Breton (Brezhoneg /bʁe'zonek/) is a Brythonic Celtic language spoken in the region of Britanny in modern day France.  It is thought to have been brought to the area by immigrants from southern Britain escaping the inroads of the English in the middle of the first millennium ad, though some theories prefer to see it as a remnant of Gaulish which was strengthened and influenced by British colonists.  The language is similar in many ways to Cornish and, less so, Welsh.  It is traditionally split into four dialects, based on the political divisions of the peninsula: Leoneg (in Léon), Tregerieg (in Tréguier), Kerneveg (in Cornouaille) and Gwenedeg (in Vannes). 

Phonology and Orthography


  Front Rounded Back
High /i/ u  /y/ ou  /u/
Closed Mid e  /e/ eu  /ø/ o  /o/
Open Mid e [ɛ] eu  [œ] o  [ɔ]
Low a  /a/   a  [ɑ]

All of these vowels have nasal allophones, shown in writing with ñ, e.g. evitañ "for him" [e'vitã].

The open mid vowels [ɛ, œ, ɔ] are allophones of /e, ø, o/ before consonant clusters beginning with l, r[ɑ] is an allophone of /a/ in long syllables. 

There are also two diphthongs: /ai, ei/. 

Vowel Length

Breton vowels may be long or short.  All unstressed vowels are short and stressed vowels are short when:

  • followed by another vowel or semivowel
  • followed by a voiceless consonant
  • followed by a consonant cluster

A stressed vowel is long when it occurs:

  • before a voiced consonant
  • before a consonant cluster ending in <l, r>
  • before <n, l, r>


Stop Nasal Fricative Approximant Semivowel
Labial p  /p/ b  /b/ m  /m/ f /f/ v  /v/ v, w, o(u) /w/
Alveolar t  /d/ d  /d/   n  /n/ s, sh 
z, zh  /z/   l  /l/  
Postalveolar ch /ʃ/ j /ʒ/
Palatal               ilh  /ʎ/ i, y  /j/
Velar k  /k/ g  /g/   gn  /ɲ/ c'h  /x/        
Uvular               r /ʁ/  
Glottal h /h/

Initial Mutations

Like all Celtic languages, Breton has initial consonant mutations which occur following certain words and in certain grammatical situations.  The mutations are the soft mutation, the hard mutation, the spirant mutation and the mixed mutation; they cause the following changes:

Radical Soft Spirant Hard Mixed
p b f    
t d z    
k g c'h    
b v p v
d z   t t
g c'h   k c'h
m v v
gw w     w



Breton has both definite (al, ar, an) and indefinite articles (ul, ur, un), which assimilate to the following sound:

  • ul and al are used before words beginning with l-
  • un and an are used before n-, t-, d-, h- and vowels
  • ur and ar are used before all other consonants

The definite articles also combine with the preposition e "in" as el, en, er "in the". 


Nouns are either masculine or feminine in gender. 

Most plurals are formed by adding -où, -ioù or -ed, but other plural endings such as -i, -ier, -ien, -on and -ez occur.  A few words change a vowel in the plural (e.g. dant "tooth" dent "teeth") and there are numerous irregular plurals (e.g. den "person" tud, ki "dog" kon/chas, buoc'h "cow" soaut).

Like other Brythonic languages, traces of the dual number occur in dual body parts, which take the words for "two" as prefixes, e.g. lagad "eye" daoulagad "eyes".

Diminutives are regularly formed by adding -ig.  Plural diminutives add the ending -igoù to the plural of the stem (e.g. bag "boat", bagoù "boats" bagig "little boat", bagoùigoù "little boats").

The Genitive

Breton follows the other Brythonic languages in placing the genitive noun directly after the noun to which it relates, e.g. dilhad Yann "John's clothes".


Breton adjectives follow the noun they qualify, but unlike Welsh, they are not altered when they occur in the feminine or plural except for the adjectives kaezh "poor" which has a plural keizh and mezv "drunk" which has a feminine mezvez.

Breton adjectives have an exclamative form which takes -at (e.g. koshat "how old!") and a diminutive in -ik (e.g. kozhik).


There are three degrees of comparison: the equative, comparative and superlative.  The equative is formed by placing the adverb ken before the positive adjective and following it with ha(g) (e.g. ken kozh hag ur ti "as old as a house").  The comparative takes -o'ch and is followed with the conjunction eget (e.g. koshoc'h eget e vreur "older than his brother").  The superlative is formed with -añ (e.g. koshañ "oldest"). 

There are a number of adjectives which have irregular comparative and superlative forms:  mat "good", gwell "better", gwellañ "best"; fall "bad", gwazh "worse", gwashañ "worst"; meur "large", mui "more", muiañ "most"; kent "before, sooner", kentañ "first"

Note that final -z and -zh change to -s- and -sh- with the addition of the comparative and superlative endings.


Adverbs of quality are created by placing ez before the appropriate adjective, e.g. ez vat "well" (from mat "good")


  Cardinal Ordinal     Cardinal Ordinal
1 unan kentañ 21 unan warn-ugent unanvet warn-ugent
2 daou, div eil 30 tregont tregontvet
3 tri, teir trede 31 unan ha tregont unanvet ha tregont
4 pevar, peder pevare 40 daou-ugent daou-ugentvet
5 pemp pempet 50 hanter-kant hanter-kantvet
6 c'hwec'h c'hwec'hvet 60 tri-ugent tri-ugentvet
7 seizh seizhvet 70 dek ha tri-ugent dekvet ha tri-ugent
8 eizh eizhvet 80 pevar-ugent pevar-ugentvet
9 nav navet 90 dek ha pevar-ugent dekvet ha pevar-ugent
10 dek dekvet 100 kant kantvet
11 unnek unnekvet 120 c'hwec'h-ugent c'hwec'h-ugentvet
12 daouzek daouzekvet 140 seizh-ugent seizh-ugentvet
13 trizek trizekvet 150 kant hanter-kant kant hanter-kantvet
14 pevarzek pevarzekvet 160 eizh-ugent eizh-ugentvet
15 pemzek pemzekvet 180 nav-ugent nav-ugentvet
16 c'hwezek c'hwezekvet 200 daou c'hant daou c'hantvet
17 seitek seitekvet 1000 mil milvet
18 triwec'h/eitek triwec'hvet      
19 naontek naontekvet      
20 ugent ugentvet      

The cardinal numbers 2, 3 and 4 have both masculine (daou, tri, pevar) and feminine forms (div, teir, peder) used in conjunction with nouns of the same gender. 

Nouns following numerals are always in the singular.  When a noun is used with a compound numeral, it is placed after the initial element (e.g. dek den ha tri-ugent "70 men").


The main fractions are hanter "half", trederenn "third", palevarzh "fourth".  Other fractions add -enn to the ordinal, changing -t to -d (e.g. pempedenn "fifth"). 


These are formed by following the numeral with the masculine word kement or the feminine gwech (e.g. tri c'hement "triple", teir gwech "three times").



  Subject Object Infixed Object Possessive
1sg me va 'm ma/va, 'm
2sg te da 'z di, 'z
3sg m e hen e
3sg f hi he he
1pl ni hol, hon, hor hol, hon, hor
2pl c'hwi, hu ho(c'h) ho(c'h)
3pl i/int o o

Subject pronouns are generally only expressed when there is a need to stress them.  They may be placed before the verb followed by some sort of particle and the 3rd person singular verb (e.g. me a scriv "I am writing"), or they may be placed after the verb and joined by a hyphen (e.g. scrivan-me "I write").  The subject forms are also used as the direct object of an affirmative imperative (e.g. lezit me "let me").  The form hu is used after the 2nd person plural verb (e.g. ne welit-hu ket? "don't you see?").

Breton has a t-v distinction in which the plural form c'hwi is used formally for both singular and plural, whilst te is reserved for familiar singular subjects.  In parts of the Kerneveg and Gwenedeg regions te has been lost entirely. 

The object pronouns are used before verbal nouns and past participles.  The forms 'm and 'z are used following the preposition da "to" before a verbal noun. 

The infixed object pronouns are used before other forms of the verb.  The 1st person plural form changes according to the same rules as the articles; the 2nd person plural is ho before consonants and hoc'h before vowels.  Breton traditionally follows French in placing the object pronoun before the verb, e.g. me ho kar "I love you".

The possessive adjectives are virtually the same as the object pronouns; they are placed before the noun two which they relate (e.g. hon ki "our dog"). 


  Masculine Feminine Plural
"this" hemañ houmañ ar re-mañ
"that" hennezh hounnezh ar re-se
"that yonder" henhont hounhont ar re-hont

Demonstrative adjectives are formed by adding the endings -mañ "this", -se "that" and -hont "that yonder" to the definite noun (e.g. an ki-mañ, an ki-se, an ki-hont).


The interrogative pronouns are piv "who", petra "what", pehini "which one", pere "which ones". 

Interrogative adjectives are pe "what", peseurt/petore "what kind of" and pet "how many".

Interrogative adverbs are pegement "how much", pegeit "how far", perak "why", penaos "how", peur/pe vare "when", pele'ch "where".


A selection of indefinite pronouns includes:

  • bennak "some, a certain"
  • unan bennak "someone, some"
  • un dra bennak "something"
  • nebeud "some, a little"
  • holl "all"
  • pep "all, each, every"
  • nep "no, none"
  • netra "nothing"
  • den, nikun "no one"
  • all, arall "other"
  • an eil hag egile "each other"
  • hevelep "same"
  • seurt "such"


Regular Verbs

The endings of the regular verbs are:

  Singular Plural Passive
1 2 3 1 2 3
Present Indicative -an -ez - -omp -it -ont -er
Imperfect Indicative -en -es -e -emp -ec'h -ent -ed
Past Indicative -is -jout -as -jomp -joc'h -jont -jod
Future Indicative -in -i -o -imp -ot -int -or
Present Conditional -fen -fes -fe -femp -fec'h -fent -fed
Past Conditional -jen -jes -je -jemp -jec'h -jent -jed
Imperative n/a - -et -omp -it -ent n/a

Irregular Verbs

bezan "be" Singular Plural Passive
1 2 3 1 2 3
Present Indicative on out zo, eo, eus omp oc'h in oar/eur
Imperfect Indicative oan oas oa oamp oac'h oant oad
Past Indicative boen boes boe boemp boec'h boent boed
Future Indicative bin bi bo bimp biot bint bior
Present Conditional befen befes fefe befemp befec'h befent befed
Past Conditional bijen bijes bije bijemp bijec'h bijent bijed
Imperative n/a bez bezet bezomp bezit bezent n/a
Present Habitual bezan bezez bez bezomp bezit bezont bezer
Imperfect Habitual bezen bezes beze bezemp bezec'h bezent bezed
Present Locative emaon emaout emañ emaomp emaoc'h emaint emeur
Imperfect Locative (em)edon (em)edos (em)edo (em)edomp (em)edoc'h (em)edont (em)edod

Bezan has four additional tenses to the other verbs.  The habitual tenses are used to express habitual actions, long duration or frequency.  The locative tenses are used to express place and with the present participle to form a progressive-type structure (e.g. edo e vervel "he was dying"). 

In the 3rd person singular present indicative there are three forms of the verb: zo, eus and eo:

  • zo is used in affirmative sentences whenever the subject precedes the verb (e.g. Yann a zo "John is")
  • eus means "there is/are" and is used when the subject is indefinite (e.g. eno ez eus tud "there are people there")
  • eo is used elsewhere (e.g. bras eo "it is large").
ober "do" Singular Plural Passive
1 2 3 1 2 3
Present Indicative gran grez gra greomp grit greont greer
Imperfect Indicative graen graes grae graemp graec'h graent graed
Past Indicative gris grejout greas/geure grejomp grejoc'h grejont grejod
Future Indicative grin gri gray/graio graimp greot graint greor
Present Conditional grafen grafes grafe grafemp grafec'h grafent grafed
Past Conditional grajen grajes graje grajemp grajec'h grajent grajed
Imperative n/a gra graet greomp grit graent n/a

Verbal Nouns and Participles

There is no infinitive in Breton and its place is taken by the verbal noun, which has functions of both a verb and a noun.  The present participle is formed from the verbal noun by placing o (oc'h before a vowel) before it, e.g. o tebrin "eating", o komz "speaking". 

The past participle passive is formed by adding -et to the stem of the verb (e.g. skrivet "written").

Verbal Particles

In most circumstances the Breton verb is preceded by a particle of some sort.  The kind of particle depends on the structure of the sentence: the particle a is used when the subject or direct object precedes the verb; the particle e (ez or ec'h before a vowel) is used when the indirect object or an adverb precedes:  e.g. me a skriv  "I am writing", neuze ez eas kuit "the he left". 

The particle ra is placed before a future verb to express a wish: e.g. ra zeuio buan en-dro "may he return quickly"

The verb is negated by ne ... ket, e.g. ne skrivan ket "I do not write".  In the imperative, a subordinate clause and after certain conjunctions na ... ket is used, e.g. na skriv ket "don't write".


Like all Celtic languages, prepositions are 'conjugated'.

  dindan "under" war "over"
1sg dindanon * warnon
2sg dindanout * warnout
3sg m dindanañ warn(ezh)añ
3sg f dindani warn(ezh)i
1pl dindanomp * warnomp
2pl dindanoc'h * warnoc'h
3pl dindano/e warn(ezh)o/e

Like dindan: dreist "over", hervez "according to", e "in" (stem enn-), a-zioch "above" (stem a-ziocht-), e-giz "like" (stem egist-), dre "through" (stem drez-), eme "said" (stem emez-), etre "between" (stem etrez-), a-raok "before" (stem a-raoz-), dirak "in front of" (stem diraz-), rak "against" (stem raz-)

*with -t > -d-: davet "towards", eget "than", estreget "other than", evit "for", nemet "except", panevet "if it were not for", evel "like" (stem evelt-), hep "without" (stem hept-)

Like war: diwar "from" (stem diwarn-)

  gant "with" da "to"
1sg ganin din
2sg ganit dit
3sg m gantañ * dezhañ
3sg f ganti * dezhi
1pl ganimp/eomp dimp/deomp
2pl ganeoc'h deoc'h
3pl ganto/e * dezho/e

Like gant: digant "from"

*with -zh > -t-: ouzh "at, beside", diouzh "from".

  a, eus "from, of"
1sg ac'hanon
2sg ac'hanout
3sg m anezhañ
3sg f anezhi
1pl ac'hanomp
2pl ac'hanoc'h
3pl anezho/e


John I, 1-5

1Er penn-kentañ e oa ar Ger, hag ar Ger a oa gant Doue, hag ar Ger a oa Doue.  2Er penn-kentañ e oa gant Doue.  3An holl draoù a zo bet graet drezañ, ha netra eus ar pezh a zo bet graet n'eo bet graet heptañ.  4Ennañ e oa ar vuhez, hag ar vuhez a oa sklêrijenn an dud.  5Ar sklêrijenn a lugern en deñvalijenn hag an deñvalijenn n'he deus ket he degemeret.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2The same was in the beginning with God.  3All things were made by him, and nothing that was made was made without him.  4In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  5And the light shined in darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.


  • Everson, M. (2007) Breton Grammar, Evertype,
  • Co. Mhaigh Eo