If you are confused by the usage of ‘erioed’ and ‘byth’, you aren’t alone! It is something I struggled with when I first started learning Welsh and many of my fellow learners agree that it is one of the most difficult distinctions to wrap your head around!
Translated into English, both words can mean either ‘ever’ or ‘never’ depending on the context but they aren’t interchangeable. Put simply, ‘byth’ is used for ongoing situations whereas ‘erioed’ is restricted to completed events. Let’s take a look at what I mean by analysing the examples below.
‘Erioed’ is used when denoting events that took place in the past or have been completed. This means it is primarily used in two situations:
- with the preterite (simple past)
- with the perfect tense ‘wedi’
The preterite can be formed in Welsh by adding an ending to the verb (e.g. siaradais i = I spoke) or by using the preterite form of the verb ‘gwneud’ (to do) with another verb (e.g. wnes i siarad = I spoke / I did speak).
- Welais i erioed gymaint o eira. = I never saw so much snow.
- Y peth gorau ‘wnes i erioed. = The best thing I ever did.
- ‘Wnes i erioed siarad am y peth. = I never spoke about it.
- Ches i erioed gyfle o’r blaen. = I never got the chance before.
All ‘wedi’ tenses, including the conditional perfect, use ‘erioed’ because it implies that an action has been completed.
- Dw i erioed wedi bwyta sushi. = I have never eaten sushi.
- Wyt ti erioed wedi bwyta sushi? / Wyt ti wedi bwyta sushi erioed? = Have you ever eaten sushi?
- Faswn i erioed wedi bwyta sushi. = I never would have eaten sushi.
- Doeddwn i erioed wedi bwyta sushi o’r blaen. = I’d never eaten sushi before.
Interestingly ‘erioed’ can also mean ‘always’ if it occurs in the sentence final position in positive statements such as the following:
- O’n i eisiau byw yn Ffrainc erioed. = I always wanted to live in France.
- Dw i wedi byw yn Ffrainc erioed. = I’ve always lived in France.
You will have noticed that ‘ddim’ isn’t required to make the sentence negative because ‘erioed’ conveys the negative meaning on its own. However you might occasionally see ‘erioed’ accompanied by ‘ddim’ if the speaker opts to place ‘erioed’ at the end of the sentence rather than before ‘wedi‘.
- Dw i erioed wedi bwyta sushi. >> Dw i ddim wedi bwyta sushi erioed.
There is one final use for ‘erioed‘ and that is to express astonishment or disbelief. In this case, you can use it in any tense: past, present or future.
- Wyt ti erioed yn hanner cant oed! = You’re never fifty years old! (You look so young that I can’t believe it.)
Unlike ‘erioed‘, ‘byth‘ is used when referring to ongoing events that involve a routine or habit. It often appears in the present tense but may also be used in the imperfect tense to mean ‘never used to’.
- Dw i byth yn bwyta sushi. = I never eat sushi.
- Wyt ti byth yn mynd i’r dafarn? = Do you ever go to the pub?
- Wyt ti’n teithio y dyddiau ‘ma? – Byth! = Do you travel these days? – Never!
- O’n i byth yn darllen nofelau. = I never (used to) read novels.
It can also be used for future or conditional events.
- Wna i byth fwyta sushi! = I will never eat sushi!
- Wela i byth John eto! = I will never see John again!
- Fydda i byth yn barod. = I will never be ready.
- Faswn i byth yn mynd yno. = I would never go there.
A good hint to remember is that sentences including the particle ‘yn’ (the grammatical particle used in conjunction with forms of ‘bod’) will always take ‘byth’.
- Dw i byth yn mynd i siopa. = I never go shopping.
- Fydda i byth yn deall. = I will never understand.
- Oeddet ti byth yn arfer smocio? = Did you ever used to smoke?
Once again, ‘ddim‘ isn’t required to make the sentence negative: ‘byth‘ does the work all on its own.
In some cases, ‘byth‘ can also assume the meaning of ‘still’ in English.
- Mae o yma byth. = He’s still here.
- Dydy’r trên byth wedi cyrraedd. = The train still hasn’t arrived.
- Doeddet ti byth yn ôl. = You still weren’t back.
Some other expressions that use ‘byth’ to mean ‘ever’ include:
- am byth = forever
- byth a byth = forever and ever
- byth bythoedd = for ever
- byth ers = ever since
An exception to the rule
What I’ve written so far covers the formal usage of ‘erioed‘ and ‘byth‘ but as with all languages, spoken patterns don’t always follow the rules.
For example, in non-standard colloquial speech in South Wales, it isn’t uncommon for ‘byth‘ to replace ‘erioed‘ in sentences featuring ‘wedi‘ such as:
- Dw i byth wedi bod yno.* = I have never been there before.
- Faswn i byth wedi meddwl oedd yn bosib.* = I never would have thought it was possible.
Even though most tutors and grammar books will try and sweep this alternative pattern under the carpet, it is important to at least acknowledge its existence so that you can understand those speaking to you.