Medieval Welsh

A Self-Instruction Course created by Heather Rose Jones

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Unit: 4c

Plural Noun Subjects; Periphrastic Verbs


Review of "To Be"

Before moving on the the main topic of this lesson, I think it would be useful to summarize the forms of "to be" that you have learned.

  verb first subject first predicate first all orders
1s wyf* ys ... sydd wyf oeddwn
2s wyt ys ... sydd wyt oeddut
3s mae sydd yw


1p ym ys ... sydd ym oeddem
2p ywch ys ... sydd ywch oeddewch
3p maent ys ... sydd ynt oeddynt
Impersonal ys     oeddid

*You may have noticed that I used an "f" instead of a "v" again, like I did in "ef". Again, this is based on overwhelming medieval practice. Start taking it as a given that the sound [v] may appear as either "f" or "v" in our standardized spelling system from here on.

Plural Noun Subjects

One feature where Welsh departs from most European languages is in the agreement of nouns and verbs as to number. In English, for example, we use the singular form of a verb with a singular noun and the plural form with a plural noun:

But in Welsh, the 3rd person singular is most often used with all noun subjects, whatever their number.

Be aware that this is not an invariable rule, however, especially in the abnormal-order sentence, which is prone to match the number of the verb to that of the subject. You may find either of the following.

Exercise 1

For each of the following sentences, translate the example into English, then take the Welsh sentence and replace the subject with the appropriate pronoun, then make the subject plural (first using the noun, then with the pronoun).

example: Y mae'r arglwyddes yn gref.


  1. Y maent wynt yn gryfyon.
  2. Y mae ei varv ef yn goch.
  3. Y mae vy nghath yma.
  4. Y mae'r esgob yn dduwiawl.
  5. Y mae dy eir yn glodvawr.
  6. Y mae'r gwr yn varchawg.
  7. Y mae llaw y verch yn deg.
  8. Y mae'r maen yn vawr.
  9. Y mae'r seren yn lathreid.
  10. Y mae'r tonn yn uchel.

Periphrastic Verbs

We have seen how a sentence using the verb "to be" can have a noun predicate or an adjective predicate.

A very similar pattern is used with verbs to express a continuous or incomplete action (i.e., and "imperfect" action) periphrastically (i.e., by using "to be" with the verb rather than just the verb alone). This can look very similar to the above examples.

But this is something of a trap. The predicative yn causes lenition and is dropped if the predicate is moved to the front of the sentence.

The periphrastic "yn" causes no mutation, and may or may not remain if the phrase is moved to the front of the sentence. (It seems fairly rare to front the verbal-noun in this fashion.)


(And let us not forget to distinguish both of these from the preposition yn which causes the nasal mutation!)

The form of the verb used in these periphrastic constructions is called the "verbal-noun" or "verb-noun" and will be the form that is listed in most dictionaries. Some use the first person singular present form instead and this may, on occasion, be fairly different. For example, the verbal-noun for the verb "to ask" is erchi, but the inflected forms are built on the stem arch- instead. So for each verb you need to learn not only the verbal-noun, but the inflectional stem too. Add the following verbs to your vocabulary. The first column gives the verbal-noun; the third gives the stem. The second column, as you may have figured by now, contains a code for the part of speech:

Some of the verbs have a word or words in parentheses following them. These will be explained in a lesson later in this unit. For now, just keep track of them.

Word Category Stem Gloss
cyrchu (parth a) v cyrch- to make for, approach
dyvod v *irregular to come
edrych (ar) v edrych- to look
eistedd v eistedd- to sit
erchi v arch- to ask
gweled v gwel- to see
gwisgaw (am) v gwisg- to dress
myned v *irregular to go
nessa"u v nessa- to near

(In)Transitive Verbs and Objects

Some verbs are happy with just a subject. These are called "intransitive verbs".

Some verbs either allow or require an object as well as a subject. These are called "transitive verbs".

Some verbs either allow or require more than one object as well as a subject. There are fancy names for these in linguistics, but they too are also simply called "transitive". In English, we can keep track of the different objects either by word order or with prepositions.

But in Welsh the word order doesn't matter, and the objects will be distinguished by the use (or not) of particular prepositions according to their function in the sentence. (More on this later.)

(y = "to")

In most cases, the item that we think of as the "direct object" will appear unmarked by any preposition. In periphrastic sentences, it will be just an ordinary noun phrase, as in the examples above.

Exercise 2

Translate the following into Welsh.

  1. They were coming.
  2. I am sitting here.
  3. He was seeing the stag.
  4. Are you (sg.) asking?
  5. We were going.
  6. She is nearing the bridge.
  7. Are you (pl.) coming?

Key to the Exercise

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