This article is a work in progress but will eventually teach the interested learner how to pronounce almost all Welsh words according to the set of rules. It is particularly useful for travellers to Wales who may not need to speak the language but would love to know how to pronounce the place names. It may also be used in conjunction with the other pages in this Wikibook to ensure correct pronunciation of Welsh words. Please note that these are only approximate pronunciations, to aid simplicity.
Let's Start With What We Already Know
These consonants look the same in English and Welsh, and sound the same.
- b /b/ Like b in boy. Welsh example: bara (bread)
- c /k/ Like c in cat. Welsh example: coron (crown)
- d /d/ Like d in dog. Welsh example: dafad (sheep)
- g /g/ Like g in gun. Welsh example: glaw (rain)
- h /h/ Like h in happy. Welsh example: hebog (hawk)
- l /l/ Like l in lake. Welsh example: lindys (caterpillar)
- m /m/ Like m in mad. Welsh example: mam (mother)
- n /n/ Like n in none. Welsh example: na (no)
- ng /ŋ/ Like the end of the English word sing. In Welsh, this letter can come at the start of a word. Welsh example: [fy] ngeni ([my] birth)
- p /p/ Like p in poker. Welsh example: pen (head)
- s /s/ Like s in sad. Welsh example: seren (star)
- t /t/ Like t in tar. Welsh example: tad (father)
- th /θ/ Like th in think (but never as in "them"). Welsh example: [ei] thad ([her] father)
Be careful of these...
These sounds are found in English, but they are represented by different letters in Welsh. Train yourself to read them differently now.
- f /v/ Like v in violin. Welsh example: fioled (violet)
- ff /f/ Like f in friend. Welsh example: ffawd (fate)
- dd /ð/ Like th in then. Welsh example: hedd (peace)
Further differences between English and Welsh spelling;
- The c in Welsh only represents a /k/ sound. It never represents the /s/ sound, as in the English city.
- The s only represents a /s/ sound. It never represents the z sound, as in the word laser. Indeed, there is no z sound in Welsh.
- The g only represents a /g/ sound. It never represents the sound in English gender.
- The th in Welsh represents the th in English think. The dd represents the other th in English, like the word then.
- The t in Welsh is always pronounced distinctly like in tick, it is never dropped or replaced by a d sound or a glottal stop as in some forms of English.
Some New Sounds
These consonant sounds will probably be new to you.
- ch /x/ Like the Scottish loch. Welsh example: chwaer (sister)
- ll /ɬ/ The ll is a hard Welsh sound to make. It is best described as putting your tongue in the position of l and then blowing out air gently. Like saying a h and l simultaneously, but with more puff. [Think of the Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela. The "hl" sounds in his middle name are identical to the "ll" in Welsh] Example: llyfr (book)
- r /r/ The Welsh r should be trilled and always pronounced — never drop it, as most British English speakers do in barn. Welsh example: bardd (poet)
- rh /r̥/ The Welsh rh should be trilled with aspiration. Like saying a h and r simultaneously, but with more puff. Welsh example: rhieni (parents)
A short rule this one, but an important one. In Welsh there's no messing around with consonants taking multiple values — once you have learned what consonant a Welsh letter represents, it will always sound like that, even in unexpected places.
The same goes for vowels as well, by and large, although certain combinations of vowels have their own sounds (which, likewise, are the same wherever they are encountered.)
In short, this means that you only have to learn one rule for each group of symbols. (Naturally, there are exceptions. See Y and W below.)
Now let's start on some vowels. Vowels in Welsh have both a long and a short pronunciation. (For information on when a vowel should be long, see 'Long vowels' below.) Short vowels sound like this;
- a /a/ Like a in pat (RP).
- e /ɛ/ Like e in pet.
- i /ɪ/ Like i in pit.
- o /ɔ/ Like o in pot (RP).
- u /ɪ/ Like i in pit.
No, this isn't a typo; the letter u always sounds the same as the letter i in Welsh. (Actually, in North Wales u is pronounced more like /y/, like French u or German ü, but beginner English speakers may find it easier to stick to Southern pronunciation.) Let's carry on. Yes, there are two more!
- w /ʊ/ As in book.
- y /ə/ Like uh in above (the "schwa"). Yes, y sounds like uh. (Most of the time!)
When you see two vowels next to each other, the sounds can be simple or complicated.
- ae, ai and au /aɪ/- like English sky. (Actually, there is an exception for the last one. "au" is the plural ending for certain words, e.g. creigiau. In these cases, its pronunciation is shortened to a "hanging A" (see below - so the above-mentioned word would be pronounced kraig-ya).
- aw /aʊ/ - like English cow.
- oe (and oi and ou, which are rare) /ɔɪ/ - like English boy.
- ei and eu and ey /əɪ/ - like ay in hay
When you see a vowel followed by an R, or a diphthong followed by an R, both the vowel and the R are pronounced; this differs from many dialects of English. The following sounds are therefore approximate, and you should make sure to pronounce the R.
- aer, air and aur - like English fire.
- awr - like English hour.
- er - like English bare, but shorter.
- ir or ur (or yr in the last syllable of a word; see later) - like English beer.
- wr - like English poor.
Yw, What a Mess
The rules governing the letter Y are some of the most confusing in Welsh. Normally it's pronounced like the u in cut, but in the last syllable of a word it most commonly represents the sound of the ee in beet. Note; This includes words with only one syllable, such as llyn (hlin).
Similar rules apply for combinations of y with another letter;
- yr is (approximately) pronounced like English burn, except in the last syllable of a word, where it is said like in English beer. (Both times, the r is audible, not dropped. See the preceding rule.)
- yw is pronounced like English moan, except in the last syllable of a word, where it is said like the Welsh iw and uw (see below).
That just leaves the exceptions. The small words, y, yr, yn, dy and fy are pronounced uh, urr, un, duh and vuh. Just learn them.
When a vowel comes at the end of a word of more than one syllable, it is still short. It will seem alien to English speakers to have a short vowel at the end of a word - for an example, try the French Ça va? which has two hanging 'a's. This applies to all the other vowels as well, so practise hanging e (as in pet), i (as in pit), o (as in pot) and w (as in book).
Every vowel in Welsh has both a long and a short value. You have already learnt the short values, now here are the long ones:
- a /ɑː/ Like a in father.
- e /ɛː/ Like ae in aeroplane, but without any trace of an r, or a y sound between the a and the e.
- i /iː/ Like i in machine.
- o /ɔː/ Like aw in hawk.
- w /uː/ Like oo in pool.
- u and y take the same values as i does. Now I know what you're going to say - y only takes the same value as i in the last syllable of a word (if you did say that, well done) - but as we'll see in a minute, vowels are only long in one-syllable words. Right, here we go.
So when exactly is a vowel long? Wait, forget I asked...
English beginners may find it easier to stick to the Northern rules for long and short vowels. These are relatively simple;
- A vowel is short if it comes in a word with more than one syllable.
So all these rules only come into play when we're talking about one-syllable words. That narrows the field of play nicely!
- A vowel is short if it's followed by two consonants, if the first of the two is n or r.
- A vowel is short if it's in a word of one syllable and the consonant following it is any of the following; p, t, c, m, ng
- If the vowel is a, e, o, w or y and it's followed by l, n or r then it is also short.
- This leaves the following options for when the vowel is long; in a word of one syllable; followed by two consonants the first of which is ll or s; either followed by no consonants, or followed by b, ch, d, dd, f, ff, g, s or th, or (if it happens to be i or u) followed by l, n or r. Crystal clear!
One more point; a circumflex accent (the hat sign) is placed over a vowel to indicate that it's long when you might otherwise think it was short.
Don't get Stressed
Stress in Welsh words is very simple; just stress the second-to-last syllable. This rule is preserved even in the anglicised versions of many Welsh names, such as CarMARthen, and in personal names such as RhiANNon. Note that the Welsh pronunciation of the (originally Welsh) name "Meredith" is always MerEDith, and never MERRedith.
The only caution with this is, that applies in compound words as well. E.g. if a word is made up of two parts, each of which is a separate word, then each part would be stressed according to the above rule. Example: ABerTAWe (Welsh for "Swansea" - literally, "Estuary of the River Tawe"), BENdiGEIDfran ("Bran the Blessed", a figure from Celtic mythology), and IgamOgam (Welsh for "zigzag" - literally, "to step from step").
Some More Situations
- si is pronounced as in English sheep, when it comes before a vowel.
- i is pronounced like in English you, whenever it comes before a vowel - and this includes in the middle of words, so keep your wits about you!
W; A Tewwible Letter
W is another one of those tricky letters. Here are three more rules to learn, each of them requiring careful perusal;
- Occasionally W represents a consonant. Some examples of this are when it comes between a consonant and the letter y, as in gwynt (gwint), or in the syllable wyn (winn). When it does represent a consonant, the sound is like the w sound of English wet.
- ew and iw are further examples of W representing a consonant. This is fine when there is a vowel after the W, so for instance, to say the Welsh name Dewi, say 'Derry', then change the R to a W, as a little kid might. It's slightly harder when the combination is found at the end of a word; for ew, try saying 'terrible', then 'tewwible', then 'teww' dropping the last part of the word. Then try again with 'iwwitating' for iw (and uw is pronounced exactly the same way.)
- wy is pronounced much as in English gooey, except when the W represents a consonant, as in the first point above. Or when another vowel precedes the W, as in Tywyn (pronounced tuh-win).
Other combinations of vowels
So far we have met many combinations of two vowels which make a different sound together. This is just to note that if you see any other examples of two vowels together, both should be pronounced - this is not a diphthong.
As if we didn't have enough vowels, now there are some missing!
Sometimes at the end of words you will find two consonants together. If the first of these is a ll, l, r, s or n, just say both consonants.
- However, if the first is something else, such as cefn, take the vowel that comes before the duo and stick it in between the two. E.g. cefn would be pronounced kevv-enn.
- If there are two vowels before the duo, just repeat the last one. So eifl would be pronounced ay-vill.
Congratulations, you can now pronounce just about every Welsh word by careful application of the above rules. I won't deny that there are some exceptions, which are listed below. Although the ruleset may seem cumbersome, Welsh is actually a surprisingly logical language and it's a lot tougher the other way round (the pronunciation ruleset for English would be MASSIVE).
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