Breton grammar

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The Breton language is a Celtic and Indo-European language, and its grammar has many traits common with these languages. Like most Indo-European languages, it has gender, plurals, articles and inflections. Breton has masculine and feminine genders. In addition to plurals, it also has an unusual singulative marker. The language has both a definite and indefinite article.

Nouns[edit]

Gender[edit]

Breton has two genders, masculine (gourel) and feminine (gwregel). The neuter (nepreizh), which existed in Brythonic, survives in a few words such as tra (thing) considered as masculine but behaving as if they were feminine.

The gender of a noun is mostly arbitrary and can vary from place to place. There are however some suffixes that have always the same gender:

  • masculine for words ending in for example -adur
  • feminine for words ending in for example -iezh or -enn (see "singulative" below)

Plural[edit]

Most plural forms are formed with -(i)où, but other common suffixes are -ien, -ed, -i, ...

Singulative[edit]

A distinctive and unusual feature of Brittonic languages is a singulative marker, which is in Breton marked with the suffix -enn. While the noun gwez means "trees" (collective), the word gwezenn means "a single tree". The latter can even be made into a regular plural gwezennoù meaning "several trees [individually]".

Article[edit]

In Breton, unlike other Celtic languages, there are two forms of the article, definite and indefinite. The definite article is "an" (the), and the indefinite article is "un" (a). The final consonant, 'n', in these articles changes depending on the following consonant. It is realised as 'n' in front of 'n', 'd', 't', 'h', and vowels, as 'l' in front of 'l' and as 'r' in front of all other consonants.

Adjectives[edit]

There are two kinds of adjectives in Breton, synthetic adjectives, for example "bras" (big) inflects as -ø (stative), -oc’h (comparative), -añ (superlative) and -at (exclamative). Other adjectives, for example "heñval" (similar) do not inflect.

Adverbs[edit]

Adverbs do not inflect.

Prepositions[edit]

Like in other Celtic languages, prepositions in Breton are either inflected or uninflected. Historically, inflected prepositions derive from the contraction between a preposition and a personal pronoun.

Pronouns[edit]

Personal[edit]

Singular Plural
1st person me ni
2nd person te c’hwi
3rd person eñ (masculine)
hi (feminine)
int

Verbs[edit]

Verbs inflect for person, number, tense and mood. Breton verbs have impersonal forms, verbal adjectives, but no participles. Unlike other Celtic languages, Breton has a distinct periphrastic continuous aspect.

Mutations[edit]

Main article: Breton mutations

References[edit]

  • Jouitteau, M. (2009-now) ARBRES, Breton wiki grammar on-line, IKER, CNRS.
  • Press, I. (1986) A Grammar of Modern Breton (Mouton De Gruyter)
  • Denez, P. (1971) Kentelioù brezhoneg : eil derez, Al Liamm
  • Denez, P. (1977) Étude structurale d'un parler breton : Douarnenez, thèse (3 vol.), Université de Rennes
  • Denez, P. (1985) Geriadur brezhoneg Douarnenez, 4 vol., Mouladurioù Hor Yezh
  • Denez, P. (1987)Mont war-raok gant ar brezhoneg, MHY