Welsh 101

Welsh is a relatively phonetic language, with most letters having only one pronunciation. Complications arise with the various double consonants, particularly "dd" which is represented in English as "th" as in "breathe", while "th" is represented in English as "th" as in "think"; "ll" is a famously difficult (and common) sound for non-Welsh speakers to produce - made by positioning the tongue at the top front of the mouth and blowing, and represented here as "lh". "Ch" is always pronounced like the German name "Bach" or the Scottish "loch"; the sound which appears in the English word "church" is represented by "ts".

There are relatively minor pronunciation differences between northern and southern Welsh, most notably that the letter "s" is a sibilant "s" in the north, and a lisped "sh" in the south.

Unless overridden by an accent mark, the stress in Welsh words always falls on the last but one syllable of a word. As syllables get added to words, for example to denote a plural or a female person of a particular occupation, the sound of a word can change dramatically.

Welsh is written in a version of the Latin alphabet containing 28 letters, including 8 digraphs which count as separate letters for collating purposes (and crossword puzzles): a, b, c, ch, d, dd, e, f, ff, g, ng, h, i, l, ll, m, n, o, p, ph, r, rh, s, t, th, u, w, y.

The letters j and v do not exist in normal Welsh usage, but have been adopted from English for limited use e.g. in personal names. "K" is regarded as redundant in Welsh as the sound is always represented by "c", but it is found in the prefix "kilo-", although "cilo-" is always acceptable.

Grammatically, Welsh is relatively complex with two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, which all nouns are assigned to, and also masculine and feminine forms of the numbers "two" "three" and "four" which have to match the gender of the object being counted; there are also two separate counting systems, decimal (base 10) and the more traditional vigesimal (base 20). The phenomenon of mutation is a characteristic of the Celtic languages, where the initial letters of words change depending on the grammar of the sentence, which can make tracking words down in a dictionary difficult.


Vowels in Welsh can have accent marks, most commonly the circumflex (^), called the tô bach (little roof) , which lengthens the sound of the vowel, and the acute (´), which shortens it. Occasionally the diaresis appears on the letter ï, to signify a doubling of the sound. Vowel sounds tend to resemble those of major continental European languages rather than English.

There are seven vowels in Welsh, which have both short and long forms:

like "a" in "and"

like "eh"

like "ee" in "see"

like "oh"

like a very tight, frontal "oo" sound (purse your lips as if to say "oo" as in "soon" but try and say "ee")

like "oo" as in "moon"

either "uh", or like "ee" in "see"

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