Guernsey Patois lesson

29th April 2021

24 November 1949.

This is the first of a series of lessons on Guernsey Patois by Walter Brehaut.

Approach to patois

Basic Principles of Study

When a man wishes to build a house two things are necesary - a plan, and the material for building.

In learning a language, and especially a dialect, it is essential to have both these.

Firstly the plan: it must be understood that pronunciation varies with the various parishes. This should be no bar to an appreciation of the patois. Islanders are very well acquainted with the differences.

In the studies which are to appear, the pronunciation which is common in St-Pierre-du-Bois particularly, and in the Western part of the island generally, will be adopted. The patois spoken in this part of the island is accepted by many as being the purest in Guernsey, as it is less Anglicised.

The spelling is original and an attenpt has been made, as far as possible, to write the words as they are sounded. In some cases this has been difficult, and it stands to reason that the ideal way to pronounce the words correctly is to hear them spoken by those who speak the language fluently.


The aim has been to discard as much as possible any academical terms, and to place before the public the dialect as it is spoken daily by the majority of the Islanders. As many idioms, sayings, and expressions peculiar to our natice tongue as possibel have been incorporated in the studies. Simplicity has been the aim throughout.

The oft-repeated words and phrases will help to fix the language in the memory.

Secondly - the material: What stones are to a building, words are to a language.

The studies will consist of lists of words used daily among the islanders. Greetings, weather terms, days of the week, months of the year, articles of clothing, the time, health terms, meals, articles of food, etc., etc., will appear in due course.

Accompying each list will be sentences incorporating the words used.

It is not the purpose of these studies to teach grammar as such. It will be necessary, however, to present a few verbs, particularly the Infinitive, the Present, Imperfect and Future tenses.

What the mortar is to stone, verbs are to words. We cannot express ourselves without using verbs These, howver, will be found very simple, and once the principle of building them up is grasped, they can be practically discarded as such.

And now, a few words of advice to would-be learners.

1. Do not be discouraged, if at first it appears mysterious.

2. Determine to see the studies through.

3. Avail yourself of any facility to get in touch with patois-speaking people.

4. If a few of you can get together to study it will be a great help.

The first lesson will appear in the next instalment. 



Two Very Important Verbs

There are two very important verbs: 'To have' and 'to be'. Thesa are called Auxiliary or helping verbs. No other verb can be complete without the introduction and help of either of these two.

We shall begin with the first. Three tenses only will suffice for the present; the Indicative or Present, the Imperfect or Past Continuous, and the Future.

To help those who are not acquainted with the PAtois or the French, we shall give the English equivalnet. When possible, the phonetic or sound spelling will be placed in brackets after the word. This will help in the pronunication. If the learner can hear someone say the words, it wil lbe a great help.

Note: Two abbreviaitions: o.f. (old form) and lit. (literal).


The verb 'to have' = Le Verbe ave(r). (Avé) 

Note here that the 'r' is mute; it is placed at the end to indicate an Infinitive.



J'ai = I have

t'as = thou hast

il a = he has

all'a = she has

nous a (j'avon o.f.) = we have

vous avaie = you have

Ils ont = they have



J'avais = I had

t'avais = thou hadst

il avait = he had

all'avait = she had

Note: alle is the patois for she. French — elle.

nous avait (j'avainmes o.f.) = we had

vous avaîtes = you had

ils avaient = they had



J'érai = I shall have

t'éras = thou wilt have

il éra = he will have

all'éra = she will have

nous éra (J'éron o.f.) = we shall have

vous éraie = you will have

ils éront = they will have

It is used for both masculine and feminine in the third person and plural


The tréma (¨) as on avaïe, eraïe, to accentuate or stress the 'i'.

There is much chopping and cutting out of endings and letters in any dialect. Such are indicated by the use of the apostrophe.



We shall now begin our vocabulary of everyday words.

There are five words for Yes: Oui, verre, si-fait, siès, si-fra (o.f.).

Thre are three words for No: Nennain, noufait, nou-na (o.f.).

If you please: Si vous plait (pyait).

Thank you: Mercie.

Thank you very much: Mercie bien (bian).

No thank you: Nennain mercie.

Yes if you please: Oui si'vous plait.



Sentences showing the use of the above: 

Ai-ju yeux à déjunaï? Oui. = Have you had any breakfast? Yes.

T'as yeux un accident? Verre. = You have had an accident? Yes.

Il n'est pas vrai? Siès or si-fait. = Is it not true? Yes.

Avous yeux d'sormers? Nennain. = Have you had any ormers? No.

Absolument ils ont étaï trempaïs? Noufait. = Surely they have been soaked or drenched? No (indeed).

Erous enne coupaïe d'thée? Oui si vous plait. = will you have a cup of tea? Yes please.

Eras-tu du chucre (shucre)? Nennain mercie. = Will you have sugar? No thank you.

Note: Mercie bien = Thank you very much.

Mercie bien des fais = Thank you many times (lit.).

Oui dia = Certainly (lit. but yes).

Nennain dia = Certainly not (lit. but no.)