The Welsh language (called Cymraeg in Welsh) has 28 letters. The Latin alphabet is used (i.e. as in English, French, Polish, etc.), but letters sometimes represent different sounds in Cymraeg. It is this variation that sometimes confuses English speakers when they see "impossible" combinations like bwr or words such as chwyddwydr ('magnifying glass'). Fortunately, the pronunciation of Welsh words is regular and phonetic. Only two sounds, ll and ew, will be difficult to master.
There are no silent letters. Every letter has a sound, and the sound is vocalized in spoken Welsh. The letters J, K, Q, V, X and Z are not included in the Welsh alphabet, but are sometimes found in borrowed words. When present, these letters have their English sounds.
There are regional differences in Welsh pronunciation, but standard Welsh is understood by Welsh speakers everywhere. The pronunciation guide below approximates the Welsh letter sounds by using standard English examples.
The vowels are A, E, I, O, U, W, and Y. All the vowels can be lengthened by the addition of a circumflex, properly called acen grom ('convex accent', or 'crooked accent') in Welsh, but often known by the familiar/juvenile name to bach (lit. 'little roof').
e by itself is always as in get, pet, and let. However, the letter E has a different sound in the three diphthongs.
i has the I sound as in bin or pin, or a long E sound as in seen or queen.
o has the O sound as in hot or the long sound as in toe.
u has the sound of long EE, as in see.
w has the sound of OO as in boot and shoot, or of U as in pull. Note, however, that W can also be used as a consonant with the English W sound.
y has two different sounds. In one-syllable words (llyn), and in the last syllable of polysyllabic words (estyn), it is a shortened EE sound as at the end of happy. (Note the different sound in ywy, however). In other contexts (in non-final syllables of polysyllabic words) it is pronounced as the obscure vowel schwa, as in the first syllable of the English word about (e.g. ystyr, pronounced uh s t ii r, where uh represents schwa).
The preceding rules for y apply to South Welsh accents. In areas of North Wales, the non-schwa pronunciation of y is less like English EE and more of a guttural sound, formed further back in the mouth.
Ae, Ai and Au are all pronounced as English eye.
Aw has the sound of ow as in how and now.
Eu and Ei are pronounced as long A, or the ay sound in say.
Ew is difficult for English speakers because there is no direct equivalent. It is approximately eh-oo or ow-oo, but the correct sound is between those examples.
Iw or I'w is ee-you with the ee sound very short. It is similar to the English yew.
Oe has the sound of Oi or Oy.
Ow is pronounced the same as English row, tow, or throw.
Wy has the sound of oo-ee or a short Wi sound as in win.
Yw or Y'w is the same as Iw above.
Ywy (considered a diphthong even though it has three letters) has the sound of ow-ee as in the name Howie.
I’ve set out below the Welsh alphabet and the corresponding English sounds and the approximation.
|a||Long as in ‘mat’|
|b||Short as in ‘bowl’|
|c||Hard as in ‘call’|
|ch||Harder still as in ‘loch’|
|d||Short as in ‘drive’|
|dd||Long sound as in ‘that’|
|e||Short as in ‘elephant’|
|f||Hard as in ‘every’|
|ff||Soft as in ‘fancy’|
|g||Hard as in ‘gutter’|
|ng||As in ‘angst’|
|h||As in ‘Harry’|
|i||Short as in ‘ink’|
|j||Short as in ‘jam’|
|l||Short as in ‘long’|
|ll||Press the tip of your tongue against the front top of the mouth, and blow through the sides of the tongue, this will be easier with a wide mouth, as if smiling.|
|m||Short as in ‘money’|
|n||Short as in ‘no’|
|o||Open as in ‘ostrich’|
|p||Short as in ‘pink’|
|ph||Airy as in ‘phenomenal’|
|r||Vibrating sound with tip of tongue, as in a ‘Rob Roy’|
|rh||As above followed by a ‘hyh’ sound|
|s||Short as in a snake’s ‘hiss’|
|t||Short as in ‘trout’|
|th||Long sound as in ‘thatch’|
|u||Long sound as in ‘money’|
|w||Short sound as in ‘wall’|
|y||Long sound as in ‘undulating’,but at the end of a word changes to an ‘ee’ sound|