. thirteen white swans
  8. ten long fingers
  9. a hundred and one words
  10. seventy red cloaks

Key to the Exercise

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