Welsh 101

Modern Welsh can be written in two styles — Colloquial Welsh ( Cymraeg llafar ) or Literary Welsh ( Cymraeg llenyddol ). The grammar described on this page is that of Colloquial Welsh, which is used for speech and informal writing. Literary Welsh is closer to the form of Welsh used in the 1588 translation of the Bible and is found in official documents and other formal registers, including much literature. As a standardised form, literary Welsh shows little if any of the dialectal variation found in colloquial Welsh. Some differences include:

Literary Welsh Colloquial Welsh
Can omit subject pronouns (pro-drop) Subject pronouns rarely omitted
Extensive use of simple verb forms Extensive use of periphrastic verb forms
No distinction between simple present and future
(e.g. gwelaf "I see"/"I shall see")
Simple form expresses only future
(e.g. gwela i "I'll see")
Subjunctive verb forms Subjunctive in fixed idioms
3rd.pl ending –nt 3rd.pl ending –n

Amongst the characteristics of the literary, as against the spoken, language are a higher dependence on inflected verb forms, a shift in the usage of some of the tenses, a reduction in the explicit use of pronouns (since the information is usually conveyed in the verb/preposition inflections) and a greatly reduced tendency to substitute English loanwords for native Welsh words. In addition, more archaic pronouns and forms of mutation may be observed in Literary Welsh.


English Literary Welsh Colloquial Welsh
I get up early every day. Codaf yn gynnar bob dydd. Dwi'n codi'n gynnar bob dydd.
I'll get up early tomorrow. Codaf yn gynnar yfory. Coda i'n gynnar fory/Na'i godi'n gynnar fory
He had not stood there long. Ni safasai yno'n hir. Doedd o ddim wedi sefyll yno'n hir.
They'll sleep only when there's a need. Ni chysgant ond pan fo angen. Byddan nhw ddim ond yn cysgu pan fydd angen.

In fact, the differences between dialects of modern spoken Welsh pale into insignificance compared to the difference between the spoken and literary languages. The latter is considerably more conservative and is the language used in Welsh translations of the Bible, amongst other things (although the Beibl Cymraeg Newydd — New Welsh Bible — is significantly less formal than the traditional 1588 Bible). Gareth King, author of a Welsh grammar, observes that "The difference between these two is much greater than between the virtually identical colloquial and literary forms of English" and goes so far as to state "that there are good grounds for regarding them as separate languages". He comments that whilst colloquial Welsh is a mother tongue requiring no special learning to acquire, literary Welsh is the mother tongue of no-one, and must be taught to people. Although the question "Do you want a cup of tea?" is not likely to occur in literary Welsh usage, if it did it would be along the lines of A oes arnoch eisiau cwpanaid o de? A complete grammar of Literary Welsh can be found in A Grammar of Welsh (1980) by Stephen J. Williams.

Most Welsh writing, especially that found on the Internet or in magazines, is closer to the colloquial form. This is also becoming more common in artistic literature.

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