The past tense, short form or long form


The Question

Is it better to use the short form or long form of the past tense?


The Background

Welsh has two ways of saying "I saw".  

The short form is gwelais (or gwelais i, or gweles i, or mi welais i, or mi weles i) which is formed directly from gweld

The long form is  gwnes i weld (or mi wnes i weld, or wnes i weld, or nes i weld) which uses the past tense of gwneud to give the past tense of gweld.


The Short Answer

The two forms are identical in meaning.  Both are widely used and are universally understood. The long form is commoner in the spoken language particularly in the North, while the short form  is more widely spoken in the South and is preferred in more formal contexts. In the North an alternative long form ddaru mi weld is also used. 


The Discussion

(Some selected quotes from the forum)

(Dysgwr dan)

Before, I wrote wnes i gymryd for "I took", and my Welsh teacher said that it doesn't sound right. In English, if I wanted to say "I took Welsh for GCSE" I wouldn't say "I did take Welsh for GCSE". Cymerais i Gymraeg am TGAU not Wnes i gymryd Cymraeg am TGAU.


It sounds as though your Welsh teacher is being a bit picky, to be honest, and thinking more about being formal (which may be what they want at GCSE). But we're all about using the language actually to talk to people, and the 'wnes i' pattern is very, very common indeed for talking about the past.

It isn't actually a real match for the English 'I did take', although that's the literal translation - if you said 'I did take' in English, you would always be emphasising the 'did' (for example, if someone said you hadn't taken it, you might say 'Yes, I DID take it!').

In Welsh, 'wnes i' is a much more usual way of forming the past - it doesn't always mean there is any extra emphasis on the 'DID'.

English does something similar with the negative - you say 'I went', but not 'I went not' - it becomes 'I didn't go', and that's now the normal past tense for English. In Welsh, we can still say the equivalent of 'I went not' - but it's every bit as acceptable to use 'wnes i/wnes i ddim'...


As some of you know, I'm currently doing the Uwch advanced course which is roughly equivalent to AS-level. I use a mixture of short form and "wnes i..." when I'm speaking in lessons and my tutors, one of whom taught welsh for 30 years has never batted an eyelid about it. If you listen to Radio Cymru, especially in the evenings, several of the presenters use the long form past tense.

While it's probably best to use the short form in GCSE lessons as that's what is taught (or was when I did it 13 years ago...   ) use whatever is comfortable outside the classroom. I prefer using the long form as its easier when trying to keep up in speedy conversations rather than mentally congugating verbs.


...the full story is that there are a handful of verbs that usually get used in the short form in the north (welais, clywais, dwedais, ges and one or two others) but the long form gets used very commonly for pretty much everything else, so there's no need whatsoever for you to worry about 'standing out'...


Link to the forum discussion

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