Q. basic grammar grammar.
This entry introduces the major features of Quenya grammar. It lists these features with only minimal explanation, to provide a broader context for Quenya grammar as a whole. Knowing these major elements at a general level is helpful for understanding the details of more specific grammatic rules, since they are often interrelated. This entry also serves as a standalone introduction to Quenya grammar for relative beginners.
Quenya has the same major parts of speech as most languages: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and (less prominently than some languages) adverbs. The normal Quenya word order is subject-verb-object (SVO), with adjectives placed before the noun they modify, much like English. However, Quenya has an extensive system of noun cases, and word order is somewhat freer than it is in English because case markers often indicate the role of a word in a sentence.
Quenya is mainly an “agglutinative” language, a linguistic term for languages that modify words with numerous suffixes that alter its meaning (as opposed to English which is mainly an “isolating” language with relatively few grammatical suffixes). Learning Quenya grammar is mostly a matter of training yourself to recognize these suffixes and separate them for the base word or stem: antanenye cirmalya atarinyan “I gave your knife to my father” decomposes as anta-ne-nye cirma-lya atar-inya-n = “give-(past)-I knife-your father-my-to”.
Quenya has a definite article i equivalent to English “the”: i atan = “the man”. It does not have an indefinite article like English “a”, and such words are unmarked: atan = “[a] man”.
Note: In Quenya, the term atan (or Atan) refers to “man” as a species, not a gender. A more exact translation might be “human”. English tends to use the same word for both the species (Man) and gender (man), but Quenya distinguishes the two: atan, elda = “man [human], elf” (of any gender) vs. nér, nís = “man, woman” (of any species). In example sentences I often use atan and translate it as “man” since that sounds more natural in English sentences, but the Quenya word actually refers to a human of either gender. I apologize in advance for the apparent gender bias of the examples, but that is a limitation of English, not Quenya.
Quenya nouns are divided into three major classes:
Noun cases: The noun classes differ in how they are declined for the various cases. For example, consonantal nouns often insert a “joining vowel” -e- between the end of the noun and the case suffix, since case suffixes frequently begin with a consonant. The major noun cases are as follows:
Noun plurality: Quenya nouns can be marked with three different kinds of plurals: dual, plural and partitive-plural. The exact plural inflections vary by noun class. The interactions between the plural suffixes and the case suffixes is complex, and is discussed in more detail in the entries for each noun case.
Stem forms: Some Quenya nouns have stem forms (forms to which suffixes are added) that are distinct from their uninflected forms. In the vocabulary lists, stem forms are given in parenthesis after the normal form, such as nér (ner-) “man” and nís (niss-) “woman”. Thus nér “man” vs. neri “men”, nís “woman” vs. nissi “women”. For such words, you will need to learn the stem form as well as the uninflected form.
Pronouns in Quenya serve the same basic function as English pronouns “I, you, him, her, it, we, they”, but appear in a larger variety of forms. Quenya pronouns can appear as both independent words or as suffixes to other words. For example, the suffix lye means “you” (polite singular), and can appear in the following forms:
Independent and emphatic pronouns can be inflected with noun cases: i atan antane cirma lyen (dative) “the man gave a knife to you” or i atan antane cirma elyen “it is you that the man gave a knife to”.
The most common pronouns are:
|First Person Singular||“I”||ni||-n(ye)||inye||-nya “my”|
|Second Person Singular||“you (familiar)”||tye||-t(ye)||*itye||-tya “your”|
|Second Person Singular||“you (polite)”||lye||-l(ye)||elye||-lya “your”|
|Third Person Singular||“he/she/it”||se||-s(se)||isse||-rya “his/her”|
|First Person Plural (inclusive)||“we (you and I)”||ve||-lve||elve||-lva “our”|
|First Person Plural (exclusive)||“we (us but not you)”||me||-lme||elme||-lma “our”|
|Second Person Plural||“you (y’all)”||le||-lde||*elde||-lda “your”|
|Third Person Plural||“them”||te||-nte||inte||-nta “their”|
The second person familiar and plural emphatic pronouns are not known; *itye and *elde are possible forms, though I’ve also seen *etye used for the familiar emphatic. Tolkien often used -lte instead of -nte for the third person plural suffix “they”, frequently enough that we are not sure which form Tolkien preferred. There are a set of dual pronouns as well, but they are used less often, and Tolkien changed his mind on their proper forms nearly every time he wrote about them. There are alternate (earlier) forms of many of the above pronouns, but the table above reflect the ones Tolkien used in later writings after the publication of the second edition of The Lord of the Rings (for the most part). This table shows the most popular forms used in Neo-Quenya writing, with the caveat that -lte is about as popular as -nte for “they”.
Unlike English, Quenya distinguishes between a plural “you (y’all)” form le, versus two forms of singular “you”: tye (familiar) and lye (polite). The familiar “you” tye is used with close friends and family, while the polite “you” lye is used when being more formal: between strangers, between subordinates and superiors, and perhaps from a child to a parent when the child is being respectful. In the first person plural “we”, Quenya distinguishes between inclusive “we” ve (including the people being addressed: “you and I”) and exclusive “we” me (excluding the people addressed: “us but not you”).
For the singular subject inflections, Tolkien used both short forms -n, -t, -l, -s “I, you (familiar), you (polite), he/she/it” and long forms -nye, -tye, -lye, -sse (or -se), represented in the table above as -n(ye), -t(ye), -l(ye), -s(se). In most cases either form can be used, but the short forms are more common, with the possible exception -tye which is preferable to its short form to avoid confusion with the dual suffix -t and the third person plural object suffix -t.
Quenya also has a set of object suffixes, but these only appear for the third person: -s “him/her/it” and -t “them”. These object suffixes can only follow the long form of the subject pronoun: utúvienyes “I have found it” (u-túv-ie-nye-s = “found-have-I-it”) or laituvalmet “we will praise them” (lait-uva-lme-t = “praise-will-we-them”). Some Neo-Quenya writers use the other short subject suffixes as object suffixes, such as: melinyel = “I love you”; meli-nye-l = “love-I-you”. However, Tolkien himself said only the third person object suffixes -s/-t can be used this way (PE17/110).
Quenya does not distinguish gender in the third person: se could mean either “he” or “she”, depending on context. However, Quenya does have separate third person pronouns that can be used for inanimate and unliving things: sa “it” and tai “them”. These specifically inanimate forms seem to be used mostly for independent pronouns, not emphatic or suffixal forms, though in one place Tolkien gave -s(sa) and -nta as an inanimate third person singular and plural subject suffixes (PE17/57).
Quenya has a number of other more specialized pronouns beyond the scope of this introductory discussion.
Verbs in Quenya are inflected for both tense and subject, using the subject suffixes given above. The inflections for tense depends on the verb class. In vocabulary lists, verbs are typically shown in the stem form (with no inflections added). The “base vowel” (first vowel in the verb stem) is also important for inflecting verb tenses. There are three major verb classes:
Some authors use the term “a-stem” for derived verbs, since they invariably end in a. However, Tolkien himself used the term a-verb for a more specific set of verbs, so I limit myself to the terms “derived” or “weak” verbs to describe the larger group. Other more specialized verb classes exist, but they are beyond the scope of an introductory discussion like this one.
Verb tenses: The major Quenya verb tenses are:
If the subject is a distinct singular noun, the verb tense has no further suffix: i atan lirúva “the man will sing”. If the subject is a pronoun, the appropriate subject suffix must be added to the verb: lirúvan “I will sing”. If the subject is plural or dual noun, the verb must add a plural suffix (-r) or a dual suffix (-t) to agree with the subject: i atani lirúvar “the men will sing”; i atanu lirúvat “the pair of men will sing”. The object suffixes -s “it” and -t “them” can only follow the long subject suffixes, otherwise the object must be an independent pronoun: laituvanyet “I will praise them” (lait-uva-nye-t “praise-will-I-them”) vs. i atani laituvar te “the men will praise them”. If there is a separate subject and no other suffix, the object suffix can always be added: i atan laituvas “the man will praise him/her”. For clarity an independent pronoun may be used, especially for a plural object: i atan laituva te “the man will praise them” (laituvat looks like a dual).
Special Case: The aorist form of basic verbs uses the suffix -e if there are no further suffixes, but -i if more verbal suffixes (of any kind) are added: i atan cene “the man sees”; i atani cenir “the men see”. This is because of the historical phonetic development of Quenya, since the ancient aorist suffix was -ĭ and short final -i normally became -e, but this did not happen if a suffix was added.
Past tense of basic verbs: The past tenses of basic verbs can get quite complicated. In Primitive Elvish, there were two competing past tense formations: one with a nasal suffix (-nē) and another with a nasal infix (-n-ē). The ultimate form depends on the consonant clusters preferred by Quenya; this in turn depends on the final consonant of the verb stem. In some cases, the clusters underwent some phonetic change, and in others the individual consonant changed. Both kinds of phonetic change obscured the relationship between the present and the past tense forms. These apparently unrelated past tenses were often revised either to use the long vowel seen in the perfect tense, or to match the past tenses of more regular verbs. In the examples below, archaic forms are marked with a †, and are followed by the form used in “modern” Quenya:
Basic verbs with the identical consonants sometimes had different developments, so there are quite a few irregularities here. In many cases you simply need to memorize the past tense of basic verbs; the various patterns are discussed in more detail in the entry on the Quenya past tense.
Verbal nouns, gerunds and infinitives: The gerund is a way of forming a noun from a verb, similar to the English suffix “-ing”, but in Quenya the suffix is -ie: quete “speaks” vs. quetie “speaking”. This suffix replaces the final a in derived verbs, but becomes -ye at the end of u-verbs: laitie “praising”, liruye “singing”. The Quenya gerund functions in almost all respects like a noun (except that it cannot be plural): it can be the subject of a sentence, can be inflected for noun case, and so forth: liruye envinyata i fea “singing renews the spirit”; olólien alassea liruyelyanen “I have become happy from [lit. by means of] your singing”; liruye-lya-nen = “singing-your-(instrumental)”.
The Quenya infinitive is more limited. It has the same form as the uninflected aorist and can only be the object of another verb: i atan mere quete i eldain “the man wants to speak to the elves”. Any inflections, including the subject suffix and verb tense, must be on the initial verb: mernen quete i eldain “I wanted to speak to the elves”; mer-ne-n = “want-(past)-I”. The English infinitive can be the subject of a sentence “to speak brings understanding”, but the Quenya infinitive cannot be used this way; a gerund must be used instead: quetie tulya hande.
Quenya has a more specialized particular infinitive that can serve a more noun-like function: it can be the subject of a sentence, for example. It is formed using the suffix -ita, but can only be used for a specific instance of an action (hence “particular”). Unlike the gerund, it can take subject and object inflections, though it uses the possessive form for the subject: tyalitalyas tulyuva nin alasse “your playing it will bring me joy”; merin tyalitalyas rongo “I want you to play it soon”; tyalita-lya-s = “(to-play)-you-it”.
Verbal adjectives or participles: Quenya has active and passive participle forms of the verb, similar in function to the present and past participles in English: “killing” vs. “killed”. In English, these participles function both as adjectives and (along with various auxiliary verbs) as part of the verbal inflection system: “I am killing the orc” or “I have killed the orc”. This is not the case in Quenya, where the participles are mainly used as adjectives. The Quenya translations of two previous English sentences would use a more specific verb tense: nahtean i orco (present tense) or anahtien i orco (perfect tense).
The active participle is formed with the suffix -ila, appended to the verb stem for basic and derived verbs, but losing the i for u-verbs (probably). Thus from car- “to make” or nahta- “to slay, kill”: carila “making”, nahtaila “slaying, killing”. The active participle indicates a noun that is the subject of the action, as in i nahtaila cirma “the killing knife”, that is a knife which kills.
The passive participle is formed with the suffix -ina, appended to the verb stem for basic and derived verbs, but losing the i for u-verbs. Thus carina “made”, nahtaina “slain, killed”. The passive participle indicates a noun which is the object of the action, as in i nahtaina orco “the slain orc”, that is an orc who was slain.
Quenya has a number of specialized participles and complex verb tenses that are the result of combining various tense markers and participial suffixes, for example: the aorist, present, perfect and future active participles. These are outside the scope of an introductory discussion.
“To Be” Constructions
Quenya has a verb ná- “to be” that can be used to join a subject (man) to a predicate (happy): “the man is happy”. Such small linking verbs are called a copula in linguistic terminology. The Quenya verb ná- can be inflected in (almost) all the major verb tenses:
The verb ná is only required if it carries a subject suffix or is inflected for tense: nanye alassea “I am happy”; i atan náne alassea “the man was happy”. In the present or aorist tense with an independent noun as subject (singular or plural) the ná is optional: i atan alassea “the man [is] happy”; i atani alassie “the men [are] happy” (here the adjective alassie agrees in number with the subject, see below).
For such constructions, the ná may optionally be added to the end: i atan alassea ná; i atani alassie nár. This formation is probably a result of the otherwise-optional ná verb being added as an afterthought to emphasize that a particular noun-adjective or noun-noun combination is really a “to be” statement.
Quenya has a number of verbal particles (my own term for them, not one Tolkien used) that can modify the meaning of a sentence or indicate the verbal mood. One interesting trait of these particles is that they can sometimes receive the subject suffix rather than the verb. For example: álye [á-lye] anta massa men “give (you) bread to us”, where the subject suffix is added to the imperative particle á. The major particles are:
Imperative: The Quenya imperative is formed by putting the imperative particle á before the uninflected aorist form of the verb: á laita te “praise them”. As noted above, a subject suffix can be added to the particle, to clarify who is addressed, since Quenya distinguishes plural and familiar/polite singular “you”: álye anta massa men “(polite) give us bread”. A short imperative can be formed by attaching the imperative particle to the end of a verb, for curt or urgent commands: tulá! “come!”.
Negation: Tolkien kept changing his mind on the “proper” way to form the negative in Quenya, so the following is an aggregation of Tolkien’s ideas (and thus falls into the realm of Neo-Quenya). For more details, see the full entry on the negative. Quenya has three major negative particles, but two of them (ui and lá) mean basically the same thing:
Note: Reason for the similarity of lá and ui is that Tolkien kept changing his mind on how negation worked in Quenya. At various points in time he decided that lá was the primary marker of negatives (la-negation) and at others it was ui or (older) ua (u-negation). Fans of his work are often forced to choose between the two. The system proposed is essentially a compromise that recognizes both negatives as valid. See the entry on the negative for more details.
The negative particle could take a subject suffix: uin norne “I did not run”, but the tense marker is applied to the modified verb: norne is the past tense of nor- “to run” in the prior example. The negatives lá and ui are statements of fact, that something is not true, and generally refer to the present or past. The negative vá is a negative of volition, what the speaker won’t do, and generally refers to the present or future. It is used from refusal or forbidance from the point of view of the speaker, so ványe is “I won’t” but válye is “you don’t (= “I forbid you to”). To describe refusal from the point of view of the subject, another verb is needed: aptas nore “he refuses to run”.
The negative participle can function as a negative copula (“to not be”) as in i atan ui alassea “the man is not happy”. This is the one of the few cases where the negative can have a tense marker: i atan úne alassea “the man was not happy”, i atan úva alassea “the man will not be happy”. The same is true if you use lá instead: i atan láne alassea, i atan lauva alassea.
Interrogative: The interrogative particle ma is added to the beginning of a sentence to turn a statement into a question, something that English marks by rearranging word order: i atan noruva “the man will run”; ma i atan noruva? “will the man run?”. Various question words are derived from this base form:
Uncertainty: Various particles of uncertainty can be used to form conditional or hypothetical statements. The particle cé “maybe” is used to express uncertainty: cé melis tye “maybe he/she loves you”. The particle nai “may it be that” is used to express a wish: nai melis tye “may it be that he/she loves you” (= “I hope that he loves you”). The particle qui “if” is for conditional statements: qui melis tye, meluvan se “if he loves you, I will love him”.
Adjectives and Adverbs
Quenya adjectives generally end with the vowels a or e, or the consonant n. An adjective must be declined into the plural to agree with the number of the noun. The declension depends on the ending of the adjective:
The adjective generally precedes the noun it modifies: i alassea atan “the happy man”. If it follows, the phrase is generally a “to be” expression with the ná omitted: i atan alassea “the man [is] happy”. Noun-adjective agreement is also required in such expressions: i atani alassie “the men [are] happy”. See the discussion of the copula for more details.
Quenya makes less use of adverbs than in English. In particular, adjectives are often used as adverbs, as in nornes linta “he ran swift”. Quenya has a number of dedicated adverbs that can modify verbs, however, and adjectives can be changed into adverbs using suffixes like -ve, roughly equivalent to English “-ly”: linta “swift”, lintave “swiftly”.
|pronunciation and transcription|