0964e Gwefan Cymru-Catalonia - some notes from a book on Welsh Place Names I wrote but which probably won't make it to the final version. So I've put them on our website instead. Nodiadau o lfr ar enwau lleoedd Cymraeg yr oeddwn yn ei lunio. Mae'n debg na chaiff y nodiadau hn mo'u cynnws yn y llfr, fell dyma fi'n eu rhoi yn ein gwefan.


0001z Yr Hafan / Home Page

1864e Y Fynedfa yn Gatalaneg / English Gateway

0010e Y Gwegynllun / Siteplan

1447e Enwau Cymru (tudalen cyfeiriol) / Welsh Names (Orientation Page)

0442e Enwau Lleoedd Cymru (tudalen cyfeiriol) / Welsh Place Names (Orientation Page)


...............................................2487e 'Enwau Lleoedd Cymraeg' (llyfr) / 'Welsh-language Place names' (book)

...........................................................y tudalen hwn / aquesta pgina

xxxx (ddim ar gael)
Y tudalen hwn yn Gymraeg

xxxxx (no disponible) Aquesta pgina en catal.


Gwefan Cymru-Catalonia
La Web de Gal
les i Catalunya
The Wales-Catalonia Website

Enwau Cymraeg
Welsh Names

Looking at Welsh Place Names
Contents page (Page 1 out of 4)

Adolygiad Diweddaraf / Latest Update: 01 11 2000 2005-03-21

These are notes for a book on place names which was accepted for publication but will now probably appear in another format. Some sections are complete, others are very incomplete. But we'll get round to tidying it up eventually.

SECTION ONE: This page

Place-names Dictionary - Welsh place names and place-name elements explained 0817e

Place-names Dictionary - Welsh place names and place-name elements explained 0817e


(The draft of a book on Welsh place names submitted for publication. Much of the material was cut out by the editors - surplus to requirements. Publication date unknown. There are some gaps in this draft, but it should be useful as it stands. No other book of its type on Welsh place names exists)

1 Place names and grid references
2 The Indo-European languages
3 Who are the Celts?
4 The British language
5 The pronunciation of Welsh
6 Mutations in Welsh
7 Some place name elements
8 the definite article and a masculine noun (y brn = the hill)
9 y brn mawr : article + masculine noun + adjective
10 some spelling rules for place names

Place names and grid references
After many of the place names the Ordnance Survey grid reference is indicated. This is made up of two letters followed by four digits. The letters refer to one of the nine 100km grid squares which cover Wales. The first two digits refer to the kilometre grid square reading from west to east; the last two digits reading from south to north

The Indo-European languages

Welsh, like the great majority of European languages, is a member of the Indo-European family of languages (so called because the members of this language family are to be found in the north of the Indian subcontinent and in Europe)
The original language probably comes from the area of the river Dneper in
These are the twelve main divisions of Indo-European. Those in brackets are extinct.


The Hittites were an ancient people with a powerful empire in Asia Minor and Syria from 1900BC-1200BC. The language is preserved in cuneiform inscriptions from before 1000BC

The Indo-Iranian group includes the languages in the region of modern-day Iran and on the Indian subcontinent. Examples of the Iranian branch are Persian, Kurdish and Baluchi. The Indian languages are derived from Sanskrit, and among others are Hindi, Gujurati, Bengali, Urdu (the offical language of Pakistan), Panjabi and Romany. (Urdu is the official language of Pakistan with many Persian and Arabic words. It means 'camp' in Hindustani).

The Italic group includes two extinct languages that were replaced by Latin - Oscan (south-central Italy) and Umbrian (central and northern Italy). Latin of course is the basis of Castilian ("Spanish"), Catalan, Occitan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Romansch, Friuil, Franco-Provenal, etc

Germanic had three divisions - northern, western and eastern. The Northern one is represented by the Scandinavian languages, and the western by Anglo-Frisian (from which come modern Frisian, English and Scots) and German (German, Dutch, and so on). The Eastern branch is extinct - this was represented by the Gothic language, known from a translation of the Bible in the fourth century by Ulfilas.

One of the extinct branches of Indo-European is Tocharian. The Tocharians were a Central Asian people assimilated around 1000AD by their neighbours. Their language was preserved in manuscripts discoverd in the twentieth century. The name comes from Greek TOCHAROI, which was taken from TOCHRI, the Uigir name for this lost people

Here are some words in different languages deriving from the same Indo-European root:

Indo-European deru = to be firm, to be hard; in specialised senses 'wood', 'tree';
Welsh derw(en) = oak tree, deri = oakwood;
Irish dair = oak tree, doire = oakwood (Doire - town in Ireland, Englished as Derry),
Scottish darach = oak tree;
Old English treow, English tree, Norwegian tre,
Greek dendron (from a duplicated form of this root - deru + deru) = tree (as in rhodendron, literally 'rose tree'), or hamadryad = a nymph that inhabits a tree and dies with it (hamadruas - hama = together with, drus = tree);
Russian derevo = tree; Sankrit daru = wood.
River names in
England 'Derwent' are from British 'derv-ent-i' (that is, they are based on the word for 'oak tree').

Indo-European kwon = dog; Welsh ci (plural cwn) = dog; in British, also warrior;
Welsh corgi (cor + ci) = dwarf dog;
Irish c = greyhound; hero, champion; Mac Conmara 'son of the hound of the sea' (Macnamara), Mac Con Ulaidh 'son of the hound of Uladh / Ulster' (MacNally);
Scottish c = dog;
Old English hund, English hound, Dutch hond, German Hund, Norwegian hund;
Greek kon;
Latin canis = dog (and from this the English words canine and Canary Islands), Catalan (Balearic Islands) ca

Indo-European ekwo = horse. This is probably a variant of kwon =dog.
Welsh eb- in ebol = foal, Epnt (Eb-hnt) = horse path - name of a mountain; caseg gyfeb = mare in foal;
Irish each = horse, and Scottish each = horse, Latin equus = horse (and from this English equestrian, equine),
Greek hippos = horse (Latin hippopotamus is from Greek hippopotamos = river horse) (Philip from Philippos = fond of horses)

Indo-European dw = 2.
Welsh dau = 2, Irish d = 2, and Scottish d = 2,
Old English tw = 2, English two, German zwei, Sanskrit dvu

There are many regular correspondences between Celtic and Latin / Greek words on the one hand, and Celtic / Germanic on the other. Here is just one example between Celtic and Germanic, using Welsh / Irish and English / Dutch / German as examples.

Many words in Welsh beginning with c- [k] correspond to words in the Germanic languages which begin with h.
(1) Welsh celyn(en) = holly, Irish cuileann = holly
Old English holegn, English holly
Dutch hulst, German Hulst (both meaning holly)

(2) Welsh cae = field; in Old Welsh it meant hedge (no Irish equivalent)
Old English haga = hedge - the first element in modern English hawthorn - thorn for making hedges,
Dutch hag(doorn), German Hag(dorn) (both meaning 'hawthorn')

(3) Welsh coll(en) = hazel tree, Irish coill = wood, forest.
Old English hsel, English hazel,
Dutch hazel(aar), German Hasel (both meaning 'hazel tree')

(4) Welsh coed = wood, (no Irish equivalent)
Germanic *haithiz, Old English hth, English heath; heathen = savage person;
Dutch heide, German Heide (both meaning 'heath')

(5) Welsh corn 'horn; mountain peak', Irish corn = horn (type of bugle), (drinking horn)
Old English horn, English horn,
hoorn, German Horn (both meaning 'horn')

Who are the Celts?

'Celtic' is a linguistic term. The word 'Celts' means no more than 'people who speak a Celtic language' (except that nowadays it is rather more "people who ought to speak a Celtic language but have been persuaded not to". The Celtic languages are in various stages of eradication at the present time, and as a result most inhabitants of Celtic lands have little or no knowledge of what is rightfully their own language)

(INSERT: Origin of the Celts)

These people successfully developed a technology based on iron, and this permitted their expansion through conquest.
The technology was probably passed on from the Celts to the Germanic peoples since the Germanic word for iron was a borrowing of the Celtic word *isarn- (we comment on this later on).

The Celts came to the islands from the European mainland somewhere between 800 and 500 BC. Who was there before them is not known. In all likelihood there was no great displacement of population - an original pre-Celtic population adopted a Celtic language.


The British language
The British language was for nearly a thousand years (until about 400AD) spoken over most - if not all - of the island of Britain (there is some doubt about whether the inhabitants of what is now northern Scotland spoke British).

The arrival of the Hibernian invaders from Ireland in the north and the Germanic invaders from the continent in the south-east led to a great reduction in the territory occupied by the British people.

The Germanic invaders carved a new homeland - England - out of the lands they took over in the island of Britain, and the British peoples were confined to three separate zones in the island - a region on either side of Carlisle (including the present day English Lake District and the south of Scotland as far as Glasgow), and what are today the countries of Wales and Cornwall.

The northern country had ceased to exist by 1100. On the other hand, settlers from the island of Britain established a new country on the European mainland - Brittany. In these three separated zones the Welsh, Cornish and Breton languages developed. 1500 years ago they were one and the same language, and they are remarkably similar even today, though no longer mutually intelligible. (See the page in our website - cognate words in Welsh, Cornish and Breton, where there is a list of fifty words - click on this number 0112)

Two words in particular in the Germanic languages are Celtic. One is from Indo-European *dhuno = fortified place, in Celtic dn- (and the source of Irish dn, Scottish dn = fort; and Welsh din = fort, dinas = city (originally fort). This became Germanic *tnaz and from this came Old English tn, modern English -ton in place names (= farmstead), and the word town. The corresponding word in German is 'Zaun' = fence, Dutch 'tuin' = garden

The other, as we have mentioned, is Celtic isarn- = iron, which in Irish is iarann, and in Welsh haearn (and in South Wales dialect harn). The rapid expansion of the Celts over much of Europe was in part due to the fact that they were the first Northern Europeans with a knowledge of working iron. In Old English it was 'sern' or 'sen' and later 'iren' (the original 's' became an 'r'). In German the corresponding word is 'Eisen' [ai zn], and in Dutch 'ijzer' [ei zr].

(INSERT: map of the Celtic countries)

The basic vocabulary of all the Celtic languages is broadly similar, and the way of naming places and the structure of the names are also very similar. With a knowledge of Welsh place names it is possible to recognise the meanings - at least in part - of names in
Cornwall and Brittany, and to a lesser extent in the Hibernian countries - Ireland, Mann and Scotland.

(INSERT: Diagram of the Celtic languages)

As the language chart shows us, the Welsh language is one of the six Celtic languages in use today. All are on the western seaboard of Europe. Three of these countries are 'Hibernian' Celtic (Ireland, Isle of Mann and Scotland), and three are 'British' Celtic (Wales, Cornwall and Brittany).

The earlier Celtic of the Continental Celts is termed 'Common Celtic'. When the Celts moved into the two main islands off the European Continent, two distinctive types of Celtic were spoken. These two types already existed on the Continent in all probability.

They correspond to the two islands - British (Island of Britain) and Hibernian (island of Hibernia or Ireland).(Hibernian is more generally called "Goidelic" by linguists). The Irish Annals explain the origin of the Irish as Iberian (the present-day Spanish and Portuguese states) - it could indicate that there was a migration from the Iberian peninsula. (Or it may be only a legend with no basis in fact.). British was very similar to what we know of Gaulish. It could be said to be an island version of mainland Gaulish.

The "Iberian" emigrants, if we are to accept this idea, may have occupied both Britain and Ireland, to be displaced or assimilated in the case of Britain by a later immigration of Celts from Gaul, or roughly the area of the present-day French state. There is evidence too that Celts from the island of Britain then crossed over the Celtic Sea and settled in Ireland, though eventually the Irish language (Old Irish) predominated, and they were assimilated. Some pre-Celtic peoples may have survived in the North (the Picts), though they might in fact have been an earlier Celtic people, or pre-Celts Celticised at an earlier date.

Some decades before the Christian era, the Romans began eyeing the islands in preparation for an invasion. It seems that it was a haven for Gaulish rebels from the Celtic territories on the European mainland that the Romans had conquered and incorporated into their Empire. For the Romans, an invasion of the island and the subjugation of the Celtic inhabitnats would remove a threat to the Roman Empire; and there was also the added advantage that the islands were fertile and agriculture was profitable; and there was also tin and gold to be exploited.

The Celts of Britain successfully repelled the Romans' first attempts to invade, but eventually the Romans occupied the island as far as the Caledonian Forest, and for four hundred years the island of Britain was a Roman colony, It remained British-speaking, although the population as a whole or a segment of it (the upper social class) must to some extent have been bilingual in Latin.

When the Romans left, Germanic tribes invaded. There were already Germanic people living on the island, many employed as mercenaries in coastal defence forces especially on the eastern coast (to repel Germanic invaders). They may have acted as a spearhead for the invasion of their tribesfellows. Over a period of three hundred years these Germans overthrew the British kingdoms one by one from Kent up to the Firth of Forth in present-day Scotland.

The Germanic settlers had an important military objective in their wars against the British - to drive wedges into British territory and break up into isolated portions the swathe of land that they still possessed in the North and along the western side of the island. This was achieved by military vitories at Dyrham near Bath (in what is now south-west England) and Chester (in what is now north-midland England).

At the same time, Irish people (a northern tribe, the "Scots") had crossed over into the north of the island and began to establish what was in effect a second Ireland (in what is nowadays Scotland).

The British were in three increasingly isolated and shrinking territories - a large area south of the Glasgow-Edinburgh axis; the upper south-western peninsula of Britain (modern-day Wales), and the lower south-western peninsula (today the south-western counties of England and the country of Cornwall at the tip of the peninsula).

These areas became smaller and smaller as the invaders took over more and more land .

An area covering much of what is today Northern England and Southern Scotland was occupied by the Germanic settlers, and British lands in the north were reduced to the kingdom of Strathclyde, on the western side of Scotland from around Glasgow downwards to the mountainous area south of Carlisle in present-day England. A large flank of territory east of the upper peninsula was incorporated into the Germanic territory of Mercia, leaving an area more or less the same as what is Wales today. In the lower peninsula, the Celtic lands east of the river Tamar (the present border between England and Cornwall) were overrun and settled

The territory conquered by the Germans was to become England. The three British territories were harder to conquer because of their terrain. The southern part of the northernmost territory was mountainous, but eventually it was occupied by the Norsemen (as present-day place names indicate); and the rest by the Scots. After about 1100, no British territory survived in the north.

In the south the British held out in the two peninsulas. In the upper peninsula - present-day Wales - a more solid resistance was possible because of the mountainous terrain. However, the Germanic kingdom of Mercia expanded into much of the hilly territory of Pows, taking over Pengwern, the old capital (identified by some as modern Shrewsbury, disputed by others)


A demarcation ditch was built in the reign of Offa.to indicate where his territory began. (INSERT NOTES)

In the lower pensinsula the Celts gradually lost most of their territory. The landscape is similar to what became western Mercia - rolling hills - but it seems that this delayed the Germanic advance, but could not stop it. Thes lands are today's English counties of Somerset, Dorset and Devon. The British Celts were allowed to remain beyond the river Tamar, which was agreed on as a border between the English and the British. The place where they were confined is present-day Cornwall. This combined policy of on the one hand extermination and on the other expulsion and confinement was to be repeated centuries later by the English colonists (who included also many people from the Celtic countries) in their treatment of the native Americans.

During the English expansion, the British also faced a problem of Irish incursions from the west, and occupation of coastal areas by settlers from Ireland. Some of the British moved over to the European mainland and occupied an isolated, thickly-wooded and thinly-populated peninsula they called Arvor 'the coastal lands' (Armorica) which is today's Brittany in the French state.

The British apparently identified themselves as such, because the British people of Brittany still speak 'British' (Brezhoneg - language of the Britons), and this overseas British territory of Arvor came to be known by the name of its new settlers - 'the British' - 'Breizh'. In Latin it was known as '(the) smaller (province of) Brittania' from which the French name Bretagne came, and from the French name the English name for it - Brittany. The Latin / French term for the original province was (the) bigger (province of) Brittania - later translated into English as 'Great Britain'.

The British of what is now Wales (as well as those in the lost lands of the north - the present-day English Lake District and Southern Scotland) had begun to refer to themselves as the *Kom-brog-es (equal to modern Welsh 'cym' = together, and 'bro' district, 'people of the same land, compatriots'). The name in modern Welsh is the is 'Cymr', and this is also the name applied to the country, though with a slight change in the spelling made in the 17th century - Cymru. The pronunciation is the same. It survives as part of the lost British territories of the north in the former county name Cumberland. (Or the Latin form Cumbria which has replaced the English name to denote the new county after boundary changes in 1974).

The word 'Welsh' (In Old English spelt "wealsc" but pronounced more or less the same as "Welsh") was used by the Germans to denote non-Germans, foreigners, 'people different to us', who in the case of the Germanic tribes were the Celts. It is the same as the first part of 'walnut' (a foreign nut, because the tree was a southern species), and in numerous Waltons in England (in most cases = 'village of the Welsh'). Interestingly, in Switzerland (which on its postage stamps calls itself Helvetia after the name of the Helvetii, the Celtic tribe which inhabited much of modern-day Switzerland) the French-speaking minority - who would have been the Celtic speakers before they adopted the Romance language - are still referred to as the 'Welsch' by Swiss-German speakers). Wales is 'the foreigners', '(territory of) the foreigners'. On the island of Britain, the Britons of the lower peninsula called themselves by their tribal name (Kernow) (in Latin, they were known as the 'Cornubiae'. The Welsh name is Cernw). To the English they were known by a name which meant "Kernow-Welsh", and has given 'Cornwall' in modern English.

The pronunciation of Welsh

1) Welsh names are unpronounceable
2) Some words have no vowels in them.

- the ones represented by the letters CH, LL, RH.

In fact, most sounds in Welsh are fairly easy to pronounce as they are the same not so different from English sounds. The only difficult sounds for newcomers to the language are ll, ch and rh (as well as the Northern [ii] sound (spelt or u), though the southern pronunciation presents no difficulties) .

LL Alongside the ordinary 'l', there is an aspirated 'l', spelt 'll', and familiar from names such as Llandudno. It doesn't exist in the other British languages - Cornish and Breton - which do not have two 'l' sounds

By coincidence, the sound represented by 'll' is found in Inuit (in Greenland), and Zulu. It is an 'l' which has developed in a special way - the mouth is shaped to say an 'l' but instead of using the voice to sound it, it is articulated by breathing out through the mouth, allowing the air to pass both sides of the tongue..

Pronouncing dictionaries such as the one produced by the BBC for the use of newsreaders and other broadcasters often say that it can be pronounced
as a simple 'l' (untrue),
as 'fl' (untrue - though that was Shakespeare's solution with his character Fluellen = Llyweln),
or 'thl' (again untrue!).

The best advice for newsreaders is to try and pronounce it properly!

Basically, the mouth makes a shape as for an 'l' but instead of making the sound with the voice you breathe out through the mouth. That's all there is to it.

Technically the 'll' of Welsh is a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative.
Perhaps the best description for the pronunciation of this sound is the one given by Caradar, an Englishman who was a grammar school teacher of modern languages. He learned Welsh and wrote 'Welsh Made Easy' in 1925, incorporating the suggestions and advice of many of the leading Welsh grammarians and writers of the time.

"Practise uttering the word 'long' from the right-hand side of the mouth only, and note carefully where the tongue is placed to produce the l. The front part will be touching the upper front teeth, while the left side of the tongue will be pressed against the left teeth to prevent any sound emerging from that side of the mouth. Now place the tongue in this posiiton again, but without uttering a sound, and expel the breath sharply. No humming sound should be heard in the throat. Nothing should be heard but a sudden escape of breath between the tongue and the upper teeth on the right-hand side of the mouth.
This is the Welsh ll, called a 'voiceless' l, because no sound comes from the vocal chords when producing it, and a 'unilateral' l, because it is uttered on one side of the mouth only. [Sir John Morris-Jones has ascertained, after a series of tests, that the proportion of Welshmen who utter it on the left is as three to one]. Now put the tongue in position again for this right-hand l, and breathe steadily, but without making a humming sound; then utter the syllable '-ong'. To do so, the tongue will be suddenly withdrawn from the teeth to allow the o-sound to come forth. If these instructions have been correctly followed, you will have pronounced the Welsh word 'llong', a ship.

The three actions - that of placing the tongue against the upper teeth, followed by a sharp emission of breath on the right of the mouth, and the withdrawing of the tongue to allow the voewl-sound to come forth - should be simultaneous. This can be attained with very little practice. Thus, 'llong' requires no more time for its utterance than does 'long'.
Practise with 'long...llong' until you can produce the ll-sound on the right-hand side of the mouth without hesitation. Then try 'lan...llan', lon...llon', 'lal...llall', 'al...all', 'alan...allan', 'pel...pell', 'coli...colli', hol...holl'...hollol'. If the above instructions misfire, try this simpler one: say 'long' on ONE side of the mouth and blow sharply when uttering the l."-(End of quote)

CH This is the same as in Scottish 'loch', or German 'Nachtmusik', or Castilian 'caja' (box, savings bank).

 RH An example of its use is in the word 'rhd' = a ford. It you think of it as 'hr' - is like an h followed by an rolled r - then it makes it easy to pronounce. In fact, in the traditional Welsh of the south-east the 'h' has disappeared (as in many Latin languages) and it is pronounced as a simple 'r'.

Northern [ii]. This is somewhat difficult to achieve, even for southern speakers of Welsh. In fact, in the south, the kind of [ii] used is the same as in English, as in 'bean, been, chief, etc'.

Unlike English, the spelling is a reliable guide to the standard pronunciation of a word, although the local or colloquial pronunciation may differ slightly. For example, 'coed' is wood or trees, and is pronounced [koid], although colloquially in the South it is [kood] (a long 'o') in the South.

The letters may not represent what you might expect them to

(1) Remember - Welsh f is pronounced as an English v, and Welsh u is like a short or long English i (depending on the word) as in bin, bean (at least in the South - the 'i' is slightly different in the north)!
(2) Remember - y can be pronounced in two ways (an obscure vowel, as in English about; or a short or long i, as in bin, bean)
(3) Remember - w can be pronounced in two ways (as a vowel or as a consonant)
(4) Remember - ng can be pronounced in two ways (as in English FINGER, where the g is pronounced, or as i English SINGER, where the g isn't pronounced). The
Welsh Academy dictionary has to indicate (prounconced ng-g) to overcome this ambuiguity.

Of the twenty-six letters in the Roman alphabet, four are not used at all in standard Welsh spelling (though they appear in Welsh texts in foreign words and names) and 'z' is regarded with suspicion. There is a tendency to use 's' instead, though this can present problems with words borrowed from English sinc (= kitchen sink), sinc (= the metal zinc).

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

There are more sounds to represent than the 22 letters can cover.

Combinations of letters are used to represent these sounds - one combinations is (ng); in other cases a letter is doubled (dd, ll), or an 'h' is added (ch, mh, ngh, nh, ph, rh, sh, th). This is not a perfect solution - 'ng' as we have noted has two pronunciations.



There are seven letters representing vowels in Welsh: a, e, i, o, u, w, y.

At one time, i, u, and y were all different sounds. In South Wales at least, they are in modern Welsh all pronounced like 'i' in English 'teen' and 'tin' (long or short, depending on the word).

The system has some ambiguities -
1) 'w' serves to represent both a consonant and a vowel;
3) 'y' can be 'i' or '' depending on the postion in a word



This idea comes from the believing that the letters 'y' and 'w' in Welsh represent consonants.
In English 'w' is always a consonant.

In Welsh it can be both a consonant (gwin = wine) and a vowel
[u] (short: cwm = valley),
[uu] (long: tw^r = tower).

In English 'y' can be both a consonant and a vowel - 'you' (consonant), 'why' (vowel).
In Welsh it is always a vowel.
[i] (short: gwn = white)
[ii] (long: t = house)
or an [] sound (an obscure vowel, or 'schwa', as in the first sound in English 'about') (yn = in)


But why is 'w' a vowel? It is because in earlier Welsh there were two varieties of 'u'.

There are two varieties of 'u' in English, French, German, Cornish, Breton. Each has a different system to indicate them - except English. For example, 'look' and 'luck' are pronounced differently. But the spelling system is so chaotic that each sound is not represented by a letter specific to the sound.


normal 'u'

special 'u'


[u] look, bull

[] blood, luck














u (at one time similar to French u or German ; nowadays like an 'i')


In German, the ordinary 'u' is spelt 'u', but the 'u' with rounded lips has an umlaut ''
(Zug = train, Zge = trains)

In French, it is the rounded 'u' which is spelt 'u',
and the ordinary 'u' is spelt 'ou'. (tu = you, fou = mad)

Breton has borrowed the French solution to the problem, and modern Cornish has copied the Breton solution!
Welsh is similar - but uses 'w' for the ordinary 'u', and 'u' for the rounded 'u'.

In fact, the rounded 'u' in Welsh is now pronounced as a kind of 'i', and in South Wales, it is identical with 'i' [i] short or [ii] long.
The 'w' can be long or short - cwm = valley [kum], dwr = water [duur].


In English, (in theory ar least) the natural postion for the accent in a word is the first syllable
Manchester - MAN che st
In Welsh, words are generally accented on the last syllable but one,
Caernarfon - kair NAR von


Long vowel or short vowel?
glas [glaas] = green, blue
min [miin] = edge
gwn [gwin] = white

 Vowels can be long or short - it depends on the word. There are set rules about this, but there's no need to explain them here. If you really want to know, the Dictionary of the Welsh Academy (English-Welsh) explains them very thoroughly






a (short)




a (long)

cath, bl


hard (without the 'r')
























Scottish loch









e (short)




e (long)

bedd, pl


(e extended!)





























i (short)




i (long)



















(see above)













ng (1)



thing, singer

ng (2)







ng (1) + h





o (short)




o (long)



Northern English stone (which uses 'oo' rather than 'ou' 
























red (but a rolled r)

























u (short)




u (long)







similar to you

w (consonant)




w (vowel) (short)




w (vowel) (long)




w (diphthong)



the 'u' of bull + the 'i' of pin

w (consonant + short vowel)




w (consonant + long vowel)












y (obscure vowel)


as in Enlgish about (but)






There are two main regional forms of Welsh - Northern and Southern.
The pronuncation scheme above follows a southern pattern -
1) It is easier to imitate as it is less varied phonologically than Northern Welsh. The Welsh of the North is more conservative (in the sense that it has been more resistant to foreign influence) and has in particular preserved the vowel sound of 'u' / '' which is different from 'i'. In the South they are all pronounced the same, as 'i').
2) Most Welsh speakers speak a southern variety of Welsh
(This is not to say however that any regional variety of the language is superior to any another)
6 Mutations in Welsh


Skip it for the time being if you want)

There are nine mutable consonants in Welsh
p t c | b d g | ll rh m
In British, there were case endings to each words, rather as in Latin with nominative, accusative, genitive, dative and ablative forms
Simply put, unvoiced consonants between vowels tended to become voiced, and existing voiced consonants also changed. It is not unknown in other languages - for example t becomes a kind of d in American English - city / 'cidy'. Latin civitat-em in Spanish is ciudad.
Like Latin, but unlike modern Welsh, there were three genders - masculine, neuter and feminine British, masculine nouns ended in -os; neuter -on; feminine -a.
a 'fair head' would be 'pennos tekos' > 'pennos tegos' > pen teg in modern Welsh
a 'fair river' would be 'abona teka' > 'avona dega' > afon deg
There are nine letters / sounds affected by mutation
They fall into three groups

c [k]

p [p]

t [t]


g [g]

b [b]

d [d]


m [m]

ll [hl]

rh [hr]

For the moment, all that is necessary to know is that
the soft mutation affects 1,2,3 - that is, the consonants c p t g b d m ll rh
the nasal muation affects 1,2 - that is, the consonants c p t g b d
the spirant mutation affects only group 1 that is, the consonants c p t
An initial C- can become G-, NGH- or CH-
according to the context.
In place names, the soft mutation is very common, the nasal mutation less so, and the spiral mutation almost absent.
7 Some place name elements
Before we go on, here is a list of a hundred or so place name elements divided into categories. See how many you recognise. They are explained more fully and the pronunciation is given in the list at the back of the book (when we get round to it - 15 07 2000 - it's not available at present)

trees and bushes
collen, cll - hazel tree, hazel trees
derwen, derw - oak tree, oak trees
dr, deri - (especially South Wales) oak tree, oak trees
bedwen, bedw - birch tree. birch trees
ffawdden, ffawdd - beech tree / beech tres
onnen, onn / nn - ashe tree, ash trees
draenen / drain = hawthorn, hawthorns
eithinen / eithin = gorse bush / gorse bushes
banhadlen / banadl = broom bush / broom bushes
grug = heather
pinwdden / pinwdd = pine tree / pine tress
celynen / celn = holly bush / hollybushes
bedwen / bedw = birch / birches
helygen = willow
perth = hedge
bid = (South-east Wales) quickset hedge (i.e. a hedge of hawthorns or other bushes)
animals / birds / reptiles / fish
gwiwer - squirrel
dwrgi - otter
llwnog - (North Wales) fox
cadno - (South Wales) fox
hdd - stag
llygoden = mouse
bwch = stag
carw = deer
brn - raven, crow
eos - nightingale
pioden - (North Wales) magpie
pia - (South Wales) magpie
gwennol - swallow
adern - bird
colomen = dove
broga / ffroga = frog
neidr / nadroedd = snake
pysgod = fish

extinct wild animals
afanc - beaver
blaidd - wolf
arth - bear
twrch - wild boar
farm animals and fowl
hwaden, hwaid - duck
ceiliog - cock (USA: rooster)
buwch - cow
tarw - bull
ch - ox
dafad, defaid - sheep
oen / wn = lamb
gafr - goat
llo - calf
ceffl = horse
caseg = mare
ci / cwn = dog / dogs
ebol = foal
gwartheg = cattle
hwch = sow
mochn= pig
march / meirch = stallion
ch = ox
kinds of house
t, tai - house, houses
bwthn - cottage
plas - mansion
cwrt - court, mansion
lls - court, mansion
neuadd - hall
adjectives - colour, size, etc
gwn - white
glas - green (vegetation), blue
coch - red
du - black
gwn - white
llwd - grey (USA: gray)
mawr - big
bach - small
newdd - new
teg - fair
hyfrd - pleasant
meln = yellow
hir = long
llydan = wide
garw = rough
rivers, streams, lakes, bogs, the sea
afon - river
nant - brook, stream
ffynnon - well
pistll - well, waterspout
ystum - river bend
glan - riverbank, lakeside, marshside, seashore, etc
aber - (inland) confluence of two streams; (coast) river estuary
ffrwd - hillside stream
mr - sea
lln - lake
cors - bog
heol - (especially South Wales) road, street
ffordd - road
ln - road, lane
strd - street
rhd - ford
pont - bridge
sarn - causeway, Roman road, paved road
saer - carpenter; mason; craftsman
gof - smith
bugail - shepherd
hills, mountains and valleys
brn - hill
myndd - mountain; (uplands, upland pasture)
tyle / tyla - (South-east Wales) hill
twn - (South Wales) hill
tarren - (rocky) slope
cwm - valley
gln - valley
dyffrn - valley
pant - hollow, valley
ogof - cave
rocks and stones
craig - cliff
clogwn - cliff
maen - standing stone
carreg - stone, boulder, standing stone
carn - cairn, pile of stones
llan - church
capel - chapel
merthr - church
betws - church
abat - abbey
priord - priory
ficerd - vicarage
persond - parsonage
human body
1 pen = (a) head; (b) hill, mountain; (c) headland, promontory; (d) top, summit; (e) end
2 talcen = (a) forehead; (b) the first element tl is found in place nmes with the meaning 'end'
3 ael = (a) brow (b) hillcrest
4 llygad = (a) eye; in place names (b) source of a stream (c) llygad yr haul = sunlit place
5 trwn = (a) nose; (b) rock on a hillside resembling a nose when seen in profile (c) headland, promontory
6 min = (a) (poetic) lip; (b) edge (of a road, the sea, a lake, a river, etc)
7 genau = (a) mouth; (b) mouth of a valley
8 ceg = (a) mouth; (b) mouth of a river
9 cil = (a) corner of the eye; (b) secluded spot
10 ysgwdd = (a) shoulder (b) hill
11 braich = (a) arm; (b) spur of a mountain
12 cesail = (a) armpit; (b) secluded spot, sheltered spot
13 bron = (a) woman's breast; (b) round hill
14 cefn = (a) back (b) hill
15 bol = (a) belly; (b) hillock
16 esgair = (a) (obsolete) leg; (b) ridge
17 troed = (a) foot(b) bottom of a slope

8a the definite article and a masculine noun (y brn = the hill)

There is no indefinite article (equivalent to English A, AN) in Welsh
brn = hill / a hill
afon = river / a river

(1) The definite article (equivalent to English THE) is 'Y'
At least, that is what happens before a consonant
(b, c, d, dd, f, g, j, l, ll, m , n, p, r, rh, s, sh, t, th, w, z)
It's pronounced [], that is, like the first sound in 'about'.
y brn = the hill

(2) Before a vowel (a, e, i, o, u, w, y) or h it is YR
(pronounced [r], that is, like the beginning of 'around').
yr afon = the river

(3) In older Welsh the definite article was YR before a consonant too.
This still happens if the definite article comes after a vowel
For example, and in Welsh is 'a'. To say 'and the' a + yr = a'r
y brn a'r afon = the hill and the river
yr afon a'r brn = the river and the hill
In Welsh, there are two genders - masculine and feminine.
In this respect, modern Welsh resembles the modern Romance languages (Castilian, Catalan, French, Italian, Occitan, Portuguese, etc).
For example,
brn is masculine
afon = feminine.

Feminine nouns have certain special characteristics. For the time being we shall look at the masculine nouns.

[BA la] = outlet from a lake

brn [brin] = hill. From the root 'bhreus' in Indo-European meaning 'to swell'. There are examples all over
Wales, and a couple in England too -
Brn in Ashton-in-Makerfield (near
Manchester) SD 5700, and
Brn SJ 6072 in
Cheshire, 6km west of Northwich.
In Cornish it is 'brenn', in Breton place names also 'brenn'.
In Irish it is 'broinne' (= (1) woman's breast; (2) brink, verge)

bwlch [bulkh] = pass, gap between hills

cae [kai]= field (more specifically, an enclosed field, one with a hedge or wall around it). In Welsh, 'to close' is 'cau', as in cau dy geg! [kai d GEEG] = shut your mouth, shut up!). This is based on this word 'cae', which originally meant 'hedge, hedgerow', and later what was closed in by the hedge, a field.
In place names in
Cornwall 'ke' is a hedge or a low wall of earth and stone.
From the Indo-European root 'kagh' meaning 'to catch, to seize; enclose', and also 'wickerwork, fence'.
The base form *kag- in Celtic gave *kai- in Gaulish, which is the origin of modern French 'quai' (= quay or wharf; pier; riverside embankment, or the road along this (as in Paris, le Quai d'Orsay, the French Foreign Office), and in a railway station, the platform).
English 'quay' of course is from this French word.
In Germanic, the 'k' became an 'h' (*hag-) which is the basis of English 'hedge' and German 'Hecke' (= hedge); and another English word for hedge, 'haw', used in the plant name 'haw(thorn)' (= a thorn for making hedges). In German this is 'Hag(dorn)'. The administrative capital of the
Netherlands - Den Haag / The Hague is this same word (= 'the hedgerow').
The Germanic *hag- gave 'haie' in French, 'hedge, row of trees'.
The locality of Gelligandrll on the border was called by the
Normans 'la Haie' and the French name became the English name for the town which grew up here - 'Hay (on Wye)'.

castell [KA-stelh]= castle. From British (the parent language of Welsh), which got the word from Latin 'castellum' (a diminutive of 'castrum' meaning a fort - the first syllable cast- with the addition of '-ellum').

cwm [kum]= valley. From British '*kumb'.
The Welsh word 'cwm' is used in English with the pronunciation [kuum] meaning 'a deep round hollow' or 'natural amphitheatre'.In Welsh though the vowel is short.
It was also borrowed in the Old English period as 'cumb' from Old Welsh. In modern English it is [kuum], generally spelt combe, but also coombe. It means 'narrow valley, deep hollow', and is found in place names in the south-west of
England (Ilfracombe, etc, and many villages simply called 'Combe').
In Irish it is 'com' (= 'hollow'), in Cornish ('komm' = small valley), and in Breton ('komm' = trough', and in place names 'hollow').
A 'cwm' is broader than a 'gln'. According to D. Silvan Evans (A dictionary of the Welsh language...geiriadur Cymraeg, Parts 1-5, A-ENNYD.
Carmarthen: W Spurrell and Son, 1887-1906)
.'A hollow, a dell, a bottom. A deep valley where the sides come together in a concave form' .
There is a tendency in modern Welsh to use 'cwm' as a general word for 'valley' and in some cases it replaces 'gln' as in the case of the Rhondda valley, historically 'Gln Rhondda' but nowadays 'Cwm Rhondda'.
The word in Gaulish was 'kumb', meaning among other things the 'bottom of a boat'. The Gaulish word has passed into Catalan. In
Catalonia 'cm' is 'feeding trough'; and in place names in the Pyrenees, 'coma' is 'mountain hollow; lush mountain pasture'.

cwrt [kurt] = mansion, court

cymer = [K mer] confluence, place where two streams join (THIS ENTRY TO BE COMPLETED)

dw^r [duur] = water; in place names, also stream [duur].
Originally 'dwfr' but the [v] sound has disappeared and the vowel has become long. However the plural retains the old form with a [v] - 'dyfroedd' [dv-roidh].
The town of
Dover in Kent is from a British plural form corresponding to this, meaning 'streams'.
In Irish, 'dobhar' is water, flood. In Cornish 'Water' is 'dour', and in Breton too we have 'dour'.

dyffrn [D-frin] = broad valley. A combination of 'dwfr' (= water) and 'hnt' (= way).
In Cornish hyns = way, Breton hent = road (many road names in
Brittany have 'hent').
From Indo-European sent- (= to go), from which the English word 'send' also comes.

gln [glin] = valley This is a narrow valley between mountains, or a deep narrow gorge. Typically it has concave sides, and has been formed by the action of a river.
From Celtic *glend-.
In Cornish it is 'glynn' (= large valley), and in Breton 'glenn' (= land, country; the earth as opposed to heaven).
In Irish it is 'gleann' (= valley), and also 'gleann' (= deep narrow valley) in Scottish - and from Scottish in the 1400's the word entered English as 'glen'.

lln [lhin]= lake


maes [mais] = field (open field)

myndd [M-nidh] mountain (though it also means a long hill between valleys; or common land on a hill, upland pasture) (THIS ENTRY TO BE COMPLETED)

pand [PAN di] = fulling mill (where woollen cloth was beaten to cleanse and thicken it) [PAN-di] (THIS ENTRY TO BE COMPLETED)

pant = [pant] hollow (THIS ENTRY TO BE COMPLETED)

parc [park] = park; field; highland pasture

pentre [PEN-tre] = village

plas [plaas] = mansion

porth = [porth] pass, gap between hills (THIS ENTRY TO BE COMPLETED)

pwll = [pulh] pool (THIS ENTRY TO BE COMPLETED)

t^ [TII] = house. The circumflex was introduce to indicate that the 'y' is to be pronounced as long [ii]. This is to distinguish it from another word - also present in place names - 'ty' = your (pronounced with a schwa, that is, the indistinct vowel [t], as in English 'tonight', 'together', 'tobacco') (THIS ENTRY TO BE COMPLETED)

tyddn [t-dhin] = smallholding

ysbyt = [ SP ti] (1) hospital (2) hospice, traveller's rest (THIS ENTRY TO BE COMPLETED)

EXERCISE (ii): What are these words? Put in the missing letters; then check your answers in the word list
1 the field (open field) y ma _ _
2 the stone y ma _ _
3 the village y pen _ _ _
4 the mansion y pl _ _
5 the lake y ll _ _
6 the gap / pass (road between two hills) y bw _ _ _

1 the field (open field) y maes
2 the stone y maen
3 the village y pentre
4 the mansion y plas
5 the stream y lln
6 the gap / pass (road between two hills) y bwlch

EXERCISE (i): What are these words? Put in the missing letters; then check your answers against the word list above:
(1) valley (broad) : d _ f f r _ n
(2) hospital : _ s b _ t _
(3) castle : c a s _ _ _ _
(4) confluence : c y _ _ _
(5) field : _ _ _
(6) pass, gap : p _ _ t h
(7) fulling mill : _ _ _ d
(8) house : _ _ _
(9) hill : b _ _ n
(10) hollow : p _ _ _
(11) pool : p _ _ l
(12) mountain : m _ n _ d d
(13) stone : m _ _ n
(14) valley ('v' shaped) : g _ _ _
(15) valley ('u' shaped) : _ w _


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