This course will teach you about the Quenya Elvish language created by J.R.R. Tolkien, the “Elf Latin” of the Uttermost West which the Noldor brought to Middle-earth in the First Age. This course is “introductory” in the sense that it has no prerequisites. You can work your way through this course with no prior knowledge of any Elvish language. It is not “introductory” in the sense that it is easy. This course can take months to complete. It aims to teach Quenya as if it were an actual foreign language, with all the complexity that entails.
It also introduces the student to the basics of Quenya scholarship, so the student understands not only the language itself but also how the language is derived from Tolkien’s own writings. The simple fact is that Tolkien never finished his account of the Elvish languages. The source material is very complex and in some places incomplete. Some amount of guesswork is required in order organize Quenya into a form usable for communication between people. This course highlights the areas where our knowledge of Quenya is less certain, and explains the choices it makes in defining Quenya where Tolkien’s own descriptions are unclear or contradictory.
If you just want a quick overview of what Quenya is like, I recommend you look at the simpler and short “basic grammar” entry in the Eldamo lexicon:
Quenya is the language of the High Elves, the Noldor, who travelled to Middle-earth from Valinor to fight the great enemy Morgoth. The tale of the Noldor is long and tragic, and by the end of the Third Age, few remained in Middle-earth. Their language survived, but mainly as a language of lore and ritual, fulfilling a role similar to Latin in Medieval Europe. Indeed, Tolkien himself often referred to Quenya as “Elf Latin”. For daily speech among the Elves, Quenya was largely replaced by its sister-language Sindarin.
Like all the Elvish languages, Quenya was born on the shores of Cuiviénen, the Waters of Awakening, where the Elves first came into the world. The ancient precursor of Quenya began branching from other Elvish languages after the First Sundering, where some Elves (the Eldar) choose to journey to Valinor and others (the Avari) chose to stay behind in Middle-earth. Of the travellers, the first two tribes, the Vanyar and Noldor, were most eager on the journey, but the third tribe of Teleri (meaning “Hindmost”) trailed behind, and their speech split into a different branch from Ancient Quenya, eventually diverging enough to form the Telerin language family. A large number of these Teleri never made it to Valinor, remaining on the shores of Middle-earth in Beleriand where they eventually became the Sindar (Grey Elves).
The first two tribes, the Vanyar and the Noldor, did reach Valinor, and remained in close contact with each other, with both tribes speaking Quenya. During the height of Elvish civilization under the Two Trees of Valinor, the Quenya language developed into the form now known as Classical Quenya or Parmaquesta (= “Book Language”). In this period the great loremaster Fëanor invented the Tengwar writing system, and the letters of that system still reflect the pronunciation of the language in its classical period. Toward the end of their time in Valinor, the Noldor grew apart from the Vanyar, and each tribe developed their own dialect of Quenya now known as Tarquesta (= “High Speech”), of which there were two varieties, one for the Noldor (Noldorin Tarquesta) and one for the Vanyar (Vanyarin Tarquesta).
After the destruction of the Two Trees, many Noldor chose to pursue the great enemy Morgoth back to Middle-earth, performing great and terrible deeds along the way. They took with them their dialect of Quenya, Noldorin Tarquesta, which became the basis for the use of the Quenya language in Middle-earth. In Beleriand the Noldor encountered the Sindar, those Teleri who had remained in Middle-earth under their king Thingol. These elves spoke a much-changed language rooted in Ancient Telerin, the language called Sindarin. For a time Noldor and Sindar lived together and their languages influenced one another. However, when king Thingol learned of the crimes of the Noldor during their pursuit of Morgoth, he forbade the use of the language Quenya within his lands, saying:
Never again in my ears shall be heard the tongue of those who slew my kin in Alqualondë! Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken, while my power endures. All the Sindar shall hear my command that they shall neither speak with the tongue of the Noldor nor answer to it (The Silmarillion, Chapter 15: Of the Noldor in Beleriand).
From this point forward, the Elves of western Middle-earth gradually adopted Sindarin as their normal language for daily use, even in the lands under control of the Noldor. This process was further accelerated by the departure of many Noldor back to Valinor after the fall of Morgoth. As Tolkien described it in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings:
Of the Eldarin tongues two are found in this book: the High-elven or Quenya, and the Grey-elven or Sindarin. The High-elven was an ancient tongue of Eldamar beyond the Sea, the first to be recorded in writing. It was no longer a birth-tongue, but had become, as it were, an “Elven-latin”, still used for ceremony, and for high matters of lore and song, by the High Elves [Noldor], who had returned in exile to Middle-earth at the end of the First Age (The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F).
In the Third Age, many users of Quenya, especially among Men, learned the language from ancient writings rather than the few remaining native speakers. As such Quenya of the Third Age had a mixture of elements, some derived from the classical written form of the language Parmaquesta, but with other features drawn from Noldorin Tarquesta, the last spoken form of the language. The form of Quenya presented in this course is more or less the language as it was used in the Third Age, with this mix of Parmaquesta and Tarquesta elements. Galadriel herself (one of the remaining Noldor) sometimes used this mixed form of the language, most notably in her recitation of the poem Namárië to the fellowship of the ring as they left Lórien (The Lord of the Rings, Book 2, Chapter 8: Farewell to Lórien).
The qualifier “more or less” is an important one, though. There is relatively little information about the Elvish languages in The Lord of the Rings itself, and not much in The Silmarillion either. Most of what we know of Quenya is pieced together from Tolkien’s private writings on his languages published after his death. These writings are fragmentary and sometimes inconsistent, and some guesswork is required to interpret them. As such, a more proper description of the language in the course would be “Neo-Quenya”, or post-Tolkien Quenya as interpreted by fans and students of his work (and in this particular course as interpreted by its author: Paul Strack).
This part of Chapter 1 gives you a rapid overview of the major features of Quenya so you can quickly start writing real sentences, along with some exercises for practice. This overview is long and dense, but every item in this chapter will be covered again in greater detail later in the course. For now you only need a basic understanding, to develop a “feel” for how Quenya works. Topics in this section are organized by parts of speech, and Quenya has many of the same parts of speech as most languages: nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions.
Nouns are the most basic part of speech, describing a person, place or thing. Quenya nouns can be grouped by whether they end a consonant (consonantal), a vowel (vocalic) or the vowel ë (e-noun). Here is a sample of Quenya nouns with their meanings:
18.104.22.168 Noun Plurals: Noun plurals can be formed by adding an -i for words ending in a consonant, an -r for words ending in a vowel or changing the final -ë to -i for nouns ending in an -ë:
The various kinds of noun plurals are covered in more detail starting in Chapter 4, Section §4.2.1.
22.214.171.124 Word for “The”: The Quenya word for “the” is i. In technical terms, i “the” is called the definite article. Quenya does not have a word for “a, an”, which is the English indefinite article. If a Quenya word is not preceded by i, it can be considered indefinite.
Like most languages, Quenya uses verbs for the action of a sentence. In dictionaries, Quenya verbs are listed by their verb stem which ends in a dash “-”, such as mat- “to eat”. The verb stem is not used by itself; various suffixes or inflections are added when forming sentences. Here is a sample of Quenya verbs with their meanings:
All the words above belong to a class of Quenya verbs called “basic verbs”; other verb classes will be covered later in the course. Like most languages, Quenya has a variety of verb tenses, generally related to time. The major Quenya verb tenses are the aorist, present, future, past and perfect. Quenya tenses are formed by adding suffixes and sometimes by modifying the base vowel of the verb (the vowel in the verb stem). Further suffixes, like those for pronouns, are then added to the tense form.
126.96.36.199 Aorist Tense: The Quenya aorist is the “timeless” tense. It is used for actions with no specific time or where time is not the main focus, and thus it can also refer to the present, especially in narratives. As such, it is roughly equivalent to the English simple present: “runs”. Without other inflections, the aorist tense of basic verbs is formed by adding an -ë to the stem: nor- “to run” → norë “runs”. That’s enough information to form some simple sentences:
Remember: the English word “a, an” is not reflected in the Quenya sentences above, because a word without i “the” is already indefinite in Quenya.
188.8.131.52 Verb Suffixes: Two common verb suffixes are -n for “I” and -r for plural verbs. The suffix -n is added to the verb when the subject of a sentence is “I”, and -r is added to the verb when the subject of the sentence is a plural noun. The aorist tense is a bit special, because the tense suffix becomes -i instead of -ë if further suffixes are added:
In the last two sentences, the verb forms tirir and matir are plural to agree with the plural subjects naucor “dwarves” and orcor “orcs”.
184.108.40.206 Present Tense: The present tense in Quenya is used for actions going on in the current time (now). The Quenya present tense is roughly equivalent to the English present continuous tense: “is running”. For basic verbs, the present tense is formed by (a) lengthening the base vowel and (b) adding the suffix -a: nor- “to run” → nóra “is running”. Long vowels in Quenya are marked with an accent ´ (í, é, á, ó, ú) and are mostly pronounced like short vowels, except held longer; there is more information on pronunciation in Chapter 2, Section §2.1. Some examples of present tense usage:
Compare the last example to i atani norir “the men run [aorist]”. While the aorist tense is ambiguous as to when men run (it could be at any time, or habitually), the present tense specifies that the men are in the process of running now.
More information on the present tense also appears in Chapter 2, Section §2.2.3.
220.127.116.11 Future, Past, Perfect: The remaining tenses are not covered in detail in this chapter, but briefly they are formed as follows:
The past tense “incorporates” the past suffix -në in complex ways. For example, sometimes the n is inserted into the middle of the verb stem instead of added at the end: mat- “to eat” → mantë “ate”. As for the perfect, for now you can think of it as another way of talking about the past, but specifically for completed actions: i orco amátië i aiwë “the orc has eaten the bird (and is done eating it)” vs. i orco mantë i aiwë “the orc ate the bird (at some point in the past)”.
The past and perfect are quite complicated and will be covered in more detail in Chapter 4, Section §4.4 and Chapter 5, Section §5.4, while the future is covered in Chapter 3, Section §3.4.1. For now you just need to be aware these tenses exist.
18.104.22.168 Section Summary: This summary covers both this and the previous section.
There is an All Exercises chapter at the end of this course. You may want to print those exercises by chapter so you can more easily write answers next to each question. For ease of reading, the same exercises are included in the appropriate section of each chapter as well. Finally, there is a section 1.5.1 Chapter Vocabulary at the end of this chapter, which you use for this and later exercises.
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Answers are in Answer Key 1.1 at the end of this chapter.
Pronouns are small words that substitute for nouns. Some common pronouns in English are “I”, “you” and “he, she”. When used as objects, though, the English pronouns become “me”, “you” and “him, her”, whereas possessive pronouns become “my”, “your” and “his, her”. For example:
Quenya pronouns have different subject, object and possessive forms, but the subject and possessive pronouns are suffixes rather than independent words. Subject suffixes are added to the verb, and possessive suffixes are added to the noun they possess:
The suffixed verb and noun forms are written as a single word. However, this course sometimes inserts dashes within Quenya words to break down their elements for purposes of analysis. This makes it easier to give a literal English translation of the Quenya form, with parenthesis around the English words that correspond to a single Quenya element:
22.214.171.124 Object Pronouns: Quenya object pronouns are independent pronouns. Quenya doesn’t have distinct words for “him, her”, and uses one word for both. The independent form of pronouns is also used with preposition and noun cases (more on these later). Common independent pronouns are:
Strictly speaking, lye is just the polite singular form of “you”. Other Quenya words for “you” are discussed later in the course.
126.96.36.199 Subject Pronouns: Quenya subject pronouns are suffixes (suf.) and many of them have two forms: a long form like -nyë (meaning “I”) and a short form like -n (also meaning “I”). The two forms are represented in vocabulary lists like this: -n(yë). The short forms are generally more common; compare this to earlier in the chapter, where the exercises used -n for “I”. Common subject pronouns are:
188.8.131.52 Possessive Pronouns: Most possessive pronouns have the same basic form as the long subject suffixes, except the -ë is changed to -a: -nyë “I” → -nya “my” and -lyë “you” → -lya “your”. The main exception is the possessive pronoun for “his, her” which is -rya. In all cases, the unmodified possessive pronoun form is added to nouns ending in vowels. For nouns ending in consonants, a “joining vowel” is generally needed to avoid awkward combinations. This joining vowel varies, and is either i or e, as indicated by a parenthetic vowel before the suffix in vocabulary entries: -(i)nya “my” or -(e)lya “your”. Again, “his, her” is an exception: the suffix becomes -ya after a consonant, as indicated by the vocabulary entry -(r)ya. Common possessive pronouns are:
In all three cases, the parenthetic letter indicates variable forms depending on whether or not the possessed noun ends in a consonant or vowel. Some examples:
If the possessed noun is plural, then the plural marker is added to the possessive suffix. Since the possessive suffix always ends in -a, the plural suffix is always -r for possessed nouns, regardless of what it normally is:
In the last example even though the plural of aiwë is normally aiwi “birds”, the possessed plural is not **aiwirya, **aiweryai, or **aiwiryar, it is always aiwe-rya-r.
184.108.40.206 Object Suffixes: In most cases, independent pronouns are used if the pronoun is the direct object of a verb: i elda tirë ni “the elf watches me”. In the case of “him/her” and “them”, there are special object suffixes that can be used instead: -s “him/her/it” and -t “them”. For example, i elda tires “the elf watches him/her/it” and i elda tiret “the elf watches them”. These object suffixes are also an exception to the usual rule that the aorist uses -i when suffixes are added. This can help distinguish tiris “he/she watches” from tires “[someone] watches him/her/it”.
Object suffixes can even be added to subject suffixes, but the subject suffixes must use their long form: tirinyes (tiri-nye-s) “I watch him/her/it” or tirilyet (tiri-lye-t) “you watch them”. More examples:
The last example is a bit awkward with the “double se” (ssë + s), and in such cases it may be clearer to use an independent pronoun for the object: círas se “he/she is cutting him/her”. This is always acceptable, and can even be preferable when the object must be emphasized: círas sé “he/she cuts him (or her)”. Direct objects will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 4, Section §4.3.2.
220.127.116.11 Guided Reading, Aragorn’s Cry: We now have enough information to translate our first “real” Quenya sentence, one written by Tolkien himself! It is a sentence of only a single word: utúvienyes “I have found it”, Aragorn’s cry when he found the White Tree of Gondor (The Lord of the Rings, Book 6, Chapter 5: The Steward and the King).
The basic verb in this phrase is tuv- “to find”. This verb is in its perfect tense form utúvië “has/have found”, indicating the act of finding is complete (the perfect was mentioned briefly above, and is covered in more detail in Chapter 5, Section §5.4). The subject is -nyë “I” and the object is -s “it”. Broken into its constituent elements, the phrase is:
As we go through the course, we will analyze more complex phrases from Tolkien.
18.104.22.168 Section Summary: Here is a simplified chart of the pronouns discussed in this chapter.
|ni “me”||-n(yë) “I”||-(i)nya “my”|
|lye “you”||-l(yë) “you”||-(e)lya “your”|
|se “him, her”||-s(së) “he, she”||-(r)ya “his, her”|
There will be more pronouns given in Chapter 3, Section §3.2.
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Answers are in Answer Key 1.2 at the end of this chapter.
Adjectives are words that describe other things, generally nouns. Adverbs describe or modify the action of the entire sentence, and can be viewed as modifying the verb. Here is a sample of Quenya adjective and adverbs with their meanings:
Adjectives usually come before the noun they modify, but adverbs can be placed more freely. For example:
22.214.171.124 Plural Adjectives: Like verbs, adjectives must be plural if their associated noun is plural. Like nouns, plural adjectives add -i if they end in a consonant or the vowel -ë (which replaces the final ë as with nouns). Unlike nouns, adjectives ending in -a form their plural by changing that a to an ë rather than adding an -r: i turca elda “the strong elf” → i turcë eldar “the strong elves”. More examples:
126.96.36.199 “To Be” Statements: The Quenya verb for “to be” is ná-, usually reduced to na- when suffixes are added, as in nanyë turca “I am strong”. Long pronominal suffixes are more common than short suffixes with ná-, except for nás “he/she is”. In theory the verb ná can be used if the subject is an independent noun, but it is optional and in practice is usually omitted: i elda turca “the elf [is] strong”. Note how there is no Quenya equivalent to English “is” in this sentence. This formation can be distinguished from ordinary adjectival use by the order of the words: i turca elda “the strong elf” vs. i elda turca “the elf [is] strong” or even turca i elda “strong [is] the elf”. Regardless of whether the ná is included or omitted, the adjective must be in the plural to match any plural noun: i eldar turcë “the elves [are] strong”. Other examples:
The same construction can be used to equate two nouns, as well as nouns modified by adjectives:
Note: The English phrase “elves are sleeping” superficially resembles a “to be” sentence in English, but it isn’t. Here the “are” is a helping verb for the present continuous formation “are sleeping”. Therefore, its Quenya translation uses the present tense, i eldar lórar, and not the “to be” construction described above.
188.8.131.52 Adverbs: Like English, adverbs modify the entire phrase and typically follow the verb: i elda lorë oialë “the elf sleeps forever”. The adverb may appear elsewhere in the sentence, however:
It is generally assumed that, like English, Quenya adverbs can modify adjectives and when they do, they precede those adjectives: mai melda macil “a well loved sword” or i macil mai melda “the sword [is] well loved”. One peculiar feature of Quenya is that adjectives may sometimes function as adverbs, in which case they follow the verb: i orco nóra linta “the orc is running swift (= swiftly)”. This is subtly different from i linta orco nóra “the swift orc is running” where swiftness is a general attribute of the orc, as opposed to i orco nóra linta where the swiftness applies to the current circumstance (the running).
184.108.40.206 Section Summary:
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Answers are in Answer Key 1.3 at the end of this chapter.
A preposition is a small word indicating the relationship of a noun or noun phrase to rest of the sentence. It is so called because the preposition (pre-position) comes before the noun it governs. Quenya has prepositions that function more or less as they do in English. First, here are some additional nouns we can use for practice:
And here are some prepositions to use them with:
220.127.116.11 Noun Cases: Quenya has another way of expressing the role of a noun in a sentence: the noun cases. Modern English doesn’t really have noun cases (the closest it comes is the possessive suffix: ’s), but many other languages do. Quenya has seven major noun cases, each with a specific suffix.
Noun cases get quite complex. For now we will just describe the genitive (-o) and directional noun cases (-nna, -llo, -ssë).
18.104.22.168 Genitive: The genitive case -o is roughly equivalent to the English preposition “of”. The suffix -o is added to singular nouns ending in consonants and the vowels e, i, u: mindono “of a tower”, telumëo “of a roof”. For nouns ending in a, however, the final a becomes o: anga “iron” → ango “of iron”.
For nouns ending in o, the genitive o is absorbed into the final vowel, so there is no way to distinguish ambo “a hill” from ambo “of a hill”. You need to deduce it from context. For example nauco i ambo could conceivably mean “a dwarf [is] the hill” (with ná “is” omitted as usual), but that meaning seems unlikely. The meaning “dwarf of the hill” makes more sense.
When forming the genitive of a plural noun, the suffix becomes -on, which is added to the noun plural: eldaron “of elves”, which is elda-r-on “elf-(pl.)-of”. Since the genitive is added directly to the plural form, the fact that the noun ends in an a or o no longer matters: eldo “of an elf” vs. eldaron “of elves”, ambo “of a hill” vs. amboron “of hills”. The same applies to noun with plurals ending in i: telumë “a roof” → telumi “roofs” → telumion “of roofs” (telum-i-on). More examples:
The last example could in theory also be “roof [is] the cave”, but that makes little sense.
22.214.171.124 Directional Noun Cases: The three directional noun cases indicate motion toward, motion away or location at the specified noun:
The case suffix is added directly to nouns ending in vowels, but it uses a “joining vowel” e when added to nouns ending in a consonant: ambossë (ambo-ssë) “on a hill” vs. mindonessë (mindon-essë) “in a tower”. This joining vowel is indicated by the parenthetic “(e)” in the vocabulary list above. When modifying plural nouns, these suffixes become:
Unlike the genitive, the plural directional suffixes are added to the base noun rather than its plural, and the joining vowel with consonantal nouns become i rather than e: mindoninnar (mindon-innar) “towards towers” vs. ambollon (ambo-llon) “from hills”. The joining vowel i is not the plural suffix, and nouns ending in e add the unmodified case suffix directly to the base noun: tauressen (taure-ssen) “in forests”, not **taurissen. For the plural ablative (= “away from”), Tolkien used both -(i)llon and -(i)llor, so either is acceptable.
Some more examples:
126.96.36.199 Prepositions and Noun Cases: The directional noun cases are not very specific, and can have various meanings depending on context: menelessë likely would be translated “in the sky” but i ambossë as “on the hill”. Both really mean “at the location of [the heavens/hill]”, so the exact meaning depends on the noun. In some cases the meaning can be ambiguous: cöassë could mean “at a house”, “in a house”, or even “just outside a house”. The precise meaning can be deduced from context, or a more exact preposition can be used to clarify it, something like: mi cöa “in a house” or et cöa “out(side) of a house”. The English preposition “at” best represents the generic meaning of locative -ssë, but only loosely: “at a hill” sounds weird in English.
Noun cases can also be used in combination with prepositions to further alter the meaning: et i cöa would mean “out of the house”, but et i cöallo (cöa-llo) would be “out from the house”, specifying motion leaving the house. Finally, some prepositions require a specific noun case. The preposition ú “without” mentioned at the beginning of this section requires the noun to be in the genitive case, with suffixal -o. So “a tower without a roof” would be mindon ú telumëo (telumë-o). Compare this with the English preposition “out”, which requires a second preposition of some kind: “out of” or “out from” (as opposed to Quenya et which may be used by itself to mean “out of” but with -llo to mean “out from”).
188.8.131.52 Possessive Pronouns and Noun Cases: A possessive pronoun is suffixed to the noun first, followed by any case suffix, for example ambolyanna (ambo-lya-nna) “to your hill”. Since possessive pronouns all end in a, this means the genitive suffix always turns the final a to o: ambolyo (ambo + -lya + -o) “of your hill”. Plural forms are likewise handled as if the base noun ended in the possessive suffix with the vowel a: ambolyannar (ambo-lya-nna-r) “to your hills”, ambolyaron (ambo-lya-r-on) “of your hills”. Some more examples:
In these examples, note the proper joining vowels for the various possessives, -(i)nya “my” vs. -(e)lya “your”, as well as the -rya vs. -ya “his/her” variation after a vowel vs. after a consonant.
184.108.40.206 Section Summary:
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Answers are in Answer Key 1.4 at the end of this chapter.
Conjunctions are words that join together two or more things in a sentence, like English “and, or, but”. The things joined can be nouns, adjectives, verbs or even two otherwise independent sentences. The equivalent Quenya conjunctions (ar, hya, mal) behave much like in English. One special way that the elements of a sentence can be combined is as a subordinate or dependent clause, which cannot stand alone as an independent sentence and refers in some way to the main clause. One common way to form a subordinate clause is with a relative pronoun, of which the most common in Quenya are i, ya and ye. Here are a handful of conjunctions and relative pronouns in Quenya, along with some indefinite pronouns (someone, something) for extra vocabulary:
This section is the most difficult part of this first chapter, and in it we can only scratch the surface for how complex sentences are assembled. However, you need some understanding of complex sentence structure to have anything resembling normal discourse. These topics will be covered in greater detail in Chapter 10, Section §10.1.
220.127.116.11 Conjunctions: As noted above, conjunctions join together elements of a sentence. Some examples of conjunction use:
Speculative: Like English, when two singular subjects are joined with ar “and”, the combined subject is treated as a plural and the verb must be in the plural to agree with them: elda lorë “an elf sleeps” vs. elda ar atan lorir “an elf and a man sleep”, where lori-r = “sleep-(pl.)”. This is not true of hya “or”: elda hya atan lorë “an elf or a man sleeps”.
18.104.22.168 Subordinate Clauses, Indeclinable i: A subordinate clause is a phrase within a sentence that depends on something in the main clause, for example: “I am watching the man who is running”. In this sentence, “who is running” is the subordinate clause, and refers to the noun “man”. One way to form a subordinate clause in English is to use a relative pronoun like “who”. In Quenya, the indeclinable relative pronoun i performs a similar function: tíran i atan i nóra. This i looks like the definite article i “the” but serves a different function. Our sample sentence includes two i doing different things:
English uses different relative pronouns for people (“who”) versus things (“which”), but in simple subordinate clauses, Quenya uses the same relative pronoun i for both (but not so when using noun cases, see below). In this respect, the Quenya indeclinable relative pronoun is more like the English relative pronoun “that”, which in English can be used in subordinate clauses for both people and things: “I am watching the man that is running” and “he finds a tower that has a roof”. Some more examples:
In some of the examples above, the relative pronoun is the subject of the subordinate clause, and if the original noun was in the plural, then the verb in the subordinate clause would likewise need to be plural. However, if the relative pronoun is the object of the subordinate clause, no agreement occurs:
This kind of agreement is something you probably do subconsciously when using English, but can be tricky when working in another language. Remember that the verb must agree with plurality of the subject, whether that subject is directly before the verb, or is referenced indirectly via the relative pronoun.
The pronoun i itself does not change for singular vs. plural. The relative pronoun i is called indeclinable because it cannot be modified. It can only be used as a standalone pronoun, and cannot (for example) be declined into noun cases. When such a thing is necessary, the declinable relative pronouns must be used instead (see next).
22.214.171.124 Subordinate Clauses, Declinable ya, ye: When the relative pronoun is put into a noun case, one of the declinable relative pronouns must be used: ya for things (“which”) and ye for persons (“who”), which in Quenya includes any living thing. Some examples:
In both cases, the suffix is attached to the relative pronoun: ya-nna “which-to” and ye-llo “who-from”. In English it is possible (despite what some grammar teachers may tell you) for the preposition to come at the end of the phrase: “I am watching the orc that the man runs from” or “birds sleep in the forest that elves go to”. This is not possible in Quenya, since the case suffix and relative pronoun ya/ye must be combined.
Finally, when the original noun is plural, the relative pronoun must use the plural noun case. In addition, the plural form of the personal pronoun ye is i-, to which further plural case suffixes are added. Some examples:
Here the original nouns are plural: taure-sse-n “forest-in-(pl.)” and orco-r “orc-(pl.)”. Thus the declined relative pronouns must also use plural noun cases: ya-nna-r “which-to-(pl.)” and i-llo-n “(who pl.)-from-(pl.)”. This seems to contradict the notion from the previous section that i “who, which, that” is indeclinable, but strictly speaking, i- in illon is not the indeclinable relative pronoun, but rather is the plural form of declinable ye “who”. Yes, this can be confusing, but we will discuss it again in more detail in Chapter 10, Section §10.1.
126.96.36.199 Distribution of Meaning Among Words: The examples in this section illustrate an important fact about Quenya: the distribution of meaning among words in Quenya are not necessarily the same as in English. You cannot assume that a given Quenya word can be used in all the same ways as its English translation. For example, English has two relative pronouns which can be used for persons: “who” and “that”. Quenya likewise has indeclinable i and declinable ye, but used in different circumstances.
Furthermore, just because ye can be translated “that” in a subordinate clause (yello i atan norë = “that the man runs from”) doesn’t mean that ye can be used for “that” in other situations. “That orc there” does not use **ye orco in Quenya, it is tana orco tanomë. Likewise ye “who” cannot be used in questions like “who are you watching?”; for this Quenya uses the question word man “who”, as in: man tíral. Both these other pronouns, demonstrative tana “that” and interrogative man “who”, will be discussed later in the course.
The same is true in reverse. English uses distinct words for “the” and relative pronoun “who, which, that”, but Quenya uses i for all of these, with some further limitations that don’t necessarily match the rules of English. You can’t translate from English-to-Quenya or Quenya-to-English by making a one-to-one replacement of words. You must also consider how the words are actually used in both languages.
188.8.131.52 Section Summary:
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Answers are in Answer Key 1.5 at the end of this chapter.
After the crash course above, you may feel that you’ve already learned a lot of Quenya, and you have! However, there is still more to learn. The crash course only briefly covered nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so forth, skimming past many details. The rest of the course goes over these topics again and in greater depth, covering the parts we couldn’t get to in the crash course. Later chapters also include occasional refreshers for earlier material. Presenting the same topic multiple times should make it easier for the student to absorb those concepts.
Another thing missing from this crash course is a discussion of how we know these things about the Quenya language. Any good discussion of Elvish languages should make it clear how the information presented is grounded in Tolkien’s ideas. However, Tolkien’s actual linguistic works get very complicated very quickly, making it hard for new learners to deal with.
This course addresses these layers of complexity by having certain grey-boxed “advanced topic” sections, that look like this:
Advanced Topics: In boxes like this, we will discuss the original source material and other advanced topics about Quenya.
These advanced topic sections are entirely optional. You can skip them in your first reading of the course without missing anything on how the languages themselves work. But they are worth looking at during a second or further reading of the course for more information on Tolkien’s own thoughts, as well as alternate theories of the language when Tolkien’s ideas were unclear. Of course, you are welcome to read everything the first time through if that suits your tastes.
Some material in this course involves a larger-than-normal amount of guesswork, if information is missing or Tolkien’s intent was not clear. These items are marked Speculative. They will generally be followed by an advanced topic section that explains why it is speculative, with relevant alternate theories. We’ve already seen a couple of speculative items, in cases where we assume Quenya behaves like most European languages but without concrete proof.
The advanced topics (and occasionally the normal sections) make references to original source materials so that the reader can verify the information presented for themselves. References are given as Ref/Page, such as S/195 for The Silmarillion p. 195. Outside the advanced topics, the course sometimes uses less formal references for students without specific editions of a particular book (especially for The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion), such as: The Lord of the Rings, Book 1, Chapter 3: Three is Company.
The first set of references are to major works by Tolkien himself, published before or shortly after his death.
The next set of references are to The History of Middle-earth series, a twelve book series where Christopher Tolkien published drafts of his father’s major works, including The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, describing how J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of his Legendarium evolved over his life. Although primarily concerned with the development of the narratives, they contain much of linguistic interest. References in this course are to the hardback or large paperback versions of these books. The individual volumes are:
As the History of Middle-earth series was winding down, Christopher Tolkien came to an arrangement with a group of scholars known as the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship, who began publishing further linguistic works in two academic journals: Vinyar Tengwar (VT) and Parma Eldalamberon (PE). Although the journals existed before this, starting with PE11 in 1995 and VT39 in 1998, they began editing and publishing previously unknown linguistic works of Tolkien’s, with smaller works in VT and larger works in PE. We would know almost nothing of Tolkien’s languages if it were not for the tireless efforts of Christopher Tolkien and the ELF team: Christopher Gilson, Carl Hostetter, Arden Smith, Bill Welden, and Patrick Wynne.
A few additional sources used in this course are:
Finally, this course is not the first (and probably won’t be the last) attempt to present Quenya in a simplified format suitable for beginners. Although I don’t make direct references to them, prior Quenya courses that heavily influenced this one include:
Before we wrap up this first chapter, we will examine one more Quenya sentence, perhaps the most famous Elvish sentence of all: Frodo’s greeting to Gildor in the forests of the Shire (The Lord of the Rings, Book 1, Chapter 3: Three is Company). First a bit of extra vocabulary:
Frodo’s full greeting was:
Elen síla lúmenna omentielvo.
Breaking this down, the first word is easy: elen “a star”. The second should also be easy: it is the present tense form of the verb sil- “to shine”, hence síla “is shining”. The third combines a bit of new with old vocabulary: lúme-nna “hour-to”, that is lúmë “hour” with the allative suffix -nna “to”. The last word is the possessed form omentie-lva “our meeting”, but with the genitive suffix -o “of” added. Recall that the genitive changes final -a to -o, so omentielvo = omentie + -lva + -o “greeting-our-of”.
Thus the phrase breaks down as:
Elen síla lúme-nna omentie-lv-o
Star (is shining) hour-to meeting-our-of
Remember, Quenya doesn’t actually have an indefinite article like “a, an”. Rearranging the words into a more natural English order would give us:
Star is shining to hour of our meeting.
Now, Tolkien’s actual translation of the phrase was:
A star shines on the hour of our meeting.
This illustrates some differences between Quenya and English. The English simple present (“shines”) and present continuous (“is shining”) both refer to the present time, and the Quenya present tense (síla) may be translated with either of these in English, whichever sounds more natural. The reverse is not true, however: the English present continuous tense “is shining” may only be translated with the Quenya present tense síla, since it implies an ongoing action which requires the Quenya present. We will discuss this further when we revisit the present tense in Chapter 2, Section §2.2.3.
Tolkien’s English translation also includes the indefinite article “a” as in “a star”, but you may be surprised to see “the hour” rather than “an hour”. That’s because Quenya doesn’t use its definite article i the same way as English uses “the”. We have already seen one example of this, in the word menel “the sky”. English typically uses “the” with unique things like “the sky, the Sun, the Moon”, but Quenya does not, and so has menel but not **i menel. Likewise, omitting “the” in the phrase “on the hour of our meeting” sounds awkward in English, but Quenya omits i in this circumstance. If you rearranged the phrase a bit and said “on our meeting’s hour”, English would omit “the”. In general, Quenya uses its definite article i less often than English uses “the”. We will discuss the topic of the definite article in Chapter 6, Section §6.4.
Another curious thing is how Tolkien’s translation says “on the hour” rather than “to the hour”, as might be expected with the allative noun case -nna, usually translated “to” or “toward” in English. But recall that -nna really means “movement in the direction of”, and the intended meaning can depend on context. Here the shining star is above the meeting in question, and its light is shining on it from above. Hence “on the hour” sounds more natural in English. The directional noun cases and their possible meanings will be revisited in Chapter 7, Section §7.3.
As for the Elvish phrase itself, what Tolkien actually wrote in The Lord of the Rings was Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo, with lúmenn’ rather than lúmenna. This is because when a Quenya word ends in a weaker vowel and the following word begins with a vowel, the final vowel of the first word is sometimes (but not always) dropped in speech through a process called elision. The dropped vowel is generally retained in spelling, except perhaps in written poetry where dropping the vowel may be useful for achieving a particular poetic meter (and also in prose representations of speech like in Frodo’s greeting). This and other changes to vowels as pronounced in speech are examined in Chapter 6, Section §6.1.
Advanced Topic: One final thing of note is that there is another variation of the phrase in the first edition of The Lord of the Rings, where it was elen síla lúmenn’ omentielmo, with omentielmo rather than omentielvo. The reason for this difference is not a linguistic one: when Tolkien wrote the first edition of LotR, he imagined the possessive suffix “our” was -lma. In between the first and second edition, he changed his mind and decided it should be -lva instead. This demonstrates an important issue in the study of the Elvish languages: they were not fixed in Tolkien’s mind, and he made various adjustments to the grammar and other features of the languages over the six or so decades that he worked on them over his lifetime. These conceptual changes to the languages will be discussed as an advanced topic in Chapter 2, Section §2.7.
Adjectives and Adverbs:
Prepositions and Conjunctions:
This section has simplified summaries of the major grammatical features you have learned so far. For now, you can use this grammar summary as a “cheat sheet” as you go through the first few chapters of this course. These chapters will assume you have a basic grasp of Quenya grammar, so that new features can be taught in the context of real sentences. A more comprehensive grammar summary can be found in the final chapter of this course, and at some point you will probably want to switch to that summary for your cheat sheet after you’ve learned more.
184.108.40.206 Simplified Pronunciation Summary:
220.127.116.11 Simplified Noun (n.) Summary:
18.104.22.168 Simplified Verb (v.) Summary:
22.214.171.124 Simplified Pronoun (pron.) Summary:
|ni “me”||-n(yë) “I”||-(i)nya “my”|
|lye “you”||-l(yë) “you”||-(e)lya “your”|
|se “him, her”||-s(së) “he, she”||-(r)ya “his, her”|
126.96.36.199 Simplified Adjective (adj.) and Adverb (adv.) Summary:
188.8.131.52 Simplified “To Be” Summary:
184.108.40.206 Simplified Relative Pronoun Summary:
Here are the answers to questions 9-16 in Elvish letters, called tengwar. These letters aren’t covered until Chapter 4, Section §4.1 of this course, so if you are reading Chapter 1 for the first time then tengwar writing is optional. After you learn tengwar, you may want to repeat these exercises using Elvish letters for extra practice.