Medieval Welsh

A Self-Instruction Course created by Heather Rose Jones

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Unit: 4b

The Present Tense of "To Be"


In the last unit, you learned the imperfect tense of the verb "to be" (bod in Medieval Welsh), which may well be the one most commonly found in the literature. Now you will learn the present tense -- which, in the medieval texts, is most often found in quoted speech.

One feature of Welsh verbs that you will do well to keep in mind is that however straightforward the rest of the paradigm may be, the third person singular will always be more complicated and more irregular than anything else. Expect to read this lesson over several times before doing the exercises.

With that in mind, the regular part of the present tense paradigm is as follows:


In the examples you can see the same sentence types that we saw with the imperfect tense. We have a (modified) noun predicate (Brenhin corunawg wyf i. A rinweddeu y maen ynt...); and adjectival predicate (Llidyawg yw ef. Yd ywch chwi yn rwymedigaeth.) We also have a question and a sentence where "to be" can be interpreted "to be present; to be here". You may notice that most of the examples do not follow the "normal" word order, but have some element other than the verb first. Part of this may be the preference for non normal word order in Medieval Welsh prose, but another explanation may simply be that the verb "to be" holds very little inherent meaning and that any sentence using it will tend to be emphasizing some other element.

But things are not this simple.

The third person, both singular and plural, has an alternate form of this verb.


Originally, this was a completely separate verb and seems to have meant "to be located" (a meaning that the corresponding verb in Breton still retains). This meaning can still be found occasionally:

But primarily the choice between mae/yw and maent/ynt is positional. If the verb comes before both the subject and predicate (i.e., in the "normal" word order) then mae/maent are used. If the subject, the predicate, or any pre verbal particle other than the default ydd/yr comes before the verb, then yw/ynt is used (or perhaps another form, as described below). So:




Note that if the verb is being used locationally and the location comes before the verb, mae/maent are still used. As in "Yma y mae brenhin Iwerddon." (Here is the king of Ireland.)

Just to complicate things still further, recall what happened in an imperfect sentence when we moved the subject to the front:

If the present tense followed the same regular pattern, you might expect the following:

Instead, we have a separate word that replaces both the preverbal particle and the verb, just in the present tense.

The word ysydd may also be shortened to sydd.

(This particular construction can also be interpreted as a relative clause "the dog which is white", but we'll come back to that later.) For persons other than the third singular, I haven't been able to find present tense examples of this sort of construction (i.e., sentences with "to be" and the subject moved to the beginning). But you can do an older style construction with the same meaning using the impersonal "ys" as described below.

There are two last present-tense forms to learn which have similar functions. They correspond loosely to English "There is/are". Oes is used in questions and negative statements. (It is traditionally considered a third person singular form.)

Ys is considered the impersonal form of the present tense. It can be translated variously as "it is" or "there is". It had passed out of wide usage by the Medieval Welsh period, leaving traces in a number of idiomatic expressions and in some important compounds. For illustration: it was originally used in what became the emphatic form of the sentence, and can still be found occasionally for this purpose.


It could be used to emphasize a non third-singular subject with the present tense of "to be".

This is really getting into the subject of relative clauses, which we won't cover until a later unit. For now, just use this to complete the pattern in your exercises below.


To the possible word orders for sentences that you learned in Unit 3c, we can now add three types of question formations.

The most straightforward way to form a question is to begin with the preverbal particle a (which causes lenition in the following word) followed by a verb first (i.e. normal) word order.

If some part of the question other than the verb is being emphasized, we begin with the pre-verbal particle ae followed by an emphatic sentence order. This particle probably derives from the preceding a plus some form of "to be".

The third most common way to form questions is to begin with some sort of "question word" (e.g., English "what", "who", "how", etc.) with the rest following as for an emphatic sentence. Think of it as organizing the underlying sentence to emphasize the answer, and the substituting the question word for that answer.


These exercises will be similar to the ones you did in Unit 3 Lesson C. Take the given sentence and put it through all the possible changes of emphasis and negation that you know how to do. Include questions of the a/ae type (but not the oes type). Remember to use ys ... ysydd when emphasizing subjects other than the third singular.

Example: Y mae'r ci yn wynn. "The dog is white."


  1. Yd wyf i yn ieuanc. "I am young."
  2. Yd wyt ti yn Ysgot. "You are a Scot."
  3. Y mae ef yma. "He is here."
  4. Y mae hi yn gyvoethawg. "She is rich."
  5. Y mae'r march yn gyvlym. "The horse is fast."
  6. Yd ym ni yn blant. "We are children."
  7. Yd ywch chwi yn iach. "You (pl.) are well."
  8. Y maent wynt yn bell. "They are far."

Key to the Exercise

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