Just Enough Welsh to Impress

I was asked by BBC Wales to write a short but fun introduction to the Welsh language, something which would hopefully entice readers to learn a little more.

Published by BBC Wales Online, Sep ’01

“Bore da! Tisho panad?” Only in Welsh could the words for ‘Want a cuppa?’ sound sexy. Strange but true. Of course, Tisho panad? is a contraction of the more grammatically correct Wyt ti eisiau cwpanaid [o de]? But, in the same way that ‘politically correct’ brings with it overtones of censoriousness, so does ‘grammatically correct’ for Welsh, a language that comes fully accessorized with a variety of attractive accents, dialects and localised vocabulary. There’s no point trying to pick your way through the minefield of regional variations — just stick to your local pronunciation and dialect.

If you do indeed want a cuppa, then say Ydw/Yes [I do], or Plîs/Please. If you’re suffering tea-overdose, then Nag ydw/No [I don’t], or Dim diolch/No thanks, will suffice. Ie/Yes and Nage/No are only used when the question is focused, e.g. Bethan sy’n cyrraedd?/Is it Bethan that’s arrived? When a question starts with a verb, like Are you? or Can we?, you say yes or no by echoing the question back: Wyt ti?/Are you? — Ydw/I am or Nag ydw/I’m not.

Once you get your tea, with llaeth/milk and siwgr/sugar, it’s only polite to say Diolch/Thanks. If it’s a really nice cuppa you could always say Diolch yn fawr/Thanks very much. To this you might hear Croeso/[You’re] welcome, or Dim problem/No problem.

If your host has accidentally used gravy powder instead of tea and you find yourself gagging in disgust, you might be asked Beth sy’n bod?/What’s the matter? You can always evade answering by saying O, dim byd/Oh, nothing. If you’re feeling cruel, though, try Mae’r te ma’n ofnadwy/This tea is awful.

When learning other essential words and phrases, remember that Welsh has two words for ‘you’: ti and chi. Ti is the singular informal, used when you’re talking one-on-one with your friends; chi is formal or plural, so use it with your granny, or a group of people. Verb forms also change to reflect this, thus alli di? and allwch chi?, both mean ‘can you?’

Helo — Hello
Meredid dw i — I am Meredid
Shwmae? — How are you
Shwd ych chi? — How are you
Iawn — OK, fine
Hwyl fawr! — Goodbye!

Os gwelwch yn dda — please (less colloquial than plîs)
Esgusodwch fi — Excuse me
Alli di helpu fi? — Can you help me?
Beth ydy … yn Gymraeg? — What is … in Welsh?
Maen ddrwg gen i, ond dw i ddim yn deall — I’m sorry, but I don’t understand

When you’re not entirely sure what you’re going to say next, fear not — you can always fill in any awkward pauses with a few memorised phrases:

Timod — Y’know
Wn i ddim — I don’t know
Nawr ‘te — Now then
Pam lai? — Why not?
Siwr iawn — I expect so
Dyna ni — There we are
Wrth gwrs — Of course
I fod yn onest — To be honest

Finally, there are two phrases you should never leave home without:

Hoffet ti ddiod? — Would you like a drink?
Beth ydy dy rhif ffôn? — What’s your phone number?