Welsh mutations for beginners

Mutations are one of the distinctive features of the Welsh language, and involve changes made to the beginning of words. Mutations appear all over the place. Books have been written on them detailing all the possible situations in which they occur.

That's the bad news. The good is that you will be understood whether or not you use a mutation when speaking Welsh, and whether or not you use it correctly.

The other piece of good news is that a few simple rules will help you use mutations correctly in many instances, and these are the rules that we will look at here.

Mutations are classed into three types: the soft mutation, the nasal mutation and the aspirate mutation.

The soft mutation

The soft mutation (or treiglad meddal) is the most common Welsh mutation, and so for our purposes the most important. There are also a few simple rules that will help you use it correctly (at least some of the time).

The nine consonants below, in certain situations, change when at the beginning of a word. These are called soft mutations.

T > D

C > G

P > B

G > _ (the letter G disappears and is not replaceed)

B > F

Rh > R

LL > L

M > F

D > DD

The most commonly given reason for the existence of mutations in Welsh is that they make words easier to pronounce.

You can see the sense of this thinking of English words like 'he is' becoming he's and so on.

Your first task is to learn the soft mutations. The easiest way of doing this is by learning sentences which contain the mutations and are useful to you personally. E.g. if you are from Cardiff, the Welsh sentence Dw'i dod o Gaerdydd 'I come from Cardiff' illustrates the nasal mutation of C to G.

Mutations occur everywhere which makes it difficult to impossible to learn a complete set of rules as to when they should be used. The only solution is to get the feel of when words mutate, and to do this you need to learn to recognise that a word is mutated. This comes with time and practice. If, for instance, you know that 'to read' is darllen, and that d mutates to dd, then it becomes obvious that ddarllen is a mutation.

While this process unfolds, and your brain becomes accustomed to the sounds of the Welsh language, there are some occasions when soft mutations occur so frequently that it is worth learning the relevant rule.

When do I use the soft mutation?

Remember, these are only a *few* of the occasions in which the soft mutation is used, and ordered in a very rough order of frequency of use.

The soft mutation is used in feminine singular nouns used after y 'the'.

An example showing this, which is initally confusing is dw i'n mynd i'r dafarn 'I'm going to the pub'. Tafarn 'pub' is a feminine noun and t becomes d. It makes sense once you know that Y 'the' changes to r after a vowel.

Adjectives mutate after feminine nouns in the singular.

Adjectives mutate after yn. For example, da becomes dda in yn dda iawn.

The soft mutation is used after i 'to'. This can be seen in telling the time in Welsh.

The soft mutation is used after o 'from'.

O is also used in one of the (two) ways of forming the Welsh plural, and again the noun following o will mutate.

The soft mutation is used after Beth 'what'.

After the word beth

There is a soft mutation in words which follow Beth? 'What?'.

After the number two

The nasal mutation also occurs after dau and dyw 'two'. You can hear the number two mutate in the numbers 11 to 20.

An example of the mutation following dau can be seen here where the t in tocyn has mutated to d in docyn.

Dau docyn os gwelwch yn dda 'two tickets please'.

It's used after Pwy 'Who'.

Verbs and the soft mutation

A mutation occurs after verbs used in direct questions. This occurs all the time with gwneud, although you might not notice! Gwnaeth hi 'she did' becomes Wnaeth hi? 'she did'.

Another commonly used verb is 'to be'. The mutation is heard with bydd 'will' which mutates to fydd, as in Fyddi di'n mynd i'r gêm? 'Will you go to the game?'.

A sentence is worth a thousand words;) and here is a sentence illustrating the soft mutation in a direct question.

Tthe statement Gwnaethoch chi hedfan i FFrainc 'You flew to France' as a question becomes Wnaethoch chi hedfan i FFrainc? 'Did you fly to France?' simply with a soft mutation. As it happens, the question will rise at the end in the same way as it does in English, so mutation or not, you will be understood.

Negative statements and the soft Mutation

I didn't go to the game!

The poor individual who stated the above is making a negative statement. In Welsh, six of the nine letters which undergo a soft mutation, mutate when a negative statement is made.

These are G, B, RH, LL, M, D.

The nasal mutation

The nasal mutation normally follows yn 'in'.

t > yn nh

c > yng ngh

p > ym mh

d > yn n

g > yng ng

b > ym m