To See & To Be

Today we’re looking at the verbs to be and to see, and related words, in Celtic languages. This verb is one of the few irregular verbs in the Celtic languages. Different parts of the conjugated forms come from different roots.


Proto-Celtic *buyeti = to be, become
Gaulish biiete = to be
Old Irish (Goídelc) [bʲiː] = to be
Irish (Gaeilge) [bʲiː] = to be, exist (conjugation)
Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) bi [bi] = to be, exist (conjugation)
Manx (Gaelg) bee [biː] = to be
Proto-Brythonic *bujɨd = to be, become
Middle Welsh (Kymraec) bot = to be
Welsh (Cymraeg) bod [boːd] = to be (conjugation)
bodaeth = existence, the state of being, ontology; a being, living creature
bodiad = (the state of) being, existence
bodiadol = being, existing, present (tense)
Cornish (Kernewek) bos [ˈbɔːz] = to be, become, exist (conjugation)
Old Breton bout/bud/but = to be
Breton (Brezhoneg) bezañ [ˈbe.zɑ̃] = to be (conjugation)

Etymology: from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰuH- (to become, grow, appear) [source], which is also the root of such English words as wise, wit, view, vision, video, guide, druid and history [source].

Proto-Celtic *tāti = to be (stative)
Old Irish (Goídelc) at·tá [atˈtaː] = to be, have
Irish (Gaeilge) [t̪ˠæː] = am/is/are (present tense of the verb bí (to be) in the affirmative form)
Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) tha [ha] = am/is/are (present tense of the verb bi (to be) in the affirmative form)
Manx (Gaelg) ta [ta] = am/is/are (present tense of the verb bee (to be) in the affirmative form)
Middle Welsh (Kymraec) tau = to be
Welsh (Cymraeg) taw [taːu̯ / tau̯] = that, being, existing, present (tense)
Middle Cornish otte/atta [ˈbɔːz] = that (?)
Old Breton to = that (?)

Etymology: from the Proto-Indo-European *steh₂-(t) (to stand (up)) [source].

Proto-Celtic *weleti = to see
*wele = see (imperative)
*weless = seer, poet
Primitive Irish ᚃᚓᚂᚔᚈᚐᚄ (velitas) = poet
Old Irish (Goídelc) fil [fʲilʲ] = am/is/are (present progressive conjunct of at·tá)
fili [ˈfʲilʲi] = poet, seer
filidecht / filedacht [ˈfʲilʲəð(ʲ)əxt] = poetry, divination
Irish (Gaeilge) bhfuil [vˠɪlʲ / wɪlʲ] = am/is/are (present affirmative form of the verb bí)
níl [n̠ʲiːlʲ] = am not/is not/are not (present negative form of the verb bí) – from ní fhuil
file = poet, satirist, scold
filíocht = poetry
Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) bheil [vel] = am/is/are (present affirmative form of the verb bi)
chan eil [xan̪ʲ el] = am not/is not/are not (present negative form of the verb bi)
filidh [filɪ] = poet, bard, minstrel
filidheachd [filɪjəxg] = poetry, versification, rhyming
Manx (Gaelg) vel [vel] = am/is/are (present affirmative form of the verb bee)
cha nel = am not/is not/are not (present negative form of the verb bee)
feelee [ˈfʲilʲi] = poet
feeleeaght = poetry
Middle Welsh (Kymraec) gwelet / guelud = to see
Welsh (Cymraeg) gweld [ɡwɛld] = to see, behold, perceive with the eyes, grasp intellectually, understand, visualize, imagine, view, inspect, interview, visit, inquire (conjugation)
gweledydd = seer, prophet, beholder
gweledig = in sight, visible, perceptible, seen, perceived
anweledig = invisible
Cornish (Kernewek) gweles [‘gwɛlɛs / ‘gwɛlɐz] = to see (conjugation)
gweladow = visible
anweladow = invisible
Breton (Brezhoneg) gwelet = to hear, keep an eye on, watch (conjugation)
gwelapi = visible
disgwel / diwel = invisible
rakwelet = to foresee, predict, preview

Etymology: from the Proto-Indo-European *wel- (to see). This verb came to mean “there is” in Old Irish and its descendents, but continued to mean to see in the Brythonic languages [source].

Proto-Celtic *ad-kʷis-o- = to see
Old Irish (Goídelc) aicci = sees
Irish (Gaeilge) feic [fʲɛc] = to see
Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) faic [fɛçgʲ] = to see, look, behold, observe
Manx (Gaelg) faik = to see

Etymology: from the Proto-Indo-European *kʷey- (to observe), or from *kʷes- (see) [source].

Words marked with a * are reconstructions.

Sources: Wiktionary, Am Faclair Beag, Online Manx Dictionary,, eDIL – Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language,, In Dúil Bélrai English – Old Irish glossary, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Gerlyver Kernewek, Dictionaire Favereau, TermOfis, Le dictionnaire diachronique du breton, Geriafurch, English – ProtoCeltic WordList (PDF), Etymological Dictionary Of Proto Celtic

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