How is 'on and off' expressed?

Is ‘on and off’ (i.e. spasmodically) expressed literally or idiomatically in Welsh?

Geiriadur Academi gives “bod yn ail â pheidio” or “yn ysbeidiol” for the phrase ‘on and off / off and on’, and for spasmodically it gives “yn ysbeidiol”, “bob hyn a hyn”, “ar hyrddiau” or “fesul plwc”.

so generally more idiomatically than literally I’d say.


Thank you @siaronjames. I’d looked in Ap Geiriaduron and GPC and not come up with anything. I looked up ‘spasmodically’ hoping that there might be a lead at least but only found ‘sbasmodig’. That’s not what I wanted. I’ll try your source for future searches.


I always have this tab open! :wink:


I’ve been cross checking @siaronjames the suggestions in Geiriadur Academi and the sources previously mentioned and came up with the additional ‘pob hyn a hyn, ambell waith, ar adegau, etc. etc’ but non seem to match the sense of a start-stop continuum which is different from the idea of ‘sometimes’ or ‘occasionally’ which seem to be the inferences of the examples that I found. Maybe the ‘start-stop continuum’ sense just isn’t exactly translatable. The search for an answer is always fruitful though even if there isn’t a match! :grinning:

I had a look for english synonyms, and then went back to Bruce (the colloquial name for Geiriadur Academi!), which adds to our existing list the following for ‘intermittently’ -
yn awr ac yn y man,
o bryd i’w gilydd,
ar brydiau

1 Like

Hmm, been searching Gareth King’s ‘Modern Welsh’ and can’t see a mention in there either. Would it be silly to suggest something simple like ‘ymlaen a diffodd’?

It’s definitely not a phrase to be translated literally like that - it just doesn’t work in this sense. In cases like this where direct translations don’t work, I find it’s usually best (if there are no 1st language bods around to ask) to think of what the english actually means (in this case synonyms like spasmodically/intermittently/sporadically/from time to time/etc), see what translating those throw up and go with whatever sounds familiar (i.e. you’ve come across it before) or that catches your ear.

By the way, I’ve asked some mam-iaith colleagues, and their ‘automatic’ translation of preference was “bob hyn a hyn”.


Yes, it certainly didn’t seem right but worth ‘airing’ just in case (was thinking that maybe the idea of switching on and off just might be the answer but it didn’t look/sound comfortable). Bob hyn a hyn does seem to be closest. Thanks as ever for your help Siaron.


You have several answers now, of course, but anyway, could you give a context (in English) in which you were thinking of this phrase?

@mikeellwood. Just simply something like “I’ve been… on and off for years now”.

OK, thanks. I thought that was what you meant, but wanted to be sure. In that case, I share your initial caution about phrases like “bob hyn a hyn”, which seem to mean “now and again” or “ar brydiau” which means “at times”.

Because (at least to my way of thinking) “now and again” isn’t quite the same as “…on and off…”, and I think you wanted a closer (but still idiomatic Welsh) equivalent.

“on and off for years now”, to me, means (e.g.) “I had periods when I did it quite regularly, then I’d go for ages without doing it, and then I’d take it up again, do it for a bit, and then drop it again …” etc. (i.e. a bit like some of my language-learning…).

To me, “now and again”, doesn’t really cover that.
Maybe “o bryd i’w gilydd” (“from time to time” in Gweiadur) is a bit closer, but not quite 100% to my mind.

Perhaps we just have to accept that you can’t always translate idioms. However, if you keep looking, you might find something that rings properly true.


You’re thinking exactly my thoughts @mikeellwood. Maybe something will pop out of the woodwork sometime or other. It’s obviously not of great importance at all. The sentence just came up and I wondered how it might be said in Welsh. Just another bit in the jigsaw. Thanks for your comments anyway. Much appreciated.

For what it’s worth, in German I might say that as immer mal wieder

…I realised that that’s not very helpful because what distinguishes it from immer wieder "again and again* (literally: “always again”) is the particle mal which is all but untranslateable with a single word or short phrase, so won’t really provide a lead for how it might be in some other language.

1 Like

Hi @philipnewton. Thanks for the observation. It’s many many years since I used any German but I sense hat it falls a little to the side of the English phrase. Just like the Welsh ones we’ve tried. I suspect that it’s just one of those concepts that won’t translate precisely. I remember learning a little bit of Shoshone from a member of the tribe and the thinking/concepts were very different. I guess sometimes things come down to being as close as possible to interpretation of mental images (?). The same words in that language can mean opposite things depending on situation, context etc. I think that that’s what is so fascinating about languages.

1 Like

Quite @siaronjames . It seems that there isn’t a Welsh equivalent for ‘to wear out’. Welsh, I think (and stand to be corrected), uses treulio/to spend. In English we ‘wear out’ shoes but in Welsh shoes are ‘spent’ (?). I’m thinking that a direct translation from English would be wrong. We do of course refer to a ‘spent’ battery in English also but I can’t recall hearing of ‘spent’ shoes. Though it would seem perfectly reasonable to do so. :smiley:

O dro i dro is what I hear for from time to time, thought that probably doesn’t cover it either.

By the way, I think I’d express this as off and on rather than on and off in English. :smile:

1 Like

I don’t know if there is an expression for what you want, beyond those already mentioned, but you can probably say what you want by using “weithiau” a couple of times.

weithiau …(I feel like this or I do this etc)
weithiau …(I feel like that or I do that etc)

I always say ‘off and on’, never ‘on and off’!
I say ‘dead batteries’ not ‘spent’ or ‘used’ or ‘worn out’, the latter being what I would use for shoes.
O dro i dro seems to me to fit pretty well with what I’d mean when saying ‘off and on’

1 Like

I would think of ‘off and on’ as being more off than on and ‘on and off’ as more on than off. :thinking::wink: