More than One: Welsh Plurals

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Sut mae, pluralists!

Some people have asked me to write a little something about Welsh plural nouns, and as I had been intending to do just that anyway I’m more than happy to comply.

Welsh plurals come in a great variety of forms and flavours. In most cases it’s a matter of adding a plural ending to the singular noun. This sounds like a very simple and straightforward operation. However. Adding a new ending means adding another syllable and thus changing the stress in the word. While some words will ignore this with stoical changelessness, others will be thrown off balance and react with sound changes or a sudden (dis-)appearance of letters.

Let’s take a closer look at the Welsh plural endings:

-au

The majority of words, it appears, takes the plural ending -au. Here are some examples. And keep an eye on those sound changes!

agoriad (key, opening)agoriadau (keys, openings)
apwyntiad (appointment)apwyntiadau (appointments)
actores (actress) actoresau (actresses)
athrawes (female teacher) athrawesau (female teachers)
adeilad (building) adeiladau (buildings)
nod (note) nodau (notes)
aelod (member) aelodau (members)
cyngor (council) cynghorau (councils)
cyngerdd (concert) cyngherddau (concerts)
cyfrwng (medium) cyfryngau (media)
cynhadledd (conference) cynadleddau (conferences)
drama (drama) dramâu (dramas)
peiriant (machine)peiriannau (machines)

-iau

llun (picture)lluniau (pictures)
bag (bag)bagiau (bags)
gwaith (work) gweithiau (works)
llais (voice)lleisiau (voices)
cwrs (course) cyrsiau (courses)
clwb (club) clybiau (clubs)
cwmni (company) cwmnïau (companies)

-on

afiechyd (illness)afiechydon (illnesses)
dyddiadur (diary)dyddiaduron (diaries)
meddyg (doctor)meddygon (doctors)
athro (teacher)athrawon (teachers)
cân (song)caneuon (songs)

-ion

dyn (man)dynion (men)
arwydd (sign)arwyddion (signs)
mab (son)meibion (sons)
prawf (test)profion (tests)
cerddor (musician)cerddorion (musicians)

-i

tref (town)trefi (towns)
cerdd (poem)cerddi (poems)
cawr (giant)cewri (giants)
cornel (corner)corneli (corners)
llen (curtain)llenni (curtains)

-oedd

tir (lands)tiroedd (lands)
ardal (region)ardaloedd (regions)
iaith (language)ieithoedd (languages)
cwm (valley)cymoedd (valleys)
cenedl (nation)cenhedloedd (nations)

-od

In this category there are an awful lot of animals… and some humans, too (amongst other things):

cath (cat)cathod (cats)
buwch (cow)buchod (cows)
cwningen (rabbit)cwningod (rabbits)
baban (baby)babanod (babies)
geneth (girl)genethod / genod (girls)
bwthyn (cottage)bythynnod (cottages)

-ed

merch (girl)merched (girls)
pryf (insect)pryfed (insects)

-edd

bys (finger)bysedd (fingers)
dant (tooth)dannedd (teeth)
gwraig (woman) gwragedd (women)

-ydd

gwlad (country)gwledydd (countries)
cyfarfod (meeting)cyfarfodydd (meetings)
chwaer (sister)chwiorydd (sisters)

-feydd

Now, this category is only for words ending in -fa:

amgueddfa (museum)amgueddfeydd (museums)
cerddorfa (orchestra)cerddorfeydd (orchestras)

-iaid

doctor (doctor)doctoriaid (doctors)
anifail (animal)anifeiliaid (animals)
blaidd (wolf)bleiddiaid (wolves)

Irregular forms:

Sometimes the plural noun is just as long as the singular one:

carreg (stone)cerrig (stones)
castell (castle)cestyll (castles)
asgwrn (bone)esgyrn (bones)
bachgen (boy)bechgyn (boys)
car (car)ceir (cars)
r (man)gwŷr (men)
(house)tai (houses)

And sometimes the plural noun is in fact shorter than the singular! Here the plural is formed by dropping the singular endings -yn (masculine) or -en (feminine):

cacynen (wasp)cacwn (wasps)
coeden (tree)coed (trees, forest)
plentyn (child)plant (children)
cenhinen (leek)cennin (leeks)
cneuen (nut)cnau (nuts)

Two (or more) different plural forms for one and the same word:

Sometimes nouns have more than one plural. The different forms are usually used in differents regions. For example: For cacen (cake) the dictionary gives us two plural forms: cacenni and cacennau. The same goes for capel (chapel). There’s capeli, capelau and even capelydd. And the plurals of amser (time) are amserau or amseroedd.

What to do in this case? Listen to what people in your area tend to use and follow their example. Or just take your pick.

How do you know the correct plural forms then?

What all this boils down to is: As a beginner Welsh learner you just can’t tell. The only solution to this dilemma is to learn the plural form with every new noun you come across. Your ears will get used to certain patterns eventually, but it takes a while – and may still be misleading.

But it does help to know about compounds and the words they consist of, especially the ones at the end of the word.

Don’t despair!

Cofion lluosog,

Siw

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