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Title: A Handbook of the Cornish Language

Author: Henry Jenner

Release date: August 4, 2008 [eBook #26192]
Most recently updated: March 17, 2013

Language: English

Credits: Transcribed from the 1904 David Nutt edition by David Price


Transcribed from the 1904 David Nutt edition by David Price, email

chiefly in its latest stages with some account of its history and literature


member of the gorsedd of the bards of brittany
fellow of the society of antiquaries

   “Never credit me but I will spowt some Cornish at him.
Peden bras, vidne whee bis cregas.”

The Northern Lass, by Rich Brome, 1632.


p. ivPrinted by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co.
At the Ballantyne Press


H. L. J.

Kerra ow HolonBeniges re vo
Gans bennath Dew an dêdh a ’th ros dhemmo,
Dhô whelas gerryow gwan pan dhetha vî,
Tavas dha dassow, ha dhô ’th drovya dî.
En cov an dêdh splan-na es pel passyes;
En cov idn dêdh lowenek, gwin ’gan bês,
War Garrak Loys en Côs, es en dan skês
Askelly Myhal El, o ’gan gwithes;
En cov lîas dêdh wheg en Kernow da,
Ha nŷ mar younkna whekkah vel êr-ma
Dhemmo a dhîg genev an gwella tra,
Pan dhetha vî en kerh, en ol bro-na;
Dheso mî re levar dha davas teg,
Flogh ow empinyon vî, dhô ’m kerra Gwrêg.


Scrîfes en agan Chŷ nŷ,
   Dawthegves dêdh Mîs Gorefan
      En Bledhan agan Arledh, 1904.


This book is principally intended for those persons of Cornish nationality who wish to acquire some knowledge of their ancient tongue, and to read, write, and perhaps even to speak it.  Its aim is to represent in an intelligible form the Cornish of the later period, and since it is addressed to the general Cornish public rather than to the skilled philologist, much has been left unsaid that might have been of interest to the latter, old-fashioned phonological and grammatical terms have been used, a uniform system of spelling has been adopted, little notice has been taken of casual variations, and the arguments upon which the choice of forms has been based have not often been given.

The spelling has been adapted for the occasion.  All writers of Cornish used to spell according to their own taste and fancy, and would sometimes represent the same word in different ways even in the same page, though certain general principles were observed in each period.  There was a special uncertainty about the vowels, which will be easily appreciated by those who are familiar with Cornish English.  Modern writers of all languages prefer consistent spelling, and to modern learners, whose object is linguistic rather than philological, a fairly regular system of orthography is almost p. xa necessity.  The present system is not the phonetic ideal of “one sound to each symbol, and one symbol for each sound,” but it aims at being fairly consistent with itself, not too difficult to understand, not too much encumbered with diacritical signs, and not too startlingly different from the spellings of earlier times, especially from that of Lhuyd, whose system was constructed from living Cornish speakers.  The writer has arrived at his conclusions by a comparison of the various existing spellings with one another, with the traditional fragments collected and recorded by himself in 1875, with the modern pronunciation of Cornish names, with the changes which English has undergone in the mouths of the less educated of Cornishmen, and to some extent with Breton.  The author suggests that this form of spelling should be generally adopted by Cornish students of their old speech.  The system cannot in the nature of things be strictly accurate, but it is near enough for practical purposes.  Possibly there is much room for controversy, especially as to such details as the distribution of long and short vowels, the representation of the Middle Cornish u, ue, eu sometimes by î, sometimes by ê, and sometimes by eu or ew, or of the Middle Cornish y by i, e, or y, or occasionally by an obscure ă, ŏ, or ŭ, and it is quite likely that others might arrive at different conclusions from the same evidence, though those conclusions might not be any the nearer to the sounds which the Cornishmen of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries really did make.  As for grammatical forms, it will be seen that the writer is of opinion that the difference between Middle and Modern Cornish was more apparent than real, and that except in the very p. xilatest period of all, when the language survived only in the mouths of the least educated persons, the so-called “corruptions” were to a great extent due to differences of spelling, to a want of appreciation of almost inaudible final consonants, and to an intensification of phonetic tendencies existing in germ at a much earlier period.  Thus it is that inflections which in the late Cornish often seem to have been almost, if not quite, inaudible, have been written in full, for that is the author’s notion, founded on what Middle Cornishmen actually did write, of what Modern Cornishmen were trying to express.  For most things he has precedents, though he has allowed himself a certain amount of conjecture at times, and in most cases of difficulty he has trusted, as he would advise his readers to do, to Breton rather than to Welsh, for the living Breton of to-day is the nearest thing to Cornish that exists.

Why should Cornishmen learn Cornish?  There is no money in it, it serves no practical purpose, and the literature is scanty and of no great originality or value.  The question is a fair one, the answer is simple.  Because they are Cornishmen.  At the present day Cornwall, but for a few survivals of Duchy jurisdictions, is legally and practically a county of England, with a County Council, a County Police, and a Lord-Lieutenant all complete, as if it were no better than a mere Essex or Herts. [0a]  But every Cornishman knows well enough, proud as he may be of belonging to the British Empire, that he is no more an Englishman than a Caithness man is, that he has as much right to a separate local patriotism to his p. xiilittle Motherland, which rightly understood is no bar, but rather an advantage to the greater British patriotism, [0b] as has a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Welshman, or even a Colonial; and that he is as much a Celt and as little of an “Anglo-Saxon” as any Gael, Cymro, Manxman, or Breton.  Language is less than ever a final test of race.  Most Cornishmen habitually speak English, and few, very few, could hold five minutes’ conversation in the old Celtic speech.  Yet the memory of it lingers on, and no one can talk about the country itself, and mention the places in it, without using a wealth of true Cornish words.  But a similar thing may be said of a very large proportion of Welshmen, Highlanders, Irishmen, Manxmen, and Bretons.

         Omnia Græce,
Quum sit turpe magis nostris nescire Latine.

The reason why a Cornishman should learn Cornish, the outward and audible sign of his separate nationality, is sentimental, and not in the least practical, and if everything sentimental were banished from it, the world would not be as pleasant a place as it is.

Whether anything will come of the Cornish part of the Celtic movement remains to be seen, but it is not without good omen that this book is published at the “Sign of the Phoenix.”

A few words of comprehensive apology for the shortcomings of this handbook.  When the writer was p. xiiiasked by the Secretary of the Celtic-Cornish Society to undertake a Cornish grammar, which was the origin of this book, it was more than twenty years since he had dropped his Cornish studies in favour of other and more immediately necessary matters.  Much of what he once knew had been forgotten, and had to be learnt over again, and the new grammar was wanted quickly.  There must needs be, therefore, inaccuracies and inconsistencies, especially with regard to the spelling, which had to be constructed, and he is conscious also that there are at least two living men, if no more, who could have made a far better book.  Of either of these two, Dr. Whitley Stokes and Prof. Joseph Loth, Doyen of the Faculty of Letters in Rennes University, who probably know more about Cornish between them than any one else ever did, the writer may well say, as John Boson of Newlyn said of Keigwin two centuries ago, “Markressa an dean deskez fear-na gwellaz hemma, ev a venja kavaz fraga e owna en skreefa-composter, etc.[0c]  For, indeed, even in that same skreefa-composter is there much scope for argument, and Boson’s “et cetera” stands for a good deal besides.

It is not given to a grammar-writer to strive after originality.  If he did so, he would probably not be the better grammarian.  The writer therefore has no hesitation in acknowledging to the full his many obligations to previous workers on the subject.  To Lhuyd and Pryce, to Gwavas, Tonkin, Boson, and Borlase he owes much (and also, parenthetically, he thanks Mr. John Enys of Enys for lending him the Borlase MS.).  But p. xivit is to the workers of the second half of the nineteenth century, living or departed, that he owes most, and especially to Dr. Edwin Norris, Dr. Whitley Stokes, Prof. Loth, Canon Robert Williams, and Dr. Jago.  Of the works of these writers he has made ample use, though he has not necessarily agreed with them in every detail.

The well-known work of Edwin Norris has been of the greatest value in every way, and the copious examples given in his “Sketch of Cornish Grammar” have frequently saved the writer the trouble of searching for examples himself.  Dr. Whitley Stokes’s editions of two dramas and a poem have been of the greatest assistance, the notes to the St. Meriasek being especially valuable in collecting and comparing the various forms of irregular verbs, etc.  Without Canon Williams’s Lexicon nothing could have been done, and though some amount of friendly criticism and correction has been given to it by Dr. Stokes and Prof. Loth, neither of whom, of course, really undervalues the Lexicon in the least, no one can fail to appreciate that excellent work.  Prof. Loth’s articles are mostly on details.  A more general work from his hand is much to be desired, and every Cornish student must look forward to the forthcoming volume of his Chrestomathie Bretonne, which will contain the Cornish section.  It would have been better for the present work if its author could have seen that volume before writing this.  But Prof. Loth’s articles in the Revue Celtique have been full of suggestions of the greatest value.  Dr. Jago’s English-Cornish Dictionary has also been most useful.  In a somewhat uncritical fashion, he has collected together all the various forms and spellings of each word that he could find, and this p. xvrendered it possible to make easily comparisons which would otherwise have given a good deal of trouble.  Even the somewhat unconventional lexicographical arrangement of the book has had its uses, but, if one may venture an adverse criticism, it was a pity to have followed Borlase in including without notice so many Welsh and Breton words for which there is no authority in Cornish.  It is on this account that the work needs to be used with caution, and may at times mislead the unwary.

The author begs to thank very heartily Mr. E. Whitfield Crofts (“Peter Penn” of the Cornish Telegraph) for his great service in making this handbook known among Cornishmen.

Perhaps a subject in connection with Cornish which may be of greater general interest than anything else is the interpretation of Cornish names.  It is for this reason that a chapter embodying shortly some general principles of such a study has been added, and for those who would try their hands at original verse composition in Cornish a chapter on the principles of Cornish prosody has also been given.  The composition of twentieth-century Cornish verse has already begun.  Dr. C. A. Picquenard of Quimper, well known as a Breton poet under the title of Ar Barz Melen, has produced several excellent specimens, Mr. L. C. R. Duncombe-Jewell published the first Cornish sonnet in Celtia in 1901, and the present writer has contributed a sonnet and translations of the Trelawny Song and the National Anthem to the Cornish Telegraph, besides writing two Christmas Carols, one in Celtia and one printed separately, and the dedication of this book, which, he may p. xviremark, is not meant for a sonnet, though it happens to run to fourteen lines.

The writer had originally intended to add some reading lessons, exercises, and vocabularies, but it was found that the inclusion of these would make the book too large.  He hopes to bring out shortly a quite small separate book of this character, which may also include conversations, and he has in preparation a complete vocabulary, though he has no idea as to when it will be finished.



There have been seven Celtic languages—not all at once, of course—and indeed it is possible that there may have been more; but seven are known to have existed.  One other may have been a Celtic speech, or it may have been something pre-Celtic, but of it we know too little to judge.

The Celtic languages belong to the type known as Aryan or Indo-European, the language of the higher or white races whose original habitat was once taken to have been near or among the Himalayas, but is now located with much less exactness than heretofore.  To this class belong the Sanscrit, with its multitude of Indian derivatives; the Persian, ancient and modern; the Greek, the Latin with all its descendants, the Lithuanian, the Slavonic, the Teutonic and Scandinavian, the Albanian and the Celtic.  It is not to be supposed that the possession of an Aryan language is necessarily a proof of the possession of Aryan blood.  In many cases the conquering white race imposed its language on the aborigines whom it subjugated and enslaved.  This must have been very much the case in Britain, and it is probable that the lower classes of a great part of England, though they now speak a language of mixed Teutonic and Latin origin, as they once spoke Celtic, are largely the descendants, through the slaves successively of Britons, Romans, and Saxons, and the “villains” or nativi of the Norman manorial system, of the aboriginal palæolithic “cave” man, and have far less in common p. 4with the Anglo-Saxon, the Celt, or any other white man than they have with the Hottentot, the Esquimaux, the Lapp, or the Australian “blackfellow.”  This is particularly the case in what was once the forest-covered district of middle England.  There, no doubt, when there was any fighting to be done, the aboriginal hid in the woods until it was all over, and only then came out to share in the spoil and the glory and the drinks; while the white man, whether Briton, Saxon, or Norman, went out to fight, and not infrequently to be killed.  A survival, perhaps, of the unfittest was the result, which may account for some of the peculiar characteristics of the Midland lower classes.  That the successive changes of masters were matters of little or no importance to the enslaved aboriginal, while a life of servitude was intolerable to the free white man, may account for the fact that the labouring classes of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Wales, and the Welsh border are of a type infinitely superior in manners, morals, and physique to the same class in the Midlands, because they now consist almost entirely of the descendants of the free Britons who were driven westward rather than submit to the overwhelming invasion of the Teutonic tribes.  Thus it is that probably, except for a certain Silurian (or Iberian) element in South Wales, which descends from the higher or fighting sort of pre-Aryan, and a surviving aboriginal element in parts of Ireland, the natives of what are known as the “Celtic” parts of these islands are more purely Aryan than any except the upper and upper middle classes of the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” districts of Britain.  And of the Celtic parts of Britain, the Highlanders of Scotland and the Cornish are probably of the most unmixed Aryan or white race.

The Celtic languages are subdivided into two branches, representing two separate immigrations, about p. 5which little is known for certain, except that they happened a very long time ago.  These are:—

1.  The Goidelic (or Gaelic), consisting of the three languages, or properly the three dialects, known as the Gaelic of Ireland, of the Scottish Highlands, and of the Isle of Man.  It has been said, with some truth, that these three are as far apart as three dialects of the same language can well be, but are not sufficiently far apart to be counted as three distinct languages.  Until the first half of the eighteenth century the written Gaelic of the Scottish Highlands differed from that of Ireland scarcely more than the written English of London differs from that of New York.  Even now, though the use of the sixth and seventh century Latin minuscules, which people choose to call “Irish” letters, has been dropped in Scotland, any one who can read the one dialect will have little difficulty in reading the other.  Manx adopted in the seventeenth century an attempted, but not very successful, phonetic spelling, based partly on Welsh and partly on English, and therefore looks on paper very different from its sister languages; but it takes a Gaelic-speaking Highlander of intelligence a very short time to get to understand spoken Manx, though spoken Irish (except the Ulster dialect) is more difficult to him.  Possibly Pictish, if it was Celtic at all, which is uncertain, was of the Gaelic branch, for we find but little of any language difficulty when St. Columba and his fellow-missionaries, whose own speech certainly was Gaelic, were evangelising among the Picts.  But the absence of such mention proves very little, for Christian missionaries, from Pentecost onwards, have not infrequently made light of the linguistic barrier, and we really know next to nothing about Pictish.

2.  The Brythonic (or British), consisting of Welsh, p. 6Cornish, and Breton.  These may be said to be as near together as three separate languages can well be, but to have drifted too far apart to be accounted three dialects of the same language.  The place of Cornish, linguistically as well as geographically, is between Welsh and Breton, but though in some points in which Welsh differs from Breton, Cornish resembles the former, on the whole it approaches more nearly to the latter.  Probably Cornish and Breton are both derived from the language of the more southern, while Welsh represents that of the more northern Britons. [6]  Of course Cornish, like Welsh, has been influenced to some extent by English, while the foreign influence on Breton has been French.  It is probable that the ancient Gaulish, certainly a Celtic language, belongs to this branch.

The seven Celtic languages, then, are Irish, Albanic (or Scottish), and Manx Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, and Gaulish, and it is possible that Pictish must be added to these.

Though a philologist has much to say on the points of resemblance between the Goidelic and Brythonic branches, and though no one who studies both can fail to be struck by their affinity in vocabulary, in grammar, and even in idiom, the speakers of different branches—a Welshman and a Highlander, for instance—are no more mutually intelligible than an Englishman and a German would be, if as much so.  The three sets of Gaels, however, can understand one another with considerable difficulty, and Irish priests have been known to preach sermons (with but moderate success) in the Catholic parts of the Highlands.  But though there has p. 7been for some time a Welsh mission of some sort of Nonconformists in Brittany (with doubtless a very limited following), it is said that the missionaries, though they learnt Breton easily, were greatly disappointed with the extent to which at first they could understand the Bretons or make themselves understood.  Simple things of everyday life might be asked for in Welsh, and a Breton might “average” what was said, but no sort of conversation could be held, though any one who knew both Welsh and Breton might make himself understood at some length by a mixed audience, if he very carefully picked his phrases; it would not, however, be good Welsh or good Breton.  But the same would only apply in a far less degree to Cornish, for Cornish is very much nearer to Breton than Welsh is. [7]  The divergence is increased by the tendency of all the Celtic languages, or, indeed, of all languages, to subdivide into local dialects.  Thus the Irish of Munster, of Connaught, and of Ulster must be mutually intelligible only with great difficulty; the dialect of Munster, by reason of the difference of the stress accent, being especially divergent.  There is growing up now, with the Irish revival, what may be called a Leinster dialect, founded on the literary language, with peculiarities of its own.  The Scottish Gaelic has at least four marked dialects: Northern, spoken in Sutherland, part of Caithness, and Ross; Western, spoken in Inverness-shire and Argyle and in the Islands; and the rather broken-down dialects of Arran and of Perthshire, but the speakers of these are not very unintelligible to one another.  Even Manx has a tendency to a “north side” and a “south side” dialect.  Welsh has two fairly well marked dialects, of North Wales and South Wales, p. 8and the Welsh of Glamorgan, once the classical form of the language, before the Cardiganshire Welsh of the translation of the Bible superseded it, is now tending to be a broken-down form of South Welsh.  But all these spoken dialects of Welsh are kept together and their tendency to divergence is greatly checked by the existence of a very clearly defined spelling, grammar, and standard of style in the book language of what is far and away the most cultivated and literary of all the Celtic tongues.  Breton has four well-defined dialects, those of Leon, Treguier, Cornouailles, and Vannes, besides the broken-down Breton of the Croisic district, the Vannes dialect differing from the others as much as Cornish does, and curiously resembling Cornish in some of its peculiarities.  Here there is no one literary standard, but each of the four dialects has its own, though it is generally held, rightly or wrongly, that the Leonais dialect is the best, and the Vannetais the worst.  An examination of the names of places in West Cornwall gives some indication that there was a slight difference of dialect between the Hundred of Kerrier, or perhaps one should rather say the peninsula of Meneage, and the Hundred of Penwith, but it amounted to very little, and the evidence is very scanty.

The difference between Cornish and its two sisters is not very easy to define in a few words.  There are differences of phonology, vocabulary, and grammatical forms.  In phonology the most marked difference from both is the substitution of s or z, with a tendency, intensified in later Cornish, to the sound of j or ch, for d or t of Welsh and Breton.  Cornish agrees with Breton in not prefixing a vowel (y in Welsh) to words beginning with s followed by a consonant, and its vowel sounds are generally simpler and less diphthongalised than those of Welsh.  It agrees with Welsh in changing what one may call the French u sound into î (English ee), going p. 9apparently further than Welsh in that direction, while Breton still retains the u.  Like Welsh, it retained the th and dh sounds which Breton, in nearly all its dialects, has changed into z, though these in Cornish, like the guttural gh, and v or f, showed a tendency to drop off and become silent, especially as finals.  In vocabulary Cornish follows Breton more closely than Welsh, though there are cases where in its choice of words it agrees with the latter, and cases in which it is curiously impartial.  An instance of the last is the common adjective good.  The ordinary Welsh word is da, though mad (Gaelic math) does exist.  In Breton mad is the regular word, though da is used as a noun in the sense of satisfaction or contentment (da eo gant-han, good is with him=he is pleased).  In Cornish da and mas are used about equally.  As an instance of the first, bras, which in Welsh means fat, gross, is the more common Cornish and Breton word for large or great, though mêr (mur, meur) in Cornish, and meur in Breton, the equivalents of the Welsh mawr, are also used.  In grammatical forms Cornish almost invariably in cases where Welsh and Breton differ follows the latter, but, as in vocabulary, it sometimes has also ways of its own.

* * * * *

Except for the existence of Cornish names in the Bodmin Gospels, and in Domesday Book and one or two early charters, and of the Cornish vocabulary in the Cottonian Library, the earliest mention of the Cornish as differentiated from any other British language that has been as yet discovered occurs in Cott. MS. Vesp. A. xiv., in the British Museum (the volume in which the said vocabulary is included), in a Latin life of St. Cadoc.  This speaks of St. Michael’s Mount being called, “in the idiom of that province,” Dinsol (or the Mount of the Sun).

Giraldus Cambrensis, writing in the latter part of the p. 10twelfth century, says: “Cornubia vero et Armorica Britannia lingua utuntur fere persimili, Cambris tamen propter originalem convenientiam in multis adhuc et fere cunctis intelligibili.  Quæ, quanto delicata minus et incomposita magis, tanto antiquo linguæ Britanniæ idiomati, ut arbitror, est appropriata.” [10a]

In the fifteenth-century cartulary of Glasney College, belonging to Mr. Jonathan Rashleigh of Menabilly, an old prophecy is quoted: “In Polsethow ywhylyr anethow, in Polsethow habitaciones seu mirabilia videbuntur.”  This is supposed to date before the foundation of the college in 1265.

In a letter of 1328-9 from John de Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter, 1327-1369, to Pope John XXII., the writer speaks of Cornwall as looking on the south upon Vasconia [Gascony] and Minor Britannia [Brittany] [10b]; “Cujus lingua ipsi utuntur Cornubici.”  And in another letter in the same year to certain cardinals he says: “Lingua, eciam, in extremis Cornubie non Anglicis set Britonibus extat nota.”  With this comes another passage in the Register of Bishop Grandisson, quoted by Dr. Oliver in his Monasticon Diæcesis Exoniensis (p. 11), which, in an account of the submission of the parish of St. Buryan to the bishop, after a certain quarrel between them, states that a formal submission was made by the principal parishioners in French and English (the names are given, thirteen in number), and by the rest in Cornish, interpreted by Henry Marseley, the rector of St. Just, and that after this the bishop preached a sermon, which was interpreted by the same priest for the benefit of those members of the congregation who could only speak Cornish.  These records are to be found in Mr. Hingeston Randolph’s edition of the Grandisson p. 11Registers, and in these and other fourteenth-century Exeter registers there are several allusions to the obligations of hearing confessions and propounding the Word of God in Cornish.

But until the time of Henry VIII. we have no trustworthy information about the state or extent of the language.  It is highly probable, from the number of places still retaining undoubtedly Celtic names, and retaining them in an undoubtedly Cornish form, that until at least the fifteenth century the Tamar was the general boundary of English and Cornish; though there is said to be some evidence that even as late as the reign of Elizabeth, Cornish was spoken in a few places to the east of the Tamar, notably in the South Hams.  Polwhele, however, limits the South Hams use of Cornish to the time of Edward I., and we know from the English Chronicle that when Athelstan drove the “Welsh” out of Exeter in 936, he set the Tamar for their boundary.  In the reign of Henry VIII. we have an account given by Andrew Borde in his Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, written in 1542.  He says, “In Cornwall is two speches, the one is naughty Englysshe, and the other is Cornysshe speche.  And there be many men and women the which cannot speake one worde of Englysshe, but all Cornyshe.”  He then gives the Cornish numerals and a few sentences of ordinary conversation.  These are much mixed with English, and were, no doubt, such as might have been heard on the borders of Devon, for he probably did not penetrate very far, being doubtless deterred by the impossibility of obtaining drinkable beer—a circumstance which seems to have much exercised his mind in describing Cornwall.  These numerals and sentences are, as far as is known, the earliest specimens of printed Cornish, earlier by a hundred and sixty-five years than Lhuyd’s Grammar, though Dr. Jago, p. 12quoting from Drew and Hutchins, who had evidently never seen this book, Dr. Davies’s Llyfr y Resolusion of 1632, or Gibson’s edition of Camden’s Britannia of 1695, says that there is no evidence that anything was ever printed in Cornish before Lhuyd.

The Reformation did much to kill Cornish.  Had the Book of Common Prayer been translated into Cornish and used in that tongue, two things might have happened which did not—the whole language might have been preserved to us, and the Cornish as a body might have been of the Church of England, instead of remaining (more or less) of the old religion until the perhaps unavoidable neglect of its authorities caused them to drift into the outward irreligion from which John Wesley rescued them. [12]  But it is said by Scawen and by Bishop Gibson in his continuation of Camden’s Britannia, that they desired that the Prayer-book might not be translated, and, though the statement is disputed, it is quite possible that the upper classes, who spoke English, did make some such representation, and that the bulk of the population in Cornwall, as elsewhere, had no wish for the Reformed Service-book in any language; for there were churches in Cornwall in which the old Mass according to the Use of Salisbury was celebrated as late as the seventeenth century, notably in the Arundel Chapel in St. Columb Church, as may clearly be inferred from the inscription on the tomb of John Arundel and his wife, the latter of whom died in 1602.

It is asserted by Carew, Polwhele, Davies Gilbert, Borlase, and others, that in the time of Henry VIII. Dr. John Moreman, the parson of Menheniot, was the first to teach his parishioners the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Commandments in English, these having been p. 13“used in Cornish beyond all remembrance.”  This same Dr. Moreman is mentioned in the petition (or rather demand) presented to Edward VI. by the Cornwall and Devon insurgents, in favour of the old form of worship.  One paragraph of this is as follows:—“We will not receive the new service, because it is but like a Christmas game.  We will have our old service of Matins, Mass, Evensong, and Procession as it was before; and we the Cornish, whereof certain of us understand no English, do utterly refuse the new service.”

In the early part of the reign of Elizabeth, during the course of the many discussions on church matters, a number of articles were drawn up, to judge by their general tone, by the extreme Protestant party, and a copy of these, taken from a MS. in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, occurs in Egerton MS. 2350, f. 54, in the British Museum.  They are entitled “Articles drawn out by some certaine, and were exhibited to be admitted by authority, but not so admitted,” and their date, to judge by accompanying letters, etc., is about 1560.  The last article is “A punishment for such as cannot say the Catechisme,” and in it there occurs the following sentence: “Item that it may be lawfull for such Welch or Cornish children as can speake no English to learne the Præmises in the Welch tongue or Cornish language.”

In the same reign, but somewhat later, a report on England, addressed to Philip II. of Spain by an Italian agent, speaks thus of Cornwall: “Li hauitanti sono del tutto differenti di parlare, di costume et di leggi alli Inglesi; usano le leggi imperiali cosi como fa ancola li Walsche loro vicini; quali sono in prospettiva alli Irlanda et sono similmente tenuti la maggior parte Cattolici.”  However, since the agent insists that the Severn divides Cornwall from England, he can hardly have known much about the country.  The report occurs p. 14among a number of Spanish state papers in Add. MS. 28,420, in the British Museum.

In Carew’s Survey of Cornwall, written about 1600, we read, however, that the language had been driven into the uttermost parts of the Duchy, and that very few were ignorant of English, though many affected to know only their own tongue.  It seems, however, from what he says further on, that the guaries, or miracle plays, were then commonly acted in Cornish, and that the people flocked to them in large numbers, and evidently understood them.  Carew adds that the principal love and knowledge of the language died with one “Dr. Kennall, the civilian,” probably John Kennall, D.C.L., Archdeacon of Oxford.  Carew gives the numerals and a few other specimens of the language.

In a survey of Cornwall, by John Norden, entitled Speculum Magnæ Britanniæ, pars Cornwall, addressed to James I., the following account of the language is given.

“The Cornish people for the moste parte are descended of British stocke, though muche mixed since with the Saxon and Norman bloude, but untill of late years retayned the British speache uncorrupted as theirs of Wales is.  For the South Wales man understandeth not perfectly the North Wales man, and the North Wales man little of the Cornish, but the South Wales man much.  The pronunciation of the tongue differs in all, but the Cornish is far the easier to be pronounced.”  Here he goes on to compare the sound of it with the Welsh, to the disadvantage of the latter. . . . “But of late the Cornishmen have much conformed themselves to the use of the English tongue, and their English is equal to the best, especially in the Eastern partes; even from Truro eastward is in a manner wholly Englishe.  In the west parte of the county, as in the Hundreds of Penwith and Kerrier, the Cornishe tongue is mostly in use, and yet it is to be marvelled that p. 15though husband and wife, parents and children, master and servauntes, doe mutually communicate in their native language, yet there is none of them but in manner is able to converse with a stranger in the English tongue, unless it be some obscure persons that seldom converse with the better sort.”

In 1630 Sir John Dodridge in his History of the Ancient and Modern estate of the Principality of Wales, Duchy of Cornwall, and Earldom of Chester, says: “The people inhabiting the same [i.e. Cornwall] are call’d Cornishmen, and are also reputed a remanent of the Britaines . . . they have a particular language called Cornish (although now much worn out of use), differing but little from the Welsh and the language of the Britaines of France.”

In 1632, Dr. John Davies, the well-known Welsh lexicographer, published a Welsh translation of the Booke of Christian Exercise of Robert Parsons the Jesuit, under the title of Llyfr y Resolusion.  In it he gives a Cornish version of the Lord’s Prayer and Creed, the earliest extant, and evidently translated from Latin, not from English.

In the same year appeared a play called The Northern Lass, by Richard Brome.  In this occurs an opprobrious sentence of Cornish, put into the mouth of a Cornishman bearing the absurd name of “Nonsence,” and addressed to a Spaniard who had no English, on the argument that Cornwall being the nearest point of Britain to Spain, Cornish might possibly approach nearer to Spanish than English did.

The next mention of Cornish we find in a diary of the Civil War, written by Richard Symonds, one of the Royalist army in Cornwall in 1644 (Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 17,052).  He gives a short vocabulary of common words, together with four short sentences.  To these he appends the following note:—

p. 16“The language is spoken altogether at Goonhilly, and about Pendennis and the Land’s End they speak no English.  All beyond Truro they speak the Cornish language.”

Much about the same time William Jackman, the vicar of St. Feock, near Falmouth, chaplain of Pendennis Castle during its siege by the rebel troops, was in the habit of using Cornish for the words of administration of Holy Communion, because the old people did not understand English.  The Cornish words asserted to have been used by him were printed in Hals’s History of Cornwall in 1750, though they do not occur in all copies of that scarce book.

In 1662 and 1667 John Ray, in his Itinerary, mentions one Dickon Gwyn (his real name was Dick Angwin), of St. Just, as the only man who could write Cornish.  Ray adds that few of the children could speak it, “so that the language is like in a short time to be quite lost.”

This is probably the “Sieur Angwin” mentioned in a valuable little treatise on the Cornish language by John Boson of Newlyn, of which more later.  This little tract, entitled Nebbaz Gerriau dro tho Carnoack (or “A few words about Cornish”), is only known from a copy which formerly belonged to the late Mr. W. C. Borlase.  It was written about the year 1700, and according to it the Cornish-speaking district was then “from the Land’s End to the Mount and towards St. Ives and Redruth, and again from the Lizard to Helston and towards Falmouth,” but the language had decreased very much within the writer’s memory.

It is recorded by Dr. Borlase that Cheston Marchant, who died at Gwithian in 1676 aged 164 (!), could speak nothing but Cornish.

Writing in the latter part of the reign of Charles II., William Scawen, a Cornish antiquary, gives a long p. 17account of the state of the language in his time, in a treatise in which he laments the decline thereof, accounting for it by no less than sixteen elaborate reasons.  This treatise, Antiquities Cornu-Britannick, was abridged by Thomas Tonkin, the Cornish historian, and the abridgment was printed in 1777, and again by Davies Gilbert at the end of his history.  A copy of the full form of it in Tonkin’s beautiful handwriting, a much more elaborate work, is in Add. MS. 33,420 in the British Museum.  According to this, the inhabitants of the western promontories of Meneage and Penwith were in the habit of speaking the language, so much so that the parson of Landewednack, Mr. Francis Robinson, used to preach in Cornish down to the year 1678, that being the only tongue well understood by his parishioners.  Scawen mentions the MSS. of the aforesaid “Anguin,” as he spells him, and laments their destruction.  He also speaks of a “Matins” (possibly a Primer, or Hours of our Lady) in Cornish, which had belonged to “Mr. Maynard.” [17]

In Bishop Gibson’s edition of Camden’s Britannia, published in 1695, there is a short account of the Cornish Language, and the Lord’s Prayer and Creed, the same versions as those given by Scawen, are given as specimens.  According to Gibson the language was confined to two or three western parishes, and was likely to last a very little longer.  He mentions the Poem of the Passion, the Ordinalia, and the Creation as the only books existing in the language.

The next authority is that excellent Celtic scholar, Dr. Edward Lhuyd, who published his Archæologia Britannica in the year 1707.  He gives the following list of the parishes in which the language was spoken:—St. Just, Paul, Buryan, Sennen, St. Levan, Morva, Sancreed, p. 18Madron, Zennor, Towednack, St. Ives, Lelant, Ludgvan, and Gulval, and along the coast from the Land’s End to St. Keverne (this would also include St. Hillary, Perran Uthno, Breage, Germoe, Mullion, Gunwalloe, Ruan Major and Minor, Landewednack, Grade, and St. Keverne), adding that many of the inhabitants of these parishes, especially the gentry, do not understand it, “there being no need, as every Cornishman speaks English.”  There is a letter of Lhuyd’s to Henry Rowlands, author of Mono Antiqua Restaurata (1723), printed at the end of that work, in which similar information, dated 1701, is given.  Lhuyd in this letter relates his adventures in Brittany, and remarks on the closeness of Cornish to Breton.

Then the language quickly receded, until, in 1735, there were left only a few people at Mousehole, Paul, Newlyn, St. Just, and other parishes along the coast between Penzance and the Land’s End who understood it.  It was about this time that Gwavas and Tonkin finished their collections on the subject, and the language they found seemed to them a most irregular jargon—a peculiarity of which was a striking uncertainty of the speakers as to where one word left off and another began.

In the early part of the eighteenth century there was a little coterie of antiquaries at Penzance and the neighbourhood, who had busied themselves much with the remains of the old language.  The patriarch of these was old John Keigwin of Mousehole, the translator of the Poem of the Passion and the play of The Creation.  He was born in 1641, and died in 1710, and, according to Lhuyd and Borlase, his knowledge of Cornish was “profound and complete.”  However, that did not prevent him from making some extraordinary mistakes in his translations, which should perhaps be set down to the archaic form of the language with which he had p. 19to deal.  He seems to have been a considerable if rather pedantic linguist, being accredited with an acquaintance with Latin, Greek, French, and even Hebrew, and in a translation into Cornish of the letter of King Charles to the people of Cornwall, he made use of his Hebrew knowledge when he failed to remember the exact Cornish word, writing “milcamath” for “war.”  Among the other members of this little party may be mentioned William Gwavas, John Boson and his brother Thomas, Thomas Tonkin the historian, Oliver Pender, and last (as probably the youngest) Dr. William Borlase, the author of the well-known History of Cornwall.  It does not seem that any of these, except Keigwin, troubled themselves much about Cornish literature, but they did good service in the way of preserving words, proverbs, colloquial sentences, etc., and seem to have found great enjoyment in translating various passages of Scripture, songs, etc., into the Cornish that was current in their own day.  These being spelt more or less phonetically (as far as the writers knew how to do so), and therefore varying a good deal in orthography, are now of great value in determining the sound of the latest Cornish.

When Lhuyd was at work upon his Cornish Grammar, he received considerable assistance from Keigwin, Gwavas, and Tonkin, and a vocabulary and collection of Cornish fragments compiled by the last two under the title of Archæologia Cornu-Britannica were afterwards printed by Dr. William Pryce in 1790, with Lhuyd’s Grammar, under his own name, with the same title. [19]  This fraud, if it really deserves so harsh a name, was exposed by Prince L. L. Bonaparte, into whose hands the original MS. of some of it fell; but though it certainly was not right of Pryce to act in this manner, he p. 20does deserve some credit for having published the vocabulary at all, and the service that he did in so doing may be the better estimated by a knowledge of the fact that it was very considerably through the medium of Pryce’s publication that Dr. Edwin Norris obtained the acquaintance with Cornish necessary to enable him to bring out his valuable edition of the early Cornish dramas.  It is strange that so much abuse has been heaped upon Pryce, while Davies Gilbert has escaped with comparative freedom, in spite of a villainously careless edition of a number of scraps of Cornish (printed at the end of his edition of the play of The Creation), gathered entirely from Tonkin’s MS., the Gwavas MS., or the Borlase MS., and inserted, with notes and all, without a word of acknowledgment, and in such a manner as to lead one to think that the translation and notes at any rate were his own doing.  Pryce certainly took the trouble to correct his proofs, and Davies Gilbert could hardly have attempted to do so.  Moreover, if Pryce’s preface be read carefully, it will be seen that he by no means claims the whole credit for himself, but gives plenty of it, though perhaps not enough, to Gwavas, Tonkin, Lhuyd, and Borlase.  The impression left by the preface is that Pryce was a more or less intelligent editor who added a little of his own, the amount of which he exaggerated.

In 1746 Captain (afterwards Admiral) the Hon. Samuel Barrington, brother of Daines Barrington the antiquary, took a sailor from Mount’s Bay, who spoke Cornish, to the opposite coast of Brittany, and found him fairly able to make himself understood.  In 1768 Daines Barrington himself writes an account of an interview with the celebrated Mrs. Dolly Pentreath, popularly, but erroneously, supposed to have been the last person who spoke the language.  He also contributed to Archæologia, in 1779, a letter received in p. 211776, written in Cornish and English, from William Bodenor, a fisherman of Mousehole, who according to Polwhele died in 1794.  The writer states that not more than four or five people in his town, and these old folk of eighty years of age, could speak Cornish.  But Barrington says that he received information that John Nancarrow of Market-Jew, aged only forty in 1779, could speak it.  Dolly Pentreath died in 1777; but Pryce, in the preface to his book of 1790, part of which is his own, though one knows not how much of it to believe, and Whitaker, vicar of Ruan-Lanihorne, in his Supplement to Polwhele’s History of Cornwall (1799), mention that two or three people were still living who were able to speak Cornish, though this was only hearsay evidence.

In his History of Cornwall, vol. v. (1806), the Rev. R. Polwhele speaks of one Tompson, an engineer of Truro, whom he met in 1789, the author of the well-known epitaph on Dolly Pentreath, and says that he knew more Cornish than ever Dolly Pentreath did.  But Polwhele did not think that at the time he wrote there were two persons living who could really converse in Cornish for any length of time.  Some years ago the present writer came upon a letter in the British Museum addressed to Sir Joseph Banks, and dated 1791, the author of which mentions his own father as the only living man who could speak Cornish.  Unluckily the reference to the letter has been lost, and there is so much Banks correspondence in the British Museum that it is almost impossible to find it again.  But the statement is by no means conclusive, and there were probably several other “last living men” going on at once, and certainly John Tremethack, who died in 1852 at the age of eighty-seven, must have known a good deal of Cornish, some words of which he taught to his daughter, Mrs. Kelynack of Newlyn, who was living in 1875.  There p. 22was also George Badcock, the grandfather of Bernard Victor of Mousehole, who taught a certain amount of Cornish to his grandson, who was living in 1875, when the present writer saw him.

Then it is considered that Cornish, as a spoken language, died out.  The process was gradual, though perhaps rather rapid at the last, and, as far as is generally known, the old tongue finally disappeared in the earlier half of the nineteenth century.  Words and sentences, and even such things as the Creed and Lord’s Prayer were handed on, some of them to our own day.  The mother-in-law of the present writer, Mrs. W. J. Rawlings (née Hambly) of Hayle, who died in 1879 at the age of fifty-seven, had learnt to repeat the Lord’s Prayer and Creed in Cornish when she was a child at school at Penzance, but unluckily had quite forgotten them in later life.  In 1875 Mr. and Mrs. John Kelynack, Mrs. Soady, Mrs. Tregarthen, and Captain Stephen Richards, all of Newlyn, and Mr. Bernard Victor of Mousehole handed on to the Rev. W. S. Lach Szyrma, then vicar of Newlyn, and to the present writer the tradition of the numerals and a few words and sentences, which may be found in a paper contributed by the present writer to the Transactions of the Philological Society in 1876, and a few years later Dr. Jago received some of the same tradition.  Thus it may be said that so long as any of these three are alive, a faint flicker of living Cornish remains, even if there is no verity in the weird legends of the survival of more as an esoteric language among the peasantry and the mining and fishing folk of the West.  But even if the spoken Cornish be dead, its ghost still haunts its old dwelling, for the modern English speech of West Cornwall is full of Celtic words, and nine-tenths of the places and people from the Tamar to the Land’s End bear Cornish names.

p. 23Mr. Hobson Matthews in his History of St. Ives, Lelant, Towednack, and Zennor, has an interesting chapter on Cornish.  He gives reasons for supposing that the language survived in St. Ives, Zennor, and Towednack even longer than in Mounts Bay, and states that the families of Stevens and Trewhella were among the last to keep it up in Towednack.  He also mentions one John Davy, who was living in 1890 at Boswednack in Zennor (a hamlet between the Gurnard’s Head and Zennor Churchtown), who had some traditional knowledge of Cornish, knew the meanings of the place-names in the neighbourhood, and “could converse on a few simple topics in the ancient language.”  Unless Mr. Matthews, whose judgment one would trust in such a matter, actually heard him do so, the last statement is not easy to believe.


The following is a list, in order of date, of the known remains of Cornish from the earliest times to the end of the eighteenth century.  There may be others of very early date, which have been hitherto classified as old Welsh or Breton, such as the Lament for Geraint, King of Devon, generally attributed to Llywarch Hen, and certain glosses in Latin MSS.

1.  The Manumissions in the Bodmin Gospels (Add. MS. 9381, in the British Museum).  The MS. is of the tenth century, and belonged to St. Petrock’s Priory of Black Canons, originally Benedictine, at Bodmin.  At the beginning and end are manumissions of serfs from whose names about two hundred Cornish words may be gathered.  These have been printed in the Revue Celtique (vol. i. p. 332), with notes by Dr. Whitley Stokes.

2.  The Cottonian Vocabulary (Cott. MS. Vesp. A. xiv., in the British Museum).  This forms part of a MS. of the end of the twelfth century, and consists of about seven pages, preceded by a calendar containing many Celtic names, and followed by lives of Welsh and Cornish saints.  The words are classified under various headings such as heaven and earth, different parts of the human body, birds, beasts, fishes, trees, herbs, ecclesiastical and liturgical terms, and at the end occur a number of adjectives.  It has been printed by Zeuss in his Grammatica Celtica, by Dr. Norris with the Ordinalia, and has been incorporated into Canon Williams’s Cornish Lexicon.  p. 25Many of the words in it were incorporated by Dr. John Davies in his Welsh Dictionary, as coming from what he calls the Liber Landavensis, and a quotation from the Life of St. Cadoc in the same MS. is spoken of in Camden’s Britannia as coming from the Book of Llandaff.  The MS. evidently bore that name for a time.  It is probable, from certain mistakes in it, that the vocabulary is a copy of an earlier one, in which the letters Ƿ and þ of the Saxon alphabet were used.

Of about the same date as this manuscript was a composition in Cornish, of which the original is lost, except a few words.  This was a Prophecy of Merlin, which only exists in a translation into Latin hexameters by John of Cornwall, who in his notes gives a few words of the original, which are certainly Cornish.  Like many of the so-called Merlin prophecies, this relates to the struggle between Stephen and the Empress Matilda, but it contains local Cornish allusions of great interest.  The only known MS. is one of the fourteenth century, in the Vatican.

3.  The single sentence, In Polsethow ywhylyr anetkow, in the Cartulary of Glasney College.  If the writer of the history of the foundation of the college is correct, this prophecy, “In Polsethow [the Pool of Arrows, the old name of Glasney] shall be seen habitations,” is older than the foundation in 1265.  It is therefore the oldest known complete sentence of Cornish, and is interesting as containing the inflected passive whylyr.  There is an abstract of the cartulary, by Mr. J. A. C. Vincent, in the 1879 volume of the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, and this sentence is given there, with an explanatory note by the late Mr. W. C. Borlase.  The original belongs to Mr. Jonathan Rashleigh of Menabilly.

4.  On the back of a charter in the British Museum (Add. Charter 19,491) the present writer discovered in 1877 a fragment of forty-one lines of Cornish verse.  p. 26The writing was very faint, indeed the MS. had passed through other and by no means incompetent hands without this precious endorsement being noticed, and the finder might have missed it too had he not been deliberately looking for possible Cornish words on the backs of a number of charters relating to St. Stephen-in-Brannel, after he had finished the necessary revision of the cataloguing of these documents.  The date of the document is 1340, but the Cornish writing on the back is somewhat later, perhaps about 1400.  The language and spelling agree with those of the Poem of the Passion and the Ordinalia, and the exact metre is not found anywhere else.  The speaker (it may be a part in some play) offers a lady to some other person as a wife, praises her virtues, and then gives the lady some rather amusing advice as to her behaviour to her future husband, and how to acquire the position attributed in Cornish folklore to the influence of the Well of St. Keyne and St. Michael’s Chair.  A copy of these verses was printed in the Athenæum in 1877, but, as the writer admits, his readings were not at all good, for the writing was very faint.  Dr. Whitley Stokes, who had the advantage of working on a photograph, which brought out many letters which were invisible in the original, published an amended version in the Revue Celtique.

5.  The Poem of Mount Calvary, or The Passion.—There are five MSS. of this in existence.  One is in the British Museum (Harl. 1782), and is probably the original, said to have been found in the church of Sancreed.  It is a small quarto, on rough vellum, written very badly in a mid-fifteenth-century hand, and embellished with very rude pictures.  Of the other copies, two are in the Bodleian, an incomplete and much “amended” one in the Gwavas collection of Cornish writings in the British Museum, with an illiterate translation by William Hals, the Cornish historian, and one is in private hands.  p. 27It has been twice printed, once with a translation by John Keigwin of Mousehole, edited by Davies Gilbert in 1826, and by Dr. Whitley Stokes for the Philological Society in 1862.  There is very little in this poem beyond a versified narrative of the events of the Passion, from Palm Sunday to Easter morning, taken directly from the four Gospels, with some legendary additions from the Gospel of Nicodemus and elsewhere, preceded by an account of our Lord’s fasting and temptation.  The metre consists of eight-lined stanzas (written as four lines) of seven-syllabled lines.  There are two hundred and fifty-nine of these stanzas.

6.  The Ordinalia.—These consist of three dramas collectively known under this title.  The first play, called Origo Mundi, begins with the Creation of the World, the Fall of Man, Cain and Abel, etc.; this being followed by the building of the Ark and the Flood, the story of the temptation of Abraham closing the first act.  The second act gives us the history of Moses, and the third represents the story of David and of the building of Solomon’s Temple, curiously ending with a description of the martyrdom of St. Maximilla as a Christian (!) by the bishop placed in charge of the temple by Solomon.  The second play, Passio Domini, represents the Temptation of Christ, and the events from the entry into Jerusalem to the Crucifixion; and this goes on without interruption into the third play, Resurrectio Domini, which gives an account of the Harrowing of Hell, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, with the Legend of St. Veronica and Tiberius, and the death of Pilate.  As in the Poem of the Passion, the pseudo-Gospel of Nicodemus and other legendary sources are drawn upon.

But running through the whole and interwoven with the Scriptural narrative comes the beautiful and curious Legend of the Cross.  The legend, most of which is in the dramas, is this.  When Adam found himself dying, he p. 28sent his son Seth to the Gates of Paradise to beg of the angel that guarded them the oil of mercy, that his father might live.  The angel let him look into Paradise, where he saw many strange and beautiful foreshadowings of things that should be upon the earth; and the angel gave him three seeds from the Tree of Life, and he departed.  When he came to where his father was, he found that he was already dead, and he laid the three seeds in his mouth, and buried him therewith on Mount Moriah; and in process of time the three seeds grew into three small trees, and Abraham took of the wood thereof for the sacrifice of Isaac his son; and afterwards Moses’ rod, wherewith he smote the rock, was made from one of their branches.  And soon the three trees grew together into one tree, whereby was symbolised the mystery of the Trinity; and under its branches sat King David when Nathan the Prophet came to him, and there he bewailed his sin, and made the Miserere Psalm.  And Solomon, when he would build the Temple on Mount Sion, cut down the tree, which was then as one of the chiefest of the cedars of Lebanon, and bid men make a beam thereof; but it would in no wise fit into its place, howsoever much they cut it to its shape.  Therefore Solomon was wroth, and bid them cast it over the brook Cedron as a bridge, so that all might tread upon it that went that way.  But after a while he buried it, and over where it lay there came the Pool Bethesda with its healing powers; and when our Lord came on earth the beam floated up to the surface of the pool, and the Jews found it, and made thereof the Cross whereon Christ died on Calvary.

The metres of these plays are various arrangements of seven and four-syllabled lines, of which more anon in the chapter on prosody.  There are three MSS. of this Trilogy in existence, 1. The Oxford MS. of the fifteenth p. 29century, from which the others were copied, and from which Dr. Edwin Norris edited the plays in 1859.  2. Another Oxford MS., presented to the Bodleian by Edwin Ley of Bosahan about 1859, with a translation by John Keigwin.  The copy of the text is older by a century than the translation.  3. A copy in the library of Sir John Williams, Bart., of Llanstephan, Carmarthenshire, with an autograph translation by Keigwin.  This was Lhuyd’s copy.

7.  The Life of St. Meriasek.—This play, the MS. of which was written by “Dominus Hadton” in the year 1504, as appears by the colophon, was discovered by Dr. Whitley Stokes some thirty-two years ago among the MSS. of the Peniarth Library, near Towyn in Merioneth.  It represents the life and death of Meriasek, called in Breton Meriadec, the son of a Duke of Brittany, and interwoven with it is the legend of St. Sylvester the Pope and the Emperor Constantine, quite regardless of the circumstance that St. Sylvester lived in the fourth century, and St. Meriasek in the seventh.  The play contains several references to Camborne, of which St. Meriasek was patron, and to the Well of St. Meriasek there.  It is probable that it was written for performance at that town.  The language of the play is later than that of the Ordinalia, the admixture of English being greater, while a few of the literal changes, such as the more frequent substitution of g (soft) for s, and in one instance (bednath for bennath) the change of nn to dn, begin to appear.  The grammar has not changed much, but the use of the compound and impersonal forms is more frequent, and the verb menny has begun to be more commonly used as a simple future auxiliary.  The metres are much the same as those of the Ordinalia.  The spelling is rather more grotesque and varied.  But, since this play (or combination of plays) is to a large extent on p. 30local Cornish and Breton, rather than on conventional Scriptural lines, it has an interest, full of mad anachronisms as it is, which is not to be found in the Biblical plays.  Some passages are of considerable literary merit, and a good deal of early Cornish and Breton history is jumbled up in it, and yet remains to be worked out, for Dr. Whitley Stokes’s excellent edition of 1872 does not go very much into historical side questions.  It is unlucky that this play was not discovered until after the publication of Canon Williams’s Lexicon, but his own interleaved copy of the Lexicon, with words and quotations from St. Meriasek, is in the possession of Mr. Quaritch of Piccadilly, and Dr. Stokes has published forty pages of new words and forms from the same play in Archiv für Celtische Lexicographie.

8.  The Cornish conversations in Andrew Borde’s Booke of the Introduction of Knowledge, printed in 1542.—These consist of the numerals and twenty-four sentences useful to travellers.  They were evidently taken down by ear, and appear in a corrupted form.  Restored texts, agreeing in almost every detail, were published by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the Revue Celtique, vol. iv., and by Prof. Loth in the Archiv fur Celtische Lexicographie in 1898.

9.  In Carew’s Survey of Cornwall, 1602, are the numerals up to twenty, with a hundred, a thousand, and what is meant for ten thousand, but is really something else.  There are also ten words compared with Greek, a dozen phrases, some more words, and the Cornish equivalents of twelve common Christian names.

10.  The Creation of the World, with Noah’s Flood, by William Jordan of Helston, a.d. 1611.  The construction of this play is very like that of the first act of the Origo Mundi (the metres are substantially the same), p. 31and the author has borrowed whole passages from it; but as a whole Jordan’s play possesses greater literary merit, and there are many additions to the story in it, and much amplification of the ideas and dialogue.  Occasionally sentences of several lines in English are introduced, and it is curious to note that whenever this is the case, they are given to Lucifer or one of his angels, and in such a manner as to seem as if the author meant to imply that English was the natural language of such beings, and that they only spoke Cornish when on their good behaviour, relapsing into their own tongue whenever they became more than ordinarily excited or vicious.  Five complete copies of this play are known, two of which are in the Bodleian, one in the British Museum (Harl. MS. 1867), and two are in private hands (one bound up with the MS. of The Passion already mentioned).  Besides these there is a fragment in a similar hand to that of the complete Museum copy (certainly not that of John Keigwin, who translated the play in 1693 at the request of Sir Jonathan Trelawny, then Bishop of Exeter, though it has his translation on the opposite pages to the text) in the Gwavas collection in the British Museum.  In a list of books published in Welsh (as it is expressed), given in one of Bagford’s collections for a History of Printing (Lansdowne MS. 808, in the British Museum), mention is made of this play.  No date is given, but the names of the books are arranged chronologically, and this comes between one of 1642 and one of 1662.  The play has been printed (with Keigwin’s translation) by Davies Gilbert in 1827, and with a translation by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the Philological Society’s volume for 1864.  Of William Jordan, the writer, nothing is known whatever.  He may have been merely the transcriber, and it is possible that the transcription may be connected p. 32with that revival of Cornish patriotism which seems to have happened in the early seventeenth century.

11.  Nebbaz Gerriau dro tho Carnoack (A few words about Cornish), by John Boson of Newlyn.  The only known MS. of this little tract in Cornish and English was formerly among the MSS. of Dr. William Borlase in the possession of his descendant, Mr. W. C. Borlase.  The present writer had it in his possession for a short time in 1877 or 1878, and copied about half of it, but returned it to Mr. Borlase, who wanted it back, and it was then printed in the 1879 volume of the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall.  At the time of the sale of Mr. Borlase’s library, this tract, which when the present writer last saw it used to live between the pages of Dr. Borlase’s MS. Collections on Cornish, did not appear, and its present ownership is unknown.  It is in the handwriting of the Rev. Henry Usticke, Vicar of Breage (died 1769), and in the Gwavas MS. in the British Museum there are several pieces in the same hand.  As a copy of Boson’s original it is rather inaccurate, but Boson wrote by no means a clear hand.  It is of great interest as the composition of one who, though he was brought up to speak English, as he himself says, had acquired a thorough knowledge of Cornish as it was spoken in his day, without having even looked at any of the literary remains of the language.  He was also a man of general education, and in this tract and in his letters is rather fond of airing his Latin.  Very little is known of him except that he was the son of Nicholas Boson and was born at Newlyn in 1655 and died some time between 1720, the date of his last letter to Gwavas, and 1741, the date of the death of the latter, who is recorded to have received a copy of verses in Cornish found among Boson’s papers after his death.  The date of the Nebbaz Gerriau is p. 33unknown, but it mentions a little book called The Duchess of Cornwall’s Progress, which the author says that he wrote “some years past” for his children, refers (though not by name) to John Keigwin, who died in 1710, as being still alive, and does not mention Lhuyd’s Grammar, published in 1707, so that we may infer that the date is somewhere about 1700.  The Duchess of Cornwall’s Progress, which had at least thirty pages (for he refers to the thirtieth page), was probably in English, with a few passages in Cornish, which Dr. Borlase, who had seen two copies of it, transcribed into his Cornish Collections.  Judging from his letters and from this tract, John Boson was a man of considerable intelligence, and one about whom one would like to know more, and his Cornish writings are of more value than those of the somewhat pedantic Keigwin.

12.  The Story of John of Chy-an-Hur.—This is a popular tale of some length, of a labouring man who lived at Chy-an-Hur, or the Ram’s House, in St. Levan, and went east seeking work, and of what befell him.  It is the Tale of the Three Advices, found in many forms.  It appears first in Lhuyd’s Grammar, printed in 1707, where it has a Welsh translation.  Lhuyd says that it “was written about forty years since,” which dates it circ. 1667.  Part of it, undated, but in the hand of John Boson, occurs with an English translation in the Gwavas MS. (Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 28,554).  This, as appears by a note on the back of the first leaf, was written out for Gwavas’s instruction in Cornish.  The spelling is altogether different from Lhuyd’s.  Another copy in Cornish of Lhuyd’s spelling, with an English translation, is in the Borlase MS., copied from the lost MS. of Thomas Tonkin, with some corrections by Dr. Borlase.  It was printed with Lhuyd’s Welsh and an p. 34English version, in Pryce’s Archæologia Cornu-Britannica in 1790, and by Davies Gilbert at the end of his edition of Jordan’s Creation, 1827, in Cornish and English.  The English versions of Borlase, Pryce, and Davies Gilbert are substantially the same, and are probably Tonkin’s.  An English version, translated from Lhuyd’s Welsh, but pretended to be from Cornish, was printed in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1818, and again in an abridged and expurgated form in Mr. J. Jacob’s collection of Celtic Fairy Tales in 1891.  There is a much amplified version of the story in English in William Botterell’s Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, published at Penzance in 1870, and a short and rather foolish one in Hunt’s Popular Romances of the West of England, 1865, 1871, 1881.  The language is a good specimen of the latest Cornish.  The same story is given as an Irish folk-tale in an early volume of Chambers’s Journal.

13.  The Preface to the Cornish Grammar in Lhuyd’s Archæologia Britannica.  This consists of two and a quarter folio pages of close print, and is written in the Cornish of his own day.  It is the work of a foreigner, but is nevertheless very well done.  A not very good translation, probably the work of Tonkin and Gwavas, is given by Pryce, and reprinted by Polwhele in the fifth volume of his History.

14.  The rest of the remains of Cornish consist of a few songs, verses, proverbs, epigrams, epitaphs, maxims, letters, conversations, mottoes, and translations of chapters and passages of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, King Charles’s Letter, etc.  They are found in the Gwavas MS. (Brit. Mus., Add. MS. 28,554), a collection made by William Gwavas, barrister-at-law, and ranging in date from 1709 to 1736; in the Borlase MS. of the date of about 1750, in the handwriting of Dr. p. 35William Borlase, Rector of Ludgvan, formerly in the possession of his descendant, the late W. C. Borlase, F.S.A., M.P., but now belonging to Mr. J. D. Enys, of Enys; in Pryce’s Archæologia Cornu-Britannica, 1790, and in Davies Gilbert’s editions of the Poem of the Passion and Jordan’s play of The Creation, published respectively in 1826 and 1827.  Those in the Borlase MS. (except a few from a work of John Boson), and those printed by Pryce and Davies Gilbert, were probably taken from the Gwavas MS. and from Tonkin’s MSS.  There is also one epitaph dated 1709 in Paul Church, an epitaph on Dolly Pentreath, which does not appear ever to have been inscribed on her tomb, and the letter of William Bodenor in 1776.

These fragments may be classified as follows:—

Songs and Poems.

1.  Lhuyd’s Elegy on William of Orange, 1702.  Sixty-three lines of verse in rhyming triplets, in modern Cornish, with occasional archaic turns.  A copy occurs in the Gwavas MS.; it was printed by Pryce, with a Latin version, as part of a correspondence between Lhuyd and Tonkin, and by Polwhele in his fifth volume, with the same correspondence.  There is a copy with an English version by John Keigwin in the library of Sir John Williams, Bart., of Llanstephan.

2.  A song beginning “Ma leeas gwreage, lacka vel zeage,” a series of moral platitudes on married life and the bringing up of children, by James Jenkins of Alverton, near Penzance (died 1710).  This consists of five stanzas of five or six lines each.  There is a complete copy in the Gwavas MS., and a copy wanting one line in the Borlase MS., and this in complete version, with a translation, has been printed by Pryce and Davies Gilbert.  A note in Pryce says that Tonkin had it from Lhuyd and p. 36again from Gwavas, whose is the translation.  It is in idiomatic late Cornish, in rather wild spelling.

3.  Song on James II. and William of Orange, by John Tonkin of St. Just, a tailor, who appears to have been a solitary Whig in a nation of Jacobites, as with very few exceptions the Cornish certainly were.  It begins, “Menja tiz Kernuak buz galowas,” and consists of fourteen four-lined stanzas of modern Cornish, probably composed in 1695, to judge by the historical allusions.  It is in the Gwavas MS. only, and has never been printed.

4.  A song of moral advice by the same writer, beginning “Ni venja pea a munna seer,” and consisting of seven four-lined stanzas, only one of which, beginning “An Prounter ni ez en Plew East,” has been printed (from the Borlase MS.) in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall for 1866.  The complete song is in the Gwavas MS., and has never been published.

5.  A song beginning “Pelea era why moaz, moz, fettow, teag” (Where are you going, fair maid? he said).  This consists of six four-lined stanzas, the second and fourth lines of each stanza being the burthen:—

Gen agaz bedgeth gwin (or according to Borlase, Tonkin, and Gwavas, pedn du) ha agaz blew mellyn

(With your white face, or black head, and your yellow hair)


Rag delkiow sevi gwra muzi teag

(For strawberry leaves make maidens fair).

The song was sung by one Edward Chirgwin or Chygwin, “brother-in-law to Mr. John Groze of Penzance, at Carclew, in 1698,” as a note by T. p. 37Tonkin says.  Whether it was translated from English or whether the Cornish is the original does not appear.  The story is not quite the same (or quite so scrupulously “proper”) as the English nursery version.  There is a copy in the handwriting of Chirgwin in the Gwavas MS., and one copied from Tonkin’s MS. in the Borlase MS.  It was printed by Pryce in an amended form, and by Polwhele.

6.  A song on the curing of pilchards (not a very poetical subject) by John Boson.  Twenty-six lines of rhyming couplets beginning “Me canna ve war hern gen cock ha ruz” (I will sing, or my song is, of pilchards with boat and net), and describing the process of bringing the fish ashore and putting them into bulks and making “fairmaids” of them.  There is a copy with a translation in the Borlase MS., which was printed in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall for 1866, and Davies Gilbert printed it at the end of his edition of Jordan’s Creation in 1827, but without any translation.

Verses and Epigrams.

1.  Nine short sayings in verse, printed in Pryce and Davies Gilbert, and copied by Borlase from Tonkin.  The first, “An lavar goth ewe lavar gwir,” etc., occurs also in Lhuyd.

2.  Epigram on the verdict in the suit of Gwavas v. Kelynack, respecting tithes of fish.  Eight lines by W. Gwavas.  It occurs in the Gwavas and Borlase MSS., and in Pryce and Polwhele.

3.  “To Neighbour Nicholas Pentreath,” by Gwavas.  Six lines.  In the Borlase MS., and in Pryce and Polwhele.

4.  “Advice from a friend in the country to his neighbour who went up to receive £16,000 in London,” by John Boson.  In the Borlase MS., and in Pryce and Polwhele.  Eight lines.

p. 385.  “On a lazy, idle weaver.”  In the Gwavas and Borlase MSS., and in Pryce and Polwhele.  Six lines.

6.  “Verses on the Marazion Bowling-Green.”  In the Gwavas and Borlase MSS., and in Pryce and Polwhele.  Six lines by Gwavas.

7.  “Advice to Drunkards.”  Four lines, by Gwavas.  In the Gwavas and Borlase MSS., and in Pryce and Polwhele.

8.  A Cornish riddle.  Five lines.  In the Gwavas and Borlase MSS., and in Pryce, Gilbert, and Polwhele.

9.  “Advice to all men.”  Written by Gwavas to form part of his own epitaph.  Four lines.

10.  “Another” [of the same sort], three lines, also by Gwavas.

11.  “A concluding one,” four lines, also by Gwavas.  These last three, copied from the same page of the Gwavas MS., all occur also in the Borlase MS., and in Pryce, Gilbert, and Polwhele.

12.  “A Fisherman’s Catch,” given by Capt. Noel Cator of St. Agnes to T. Tonkin, 1698.  In the Borlase MS., and printed in the R. I. C. Journal, 1866, and in Mr. Hobson Matthews’s History of St. Ives, Lelant, Towednack, and Zennor.

13.  Six lines of moral advice, found among the papers of J. Boson after his death, and given to Gwavas.  In the Borlase MS., and R. I. C. Journal, 1866.

14.  Certificate of Banns from W. Drake, Rector of St. Just, to Thos. Trethyll, Vicar of Sennen.  Two versions, one in the Gwavas MS. and one in Pryce, the latter being also in the Borlase MS.  Drake died in 1636.

15.  Verses on a silver hurling ball given to W. Gwavas.  Seven lines by Thos.  Boson, 1705.  In the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.

p. 3916.  Three couplets of verse, and a short piece of prose from J. Boson’s Duchess of Cornwall’s Progress.  In the Borlase MS.  Unpublished.

17.  Prophecy, attributed to Merlin, of the burning of Paul, Penzance, and Newlyn.  Two lines.  In the Borlase MS., and often printed in Cornish histories and guide-books.

18.  Elegy on the death of James Jenkin of Alverton.  Four verses of three lines each, by John Boson, 17 Feb. 17 [11/12].  In the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.

Proverbs, Mottoes, and Maxims.

1.  From Scawen.  Fourteen proverbs.  In the Borlase MS.; printed in the edition of Tonkin’s abridgment of Scawen’s Antiquities Cornu-Britannick, 1777, and in Davies Gilbert’s History, and in his edition of the Poem of the Passion.  Also in R. I. C. Journal, 1866, with sixteen others from the Borlase MS.

2.  Mottoes of the families of Gwavas, Harris of Hayne, [39] Glynne, Tonkin, Godolphin, Boscawen, Polwhele, Noye, and Willyams of Carnanton.  All except those of Glynne, Noye, and Willyams are printed in Pryce.  All but Glynne and Willyams occur in Davies Gilbert’s edition of Jordan’s Creation, and the Willyams motto, though it occurs as a Cornish phrase in Pryce’s preface and in the Gwavas and Tonkin MSS., is only found as a motto in pedigree books and on the sign-board of the inn in Mawgan Churchtown.  The Glynne motto, “Dre weres agan Dew” (Through the help of our God), is given, with an incorrect translation, in Mr. Hobson Matthews’s History.

p. 403.  Mottoes for bowls, occurring in the Gwavas MS., and some in Davies Gilbert’s edition of The Creation.

4.  Maxims, proverbs, etc., about thirty in number, in the Borlase MS., in Pryce, and in Davies Gilbert’s edition of The Creation, under the title of “Sentences in vulgar Cornish.”  Some of them are also in the Gwavas MS.

Conversations and Phrases.

1.  About seventy sentences, in the Borlase MS., in Pryce, and in Davies Gilbert’s edition of The Creation, under the title of “Things occurring in common discourse.”  There are some additional ones in the Borlase MS.

2.  About a hundred and fifty phrases, sentences, and idioms, copied by Dr. Borlase from Lhuyd’s MSS.  Some, but by no means all, are in Lhuyd’s Grammar.

3.  A considerable number of similar phrases scattered throughout Borlase’s Cornish Vocabulary at the end of his History of Cornwall.  These are to be found, evidently copied from the Vocabulary, in a manuscript which belonged in 1777 to Henry Brush of Carnaquidn Stamps (on the road from Penzance to Zennor), which place belonged to William Veale of Trevaylor, who married the daughter of Gwavas.  The MS. is now in the possession of a descendant of Henry Brush.

4.  A few expressions and phrases scattered through the Gwavas MS., in the letters of Boson, and in letters and notes of Gwavas.


1.  On James Jenkins, by John Boson, 17[11/12], in the Gwavas MS.  Four lines.  The Borlase MS., quoting the very letter in which it occurs, says that it is on John Keigwin, which is a mistake.

p. 412.  On John Keigwin, by John Boson, 1715.  In the Gwavas MS.  Four lines.

3.  On Capt. Stephen Hutchens, in Paul Church, 1709.  The only Cornish inscription in any church.  Probably by John Boson.  Two lines.  Frequently printed in guide-books, etc.

4.  On William Gwavas, by himself.  In the Gwavas MS., and in Pryce, Polwhele, and Davies Gilbert.  Partly in English.

These four are also in the Borlase MS., and are printed in the R. I. C. Journal, 1866.

5.  On Dolly Pentreath, by --- Tompson of Truro, engineer.  Printed by Polwhele, and later in Blight’s Week at the Land’s End, and other guide-books.  A variant occurs in John Skinner’s Journal of a Tour in Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, 1797, in Add. MS. 28,793, f. 62, in the British Museum.


1.  William Gwavas to Oliver Pender, 11th August 1711.  Partly in Cornish.

2.  Oliver Pender to W. Gwavas, 22nd August 1711.  Mostly in Cornish.

3.  John Boson to W. Gwavas, 5th April 1710.  Nearly all in Cornish.

4.  An unsigned letter, including a version of the “Old Hundredth.”  Partly in rhyme.

5.  Note, addressed apparently to one going to America, by William Gwavas, 1710, on the back of a copy of the Creed in Cornish.

These five are in the Gwavas MS., and have never been printed.

6.  Letter of William Bodenor to the Honble. Daines Barrington, 3rd July 1776.  Printed in Archæologia (vol. v., 1779), in “Uncle Jan Treenoodle’s” Specimens of Cornish Provincial Dialects, 1846; in a paper p. 42on the Cornish Language by the present writer in the Transactions of the Philological Society, 1873, and in Archiv für Celtische Lexicographic, with notes and emendations by Prof. Loth, in 1898.


Passages of Scripture.

Genesis i.  Two versions, one by John Boson and one probably by John Keigwin.  Both are in the Gwavas MS.  One, Boson’s, with his name to it, is in the Borlase MS.  Boson’s was printed by D. Gilbert at the end of his edition of the Poem of the Passion, and in a much revised form by Canon Williams at the end of his Lexicon.  Keigwin’s version was printed by D. Gilbert at the end of his edition of Jordan’s Creation.  There are many verbal variations from the Gwavas copies in the printed editions.

Genesis iii., translated by William Kerew, in the Gwavas MS.  Published by Prof. Loth in the Revue Celtique, April 1902.

St. Matthew ii. 1-20, translated by W. Kerew, in the Gwavas MS.  Published in the Revue Celtique, April 1902.

St. Matthew iv., also by W. Kerew, in the Gwavas MS.  Published in the Revue Celtique, April 1902.

The last three were copied from a MS. of Matthew Rowe of Hendra in Sancreed, by H. Usticke.

Proverbs xxx. 5, 6.

Psalms ii. 11; vii. 11; xxxv. 1, 2.

These are in the Gwavas MS., probably translated by W. Gwavas himself.  Unpublished.

The Hundredth Psalm, of the Sternhold and Hopkins version, literally translated line for line, followed by an unsigned letter partly in rhyme.  In the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.

p. 43The Lord’s Prayer.

There are ten versions extant besides the modern one of Canon Williams.

1.  In John Davies’s Llyfr y Resolusion (a translation of Robert Parsons’s Book of Christian Exercise), printed in 1632, and again in 1684.  Translated from the Latin.

2.  In Scawen’s Antiquities Cornu-Brittanick, circ. 1680.  Printed in Tonkin’s abridgment in 1777.  The same version is given in Bishop Gibson’s additions to Camden’s Britannia in 1695, and by Polwhele.

3, 4.  Two versions in John Chamberlayne’s Oratio Dominica in diversas linguas versa, 1715, one of which is evidently meant for the version in Scawen and Camden.

5, 6.  Two versions by John Keigwin, one said to be in Ancient Cornish and the other in Modern.  Both are in the Gwavas and Borlase MSS., and were printed by Pryce and D. Gilbert.

7, 8.  Two versions, one by John and one by Thomas Boson, in the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.

9, 10.  Two versions by W. Gwavas, in the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.  One of these, nearly identical with Keigwin’s Modern, is said in a note to have been collected from J. Keigwin, Thomas Boson, Captain Thomas Tonkin, Oliver Pender, James Schollar, and T. Tonkin.

The first four are without the εκφωνησις at the end.  All except the first are from the English.

The Apostles’ Creed.

1.  In the Llyfr y Resolusion, 1632, 1684.

2.  In Scawen and in Gibson’s Camden.

3.  In Hals’s History of Cornwall.

p. 444, 5.  By John Keigwin, one in the Gwavas MS. and both m the Borlase MS., and printed by Pryce and D. Gilbert.

6.  By Thomas Boson, in the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.

7, 8.  By William Gwavas, in the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.

There is a modern revised version in Williams’s Lexicon.

The Ten Commandments.

1, 2.  By John Keigwin, one in the Gwavas MS., and both in the Borlase MS., and in Pryce and D. Gilbert.  One of these in a revised form is in Williams’s Lexicon.

3.  In the Gwavas MS., but without name.  Unpublished.

4.  By John Boson, in the Gwavas MS.  Printed with notes by Prof. Loth in vol. xxiv. of the Revue Celtique.

5.  By William Kerew, in the Gwavas MS.  Printed with the preceding.

6.  By T. Boson, in the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.

7.  By W. Gwavas, in the Gwavas MS.  Unpublished.

The Words of Administration of Holy Communion.

These are stated to be the words used by William Jackman, Vicar of St. Feock.  They occur in Hals’s History.

King Charles I.’s Letter to the People of Cornwall.

This is a translation by John Keigwin of the Letter of Thanks from the Martyr King to the People of Cornwall for their loyalty in 1643, still to be seen in many churches in the Duchy.  It occurs in the handwriting of Keigwin in the p. 45Gwavas MS., and in Dr. Borlase’s hand in the Borlase MS.  It has been misprinted, with notes by the present writer (who had no opportunity of revising the proofs), in the Rev. A. Cummings’s History of Cury and Gunwalloe, 1875, and Mrs. Dent’s Annals of Winchcombe and Sudeley (the place from which the original Letter is dated), 1877.

* * * * *

The following grammatical and lexicographical pieces belong more or less to the living period of Cornish:—

1.  Lhuyd’s Cornish Grammar, printed in his Archæologia Britannica in 1707, and reprinted by Pryce in 1790.

2.  Lhuyd’s Cornish Vocabulary.  The unpublished MS. belongs to Sir John Williams, Bart., of Llanstephan, Carmarthenshire.  Most of the words in it are to be found in Borlase’s and Pryce’s Vocabularies (see below).  They were collected partly from the Dramas, partly from the Cottonian Vocabulary, and partly from living people.

3.  The Gwavas Vocabulary.  This is a short vocabulary of the latest Cornish (extending from A to O) in the Gwavas MS.  The words were incorporated into Borlase’s Vocabulary.

4.  The Hals Vocabulary.  This is a fragment (A to C) in the Gwavas MS.  It is fantastic and of little value.

5.  The Borlase Vocabulary, compiled from the MSS. of Lhuyd, Gwavas, and Tonkin, from Lhuyd’s Archæologia, from oral tradition, and from other sources.  The original MS. is in the Borlase Collection, now belonging to Mr. J. D. Enys, and it was printed at the end of Dr. Borlase’s Antiquities Historical and Monumental of Cornwall in 1754, and again, revised, in 1769.  It is a copious vocabulary, but is rendered rather less valuable by the inclusion of a large number of Welsh and Breton words, gathered chiefly from other parts p. 46of Lhuyd’s Archæologia, or from John Davies’s Welsh Dictionary.

6.  Pryce’s Vocabulary, or rather that of Gwavas, Tonkin, and Pryce.  Printed, with Pryce’s edition of Lhuyd’s Grammar, at Sherborne in 1790.  Some of this vocabulary was collected from the literary remains of Cornish, but a very large part was compiled from living tradition, not much by Pryce himself, but by Gwavas and Tonkin.

Though some of these have been used by Canon Williams in his Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum, by Dr. Whitley Stokes in his Supplementary Cornish Glossary (Transactions of the Philological Society, 1868-9), and still more in Dr. Jago’s English-Cornish Dictionary, they have not been thoroughly exhausted yet, and a good many more words may be collected from them, as also from the attempted interpretations of place-names in Pryce’s book and in the Gwavas MS.



The Cornish language divides very naturally into three periods, (1) Ancient, (2) Middle, (3) Modern.

1.  The Ancient period is only represented by the Cottonian Vocabulary, which, though a MS. of the twelfth century, is probably a copy of a much earlier one, by perhaps a few glosses, and by the names in the Bodmin Gospels.  It has no extant literature.

2.  The Middle period is that of the Add. Charter fragment, the Ordinalia, the Poem of the Passion (fifteenth century), the Life of St. Meriasek (1504), and to some extent of the play of The Creation (1611), though the last is partly transitional.  Judging from the few words preserved in John of Cornwall’s twelfth-century translation of a prophecy of Merlin, the lost original of that was perhaps in an early form of Middle Cornish.

3.  The Modern period begins with the few sentences in Andrew Borde’s book (1542), and continues to the end.

As the whole of the extant literature of Middle Cornish is in verse, it gives us little help as regards the colloquial Cornish even of its own period, and judging from Andrew Borde’s sentences, only some forty years later than the St. Meriasek and seventy years earlier than Jordan’s play, Middle and Modern Cornish must have overlapped one another a good deal.  It is probable that those who wrote verse would continue to use archaic forms long after they had been dropped in prose and in conversation.  But the difference p. 50between Middle and Modern Cornish is not really very great, and comes to very little more than a difference of spelling, an uncertainty about the final letters of certain words, and a tendency to contractions, elisions, and apocopations in words, which, though recognised in their fuller form in the spelling of Middle Cornish verse, may have been nearly as much contracted, elided, and apocopated in Middle Cornish conversation.  Dr. Whitley Stokes points out in his edition of Jordan’s Creation certain changes, and though the language of that play is substantially Middle Cornish, the spelling is largely of the pre-Lhuydian popular Modern Cornish sort.  Among these changes are the following:—

1.  The final e becomes a.  [This is perhaps only a question of spelling, and need not imply a difference of sound.  Probably a sound as of the German final e is intended. [50]]

2.  th and gh have become mute, and are often interchanged.  [In Modern Cornish th is often omitted, or represented by h.]

3.  m, n, become respectively bm, dn.  [Probably the sounds existed long before they were recognised in spelling.]

4.  s becomes frequently a soft g (j).  [This j sound also may have existed long before it was written as a g or j.  The s of the earlier MSS. was probably never intended to represent in these cases a true s.  Dr. Stokes might also have mentioned the similar cases of she being used where the older MSS. write sy for the second person singular.]

The apparent changes of vowel sounds in the still later Cornish, more fully discussed further on, are mostly these:

1.  a long sometimes becomes aw, especially before p. 51l, n, or r, and occasionally as a final; a short, under similar circumstances, becomes o short.

2.  u, with (approximately) the French sound of that letter, becomes ee (î), or else ew, as in the English word dew.

3.  eu, ue, with the French sound of eu, or the German o, becomes ê (=ay in may).

4.  y of Middle Cornish, perhaps pronounced as ĭ, but sometimes obscurely, like the primary sound of the Welsh y, often became short e.

5.  An open long y, which may have been sounded ee (î) in Middle Cornish, often later became ei (or as i in mine), though there are inconsistencies in this respect, showing that the change was not universal.

6.  In a considerable number of cases short o became the “obscure vowel,” o of London or u of until.

It does not follow that these were very distinct changes between Middle and Modern Cornish.  Possibly the change in sound was a good deal less than on paper, and consisted in intensifying earlier changes.  The Middle Cornish system of spelling looks very like an inheritance from an earlier time still.

The grammatical changes were few, and, except for a diminishing use of pronominal suffixes, those, like the new preterite of gwîl, to do, were chiefly false analogies, or else imitations of English.  But it is to be remembered that a great proportion of the remains of Modern Cornish consists of translations and a few original compositions by persons whose own language was English, who had in some cases learnt Cornish very imperfectly.  This would apply to most of the translations of passages of Scripture, to Lhuyd’s Preface (though, of course, his own language was Welsh), and to Gwavas’s attempts.  The really valuable specimens p. 52are the writings of Boson, Bodenor’s Letter to Daines Barrington, some of the Gwavas MS. letters and songs, and the story of John of Chy-an-Hur.  These, written by men who spoke Cornish fluently and had no theories and often no knowledge of philology, probably represent what people really spoke in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  That faintness and even silence of final letters, which seems to have been a characteristic of Cornish as it is of French, was the cause that, in writing as phonetically as they knew how, these practical speakers of Cornish often omitted the ends of words, and made it seem as though their verbs had largely lost their inflections.  Words were spelt alike which should have been differentiated—it was as though one should spell avais, avait, avez, and avaient all alike, and words were run together that should have had at least apostrophes between them; but the grammar was not always as broken-down as it looks, and by a comparison with the older remains of Cornish it is not difficult to restore approximately the proper spelling.  The Cornish represented in Lhuyd’s writings has tended to confuse some things.  Lhuyd was a Welshman, and is constantly trying to run off into Welsh, and he had for his teacher John Keigwin, who thought that he understood the Cornish of the mediæval dramas, but was often mistaken.  Probably had a resuscitated mediæval Cornishman read the dramas aloud to Keigwin, he would have understood them quite as well as the ordinary English board-school boy would understand St. Paul’s Epistles in the Authorised Version, read by a revived Jacobean divine; but the spelling and the mediæval handwriting, which he could not always read, put him out terribly, and some very weird forms and words are the result.  Also Keigwin had, or thought he had, a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, which he uses on occasions with dire results.  Far be it from any Cornish student to undervalue the p. 53usefulness of Keigwin.  But for him, and for Gwavas and Tonkin, the work of reconstruction would have been much more difficult than it is, and these writers undoubtedly preserved a great deal of most valuable matter that otherwise would have been lost, but their work needs to be used with great caution, and the translations and original compositions which they produced do not always represent quite fairly the late forms of the language.


§ 1.  On the Pronunciation in general.

In simple Cornish words of more than one syllable the stress accent is generally, though not universally, on the last but one. [54]  The vowel of this syllable has usually its plain, clear long or short sound.  The vowels of the unaccented syllables are usually obscure in the case of two of the broad vowels (a, o), and short in the case of the thin vowels (e, i, y) and of u, unless they are combinations of two vowels, in which case they are always long; but e in a final unaccented syllable is also generally obscure.  The obscure vowel is the sound of u in the English word until, or o in London, and there is very little, if any, difference in sound between the obscure a, e, o, and u.  When this sound occurs, as it occasionally does, on an accented syllable, or anywhere where it might be mistaken for a plain sound, it is written, according to the spelling of this book, ă, ŏ, or ŭ.

In words of one syllable ending in a consonant the vowel is generally to be taken as short, unless it is marked long (â, ê, î, ô, û, ŷ), or is a combination of two vowels.  In monosyllables ending in a vowel, that vowel usually has its long sound, but as Cornish is largely accented in ordinary conversation by sentences (as is the case in Gaelic, and to a considerable extent in English), p. 55many monosyllables are slurred over with no accent (as enclitics or proclitics, according to whether they follow or precede the word on which they depend), and with more or less of the obscure vowel.  The modern Cornish intonation of English is probably a very fair guide to the intonation of Cornish. [55]

The consonants, especially f, v, dh, th, are rather more lightly sounded than in English.  Any peculiarities of sound will be given under each consonant.

During the period in which the existing remains of Cornish literature were written, that is, between the twelfth and the middle of the eighteenth century, the spelling was very unsettled.  There were at least six different systems, if no more.

1.  That of the Cotton Vocabulary.

2.  That of the Ordinalia, with a sub-variety in that of the Poem of the Passion.

3.  That of the St. Meriasek.

4.  That of Jordan’s Creation.

5.  That of Boson, Keigwin, and other seventeenth and eighteenth century writers.

6.  That of Lhuyd.

Not only did different writers differ from one another, but various ways of representing the same sound were used by the same writer.  The earlier spelling shows a certain amount of Welsh, old English, and old French affinities; the latest is evidently modelled on modern English, which does not suit it very well, and the transition from one to the other is not very abrupt.  It is the object of the present book to represent the probable pronunciation of Modern Cornish by a system fairly consistent in itself, but not too startlingly divergent p. 56from those adopted by previous writers (or from that of Breton, where coincidence occurs), and not too much encumbered with diacritical signs.  It is to some extent a following of Dr. Edward Lhuyd, whose system, though rather clumsy and unnecessarily puzzling in places, was on the whole very good and of great value.

§ 2.  The Vowels.

Simple: a, â, e, ê, i, î, o, ô, ŏ, u, û, ŭ, y, ŷ.

Compound: aw, ei, ey, ew, oi, oy, ou, ow.

a.  Simple vowels.

1.  a, short, as a in man.  Before l and r it is generally sounded as o in not.

2.  â, long, the lengthened sound of a short, not as the English broad a in father, or long a in mane, but as a broad a is commonly sounded in Cornish English.  Thus would have something between the sound of the English word bare (of course without the r trilled at all) in the mouth of a correct speaker, and the actual sound of the bleat of a sheep. [56]

In some words, and especially before a liquid followed by a consonant, a tends to be sounded as aw or short o.  Thus âls, cliff, gwander, weakness, wartha, upper, are sounded awls, gwonder, wortha or worra, and brâs, great, is sounded brawz.

In unaccented syllables a represents nearly the sound of u in until, or, as a final, the English sound of a at the end of proper names, such as Vienna, Maria, etc., which is more or less the final e of German, meine, deine, etc., or perhaps the e of the French words le, de, me, etc.

p. 573.  e, short, as e in men, pen, etc.

4.  ê, long, as ai in main, ay in say. [57]

5.  i, short, as i in in, pin, etc.

6.  î, long, as ee in seen, etc.

7.  o, short, as o in on.

8.  ô, long, as aw in dawn, not as o in bone.

9.  ŏ, obscure, as o in London, ton, etc.

10.  u, short, as u in full.

11.  û, long, as oo in fool.

12.  ǔ, obscure, as u in until.

13.  ŷ, long, as i in mine.

14.  y, short, as y in carry, marry, etc.  This is used chiefly as an unaccented final in a word of more than one syllable.

In the case of the letter y, there is a variation of sound in such monosyllables as , whŷ, , under certain circumstances.  In this system of spelling the circumflex is omitted when these words are enclitic.

b.  Compound vowels.

Of these, aw, ai, ei, ay, ey, ou, are only repetitions of the simple vowels ô, û, and ŷ.  The other four have sounds not otherwise represented.

1.  aw has the same sound as ô.  It is very rarely used.

2.  ai, ay, ei, ey, have nearly the same sound as ŷ, rather more diphthongalised.

3.  eu, ew have the sound of ew in the English word dew, the usual English long u.  This sound is also represented in Cornish by y consonant followed by u, as in the word yu, is, which has exactly the sound of the English personal pronoun you.

4.  oi, oy have the sound of oy in boy.

p. 585.  Ow has two sounds—(1) as an unaccented final, as o in bone.  This is also its sound when it occurs without any consonant, in the possessive pronoun ow, my, and the participle particle ow; (2) in other cases it sounds as ou in you, and rarely as ow in now.

6.  Ou has the same sound as û, and as the second sound of ow.  It is the regular symbol for that sound in Breton, and very commonly in the Cornish dramas, where, as in Breton, u commonly represented, approximately, the French u, which later became î or ew.

General Remarks on the Vowels.

In the Middle Cornish manuscripts the vowels are represented in various ways, and there is a special uncertainty about unaccented and obscure vowels.

Vowels were sometimes lengthened by doubling, or by adding a y, and rarely, until Jordan’s Creation, by adding a mute e after the closing consonant; but often quantity was not indicated at all.

Long î (ee in see) was more often than not represented by y, but, as in Welsh, y not infrequently represented the obscure vowel (u in until), and often a sound which later became a short e, but in unaccented syllables was, as is not unusually the case in English, more of the nature of the obscure vowel, or perhaps something between that and a short i.  Indeed all unaccented vowels tend to become obscure, very much as they do in English, and hence are variously expressed.

The u of the earlier MSS. probably once represented approximately the French u or the German u, the u of Devon and East Cornwall English, or the ao of Scottish Gaelic, not exactly the same sounds, but very near to each other.  As in Greek and Welsh, this sound approached nearer and nearer to î (ee in seen), until in p. 59Cornish it ceased to be recognised as having any u sound in it at all.  In Welsh it is still written as u, and in carefully spoken Welsh is quite distinguishable from î.  In Breton the sound is still approximately that of the French u.  In some words in Cornish this sound became ew (as in the English word few) and rarely û (oo in moon), but generally it became î (English ee). [59a]

What was once the sound of the French and Breton eu or the German o, was represented in the MSS. by u, eu, ue.  Later this became ê (ay in may).  Thus, dueth or duth, “came,” became dêth; luen, leun, “full,” became lên; due, “comes,” became ; mur, meur, “great,” became mêr.  This change is found occasionally as early as the Poem of the Passion.  The rhythm shows that ue and eu form only one syllable.  In the case of lues (=luas), many, which later became lîas (or leeas), the rhythm shows that the u and e did not form a single vowel.  Occasionally, as in the second person plural of certain tenses, eu of the early MSS. became ew, which it was probably intended to represent, but was often confused with ou (=û or oo). [59b]

The sound of ô or aw, as it certainly became in later Cornish, was represented by e, o, oy, a, oa, ao, au, aw.  The tendency to pronounce a as aw or short o before l, n, r, doubled or followed by a consonant, and sometimes single, is very marked in the spelling of late Cornish, and in the present pronunciation of place-names.  There is no evidence of its age in Cornish; but it is very common in English and Irish, though unknown in standard Welsh or Breton.

p. 60There seems no doubt, by the same evidence, that a long y of older Cornish often became i, as in the English word mine.  Vulgarly, as with the English long i, it sometimes even became oy.  Boson writes choy for chy, house, but Lhuyd writes it tshẏi or tshei, which last is its usual modern sound in place-names.  , we, whŷ, you, , they, and , she, are written nei, huei, dzhei, hei, by Lhuyd, and Jenkins of Alverton, using the earlier form of the third person plural, written y in the Dramas, spells it eye.  Yet there are cases where the older pronunciation is retained, and probably this was always the case when the words were enclitic.  Prof. Loth has pointed out a similar change in the Quiberon sub-dialect of Vannetais Breton, and that in some of the same words.

In the unscientific spelling of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that is to say, in the system of every one except Lhuyd, and occasionally of Gwavas and Tonkin when they followed Lhuyd, the English values of the period were often given to the letters; but the following were vowel symbols in general use:—

For â of the present system

a, aa

Lhuyd â.

,, a ,,

a, u, e, o

,, a.

,, ê ,,


,, ê.

,, e ,,

e, i

,, e.

,, î ,,


,, î, ŷ.

,, i ,,


,, i.

,, ô, aw ,,

oa, o, aw, au, ao

Lhuyd writes an inverted a or ô.

,, o ,,


Lhuyd o.

,, ŏ, ŭ, ă ,,

o, u, a, e

,, .

,, ŭ, ou ,,

u, oo, ou

,, , û.

,, ow ,,

ô, ow, ou, au

,, oụ, o, ô.

,, u ,,

u, oo

,, u.

,, ew, yu, eu ,,

ew, yu, yw

,, iụ, yụ, eụ.

,, ŷ, ei, ay ,,

y, ei, ay

,, ei, y, .

,, y ,,

y, i, e

,, y, i.

A final e mute was often used to lengthen a vowel, as in English.  Many names of places and persons retain p. 61this e mute at the present day, and when the preceding vowel is a, educated persons generally give it the sound of the English long a in mane, but that is a change analogous to the modern vulgarism of pronouncing clerk as clurk instead of clark.  The proper sound of the Cornish â is still heard in such words in the mouths of the peasantry.  Compare such a name as Polglaze in the two pronunciations.

§ 3.  The Consonants.

Simple: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, y, z.

Compound: bm, ch, dh, dn, gw, gh, ng, qw, sh, th, wh, zh, gwl, gwr, qwr, wl, wr.

a.  Simple consonants.

1.  b has the same sound as in English.

2.  c is always hard, being used only before a, o, u.  The same sound before e, i, y is represented by k.

3.  d before a, o, u is usually hard, as in English, but, as in Gaelic, before e, i, y it has a sound approaching to j, or like di in soldier.  In the MSS. a soft g was often written for d in such cases.  It is a common change in many languages.  Cf. the Italian oggi, to-day, for the Latin hodie.

4.  f has the same sound as in English.  In the MSS. it is often confused with v.  As a final it is very lightly sounded.

5.  g is always hard, as in get, go.  The soft g, as in gin, is here represented by j, but in the MSS. g was often used for it.

6.  h has two degrees of sound.  As an initial it is rather more lightly sounded than in English, except when it is a mutation of c (see Chapter II.), when it is more strongly sounded.  Then, and when it occurs in the middle of a word, it represents in a lighter p. 62form the guttural c’h of Breton, the ch of German, Welsh, and Gaelic, or the guttural gh of older English.  At the end of a word this is to be written gh.  It is a smooth guttural, as in Scottish Gaelic, without the rasping sound which it has in colloquial Welsh or in German.

7.  j is sounded as in English.  It generally represents what was once written s.  Lhuyd writes dzh for this sound, and the MSS. often represent it by g.

8.  k is generally only used before e, i, y, or as a final.  It has the same sound as in English.  It often happens in grammatical inflections that a broad root vowel is changed to a thin one.  In such cases if the preceding letter is a c it must be changed to k.

9.  l has the ordinary English sound.  Sometimes a double l of earlier Cornish was written lh (telhar, place, for teller).  This may perhaps represent the aspirated ll of Welsh, or (as in Portuguese) the l mouillé (as li in valiant).

10.  m has usually the same sound as in English.  When it follows a short vowel in an accented syllable or a monosyllable, it has a peculiar sound as though a b were prefixed to it, or as though the speaker had a slight cold in the head.  This b was frequently written in the later MSS., and in the mouths of less educated persons the b supplanted the m altogether.  Thus lemmyn, now, became successively lebman and lebban.  The vanishing of the m altogether did not occur in monosyllables, and it is undesirable to imitate it in other words.  In the system of spelling adopted in this book, the b will be written in cases where it was habitually written in later Cornish, but even when it is not written it is always to be sounded in the case of short vowels in accented syllables or monosyllables.

11.  n is usually sounded as in English.  When it p. 63follows a short vowel in an accented syllable or in a monosyllable, a d sound (analogous to the b sound with m) precedes it.  This d is often written in the later MSS., and will be used in this book in cases where it is regularly found in later Cornish, but it is to be pronounced even where it is not written.  In words of more than one syllable [63] the d often supplanted the n (e.g. henna, that, became successively hedna and hedda), and monosyllables were sometimes made into dissyllables by it (e.g. pen, pedn, pedden); but both of these are vulgarisms not to be imitated.

12.  p is sounded as in English.

13.  q is sounded as in English, and is always followed by w.  It is generally used in an initial mutation (see Chapter II.) of gw, but occurs occasionally, followed by w, as a radical sound.

14.  r has the same sound as in correct English, that is to say, it is very slightly heard when followed by a consonant or at the end of a word, unless the next word begins with a vowel, but, as in English, it often influences the preceding vowel.  Its full sound is trilled, not guttural.

15.  s is the most puzzling of the consonants.  It had probably four or five different values in the MSS., and might represent s, z, sh, zh, j according to circumstances.  As an initial, or before c, k, f, l, m, n, p, q, r, t, w, it was generally s, as in so; as a final, and before b, d, g, j, v, it was normally z or as s in rose.  But between two vowels in the same word, or coming after another consonant and followed by a vowel, or as a final followed by a word beginning with a vowel and closely connected grammatically with its predecessor, it had commonly the sound of j, so much so that g soft was often substituted for p. 64it, and there are cases where even an initial s must have meant sh or zh.  Thus we find cowsesow, speeches, written cowgegyow, carensa, love, carenga (for carenja), and in place-names, though we find Nanskeval, Nanspean, Nanswidn when the epithet begins with a consonant, when it begins with a vowel we find Nanjizel (=Nans isal, the lower valley).  Sometimes in late Cornish the definite j sound so completely superseded the s or z, that it or its equivalent, g soft or dzh, was always written for it, and in such cases it is written j in the present system of spelling, but in other cases the best rules will be to pronounce s

1.  As an initial; before c, k, f, l, m, n, p, q, r, t, w; or when doubled, as s in so.

2.  As a final, except when the next word, grammatically connected, begins with a vowel; or before b, d, g, j, v, as z or s in rose.

3.  Between two vowels in the same word; after another consonant and followed by a vowel; or as a final followed by a grammatically connected word, such as an epithet, beginning with a vowel, as j.

For the last rule compare Mrs. Gamp’s pronunciation of English (in Martin Chuzzlewit).  There seems to have been an inherent tendency to the j, sh, or zh sounds in every Cornish s, [64] but especially in those which represent a d or t of Welsh and Breton.  The writer is aware that this is a very inadequate discussion of the question, but he does not wish to be unduly intricate, or to enter into a deep phonetic explanation.  Those who would study the question more minutely are referred to an article by Prof. J. Loth in vol. xviii. of the Revue Celtique.

16.  t before a, o, u is hard, as in English, but p. 65before e, i, y has a sound approaching to that of ch in church, or to ti in words ending in tion.  Sometimes ch is written and fully pronounced where a t was formerly written.  Thus chŷ, house, was formerly ty, and in the eighteenth century , thou, was pronounced and often written chee.

17.  v is sounded as in English, but is often nearly inaudible at the end of a word, unless the next word begins with a vowel.  Thus ev, he, is often written e in later MSS.

18.  w, except in compound vowels, is always a consonant, and has the same sound as in English.  For its sound before l and r see Compound consonants.

19.  y consonant is sounded as y consonant in English, or as j in German.  It is always consonant when it precedes a vowel, unless it is written ŷ, when it is a vowel, as in such words as crŷes, tŷak, etc.

20.  z is only used as an initial, but it is seldom used at all.  The sound is that of an English z.

b.  Compound consonants.

1.  bm, dn represent respectively the sound of m and n after a short vowel in an accented syllable or monosyllable (see m, n).  There is no vowel sound between the two letters.

2.  ch is always sounded as in church.  It usually represents a former t, or else occurs in borrowed English words.

3.  dh is sounded as th in thy, the, etc., the Welsh dd, the Old English and Icelandic ð, the Modern Greek δ.  In the MSS. it is represented by th or Letter .  Lhuyd writes it δ. [65]

p. 664.  th (written Letter by Lhuyd) is sounded as th in thin, thick, etc., the Welsh th, the Old English and Icelandic þ, the Greek θ.  At the end of a syllable, especially after r, the sounds of dh and th are very light and tend to become inaudible, and are often represented by h, or omitted altogether.  Thus, gwartha, porth, barth, lowarth, gordhya, gortheb, kerdh often appear as gwarha, gwarra, por, barh, lowar, lowarh, gorria, gorreb, kerr.  Thus also, Porthgwartha (in St. Levan), is now written Porthgwarrah and pronounced nearly Pergworra.

5.  gh is used at the end of words for the strong or guttural h.  Lhuyd writes a Greek χ for this sound.

6.  ng (written by Lhuyd with an inverted Irish g) has the sound of ng in singer, not as in finger or manger.

7.  sh has the same sound as in English.  It is only used in a few words of English derivation.

8.  In wh the h is always sounded.  This combination represents the Welsh chw.  Lhuyd writes it hu.

9.  zh has the broader sound of sh, or that of the French j.

10.  In gwl, gwr, qwr, wl, wr there is a very light but quite audible sound of w before the l or r.  So light is the w that it was often omitted in the MSS.  Thus gwlasketh, kingdom, gwrîg, did, and the mutation wrîg were sometimes written glasketh, grîg, rîg.  But this was incorrect.

* * * * *

There must have been among Cornish speakers a tendency to a somewhat blurred sound of certain letters, as though there were an obstruction of some sort in their vocal organs, not altogether unlike that attributed p. 67on the stage and in fiction, with some foundation in fact, to the Hebrew race.  This is shown by the tendency to turn s and z into sh and zh, and to insert b before m, and d before n.  In the English spoken in Cornwall at the present day this tendency has quite disappeared, and the pronunciation, though not always the same as the standard English, is remarkably crisp and clear.  Readers are solemnly warned against attempting to base or support any theories of Jewish or even of Phœnician influence in Cornwall on the above coincidence.

These directions for pronunciation must needs be only approximate.  The exact phonetics are not attainable.  The pronunciation of Cornish place-names forms something of a guide to the old sounds, only one must be careful not to be misled by the modern tendency to pronounce words as they are spelt according to the English values of letters, and one must also remember that there is no settled system of place-name orthography.


In all the Celtic languages there are certain partly grammatical and partly phonetic changes of the first letters of words, which are called by various names, the most convenient of which is initial mutations.  These changes take place in Cornish when words beginning with the letters P, C or K, T or Ch, B, G, D or J, and M are preceded by certain adjectives, prepositions, pronouns, particles, etc., which stand in some governing or qualifying relation to them.  Words beginning with other letters, except occasionally F and S, do not change their initials.  Very similar changes are often made in the case of the second halves of compound words.

The mutable letters, P, C or K, T or Ch; B, G, D or J form two classes, with mutual relations to one another.  A third class, related to the other two, is formed of F or V, H, Dh, and Th.  Of these last F and H are the only ones that can occur as primary or unchanged initials.  Of these

P, C or K, and T or Ch are called tenues or thin (or hard) letters.

B, G, and D or J are called mediæ or middle (or soft).

F or V, H, Dh, and Th are called aspirates.

One set of tenuis, media, and aspirate is called labial (or lip letters), a second is called guttural (or throat letters), a third is called dental (or teeth letters), from the parts of the mouth most used in forming them.

p. 69The labials are:—

Tenuis, P; Media, B; Aspirate, F or V.

The gutturals are:—

Tenuis, C or K; Media, G; Aspirate, H.

The dentals are:—

Tenuis, T or Ch; Media, D or J; Aspirate, Th or Dh.

There is no difficulty in perceiving that the letters forming each of these classes are closely related to one another; in most languages they are interchangeable under certain conditions, and the changes in the Celtic languages called initial mutations are based upon these relations, though the method, rules, and arrangement of these changes differ in the six languages, as do also the names by which they are known.

In Cornish (as in Breton) the general principle is that (1) the tenuis changes under some circumstances into the media, and under others into a form of the aspirate; and that (2) the media changes to a form of the aspirate under some circumstances, and into the tenuis under others; but that (3) the conditions which change the tenuis into the media change the media into the aspirate: while those which change (4) the tenuis into the aspirate leave the media unchanged; and those which change (5) the media to the tenuis leave the tenuis unchanged.

In this book we shall call the original or radical condition of a word its first state.

Thus Pen, a head, Car, a friend, Tâs, a father, Blew, hair, Gras, grace, Dên, a man, Mab, a son, are in their first state.

The change of the tenuis to the media, or a radical media to an aspirate, we call the second state.

Thus, the same words in their second state are Ben, Gar, Dâs, Vlew, ’ras, Dhên, Vab.

p. 70The change of the tenuis to the aspirate we call the third state.

Thus, for the first three words the third state is Fen, Har, Thâs.

The other four, beginning with mediæ or m, have no third state.

The change from the media to the tenuis we call the fourth state.  It is commonly called provection.

Thus, the fourth state of Blew, Gras, and Dên (the words beginning with tenues or m having no fourth state) is Plew, Cras, Tên.

[It is to be noted, however, that none of these three words, being nouns, would be likely to be subjected to this last change in any real construction, for the fourth state is used almost exclusively with ow, the particle of the present participle of verbs, with the conjunctions a and mar, if, and maga, as, sometimes with the verbal particle y or e, and sometimes with the adverbial particle en, so that it is generally applied to verbs and adjectives.]

The following is a table of changes:—

P has two changes, to B (second state), and F (third state).

C (or K) [70a] has two changes, to G (second state) and H (third state).

T (or Ch) [70b] has two changes, to D (or J) (second state) and Th (third state).

B has two changes, to V (second state) and P (fourth state).

G has two changes, omitted or changed to W (second state) and C or K or Q (fourth state).

D has two changes, Dh (second state) and T (fourth state).

M has one change, to V (second state).

p. 71Occasionally in a few words F changes in the second state to V, and in one case to HS rarely changes to Z.  There is one change of D to N (like what is called the nasal mutation in Welsh).  This is in the word dôr, earth, which after the article an is nôr.

In the following tables cases of the use of mutations are shown.  It is to be noted that e, his, is one of the words which govern the second state, and ow, my, the third state, and agan, our, the first state, while the particle ow of the present participle governs the fourth state.

Examples of the use of the first, second, and third states:—

First State.

Second State.

Third State.




Agan Pen, our head

Agan Car, our friend

Agan Tâs, our father

e ben, his head

e gar, his friend

e dâs, his father

ow fen, my head

ow har, my friend

ow thâs, my father




Agan Blew, our hair

Agan Gras, our grace

Agan Golow, our light

Agan Dên, our man

Agan Mab, our son

e vlew, his hair

e ’ras, his grace

e wolow, his light

e dhên, his man

e vab, his son

ow blew, my hair (no change)

ow gras, my grace (no change)

ow golow, my light (no change)

ow dên, my man (no change)

ow mab, my son (no change)


Examples of the use of the fourth state:—

First State.

Fourth State.



Palas, to dig

Cara, to love

Kelmy, to bind

Terry, to break

ow palas, digging (no change)

ow cŏra, loving (no change)

ow kelmy, binding (no change)

ow terry, breaking (no change)



Bewa, to live

Gǒrra, to put

Gwelas, to see

Dôs, to come

Môs, to go

ow pewa, living

ow cŏrra, putting

ow qwelas, seeing

ow tôs, coming

ow môs, going (no change)


p. 72There are a few irregular mutations.  Rarely a B after the adverbial particle en changes to F instead of P, e.g. en fras, greatly, from bras, sometimes an M after the same particle changes to F, sometimes an initial G becomes Wh, not C or K, for the fourth state, and in the MSS. there are other exceptional changes.  The mutations are very irregularly written even in the best MSS.  Sometimes a word is written in its first state when it ought to be in one of the other states, and sometimes mutations are made when they ought not to be, but probably the writers used them correctly enough in speaking, without perhaps clearly recognising the changes as they made them.

The rules for the use of the initial mutations will be given, as occasion occurs, throughout the book, and they will be tabulated at the end, where they will require less explanation than they would if they were given now.  But this chapter should be thoroughly learnt and understood before going any further, as these changes are a very important part of Cornish grammar, and a habit should be formed of making them correctly.


§ 1. The definite article the is an, for all numbers and genders.  When the noun that follows is feminine and singular, or masculine and plural, its initial, if mutable, is in the second state.  If it is masculine and singular, or feminine and plural, the initial is in the first state. [73]

When the article an is preceded by a preposition or conjunction, and sometimes by other words, ending in a vowel, the article loses its vowel and is written ’n.  Thus:—

Dên, man, masc. sing.; an dên, the man.  dhô’n dên, to the man.

Benen, woman, fem. sing.; an venen, the woman.  dhô’n venen, to the woman.

Tassow, fathers, masc. plur.; an dassow, the fathers.  dhô’n dassow, to the fathers.

Benenes, women, fem. plur.; an benenes, the women.  dhô’n benenes, to the women.

The apostrophe is not written for the elided a of an in the MSS., but the preposition and article appear as one word, dhôn, dren, han, etc., for to the, by the, and the, etc.  But it is better to write it, to avoid confusion, especially between a’n, from the, and the simple article, an.  There are certain cases of contraction which have been accepted as single words, and in these the apostrophe is not used.  Thus pandra (=pa an dra, “what (is) the thing?” i.e. “what is p. 74it?”) is used for the interrogative “what?” but is never written pa’n dra.  There are occasional further compounds of pandra, e.g. pandrus (or pendrus)=pa an dra es, or pandryu=pa an dra yu, both meaning “what thing is?” pandrama=pa an dra a wrama, “what shall I do?” pandrellen=pa an dra a wrellen, “what should I do?”

As in the other Celtic languages, when a noun is followed by another noun in the possessive appositional genitive, the first noun has no definite article.  Thus chŷ an dên, the house of the man, not an chŷ an dên.  The same rule applies to a similar appositional genitive in Hebrew—a curious coincidence between two quite unconnected languages.

§ 2.  The Indefinite Article.

As a rule a singular noun without any article expressed, except in the case of a noun followed by the appositional genitive, is considered to be in the indefinite state, and would be translated into English by a noun preceded by the indefinite article a or an.  But partly as a corrupt following of English or French, and partly for emphasis, denoting a single one (like yr un in Welsh), the word a or an is sometimes represented by idn (earlier un), one.  This is rare, especially in late Cornish.  A similar indefinite article is common in Breton.  Occasionally idn or un was used, as in Breton, with a verbal noun (or infinitive), to form what in English would be a present participle.  Yn un scolchye, skulking, lit. in a skulking (Passion, 74, 2), yn un garme, shouting, crying out, lit. in a shouting (Passion, 168, 1), yn un fystyne, hastening, lit. in a hastening (Passion, 178, 1; 241, 4), but this construction is not found in late Cornish.


§ 1.  The Formation of Nouns.

Nouns are either primitive or derived.  Primitive nouns have no special terminations to distinguish them from other words.  Derived nouns, chiefly abstract, are formed from adjectives, verbs, or other nouns.  There are also verbal nouns which have the form of the infinitive of verbs.

1.  Nouns are derived from adjectives and occasionally from nouns and verbs, by adding der or ter.  Thus:—

dader, goodness, from da, good.

gwîrder, truth, from gwîr, true.

gwander, weakness, from gwan or gwadn, weak.

golowder, brightness, from golow, light.

tekter, beauty, from teg, beautiful.

whekter, sweetness, from wheg, sweet.

îthekter, horror, from îthek, horrible.

melder, sweetness (to taste), from mel, honey.

yender, coldness, from yên or yein, cold.

splander, brightness, splendour, from splan, bright.

tewlder, darkness, from tewal, dark.

tewder, thickness, from tew, thick.

tanowder, thinness, from tanow, thin.

powsder, heaviness, from pows, heavy.

scavder, lightness (of weight), from scav, light.

medhalder, softness, from medhal, soft.

glanithder, cleanness, from glanith, clean.

p. 76mǒgilder, warmth, from mǒgil, warm.

tǒmder, heat, from tǒm (or tǔbm), hot.

downder, depth, from down, deep.

sehter (or zehar), drought, from segh, dry.

ewhelder, height, from ewhel, high.

crevder, strength, from crev, strong.

Some adjectives ending in s revert to an original t in this formation.  Thus:—

calletter, hardness, from cales, hard.

goscotter, shelter, from goskes, sheltering.

ponvotter, trouble, from ponvos, trouble.

It will be seen that this der or ter answers to the English termination ness, and may be added to almost any adjective to form the corresponding abstract noun.

2.  Abstract nouns are derived from other nouns or adjectives by the addition of eth or neth.

gwiryoneth, truth, from gwiryon, truthful.

cosoleth, rest, peace, from cǒsel, quiet.

skîantoleth, wisdom, from skîantol, wise.

folneth, folly, from fol, a fool.

materneth, royalty, from matern, a king.

gokeneth, stupidity, from goky, a fool.

mescogneth, [76] madness, from mescok, a madman.

gowegneth, falsehood, from gowek, a liar.

roweth, bounty, from ro, a gift.

This termination answers more or less to the Latin itas or English ity.

3.  Abstract nouns are derived from verbs by the addition of ans.  Thus:—

crejyans, belief, from cresy (or crejy), to believe.

givyans, forgiveness, from gava, to forgive.

deskyans, learning, from desky, to learn.

p. 77disqwedhyans, discovery, from disqwedhas, to discover.

gordhyans (gorryans), glory, from gordhya (gorrya), to worship.

bownans, life, from bewa, to live.

marnans, death, from marwel or merwel, to die.

selwans, salvation, from selwel, to save.

tristyans, sadness, from trist, sad.

tibyans, thought, from tibya, to think.

This termination answers to the Latin antia or entia, and the English ance or ence.  It is generally added to the root of the verb.

4.  Nouns signifying agents or doers are derived from other nouns, adjectives, and verbs by the addition of or, er, ar, or yas (earlier iad or iat).

tŷor, a tiler, from , to cover.

pestrior, a wizard, from pestry, magic.

pescajor, a fisherman, from pescas, plur. of pesk, fish.

cosǒlyer, a counsellor, from cǒsǒl, counsel.

revader or revajor, a rower, from rev, an oar.

trǒccyer, a fuller.

lyuyar, a dyer, from, lyu, colour.

gwîadar, a weaver, from gwîa, to weave.

bǒnkyer, a cooper, from bǒnk, a blow.

ǒmdowlar, a wrestler, from ǒmdowla, to wrestle.

gǒnnador or gonajor, a sower, from gǒnas, to sow or plant.

mijar, a reaper, from mijy, to reap.

stênor, a tinner, from stên, tin.

selwyas, a saviour, from selwel, to save.

gwithyas (also gwithyor), a guardian, from gwithya, to keep.

kernyas, a trumpeter, from corn, a horn.

rennyas, a carver, from ranna, to divide.

sewyas, a tailor, from sewy, to sew.

p. 78pǔrkenyas, an enchanter, from the intensive prefix pur (lit. very) and cana, to sing.

helhyas, a pursuer, from helhya, to hunt.

scrivinyas, a writer, from scrîfa, to write.

offeryas, a priest, from offeren, mass.

hǒmbrǒnkyas, a leader, from hǒmbrǒnkya, to lead.

Many words in yas occur only in the Cottonian Vocabulary, and appear there as ending in iad or iat, but since all the Cottonian words in iad and iat which do appear in later MSS. are made in the latter to end in yas (or ias), and since it may be taken as an invariable rule that all words ending in t or d in Welsh or Breton, if they occur at all in Cornish, end in s, any Cottonian word in iat or iad may fairly be taken for purposes of modern Cornish to end in yas.

§ 2.  The Gender of Nouns.

Nouns are of two genders, masculine and feminine.  There is no neuter.

There is no rule whereby to tell the gender of a word, except in the case of animate objects, where the gender simply follows the sex.

There are only three grammatical cases in which gender matters at all.

1.  When a noun or an adjective preceding a noun is preceded by the article an, the.  If the noun or adjective is masculine singular or the noun feminine, or the adjective of either, plural, its initial remains in the first state.  If the noun or adjective is feminine singular or the noun is masculine plural, [78] it is changed to the second state.

When a qualifying adjective follows a noun in the masculine or in the plural of either gender, the p. 79initial of the adjective remains in the first state.  If the noun is feminine singular, the initial of the adjective changes to the second state.

3.  The pronoun of the third person singular, used for a feminine noun, even when it signifies an inanimate object, is , she, not ev, he.  Examples:—

tâs, a father; an tâs, the father.

tassow, fathers; an dassow, the fathers.

mergh, a daughter; an vergh, the daughter.

merhes, daughters; an merhes, the daughters.

tâs mas, a good father; mergh vas, a good daughter; an vergh vas, the good daughter.

tassow mas, good fathers; merhes mas, good daughters.

It will be evident, considering that a large number of nouns and adjectives do not begin with mutable letters, that the question of gender only applies to a limited number of nouns and adjectives, and therefore presents but little difficulty.  Perhaps the best way to learn the genders of nouns with mutable initials is to get accustomed to their sound with the article prefixed.

The feminine equivalents of certain masculine nouns denoting animate objects are represented, as in other languages, in one of two ways, by the addition of a syllable or by different words.

1.  By the addition of es.  This is the regular form.

arledh, lord; arledhes, lady.

pestrior, a wizard; pestriores, a witch.

coweth, a companion, masc.; cowethes, a companion, fem.

mow, a boy; mowes, a girl.

sans, a saint; sanses, a female saint.

eneval, an animal, masc.; enevales, an animal, fem.

p. 80pehador or pehajor, a sinner, masc.; pehadores, a sinner, fem.

Except in the case of the other class of feminines, of which a list is given below, it may be taken as a general rule that the corresponding feminine of any noun denoting a masculine animate object is formed in this way.

2.  By a different word.  These are mostly those which denote relationships and familiar animals, and there are in some cases, as in English, further words to denote the young of both sexes, or the neuter.

dên, man; benen, woman; flogh, child.

gour, husband; gwrêg, wife.

mab, son; mergh, daughter.

ewiter, uncle; modreb, aunt.

tâs, father; mam, mother.

sîra, father; dama, mother.

sîra widn, [80] grandfather; dama widn, grandmother.

altrou, godfather; altrewan, godmother.

broder, brother; hoer, sister.

noy, nephew; noys, niece.

tarow, bull; bewgh, cow; ǒjion, ox; lewgh, calf; lǒdn, bullock; lejek, heifer.

hordh or hûr, ram; davas, sheep; mowls, wether; ôn, lamb.

margh, horse; caseg, mare; ebal, colt.

bŏk, he-goat; gavar, goat; min, kid.

baedh, boar; banew, sow; porhal, little pig; gwîs, old sow; ragomogh, hog; mohen, pig (plur. mogh); torgh, hog.

, dog; gêst, bitch.

gourgath, tom-cat; cath, cat.

carow, stag; ewik, hind; lewgh-ewik, fawn.

p. 81kǒtyorgh, roe buck; yorgh, roe doe.

keliok, cock; yar, hen; mabyer, chicken.

keliokwôdh, gander; gôdh, goose.

keliokôs, drake; hôs, duck.

§ 3.  The Cases of Nouns.

All cases except the genitive and accusative are formed by prepositions, as in English.  Of these prepositions some govern one state of the initial and some another, as will be seen in the chapter on prepositions, but when the article an, the, comes between the preposition and the noun, the initial is not changed by the preposition, but only, if at all (in the case of a feminine singular or masculine plural), by the article.

The genitive, by which must here be understood (in its old-fashioned sense) all those conditions under which a noun would in English be preceded by of, or followed by ’s, is formed in four ways, each of which has a different meaning.

1.  The genitive of possession is the appositional genitive.  This is formed by placing the noun that is in the genitive immediately after the noun which it qualifies, or, if the former has the definite article, or is qualified by a possessive pronoun or prefixed adjective, with only these intervening.  No change of initial is made, [81] except the usual change of feminine singular or masculine plural nouns after an, or the changes caused by possessive pronouns, etc.  The first of the two nouns must have no article.  Thus:—

chŷ dên, the house of a man, or a man’s house.

chŷ an dên, the house of the man, or the man’s house.

p. 82chŷ benen, the house of a woman.

chŷ an venen, the house of the woman.

But not an chŷ an dên or an chŷ an venen.

If there is a succession of genitives, only the last noun can have an article.  Thus:—

darras chŷ gour an venen, the door of the house of the husband of the woman.

2.  The inflected genitive.  This, which only exists, and that doubtfully, in the case of a few words, is formed by the modification of the root vowel.  It is one of the common genitives of the Gaelic dialects, and as such is important, for it is not recognised in Welsh or Breton.  Lhuyd gives five instances of it—margh, a horse, gen. mergh; mergh, a daughter, gen. myrgh; pen, a head, gen. pyn (used only in the quasi-preposition erbyn, against); whêl, work, gen. wheyl; crês, midst, gen. creys, but even these were very seldom used, and only probably in a few expressions.  It would seem that the initial of the genitive word should in this case be in the second state.  Thus:—

rên vergh, a horse’s mane.

3.  The genitive of attribution, quality, origin, or quantity, denoted in English by the preposition of, but not expressible also by the possessive in ’s, though in many cases an adjective might be substituted for it, is expressed in Cornish by the preposition a, which puts the initial in the second state.  Thus:—

a.  Quality.  Arledh a ’ras, Lord of grace; an Matern a wordhyans, the King of glory.

b.  Origin.  an Tâs an Nêv, the Father of Heaven (cf. Pater de cælis Deus, translated in the English p. 83Prayer-book, “O God, the Father of Heaven”); dên a Gernow, a man of Cornwall.

c.  Quantity.  Words denoting number, quantity, etc., generally adjectives or numerals, may be followed by this form of genitive.  Thus:—

lên a ’ras, full of grace.

lower a ŷs, plenty of corn.

milyow a bensow, thousands of pounds.

4.  The genitive of material is rather the use of a noun as an adjective.  It differs from the appositional genitive in that the first noun may have the article before it, and the second does not, and that if the first noun be feminine singular, the initial of the second noun is in the second state.  Thus:—

tolyer predn, a platter of wood.

tre bredn, a town of wood.

The accusative or objective is usually the same as the nominative, but it is to be remembered that there are a certain number of verbs which in English are followed directly by an accusative, but in Cornish require the intervention of a preposition.

The vocative is preceded by a, which signifies O, or by a personal pronoun.  The initial after a and sometimes after the pronoun changes to the second state.  Thus:—

mab, son; a vab, O son.

benen, woman; a venen, O woman; ti venen, thou woman.

why princis (Res. Dom., iii. 124), ye princes.

§ 4.  The Plural of Nouns.

There are seven ways of forming the plural of nouns.

1.  In ow or yow (pronounced o or yo).  This is the commonest form, and would naturally be used for most p. 84new words.  It answers to the Welsh au or iau, and the Breton ou or iou.

alwedh, a key, alwedhow.

dorn, a hand, dornow.

arv, a weapon, arvow.

bedh, a grave, bedhow.

ro, a gift, roow.

scovorn, an ear, scouornow.

dêdh, a day, dêdhyow.

Dew, God, dewow.

enev, soul, enevow.

cledh, ditch, cledhyow.

gwredh, root, gwredhyow.

menedh, mountain, menedhyow.

trev, tre, town, trevow.

tîr, land, tiryow,

Some which follow this form have peculiarities of their own.

a.  Some double the last consonant, which has the effect of shortening the sound of the preceding vowel, and if the last consonant is an s, giving it the sound of s instead of z.  Thus:—

Tâs, father, tassow.

fôs, wall, fossow.

lêr, floor, lerryow.

gêr, word, gerryow.

garget, garter, gargettow.

b.  Some, which end in er or ar, drop the last vowel.  Thus:—

levar, book, levrow.

dagar, tear, dagrow.

kenter, nail, kentrow.

c.  Some insert g or k after a final l.

cŏsŏl, counsel, cŏsŏlgow.

p. 85tewal, dark, tewlgow or tewalgow.

del, leaves (collectively), delkyow (simple plural).

d.  Some modify the root vowel.  Thus:—

mâl, a joint, melyow.

2.  In yon or on.  This is also very common.

Cristiŏn, a Christian, Cristiŏnyon.

sgwer, esquire, sgwerryon.

caradow, friend, caradowyon.

scŏlŏr, scholar, scŏlŏryon.

deskibl, disciple, deskiblyon.

Breth, Briton, Brethon.

Sows, Englishman, Sowson.

prev, worm, prevyon.

When a word ends in k, and has this form of the plural (as most words ending in k have) the last letter becomes g.

bohajak, poor, bohajagyon.

marrek, knight, marregyon.

gowek, liar, gowegyon.

Some modify the root vowel.

clav, sick, clevyon.

mab, son, mebyon.

gwas, serving-man, gwesyon.

Yethow, Jew, Yethewon.

Kernow, Cornishman, Kernewon.

kîf, dear, kefyon.

gwîr, true, gweryon.

Those ending in er and ar, after a mute, contract the last syllable of the root.

lader, thief, laddron.

This termination is the only one used for the plural of adjectives.  These are rarely inflected when in agreement with a plural noun, but when used as nouns they make their plural in this way.  A large number of adjectives p. 86and also some nouns end in ek or ak.  It is also the regular plural of words ending in or denoting an agent.

3.  In y.  This termination is more common in Cornish than in Welsh or Breton, though it is not uncommon in those languages also.  It is often written i in the MSS.

esel, limb, esely.

mowes, girl, mowesy.

Gwidhel, Irishman, Gwidhely.

castell, castle, castelly.

legast, lobster, legesty (with a change of vowel).

porhel, pig, porhelly.

bîgel, shepherd, bîgely.

profes, prophet, profesy or profejy.

servis, servant, servisy or servijy.

gwithes, guardian, gwithesyarledh, lord, arledhy.

trahes, cutter, trahesy (e.g. trahesy meyn, stone cutters).

This plural is mostly used for words ending in l and s, though not exclusively, and it occurs occasionally with other words.  When a word ends in s preceded by a thin vowel, that letter is sometimes written j in the plural.

4.  In es or edh.  This is the equivalent of the Welsh edd, ydd, or oedd, and the Breton ed, though it is not necessarily used for the same words.  Sometimes the vowel is modified.  Thus:—

mergh, daughter, merhes. [86]

benen, woman, benenes.

flogh, child, flehes.

côl, coal, côles.

p. 87rôm, room, rômes.

laha, law, lahes.

best, beast, bestes.

silly, eel, sillyes.

abostol, apostle, abesteledh.

broder, brother; brederedh, brethren.

el, angel, eledh.

gwrêg, wife, gwrêgedh.

A variant of this, written by Lhuyd az, yz, or oz, the vowel being obscure, is best represented in this spelling by as.  It perhaps answers to the Welsh od, and iaid.

canker, crab, kencras.

pesk, fish, pescas.

bes, finger, besyas.

bat, staff, battas.

fow, den, fowas.

cap, cap, cappas.

5.  By the modification of the vowel.

trôs, foot, treys.

mên, stone, meyn.

broder, brother; breder, brothers.

davas, sheep, deves, but also devejyow.

margh, horse, mergh.

tol, hole, tel.

ascorn, bone, escarn.

sans, saint, sêns, but also sansow.

dans, tooth, dêns.

yar, hen, yer.

mab, son, mêb, but also mebyon.

manek, glove, menik.

gavar, goat, gever.

6.  By dropping the syllable en or an from the singular; or rather in this case the singular is formed from a plural, usually more or less collective, by adding the individualising suffix an or en.  The words to which this p. 88applies are mostly such as are more commonly used in the plural, and the en becomes, as Norris calls it, “an individualising particle.”  Thus:—

dêl, leaves, foliage; dêlen, a leaf.

gwrîhon, sparks; gwrîhonen, a spark.

gwêdh, trees; gwêdhen, a tree.

gwêl, rods, twigs; gwêlen, a rod, a twig.

lûhas, lightning; lûhesen, a flash of lightning.

scow, elder trees; scowen, an elder tree.

eithin, furze; eithinen, a furze bush.

loggas, mice; loggosan or loggojan, a mouse.

low, lice; lewen, a louse.

redan, fern; redanen, a single fern.

mor, berries; moren, a berry.

hern, pilchards; hernen, a pilchard.

mŭrryan, ants; murryanen, an ant.

on, ash trees; onnen, an ash.

enwedh, ash trees; enwedhen, an ash, from on, ash, gwêdh, trees.

glasten, oaks; glastenen, an oak.

gwern, alders; gwernen, an alder.

spern, thorns; spernen, a thorn.

bannol, broom (the plants collectively); bannolen, a broom (to sweep with).

And many others, chiefly names of plants and animals of a more or less gregarious nature.  Some of these have other plurals, formed by adding one of the plural terminations to the collective plural.  These would be used when the collective idea was not required.  Thus:—

dêl, leaves (collective); delkyow or delgyow, leaves (not collectively).

Some singulars in en form their modern plurals from a lost collective plural, i.e. by dropping the en and p. 89adding one of the ordinary plural terminations.  Thus:—

asen, a rib; asow, ribs.

gwillen, a sea-gull; gwilles, gulls.

7.  In en, with or without alteration of vowel and contraction.  Thus:—

, dog; kîen.

hanow, name; henwen (formerly hynwyn).

There is no general definite rule for the formation of plurals; they must be learnt by experience.  Some words are found with two plurals, but this generally means a tendency in modern Cornish to consider yow or ow to be the normal termination, and to discard other endings in favour of it, just as the plural in s in English has superseded all but a very few other forms.  Thus:—

escop (or epscop), bishop; escobyon or escobow.

Dew, God; dewon or dewow.

flogh, child; flehes or flehesow (flejow).

dêlen, leaf; dêlyow or delkyow.

tîr, land; terros or terryow.

enes, island; eneses or enesow.

§ 5.  The so-called Dual.

Parts of the body which are double (ears, eyes, hands, arms, shoulders, knees, etc.), when mentioned in reference to the two ears, eyes, etc. of the same person, are expressed by a compound with the numeral deu, two, prefixed to the singular.  The Welsh and Breton grammarians call this a dual.  When eyes, ears, etc. are mentioned as belonging to more than one person, the plural is formed in one of the usual ways.  Thus:—

lâv, hand; dual deulâv.

lagas, eye; dual deulagas; pl. lagasow.

p. 90scovorn, ear; dual deuscovorn; pl. scovornow.

glîn, knee; dual deulin.

elin, elbow; deulin.

bregh, arm; deuvregh.

bron, breast; deuvron.

scoudh, shoulder; deuscoudh.

For hands in general the plural is formed from dorn (which means more exactly fist), dornow; there is, as in Welsh, no regular plural of lâv.  A variant of glîn is penglin (lit. knee-end), with a dual pedndewlin, cf. Welsh penelin, elbow.

* * * * *

Lastly, the plural of dên, man, is almost always tîs (earlier tus), folk, though Lhuyd gives dynion as well.


Adjectives are primitive or derived.  Primitive adjectives have no specially characteristic terminations.  Derived adjectives are mostly formed by adding ek to a noun or verb, which may be said to answer to ous, ful, etc., in English.  Thus:—

gallos, power; gallosek, powerful.

own, fear; ownek, fearful.

lowena, joy; lowenek, joyful.

marthes, wonder; marthesek, marvellous.

moreth, grief; morethek, mournful.

ponfos, trouble; ponfŏsek, troubled.

anfês, misfortune; anfêsek, unfortunate.

whans, desire; whansek, desirous.

colon, heart; colonnek, hearty.

The feminine of an adjective is formed in two ways.

1.  By changing the initial to the second state, if it is mutable.  This only happens when the adjective follows a feminine singular noun.  When the adjective precedes the noun, singular or plural, and when it follows a masculine singular noun or a plural of either gender, the initial of the adjective remains in its first state, unless by reason of other circumstances than agreement, e.g. preceding prepositions, pronouns, etc., or when the article an precedes an adjective qualifying a noun of feminine singular.  Unlike Breton, but like Welsh, an adjective qualifying and following a masculine plural does not change.

p. 922.  Rarely and irregularly, by the alteration of the root vowel as well as by the change of initial.  This, however, though mentioned by Lhuyd and occasionally found in MSS., was practically obsolete long before his time.

The plural of adjectives is formed by the addition of yon or on.  Rarely, chiefly in poetry, this plural is found in agreement with a plural noun, but usually qualifying adjectives are treated as indeclinable, but for the initial mutation, and the plural form is only used, as a general thing, when an adjective is used as a noun.

The normal position of the adjective is after the noun.  Sometimes it precedes it, and in that case it changes the initial of the noun to the second state, unless the adjective is in the comparative or superlative degree, when the initial is unchanged.  The adjectives that most commonly precede the noun are drôg, evil; hen, old; lên, full; hager, ugly; fals, false; cam, crooked.  Mer, great, may come before or after.

The comparative degree is formed by adding ah and the superlative by adding a to the positive, but as in English they can also be formed by the use of moy, more, and moyha, most.  There are, of course, the usual irregular comparisons.  The comparative or superlative adjective usually precedes the noun which it qualifies, though for the sake of verse or on account of emphasis it may follow it, sometimes with the definite article intervening.  Than after a comparative is es (older ys or ages) or vel.

Examples of the use of adjectives:—

Dên gallosek, a powerful man.

Benen deg, a fair woman.

Mergh dewon, or mergh dew, black horses.

Benenes teg, fair women.

An hen dhên, the old man.  (The more usual expression is an den coth).

p. 93An hen venen, the old woman.  (More usually an venen goth).

An lowenegyon, the joyful ones.

Brassah gallos, greater power.

gwîn a’n gwella / an gwella gwîn / gwîn gwella } the best wine.

whekkah es mel, sweeter than honey.

Bron Ewhella, the highest hill (now Brown Willy).

The irregular comparisons are:—

Da (or Mas), good; gwel, better; gwella, best.

Drôg, bad; gwêth, worse; gwêtha, worst; but generally lakkah, comparative of lak (loose, remiss, lax), is used to signify worse.

Mêr, great; moy, greater or more; moyha, greatest or most; but also bras, comp. brassah, super. brassa.

Bîan, little; leh, less; lŷha, least; but there is also a comp. behadnah, and super, behadna, from an earlier form, behan.

Ogas, near; nes, nearer; nessa, nearest.




1.  idn, or ŏnen (older un, onan, onon). [94]

1st.  kensa.

2.  deu (older dyw, dew).

2nd.  nessa or secund.

3.  trŷ, fem. teir (older tyr).

3rd.  trûja (older tresse, trege).

4. pajer (older, m. peswar, f. feder).

4th.  peswordha (older peswere, pyswere).

5.  pemp (older pymp).

5th.  pempes (older pympes).

6.  wheh (or whe).

6th.  whethes (older whefes).

7.  seyth.

7th.  seythes (older seythves).

8.  eyth.

8th.  eythes.

9.  now (pronounced as the English word now).

9th.  nowes.

10.  deg (older dek).

10th.  degves.

11.  idnak.

11th.  idn-dhegves.

12.  dawdhak(older dewthak).

12th.  dawdhegves.

13.  tôrdhak.

13th.  tôrdhegves.

14.  peswôrdhak.

14th.  peswôrdhegves.

15.  pempthak.

15th.  pempthegves.

16.  whedhak.

16th.  whedhegves.

17.  seydhak.

17th.  seydhegves.

18.  eydhak.

18th.  eydhegves.

19.  nownjak (ow as in now).

19th.  nownjakves.

p. 9520.  igans.

20th.  igansves.

21.  ǒnen war igans.

21st.  kensa war igans.

22.  deu war igans, etc.

22nd.  nessa war igans, etc.

30.  deg war igans.

30th.  degves war igans.

31.  idnak war igans, etc.

31st.  idn-dhegves war igans, etc.

40.  deugans.

40th.  deugansves.

50.  deg war deugans (or hanter cans).

50th.  degves war deugans.

60.  trŷ igans.

60th.  try-igansves.

70.  deg war trŷ igans or trŷ igans ha deg.

70th.  degves war try-igans or tri igans ha degves.

80.  pajer igans.

80th.  pajer-igansves.

90.  deg war pajer igans or pajer igans ha deg.

90th.  degves war pajer-igansves or pajer igans ha degves.

100.  cans.

100th.  cansves.

200.  deu cans.

200th.  deu cansves.

300.  tryhans.

300th.  tryhansves.

1000.  mil.

1000th.  milves.

1,000,000.  milvil or milyon.

millionth.  milvilves.


When compound numbers are used, the noun follows the first of them.  Thus:—

trŷ igans bledhan ha deg, 70 years (threescore years and ten), or deg bledhan war trŷ igans.

Larger compounds are made somewhat as in English.  Thus a.d. 1904 is Bledhan agan Arledh nownjak cans ha pajer.

The later lists of ordinal numbers usually have vas for the termination, but the practice of the older MSS., the analogy of Welsh and Breton, and the very definite p. 96sound of the last syllable of pempes and whethes in the traditional fragments collected by the present writer in 1875, all point to e as the correct vowel.

Nouns which follow numerals are put in the singular number, [96] unless they are preceded by the preposition a, of.  Thus:—

wheh dên, six men, not wheh denyon or wheh tîs.

trŷ mab, three sons, not trŷ mebyon.

pajer paw, not pajer pawyow, four feet (a name still used in the English of Cornwall for a newt).

But sometimes, in a collective sense:—

mil a bensow, a thousand [of] pounds.

wheh a vebyon ha wheh a verhes, six sons and six daughters.

The numerals, cardinal or ordinal, unlike certain of them in Welsh and Breton, do not change the initials of the nouns which follow them.

It may be well to add here certain applications of the numerals.

Once, twice, three times, etc. are represented by the cardinal numbers followed by gweth, time (in the above sense), with its initial in the second state, idnweth, deuweth, trŷweth, etc.  Sometimes plek, fold, is used, as milblek, a thousand-fold.

Proportional parts are: qwartan, a quarter, hanter, half, and for the rest the ordinal numeral followed by radn, part, e.g. trûja radn, the third part.

The divisions of time are: secund, a second; minnis, p. 97a minute; êr, an hour; dêdh, a day; seithan, a week; mîs, a month; bledhan, a year; cansvledhan, a century.  “O’clock” is expressed by êr; trŷ êr, three o’clock.  “Half-past three” is hanter êr woja trŷ=half-an-hour after three.  Midday and midnight are hanter-dêdh and hanter-nos.  Half-past twelve (noon) is hanter êr woja hanter-dêdh.

The names of coins are: pevar, a farthing; demma, or hanter-denar, a halfpenny; denar, a penny; whednar [=wheh denar], sixpence; sôls, a shilling; hanter-corŭn, half-a-crown; corŭn, a crown; pens, a pound.

Measurements of length are: inch; trôs, a foot; gwêlan, a yard; fadhom; mildir, a mile.

Weights are: ons, ounce; pens, pound; tŏn, ton.


§ 1.  The Personal Pronouns.

There are four forms of the Personal pronouns.  These forms are used under various circumstances, but they are mostly reducible to a single letter with or without its vowel for each person, the variations depending upon (a) the state of that letter, and (b) whether the vowel is placed before or after it.  The vowel is elided in some cases, and coalesces with another vowel in others.

1.  As the subject of a verb and preceding it.

2.  As the subject or object of a verb and following it.  This is for some pronouns the same as the first form, for others the first form with its initial in the second state.

3.  As the object of a verb, but placed between a particle ending in a vowel and the verb.  This form is used also for possessive pronouns of the first and second persons singular when they are preceded by the conjunction ha, and, or by a preposition ending in a vowel, or by en, in.

4.  In composition with a preposition, and for forming the persons of an inflected tense of a verb.

In the first and second the consonant is followed by a vowel.  In the third and fourth the consonant ends the word.

1.  The First Person Singular.  English, I or me.  Letter M (V).

p. 991st form.


mî a vedn, I will.

2nd form.


gwith vî, keep me.

3rd form.


neb a’m gwrîg, he who made me.

4th form.

m or ’v.

genev, with me; dhem, to me; carav, I love.


The compounds of pronoun and preposition are written as one word, without an apostrophe, as the form of the preposition also is often affected by the composition.  A list of these will be found later on, as they present some irregularities.

2.  The Second Person Singular.  English, thou or thee.  Letter T (D).

1st form.

(pronounced nearly chee, and sometimes so written).

tî a vedn, thou wilt.

2nd form.

(often written sy or gy in the older MSS., and pronounced jee, nearly).

menjes dî, thou wouldst.

3rd form.

th (often ’d in the older MSS.).  This is followed by the second state of the initial, or in the case of d by the fourth.

mî a’th bes, I pray thee, re’th tynerchys, hath greeted thee (Passion, 115, 2).

4th form.


genes, with thee.

3.  The Third Person Singular, masculine.  English, he or him.  Letter V or N, or a vowel.

1st form.

ev (with the v very lightly sounded, and often silent.  The older form is ef).

ev a vedn, he will.

2nd form.

ev or e.

menja ev, he would.

3rd form.

This form is commonly used in the earlier MSS.  It represents an accusative en or hen which still exists in Breton.  In more recent Cornish, with the frequent use of the auxiliary form of the verb, where the pronominal object precedes the infinitive in its possessive form, this construction became unusual.


mî a’n pes, I pray him.

p. 1004th form.

In this form several words have an inserted dh between the preposition and the pronoun.  Ragdho, for him, dhôdho, to him, not rago, dhôo.  A similar euphonic dh occurs in the case of the third persons feminine and plural.


enno, in him, ganso, with him.

4.  Third Person Singular, feminine.  English, she, her.  Letter H, S, or a vowel.

1st form.


hŷ a vedn, she will.

2nd form.


a medh hŷ, said she.

3rd form.

This form is rarely found in the later MSS.  Either the possessive î or the form (the latter often put after the verb) was used, in the rare cases of this construction.


mî a’s henow, I name her.

4th form.


gensî, with her; dhedhî, to her.

5.  First Person Plural.  English, we, us.  Letter N.

1st form.


nŷ a vedn, we will.

2nd form.


na, blamyough nŷ, do not blame us.

3rd form.

This form, perhaps owing to its being the same as the 3rd form of the third person singular, is rare even in the older MSS.  The possessive ’gan (for agan) is generally used instead of it, ev agan doro.


ev a’n doro, he will bring us.

4th form.

n, preceded by almost any vowel.

ragon, for us; genen, with us; dhen, to us; warnan, on us.

6.  Second Person Singular.  English, you.  Letter, Wh, Gh, or S.

1st form.


whŷ a vedn, you will.

2nd form.


nî wreugh whŷ, you do not.

3rd form.

p. 101This form is very rare even in the older MSS.  The possessive ’gas (for agas) is generally used instead.


ev a’s doro, he will bring you.

4th form:


genough, with you; dheugh, to you.

7.  Third Person Plural.  English, they, them.

1st form.

This last is the regular form in the latest Cornish.  In the earlier MSS. y only is used for they; later an gy or an dzhei (as Lhuyd writes it) became usual.  It is only found in the MSS. of the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century, and probably originated in a wrong division of words.  The third person plural of most inflected tenses of verbs ends in ons, ans, ens.  If the pronoun were added, this would take the form of ons ŷ, etc., as in carons ŷ (amant illi), they love, and the usual pronunciation of s would soon bring this combination to caronjy, which is easily divided into car onjy.  The compound preposition form in later Cornish often ended in ans, followed or not followed by the 1st or 2nd form of the pronoun.  Thus in Jordan’s Creation (1611) we find anodhans y (from them) for an older anodhe.  This would give an additional reason for the confusion.

ŷ, , an jŷ.

ŷ a vedn, jŷ a vedn, or an jŷ a vedn, they will.

2nd form.


medhons ŷ (often written medh an jy), said they.

3rd form.


mî a’s agor, I will open them.

4th form.

ns, e.

dhodhans, to them; gensans or genjans, with them.

The form in e is older (dhethe, ganse, etc.), but became obsolete by the middle of the seventeenth century.  It will have been seen:—

1.  That the first and second persons singular are p. 102the only ones which possess the four separate forms complete.

2.  That the second form of all but these two persons is usually the same as the first form.

3.  That the third form is not much used in later Cornish except for the same two persons.

It may also be noted that though the full and emphatic pronunciation of , , whŷ, and is that of the English words high, nigh, why, and the first syllable of jibe, when, as is often the case, there is no emphasis of any sort on them, the same thing happens to them as commonly happens in rapid speech in English to the word my, and the y ceases to have the sound of î English, but has the sound of a short (not obscure) e English.  Thus in the common Cornish “Thank you,” mêrras dhô whŷ, which is sounded as one word, merásdhawhy, the y has the short sound which the same letter usually has at the end of a word.  But it might happen otherwise.  Thus the following sentences are within the experience of most of us at the end of some simple commercial transaction:—

Customer (carelessly, having received the article and paid the money), “Thánk you.”

Shopkeeper (in a half-reproving tone), “Thank you, sir.”

In Cornish the customer would say “Merásdkawhy,” in the ordinary tone, but the shopkeeper might answer “Merasdha whý, sira,” and would sound the pronoun like the English word why, unless, being a good Cornish speaker, he preferred to say “Mêrras dhôgas honan” (Thanks to yourself).

The same principle applies to , , and an jŷ, but less with the last, which is generally treated as a dissyllable with the accent on the last syllable.

p. 103§ 2.  The Possessive Pronouns.

1.  First Person Singular.  English, my.

ow, governing the third state.

When the initial of the noun has no third state, ow governs the first state:—

ow thâs, my father; ow gwlas, my country.

After a preposition ending in a vowel, after en, in, changed to e, or after the conjunction ha, and, my is generally represented by ’m, which governs the first state:—

dhô’m tâs, to my father; ha’m tâs, and my father.

e’m corf, in my body.

Sometimes in these cases the preposition or conjunction is combined with ow.  This is especially common in Jordan’s play of The Creation.  The initial, if possible, is then in the third state:—

me haw mab, I and my son; thow thas, to my father.

2.  Second Person Singular.  English, thy.

dha (older form dhe, dhy), governing the second state:—

dha dâs, thy father.

After a preposition ending in a vowel, after en, or after ha, thy is represented by ’th, generally governing the second state, but sometimes, when the initial following it is d, the fourth.

dhô’th dâs, to thy father; hath dâs, and thy father.

eth gorf, in thy body; ath trôk (R.D., 1730), from thy evil.

Very often these mutations were not written in the Dramas.  In later Cornish this form was not always used, but one often finds dhô dha, ha dha, en dha, etc. instead.

p. 1043.  Third Person Singular, masculine.  English, his.

e (older form y), governing the second state.

This, altered to y, coalesces with a preposition ending in a vowel, forming a diphthong, which is written with an apostrophe between the two vowels.  It still governs the second state:—

e dâs, his father; dhô’y (pron. dhoy) dâs, to his father; ha’y dâs, and his father.

4.  Third Person Singular, feminine; English, her.

î, governing the third state, or when there is no third state, the first.  It coalesces with prepositions ending in a vowel and with ha in the same way as the masculine:—

î thâs, her father; î gwlas, her country; ha’i thâs, and her father.

In the earlier MSS. both these possessive pronouns were written y, the only distinction being in the initial mutation which followed.  In the later MSS. î is often written e.

5.  First Person Plural.  English, our.

agan, governing the first state:—

agan tâs, our father.

6.  Second Person Plural.  English, your.

agas, governing the first state:—

agas tâs, your father.

7.  Third Person Plural.  English, their.

aga, governing the third, or failing that, the first state:—

aga thâs, their father; aga gwlas, their country.

When preceded by a preposition ending in a vowel or by ha, the three plural possessive pronouns lose their initial a:—

dhôgas, hagan, etc.

p. 105The a of the last syllable of agan, agas, aga is obscure, and is often found represented by e, o, or u in the MSS.  Even when not preceded by a vowel these words are often found as gan, gas, ga (gun, gen, gon, gus, guz, ges, go).

When a pronoun is the object of a verb in the infinitive or of a verb formed with the auxiliary verbs gwîl, to do, menny, to will, etc. and an infinitive, the pronoun-object is represented by the possessive pronoun preceding and governing (as to initial mutation) this infinitive:—

ev a wrîg ow tholla, he did deceive me.

mî a vedn e grejy, I will believe it.

mî a wrîg agas danvon, I did send you.

The reason of this is that in Cornish, as in the other Celtic languages, the infinitive is counted as a verbal noun, signifying the act of doing.  This conception of the infinitive explains many Celtic constructions.  The literal force of the above examples would be “he did (or made) the deceiving of me,” “I will the believing of it,” “I did the sending of you.”  Similarly, when the object is a noun, it really follows the infinitive as an appositional genitive.

Frequently the second form of the corresponding personal pronoun follows a noun preceded by a possessive pronoun.  This ought to be for emphasis, and, when it is so, the sound of the personal pronoun would be its full sound; but it is frequently merely redundant, and then it is enclitic, forming as it were an unaccented additional syllable tacked on to the noun:—

agan Tâs ny, Our Father (nearly ’gun Tázny).

dhôm brodar vî, to my brother.

agas levar why, your book.

herlya yugan gwary ny, hurling is our sport.

p. 106The last sentence is a good example of possible pronunciations.  If it is an independent statement, the phrase emphasis being on hurling and sport, it would be accented hérlya yugan guaryny.  If, however, we wish to say that hurling is our sport but football is yours (herlya yugan gwary nŷ, mes pella-drôs yugas gwary whŷ), the second phrase-emphasis would be on and whŷ, and they would be sounded as the English words nigh and why.

Sometimes the personal pronoun as a genitive following the noun, with or without the preposition a, of, was used instead of a possessive pronoun, but in this case it was probably not enclitic.  Thus in a letter in verse by John Boson, in the Gwavas MS., dated 1710, we find:—

Ma goz screfa compaz, den fir o (for a) , your writing is correct, my wise man, or, wise man of me.

And in a song by John Tonkin of St. Just in the same MS., the probable date of which is about 1700, we find:—

An Prounter ni ez en Plew East, our parson who is in the parish of St. Just.

Or perhaps more correctly in a copy of one verse of this song in the Borlase MS.:—

Prounter nei (ez) en pleu Est,

for the article an before a noun followed by an appositional genitive seems incorrect, though one finds in the earliest known version of the Lord’s Prayer, given in John Davies’s Welsh translation of Robert Parsons’ Booke of Christian Exercise (1632), An Tas ni, though this may be a mistake for agan.  In the song quoted above one finds also:—

p. 107Dewe reffa sowia an eglez ni, Ha an prounterian da eze et an gy, God save our churches and the good parsons that are in them.  And in Boson’s version of the Commandments we find gwitha gerrio ve for “keep my commandments.”

§ 3.  Pronominal Prepositions.

The prepositional form of the pronouns may be applied to almost any preposition, but there are a certain number of common cases in which the prepositions are modified by the composition, vowels being altered or letters being inserted between the preposition and this fragmentary pronoun, either for euphony or as survivals of archaic forms of the preposition or pronoun.  The most usual of these modified forms occur in the composition of the prepositions a, of or from, dre, through, gans, with, dhŏrt (earlier dheworth and adheworth, Welsh oddiwrth), from, orth (or worth), at, to, rag, for, dhô, to, war, upon, en or idn, in.

ahanav, from me.

dredhov, through me.

ahanas, from thee.

dredhos, through thee.

anodho, from him.

dredho, through him.

anedhi, from her.

dredhi, through her.

ahanan, from us.

dredhon, through us.

ahanough, from you.

dredhough, through you.

anodhans, from them.

dredhans, through them.

Other instances are:—

genev, dhortam, orthev, ragov, dhem, warnav.

genes, dhortas, orthes, ragos, dhes, warnas.

ganso, dhorto, orto, ragdho, dhôdho, warnodho.

gensi, dhorti, orti, ragdhi, dhedhi, warnedhi.

genen, dhorten, orthen, ragon, dhen, warnan.

genough, dhortough, orthough, ragough, dheugh, warnough.

p. 108gensans, dhortans, ortans, ragdhans, dhodhans, warnodhans.


ennov or idnov or ettov.

ennos or idnos or ettos.

enno or idno or etto.

enni or idni or etti.

ennon or idnon or etton.

ennough or idnough or ettough.

ennans or idnans or ettans.

There are many various spellings of these words in the manuscripts, and especially there is great uncertainty as to the vowel which precedes the pronominal suffix.  As the accent is always on the preposition, the vowel of the pronoun is usually obscure, and there is not so very much difference of sound in the last syllables of dredhov, genev, and warnav, but still there is a slight difference, and there must have been even more in early days.

The older form of the third person plural ended in e or a, anedha, dredha, ganse, orte, ragdha, dhedhe, warnedhe, ynna; but this form became obsolete by the middle of the seventeenth century, and these pronominal prepositions were assimilated to the third person plural of verbs.  In this the Cornish began by resembling Breton and ended by approaching more nearly to Welsh.

The pronominal preposition form of dhô has variants for the first and second persons singular and first person plural, dhemmo, to me, dheso, dheso dî, to thee, and dhenny, to us.  These are formed by the addition of the personal pronoun in a fuller form.  In the cases of the other prepositions it is not uncommon to add the personal pronouns at the end of the pronominal compound, forming thereby a single word with the accent on the last syllable.  Thus:—

p. 109genev vî, with me, pronounced genavî.

genough whŷ, with you, pronounced genowhŷ.

ragon nŷ, for us, pronounced ragonŷ.

In later Cornish these pronominal prepositions compounds were often neglected, and the prepositions were often used with the second form of the personal pronoun, but this was only a corrupt following of English, not to be imitated.

§ 4.  The Relative Pronoun.

1.  A simple relative, who or which, whether in the nominative or accusative, is represented most frequently by the particle a, governing the second state of the verb.  Thus:—

An Tâs a wrîg Nêv, the Father who made heaven.

An Nêv a wrîg an Tâs e, the Heaven which the Father made.

If the verb following the relative begins with a vowel, a is often omitted.  Thus:—

Ow thîs es genev, my people who are with me.

If the relative sentence is negative, ni, not, coalesces with a, producing na.  Thus:—

En le na vê dên bisqweth, in a place in which man never was.

When the relative is the object of the verb, or is preceded in English by a preposition, a redundant personal pronoun is added after the verb, with or without a combined preposition, but a preposition is never placed before the relative particle a itself.  Thus:—

An dên a dhanvonas Dew e, the man whom God sent (lit. whom God sent him).

An dên a vê an gêr cowses ganso, the man by whom the word was spoken (lit. whom the word was spoken by him).

p. 1102.  Neb (earlier nep, and in late Cornish sometimes leb) is also used as a relative, with similar construction to that of a in the objective or prepositional condition.  Properly it includes the antecedent, and should mean he who, those who, that which, those whom, etc., but it is commonly used as a simple relative, especially in late Cornish.  Thus:—

Agan Tâs ny neb es en Nêv, Our Father who art in heaven, in one of the many extant versions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Another version is Agan Tâs ny leb es en Nêv.

Dhe [] nep yu ioy ow holon, thou who art the joy of my heart (Res. Dom., 456).

An dên neb na’n gwrîg, the man who did not do it.

Neb yu moyha, he who is greatest.

An dên neb Dew a wrîg e dhanvon, the man whom God did send.

An dên neb an gêr a rê cowses ganso, the man by whom the word was spoken.

Neb mî e wrîg ragdho, for whom I did it (lit. whom I did it for him).

But, unlike a, neb can have a preposition before it on occasions, with or without the redundant pronoun.  Thus:—

Chŷ en neb na vê dên vîth (enno), a house in which no man was.

§ 5.  The Demonstrative Pronouns.

1.  Absolute.  Hem, hebma (orig. hemma), this, masculine; hom, hobma (homma), feminine.

Hen, hedna (ong. henna), that, masculine; hon, hodna (honna), feminine.

An remma (=an re-ma) is used also for the plural these, an renna for those.

p. 1112.  In agreement.  Anma, this, these, e.g. an bês-ma, this world.

Anna, that, those, e.g. an dên-na, that man.

The noun is placed between an and ma or na, the latter being joined to it by a hyphen.  In some cases when the noun ends in a vowel the m of ma is doubled, and the noun and demonstrative are written as one word:—

an dremma, this town (for an dre-ma); an chymma, this house (for an chŷ-ma); alemma, hence (for a le-ma), from this place.

The same applies to the n of na.

When the noun is preceded by a preposition, an is omitted: war venedh-ma, on this mountain, not war an menedh-ma.

For emphasis, keth (same) is added after an: an keth dên-ma, this very man, this same man.

In very late Cornish, hebma, hobma, hedna, hodna were often corrupted into hebba, hobba, hedda, hodda.

In the Life of St. Meriasek, helma and holma are used for this, and it is easy to imagine helna and holna for that.  The explanation suggested in Dr. Whitley Stokes’s note is “helma=hen lemma, this in this place.”  Cf. “this here” and “that there” of vulgar English.

§ 6.  The Interrogative Pronouns.

Pyu or pyua (written also pu, piwa, pew), who?  A contraction of pe yu, who is? or, pe yu a, who is it who?

Pa, what?

Pandra (i.e. pa an dra, what the thing), what? e g. pandra vednough why gwîl, what will you do?

Panin (i.e. pa an in, which the one), whether of them?

Penîl (i.e. pa nîl, which of the two), which one?

p. 112§ 7.  The Indefinite Pronouns.

Nep, neb, some or any.

Neppeth, somewhat (neb peth, some thing), anything.

Nebin (neb idn), some one.

Nebas, somewhat, a little, a few; also used to signify little, few, or hardly any.

Pyupennak (sometimes bennak), whoever.

Pa (or pandra) pennak, whatever.

Papennak ŏl, whatsoever.

Ketep, every.

Kenifer, each; kenifer ŏl, every one, as many as there are.  Lhuyd gives a very emphatic form, pebs kenifer ŏnen, which would mean “every single one.”

Pŭb or peb, all, every.  Placed before the noun.  Pŭb dên, every man.

Ŏl (or ŭl), all.  Placed before or after the noun.  When placed before the noun the latter is preceded by an: ŏl an dîs, all the people.

Bîth or vîth, any; travîth, anything; dên vîth, any man.  With negatives it signifies at all; ni wôr dên vîth, no man at all knoweth; nynsyw travîth, there is nothing at all.

Mens (earlier myns), all, whatever; ŏl mens o, all that there was; cowsens dên mens a vedn, let a man say all that he will.  It is generally used as a relative combined with the antecedent “all,” but is also used without an expressed verb to follow it, though in such case probably the verb substantive is understood.

Kemmes, kebmes, as many as, whosoever; kemmes a wrîg bodh ow Thas, as many as have done the will of my Father.

Nîl or an nîl and e gîla (formerly nyl and y gyle) signify “the one” and “the other.”  Nîl, originally an ail, the second, a word which, except in this case, has dropped out of Cornish in favour of secund and p. 113nessa (=the next), though it remains in Welsh and Breton, signifies “one of two”; e gîla (once y gyle or y gele) literally signifies “his fellow,” from e, his, and kîla (formerly kyle), fellow, companion.  Thus:—

Voz [bes] an Frenkock feen parrez tho [dhó] cummeraz telhar wara niel [war an nîl] ha an sousenack nobla war e gilla, for the fine French seems to take place upon the one [i.e. on Breton] and the nobler English on the other [i.e. Cornish] (from Nebbaz Gerriau dro tho Carnoack, by John Boson, circ. 1700).

The same expression occurs in the early Dramas, e.g. an nyl a delle pymp cans, ha hanter cans y gyle, the one owed five hundred and half a hundred the other.

Aral, other, plural erel, is sometimes used for e gîla.  It is the usual word for other or another: dên aral, another man.

Another form occasionally used in Cornish for either gender, though in Breton it is only used for the regular feminine of e gîla (e gile) is eben, older form yben:—

Heys Crist a gemeras a’n neyll lêf bys yn yben (Poem of Passion, 178), the length of Christ they took from one hand to the other.

Ken is also used for another:—

Dhe ken pow, to another country; yn ken lyu, in another colour.

Nanîl, neither one, neither of two; it is nîl with the negative, and is sometimes written noniel.  Boson uses it in a peculiar way:—

Nanagu [na nag yu] an pobel coth tho bose skoothez, war noniel, nor are the old people to be depended upon neither.

Panîl, “which of two” (see above), is compounded with pa, which, and nîl.

p. 114Lîas, many, is used, like a numeral, with a substantive in the singular: lîas dôrn, many hands.

Re, some (see § 5), “ones,” “things,” is used also as a noun: an re marow, the dead; an re bîan, the little ones; ma re a lavar, there are some who say.  Cf. Welsh rhai; Breton re.

Radn or ran, part, is also used in the sense of “some.”

Honan, self, is used with possessive pronouns as in English: ow honan, myself; dha honan, thyself, &c.


§ 1.  The nucleus of a Cornish verb is its root.  This is used without any variation or addition for the third person singular of the present tense, and for the second person singular of the imperative.

Other parts of the verb are formed on this root in three ways:—

1.  By the inflected form, that is to say by the addition of certain syllables indicating person, tense, etc., with or without a modification of the root vowel.  In older Cornish the word thus formed indicated person as well as tense without the addition of a pronoun, though if emphasis on the subject was intended the pronoun was used before or after it.  In later Cornish the pronoun was almost always added after the verb, and as the latter word often ended with the same consonant as the former began with, the final consonant of the verb was often, but incorrectly, omitted in writing, as it was in sound.  Thus:—

Root car, love; first pers. sing. pres., carav, I love, with pronoun, carav vî, pronounced and often written cara vî; plur., caron, we love, caron nŷ, often written caro nŷ.

The inflected form is common in early Cornish, but in the later stages of the language it is hardly ever used, except in negative, interrogative, and dependent sentences, and in certain tenses of the verb to be.  Even when it is used, it is more frequently the inflected p. 116form of an auxiliary verb with the infinitive or participle of the main verb.

2.  By the impersonal form, as the Breton grammarians call it.  This has inflections of tense but not of person, the latter being indicated by the personal pronouns, placed before the verb, which, being immediately preceded by the particle a, has its initial in the second state.  This verb is the third person singular of the required tense.  Thus:—

Root car, third pers. sing. past, caras.

Impersonal form.  Mî a garas, tî a garas, ev a garas, etc.

This form is frequently used in early and late Cornish for a direct affirmative sentence, beginning straight off with its nominative, or preceded only by and or but, etc.; but not so frequently in late Cornish, as the impersonal form of an auxiliary verb, with the infinitive of the main verb.

3.  By the auxiliary form, either inflected or impersonal, with the infinitive or a participle of the main verb.  The auxiliaries are:—

Gîl or gwîl (older forms gwrthil, gwithil, etc.), to do.

Menny, to wish, to will.

Gally, to be able.

Gŏthvos, to know.

Bos, to be.

(a).  Gwîl is used to form several tenses, and is used (1) in its impersonal form in principal affirmative sentences, (2) in its inflected form in negative, interrogative, or dependent sentences, with the infinitive of the main verb, more frequently than any other form, for the present, preterite, conditional, and imperative.  Its use is similar to that of do, in the Cornish manner of speaking English.  Thus:—

Mî a wra cara, I love, lit. I do love.

Tî a wrîg cara, thou didst love.

p. 117In these two sentences, wra and wrîg are proclitics, unaccented syllables joined in sound to the word which follows.

Mar qwressa an dên cara, if the man would love.

Gwra cara, love thou (do thou love); gwreugh why cara, love ye.

Gwrens e bos, let him be.

(b).  Menny is used as an auxiliary of the future and conditional.  In principal affirmative sentences it is usually in its impersonal form, in negative, interrogative, or dependent sentences always in its inflected form.  Thus:—

Mî a vedn môs, I will go.

Mî a venja môs, I would go.

A vednough why môs? will you go?

(c).  Gally is used, chiefly in the present and preterite, for “can” and “could,” but also for “may” and “might.”  Thus:—

Mî a el môs, I can (or may) go.

Mî a alja môs, I could (or might) go.

(d).  Gŏdhvos in the present is sometimes used for “can.”  Thus:—

Mî ôr mos, I can go (lit. I know [how] to go).

These follow the same rule as the others with regard to the use of their impersonal and inflected forms.

(e).  Bos, to be, as an auxiliary, is used, much as in English, with the present or past participle, to form the continuous present, the continuous past, and the passive.  It is generally used in the inflected form in its present and imperfect in any sort of sentence, but in principal affirmative sentences it is generally used in the impersonal form for other tenses.  It can also be used with gwîl or menny and gally as an auxiliary p. 118to it, while it is itself an auxiliary to another verb, but this is only what is done in English with such expressions as “can be,” “will be,” “shall be,” etc.

The use of the various forms of the verb will be found more fully explained in the chapter on the construction of sentences.

When the auxiliaries gwîl and gally are used to form a passive, it is sometimes the auxiliary that takes the passive form.  Thus:—

Mar ny wrer y wythe, if he be not guarded (Res. Dom., 341), mar keller y wythe, if he can be kept (Pass. Chr., 3058).

But in modern Cornish this would be more likely to be formed with a double auxiliary:—

Mar ni wrello bos gwithes.

Mar callo bos gwithes.

$ 2.  The Tenses Of The Inflected Verb.

The inflected verb is reducible to five tenses, with an imperative, two participles, and a verbal noun or infinitive.  These are all formed on the root by the addition of terminations, and sometimes by a modification of the root vowel (indicated below by m).

The tenses and their terminations are:—

I.  Present or Future.



1.  —av or am

—on [earlier —m—en].

2.  —m eth or es.


3.  root alone.

—ons or ans.


II.  Imperfect or Secondary Present.



1.  —en.


2.  —es.


3.  —a.



p. 119III.  Preterite.



1.  —m—ys.

—son [earlier—m—sen].

2.  —m—ses.


3.  —as.

—sons or sans.

Re prefixed to this tense turned it into a preterperfect in middle Cornish, but in the later form re is only used for the optative. [119]

IV.  The Pluperfect or Secondary Perfect, largely used in late Cornish as a Conditional.



1.  —sen (or jen).

—sen (or jen).

2.  —ses (or jes)

—seugh (or jeugh).

3. —sa (or ja).

—sens (or jens).


V.  The Subjunctive Present.



1.  —m—ev.


2.  m—y.


3.  —o.

—ens or ons.

Extra tense to some verbs: Second Future.  Found in the early MSS. in the impersonal form as a simple future.



1.  —fym, vym, vyv.

—fan, von.

2.  —fyth, vyth.

—fough, vough.

3.  —iv fyth, vyth, vo.

—fyns, vyns, vons.

The Imperative.



1.  wanting.


2.  root alone.


3.  —ens or es.


The Present Participle is formed by prefixing ow to the infinitive, the initial of which, if mutable in that p. 120manner, is changed to its fourth state.  If a present participle governs a pronoun object, the latter in its possessive form immediately precedes (and governs as to initial) the infinitive, and is itself preceded by the preposition worth.  In late Cornish ow was often written a or o.

Another participial form, common in Breton and occasionally found in Cornish, has been already mentioned in Chap. III. § 2.  This is made by placing the preposition yn, en, in, and the indefinite article idn, un, before the infinitive or verbal noun.  Its use is chiefly adverbial.  Thus, in the Poem of the Passion we find, yn un scolchye, skulking; yn un garme, crying out; yn un fystyne, hurrying.

The Infinitive or Verbal Noun is formed by adding a, ya, y, as or es, al or el, to the root.  In some verbs the root itself, without any addition, is the verbal noun.

The Past or Passive Participle is formed by adding es to the root, with or without modification of the root vowel.

The Passive termination is er for the present and es for the preterite, but in Modern Cornish the Passive is almost always formed after the English model by the auxiliary verb bos, to be, with the past participle.

The terminations ma and ta are often added to the first and second persons singular of various tenses in interrogative and subjunctive sentences, and in the case of the first person even in ordinary narration.  Norris maintains that these are not forms of and , but only an a suffixed to the verb termination, which in the first person reverts to a primary m for v, and in the second person reassumes a dropped t.  This theory is rather supported by our finding a occasionally added to the third persons of tenses of the verb to be, but va is p. 121also found.  Whether this is the explanation or not, we find such forms as:—

Pandra venta? what wilt thou?

A wresta? dost thou?  Mar menta, if thou wilt.

Pandra wrama? what shall I do?

There are some few differences between the inflected verb of the earlier MSS. and that of modern Cornish, and among other changes the lighter termination en or yn of the first person plural, and ens or yns of the third person plural, in some cases had changed by Lhuyd’s time to on or an, and ons or ans, but probably really the vowel is obscure.  There was also considerable uncertainty about the modification of the vowel.  Even in the early MSS. the change of vowel is rather vague, but the general rule seems to have been that when the termination has a thin vowel (e, i, or y), a broad root vowel (a, o, u) is changed to a thin vowel, usually in late Cornish to e (cf. the Gaelic rule of leathan le leathan agus caol le caol, broad with broad and thin with thin).  But this is by no means universal, and in some tenses, as in the imperfect and pluperfect, is not found at all.

There is some confusion in modern Cornish about the subjunctive or fifth tense.  Norris considers that Lhuyd’s subjunctive is really, except for the third person singular, the imperfect or second tense of the older MSS.  But it seems to be more like a form of the present indicative, except in the third person singular, which is the old subjunctive.  Lhuyd’s change of the first person singular to am instead of av is not uncommon in certain verbs of late Cornish, when this tense is used in a subjunctive clause.

The inflected verb at the beginning of a sentence is often preceded in Middle Cornish by the verbal particle y p. 122(or before a vowel yth), which does not mean anything in particular.  y causes the third state in verbs whose radical is p, c, t, and the fourth state in those whose radical is d, and changes gw to wh.  In late Cornish it is rarely used except with the present of môs, to go, and (in its apocopated form th or as ăth) with the present and imperfect of bos, to be.

A reflexive verb may be formed from any transitive verb by prefixing ŏm (older forms ym, as in Welsh, and em, as in Breton), changing the initial to the second state.

cregy, to hang; ŏmgregy, to hang oneself.

brêsy, to judge; ŏmvrêsy, to judge oneself.

disqwedhas, to show; ŏmdhisqwedhas, to show oneself.

gweras, to help; ŏmweras, to help oneself.

Sometimes the prefix gives a mutual rather than a reflexive sense.

ŏmsewa, to follow one another.

ŏmladha, to fight, contend (cf. French se battre).


§ 1.  Bos, to be.

The verb to be in Cornish, as in other Aryan languages, is made up of more than one verb.  In Cornish it may be divided in two parts.  The first of these consists of two tenses, a present and an imperfect, the second of the usual five tenses, the imperative and the infinitive.

The first division, by means of reduplications and additions, takes a variety of forms in the early literature, and there is a considerable uncertainty about the exact force of these forms.  Some of them evidently mean little more than elongations and contractions for the sake of metre.  The second division is formed with greater regularity on a root b, changing under certain conditions to v (often written f) and p.

I.  First Division. Present Tense, I am.


1.  ov (old form of), âthov, thov, oma, ăthoma, thoma.


2.  os, ăthos, thos, osta, ăthosta, thosta.


3.  yu, ăthyu, thyu, yua, ăthyua, thyua.


1.  on, ăthon, thon.


2.  ough, ăthough, though.


3.  ens, ăthens, thens.

There is little or no difference of meaning in these forms.  The lengthened form ăthov, or its apocopated thov, is generally found at the beginning of an assertion.  p. 124Oma, osta, yua and their lengthened forms are used interrogatively or after certain conjunctions.  In the early literature the lengthened forms were written ythof, assof, ossof, esof, and even, with double lengthening, ythesaf, ythesef, ythesof.  The first vowel is probably the obscure vowel (as u in until), and the stress accent is on the syllable that follows the verbal prefix, so that even the consonant of the prefix is a little uncertain.  Williams makes it dh, but th seems more probable.  In late Cornish the vowel of the prefix was usually dropped.  The personal pronouns are generally added after this tense, so that it practically becomes:—

Thov vî, thos dî, yu ev (or ev yu), thon ny, though why, thens y (pronounced thenŷ).

Occasionally the impersonal form of this verb is used, mî yu, tî yu, ev yu, nŷ yu, whŷ yu, ŷ yu.  The negative is formed by adding nyns to the short form, nynsov or nynsoma, nynsos or nynsosta, nynsyu, etc.  Similarly this tense may be compounded with mar, if, ken, though, may, that, into marsov, kensov, maythov.  The s, which is sometimes altered to th, is probably the th of the verbal prefix.

There are two other forms of the third person present, ema (or ma), plural emons (or mons), and es (older us), or esy or ejy (older usy, ugy).

(a).  ema, ma, emons, mons must, according to Lhuyd, always be used narratively, never negatively, interrogatively (except after ple, where), or with relatives.  They must always precede their subject.  Thus:—

Ema ’n levar en ow chŷ, the book is in my house.

Ema levar en ow chŷ, there is a book in my house.

Nynsyw levar en ow chŷ, there is not a book in my house.

Ple yu ’n levar? / Ple ma ’n levar? } where is the book?

’Yu ’n levar ŭbma? is the book here?

p. 125(b).  emons is only used when the pronoun they is the subject.  When a noun is the subject, whether singular or plural, a singular verb is used.

Emons ŷ en ow chŷ, they are in my house.

Ema ’n levrow en ow chŷ, the books are in my house.

(c).  es, esy, ejy, are chiefly used with relatives or interrogatively in the sense of “is there,” “is there not.”

An levar es en ow chŷ, the book which is in my house (in this case es=a es, which is).

’Es levar en ow chŷ?  Is there a book in my house?

Nag es levar en ow chŷ?  Is there not a book in my house?

In the first of these two interrogations the interrogative particle a coalesces with es, in the second nag=ni ag, ag being the same interrogative particle, with a g added before a vowel.

The ordinary interrogative of this tense is merely the form ’oma, ’osta, ’yua, ’on nŷ, ’ough whŷ, ’ens ŷ (pron. enjŷ), which should be preceded by an apostrophe to show that the interrogative particle a is elided.  The negative interrogative is the same preceded by nag.

The difference between the use of ema, yu, and es is not quite so distinct in Cornish as between the corresponding y mae, yw, and oes in Welsh, but if there is any difference in meaning between ema and yu, it is that ema has more often the sense of there is, it is, and yu more commonly that of is only; also yu can be used interrogatively and negatively, while ema, except after ple, where, should not be used interrogatively, and is never used negatively at all.  Its negative and interrogative equivalent is es.

p. 126II.  First DivisionImperfect Tense, I was.

Old form.



1.  esen, ythesen, en.

1.  esen, ythesen.

2.  eses, ytheses, es.

2.  eseugh, ytheseugh.

3.  esa, ytheses.

3.  esens, ythesens.

Late form.



1.  erav, eram, erama, therav, theram.

1.  eron, theron.

2.  eras, erasta, theras.

2.  erough, therough.

3.  era, thera.

3.  erons, therons.

The change from s to r in this tense, and the assimilation of the inflections to the present, does not occur in the written language until the middle of the seventeenth century.  The personal pronouns were always used with this tense in its late form, and the final consonants of the personal inflections generally coalesced with the pronouns, and so were omitted in writing, thus therav vî, theron nŷ, therough whŷ, were written, though incorrectly, thera vî, thera nŷ, thero whŷ.

An alternative third person singular is o.  It is used with relatives as an equivalent of a o, who was, and with negatives as nynso=there was not.  It is in fact the past equivalent of es, but it is often used in a simple assertion also.  The simple interrogative is ’erama, was I? the negative interrogative is nag erama, was I not? and the simple negative nynseram, I was not.

Second DivisionInfinitive, bos, to be, older form, used chiefly when an extra syllable was required for a verse, bones.

I.  Future Tense, I shall be.



1.  bedhav (older bydhaf).

1.  bedhon.

2.  bedheth (bydhith).

2.  bedhough.

3.  bedh (bydh).

3.  bedhons (bedhens).

p. 127This tense is used more commonly in the impersonal form, mî a vedh, tî a vedh, etc.  Another common future is mî a vedn bos, formed with menny, to will.

II.  Imperfect or Secondary Present, I was being.



1.  bedhen, ben.

1.  bedhen, ben.

2.  bedhes, bes, besta.

2.  bedheugh, beugh.

3.  bedha, be, beva.

3.  bedhens, bens.

This tense is used rather as a conditional, I should be, or a subjunctive after pan, when, mar, if, etc.

II.  Preterite, I was, I have been.



1.  bêv (older buf, buef).

1.  bên (older buen).

2.  bês (older bus, bues) besta.

2.  beugh.

3.  (older bue).

3.  bons.

This tense is more frequently used in the impersonal, mî a vê, tî a vê, etc.

IV.  Pluperfect, I had been.



1.  bîen (older written byen).

1.  bîen (byen).

2.  bîes (byes).

2.  bîeugh (byeugh).

3.  bîa (bye).

3.  bîens (byens).

Lhuyd gives a pluperfect beazen, beazes, etc. corresponding with the Welsh buaswn, but it does not appear to be used.

V.  Subjunctive, I may be.



1.  bev (older byf, beyf).

1.  ben.

2.  by.

2.  beugh.

3.  bo.

3.  bons.

This and the second tense are not very clearly distinguished.

p. 128Imperative.



1.  wanting.

1.  bedhon, let us be.

2.  bedh, be thou.

2.  bedhough, be ye.

3.  bedhens (bedhes, boes, bes), let him be.

3.  bedhens, let them be.

A common variant of the imperative is formed with the auxiliary gwîl, to do.



1.  wanting.

1.  gwren ny bos.

2.  gwra bos.

2.  gwreugh bos.

3.  gwrens e bos.

3.  gwrens y bos.

§ 2.  Gwîl (older guthil, gruthil, guil, gul), to do.

I.  Present or Future Tense, I do, or I shall do.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  gwrav, gwrama.

1.  gwren, gwron.

2.  gwreth, gwrês, gwresta.

2.  gwreugh, gwrough.

3.  gwra.

3.  gwrons.

Gwrama, gwresta, in the second mutation wrama, wresta, are used in interrogative and negative sentences, and after mar, if, in the fourth mutation qwrama, qwresta.  The older form of gwresta was gwreta.  Occasionally in late Cornish a form of this present is found exactly like the imperfect of bos; therama, thera, etc.  This is probably wrama, wra, with the verbal particle ăth (yth) prefixed.  It occurs in cases where it cannot possibly be the imperfect of bos.  Lhuyd (pp. 246, 253) was rather puzzled by it, but with his usual clearness of sight was able to find out the real facts.

(b).  Impersonal.

Mî a wra, tî a wra, ev a wra, etc.

p. 129II.  The Imperfect Tense, I was doing.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  gwrellen, gwren.

1.  gwrellen, gwren.

2.  gwrelles, gwres.

2.  gwrelleugh.

3.  gwrella, gwre.

3.  gwrellens.

(b).  Impersonal.

Mî a wrella, tî a wrella, etc.

This tense is seldom used as an auxiliary, and is often confused with the subjunctive.

III.  The Perfect Tense, I did.

(a).  Inflected.

Old form.



1.  gwrugaf, gwruge.

1.  gwrussyn.

2.  gwrussys.

2.  gwrussough.

3.  gwruk.

3.  gwrussons.

Later form of old form.



1.  gwrîgaf, gwrîga.

1.  gwressen, gwreithen.

2.  gwresses.

2.  gwressough, gwreithough.

3.  gwrîg.

3.  gwressons, gwreithons.

Modern form.



1.  gwrîgav vi.

1.  gwrîgon ny.

2.  gwrîs, gwrîsta, gwrîges dî.

2.  gwrîgough why.

3.  gwrîg, gwrîga, gwrês.

3.  gwrîgans y.

The last form seems to have completely superseded the other in late Cornish.  It seems to be formed by taking the irregular third person singular as a root, and forming the rest of the persons from it on the analogy of the present tense.  Where it is found—and the first person p. 130occurs as early as Jordan’s Drama of The Creation (e.g. ny wrugaf, 1. 1662)—it is generally written without the final consonants of the verb, which, as in the imperfect tense of the verb to be, seem to coalesce with the initials of the pronouns.  One finds the forms rig a vee, rigga vee, rigon ny, rigo why, rig an jy, these being preceded by adverbs, conjunctions, etc., such as na, pan, etc., which put the initial in the second state, and the w being almost silent is omitted.  The form wruge (=wrîga), occurs in Origo Mundi, 2250, and Passio Christi, 930, for the first person singular, preceded by pan, when.  The same word occurs for the third person in O. M. 423, and in the form wrega in Jordan’s Creation, 2216.  This is wrîg with the added a (see p. 120).  A form of the third person singular of this tense, ros (for wros, second state of gwros), may possibly be found in the Ordinalia and in St. Meriasek, in the expression, re Thu am ros, by God who made me.  But it is more probably the preterite of ry, to give, as it occurs also in the phrase re’n arluth dhen beys am ros, by the Lord who gave me to the world.  Wraze (=wrês, cf. Breton, greaz) occurs in Gen. iii. 7.

(b).  Impersonal.

Mî a wrîg, tî a wrîg, etc.

IV.  The Pluperfect or Conditional Tense, I had or would have done.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  gwressen (older form gwrussen).

1.  gwressen.

2.  gwresses.

2.  gwresseugh.

3.  gwressa.

3.  gwressens.

(b).  Impersonal.

Mî a wressa, tî a wressa, etc.

p. 131V.  The Subjunctive, I may do.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  gwrellev (older gwryllyf).

1.  gwrellon, gwrellen.

2.  gwrelly, gwrelles.

2.  gwrellough, gwrelleugh.

3.  gwrello, gwreffa.

3.  gwrellens, gwrons.

There is rather a confusion of the subjunctive and imperfect, and the two are used rather indiscriminately.  The third person plural, gwrons, is borrowed from the imperative.

(b).  The Impersonal.

Mî a wrello, tî a wrello, etc.

Mî a wreffa, tî a wreffa, etc.

VI.  The Imperative.



1.  wanting.

1.  gwren, let us do.

2.  gwra, do thou.

2.  gwreugh, do ye.

3.  gwrens, let him do.

3.  gwrens, gwrons, let them do.

Infinitive, gîl, gwîl, to do.

Present or Active Participle, ow kîl, doing.

Past or Passive Participle, gwrês, done.

When this verb is used otherwise than as an auxiliary, the future is mî a vedn gwîl, I will do, etc.  It means, as a principal verb, to do or to make, and tenses may be formed with its own tenses as auxiliaries to its infinitive.  Thus:—

Mî a wra gwîl, I do or I make.

Tî a wrîg gwîl, thou hast made.

Mar qwressa ’n den e wîl, if the man would make it.

p. 132§ 3.  Gally, to be able.

I.  Present or Future, I can or I may.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  gellam, gallam, gellav.

1.  gellen.

2.  gallos, gelleth.

2.  gellough, gallough.

3.  gel.

3.  gellons.

(b).  Impersonal.

Mî a el or mî el, etc.

II.  Past (mixed preterite and pluperfect), I could or I might.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  galjen, gelles.

1.  galjen, gelsen.

2.  galjes.

2.  galjeugh, gelseugh.

3.  galja, gallas.

3.  galjens, gellens.

(b).  Impersonal.  Mî alja, etc.

III.  Subjunctive, I may be able.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  gellev, gallen.

1.  gellen.

2.  gelly.

2.  gelleugh, gallough.

3.  gallo, gelly.

3.  gallons.

This verb is chiefly used (as has been said) as an auxiliary in the present and past tenses, in the sense of can, could, or may, might.  In direct sentences the impersonal form is most usual, in negative, interrogative, and dependent sentences the inflected form in the second state of the initial, which is influenced by the particle a, generally, however, not expressed, p. 133or by na, not.  When the inflected form has been used in the question, the inflected form is often used also, preceded by the personal pronoun, in affirmative answers.  Thus:—

’Ellough why clappya Kernûak?  Can you speak Cornish?

Mî ellam (not mî a el).  I can.

’Aljesta scrifa a Sowsnak?  Couldst thou write English?

Mî aljen.  I could.

’Allosta môs dhô’n chŷ?  Canst thou go to the house?

Mî ellam.  I can.

Na orama dr ’el an Kembrîan gwîl rag dhô witha ’ga thavas. [133]  I know not what the Welsh may do to preserve their language.  (Boson’s Nebbaz Gerriau.)

Radn alja bos parres dhô lavarel.   Some might be prepared to say.  (Boson’s Nebbaz Gerriau).

Sometimes the verb gŏthvos, to know (for which see Chapter XI.), is used to express can, especially when mental capability is more or less intended.  Mî ôr (or mî wôr) cowsa Sowsnak, I can speak English.  Compare a similar use of savoir in French.

§ 4.  Menny, to will, to wish.

I.  Present, I will.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  mennav, mednav, mednama.

1.  mennon, mednon.

2.  menneth, medneth, menta.

2.  mennough, mednough.

3.  medn.

3.  mennons, mednons.

(b).  Impersonal.

Mî a vedn, tî a vedn, etc.

p. 134II.  Past, I would.  This is really the pluperfect.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  menjon, menjam (older mensen).

1. menjon (mensen).

2.  menjes (menses).

2.  menjough (menseugh).

3.  menja (mensa).

3.  menjons (mensens).

(b).  Impersonal.

Mî a venja, tî a venja, etc.

These are the only two tenses in common use as auxiliaries.  Lhuyd gives another of mixed imperfect and preterite, mennen, mennyz, mennaz, mennen, menneh, mennenz.


The following is a complete paradigm of a regular verb, showing the various forms.  Most tenses have at least two forms, the simple verb, whether in the inflected or impersonal conjugation, and the compound, or verb with auxiliaries.  In late Cornish the compound is by far the more usual in almost every tense.  The general principal on which the different forms are used is:—

Affirmative Sentences.  Simple Impersonal or Auxiliary Impersonal, generally the latter.

Negative, Interrogative, or Dependent Sentences.  Inflected Simple or Inflected Auxiliary, generally the latter, but the Simple Inflected is more common in these than the Simple Impersonal is in affirmative sentences.

RootCar, love.

Verbal Noun or InfinitiveCara, the act of loving, to love.

Present ParticipleOw cara, loving.

Past or Passive Participle.  Keres, loved.

I.  Present, originally used also as future.

(a).  Inflected form.



1.  carav (), [135] I love.

1.  caron (), older keryn, we love.

2.  keres, or kereth (), thou lovest.

2.  carough (whŷ), you love.

3.  car (ev), he loves.

3.  carons (ŷ), or carans, they love.

p. 136As this form, except occasionally in verse, is only used in negative, interrogative, or dependent sentences, the initial is generally changed to the second state by some preceding particle, such as a, ni, pan, etc.

(b).  Impersonal form.

, , ev, , whŷ, ŷ (late form often anjŷ or ) a gar.

(c).  Inflected Auxiliary.

Gwrav vî cara.

For the rest of the tense see the present of gwîl, to do.

(d).  Impersonal Auxiliary.

, , ev, , whŷ, ŷ (or anjŷ or ) a wra cara.

The forms wrama, wresta are generally used for the inflected auxiliary first and second persons singular in interrogative and dependent sentences, a wrama cara, do I love? pan wresta cara, when thou dost love.  The particle a of the impersonal form is not infrequently omitted, especially when the pronouns ending in vowels immediately precede it. [136]

I.a.  The Continuous or Habitual Present.

Thov vi ow cara, I am loving.

The rest as in the present tense of bos, to be, followed by the present participle.  The negative form of this is:—

Nynsoma or nynsov ow cara, etc.

I.b.  The Passive Present.

Dhov vî keres, I am loved.

The rest as the present of bos, followed by the past participle.

p. 137Or the older passive:—

, , ev, , whŷ, ŷ (or anjŷ or ) a gerer.

Or the auxiliary form of the older passive:—

, , etc., a wrer cara.

In this case wrer is for gwrer, the passive of gwîl, to do.

II.  The Imperfect, used also more or less as a Subjunctive.

(a).  Inflected form.



1.  caren, I was loving.

1.  caren, we were loving.

2.  cares, thou wert loving.

2.  careugh, you were loving.

3.  cara, he was loving.

3.  carens, they were loving.

(b).  Impersonal form.

, , etc., a gara.

(c).  Auxiliary form.

Therav vî ow cara.

The rest as the imperfect of bos, to be, with the present participle.

The negative form of this tense is either:—

nî garen, etc., or

nynseram ow cara, etc.

The interrogative is either:—

a garen? etc., or

’erama, etc., ow cara?

III.  The Preterite or Past Tense.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  kerŷs, I loved.

1.  carson, or kersen, we loved.

2.  kerses, thou lovedst.

2.  carsough, you loved.

3.  caras, he loved.

3.  carsons, or carsans, they loved.

(b).  Impersonal.

, , etc., a garas.

(c).  Inflected auxiliary.

Gwrîgav vî cara.

p. 138The rest as the past tense of gwîl, to do, followed by the infinitive.

(d).  Impersonal auxiliary.

, , etc., a wrîg cara.

Sometimes re is prefixed to this tense, as:—

mî re garas, mî re wrîg cara.

This turns it into a preterperfect, “I have loved,” but in late Cornish there is usually no distinction between preterite and perfect, except that the latter is seldom expressed by anything except the auxiliary form, while either may be used for the former.

The passive of this tense is either:—

, , etc., a gares, or

, , etc., a vê keres.

The latter is the more usual.

IV.  The Pluperfect, Secondary Perfect, or Conditional.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  carsen, I had loved, or I would love.

1.  carsen, we had loved.

2.  carses, thou hadst loved.

2.  carseugh, you had loved.

3.  carsa, he had loved.

3.  carsens, they had loved.

Pronounced and sometimes written carjen (or cargen with soft g in MSS.), etc.

(b).  Impersonal.

, , etc., a garsa.

(c).  Inflected auxiliary.

Gwressen cara, etc., or menjam cara, etc.

The rest as the pluperfect of gwîl, or of menny, to will, with the infinitive.

(d).  Impersonal auxiliary.

, , etc., a wressa cara, or a venja cara.

p. 139The passive of this tense is formed by the pluperfect of bos, to be, followed by the past participle.

V.  The Subjunctive.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  kerev, or carev, I may love.

1.  keren, or caren, we may love.

2.  kery, or cary, thou mayest love.

2.  kereugh, or careugh, you may love.

3.  caro, he may love.

3.  carens, or carons, they may love.

(b).  Impersonal form.

, , etc., a garo.

(c).  Inflected auxiliary.

Gwrellev vî (or gwrellen) cara.

And the rest as the subjunctive or imperfect of gwîl with the infinitive.

(d).  Impersonal auxiliary.

, , etc., a wrello (or wreffa) cara.

The passive of this tense is formed by the present tense of gally, to be able, followed by the infinitive bos, to be, and the past participle of the main verb:—

, , etc., a el bos keres, I, thou, etc., may be loved.

This tense is not necessarily used after conjunctions which in other languages (Latin, for example) govern a subjunctive, but rather when uncertainty, expectation, or contingency is signified, in fact, when in English one would use may as an auxiliary.  There is a good deal of confusion between this tense and the imperfect.

Re prefixed to the inflected or inflected auxiliary form of this tense makes it an optative:—

Re wrellen cara, would that I might love, etc.

p. 140VI.  The Future.

In older Cornish the present, whether in its inflected, impersonal, or auxiliary form, was commonly used to express a future, and sometimes the subjunctive was used as a future.  Some verbs have an extra tense which is a specially inflected future, resembling one form of the Breton conditional, as follows:—



1.  carvym, carvyv.

1.  carvon.

2.  carvyth.

2.  carvough.

3.  carvyth, carvo.

3.  carvons.

This is more commonly found in the impersonal form, , , etc., a garvyth.  It is formed, as may be clearly seen, by suffixing the future or subjunctive of bos, to be (perhaps in its sense of “to have” [140]), to the root of the verb.  (Cf. the suffixing of the present of avoir to an infinitive to form a future in French, je parler-ai, and its unamalgamated prototype, the future form, resurgere habent, in the very low Latin of the antepenultimate verse of the Athanasian Creed.) But in late Cornish the regular future was formed by the auxiliary verb menny, to will:—

Mednav vî cara, etc.

, , etc., a vedn cara, etc.

The forms mednama, menta, usually in the second state of the initial, are used for interrogative and dependent sentences:—

A vednama cara? shall I love?

Mar menta cara, if thou wilt love.

The negative is either nî vednav vî cara or mî ni vednav cara.

The latter form, with the v of the termination omitted as being nearly inaudible, is used in Carew’s p. 141phrase, meea navidua cowzasawzneck, I will speak no English, for mî na vednav cowsa Sowsnak.

The passive is formed by the present of menny, the infinitive of bos, and the past participle:—

, , etc., a vedn bos keres.

VII.  The Imperative.

(a).  Inflected.



1.  wanting.

1.  caren, let us love.

2.  car, love thou.

2.  careugh, love ye.

3.  cares (or carens), let him love.

3.  carens, let them love.

(b).  The auxiliary.



1.  wanting.

1.  gwren cara.

2.  gwra cara.

2.  gwreugh cara.

3.  gwrens cara or gwrens e cara.

3.  gwrens ŷ cara.


The irregular verbs are:—

môs (earlier mones), to go.

dôs (earlier dones), to come.

dôn, to bear or carry.

drŷ, to bring.

, to give.

gǒdhvos, to know.

Of these, môs and dôn are each made up of two different verbs.  The irregularities of dôs, drŷ, and are due to contractions, and those of gŏdhvas chiefly to its being compounded with bos, to be.

There are irregularities also in the auxiliary verbs gwîl, to do, and gally, to be able, but these have been already given in Chapter IX.

In earlier Cornish the inflected forms of the irregular verbs were freely used, but later these are comparatively rare, and the impersonal and auxiliary forms became so much commoner that the full inflected form can only be gathered from the early writings and from the rather imperfect paradigms given by Lhuyd.

It is not necessary to give anything more than the inflected verbs here, for the impersonal and auxiliary tenses can easily be worked out from these on the model of the regular verb.  These are given without pronouns, though of course pronouns are used, as with other verbs.

In the latest Cornish the infinitives of môs, dôs, drŷ, p. 143, were often used colloquially to express the imperative, without much discrimination between singular and plural.  These verbs, especially môs and dôs, are generally found in late Cornish in the auxiliary form with gwîl and menny, but rarely in the simple inflected.

§ 1.  Môs, to go.

I.  Present or Future.



1.  av or ăthov (older af).

1.  en or ăthen.

2.  eth or ătheth.

2.  eugh or ătheugh.

3.  a or ătha.

3.  ans or ăthans.

II.  Imperfect or Secondary Present.



1.  ellen.

1.  ellen.

2.  elles.

2.  elleugh.

3.  ella.

3.  ellens.

III.  Preterite.



1.  êthen.

1.  êthen.

2.  êthes.

2.  êtheugh.

3.  êth, ellas.

3.  êthons.

IV.  Pluperfect or Conditional (probable, but not found).



1.  elsen.

1.  elsen.

2.  elses.

2.  elseugh.

3.  elsa.

3.  elsens.

V.  Subjunctive.



1.  ellev.

1.  ellen.

2.  elly.

2.  elleugh.

3.  ello.

3.  ellons.

p. 144VI.  Imperative.



1.  —

1.  en.

2.  , kejy, kehejy. [144]

2.  eugh.

3.  ens.

3.  ens.

Infinitive, môs.

Present Participle, ow môs.

Past Participle, gilles (supplied from gylly or gelly, to go).

In the impersonal form of the preterite, the verbal particle a often takes an s or j at the end of it, mî aj êth, I went, but generally in this form a is omitted, mî â, I go; mî eth, I went; mî ello, I may go, etc.  In the Ordinalia and other Dramas the forms reseth and regeth (rejeth) are found for the perfect.  This is the preterite êth with the particle re and s (j), for th, prefixed.

§ 2.  Dôs (earlier devonos, donos, devos), to come.

I.  Present.



1.  dov (older duf).

1.  down (duen, dun).

2.  dêth (dueth).

2.  dough, deugh.

3.  (due).

3.  dons, desons.

II.  Imperfect.



1.  deffen.

1.  deffen.

2.  deffes.

2.  deffeugh.

3.  deffa.

3.  deffens.

III.  Preterite.



1.  dêtha, dêth (older duth, dueyth).

1.  dêthon (duthon).

2.  dêthes, dês (older duthys, dues).

2.  dêtheugh (dutheugh).

3.  dêth (older dueth, duth).

3.  dêthons, desons (duthens).

p. 145IV.  Pluperfect not found, except third person singular, dothye or dethye, and third pl. dothyans.



1.  dothyen, dethyen.

1.  dothyen, dethyen.

2.  dothyes, dethyes.

2.  dothy eugh, dethyeugh.

3.  dothya, dethya.

3.  dothyens, dethyens.

V.  Subjunctive.



1.  deffev.

1.  deffen.

2.  deffy.

2.  deffeugh.

3.  deffo.

3.  deffens.




1.  wanting.

1.  dewn (dun, duen).

2.  dês (dues, dus).

2.  deugh (dugh).

3.  dêns.

3.  dêns.

Infinitive, dôs.

ParticiplesPresent, ow tôs; Past, devedhes.

“I am come” is devedhes ov.

The root vowels of this verb vary a good deal in the MSS.  The ue is evidently a single syllable according to the rhythm, and so is the ye or ya.

§ 3.  Dôn, to bear or carry (earlier also doen, doyn).

I.  Present.



1.  degav.

1.  degon.

2.  deges.

2.  degough.

3.  deg, dog.

3.  degons.

II.  Imperfect, not found.

III.  Preterite.



1.  dîges (older duges).

1.  dîgon.

2.  dîges (duges).

2.  dîgough.

3.  dîg (dug, duk).

3.  dîgons.

p. 146IV.  Pluperfect, not found.

V.  Subjunctive.



1.  dogev.

1.  dogen.

2.  dogy.

2.  dogeugh.

3.  dogo, doga.

3.  dogens.




1.  wanting.

1.  dogen.

2.  dog, doga.

2.  degeugh.

3.  degens.

3.  degens.

Infinitive, dôn, doga, or degy.

ParticiplePresent, ow tôn or ow tegy; Past, deges.

§ 4.  , to give.

I.  Present.



1.  rov.

1.  ren.

2.  reth.

2.  reugh.

3.  re.

3.  rens.

II.  Imperfect.



1.  ren.

1.  ren.

2.  res.

2.  reugh.

3.  re.

3.  rens.

III.  Preterite.



1.  rês.

1.  resen.

2.  resses.

2.  rosough.

3.  ros.

3.  rosons.

IV.  Pluperfect.



1.  rosen.

1.  rosen.

2.  roses.

2.  roseugh.

3.  rosa.

3.  rosens.

p. 147V.  Subjunctive.



1.  rollen.

1.  rollen.

2.  rolly.

2.  rolleugh.

3.  rollo.

3.  dollens, rollons.




1.  wanting.

1.  ren.

2.  ro.

2.  reugh.

3.  roy.

3.  rens.

Infinitive, .

Present Participle, ow rŷ.

Past Participle, reys.

§ 5.  Dry, to bring.

Except that the present is:—



1.  dorov or drov.

1.  doren or dren.

2.  doreth or dreth.

2.  dorough or dreugh.

3.  dore or dre.

3.  dorens or drens.

the second person singular of the imperative is doro or dro, and the preterite third person singular is dres or dros, this verb is with a d prefixed.  The present participle is ow trŷ.

§ 6.  Gŏdhvos, or gŏdhvas, to know, compounded of godh or gŭdh=knowledge, and bos, to be.

I.  Present.



1.  gôn or goram.

1.  gŏdhon.

2.  gŏdhas.

2.  gŏdhough.

3.  gôr (second state wôr or ’ôr).

3.  gŏdhons.

II.  Imperfect, used also as Perfect.



1.  gŏdhen, gŏdhyen.

1.  gŏdhen, gŏdhyen.

2.  gŏdhes, gŏdhyes.

2.  gŏdheugh, gŏdhyeugh.

3.  gŏdha, gŏdhya.

3.  gŏdhens, gŏdhyens.

p. 148III.  Preterite.  The second form, given by Lhuyd, is a rather improbable tense, and is not found elsewhere.



1.  gŏdhvên, gwedhun.

1.  gŏdhvên, gwedhyn.

2.  gŏdhvês, gwedhys.

2.  gŏdhveugh, gwedheugh.

3.  gŏdhvê, gwedhewys.

3.  gŏdhvons, gwedhans, gweians.

IV.  Pluperfect or Conditional.



1.  gŏdhvîen.

1.  gŏdhvîen.

2.  gŏdhvîes.

2.  gŏdhvîeugh.

3.  gŏdhvîa.

3.  gŏdhvîens.

V.  Subjunctive.



1.  gŏdhevav, gŏdhav.

1.  gŏdhven.

2.  gŏdhvy, gŏdhy.

2.  gŏdhveugh.

3.  gŏdhvo.

3.  gŏdhvens or gŏdhans.

VI.  Future.



1.  gŏdhvedhav, gŏffedhav.

1.  gŏdhvedhen, gŏffedhen.

2.  gŏdhvedhes, gŏffedhes.

2.  gŏdhvedheugh, goffedheugh.

3.  gŏdhvedh, gŏffedh.

3.  gŏdhvedhens, gŏffedhens.

VII.  Optative.



1.  re wŏffen.

1.  re wŏffen.

2.  re wŏffas.

2.  re wŏffeugh.

3.  re wŏffa.

3.  re wŏffens.




1.  wanting.

1.  gŏdhvedhen.

2.  gŏdhvedh.

2.  gŏdhvedheugh.

3.  gŏdhvedhens.

3.  gŏdhvedhens.

Infinitive, gŏdhvos, gŏdhvas, gŏvos.

Present Participle, ow cŏdhvos.

Past Participle, gŏdhvedhes.

Inflected Passive, gŏdher.

In the impersonal form and elsewhere, when this verb has its initial in the second state, w is substituted for g.

The Optative re wŏffen, etc. seems to be formed on the imperfect mixed up with the subjunctive.


§ 1.  Prepositions are of two kinds, simple and compound.  Simple prepositions govern various states of the initial.  Compound prepositions, when, as is generally the case, they are made up of a simple preposition and a noun, govern the first state, for the noun which follows is really in the appositional genitive.  If a compound preposition govern a personal pronoun, the latter is often placed, in its possessive form, between the two component parts of the preposition, governing the initial of the noun-half of it.  Sometimes, however, the second part of a compound preposition is a simple preposition, and in that case the government is that of the last preposition of the compound.

Simple Prepositions.

a, of, from, governs second state.

avel, vel, like, as.

bis, up to, as far as (usque ad).

dadn or en dadn, under.

der, dre, by, through, governs second state.

dres, over, beyond, above.

dhô, to, governs second state.

en, edn, et, in. [149]

er, see war.

gan, gans, with, by.

heb, without, governs second state.

kens, before (of time).

lebmen, lemmen, except, but.

ŏja, wŏja, after (older form, wose).

rag, for, because of.

re, by (in swearing), governs second state.

reb, by, near, beside.

saw, save, except, but.

treba, tereba, until.

troha, towards.

tewa (tewaha, tyha, tîgh), towards.

war, on, upon (also er), governs second state.

worth, orth, at, to, against.

p. 150Compound Prepositions.

adres, across, beyond.

adro dhô, drodho, about, concerning, govern second state.

abarth, abarh, beside, on the side of.

aberth, aberh, within, inside of.

adheller dhô, dheller dhô (originally a dhellergh), behind, governs second state.

a dhirag, dhirag, before, in the presence of.

adheworth, dheworth, dhŏrt, from.

ajŷ, ’, within (a+chy, house), generally followed by dhô, governing the second state.

a eugh, above, over.

a mes, a ves, mes, en mes, out of.

a mesk, mesk, en mesk, among.

a wos, because of, for the sake of.

entre, among.

erbidn or erbyn, warbidn, against.

herwedh, according to.

marnas, except, but.

rag carenja, for the sake of.

warlergh, after.

ogastî dhô, near to (ogastî ogas, near, =tew, side).

Of these abarth, a mesk or en mesk, erbidn, rag carenja, and warlergh, are separable when they govern pronouns.  Thus:—

agan parth, beside us.

en agas mesk, among you.

er ow fyn, against me.

rag dha garenja, for thy sake.

war e lergh, after him.

§ 2.  Conjunctions.

ha, and.  Before a vowel, hag, except when followed by the article an, or by a pronoun beginning with a vowel, in which case the vowel of the second word is elided.

bes, mes, but.

saw, but, except.

ma, may, that, in order that.

dre, dro, that.

erna, until.

bis pan, until.

treba, tereba, until.

ken, though, although.

awos, although, notwithstanding.

pan, pa, pur, or pêr (=pa-êr) when, govern second state.

hedre, whilst.

spas, whilst.

perag, prag, fraga, why, wherefore.

po, or.  po—po—=either—or—

p. 151mar, mara, a, if.  govern fourth state.

marnas (mar+na+es), unless.

ponî, ponag, unless.

aban, since, because.

dreven, since, because.

rag, for.

rag own, lest, for fear.

vel, than.

ages, es, than.

na, nor.

maga, so, as much as.

§ 3.  Adverbs.

Adverbs may be formed from adjectives by prefixing en, which generally changes the initial to the second state.  Thus glan, pure, en ’lan, purely.  There are some exceptions to this change, b and m sometimes change to f, not v, bras, great, en fras, greatly; mas, good, en fas, well; d sometimes changes to the fourth state, da, good, en ta, well; and t sometimes remains unchanged, tin, sharp, en tin, sharply.  But we find also en dhiugel, certainly, from diugel, secure.

Adverbs of Time.

en êrma, now (in this hour).

lemman, lebman, now.

en tor-ma, now (in this turn).

nam, nana, nanna, nans, now.

agensow, just now.

hedhew, to-day.

avorow, to-morrow.

trenzha, the day after to-morrow.

jedreva=dedreja=dedh trûja, the third day hence.

an journa-ma war seithan, this day week.

de, yesterday.

genzhete (kens de dedh), the day before yesterday.

ternos, the next day.

en kenzhoha / boregweth } in the morning.

dohajedh, in the afternoon.

gorthewer, in the evening.

zîlgweth, o’ Sundays.

fast, presently.

prest, scon / dewháns, eskes / defry, dhesempes } soon, quicky, immediately.

whath, still, yet.

kens, before (of time).

kensemman, ere now.

kensenna, ere that.

ŏja, wŏja, ŏj’ henna, wŏja hedna, afterwards.

nenna, nana, en êrna, then.

ŏj’ hemma, wŏja hebma, henceforth.

warlergh, afterwards.

esos, already.

avar, early.

dewedhes, late.

arta, again.

kettoth, kettoth ha, as soon as.

nevra, ever.

rag nevra, for ever.

benary, for ever.

biken, ever, bis viken, for ever.

besca, besqweth, ever.

benethy, dho venethy, for ever.

bepprês, always.

hedre, spas, whilst.

pols, a while.

p. 152Adverbs of Place.

ple, where (either interrogative or not).

a pele, a ble, whence (either interrogative or not).

ŭbma, ŭmma, here, hither.

enna, there.

lemma, lebma, here (in this place).

alemma, alebma, hence.

alenna, en mes alenna, thence.

aban, avan, up, above, on high.

aman, up, upwards.

awartha, above, over.

awollas, warwollas, below.

warban, on high, up above.

warnans, down below.

en hans, en nans, down.

lĕr, lŏr (luer), down.

aberth, aberh, within.

ajŷ, , within.

aves, ames, outside.

tre, at home.

adre, homewards.

ales, abroad (scattya ales, to “scat” abroad).

dhô ves, away.

kerh (formerly kerdh), away (môs kerh, to go away).

pel, far.

enogas, ogas, near, ogastî, near by.

a rag, in front.

en rag, forward.

dirag, forth, before (of place).

dheller (dellergh), behind.

war dheller, backwards.

adro, around.

adres, athwart.

a hes, along.

Adverbs of Quantity.

mêr, much.

îthek, hugely.

îthek tra, ever so much.

vîth mar, ever so.

nepeth, nebas, a little.

lour, lŭk lour, lŭk, enough.

re, too much.

kemmes, kebmes, as much.

vîth, at all.

hanter, half.

Adverbs of Comparison.

mar, so, as.

kymal / kyvel } as—as (ky gwerdh velgwels, as green as grass).

del, as.

della, en della, en delna, so, in such manner.

cara, pocara, kepara, kepar del, like as, even as, likewise.

maga (governing fourth state), as: maga ta, as well, likewise.

keffres, kekeffres, likewise, also.

hagŏl, hagensŏl, also.

a wedh, enwedh, also.

gwell, better.

lakkah, worse.

moy, more.

leh, less.

kens vel, rather than.

p. 153Miscellaneous Adverbs

cowal, cowl, quite.

namna, almost.

ken, else.

martesan, perhaps.

betegens, nevertheless.

moghya, mostly.

ketel, ketella, so.

pŭr (governing second state), very.

brâs / fest } (placed after an adjective), very.

ogastî, nearly, almost.

warbarth, warbarh, together.

ni, nyns, nig, na, nag, not. [153]

hepmar, doubtless.

perag, prag, fraga, why.

patla, fatel, fatla, how.

pelta, much, pelta gwel, much better.

otta, welta, behold.

nahen, otherwise.


Cornish is a disappointing language in respect of swearwords, for it is by no means rich in those “ornaments to conversation.”  Except for a few very distressing expressions, now better forgotten, which are put into the mouths of the evil characters in the Dramas, the swears are mostly quite harmless, and even pious.  It is not at all difficult or morally dangerous to learn to swear in Cornish.

Surprise is generally expressed by Re Varîa!  By Mary!  By Our Lady! shortened at times to Arîa! and Rîa!  This is used as an Englishman might say “By Jove!” or “By George!” or a Frenchman “Dame!”

If there is an element of annoyance mingled with the surprise, An Jowl! The Devil, may be mentioned with effect, perhaps by those to whom Re Varîa! savours too much of Popery; but Re Varîa! is in better taste.  An Jowl may be used, as in English, after words signifying where, what, why, when, to strengthen a question.

An assertion is strengthened by the use of the name of a saint, preferably the patron of one’s own parish (though any Cornishman may swear by St. Michael [154]), p. 155with or without the particle re, which puts the initial in the second state, prefixed.  The title “saint” is usually omitted.  Thus:—

Re Yêst! By St. Just!  Re Gŏlom! By St. Columb!  Re Îa! By St. Ia [Ives].  Re Vihal! or Mîhal! By St. Michael.

A little stronger, for those whose principles will allow them to mention it, is Re’n Offeren! By the Mass! and some bold, bad persons have been known under great pressure to say Re Dhew!  In the Dramas, Re thu am ros (Re Dhew a’m ros), By God who made me! (or who gave me) is a more elaborate form of this swear.  One also finds Abarth Dew, On God’s part=In God’s name, and in the mouths of pagans, Abarth Malan (a Celtic goddess) and even Abarth Satnas.

Ill-temper is generally expressed by variations on mollath, pl. mollathow, curse.  A moderate amount of anger may be indicated by Mollath! or Mollathow! alone, or Mollathow dheugh! Curses to you! or Mollath warnough! A curse upon you!  A little more is expressed by specifying the number, generally large, of these curses, Mil mollath warnough! or even Cans mil mollath warnough!

Some, moved by very great indignation, have been known to say Mollath Dew warnas! God’s curse upon thee! and Carew in his Survey of Cornwall of 1602 gives a by no means nice phrase (which he spells all anyhow and translates wrong), Mollath Dew en dha ’las! The curse of God in thy belly!  Another serio-comic but rather cryptic expletive, peculiar to Camborne, or at any rate to the Drama of St. Meriasek, is Mollath Dew en gegin! God’s curse in the kitchen!  It does not seem to mean anything in particular, except perhaps that one’s food may not agree with one, though it makes quite as much sense as the “universal adjective” of English p. 156swearing, and is a good deal less offensive.  Venjens, a borrowed English word, may be substituted for Mollath. [156]  One finds Mil venjens warnas! and even Venjens en dha ’las!  But all these last expressions represent unusually violent states of mind, and cannot be recommended for general use; for if one were to use up such expletives as these on matters of little moment, there would be nothing left for state occasions.

The expressions Malbe, Malbew, Malbew dam, Malbe dam, found in The Creation and in St. Meriasek, are considered by Prof. Loth to be maledictions referring to the French expression Mal beau or Beau mal, a euphonism for epilepsy, so that Malbe dam has no connection with the similar sound of part of it in English, but only means “Epilepsy to me!”

The seventeenth and eighteenth century speakers of Cornish sometimes wished to express contempt or dislike by abusive terms.  These often take the form of epithets added to the word pedn, head.  Thus, Pedn brâs, literally “great head,” is equivalent to the impolite English “fat-head”; Pedn Jowl, devil’s head; Pedn mousak, stinking head; these three are given as common terms of abuse by Carew.  When the late Mrs. Dolly Pentreath was at all put out, she is reported to have used the term Cronak an hagar deu (The ugly black toad), and there are several equally uncomplimentary epithets scattered up and down among the Dramas.  But these words do not accord with the polite manners of those who belong to the most gentlemanlike race, except the Scottish Highlanders, in all Christendom, and those Cornishmen who require that their conversation should be a little more forcible than “yea” and “nay” (for which, by the way, there is no real Cornish) are recommended not to go beyond Re Varîa, Re’n Offeren, and an invocation p. 157of St. Michael of the Mount, or of the patron saints of their own parishes.  What would happen if one were to swear by the patron of some other parish does not appear, but probably, if a St. Ives man were to strengthen his assertion by an appeal to St. Meriasek of Camborne, instead of his own St. Ia, he might be suspected of a wilful economy of truth.  The more forcible expressions may be left to the “Anglo-Saxon,” for Cornishmen and Celts generally, even of the lowest position, are not, and never have been, foul-mouthed.

The usual interjections, Oh! Ah! Alas! are borrowed from English.  Woe! is expressed by Trew!  Woe is me! is Govî!  Woe to him!  Goev! compounds of gew, woe, with pronouns.

Lo, Behold (the voila, voici of French) is expressed by otta (older forms awatta, awatte, wette, otte=perhaps a wel dî? dost thou see?).  This combines with pronouns, e.g. ottavî, “me voici,” ottadî, ottavê or ottensa, ottany, ottawhy, ottanjy.  These compounds are often followed by a participle, e.g. ottavî pares, behold me prepared.  The distinction of voila and voici is expressed by ottama and ottana.


§ 1. In later Cornish there was a strong tendency to assimilate the order of words and the construction of sentences to those of English, but nevertheless certain idioms persisted throughout.

In English the normal order of words in a simple sentence is:—

Subject—Verb—Complement of Predicate (Object, etc.).

This order is used in Cornish also when the impersonal form of the main verb or of the auxiliary is used, and the object is not a personal pronoun.  Thus:—

Dew a gar an bês, God loveth the world.

Dew a wra cara an bês, God doth love the world.

One of these two forms is the most usual in a direct affirmative principal sentence when the object is not a pronoun.

If the object is a pronoun, the order is:—



Dew a’th gar, God loveth thee.


Subject—Particle—Auxiliary—Pronoun in the Possessive Form—Infinitive of Main Verb.


Dew a wra dha gara, God doth love thee.

p. 159If the auxiliary verb is bos, to be, it often happens that the inflected form of it is used in an affirmative sentence when the tense is the continuous present or imperfect.  In these cases the order is:—

Auxiliary Verb—Subject—Participle of Main Verb—Complement.


Thov vî ow môs dhô Loundres, I am going to London.

Therough why ow tôs adre, you were coming home.

But with the preterite tense the simple impersonal form is more usual.  Thus:—

Mî a vê gennes en Kernow, I was born in Cornwall.

The same applies to the present and imperfect of bos when it is not an auxiliary.  Thus:—

Thov vî lowen dhô ’gas gwelas, I am glad to see you.

The inflected form of the verb is rare in simple direct affirmative sentences, except when it is used as a Celtic substitute for “yes.”  It may be used in verse, but it is rather affected in prose.  In negative, interrogative, and dependent sentences it is the only form to use, but even then it is the inflected auxiliaries, parts of gwîl, to do, menny, to will, gally, to be able, etc., with the infinitive of the main verb that are more commonly used, rather than the inflected form of the main verb itself.  In the third person singular it is of course only distinguishable from the impersonal form by the position of the subject, which in the inflected form would follow the verb.  The inflectional form of the third person plural is only used when the pronoun “they” is the subject.  When the subject is a plural noun the verb is always in the singular.  The inflected form, either of the auxiliary gwîl with the infinitive of the main verb, or of the main verb itself, is always used for the imperative.  In late p. 160Cornish, except in the case of answers for “yes” and “no,” and of the peculiar forms of the first, second, and third persons singular in ma, ta, and va, the subject personal pronoun is almost always expressed, except, of course, when the subject is a noun.

§ 2.  Negative and Interrogative Sentences.

For a negative sentence it is never correct to use the impersonal, but always the inflected form of the verb or of the auxiliary, preceded by the negative particle ni (older, ny) or nyns.  The order is:—

1.  Negative Particle—Verb—Subject—Complement of Predicate.


2.  Negative Particle—Auxiliary (inflected)—Subject—Infinitive of Main Verb—Complement.

If the object is a pronoun, in the first case it follows the negative particle in its third form, in the second case it precedes the infinitive in the possessive form.  Thus:—

1.  Ni welav vî an dên, I do not see the man.

Ni wôr dên vîth an êr, no man knoweth the hour.

2.  Ni wrígav vî gwelas an dên, I did not see the man.

1.  Ni’th welav vî, I do not see thee.

2.  Ni wrigav vî dha welas, I did not see thee.

In the case of the present and imperfect of bos, to be, the particle nyns is often used, and it is sometimes found with other words beginning with vowels, but its use is rare in late Cornish, and ni, or less correctly na (or nag before a vowel) is more usual.

It is allowable to use the inflected form with the subject-pronoun preceding the negative particle, but it should only be used for emphasis on the subject, and is better avoided.

p. 161Interrogative sentences are formed with the interrogative particle a, or by the use of some interrogative pronoun or adverb.  In all cases the inflected form of the main verb or auxiliary (usually the latter) follows the particle, pronoun, or adverb, and usually with its initial in the second state.  Thus:—

A wrîgough why besca gwelas?  Did you ever see?

A wreugh why agan gwelas?  Do you see us?

Fatla wreugh why crŷa hedna?  How do you call that?

Fraga wreugh why gwîl hebma?  Why do you do this?

A vednough why môs genev vî?  Will you go with me?

The particle a is often omitted colloquially, but its effect is perceptible in the change of the initial of the verb.  If the verb begins with a vowel, a is always omitted.

With interrogative sentences should come the answers to them.  It must be understood that by nature no Celt can ever say a plain “yes” or “no.”  There are “dictionary words” for “yes” and “no” in Welsh and Cornish, and they are used a very little in translations from other languages; but they do not “belong” to be used in speaking or writing Welsh or Cornish.  In Gaelic there are not even “dictionary words” for them.  In Breton ia and nan are used freely for “yes” and “no,” as in French, but that is probably quite modern French influence.  The Celtic practice is to repeat the inflected verb of the question, affirmatively or negatively, in the necessary person.  Thus:—

’Ellough why cowsa Kernûak?  Can you speak Cornish?

Gellam or mî ellam.  I can (yes).  Ni ellam, or (less correctly) nag ellam, I cannot (no).

p. 162A vednough why dôs genev vî?  Will you come with me?

Mednav.  I will (yes).  Ni vednav.  I will not (no).

A wrîg ev môs dhô Benzans?  Did he go to Penzance?

Gwrîg.  He did.  Ni wrîg.  He did not.

’Esta ajŷ?  Art thou at home?

Thoma.  I am.  Nynsov, or nynsoma, or (less correctly), nag ov.  I am not.

In the case of a negative interrogative sentence the verb is immediately preceded by na= + a, whether it begins the sentence or is itself preceded by an interrogative conjunction.  Thus:—

Na wrîsta gwelas?  Didst thou not see?

Fraga na wrîsta crejy?  Why didst thou not believe?

§ 3.  Dependent Sentences or Subordinate Clauses.

These are of three kinds:—

1.  Those introduced by conjunctions, such as if, that, as, etc., or by a relative pronoun.

2.  Those analogous to the “accusative with the infinitive” of Latin.

3.  The absolute clause.

1.  The ordinary dependent clause introduced by a conjunction has its verb in the indicative, unless the so-called subjunctive is required to express uncertainty or contingency, without reference to any preceding conjunction.  The verb is always in the simple inflected or inflected auxiliary form.  The verb which follows the conjunction mar or mara, if, has its initial in the fourth state, and tre, tro, or dro, that, governs the second state.

A dependent sentence may sometimes precede its principal sentence, as in English.  A very good instance p. 163of two sorts of dependent clauses may be seen in the following sentence from Boson’s Nebbaz Gerriau.  The English is:—

“If that learned wise man [John Keigwin] should see this [i.e. this essay], he would find reason to correct it in orthography, etc.”

Boson’s Cornish, the spelling and division of words assimilated to that of the present grammar, is:—

Mar qwressa an dên deskes fîr-na gwelas hemma,
If should [do] that man learned wise see this,
ev a venja cavos fraga e ewna en scrîfa-composter.
he would find why it to amend in writing-correctness.

In this sentence qwressa is for gwressa (third person singular of the conditional or pluperfect of the auxiliary gwîl, to do), with the initial in its fourth state after mar.  Boson writes it markressa, all in one word.  Fraga e ewna is an example of a variant of the second form of dependent sentence.  The principal verb ev a venja cavos is in the impersonal auxiliary form, and of the two dependent clause verbs, one, qwressa an dên deskes fîr-na gwelas, is in the inflected auxiliary form, and the other, ewna, is infinitive.

In a relative sentence, if the relative pronoun is the subject, the verb appears to be in the impersonal form.  That is to say, it is always in the form of the third person singular, and does not show any agreement with its antecedent, whatever person or number that may be in.  The other peculiarities of relative sentences are given in Chapter VII. §4.

2.  “Instead of using the conjunction that with another verb in the indicative mood, as in most European languages, it is usual to put the second verb in the infinitive preceded by the personal pronoun, as p. 164is common in Latin.”  Thus says Norris, speaking in a manner perhaps rather less clear than usual, of an idiom found in the Dramas.  This idiom, analogous to the “accusative with the infinitive” of Latin, is found down to the latest period of Cornish literature, though not to the complete exclusion of a finite clause beginning with that.  The instances given by Norris are:—

Ha cous ef dhe dhasserhy, and say that he is risen.

Marth a’m bues ty dhe leverel folneth, I have wonder that thou shouldst speak folly.

Nyns a y’m colon why dhe gewsel, it goes not into my heart (i.e. I do not believe) that you have spoken.

Del won dhe bos, as I know thee to be.

Here are some later instances:—

Ny a wel an tîs younk dho e clappya leh ha leh, [164] we see that the young people speak it less and less (Nebbaz Gerriau).

Dre wrama crejy hedna dho bos gwîr yu serîfes enna, that I do believe that that is true that is written therein (Nebbaz Gerriau).

Nevertheless, one finds in the same piece:—

Ev a lavarras drova gever ǒl, he said that it was Goats All.

Bes mî a or hemma, dhort e hoer an Kernuak, drova talves bes nebbas, but I know this, by her sister the Cornish, that it is worth but little.

And in Keigwin’s translation of Genesis i.:—

Ha Dew a wellas trova da, and God saw that it was good.

A somewhat similar construction is sometimes used after dreven, because, and treba, until:—

Dreven tî dhô wîl hemma, because thou hast done this (Kerew’s Genesis, iii. 14).

p. 165Dreven tî dhô wolsowas dhô dalla dha wrêg, [165] because thou didst listen to the voice of thy wife (Gen. iii. 17).

Treba tî dhô draylya dhô’n nôr, until thou turn again to the earth (Gen. iii. 19).

Yet even there one finds

Dreven o hy dama a ŏl bewa, because she was the mother of all living (Gen. iii. 20).

Lhuyd mentions a similar construction after rag own, for fear, lest:—

Rag own whŷ dho gôdha po an rew dho derry ha whŷ dho vos bidhes, lest you fall or the ice break and you be drowned (literally, for fear you to fall or the ice to break and you to be drowned).

With fraga, why, one finds a similar form:—

Ev a venja cavos fraga e ewna, he would find why to amend it.

But when fraga introduces an interrogative sentence, an ordinary finite verb is used:—

Fraga (or rag fraga, “for why,”) na grejeth dhô’ m lavarow?  Why dost thou not believe my words?

When “that” signifies “in order that,” the ordinary finite verb is used after it.

There is a peculiar construction, found chiefly in Jordan’s Creation, but also in the Ordinalia (e.g. Pass. Chr. 1120), for expressing “that I am.”  It consists of the infinitive bos, to be, preceded by a possessive pronoun and followed by a pronominal suffix:—

Me a vyn mav fo gwellys ow bosaf Dew heb parow, I will that it may be seen, that I am God without equals.

p. 166And a still more confused one of the second person with the verbal particle y before bos, the pronominal suffix ta and the pronoun ge=:—

Me ny allaf convethas, y bosta ge ow hendas, I cannot understand that thou art my ancestor.

The first is analogous to the Welsh “infinitive construction,” as Rowland calls it, e.g. gwyr fy mod i yn dyfod, he knows that I am coming (lit. he knows my being in coming), only the Cornish form uses the pronominal suffix instead of the redundant personal pronoun.

3.  The Absolute Clause.  This construction, which answers more or less to the ablative absolute of Latin, and the genitive absolute of Greek, is common to all the Celtic languages.  It is translated into English by a sentence introduced by when, while, whilst, or though, with a verb generally in the continuous form of the present or past tense, or by a participle.  In the Celtic languages the absolute clause has two forms.

a.  The affirmative, generally consisting of the conjunction and, a subject, noun or pronoun, and generally a participle.  Rowland calls the conjunction, a, ac, of the Welsh form “the absolute particle,” and Professor Anwyl identifies it with a, ag, with, in an archaic form.  But in Cornish ha or hag is used, and in Gaelic agus, and, in exactly the same way.  The following are examples in Cornish, Welsh, and Gaelic:—

Cornish.  An jy a ve gwarnes gan Dew, ha ’n jy ow cusca, [166] they were warned by God, and they sleeping, or, while they slept (Kerew’s translation of St. Matth. ii. 12, Gwav. MS.).

El a’n leverys dethy haneth, ha hy yn gwely pur thyfun, an angel said it to her this night, and she in her bed quite awake (Pass. Chr. 2202-4).

p. 167Welsh.  Pa ham, a mi yn disgwyl iddi dwyn grawn-win, y dug hi rawn gwylltlon?  Wherefore, and I looking to it to bring forth grapes [Auth. Vers., when I looked that it should bring forth grapes], brought it forth wild grapes?  (Isaiah v. 4).

Gaelic.  Do chonnaic Seaghán an duine, agus é ag teacht a-bhaile, John saw the man, and he coming home, i.e. when he was coming home.

b.  The negative, in which not is expressed in Welsh and Cornish by heb, and in Gaelic by gan, both meaning without, followed by an infinitive:—

An delna ema stel ow tegy warnodha, heb wara dhodha teller vîth, [167] so it is still closing in upon it without leaving it any place (Boson’s Nebbaz Gerriau).

In many such cases this negative clause can be translated literally into English, and it is the usual form of negation with an infinitive or present participle.

A somewhat similar absolute clause of a descriptive character occurs occasionally:—

An golom, glas hy lagas, yn mes gura hy delyfre, the dove, blue her eyes, do set her free (Origo Mundi, 1105-6).

Un flogh yonk, gwyn y dhyllas, a young child, white his raiment (Passion, 254, 3).

In a similar construction in Welsh the adjective here agrees with the first noun, and the translation would be rather “The dove blue [as to] her eyes,” but in Cornish this is not so, for in this sentence golom (second state of colom) is feminine, so that the adjective would be las, not glas, if it agreed with it.

p. 168§ 4.  The Infinitive or Verbal Noun.

The infinitive of a verb is treated almost exactly like a noun.  If its object is a pronoun, this precedes the infinitive in the possessive form and governs its initial as it would that of a noun.  If the object is not a pronoun, it follows the infinitive without change of initial, after the manner of an appositional genitive.

Very often the infinitive is governed by dhô, to, as in English, and under much the same circumstances, except that it is not so governed when it comes as the subject of another verb, and of course dhô is not used after auxiliary verbs.  It is especially used after verbs implying motion.

Mî a vedn môs dhô ’gas gwelas, I will go to see you.

Mî eth dhô vetya an trên, I went to meet the train.

Lowen on ny dhô ’gas gwelas why, we are glad to see you.

When the sense of “to” is “in order to,” or the preceding verb implies an intention, the infinitive is generally preceded by rag or rag dhô, “for to,” or by a dhô, “of to.”

§ 5.  Some Idioms and Expressions.

1.  To have is expressed in three ways.

a.  By the verb bos, to be, with the thing possessed as subject and the possessor in the dative form, i.e. preceded by dhô, to; cf. est mihi in Latin.

Affirmative.  Ema levar dhem, there is a book to me.

Negative.  Nynsyu levar dhem, there is not a book to me.

Interrog.  ’Es levar dhem?  Is there a book to me?

This is the common form in late Cornish.

b.  By the verb cafos or cavos, to find, to obtain, used as an ordinary transitive verb with the possessor as p. 169subject and the thing possessed as object.  This is not used for the present tense.  Lhuyd gives a past tense, mî a gavaz or mî ’rig gavaz, I had, and a future, mî ven gavaz, I will have, but he, Norris, and Williams are all inclined to confuse this with the third form.

c.  By a peculiar idiom compounded of a form of the verb bos, to be, and the third form of the personal (or else the possessive) pronouns.  The explanation, as far as it goes, of this verb is to be found in Breton.  Even there it has been confused a good deal, though its use is plain enough.  Legonidec calls it “le verbe kaout [=Cornish cavos], avoir,” which he distinguishes from kavout or kaout, trouver; Maunoir, whose Breton, according to a picture in Quimper Cathedral, was received miraculously from an angel, wisely does not commit himself, but calls the verb, Latin fashion, after the first person singular of the present.  Prof. Loth rightly speaks of it as “le verbe dit avoir,” and M. Ernault calls it “Verbe beza [to be] au sens de ‘avoir,’” and he explains it to be the verb to be, combined with the “pronoms régimes,” which is just what it is.  In Breton it is not only used as the ordinary verb to have=to possess, but also as an auxiliary verb in the same manner as avoir, have, haben, are used in French, English, and German.  This verb came to be used in Breton with or without the nominative pronoun being expressed.  In Cornish the expressed nominative pronoun is less usual, except in the second person singular, where it is the rule.  That it should be used at all in either language is a sign that in practice the original formation of the verb has been forgotten.  Occasionally in Cornish this oblivion has resulted even in the application of pronominal inflections to the verb.

This form is found frequently in the Ordinalia and in the Poem of the Passion; it is fairly common in the Life of St. Meriasek, it is rarer in the Creation, and p. 170is not found at all in Cornish of the latest period (except in a doubtful and muddled form in Keigwin’s version of the Commandments), though Lhuyd gives a fragment of it in his Grammar, evidently taken from the earlier Dramas and not from oral tradition, for he takes the g of geffi and gefyth to be a hard g, whereas it is plainly a soft g for a d, as the analogy of tevyth, and of the Breton deveuz, devez, etc., shows.  Moreover, it is sometimes written ieves, which is intended to represent jeves.

It will be well, by way of making this form clearer, to give not only the Cornish but also the corresponding Breton.

The tenses that are found are as follows:—

I.  The Present.




1.  [] am bes [bus, bues, bues].

[me] em euz.

2.  [] ath ĕs (thues).

[te] ec’h euz.

3.  m.  [ev] an jeves (for deves).

[hen] en deuz or deveuz.

3.  f.  [hy] as teves.

[he] e deuz.


1.  [ny] an bes.

[] hon euz.

2.  [why] as bes.

[c’houi] hoch euz.

3.  [y] as teves.

[] ho deuz or deveuz.

This tense is formed on us, eus, es (Breton euz), one of the forms of the third person singular of the verb substantive.  To this is prefixed the verbal particle a, with the letter which is the third form of the personal pronoun, ’m, ’th, ’n, ’s, ’n, ’s, ’s, with the peculiar addition of jev and tev to the third persons and b to the others.  The ’th of the second person singular is found written in this but not always in the other tenses, for it was probably often silent before f by a sort of assimilation.  Its effect is observable in the initial mutation.  Of this tense the first, second, and third persons singular p. 171and the second person plural are found.  But for the existence of the form as bes [bues] for the last, one might suppose, with Williams, that the b of am bes was only the addition of a cognate letter to the m.  But cf. the addition of b to oa and oe of the same verb in Breton.

II.  The Future.




1.  [] am bedh (byth, beth).

[me] em (or am) bez.

2.  tî a [th] fedh (fyth).

[te] ez (or az) pez.

3.  m.  [ev] an jevedh (for devedh).

[hen] en devez.

3.  f.  [hy] as tevedh.

[he] e devez.


1.  [ny] an (or agan) bedh.

[ni] hor bez.

2.  [why] as (or agas) bedh.

[c’houi] ho pez.

3.  [y] as tevedh.

[] o devez.

It will be seen here and in the other tenses that the pronouns in Breton do not produce exactly the same mutations as in Cornish.  The dh of Cornish is always written z in Breton, though that is pronounced dh in some dialects.  The whole of this tense is found in the MSS.

III.  The Preterite.




1.  [] am bê [bue].

[me] em (or am) boe.

2.  tî ath fê.

[te] ez (or az) poe.

3.  m.  [ev] an jeve.

[hen] en devoe.

3.  f.  [hy] as teve.

[he] e devoe.


1.  [ny] an (or agan) .

[ni] hor boe.

2.  [why] as (or agas) .

[c’houi] ho poe.

3.  [y] as teve.

[] o aevoe.

Only part of this tense is found in the MSS., but the rest is easily formed by analogy.

p. 172IV.  The Subjunctive (or Optative).




1.  [] am bo.

r’ am bezo, bo.

2.  tî ath fo, fetho.

r’ az pezo, po.

3.  m.  [ev] an jevo (for devo, written gefo or geffo).

r’ en devezo, devo.

3.  f.  [hy] as tevo.

r’ e devezo, devo.


1.  [ny] an (or agan) bo.

r’ hor bezo, bo.

2.  [why] as (or agas) bo.

r’ ho pezo, po.

3.  [y] as tevo (written teffo, tefo).

r’ o devezo, devo.

In this tense the Breton does not use the nominative personal pronoun, except when it is a form of the future, but prefixes r’ (ra).  In Cornish re is used to make the optative and perfect, and in this case the ’th of the second person singular is not omitted, for re’ th fo and re ’th fê are the forms found.

A rather doubtful second tense (secondary present or imperfect), equivalent to the Breton am boa, may be conjectured in am beua (St. Mer. 47, 1686), am bethe may be the equivalent of the Breton imperfect subjunctive, am bize, bije, befe, and the third person singular of this may be the an geffa of St. Mer. 20, 159.  Dr. Whitley Stokes gives both these forms as secondary presents.  There is also a possible pluperfect te ny vea, and nyn gyfye, found in the second and third persons singular.

One finds such forms as am buef, as bethough, may ’stefons, etc., as instances of pronominal inflections added to this verb, showing how completely its derivation was forgotten, and it is further confused by being perhaps mixed up with the verb pewa (Welsh piau, Breton piaoua), to possess, a verb which in all three languages requires rather more disentangling than it has as yet received.

p. 173There are very full examples of this verb in Zeuss’s Grammatica Celtica (ed. 1871, p. 565).

2.  Besides to have, certain other verbs are expressed with bos and the preposition dhô.  Thus:—

Ma cov dhem [pron. ma códhem], I remember, lit. there is remembrance to me.

Ma whans dhem, I want, lit. there is want to me.

Ma whêr dhem, I am sorry, lit. there is grief to me.

Ma own dhem, I fear, lit. there is fear to me.

Ma dout dhem, I doubt, lit. there is doubt to me.

Ma reys dhem, or reys yw dhem, I must, lit. there is need to me.

Another expression for “to remember” is perthy cov, to bear memory.  The imperative was sometimes written perco in one word.  Perthy is used similarly with other nouns: na berth medh, be not ashamed, na berth own, be not afraid, na berth whêr, be not sorry, an vuscogyon orto a borthas avy, the fools hated him (Passion, 26, 3), na berth dout, do not doubt.  The literal meaning is to bear shame, fear, sorrow, envy, doubt, etc.

Similarly nouns and adjectives are used with gan, with, as in Welsh, to represent states of mind.  Thus:—

Da yu genev, I like, lit. it is good with me.

Drôg yu genev, I am sorry, lit. it is bad with me.

Gwell yu genev, I prefer, lit. it is better with me.

Marth yu genev, I am astonished, lit. wonder is with me.

Cas yu genev, I hate, lit. hate is with me.

The verbs dal and goth, signifying ought, it behoves, are used either impersonally or, though this is a late corruption, as ordinary verbs.

Ni dal dhen ny / Ni goth dhen ny } we ought not.


Mî a dal / Mî a goth } I ought.

p. 1743.  Gwyn an bês.  This poetical expression is common to Cornish, Welsh, and Breton.  It signifies, “fair the world,” i.e. happy, and is used with possessive pronouns and appositional genitives.

Gwyn ow bês, fair my world, happy I.

Gwyn dha vês, happy thou.

Gwyn e vês, happy he.

Gwyn bês an den na wrîg cerdhes en cŏsŏl an gamhin-segyon, blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly.

In Welsh, when the possessor of this “fair world” is expressed by a noun, there is a redundant possessive pronoun before byd (bês).  Thus Psalm i. begins Gwyn ei fyd y gwr, fair his world of the man.  But this is not the Cornish form, which uses the simple appositional genitive in such cases.  There is a contrary expression, drôg pês, found in the Ordinalia (Passio Christi, 3089), drok pys of, unhappy am I.  In this case drôg seems to put the initial of bês in its fourth state.

4.  The following phrases are in common use, and are generally run into one or two words in pronunciation.

Mêr ’ras dhô Dhew (pron. merásthadew).  Great thanks be to God.

Mêr ’ras dheugh why (pron. merásdhawhy).  Great thanks to you.

Dew re dala dheugh why (pron. Durdladhawhy).  God repay to you.

Dew re sona dheugh why (pron. Dursónadhawhy).  God sain you.

Bennath Dew genough why (pron. Bénatew génawhy).  The blessing of God be with you.

Dew genough why (pron. Dew génawhy).  God be with you.

Pandráma (i.e. pa’n dra wrama).  What shall I do?

p. 175Pandréllen (i.e. pa’n dra wrellen).  What should I do?

Pándres (i.e. pa’n dra es).  What is there?

Pandryu (i.e. pa’n dra yu).  What is?

Pandresses (i.e. pa’n dra wresses).  What shouldst thou do?

Fatla genough why (pron. fatla génawhy).  How are you?

Trova (i.e. tre o-va), that he was.

§ 6.  Rules for Initial Mutations.

1.  The Second State.

aA feminine singular or masculine plural noun (or adjective used as a noun) preceded by the definite article an, the, or the numeral idn, one, has its initial in the second state.

b.  An adjective which follows and qualifies a feminine singular noun, has its initial in the second state.

c.  A noun preceded by an adjective qualifying it, of whatever gender or number, has its initial in the second state.

d.  If the adjective preceding and qualifying a feminine singular noun follows the article an, the, the initial of the adjective is also in the second state.

e.  A noun in the vocative preceded by the particle a, O (expressed or omitted for the sake of verse), has its initial in the second state.

f.  The possessive pronouns dha, thy, and e, his, are followed by words, whether nouns, adjectives, or verbal nouns (infinitives) in the second state.  The form ’th, thee or thy, generally puts the word which follows in the second state, but sometimes in the fourth, or changes b to f, not v.

g.  The verbal prefix ă (older y, yth), is generally followed by a verb in the second state.

p. 176h.  The verbal particles a and re and the interrogative particle a are followed by a verb in the second state.

i.  The prepositions a, der or dre, dhô, heb, re, and war, and compound prepositions ending in any of them, are followed by words in the second state.

k.  The conjunctions tre, tro, that, pan, when, erna, until, hedre, whilst, are followed by the second state.

l.  The adverbial particle en is followed generally by an adjective in the second state.

m.  The adverbs pŭr, very, ni, na, not, fraga, why, fatla, how, are followed by initials in the second state.

2.  The Third State.

a.  The possessive pronouns ow, my, î, her, and aga, their, are followed by words in the third state.

bMa, may, that, are sometimes followed by verbs in the third state, and sometimes by a variant, g becoming h, and gw becoming wh.

3.  The Fourth State.

a.  The particle ow, which forms the present participle, is followed by a verbal noun (or infinitive) in the fourth state.

b.  The conjunctions a, mar, mara, if, are followed by verbs in the fourth state.

c.  The adverb maga, as (in “as well,” etc.) is followed by an adjective in the fourth state.

d.  Sometimes an adjective beginning with d, when preceded by the adverbial particle en, has its initial in the fourth state, and rarely a noun beginning with d, when it follows in the appositional genitive a word ending in th.

e.  The verbal prefix ă (y), when followed by verbs whose radical initial is d, often changes that initial to the fourth state, and in the case of those beginning p. 177with gw to wh.  The conjunction ken, though, does the same.

f.  The third form of the second personal pronoun singular ’th not infrequently changes the initial of a verb beginning with d to the fourth state, and that of one beginning with g or gw to wh.  It also sometimes changes b to f.

The exact usage of the mutations is not very clear, for even the older writers used them rather wildly, but the above rules are the general principles of them.  There are valuable notes on their phonetic principles in Dr. Whitley Stokes’s notes to St. Meriasek, and in a paper of additional notes which he published later.  In the latest Cornish there was a tendency to use the second state after nearly anything, especially prepositions, except the few words which govern the other two mutations.


The prosody of the Celtic languages is often very elaborate, but the more modern tendency has generally been in the direction of assimilating it to the prosody of English, or, in the case of Breton, to that of French.  In Welsh two systems exist at the present day, and the rules of them are known respectively as y Rheolau Caethion and y Rheolau Rhyddion, the bond or strict rules and the free rules.  The former are founded on elaborate rules of Cynghanedd or consonance, which term includes alliteration and rhyme, and every imaginable correspondence of consonant and vowel sounds, reduced to a system which Welsh-speaking Welshmen profess to be able to appreciate, and no doubt really can, though it is not easily understood by the rest of the world.  The rules of Cynghanedd are applied in various ways to the four-and-twenty metres of the Venedotian (Gwynedd or North Wales) school, and to the metres of the Dimetian (Dyfed or South-West Wales) and the Glamorgan schools.  Modern Welsh bards, however, though they often use the strict rules as tours-de-force for Eisteddfod purposes, as often compose poetry according to the free rules, which are mostly the ordinary go-as-you-please metres of the Saxon.  The Bretons follow the ordinary French rules as to the strict number of syllables, the cæsura, and the rhyming, taking very little account of the stress accent either of words or sentences.

p. 179The prosody of the older Cornish literature has little in common with the strict system of Welsh.  Though one does find alliterations and “internal” rhyming and correspondence of consonants, they do not seem to be at all systematic, but are only either introduced as casual ornaments or purely accidentally.  The rules of the older Cornish prosody have more in common with those of Breton, except that, but for one case in the Dramas of a five-syllabled couplet, and the rather irregular Add. Charter fragment in the British Museum, there are only two lengths of lines, seven or four syllables, and the cæsura is not very definite.

The seven-syllabled lines are the more common.  The whole of the Poem of the Passion is in stanzas of eight seven-syllabled lines, rhyming alternately, but written as fourteen-syllabled lines; and the greater part of the Dramas is in lines of the same length, though with varying arrangements of rhymes.  Sometimes whole passages of four-syllabled lines occur, and frequently four-syllabled lines occur in the same stanza with those of seven syllables.  The rhythmic accent seems to be trochaic, and the heptasyllabic line to consist of three trochees and a long syllable, but as the stress accent of words is absolutely disregarded, and the strong beats of the rhythm sometimes fall on monosyllables which out of poetry would probably be enclitic or proclitic, or at any rate very slightly accented, one can only be sure of the fact that the poet of the Ordinalia was careful to count his syllables exactly, and to make the last syllable of every line rhyme with the last syllable of some other line.  The author of the Poem of the Passion was not quite so careful, and Jordan was still less so.  Diphthongs, as in Breton, are occasionally counted as two syllables, a y followed by another vowel is sometimes a vowel and sometimes a consonant, and there are occasional elisions and perhaps contractions, p. 180understood but not expressed, [180a] but with these few exceptions the number of syllables to a line is strictly accurate, and in the Ordinalia is never varied by the unaccented and uncounted syllables that often occur in English verse.  The rhymes are quite strict to the eye, but that is no doubt because in the days when one could spell as one pleased, the writer might arrange his spelling to suit, but there appear to be cases where the dh and th, both written th, as final consonants are made to rhyme together, and the three sounds of u (oo and the French u and eu) are sometimes confused.  Though the rhymes are always “masculine” (i.e. of one syllable), there are occasionally cases where, unless one counts the rhymes as “feminine” (i.e. of two syllables), they would not be rhymes at all, and yet feminine rhymes would throw out the rhythm. [180b]

The metres of late Cornish were usually rather more assimilated to English, but apparently some memory of Celtic prosody lingered on.  Lhuyd quotes a proverb, of which he gives two versions, in the old three-lined metre known in Welsh as the Triban Milwr, or Warrior’s Triplets, which is found as early as Llywarch Hen’s Laments for Geraint ap Erbyn and for the Death of Cynddylan, in the sixth century.  Lhuyd himself wrote a Cornish Lament for William of Orange in what he claimed as the same metre, a singularly inappropriate subject for the language of a nation of loyal Jacobites, as the Cornish certainly were as late as 1715.  Boson (Gwavas MS., f. 7) wrote a short elegy on James Jenkins p. 181of Alverton, also in rhyming triplets.  The curious little song, which is all that remains of Jenkins’s poetry, seems to show indications of a feeling for internal rhymes and something like a rudimentary Cynghanedd, but there is not enough of it to reduce to any definite rules.  Even in Boson’s verses and in those of Gwavas and Tonkin of St. Just (not the historian), in the Gwavas MS., the old system of counting syllables and taking very little account of the stress accents of words, is occasionally found, but generally in the later verse the extra unaccented syllables freely introduced show that a sense of accent and beats of rhythm had come in.

Specimens of Cornish Verse.

I.  Five- (or four) syllabled lines, with occasional six-syllabled, rhyming A A B C C B.  From the fragment on the back of Additional Charter 19,491 in the British Museum, late fourteenth century.

Golsow ty cowedh, (5)
Byth na borth medh, (4)
   Dyyskyn ha powes (6)
Ha dhymo dus nes. (5)
Mar codhes dhe les; (5)
   Ha dhys y rof mowes, (6)
Ha fest unan dek (5)
Genes mar a plek. (5)
   Ha tanha y; (4)
Kemmerr y dhoth wrek, (5)
Sconye dhys ny vek (5)
   Ha ty a vydh hy. (5) [181]

Hearken, thou comrade,
Never be ashamed,
   Alight and rest
And to me come near.
If thou knowest thy advantage;
   And to thee I will give a girl,
And truly a fair one
To thee if she is pleasing.
   Go take her now;
Take her to thy wife,
Refuse thee she will not
   And thou shalt have her.

p. 182It is probable that this metre is intended to be five-syllabled throughout, except that a “feminine” or double rhyme is occasionally allowable (e.g. powes-mowes), and that the light first syllable of a line may be omitted.  This accounts for the two six-syllabled and two four-syllabled lines respectively.  In the rest of the poem there are lines of four, five, seven, eight, and even nine syllables.  The whole fragment of forty-one lines, though not much earlier than the Ordinalia, is much less regular in rhythm, and is much less syllabic.

II.  One of the commonest metres of the Dramas, and indeed of much mediæval verse in other languages, consists of seven-syllabled lines rhyming A A B C C B, or A A B A A B.

From the Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, the second of the Ordinalia, fifteenth century.  (Our Lord’s speech to the Pueri Hebræorum.)

Ow benneth ol ragas bo
Ow tos yn onor thymmo
   Gans branchis flowrys kefrys.
Un deyth a thue yredy
Ma’n talvethaf ol thywhy
   Kemmys enor thym yu gwrys.

My blessing be all upon you
Coming in honour to me
   With branches and flowers likewise.
A day shall soon come
When I shall repay it all to you
   As much honour as is done to me.

This is the metre of the well-known Whitsunday Sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, thou Holy Spirit, come).

Note that gwrys (gwres in Modern Cornish) is a monosyllable, and that the ue of dhue is a single vowel=eu.  This metre is varied by being made into eight-lined stanzas, rhyming A A A B C C C B.

p. 183III.  Another very common metre in the Dramas consists of stanzas of eight lines of seven syllables, rhyming alternately.  Usually the stanza only contains two rhymes, but sometimes, especially if four lines of the eight are given to one character and four to another, the rhymes of the two quatrains are independent of one another.

From the Ordinale de Origine Mundi, fifteenth century.  (Eve’s speech to Adam after gathering the apple.)

My pan esen ou quandre
   Clewys a’n nyl tenewen
Un el ou talleth cane
   A ughaf war an wethen.
Ef a wruk ow husullye
   Frut annethy may torren
Moy es Deu ny a vye
   Bys venytha na sorren.

I when I was wandering
   Heard on the one side
An angel beginning to sing
   Above me on the tree.
He did counsel me
   Fruit from it that I should break;
More than God we should be
   Nor be troubled for ever.

Note the apparent “feminine” rhymes, torren-sorren, which are really rimes riches in the French style.

The whole Poem of the Passion is in this metre, but is written in lines of fourteen syllables.

IV.  Four-syllabled lines, often written as eight-syllabled, rhyming alternately.  Thus (Passio D. N. J. C. in the Ordinalia, 1. 35):—

A mester whek·  gorthys re by
Pan wreth mar tek·  agan dysky.
Asson whansek·  ol the pysy,
Lettrys na lek·  war Thu mercy!

O sweet master, glorified be thou,
When thou dost so sweetly teach us.
How we desire all to pray,
Learned and lay, to God for mercy!

p. 184The same two rhymes run through a stanza of eight (written as four) lines.

V.  Four-syllabled lines in six-lined stanzas, rhyming A A B A A B (Passio D. N. J. C., 169).

Gorthyans ha gras
The Dew ow thas
   Luen a verci,
Pan danvonas
Yn onor bras
   Thym servysi.

Glory and thanks
To God my Father,
   Full of mercy,
When he sent
In great honour
   Servants to me.

VI.  Sometimes a mixture of the last two forms of stanza is found extended to ten lines.  Thus (Origo Mundi, 1271):—

Dyvythys of
The’th volungeth,
Arluth porth cof
Yn deyth dyweth
   A’m enef vy.
Lavar thymmo
Pandra wrama;
Y’n gwraf ytho
Scon yn tor-ma
Yn pur deffry.

Come am I
To thy will.
Lord remember
In the last day
   My soul.
Tell me
What I shall do;
I will do it now
Soon in this turn
   Very seriously.

VII.  Mixed seven and four syllabled lines.  Sometimes these are only the metre of II., with the third and sixth lines four-syllabled instead of seven-syllabled.

p. 185Thus in Origo Mundi, 911, we find:—

Ou banneth theughwhy pub prys,
Mar tha y wreugh ou nygys
   Prest yn pub le.
Gorreugh an fals nygethys
Gans Abel a desempys
   The yssethe.

My blessing to you always,
So well you do my business
   Quickly everywhere.
Put the false flier
With Abel immediately
   To sit.

VIII.  Sometimes alternations of stanzas of four and seven-syllabled lines are found.  A very remarkable and effective set opens the Drama of The Passion.  It is in stanzas of thirteen lines, eight lines of four syllables (written as four of eight syllables), rhyming A B A B A B A B, one line of seven syllables with rhyme C, three lines of seven syllables with rhyme D, and a seven-syllabled line with rhyme C.

Thyugh lavara·  Ow dyskyblyon,
Pyseygh toythda·  Ol kescolon
Deu dreys pup tra·  Eus a huhon
Theygh yn bys-ma·  Ygrath danvon
   Yn dyweth may feugh sylwys.
Gans an eleth yu golow,
Yn nef agas enefow
Neffre a tryg hep ponow
   Yn joy na vyth dywythys.

To you I say, my disciples,
Pray quickly, all of one heart
God above everything, who is on high
To you in this world His grace to send
   In the end that ye may be saved.
With the angels there is light,
In heaven your souls
Ever shall dwell without pains
   In joy that shall not be ended.

p. 186IX.  In the Drama of St. Meriasek there are no less than ten classes of stanza, counting by the number of lines to the stanza, and these may be considerably multiplied by alternating or mixing seven-syllabled with four-syllabled lines in various orders, and by varying the number of sets of rhymes to a stanza and the order of those rhymes.  Perhaps one of the most elaborated (1. 168-180) will serve as a specimen.  It is a thirteen-lined stanza of twelve seven-syllabled lines, and one (the ninth) four-syllabled line, with four sets of rhymes, rhyming A B A B A B A B C [four syllables] D D D C.

Gelwys ydhof Conany,
   Mytern yn Bryton Vyan;
Han gulascor pur yredy
   Me a beu ol yn tyan.
Der avys ou arlydhy
   Mones y fannaf lemman
The Duk pen a chevalry,
   Nesse dhymmo yn certan
      Par del yu ef
Yma maryag galosek
Cowsys dhyn rag Meryasek
Mergh dhe vyghtern gallosek,
   Nynses brassa yn dan nef.

Called am I Conan,
   King in Little Britain;
And the kingdom very readily
   I own all entirely.
Through the advice of my lords
   I will go now
To the Duke the chief of knighthood.
   Second to me certainly
      Like as he is.
There is a mighty marriage
Spoken to us for Meriasek
Of the daughter to a mighty king,
There is not a greater under heaven.

It is evident that by varying the number of lines and rhymes to a stanza, varying the distribution of the rhymes, and mixing lines of different length, an almost p. 187infinite variety may be obtained, even with only two forms of line.

X.  The metres of Jordan’s Drama of The Creation (1611) do not differ materially in intention from those of the Ordinalia, on which they are evidently modelled.  But in this play one begins to find signs of a tendency to a less accurate ear for exact syllabic rhythm.  About eighty lines out of the 2548 of which the play consists have eight syllables, about twenty have only six, and in each case these ought to be seven-syllabled.  Also there are two cases of three and six of five syllables in what ought to be four-syllabled lines, and there are several cases of nine syllables in a line, and one case of ten.  No doubt some of these discrepancies may be accounted for by elisions and contractions not expressed in writing (as is often the case in Latin), and some of the short lines contain diphthongs which may be meant to count as two syllables, but by no means all are explainable by anything but the influence of English, or, as is less probable, a reversion to some such archaic idea of rhythm as that of the Add. Charter fragment.

After this we come to the verses of late Cornish.  These are few, poor, corrupt, and illiterate, and for the most part without value for metrical purposes.  The strictly syllabic metres of the older Cornish have nearly disappeared, and though the tonic accent is still disregarded when convenient, extra unaccented syllables, as often in inferior, and sometimes in good English verse, are freely introduced by way of anacrusis, etc., in a manner that shows that accent was considered in a sort of way, and that the accents of a line rather than the syllables were counted.  John Boson wrote a few lines in three-lined stanzas somewhat after the fashion of the Welsh Triban Milwr, and Lhuyd’s artificial elegy on William of Orange is another instance of the same.  p. 188The only poem remaining of James Jenkins of Alverton (printed by Pryce and Davies Gilbert) is a sort of irregular ode, which refuses to be satisfactorily analysed.  The lines are all sorts of lengths, they may begin with an accent or they may have one or two light syllables before the first strong beat, the rhymes may be single or double.  The principle of the first part seems to be little lines of two beats, varying from three to seven syllables rhyming in couplets.  Thus:—

Ma léeaz gwréag

There are many wives

Lácka vel zéag,

Worse than grains [i.e. brewers’ refuse],

Gwéll gerrés (or gwéll gérres)

Better left

Vel kommeres (or vél komméres),

Than taken,

Ha ma léeaz bénnen

And there are man women

Pókar an gwénen

Like the bees,

Ey vedn gwérraz de go tées

They will help their men

Dendle péath an béaz.

To earn the goods of the world.

Fléhaz heb skéeans

Children without knowledge

Vedn guíl go séeanz;

Will do [according to] their sense;

Buz mar crówngy predery

But if they do consider

Pan dél go gwáry

What their play is like,

Ha mádra tá

And consider well

Pandrig séera ha dámma,

What did father and mother,

Na ra hens [wrans?] móaz dan cóoz

They will not go to the wood

Do kúntle go bóoz. [188]

To gather their food.


p. 189The latter part has lines of four beats, with a very variable number of unaccented syllables, which in reading were probably hurried over rather vaguely.  This rhythm may be compared with the “new principle” (as the author calls it in his preface) of Coleridge’s Christabel. [189a]

Boson’s triplets are mostly of ten-syllabled lines, Lhuyd’s are generally of eight syllables, but sometimes of nine or even ten and eleven.

Tonkin of St. Just, a tailor, wrote two songs, which are in the Gwavas MS.  They are in four-lined stanzas generally of seven-syllabled lines, though as often as not having an extra light syllable to begin with.  Thus:—

Pa wrîg ev gŏrra trâz war tîr

Ev vê welcombes me ôr gwîr.

Ha devethes dhô Caresk

Maga saw besca vê pesk. [189b]

When he [i.e. William of Orange] did put foot on land

He was welcomed I know well.

And having come [came] to Exeter

As safe as ever was fish.

The epigrams printed by Pryce and Davies Gilbert were mostly composed by Boson and Gwavas.  Eight-syllabled lines are frequent among them, but they are of little or no value, and are altogether on English models, and not very good models at that.

Should any one wish to attempt verse-writing in Cornish, it would be best either to use one of the seven p. 190or four syllabled (or mixed) metres of the Dramas, using their purely syllabic methods, which undoubtedly work all right in modern Breton, or to extend the same principles, as the Bretons do, to lines of other lengths.  The triplets of old Welsh and perhaps of very old Cornish are effective metres, but are not so easy as they look, for it is not enough merely to write rhyming triplets.  Lhuyd in his one attempt has produced a peculiar though allowable metre, with lines of all sorts of lengths, and the old specimens, Llywarch Hen’s Marwnad Geraint ap Erbin, and the Englynion called Eiry Mynydd, are largely in lines of seven syllables, and some of them, such as the Song of the Death of Cynddylan, and the curious ninth-century poem in the Cambridge Juvencus, seem to have also the gair cyrch, that strange little tag to the first line of the triplet, outside of the rhyme but not outside of the assonance or alliteration, which is so marked a characteristic of the four-lined Englyn, while in most of them there are alliterations, vowel correspondences, and internal rhymes, which are not so haphazard as they look.  It is well not to attempt to force a Celtic language into a Teutonic mould.  Some of the most beautiful metres that the world has ever known are to be found among the works of English poets, but they are no more suitable to Cornish than hexameters, sapphics, and alcaics on strict quantity lines would be to English.  It is possible, however, to write ten-syllabled blank verse in Cornish, provided a fair amount of alliteration is used.

One word about inversions of the order of words in poetry.  This should be done very sparingly, and it is not easy to lay down very definite rules as to what is allowable and what not.  It is best not to deviate from the usual order of words unless one can find a precedent in one of the Dramas.  Some inversions, however, are quite allowable.  Thus one may put the complement of p. 191a predicate, e.g. an infinitive, an accusative, or a participle, at the beginning of a phrase:—

bewa ythesaf pub eare (Creation, 1667), living I am always.

banna ny allaf gwelas (Creation, 1622), a drop I cannot see.

defalebys os ha cabm (Creation, 1603), deformed thou art, and crooked.

yn bushes ow crowetha (Creation, 1606), in bushes lying.

gans dean pen vo convethys (Creation, 1618), by man when it is discovered.

worthaf ve sertan ny dale (Creation, 1619), with me, certainly, ought not.

determys ove dha un dra (Creation, 236), determined I am of one thing.

mos then menythe me a vyn (Creation, 1082), go to the mountain I will.

These are all taken from Jordan’s Creation, and mostly at random from the same page.  Still, the less one inverts the normal order of words the better.


One of the practical interests in the study of Cornish is in the interpretation of place-names.  As quite ninety per cent. of the place-names of Cornwall are Celtic, and as a very large proportion of these are descriptive names, usually in a fairly uncorrupted state, this gives much opportunity of research.  There are, however, certain considerations, grammatical and topographical, which should be kept carefully in mind in attempting to discover the meanings of these names, and it is a disregard of these considerations that has made most of the published works on the subject so singularly valueless.  The great majority of Cornish names are composed of epithets suffixed to certain nouns, such as tre, trev, a town; pol, a pool; pen or pedn, head or top; rôs, often written rose, a heath; car, a fort or camp; lan, an enclosure, or a church; eglos, a church; bal, a mine; whêl or wheal, a work (i.e. a mine); chy, ty, a house; park, a field; forth, a creek or harbour; nans, a valley; carn, a cairn or heap of rocks; hal, a moor; gûn, goon, a down; gwêl, gweal, a field; bod, bos, be, a dwelling; les, a court, a palace; carrack, a rock; creeg, a tumulus; crows, a cross; din, dun, a hill-fort; fenton or venton, a spring; kelly, killy, a grove; cos, coose, a wood; mên, a stone; tol, a hole; triga, trigva, a dwelling-place; melan, mellan, vellan, a mill; zawn, zawns, a cove; bron, bryn, a hill; bar, bor, bur, a summit; tor, a hill.  These p. 193are the commonest of the nouns.  The epithets may be:—

1.  Adjectives, signifying size, colour, position, etc., e.g. mêr, mear, vcar, great; bîan, bean, vean, little; glas, blue; dew, black; gwin, gwidu, widn, white; gwartha, wartha, gwarra, upper; gollas, gullas, wollas, lower, etc., in agreement with the noun.

2.  Other nouns in the appositional genitive.

3.  Proper names.

4.  Adjectives or nouns preceded by the article an, the, or by a preposition such as war, on.

The following points should be considered:—

1.  The gender of the noun.  Of the nouns mentioned above, tre, ros, car, lan, whêl, hal, goon, carrack, crows, fenton, kelly, trigva, mellan, bron, tor, are feminine, so that the initial of the adjective epithet is changed to the second state.  This may often, more or less, determine whether the epithet is an adjective or a noun in the genitive.  Thus, in the name Tremaine, we may be sure that the second syllable is not an adjective or it would be Trevaine, so the meaning is not, as one would think, “the stone house,” not a very distinguishing epithet in Cornwall, but probably the “house of the stones,” i.e. of some stone circle or other prehistoric remains.  Sometimes, however, the initial of an appositional genitive, and sometimes that of an epithet of a masculine noun is irregularly changed in composition.

2.  The stress accent of the compound.  This is of great importance, especially in determining whether an article or preposition intervenes between the noun and its epithet, and also, in the rare cases in which it occurs, in deciding whether the epithet may not precede the noun.  The stress accent is almost invariably on the epithet, and it is astonishing to see how even in p. 194East Cornwall, where the language has been dead for three centuries, this accentuation is still preserved.  If the epithet suffix is a monosyllable, the accent of the compounded word is on the last syllable; if not, the accent is usually on the last but one, but the intervening article or preposition is always a proclitic, and is disregarded as to accent.  The same sort of thing happens in English.  Thus, even if it were the custom to write Stratfordonavon all in one word, we should know by the accent that it meant Stratford-on-Avon; but one, say some German philologist, who had never heard it pronounced, and knew nothing of British topography and the distribution of surnames, might conjecture that it was Stratfor Dónavon, might compare it with Lydiard Tregoze, Stoke Dabernon, Sutton Valence, or Compton Wyniates, and might build thereon a beautiful theory of an Irish settlement in Warwickshire.  Things every whit as absurd as this have been done with Cornish names.

3.  The position and general features of the place.  Thus when we find that a rather important town is situated at the innermost point of a bay called in Cornish (cf. Boson’s Pilchard Song) Zans Garrak Loos en Kûz, we may doubt whether its name signifies “the holy head or headland,” and not “the head of the bay.”  In this case there is a slight complication, because there is actually something of a headland about the Battery Rocks, and the town arms are St. John Baptist’s head in a charger; but when we find that Tremaine is some ten miles, as the crow flies, from the nearest point of the coast, we may be quite justified in doubting whether Pryce is right in calling it “the town on shore or sea coast.”

The following specimens of names about whose meaning there can be no doubt, will serve as examples of the construction of Cornish place-names:—

p. 1951.  Epithet following noun.

a.  Masculine.  Porthmear (in Zennor), the great porth or creek.  (Murray’s Handbook says that it means the “sea-port,” but Murray’s interpretations are intricately and ingeniously wrong-headed).

b.  Feminine.  Trevean, the little town.  Tre signifies town in the modern Cornish and old English sense, a farmhouse with its out-buildings.  It is the commonest of these generic prefixes.  In Brittany, though it is occasionally found, its place is usually taken by Ker (Cornish Car, Welsh Caer), probably the Latin castrum, a fortified town or camp, a difference which has its historical significance.

2.  Epithet preceding noun.

Hendrea, the old town (in Sancreed).  Note that this is Héndrea, not Hendréa.  Note also the change of initial in tre.

3.  Intervening particles.

a.  The definite article.  Crows-an-wra, the witch’s cross.  (Murray says that it means “the wayside cross,” but gwragh, gwrah, gwra, Breton gwrac’h, certainly means a hag or witch, and the change of initial after the article shows that the noun is feminine.)  Chy-an-dowr, the house of the water.

b.  Preposition.  Tywardreath, the house on the sands; Tywarnhaile (=Ty war an hayle), the house on the tidal river.  Note that the syllable war in these words is unaccented.  In Trewartha, the upper house, the accent is on war, so that even if we were not accustomed to the epithet wartha we should know that war is here not a preposition.

4.  Appositional genitive without article.

Chytan, the house of fire; Chypons, the bridge house; Pentreath, the head of the sands; Portreath (=Porth-treath), the creek of the sands.

Nancemelling (=Nans-mellan), the valley of the mill.

p. 1965.  Proper names as appositional genitives:—

Trejago, the house of Jago (or James).

Chykembra, the Welshman’s house.

Gûn-an-Guidal (or Anguidal Downs), the down of the Irishman.

In West Cornwall, especially in Penwith, where the spoken language lingered latest, there is a greater tendency to the use of the article an than in the more eastern part of the Duchy.  Sometimes the article is prefixed to the noun itself.  Thus, Andrewartha (=an dre wartha), the upper town, in Gwithian, now called Upton, but inhabited by a family of the older name; Angarrack, the rock, between Hayle and Gwinear Road; Angove, the smith, and Angwin, the white, family names; Angrouse, the cross, in Mullion; Angear, the castle; Annear or Ennor, the earth; Angilley or Anguilly, the grove. [196]

Generally when the article comes between the generic noun and some other word the latter is a noun also, an appositional genitive, but occasionally it is an adjective, as in Ponsanooth (in Perran Arworthal and Gluvias), which is probably Pons-an-nowedh, the new bridge.  The generic prefix Pleu or Plou, parish, so common in Brittany, is altogether unknown in Cornish place-names of to-day, unless, as some hold, Bleu Bridge in Madron means “the parish bridge,” and is a partial translation of Pons-an-bleu, but the word is common enough in Cornish, and the names of parishes called after saints frequently began in Cornish writings with Pleu (plu, plui)—Pleu East, St. Just; Pleu Paul, St. Paul; Pleu Vudhick, St. Budock.  Though the word occurs in the expression tîz pleu, people of [his] parish, in the tale of John of Chy-an-Hur, the three parishes mentioned there, St. Levan, St. Hillary, and Buryan, are called by p. 197their ordinary English names.  The prefix lan, originally an enclosure (cf. the English lawn), but later used to signify a church with its churchyard, is still frequently found, with occasional variants of la, lam, and land, but it is nothing like so frequent as the Welsh equivalent llan.  In earlier days it was more common in Cornwall than it is now, and a number of parishes which now have the prefix “Saint” appear in the Domesday Survey with Lan.

* * * * *

The family names of Cornwall, omitting those of the few great Norman houses, Granvilles, Bevilles, Fortescues, Bassets, St. Aubyns, Glanvilles, etc., which do not concern us at present, fall into at least four classes.

1.  Names derived from places.

“By Tre, Pol, and Pen,
Ye shall know Cornishmen.”

or as Camden more correctly expands it at the expense of metre:—

“By Tre, Ros, Pol, Lan, Car, and Pen,
Ye shall know the most Cornishmen.”

And he might have added many more prefixes.  It is probable that many of these names originated in the possession of the estates of the same names.

Of this class are such names as Trelawny, Rosevear, Polwhele, Lanyon, Carlyon, and Penrose.  To the ordinary Saxon they sound highly aristocratic, and are introduced into modern “up country” novels in a way that is often amusing to a Cornishman, and no doubt many of them do represent the names of families of past or present gentility, for in Cornwall, as in the Scottish Highlands, armigerous gentry were and are very thick on the ground, and a very large number of Cornishmen of every class and occupation p. 198might write themselves down “gentlemen” in the strict heraldic sense if they only knew it.  But some names of this class are derived from very small landed possessions, and some probably, as similar names in England, from mere residence, not possession.

2.  Patronymics.  These are the equivalents of the English names ending in son or s, of the Welsh names beginning with ap (=mab, son), and the Irish and Scottish beginning with mac or O’.  They fall into five classes.

a.  The Christian name used as a surname without alteration, as Harry, Peter, John, Rawle, Rawe or Rowe (for Ralph or Raoul), Gilbart and Gilbert, Thomas or Thom, Davy, Bennet, Harvey, Tangye, etc.

b.  The diminutive of the Christian name, as Jenkin, Hodgkin, Rawlin, Tonkin, Eddyvean (=Little Eddy), Hockin (—Hawkin, i.e. Harrykin), etc.

c.  The Christian name or its diminutive in its English possessive form, as Peters, Johns, Rogers, Jenkins, Rawlings, Roberts, etc.

d.  Patronymics formed as in English, German, Dutch, and the Scandinavian languages by adding son, as Johnson, Jackson, Wilson, etc.  When these occur in Cornwall they are probably often of English origin.

e.  Patronymics formed with the prefix ap (for mab, son), apocopated (as in the Welsh names Probert, Pritchard, Price, Bevan, Bowen) to a p or b.  It is possible that to this class may belong Prowse, Prawle (Ap Rowse, Ap Rawle), Bown (Ap Owen?), Budge (Ap Hodge?), Pezzack (Ap Isaac).

The Christian names from which patronymics are formed are not as a rule very peculiar.  There are the usual names of the well-known saints, Peter, Paul, Mitchell (Michael), John, James (or in its Cornish form, Jago), Thomas, Matthew, Francis, Dunstan, Bennet, Andrew, p. 199Martin, and the rest, the common general Christian names, Harry, William, Robert, Roger, etc., and some less common ones, such as Julyan, Vivian, Nicholas (Nicol, Nicholl, etc.), Colin, Jeffry, Jasper, Gilbert, etc., and names of Cornish saints, Keverne, Key, Gluyas, Ustick (probably adjectival form from Just).  Besides these there are a few from old British, or of Breton or Norman introduction, Harvey (Hervé), Dennis, Rawle, and Rawlin (Raoul, Raoulin, Rivallen), Tangye (Tanguy, a quite common name in Brittany, from St. Tanguy, one of the entourage of St. Pol of Leon), Arthur, David or Davy (as representing the Welsh saint, not the King of Israel), Sampson (representing the Bishop of Dol, not the Israelite hero), Jewell (Breton Judicael or Juhel).  Some names take a variety of forms.  Thus Clement is found as Clemens, Clemments, Clements, Clemo or Clemmow, Climo, Climance, etc., Ralph (Radulphus, Rudolph, Randolph, Rollo) is found as Ralph, Rapson, Rawe, Rawle, Rawlin, Rawling, Rawlings, Rabling, Randall, Rowe, Rowling, Rowse, etc.  There are also certain names which have a resemblance to Spanish names, Pascoe, Varcoe, Jago, Crago, Manuel, etc., but no theory of Spanish influence is necessarily to be built upon them, as they are otherwise explainable.  As the Cornish had got beyond the matriarchal stage of culture before historic times, we do not find family names derived from names of women, but no chapter on Cornish nomenclature can omit that very remarkable and peculiarly Cornish name Jennifer, which is beyond any doubt a local form of the name of Guenivere, the wife of Arthur.  A more Frenchified form is still found in Brittany, and the Cornish form goes back to time immemorial.  At one time the name of an equally celebrated Queen of Cornwall was used as a Cornish Christian name, for Ysolt de Cardinham possessed the advowson of the church of Colan in p. 200the thirteenth century, but except as a modern revival, of which the present writer knows only one case connected with Cornwall, this name is no longer found.  Another not infrequent Christian name is Hannibal, from which possibly may come the surnames Hambly, Hamley, and Hamblyn.  The name is too old in Cornwall to have originated in any theory about the Phœnicians and the tin trade of the Cassiterides, for it is found in times when no one troubled himself about either, but its origin is decidedly a puzzle.

3.  Names derived from trades or occupations.  Some of these are only English, Smith, Wright, Carpenter, Brewer, Paynter, etc., but others are real Cornish, as Marrack, knight; Angove, the smith; Drew, druid, magician (and perhaps An-drew, the druid, when it is not merely a patronymic); Tyacke, farmer; Sayer and Sara, possibly Saer, carpenter; Hellyar, hunter; Cauntor (Lat. Cantor), singer.

4.  Nicknames or names derived from personal peculiarities, such as Black, White, Brown, Grey, Green, which are mostly found in English, though one finds Angwin, the white, and Winn, white; Glass and Glaze, blue; Couch, red; Floyd (cf. Welsh Lloyd), grey; Glubb, moist, wet; Coath, Coad, and its English Olde or Ould; Baragwaneth, wheat-bread, etc.  Also names derived from names of animals, Bullock, Cock, Fox, or its Cornish Lewarne (unless that is Le-warne, the place of alders), Mutton (though this may be a place-name also), etc.  One does not see why a man should have been called Curnow, the Cornishman, in a country in which such an epithet could not have been very distinguishing, but that name is not at all uncommon, nor is Andain or Endean, the man, which is still less distinguishing.

p. 201This is only a slight sketch of a considerable range of investigation, but the subject would require a book to itself, so that it is impossible here to do more than indicate the direction in which students of Cornish nomenclature should work.  But in the investigation of place-names in any language one must always allow for corruption and alteration in the course of centuries, and in a Celtic country for the Celticising of names of non-Celtic derivation.  Thus the well-known Welsh name Bettws is probably the old English bede-house (prayer-house), Gattws, less common, is gatehouse.  The terminations aig, sgor, bhal, dail, ort, so common in the Hebrides and West Highlands, are Gaelic forms of the Norse vik, skjœr, val, dal, fjord, and many names in those parts are altogether Norse, spelt Gaelic fashion, and have no meaning whatever in Gaelic.  Probably the Cornish place-name Bereppa, Barrepper, Brepper, Borripper, of which instances occur in Gunwalloe, Penponds, Mawnan, and elsewhere, is only the French Beau-Repaire, and there are probably many other names of French derivation.  Dr. Bannister’s Glossary of Cornish Names is of so eminently uncritical a character as to be of little use.  Though he had a wide knowledge of separate Cornish words, he was no philologist, and did not seem to understand how to put his words together.  Had he only given the situation of the places—the name of the parish would have been something towards it—he would have left a basis for future work.  As it is, the whole work needs to be done over again.  Of course one need hardly say that out of such a large collection of names a considerable number of the derivations are quite correctly stated, but those are mostly the easy and obvious ones, and even easy ones are often wrong, and it was quite useless to encumber the glossary with the hopeless derivations of eighteenth-century p. 202writers.  But the interpretation of place-names is not so simple as it looks, and it is easier to criticise other people’s derivations than to find better ones, so that one may admire Dr. Bannister’s industry while one deprecates the recklessness of many of his conclusions.



§ 1.  The Days of the Week, Dedhyow an Seithan.


Dê Zîl.


Dê Lín.


Dê Mergh.


Dê Marhar.


Dê Yew.


Dê Gwener.


Dê Sadarn.

It will be seen that, like the Welsh and Bretons as well as the Latin nations, the Cornish derived the names of the days directly from Latin, and did not, like the Teutonic nations, translate them in accordance with primitive ideas of comparative mythology.

§ 2.  The Months of the Year, Mîsyow an Vledhan.


Mîs Genver.


Mîs Whevral.


Mîs Mergh.


Mîs Ebral.


Mîs Mê.


Mîs Efan.


Mîs Gorefan.


Mîs Êst.


Mîs Gwengala.


Mîs Hedra.


Mîs Deu.


Mîs Kevardheu.

§ 3.  The Four Seasons of the Year, Pajer Termen an Vledhan.









p. 204§ 4.  Festivals and Holy Days, Dêdh Goilyow ha Dedhyow Sans.



New Year’s Day

Bledhan Nowedh.

Epiphany / Twelfth Day

Degl an Stêl / An Dawdhegvas Dêdh.



Low Sunday

Pask Bîan.

Ascension Day

An Askenyans.

Whitsunday / Pentecost

Zîlgwidn / Pencast.

Palm Sunday

Dê Zîl Blejyow.

Ash Wednesday

Dê Marhar an Losow.

Maundy Thursday

Dê Yew Hamblys.

Good Friday

Dê Gwener an Grows.

Holy Week

Seithan Sans / Seithan Mêr.

Purification / Candlemas

Degl Marîa an Golow.

Annunciation / Lady Day

Degl agan Arledhes / Degl Marîa en Mîs Mergh.


Degl Marîa en Gorefan.


Degl Marîa en Hanter-Êst / Ewhelyans Marîa.

Nativity of B.V.M

Genesegeth Marîa.

Midsummer Day / Nativity of St. John

Golowan (i.e. The Lights or Midsummer Fires) / Genesegeth Jûan Bejedhyor.

Lammas Day / Harvest Home

Degoledh ŷs (pron. dêgŭldŷz meaning, “Corn Feast”).

All Saints Day

Halan Gwav (i.e. the Kalends of Winter).

All Souls Day

Dêdh an Enevow.

Ember Days

An Pajer Termen.

Whit Monday

Dê Lîn Pencast.

Trinity Sunday

Dê Zîl an Drinjes.

Corpus Christi Day

Degl Corf Crîst.

Michaelmas Day

Degl Sans Myhal hag ŏl an Eleth.


1.  The Ancient Cornish Drama.  Edited and translated by Mr. Edwin Norris.  Oxford, University Press, 1859.  2 vols. 8vo.  [This contains the Trilogy known as the Ordinalia (see p. 27), followed by notes and a most valuable “Sketch of Cornish Grammar,” and the Cottonian Vocabulary, arranged alphabetically].

2.  Pascon agan Arluth: the Poem of the Passion (see p. 26).  [With a translation and notes by Dr. Whitley Stokes.]  Philological Society’s Transactions, 1860-1.  8vo.

3.  Gwreans an Bys: the Creation of the World, a Cornish Mystery.  Edited, with a translation and notes, by Whitley Stokes.  Philological Society’s Transactions, 1864.  8vo.

4.  Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum: a Dictionary of the ancient Celtic language of Cornwall, in which the words are elucidated by copious examples from the Cornish works now remaining; with translations in English.  The synonyms are also given in the cognate dialects of Welsh, Armoric, Irish, Gaelic, and Manx, showing at one view the connection between them.  By the Rev. Robert Williams.  Roderic, Llandovery, 1865.  4to.

5.  A Collection of hitherto unpublished Proverbs and Rhymes in the ancient Cornish Language: from the MSS. of Dr. Borlase.  By William Copeland Borlase.  Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 1866.  8vo.

6.  A Cornish Glossary.  By Whitley Stokes.  [Additions of about 2000 words to Williams’s Lexicon, with some p. 206corrections].  Transactions of the Philological Society, 1868-9.

7.  Beunans Meriasek: the Life of St. Meriasek, Bishop and Confessor.  A Cornish Drama.  Edited, with a translation and notes, by Whitley Stokes.  Trübner & Co., London, 1872.  8vo.

8.  The Cornish Language.  A Paper read before the Philological Society, March 21st, 1873.  By Henry Jenner.  Philological Society’s Transactions, 1893.

9.  Traditional Relics of the Cornish Language in Mount’s Bay in 1875.  By Henry Jenner.  Philological Society’s Transactions, 1876.  8vo.

10.  The History and Literature of the Ancient Cornish Language.  By Henry Jenner.  A Paper read before the British Archæological Association at Penzance, August 19th, 1876.  British Archæological Journal, 1877.  8vo.

11.  Copy of a MS. in Cornish and English from the MSS. of Dr. Borlase.  Nebbaz Gerriau dro tho Carnoack.  By John Boson.  Edited by W. C. Borlase.  Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Nov. 1879.  8vo.

12.  An English-Cornish Dictionary.  Compiled from the best sources.  By Fred. W. P. Jago.  Luke, Plymouth; Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., London, 1887.  4to.

13.  A Glossary of Cornish Names: ancient and modern, local, family, personal, etc.  2000 Celtic and other names, now or formerly in use in Cornwall. . . By the Rev. John Bannister.  Williams & Norgate, London; J. B. Netherton, Truro, 1871.  8vo.

14.  Articles in the Revue Celtique.

Vol. i. p. 332.  “The Bodmin Manumissions.”  By Dr. Whitley Stokes.

Vol. iii. p. 85.  “Cornica.”  Durdala, Dursona; Cornish in the Vatican [John of Cornwall’s Merlin]; Cornish Life of St. Columba [mention p. 207of a letter from Nicholas Roscarrock to Camden, referring to such a work].  By Dr. Whitley Stokes.

Vol. iii. p. 239.  “Le dernier écho de la Langue Cornique.”  By the Rev. W. S. Lach-Szyrma.  [An account of the present writer’s Paper on “Traditional Relics of Cornish in Mount’s Bay,” with additions.]

Vol. iv. p. 258.  “Cornica.”  Fragments of a Drama.  [Text and translation of the Add. Charter fragment (see p. 25)].  Cornish Phrases.  [From Andrew Borde (see p. 30)].  By Dr. Whitley Stokes.

Vol. xiv. p. 70.  “Les Glosses de l’Oxoniensis posterior sont elles Corniques?” p. 301.  “Les mots Druic, Nader, dans le Vocabulaire Cornique.”  By Prof. J. Loth.

Vol. xviii. p. 401.  “Études Corniques I.”  [On the pronunciation of d, t, s, z, j, etc.].  By Prof. Loth.

Vol. xxiii. p. 173.  “Études Corniques II.  Textes inédits en Cornique moderne.”  [Genesis iii., St. Matth. iv., ii.  From the Gwavas MS., with a French translation and notes].  By Prof. Loth.

Vol. xxiii. p. 236.  “Études Corniques IV.  Remarques et corrections au Lexicon Cornu-Britannica de Williams.”  By Prof. Loth.

Vol. xxiv. p. 1.  “Études Corniques V.  Les Dix Commandements de Dieu.”  [The versions of Boson and Kerew in the Gwavas MS., with a French translation and notes].  By Prof. Loth.

Vol. xxiv. p. 155.  “Notes aux textes inédits en Cornique moderne.”  [Notes, in English, on Prof. Loth’s edition of Genesis iii., St. Matth. iv., ii., in vol. xxiii.].  By Henry Jenner.

p. 208Vol. xxiv. p. 300.  “Some Rough Notes on the present Pronunciation of Cornish names.”  By Henry Jenner.

15.  Articles in Archiv fur Celtische Lexicographie.

Bd. i. p. 101.  “Glossary to Beunans Meriasek.”  By Dr. Whitley Stokes.

p. 161.  “Collation of Norris’s Cornish Drama.”  By Dr. Whitley Stokes.

p. 224.  “Cornique Moderne.”  [The dialogues of Andrew Borde, and William Bodenor’s Letter; with restored texts, translations, and notes.]  By Prof. Loth.

16.  Grammatica Celtica e monumentis vetustis tam Hibernicae linguae quam Britannicarum dialectorum Cambricae Cornicae Aremoricae comparatis Gallicae priscae reliquiis.  Construxit I. C. Zeuss.  Editio altera.  Curavit H. Ebel.  Berolini, 1871.  4to.


[0a]  Cf. “Ista sunt nomina corrodiorum et pensionum in Anglia et Cornubia quæ sunt in dono Regis Angliæ.”  Harl. MS. 433, f. 335, temp. Ric. iii.

[0b]  The Bretons of to-day habitually speak of Brittany as “notre petite patrie,” and France as “notre grande patrie,” and none have fought and died for France more bravely than these.  As soldiers (and still more as sailors) they are to France what the Highlanders are to Britain, and avenge the atrocities of 1793 in the same noble fashion as that in which the Gaels have avenged the horrors of Culloden and its sequel.  Loyalty is in the blood of Celts, whether to clan, or to great or little Fatherland.

[0c]  “If that learned wise man should see this, he would find reason to correct it in orthography, etc.”—Nebbaz Gerriau.

[6]  The Britons of the Kingdom of the North (Cumberland and Strathclyde) probably spoke the progenitor of Welsh, which they perhaps brought south with them, displacing the South British in Gwynedd and Powys, and later in South Wales, when they also drove out the Goidelic intruders.

[7]  In September 1903, at the end of the Congress of the Union Régionaliste Bretonne at Lesneven in Finistère, the present writer made a speech in Cornish, perhaps the first that had been made for two hundred years, and rather to his astonishment he was fairly well understood by the Bretons.  It is true that all were educated men, but only one of them had studied Cornish.

[10a]  Descript. Cambr., vi.

[10b]  Cf. “Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold.”

[12]  Clarendon’s account of the Cornish troops in the Great Rebellion gives the impression that there was no lack of piety among them at that time.

[17]  Probably the well-known Sir John Maynard, whose MSS. are now in Lincoln’s Inn Library.  He represented a Devon constituency at one time.

[19]  In Tonkin’s notes to Carew’s Survey (Lord de Dunstanville’s edition) passages which occur in Pryce are referred to pages of “my Archæologia Cornu-Britannica.”

[39]  The motto of Harris of Hayne, “Car Dew dres pub tra,” is mentioned in Boson’s Nebbaz Gerriau, and is part of stanza 23 of the Poem of the Passion.

[50]  The remarks added here in brackets are those of the present writer.

[54]  In compound words the accent is always on the qualifying part, and if that is a monosyllable and comes last, the accent is therefore on the last syllable.  This is common in place-names.

[55]  It seems likely that in the very peculiar intonation of Zennor, Morvah, Towednack, and the country part of St. Ives the true intonation of Cornish may be best preserved.  But this is mere conjecture.

[56]  The modern Cornish pronunciation of the word “trade,” in its local and rather contemptuous sense of “ropes’ ends, dead mice, and other combustibles” (as Cornishman once denned it), shows the sound of this vowel fairly well.

[57]  Care must be taken in this case to avoid that ŷ sound given to the English a in London twang (e.g. lȳdy for lady).

[59a]  The combination ao in Irish is pronounced t.  Thus caol, narrow, is cul in the Highlands and kîl in Ireland.

[59b]  The word bewnans, life, formed from the root bew, was often written bownans in late Cornish and probably pronounced boonans.  Similarly bowjy (=bewgh-chŷ), cow-house, must have been bewjy.  This last, which is one of the surviving Cornish words, has its ow at present sounded as in now.  This change has happened not infrequently in place-names.

[63]  The word en, in, in quite late Cornish, was apparently sounded et, which is a solitary case of the disappearance of n in a monosyllable.

[64]  Cf. the s or z of azure, treasure, sure, pleasure, sugar, in English.

[65]  Dr. Whitley Stokes, in a paper of additions to Williams’s Cornish Lexicon (Philol. Soc. 1868), gives it as his opinion that the th of the MSS. should not be written dh at the end of a word, and that Williams, in doing so, was wrongly following Welsh analogy.  But there is an evident tendency in late Cornish to end words in z for s, v for f, g for k, and a considerable number of words which Williams ends in dh end in the corresponding z in Breton, so that one is more inclined to follow Williams in this matter, though there is a good deal to be said both ways.

[70a]  C before a broad vowel, k before a thin vowel, and q before a w.

[70b]  The ch and j are used for an earlier t and d in a few words, through intensification of the thin sounds of the latter.  See Chap. I. § 2.

[73]  See Chap. IV. § 2.

[76]  There is also a doubtful form mescatter, from mescat.

[78]  The change of initial of the masculine plural is by no means universal in the MSS., but it is not infrequent, and is the rule in Breton (with a few exceptions), so it seems fair to conjecture that it was the Cornish rule also.

[80]  Note how a masculine ending in a affects the initial of the adjective as if it were a feminine.

[81]  It sometimes happens (as Dr. Stokes points out) that if the first noun is feminine, the noun in the genitive has its initial in the second state, in fact it is treated as an adjective qualifying the preceding noun, e.g. bennath Varya, the blessing of Mary; carek Veryasek, the rock of Meriasek; fynten woys, a well of blood, but as this also happens at times when the first noun is masculine (e.g. cledha dan, Cr. 964), it probably only means that mutations were rather loosely used.  The last two are “genitives of material.”

[86]  Note that when a syllable is added to a word ending in gh, the g is omitted.

[94]  Idn, to qualify a noun; omen, used by itself.  Thus, idn dên, one man; Ŏnen hag Ol, One and All.  Wǒnnen is an alternative form of the latter.

[96]  It has been held that this apparent singular, which is used after numerals in Welsh and Breton also, is really a genitive plural.  In the Gaelic languages, in which the case-inflections of nouns still exist, the genitive plural is usually (though not universally) the same as the nominative singular, except in Manx, where it is only distinguishable from the nominative plural by its article, but except in the cases of da, two, fichead, twenty, ceud, a hundred, and mile, a thousand, which precede nouns in the singular, the plural follows numerals in those languages.

[119]  There is, however, some blight confusion in late Cornish MSS. between this use of re, and the auxiliary form with wrîg.  The difference of sound in cases of verbs beginning with g or c would be very slight.

[133]  Spelling assimilated to that of this grammar.

[135]  It will not be necessary to add the pronouns to every tense.

[136]  The remarks on the use of the different forms of this tense apply mutatis mutandis to the other tenses.  See also Chapter XIV. § I.

[140]  See Chapter XIV.

[144]  Kegy, kehegy (in St. Meriasek), are ke, kehe, with jy or gy (=), the personal pronoun added.

[149]  Older yn.  When this is followed by a possessive pronoun of the first or second person the n is dropped, and the possessive pronoun takes the form which follows a preposition ending in a vowel, e’m, e’th.  When the definite article would follow the two coalesce and en=en an.

[153]  na=ni + a (nag before a vowel), ought only to be used with interrogatives, but the later writers of Cornish did not always do as they ought.

[154]  In Jordan’s Creation, 1. 599, “Myhall sera thewgh gramercy,” though Keigwin and Dr. Stokes both read my hall=I may, one is inclined to find this form of swear, and to translate it “Michael! sir, grammercy to you!”  Compare the English use of “Marry!” (for Mary!) or “Gad!” (for God!) without by before them.  It is written all in one word and spelt the same as the name of St. Michael in the same play.  It is no more of an anachronism to make Eve swear by St. Michael than (in Res. Dom., 1387) to make St. Thomas swear by St. Mary.

[156]  Vengeans y’th glas! is used by the wife of the smith who makes the nails for the Cross in the Drama of The Passion (1. 2716).

[164]  The spelling and mutations corrected.

[165]  The spelling and mutations corrected.

[166]  The spelling and mutations corrected.

[167]  The spelling and mutations corrected.

[180a]  Probably the apparent eight syllables in line 6 of the Poem of the Passion may be accounted for in this way, and one should read levarow as larow; cf. in the Breton of Treguier, laret for lavarout, and the late Cornish lawle for lavarel.  In English the first would be no rhyme.

[180b]  It may be that the Cornish ear for rhymes was like the French, and that the explanation is to be sought in a theory like that of the rimes riches and the consonne d’appui of modern French.  In French chercherrocher is a better rhyme than aimerrocher (in each case with the accent on the last syllable).

[181]  The numerals denote the number of syllables to each line.  In the original a long z is used for dh and th.

[188]  The spelling of one of the original MSS. has been preserved here, except that, in order to avoid confusion as to the number of syllables, the final mute e is omitted.  In this eeî, ea=ê, oo=ô.

[189a]  “I have only to add that the metre of Christabel is not properly speaking irregular, though it may seem so through its being founded on a new principle, namely, that of counting in each line the accents, not the syllables.”  (Preface to 1816 edition of Christabel.)

[189b]  Spelling adapted to that of this grammar.

[196]  Cf. the Arabic article al prefixed to place-names in Southern Spain, and to nouns of Arabic derivation in Spanish.