Telling the time: "twenty"

In learning to tell the time, I have stumbled upon the Welsh way of describing and using the number twenty. It’s tripped me up a few times and I’ve just got to get used to what I believe is a very traditional way that the Welsh use rhifau. I sounds lovely though when you speak it!

Is this way of describing twenty in use in other areas of everyday life?
Also until now, I love that “gloch” means “bell”, and I’m guessing this is where in English we have derived the term “clock?”


The ‘old’ numbers are used for times and dates, but not so much in other areas of everyday life - the ‘new’ numbers are far more common (except in times and dates!). It’s very useful to know both ‘old’ and ‘new’ though, even though it means learning all the numbers twice!

I think it’s wonderful, and I’m confident that over time it would become second nature to drop in and out of either system.

Does this traditional system extend beyond twenty? I’m curious!


Oh yes, beyond twenty is where it really takes off! :wink:
Have a look… (found a link to save me typing them all!)


There are two number systems in Cymraeg, the traditional vigesimal (20) system and the modern decimal (10) system. It’s not unique to Welsh, many other world languages use similar systems. You can use either, but the older system tends to be only used for things like time and peoples ages. It’s worth learning about for such gems as 78, deunaw ar trigain (2 x 9) + (3 x 20) and 36, un ar bumtheg a hugain (1 on 15 [16] and 20).


Latin clocca ‘bell’ is the source of both, I think.

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Yes I think so, especially for things that, as in English, have retained a classical feel. Like describing decades or the 20th century, and possibly a £20 note. I’m slightly out of my depth here. Also there’s Garnedd Ugain, the 2nd highest mountain, which apparently takes it’s name from the Roman legion that was based in Caernarfon :smiley: .

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This is fantastic, diolch yn fawr!

I was told ‘amser, arian ac oedran’, ie ‘time,money and ages’, if that helps.

I think it’s worth noting, because it would be wrong for anyone to get a false impression, that in the real world a large number of first language speakers would use english when it comes to money. It’s quite normal to hear in shops and pubs (remember them?) “[cymraeg][cymraeg][cymraeg][cymraeg][cymraeg]seven twenty-five[cymraeg][cymraeg]”, for example. I’ve often wondered if this is one of the sources of the “they all switched to Welsh when I walked in” myth.
One of the things you’ll notice at the commercial stands on the Maes at the National Eisteddfodau, is that stall holders make an effort to use Welsh numbers, and this makes the contrast with ‘normal’ shops quite obvious.
It’s not compulsory to join in with this if you’d prefer to use Welsh numbers of either system, of course, though very young people in particular, who are used to learning maths using the ‘new’ numbers might trip over the traditional system. You’ll still be understood. A tiny minority might think you’re being pretentious; most people will think absolutely nothing of it.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the ‘old’ system and use it for preference with most things aside from maybe deliberate counting and talking to young children. I’ve never had a problem being understood.


BTW, I’ve always been struck by the similarity between ugain and vingt in French. I think it’s another example that shows the quite close familial relationship between proto-Celtic and proto-Italic.

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Latin used a decimal system of counting but all the Celtic languages used a vigesimal system and that includes Gaulish, which was a p-Celtic language related to the ancestor language of Welsh. In modern French there are no simple words for 70 or 90. 90 is quatre-vingts i.e. four twenties. This is thought to be a survival from the Gaulish way of counting. Apparently shepherds in Cumbria count in twenties. Cumbria was part of the British kingdom of Strathclyde and Welsh-speaking well into the middle-ages. Why did the Celts count in 20s? Perhaps because they had bare feet and could count on toes as well as fingers?

I’m sure that you meant to say that 80 is quatre-vingt.
And that 70, 80 and 90 are, respectively, soixante-dix (sixty-ten), quatre-vingt (four-twenty or four score) and quatre-vingt dix (four-twenty ten or four score and ten).

Unless you are in the Francophone areas of Belgium and Switzerland where septante (70), huitante (80) and nonante (90) are used.

It’s not just us and the Americans separated by a common language… :grin:

Quite so.
The vigesimal system is on its last legs.

While that’s true, and the French numbering system obviously borrows from Celtic precursors, my point was about the actual word, which is clearly descended from Latin vīgintī.

It’s occurred to me that this has opened up a much wider area of the language for me: there was me thinking it was a feature of the number twenty, when actually it’s numbers in base 20, which is huge! (You were all right!)


I’m sure that my learning will come across this again soon!

Nos da :wave:

(Post edit: yeah, I seem to recall pubs, somewhere I could get that refreshing chilled cider on a hot summer’s day…I can’t wait till this is all over)

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