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Welsh (Cymraeg) is a member of the Brythonic (or British) group of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is spoken by 562,000 people in the north, west, and south of Wales (Ethnologue). Ethnologue estimates that there are 591,000 users of Welsh worldwide.

Wales mapWith the Germanic and Gaelic colonization of Great Britain, the Brythonic speakers in Wales were split off from those in other parts of Britain. As a result, the languages diverged and became Welsh, Cornish, and Cumbrian. The latter became extinct in the 11th century.


Welsh is the de facto provincial language in Wales. There are large numbers of Welsh people who speak Welsh, but monolingual speakers of Welsh are relatively rare today since most Welsh speakers speak English. English-Welsh code-switching is a very common phenomenon.

The U.K. government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages with respect to Welsh. Although Welsh is a minority language, and thus threatened by the dominance of English, support for the language grew during the second half of the 20th century, along with a rise of nationalism. Welsh is compulsory in most Welsh schools up to age 16. Many Welsh primary and secondary schools provide Welsh-medium education to over 82,000 children. The language is widely used on the radio and TV. It is the language of daily communication in many parts of Wales. Most people in Wales believe that Welsh should have equal status with English.


Welsh is usually divided into Northern (Gog) and Southern (Hwntw) dialects that differ in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. The differences between the dialects are much more pronounced in the spoken than in the written language. Patagonian Welsh spoken in Argentina is influenced by the surrounding Spanish.


Sound system

Welsh phonology shares many features with that of other Celtic languages.

Welsh has 13 vowels although not all them occur in all dialects. A distinguishing feature of Welsh vowels is length which makes a difference in word meaning. In Southern dialects, the contrast between long and short vowels is found in stressed syllables only, while in Northern dialects, the contrast is found only in stressed word-final syllables.

  • /ɨ:/ and /ɘ/ are found only in Northern dialects. In Southern dialects, they have merged with /i/ and /I/.
  • /i/ = ee in beet 
  • /e/ = ai in bait
  • /ɛ/ = e in bet
  • /ɨ/ = e in roses
  • /ə/ = u in bud
  • /a/ = a in bat
  • /u/ = oo in boot
  • /ʊ/ = oo in hook
  • /o/ = oa in boat
  • /ɔ/ = o in bog
  • /ɑ/ = a in spa


In addition to the vowels listed above, there are also many diphthongs.

The full inventory of Welsh consonant phonemes is given below.

Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless
Nasals voiceless
Lateral fricative
  • /θ/ = th in thin
  • /ð/ = th in those
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /x/ = similar to ch in German pronunciation of Bach
  • /ɬ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song


Stress in Welsh polysyllabic words falls most commonly on the penultimate (one before last) syllable.


The grammar of Welsh shares many features with the grammar of other Celtic languages. A distinguishing feature of Welsh, as of all Celtic languages, is initial consonant mutation. This means that the first consonant of a word may change depending on grammatical context. Welsh has three mutations which are illustrated below.

Soft mutation Nasal mutation Aspirate mutation
y garreg
fy ngharreg
ei charreg
‘the stone’
‘my stone’
‘her stone’


Nouns, adjectives, and pronouns 
Welsh nouns have the following grammatical categories:

  • There are two genders — masculine and feminine. They are not predictable from the form of the noun.
  • Number inflections are unpredictable and formed either by adding the plural suffix –au to a singular stem, e.g., mam ‘mother’ — mamau ‘mothers,’ or the suffixes -yn/-en to the plural stem, e.g., plant ‘children’ — plentyn ‘a child.’
  • There are no cases, so that, for instance, possession is marked by apposition, e.g., mam y gath, literally ‘mother the cat’ means ‘cat’s mother.’
  • For the most part, adjectives are not marked for gender or number.
  • Welsh distinguishes between familiar and formal 2nd person pronouns, i.e., ti ‘familiar you’ — chi ‘formal you.’
  • Welsh uses a vigesimal counting system, i.e., counting by twenties, as in FrenchDanish, and Basque.


Welsh verbs are marked for the following grammatical categories:

  • There are three persons: 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
  • There are two numbers: singular and plural.
  • The preterite and future tenses, as well as the conditional mood use analytic forms. All other tenses use compound forms with auxiliary verbs such as bod ‘be.’
  • There are three moodsindicativeconditional, and imperative.


Word order
The normal word order in Welsh is Verb-Subject-Object. Adjectives normally follow the noun they modify.


While Welsh has borrowed some words from English, the bulk of its vocabulary is inherently Celtic. Below are a few common words in Welsh.

Hello. Helo.
Good morning. Bore da.
Good day. Dydd da.
Good bye. Hwyl fawr.
Please. Os gwelwch yin dda.
Thank you. Diolch.
Yes. Ie.
No Na
Man Dyn.
Woman Benyw.


Below are the Welsh numerals 1-10.



Middle Welsh (12th-14th centuries) is well-documented, since it is the language of the Mabinogion, a collection of prose stories from medieval Welsh manuscripts. Early Modern Welsh (14th-16th centuries) was the language used by the great Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. The publication of William Morgan‘s translation of the Bible in 1588 had a strong stabilizing effect on the language. Welsh literature is the oldest in Europe after Greek and Latin, going back to the 6th century AD. The earliest known examples of Welsh literature are the 6th century poems of Taliesin whose name is associated with a 10th century book of poems.There are two written varieties of Welsh: Colloquial Welsh (Cymraeg llafar) and Literary Welsh (Cymraeg llenyddol). Colloquial Welsh reflects differences in the spoken dialects, whereas Literary Welsh shows little dialect differentiation.

Welsh is written with an adapted version of the Latin alphabet.

A a
B b
C c
Ch ch
D d
Dd dd
E e
F f
Ff ff
G g
Ng ng
H h
I i
L l
Ll ll
M m
N n
O o
P p
Ph ph
R r
Rh rh
S s
T t
Th th
U u
W w
Y y


Welsh makes use of a number of diacritics, but not consistently:

  • The circumflex accent is generally used to mark long vowels î, ê, â, û, ô.
  • The grave accent is sometimes used to mark short vowels, e.g., pàs ‘permit.’
  • The acute accent is used to mark a stressed final syllable in a polysyllabic word, e.g., dicléin ‘decline.’
  • The diaeresis is used to indicate that a vowel is to be pronounced fully, e.g., kopïo ‘copy.’
  • c = c in cat
  • ch = German pronunciation of ch in Bach
  • dd = th in those
  • f = v in vat
  • ff = f in fat
  • ll = /ɬ/, no equivalent in English
  • ph = f in fat
  • rh = trilled [r]
  • th = th in thin
  • mh, nh, ngh = voiceless nasals
  • The letters k, q, v, x, z are used primarily in borrowed words, and are not usually included in the Welsh alphabet.


Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Welsh. .

Erthygl 1
Genir pawb yn rhydd ac yn gydradd â’i gilydd mewn urddas a hawliau. Fe’u cynysgaeddir â rheswm a chydwybod, a dylai pawb ymddwyn y naill at y llall mewn ysbrud cymodlon.
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Welsh literature is the oldest in Europe after Greek and Latin, going back to the 6th century AD. The earliest known examples of Welsh literature are the 6th century poems of Taliesin whose name is associated with a 10th century book of poems.


Did You Know?

English has borrowed few words from Welsh, for example:

corgi corgi, from cor ‘dwarf’ + ci ‘dog’
flannel gwlanen ‘woolen cloth’, from gwlan ‘wool’
penguin often thought to be from Welsh pen ‘head’ + gwyn ‘white’



Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Welsh?
There is no data on the difficulty level of Welsh for speakers of English.

13 Responses to Welsh

  1. Aled

    Saying that Welsh is spoken in Wales and ‘the rest of England’ is misleading – Wales isn’t part of England.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the correction. We will correct the mistake.

    • ceri mccoy

      I can’t believe that an Encyclopedia would confuse the Issue by saying Wales is part of England. Historically, Wales is composed of the Cymru which according to which etymology one chooses means a) ComBrogi- people from the same district i.e. borough (bro in welsh, Barrio in Spanish) or the Compadre i.e. Compatriots with a consonontal mutation Combadre hence Land of My fathers.

      • Irene Thompson

        What Encyclopedia?

      • ceri mccoy

        Wel, Meddwl mi Y pobol pwy wedi gwneud y tudalen yma yn credu Y “arllein” igam ogam yn weld fel y Encyclopedia entry.

        Well, I thought that whoever made the page here believes that this online resource is a type of Encyclopedia.

        There are plenty of nice things about England but Wales is not part of England. The other way round actually, England was part of Alba. Then the Romans came and the Jutes, Frisians, Angles, Saxons et al not to mention the Scotti (Irish pirates).
        There are places in Wales with Oghan inscriptions because there were Irish speaking colonies in West Wales.
        These people and there Welsh speaking neighbours all travelled to Man for education with the people from Ireland and Dal Riada by WELSH MONKS. That’s until the people from the Gododdin, Sons of Cunedda etc came down and wiped them out. It’s a fact that the elite spoke an older form of q celtic in both Britain and Ireland which were not conceived of as nations by the people but homelands of the tribes that lived there e.g. Cruithne is the name for the picts in old irish, Pretani is the cognate in Brittonic. We know them as the picts because of the Romans.They live in the so-called highland zone or were pushed there by the Romans and Irish invaders. Britain is Prydain with a consonant mutation.

  2. Graham Howe

    The letter J is also not included in the Welsh alphabet despite the frequency of Welsh surnames such as Jones and James. It seems that these forms were foisted on the Welsh by us English, and that, for example, Jones is an anglicised form of “Ap Ioan” – “Son of John”.

  3. NIck

    Thanks for correcting mistake. UK and “England” are not the same.

  4. ceri mccoy

    Re: The use of J in Jones etc. J is the Norman french latin version of I hence Iota > Jota.
    Iesu > Jesu and finally Ionnas > Jones. Important to note that it’s historically an aspirated form.

  5. Elen

    I clicked on the link to listen to basic phrases in Welsh and instead got Rick Astley grooving to Never Gonna Give You Up. Cheered me up no end!

    • Irene Thompson

      Thanks. The Welsh page needs a LOT of editing. We will fix the blooper.

    • Irene Thompson

      We fixed the misleading link.

  6. Angharad

    I note in November 2013 you said you were going to correct the mistake which implied that Wales is part of England. So why, in 2016, is the following line still in the article?
    “With the Germanic and Gaelic colonization of Great Britain, the Brythonic speakers in Wales were split off from those in other parts of England”

    Replace England with Britain (as in Ynys Prydain) and you’re fine. Please correct this; it is highly offensive to the Welsh to be told they are part of England. And of course, it is simply wrong.

    • Irene Thompson

      My apologies for the oversight. The offensive term was corrected. Thank you for following up on this.


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