This dictionary gives a list of words which are used in Orcadian and which might not be found in other dialects. However it is not only the words in Orcadian which are different but the way and the order in which we use them also, so this book would be incomplete without a short description of the grammar of Orcadian, in so far as it is different from English.

Some of the differences are as follows:


The definite article is ‘the’. As in Scots it is used with a number of nouns with which it would not be used in English. For example, gaan tae the kirk/the skuil; gotten the maesles; makkan the dinner. In North Ronaldsay it is pronounced like ‘they’.

The indefinite article is always ‘a’, never ‘an’.


The plural form of nouns is, as in English, formed by adding ‘s’, but there are some exceptions to this. Some of these are listed, as for example ‘horse’. Units of measurement often have the same form for both singular and plural, for example three pund o sugar, twa unce o bakki.


Personal pronouns. The second person singular pronoun ‘thoo’ is still used when addressing a friend, a family member or someone younger. Thoo is used with a verb form, in the present tense, ending in ‘s’:

Whit dis thoo think o that? Tak thee book wi thee when thoo goes tae bed.

Demonstrative pronouns are this and that for both singular and plural. This eens is better as that eens.

Relative pronoun is ‘at’ instead of ‘who’, ‘which’ or ‘that’. That’s the man at cam tae the door.

Whitna/whitan can be used interrogatively or demonstratively.

  • Whitna man’s that?
  • Whitan kye is yin in the aets?
  • For whitna grand frock!
  • Whitan bonnie flooers!

As a general rule, whitna is used in the singular and whitan in the plural.


The verb ‘to be’:

Present tense:

Ah’m I’m Wir We’re
Thoo’re I’m Yir You’re
He’s I’m Thir They’re

The verb ‘to be’ is used as an auxiliary instead of English ‘to have’, for example:

  • Ah’m meed the dinner: I have made dinner
  • Wir biggid the stack: We have built the stack.
  • Thoo’ll be gotten a fair price for thee kye: You will have got a good price for your cattle.
  • Hid’ll lickly be been shoved in a draaer somewey: It will likely have been put into a drawer somewhere.

Subjunctive tense of verb ‘to be’ is ‘bees’.

  • Thoo’ll git a sweetie if thoo bees good.
  • We’ll can stert cuttan the morn if hid bees dry.

Note that the verb ‘can’ is often used in Orcadian to express English ‘be able to’.

Thir is used also for ‘there is’, ‘there are’.

  • Thir a coo lowse in the byre.
  • Thir a lok o fock here.

They wir is also used for ‘there was’, ‘there were’.

  • They wir a coo lowse in the byre.
  • They wir a lok o fock there.

Verbal adjective/present participle. In Orcadian this ends in ‘-an’.

  • Whit’s thee mither deuan? Sheu’s knittan.
  • Whit’s thee fether deuan? He’s plooan.

Verbal noun. In Orcadian this ends in ‘-een’.

  • Whit’s thee mither deuan? Sheu’s deuan her knitteen.
  • Whit’s thee fether deuan? He’s at the plooeen.

This form of the verb is also used as a noun qualifier with another noun: knitteen-needles; plooeen-match.

These two forms, of the verbal adjective and noun, are distinct, are used automatically and are never confused.

Past tense and past participle

As in English, these can be formed by adding ‘-ed’. However a number of verbs which take ‘-ed’ in English have ‘-id’ in Orcadian, for example jumped, jumpid; looked, lukkid. Other examples will be found in this dictionary, together with the verbs which have different past tenses in Orcadian.