Tips on using a Welsh dictionary (and translating words)?

I’m trying to translate a few words besides those in the Challenges (English to Welsh) - but also to understand in the Challenges vocabulary what means what exactly (Welsh to English), so that I can use it in different sentences.

Results are often quite confusing so far. I wonder if anybody has a few tips to share.

For example, Welsh to English, one simple (maybe not?) word that I saw many times but seem to be used in different ways: “mae”.

I found a dictionary on the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Unfortunately in most searches (including this one) I end up with “no matches” as result.

We mentioned pros and cons of Google translate before, but it’s worth a try (true, especially with longer sentences but let’s see what I get here).

Welsh to Italian: “ci” (as in “to us”)
Welsh to English:

I don’t really trust it, so I try one more, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru:

Uhm! What now? :scream:
p.s. in any case, I chuckled seeing that among results there’s also…a pig and a robin! :joy:


There’s also a useful online dictionary by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David which you could try:
(and another online dictionary, Gweiadur, is good but there there may be a limit on the number who can register: )


The first is the one that gives me “no matches” as result about 80% of the time, I don’t know why!

I hadn’t seen the second, so I add it to my links, thanks!
edit: unfortunately this doesn’t show results unless you’re signed in. But it doesn’t accept new registrations, so I can’t use it! :neutral_face:

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Another useful resource is the “Ap Geiriaduron”, available on Android smartphones. The advantage of this app is that it takes conjugations and mutations into account when you search a welsh word. So in the case of mae it will list the results “mae (bod)” because mae is a conjugated form of the verb bod (to be), and “mae (bae)”, because it is the nasally mutated form of the word bae (bay).


As you say the UoW Trinity St David dictionary doesn’t seem to give the mae form of bod, the verb “to be”; it is quite good for other things though, but probably best to select “Everything” in the box “Nature of terms to search:” rather than trying to be more specific to begin with.


Dioch @Hendrik - just added that one to my new smartphone :slight_smile:

O, bechod! :disappointed:


As @johnwilliams_6 has noted, there is a box on the Trinity St David’s site to select what part of speech (noun, verb, etc.) you want to look for – if you’ve chosen the wrong one by accident (maybe because it was left over from a previous successful search) you’ll get no results: check to see that it says ‘Everything’.

Also, if I looked in a printed Italian dictionary for, say, siamo I’d probably only find it if it was aimed at absolute beginners – otherwise the dictionary compilers would expect me to look it up under essere. An electronic dictionary could be made to be more helpful, but might not be: it looks as though the GPC (which aims to be as complete as it can) does have a separate entry for mae, but the other one doesn’t.

When you come to the very long list of results from the GPC you can see that only the first three are of any interest to you right now: the next two are telling you that two words bae (one of which is a ‘bay’, but I don’t think I know the other without looking it up) can change to mae if they get a nasal mutation – say, ‘my bay’ = fy mae. Sometimes that’s going to be useful, but it’s not what you’re after right now. After that you’ve got a whole list of phrases that happen to include the word mae, such as mae gan foch bach glustiau mawr ‘little pigs have big ears’, but again that’s probably not what you want.

So that big, forbidding list comes down to three words: the first says it can be used in questions to mean “is it”, and the second says it means “it is”. The third says it’s a variant spelling of some kind for a different word, mai. So your translation is basically ‘it is/is it’ (depending if you’re asking a question or not.

As for the translations ci and ‘yes’, they basically come back to saying ‘it is’ in different contexts – given that you haven’t told Google any context, it’s trying to guess. If I asked you a question beginning “Is it…?” then your answer “Yes” would have to begin “it is” in Welsh. Similarly, I have pretty much no Italian other than passively picked up from opera libretti and “I can read Catalan, so I can manage Italian with a dictionary”, but doesn’t ci get used in phrases to mean something like ‘there is’? (Non ci ha…?) – Because, if so, those phrases are going to start with “It is” in Welsh, too.


To be fair GPC is one of my on-line favourites as it tends also to give historical meanings. However it can be a bit tricky to understand. A bit like one of those government guide publications that needs another guide to explain it :slight_smile:

For normal modern words, I find that the Modern Oxford Welsh Dictionary is the best. You can get it from Amazon. It is edited by Gareth King - he’s on this forum as GarethRKing, and will often help you out. (Perhaps not on a Sunday, though) :slight_smile:

I hate to say it but Google translate is spot on this time with “is/are”.

Part of the problem is that mae is derived from Bod (to be) so it will be more easily found in grammar books than dictionaries, However, for Mae, the Modern Oxford Welsh Dictionary does redirect you to Bod, where it explains more.

Just a hint: As you know, in S Wales and therefore in the S Wales Challenges, Mae is pronounced Ma with a short “a” for apple, and comes right at the start of the sentence. That’s where you will be familiar with it.

Hopefully this helps :slight_smile:


I do select Everything (also because I usually have no idea of what category the word belongs to), but still no matches most of the time.

Saint David probably does’t like me. :pensive:


I’ve just gone back to Google Translate to help me with my Italian. For example:

There is someone at the door.
C’è qualcuno alla porta.
Mae rhywun wrth y drws.

Mae = ‘is’ = ‘è’ but you can’t start the sentence in English without ‘there’, and you can’t start it in Italian without ‘ci’.


Oh that “ci”! Oh my, I can’t remember my own language when I need to analyze it! :smiley:
The truth is I don’t even know what that “ci” means exactly (I guess I’ll have to look for its origin). :thinking:

Without context and all by itself, the only one that came to mind was, in your first example, like “non ci ha detto” = (he or she - implicit) hasn’t told us.

Thanks for reminding me, and…good luck anyone wanting to learn Italian as second language, by the way :smiley:

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I like GPC too!
At the moment I don’t understand most of the examples and usually get a bit lost among all possible meanings, but it’s always very interesting and I’m sure I’m learning something every time.

I checked the Modern Welsh Dictionary on Amazon. Too bad there’s no digital version, but I guess I can get one anyway. I had heard of his grammar book, that seems very accurate and interesting, but a bit overwhelming for me, now!

By the way, since “to be” is usually quite useful" I’ve been trying to understand a bit more of Bod but it seems to need a course all by itself! :fearful:
Do you (or anyone) know if I can find a sort of simplified basic summary about it?

(And yes it helps, and also @RichardBuck’s detailed explanation besides the already mentioned examples, and @Hendrik’s tips are very helpful - thanks!)

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I think @garethrking is going to be the best person to answer this one! :slight_smile:


Yes, I only bought Gareth’s modern dictionary and modern grammar after completing the SSiW material. I’m glad I did that, as I find that they happen to complement the challenges, even though I am sure that wasn’t the intention of either Aran’s or Gareth’s work.

OK, so I agree that to do both at the same time would be overwhelming, although some SSiW students do like to have them as reference material. As I said, I found that they really came into their own once I had completed the Challenges and had time to study more.

Now, on to Bod The dictionary has a couple of pages on this and the grammar has around 40! So to summarise it’s use:

In Welsh, it is a verb in its own right (is/am/are etc). It also acts as an auxiliary verb to give emphasis or tense to other verbs. So stuff like: will be visiting, was talking, etc, etc (with all of the other tenses except for the short forms). Also it is used for which/that in between two clauses of a sentence.

This might make more sense if on this occasion, you translate via English. Only because English also has this construction - possibly influenced by our Celtic ancestors.

Hopefully this will help. but in true SSiW form, I’d say leave it at that for now and let it wash over you until you have completed the Challenges and you will have it to look forward to. :slight_smile:


In challenges I found “bo fi”, then something that I remember as “boden” and also sy’n (I’m guessing it is related somehow?)

The fact is that…when I do challenges, blocks of sentences seem to pop up automatically in my mind - almost as if it was someone else speaking! (pretty strange feeling, by the way) :smile:

But then when I have to make my own (sentences), like on Slack for example :wink:, I often can’t remember the single elements the way I’d need them.

Not sure I was able to explain it - but just to say why I’m trying to find out a bit more even though I haven’t completed all levels.

Im sure its good to think of the words as they are in the vocab text anyway. The en bit is probably yn running in with previous word. So bod yn, Syth yn etc meaning that or who. Eg I know a person who knows your sister.

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Bo fi. Will be short for bod fi. That I.

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Sydd not syth.

My lazy spelling…

The thing is, the verb ‘to be’ in Welsh is complicated, especially (oddly) in the third person singular – he/she is – where it makes a number of distinctions between different patterns of sentences that neither English nor Italian mark in any way. I think if you try to learn them separately, you’ll find you’re too busy thinking in Italian and translating to actually wind up speaking Welsh, so it’s probably best to persevere with the challenges and the Slack, and slowly (hopefully) more of those confident, automatic, someone-else-speaking chunks will fit into place in your own sentences. Then when you get stuck, or get curious about “well why is it sydd and not mae in this sentence” you’ll be in a better position to look stuff up (say, in Gareth’s grammar) and have it make sense.

But for now: sydd (or sy’n, which is short for sydd yn, if it needs an yn after it) is basically a special form for “which is”, to use in relative clauses – like meeting someone who knows your sister (sy’n nabod dy chwaer). However, it also gets used in other places, too – like French asking “what is it that is” (qu’est-ce que c’est instead of just ‘what is it’) or Portuguese (o que é que é), Welsh asks “Who [is it] that is here?” and answers “[It is] me who is here” – Pwy sy’ 'ma? Fi sy’ 'ma.

In other sentences you get different forms depending if you’re saying something exists (c’è), or identifying what someone or something is, or just describing them. And the details of all this are things I’m still trying to get right. But I think that if you’re talking to a native speaker and you use mae where you should have used ydy, say, the person you’re speaking to will understand you, and remember the fact that you chose to speak Welsh to them, long after they’ve forgotten that mae.

Putting it all together, you’ve got something like this:

Is there someone at the door? Yes.
C’è qualcuno alla porta? Sì.
Oes rhywun wrth y drws? Oes. (You’ll hear this when Aran asks “Do you have children?”)

Who is there?
Chi è là?
Pwy sydd yno? (You’ll hear this when you talk about meeting someone who knows your sister.)

Edward is at the door.
Edward è alla porta.
Mae Edward wrth y drws. (This is the normal one you’ll hear all the time.)

Edward is the doctor.
Edward è il dottore.
Edward ydy’r meddyg. (This is only in certain kinds of sentences, but you will hear it in SSiW.)

In all of those the Italian and English are the same, and the Welsh is different: but the best way to get the Welsh to stick in your head and come out at the right time is to keep letting that ‘someone’ say all the right things for you in the Challenges, until you find yourself doing it naturally on Slack.