[Geek alert!] Verbnoun endings

This is a somewhat niche, long-shot kind of question, so feel free to ignore it if you don’t happen to be a historical linguistics geek, but… :wink:

Does anyone happen to know anything about the etymology of the common verbnoun endings such as -u, -io and -i (as well as older, no-longer-productive stuff like -ed)? I gather that -(i)an was basically nicked from an Old English infinitive ending, but the others are presumably Legit Brythonic™. Or if not, does anyone know of any good sources for information on this kind of thing?

I’m asking on behalf of someone who asked a similar question in a language-geek FB group, but I also happen to find stuff like this fascinating so I’d love to hear if anyone has any info!

(@garethrking perhaps? Also I seem to remember @owainlurch having an interest in this sort of topic :))


@Millie you’re etymologist. Can you help with this?


I have an interest in this sort of topic too, although no expert knowledge. I will look forward in interested anticipation to the replies from others though.

Yes - the book you want is A Concise Comparative Celtic Grammar (1937) by Henry Lewis and Holger Pedersen - but it’s not too cheap these days. :confused: Great book for those of an etymological bent, however.


Diolch yn fawr iawn! :smiley:


@tatjana Thank you for thinking of me; etymology is indeed my subject area, but unfortunately, Welsh etymology is not and I only have a general knowledge of it. I can’t really help.

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Oh, sorry then @Millie. It was just a thought since your blogs are so brilliant and I know you know a lot.

I don’t know if @Toffidil knows anything about etymology but he seemed to get involved in discussions on the subject, or something similar.

Thanks for the pointer Gareth. Is the etymology of Welsh fairly well established knowledge, or are there competing and possibly controversial theories?

I have always wondered where the Latin influence came from, i.e. was it from the Catholic church, pre-reformation, or could it have come (perhaps indirectly) from the Roman occupation (perhaps via English)? Or more indirectly, via French / Norman-French? Or just a mixture from random sources? (A quick look at Wikipedia suggests that the Roman occupation of Wales was more extensive than I had realised, although it is unclear how much “Romanisation” took place).

Just noticed this bit:

There was little Latin linguistic heritage left to the Welsh language, only a number of borrowings from the Latin lexicon. With the absence of early written Welsh sources there is no way of knowing when these borrowings were incorporated into Welsh, and may date from a later post-Roman era when the language of literacy was still Latin. Borrowings include a few common words and word forms. For example, Welsh ffenestr is from Latin fenestra, ‘window’; llyfr is from liber, ‘book’; ysgrif is from scribo, ‘scribe’; and the suffix -wys found in Welsh folk names is derived from the Latin suffix -ēnsēs.[43][44] There are a few military terms, such as caer from Latin castra, ‘fortress’. Eglwys, meaning ‘church’, is ultimately derived from the Greek klēros.


Mike, the etymological landscape is pretty well charted, as generally for the Indo-European languages. Disagreements on details rather than major disputes.

The true Latin elements are the result of direct borrowing at a (comparatively) late stage - indeed like those you quote. False Latin elements like canu (similar to and indeed corresponding to Latin cano, also incidentally cognate with the English word hen) are simply common Indo-European roots, that happen to have preserved similarity because of the Italo-Celtic sub-branch…i.e. when IE split, some dialects took longer to split than others, Italic group (including what was to become Latin) and Celtic group being a case in point. So they share also share certain features that are not found in other IE families, notably (as I recall), a passive formed with -R.

What fun this all is.

The Lewis & Pedersen is a lovely book that is worth tracking down if you like this kind of thing. :slight_smile:


Will do. Found copies online that were not eye-wateringly expensive, although the demand may now rise! :slight_smile:


Thanks for the link, but I am only an interested learner here, who does indeed like posting questions and ideas, but no expertise in this area whatsoever.

I do find etymology a little bit irresistable - it is for me a way of maintaining an interest in the language and building up mental connections for weird and wonderful words. The links between etymology and history are also intriguing and can be massively controversial, which I love. I will have to bury myself in the book link that Gareth King suggested now and find out a bit more on word endings.

Depending how you define ‘a number’, there are quite a few. I have two books describing the lexical influence: Henry Lewis’s Yr Elfen Ladin Yn Yr iaith Gymraeg from 1943, and Samuel James Evans’s The Latin Element In Welsh from 1908, the latter beginning with “Hundreds of Welsh words have been borrowed from Latin”. James says that there were three periods of borrowing: chiefly during Roman occupation; then the Catholic Church; and at the Reformation. Lewis mentions the Roman influence, and also that Welsh is still borrowing Latin words now. He lists more than 450 words.
Both books explain in detail the sounds shifts and related changes that have taken place, for instance how vitrum became gwydr - glass, and viridis gwyrdd - green.

Re @garethrking 's recommendation, I found a free (for personal use) pdf version on a German website called digitale-sammlungen (digital collections) made available by the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek.


Thanks Louis. I just want to make clear that those words you quoted under my name were a quote from Wikipedia, and not my own words. :slight_smile:


oh, and also, according to my above sources, castrum (plural castra) would have become ‘cestr’ - caer it seems is a cognate to cae, and related to brittonic *kagro…

Sorry Mike, I should have quoted more explicitly - and the above quote is also not yours, but from the same passage in Wikipedia


Interesting! Could you send me a link, please?

I’ve found this:


but that’s just an online viewer, not a downloadable PDF.

Thank you!

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Hi Philip
If you go to that link, there is a download field top right, hit that and it then asks you to type in the four digit key (schlüssel) that is shown, and to answer ‘ja’ to confirm that you agree to the conditions of use, then hit ‘weiter’ (continue)


Ah, thank you! With your help I’ve been able to download it now.


And “cestr” is obviously not very different from “Chester” (and e.g. Manchester etc), and also not very different from “cester”, as in “Worcester”, etc.

Dim problem. Mae’n iawn. :slight_smile:

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This book that you found the link to is full of really interesting things, it’s enough to make me want to do a celtic studies course one day.

There are a lot of people interested in Gaullish and some people have taken it to extreme lengths, reconstructing modern Gaullish!!! etc, this link does just that and I am not too interested in that side of things myself, but it does have some interesting references associated with it, that might be worth reading - I am struggling to get free copies of some of them.