Whether you’re aiming to dive into the Welsh language or you just want to be able to throw around a few phrases when you visit Wales, this article aims to help you get your bearings.
A few words to the wise, first: If you’re just starting out with Welsh, you may have noticed a few confusing things. First, there are two different ways to speak to somebody – using the formal “chi” or the informal “ti”.
Second, the way Welsh is written and taught in textbooks is very different from the way that people speak to each other on the street, making it sometimes hard to understand quite what you are hearing.
And third, there are some stark differences between North and South Wales Welsh that you’re likely to hear.
For the purposes of this article, we will assume that you want to sound natural and fluent, and we’ll stick to the formal “chi” to sound polite. Of course, if your aim is to have a chat in the pub with your friends, you may need something a little different.
We’ll start off with how to greet somebody:
You might also hear shwmai, which is a South Wales shortening of “sut mae hi?”, meaning “how is it?” This is similar to asking “you alright?” or “what’s up?” in that an actual answer is not necessarily expected.
In North Wales, you are more likely to hear “sut ‘dach chi?” or “dach chi’n iawn?”, meaning “how are you?” and “are you OK?” respectively.
The easiest way to respond to this question is with: “iawn, diolch” (fine, thanks). However, you may also like to say:
If you are meeting for the first time, there are a couple of ways to introduce yourself:
<Name> dw i = I am <name>
Fy enw i ydi <name> = My name is <name>
You can also throw in a “braf cwrdd â chi” (South Wales) or “braf eich cyfarfod chi” (North), which means “nice to meet you”.
If you’re aiming to show off your Welsh abilities in Wales (or in the one part of Patagonia, Argentina, where Welsh is spoken!) then you probably want to know what you can say when buying things from a café, pub, restaurant or shop. Here are some phrases that may help:
Some other useful phrases:
If you’re ordering or purchasing things, some knowledge of numbers will also be helpful. To count, you simply say the number before the singular form of the thing you’re counting, for example:
*The noun after a “dau” takes the soft mutation. If you’re wondering why there are two versions of the words for one, two and three, that’s because the second option refers to groups of feminine nouns. Don’t worry too much about this for now!
No foray into British life is complete without being able to make small talk about the weather, and the Welsh are just as keen to comment on it as anybody else. So, you’ll probably find these phrases useful for small-talk:
And even though it hardly counts as a ‘basic’ phrase, I can’t help but throwing this one in:
Mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn! = It’s raining old ladies with sticks! Said when it’s raining a lot, the equivalent of the English “it’s raining cats and dogs”
In Welsh, the phrase “dw i” will help you out a lot. “Dw i” is actually shortened from rydw i, which can also be written as rwyf, rwy or fi depending on where you are.
Connect “dw i” with “yn” (or ‘n) and you can follow it with a verb, an adjective, or a noun. This is the first building block for saying things about yourself. For example:
(Note: a noun or adjective after ‘yn’ takes the soft mutation)
When parting in Welsh, the most common phrase you’ll hear is “hwyl!”. This is an interesting word, as “hwyl” is a sail, as well as the word we use for fun.
You can also hear hwyl fawr (a big goodbye), ta-ta (bye-bye) or hwyl am y tro (goodbye for now).
Hopefully these phrases will act as a good starting point for your Welsh journey!Editor's notes: