Medieval Welsh

A Self-Instruction Course created by Heather Rose Jones

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Unit: 5a

Preposed Adjectives


When we first introduced adjectives, we noted that they are placed after the noun they describe. There are, however, exceptions, both for a small set of particular adjectives and for some particular situations.

A very limited set of adjectives are placed before the noun either consistently or as a regular option to the normal position. These include the following.

Usually Placed Before Noun
hen adj -yon old
gwir adj -yon true, genuine
priv adj primary, chief, main
Can Be Placed Before Noun
cam adj ceimyon wrong [when placed before], crooked [when placed after]
unig adj only [when placed before], lonely [when placed after]

If you recall our rule of thumb "if something's out of place, expect lenition", then it shouldn't surprise you to find that when an adjective comes before a noun, the noun lenites.

Exercise 1

Translate the following phrases into Welsh. These have been taken from medieval texts, so the original has been given after the "standardized" form in the key. Don't worry if your word order doesn't match the key, but try to understand how things have been rearranged from the default order, and possibly why.

  1. to the old ford
  2. the queen's old clothes (clothes = dillad)
  3. the true faith (faith = crevydd)
  4. three chief enchantments of the Island of Britain (Island of Britain = Ynys Prydein)
  5. his chief court
  6. A man does not judge a wrong judgement. (judgement = barn; to judge = barnu)

Adjectives/Pronouns of Quantity

Another group of modifiers that are usually (but not always) placed before the noun are some that might be thought of as "adjectives of quantity or extent". Many grammars will place these in the section on pronouns, rather than adjectives, and from this point the word order may make more sense. I.e., if you view "yr holl wyr" as "the entirety of the men" then you have "gwyr" modifying "yr holl" and following it as expected.) Some of these usually cause lenition, others usually do not (as noted). They can often be used alone acting as a noun.

cwb(y)l (L) adj entire, complete
gormod adj excessive, too much
holl (L) adj all, whole, entire
llawer adj much, many a (with singular noun)
pob adj each, every ("pawb" when acting as a noun)
ryw (L) adj some (in an indefinite sense -- some X or other), a certain [also compounds such as amryw, cyvryw, unryw]
sawl (L) adj as many, so many (normally used with the definite article: "y sawl X")
ychydig adj a little [of], a bit [of]

Exercise 2

Same instructions as exercise #1.

  1. I have taken a complete insult. (insult = gwaradwydd, to take = cymryd, stem cymmer-)
  2. There is some magical meaning [i.e. "meaning of magic"] there. (meaning = ystyr)
  3. No person ever saw so many people in one place. [i.e. "a person didn't ever see ..."] (ever = eiryoed; person = dyn, pl. dynyon)
  4. ... until everywhere [i.e. every place] in him was full. (until = yny; full = cyvlawn)
  5. in the entire kingdom
  6. of all courts of the earth
  7. For a year, many minstrels were cheerful. (cheerful = llawen, pl. llewyn; minstrel = cerddawr; year, for a year = blwyddyn)

Improper Compounds with Adjectives

A popular feature of poetry, which is also sometimes found in prose literature, is the construction of ad hoc adjective-noun compounds. These use an order opposite to that of the normal phrase and cause lenition of the noun. Usually they will be written as a single word (a "close" compound) but sometimes not (a "loose" compound). It is important to be aware of these, not only in terms of word order and mutation, but because the compound itself will not necessarily be listed in a dictionary, only the component parts.

Exercise 3

You'll need a dictionary for this one. The following list of words are adjective-noun compounds taken from poetry (mostly the work of Dafydd ap Gwilym). I've picked a list with a fairly repetitive inventory of elements. Decompose the compounds, give the citation form of each element -- both in standardized and modern spelling (if different), and give the meanings of the elements.

  1. glasvedd
  2. glasgoed
  3. eurverch
  4. harddwallt
  5. lledneisverch
  6. hoywvardd
  7. hoywvab
  8. claerwawr
  9. hirddydd
  10. haelverch
  11. hoywgorff
  12. hoywverch
  13. eurgae
  14. eurdorch

Key to the Exercise

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