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


Highi  /i/u  /y/ou  /u/
Closed Mide  /e/eu  /ø/o  /o/
Open Mide [ɛ]eu  [œ]o  [ɔ]
Lowa  /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 lr.  [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>


Labialp  /p/
b  /b/
m /m/f /f/
v /v/
v, w, o(u) /w/
Alveolart  /t/
n  /n/s, sh /s/
z, zh  /z/
Postalveolarch /ʃ/
Palatalilh  /ʎ/i, y  /j/
Velark  /k/
g  /g/
gn  /ɲ/c’h  /x/
Uvularr /ʁ/
Glottalh /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:




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 “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” → tudki “dog” → kon/chasbuoc’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”)


1unankentañ21unan warn-ugentunanvet warn-ugent
2daou, diveil30tregonttregontvet
3tri, teirtrede31unan ha tregontunanvet ha tregont
4pevar, pederpevare40daou-ugentdaou-ugentvet
7seizhseizhvet70dek ha tri-ugentdekvet ha tri-ugent
9navnavet90dek ha pevar-ugentdekvet ha pevar-ugent
13trizektrizekvet150kant hanter-kantkant hanter-kantvet
16c’hwezekc’hwezekvet200daou c’hantdaou c’hantvet

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”).



SubjectObjectInfixed ObjectPossessive
1sgmeva‘mma/va, ‘m
2sgteda‘zdi, ‘z
3sg mehene
3sg fhihehe
1plnihol, hon, horhol, hon, hor
2plc’hwi, huho(c’h)ho(c’h)

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”). 


“This”hemañhoumañar re-mañ
Thathennezhhounnezhar re-se
“Yonder”henhonthounhontar 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:

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

Irregular Verbs

bezan ‘be’1sg2sg3sg1pl2pl3plPassive
Present Indicativeonoutzo, eo, eusompoc’hinoar/eur
Imperfect Indicativeoanoasoaoampoac’hoantoad
Past Indicativeboenboesboeboempboec’hboentboed
Future Indicativebinbibobimpbiotbintbior
Present Conditionalbefenbefesfefebefempbefec’hbefentbefed
Past Conditionalbijenbijesbijebijempbijec’hbijentbijed
Present Habitualbezanbezezbezbezompbezitbezontbezer
Imperfect Habitualbezenbezesbezebezempbezec’hbezentbezed
Present Locativeemaonemaoutemañemaompemaoc’hemaintemeur
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: zoeus and eo:

  • zis 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’1sg2sg3sg1pl2pl3plPassive
Present Indicativegrangrezgragreompgritgreontgreer
Imperfect Indicativegraengraesgraegraempgraec’hgraentgraed
Past Indicativegrisgrejoutgreas/geuregrejompgrejoc’hgrejontgrejod
Future Indicativegringrigray/graiograimpgreotgraintgreor
Present Conditionalgrafengrafesgrafegrafempgrafec’hgrafentgrafed
Past Conditionalgrajengrajesgrajegrajempgrajec’hgrajentgrajed

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 (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 is used when the subject or direct object precedes the verb; the particle (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”gant “with”da “to”a, eus “from, of”
3sg mdindanañwarn(ezh)añgantañ*dezhañanezhañ
3sg fdindaniwarn(ezh)iganti*dezhianezhi

Like dindandreist “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 wardiwar “from” (stem diwarn-)

Like gantdigant “from”

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


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,