Q. merin sa haryalyë alassë nó vanyalyë Ambarello “I hope that you have happiness before you pass from the world”

Q. merin sa haryalyë alassë nó vanyalyë Ambarello, “I hope that you have happiness before you pass from the world”

This sentence appeared in a letter from Tolkien to a girl (woman?) named Dorothy. This sentence was first described publicly by Michael Dawson in 1999 on the Tolkien mailing list. The date of the original letter is unknown, since it was only described indirectly in another letter from Dorothy to Dawson’s (deceased) mother, dated 1968 (see Tolklang/34.99), but it seems likely that it was written after The Lord of the Rings was published. In the literature, this phrase is usually referred to as the “Merin Sentence”.

The sentence was first analyzed by Helge Fauskanger (Tolklang/35.02) and Ales Bican posted a short description of the sentence on the Elfling website. Based on its use of vanya-, Helge Fauskanger suggested the sentence was probably written before the “Quendi and Eldar” essay from 1959-60, since that essay used verb form was auta- (WJ/366, Tolklang/35.02). When first published, there was some question on the validity of the sentence, but later independent confirmation of the existence of the Quenya word nó¹ “before” supports its authenticity (as discussed by Bill Welden, VT49/32 note #12).

In the original description of the phrase, the first word is given as meriu, but there is a general concensus is that this is probably a misreading of merin “I hope”, the aorist 1st-singular form of the verb mer- “to hope”. The second word sa¹ “that” is used here as a relative pronoun. The third word haryalye “you have” is the aorist 2nd-singular-polite form of the verb harya- “to have”.

The fourth word is alassë “happiness” followed by nó¹ “before”. The sixth word vanyalye “you pass” is the aorist 2nd-singular-polite form of the verb vanya- which appeared in the Etymologies (Ety/WAN); in late writings this verb is usually given as auta-¹ “to pass away”. The last word Ambarello “from the world” is the ablative form of the noun Ambar “World”.

Reference ✧ MS/1 ✧ merin sa haryalye alasse nó vanyalye Ambarello “I hope that you have happiness before you pass from the world”

Elements

mer- “to hope” aorist 1st-sg ✧ MS/1 (merin)
sa¹ “it (inanimate); that” ✧ MS/1
#harya- “to have” aorist 2nd-sg-polite ✧ MS/1 (haryalye)
alassë “happiness” ✧ MS/1
nó¹ “before (of time); at back (of place)” ✧ MS/1
vanya- “to pass” aorist 2nd-sg-polite ✧ MS/1 (vanyalye)
Ambar “The World, Earth, (lit.) Habitation” ablative ✧ MS/1 (Ambarello)