This is the first of two sections on pronunciation. This course primarily teaches Quenya for reading and writing, since many people use Quenya in places like online chats, games or forums where writing is the only option. However, you should know enough about how Quenya is pronounced that you don’t sound like an idiot, so we need to cover basic pronunciation. This section covers vowels; consonants will be covered in Chapter 3, §3.1.
18.104.22.168 Quenya Vowels: In English, the same vowel may have different sounds in different words. Consider “mad”, “made” and “father”: all use the vowel “a” but the vowel sounds different in all three words (and the exact sounds may vary depending on your dialect of English). That is not the case with Quenya: the vowel a always sounds the same, and has more or less the same sound as in English “father”. The simplest way I’ve found to represent the sounds of the five Quenya vowels to English speakers (British or American pronunciation) is:
The English “oh” is not an especially good representation of Quenya o, but I tend to use it in simplified charts like this for symmetry with other vowel sounds. The English vowel sounds in “thought” and “paw” are closer to Quenya o, and a pseudo-phonetic representation “aw” might be better. As an English speaker, though, I have difficulty distinguishing “aw” from “ah”, and so I tend to use “oh” for Quenya o instead. If you want to be more correct, use “aw” for o and pitch your Quenya a more towards the front of your mouth to make it more distinct, more like “bath” [a plainer “a”] than “father” [“ah”]. Depending on your dialect of English, these English “a” sounds can vary considerably, which makes it hard to describe things accurately in a written course.
If you happen to know it, the way Italian or Spanish pronounces the five vowels i, e, a, o, u is close to Quenya pronunciation, so “pronounce Quenya vowels like in Italian/Spanish” is a good rule of thumb. If you know IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) notation, the Quenya vowels are basically [i, ɛ, ä, ɔ, u]. I arrange the vowels in the order i, e, a, o, u because that is the sequence of the sounds from the front towards the back of the mouth. If you say “ee”, “eh”, “ah”, “oh”, “oo” in this order, you can feel the vowels move backwards as you speak.
22.214.171.124 Pronunciation Before r: English speakers have a tendency to “swallow” vowels before the letter “r”, and therefore they often mispronounce vowels in combination with r in Quenya (and other non-English languages). Quenya does not change the sound of vowels before r and Tolkien cautioned his readers about these mispronunciations, saying Quenya er, ir should be pronounced more like English “air, deer” and not as in “fern, fir”. The r should also be distinct and not swallowed; we will discuss the pronunciation of consonants in Chapter 3, §3.1.
126.96.36.199 Long Vowels: Long vowels in Quenya are marked with an accent ´: í, é, á, ó, ú. In English, short and long vowels have different qualities: compare English “short a” to the English “long a” in words such as “made” and “say”. Technically “long vowels” in English are mostly diphthongs, a blending of two vowels (as discussed in the next section). This is not the case in Quenya, however, where the long vowels (mostly) have the same sound as the short vowels, but are simply held longer (about twice as long). This isn’t very natural for English speakers, so one trick I use to remind myself of this is to pronounce long vowels with “extra emphasis”. This generally works because the long vowel is frequently where the stress falls in Quenya (stress is discussed a bit further on).
Tolkien said the long é and ó were pronounced “tenser and closer” than short vowels, in IPA notation more like [eː, oː] versus short [ɛ, ɔ]. I find that level of accuracy a bit too much for beginners, but Tolkien gave us a cheat. He said there was “a fairly widespread [mis]pronunciation of long é and ó ... more or less as in English ‘say, no’, both in Westron and in the renderings of Quenya names by Westron speakers”. Coincidentally enough, these “Westron” pronunciations are how English speakers are likely to mispronounce these sounds, and they are part of the reason I feel justified in using “oh” as short hand for the pronunciation of Quenya o: it is at least the “official mispronunciation” of that sound. For beginners, I think the “ee, eh, ah, oh, oo” pronunciations are good enough, as well as being fairly easy to remember and distinguish.
188.8.131.52 Example Pronunciations: Using the above pseudo-phonetic English spelling, here are how some vocabulary words from the first chapter would be pronounced. These examples use “.” to mark syllable breaks and triple letters like “eee” or “ohh” to represent Quenya’s long vowels:
184.108.40.206 How do we know this? This discussion of Elvish vowel pronunciation is based on Appendix E of The Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien said the five vowel sounds were pronounced like “machine, were, father, for, brute”. The IPA notations [i, ɛ, ä, ɔ, u] are more or less the commonly accepted pronunciations of Quenya vowels (Quenya a varies from IPA [ä] to [ɑ]), but this is not necessarily how Tolkien himself pronounced them, since Tolkien was not a native speaker of Elvish. In his discussion of Quenya vowel sounds, Raccoon proposed an interesting alternate system based on Tolkien’s own pronunciation of Elvish words: see the discussion of the “Calabrian” system on https://feophan.github.io/tenguesta_ngoldorinwa/phon/sou/.
If you want to hear recordings of Quenya pronunciations, Fiona Jallings has some sound files on her web site: see https://realelvish.net/pronunciation/quenya/.
Julian Bradfield has another Quenya pronunciation guide at https://tolklang.quettar.org/pronguide.html, also with sound files.
A diphthong is a combination of short vowels blended together in a single sound. English speakers are often unfamiliar with the concept of diphthongs, since the English system of “long vowels” is mostly diphthongs, so English speakers tend to incorrectly think of diphthongs as “long vowels” (frankly the English vowel system is a huge mess that makes it hard to teach English speakers the vowel systems of other languages). As mentioned previously, the English “long a” in “made” and “say” is actually a diphthong, a blending of the sounds “eh” and “ee” as in “EHee”. Try pronouncing these two short vowels as a single syllable rather than two, and you will get something very much like English “ay”.
220.127.116.11 Quenya Diphthongs: Quenya has six diphthongs, three i-diphthongs ai, oi, ui and three u-diphthongs iu, eu, au. All of these are blends of the relevant individual vowels: “AHee”, “OHee”, “OOee”; “eeOO”, “EHoo”, “AHoo”. Here are some English sounds that approximate these diphthongs:
Diphthongs make up a single syllable, so that Quenya luinë “blue” is two syllables rather than three, not “loo-ee-neh” but something like “lwee-neh” (but with emphasis on the “oo” part of the diphthong ui and not the “ee” part). Other than the six diphthongs above, vowel pairs are pronounced separately and make up two syllables. Hence omentië “meeting” has four syllables, pronounced “oh-mehn-tee-eh”.
18.104.22.168 Dieresis (¨): Tolkien often put a dieresis (¨) on top of some vowels like ë and ö to make it clear they are always pronounced separately. This course does so as well, but strictly speaking it is not necessary. Only the combinations ai, oi, ui, iu, eu, au are diphthongs (one syllable) and all other combinations are pronounced separately (two syllables), so there is rarely any ambiguity if you leave out the dieresis. The dieresis is also omitted in combinations like uo that English speakers already pronounce as two syllables. Most people (including Tolkien) omit the ¨ in more casual Quenya writing. Since this course is aimed at beginners, though, we will use the dieresis as appropriate throughout, but the student may omit it when (for example) writing answers to exercises.
22.214.171.124 Example Pronunciations: Here is a repeat of the pseudo-phonetic spelling of diphthongs from above:
Using the above, here is how some of the vocabulary words from the first chapter (plus one new word) are pronounced:
126.96.36.199 How do we know this? As with the previous section, this discussion of diphthongs is based on Appendix E of The Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien said ai, oi, ui are pronounced like “rye, boy, ruin” and iu, au like “yule, loud”. He also gave no English equivalent of eu, since there isn’t a good example. The example “ruin” is also not a great example, since as noted above its usual English pronunciation is as two syllables: “roo-in”. If you mash it into one syllable, though, it is a reasonable approximation of Quenya ui. Personally I tend to (mis)pronounce ui as the rising diphthong “wee” because it is easier for my English-trained mouth to form, but strictly speaking it is a falling diphthong: IPA uı̯. The only rising diphthong in Quenya is iu (“yoo”) and that is only the case in Third Age pronunciation: in the classical Quenya iu was also a falling diphthong.
188.8.131.52 Quenya Stress: Both English and Quenya put stress on different syllables of a word. In this course, when describing stress in the context of pronunciation, the syllables are separated by “.” and stressed syllables are capitalized. For example: “de.SCRI.bing”, “pro.nun.ci.A.tion” and “SE.pa.rat.ed” are some stress representations of English words in the last sentence. Stress can be quite irregular in English, but in Quenya the rules are straightforward:
To understand this last rule, you need to know the difference between a “light” and a “heavy” syllable. A light syllable is one that has a single short vowel followed by zero or one consonant. Any other syllable is heavy. In other words, a syllable is heavy if (a) it has a long vowel, (b) it has a diphthong or (c) it is followed by a cluster of two or more consonants. For example, consider the first syllable of the following Quenya words:
Also remember that Quenya diphthongs (ai, oi, ui; iu, eu, au) make up one syllable, not two.
184.108.40.206 Example Pronunciations: For purposes of stress, a word with suffixes is treated as a single word (with some complications we will discuss in Chapter 6, Section§6.1). Since most of our vocabulary so far has been one or two syllables words, our interesting examples of stress will mostly involve inflected words (those with suffixes). Some examples, along with some pseudo-phonetic pronunciations using the system of the two previous sections:
The syllabic breakdown for pronunciation usually doesn’t match the grammatical elements of a word: compare tí.RAN.yes vs. tíra-nye-s = “(am watching)-I-him/her”. As syllabic suffixes are added to a word, the stress may or may not shift, depending on the nature of the suffix: aiwë (AI.wë) → aiwëo (AI.wë.o) vs. ambo (AM.bo) → ambonna (am.BON.na). That can lead to some complex situations, but we are going to put off discussing the messier cases until Chapter 6, Section §6.1.
220.127.116.11 How do we know this? As with previous sections, this is all straight out of Appendix E. The Quenya stress examples Tolkien gave were: is.IL.dur, O.ro.më, er.ES.së.a, an.CA.li.ma, el.en.TÁ.ri, an.DÚ.ne.
Here is a vocabulary list of nouns having to do with places which we will use for further practice. Some words are repeats from the first chapter.
Several of the items in the list above have parenthetical variants. For example word nan(do) “valley” has two variants: short nan and long nando. With such variants the long forms tend to be used in normal contexts, and the short forms in things like compounds, such as Tasarinan “Willow-vale” (LotR/469). Other words have a separate stem form listed after the word: oron (oront-) “mountain” or sírë (síri-) “river”. The first form is used when no suffixes are added (the uninflected form), but the second form is used with suffixes (inflected forms). Hence uninflected oron “a mountain” but inflected oronto “of a mountain” or orontello “from a mountain”.
Stem forms can have a big effect on stress. Compare ailino (AI.lin.o) “of a lake” where the stress remains on the first syllable vs. oronto (o.RON.to) “of a mountain” where the stress moves back to the second syllable. Stem forms will be discussed in more detail in Section 2.4 Reading Vocabulary Entries.
Remember: a Quenya c is always a “hard c” [k]: cirë “cuts” is pronounced “kee.reh” not **“see.reh”. We will discuss Quenya consonants further in Chapter 3, §3.1.
18.104.22.168 Vowel Pronunciation Summary: Here are English pseudo-phonetic representations of Quenya vowels and diphthongs:
Quenya long vowels (í, é, á, ó, ú) have basically the same sound but are held longer, represented pseudo-phonetically by “eee, ehh, ahh, ohh, ooo”.
Alternately (and somewhat more accurately), you may pronounce Quenya a = “a” as in “bath” and Quenya o = “aw” as in “thought” or “paw”. However, I find the “ee, eh, ah, oh, oo” pronunciations to be easier to remember and distinguish for English speakers, and recommend it to beginners for this reason. If you really want to know how to pronounce Quenya, there is only so much you can get from a written course, so I recommend checking out the advanced topics section at the end of Section 2.1.1 which has links to online sound recordings.
22.214.171.124 Stress Rules Summary: Quenya words are stressed according to the following rules:
Translate the following Quenya words into English. Then mark their syllable boundaries and underline their stressed syllable. Finally, rewrite (or simply say) each word using the pseudo-phonetic system described above, again marking stress via capital letters or underlines. For example:
You may want to look at the Grammar Summary from Chapter 1 to remind yourself what the inflected forms mean (nouns and verbs with their grammatical suffixes). A couple of the items below are also from the vocabulary of the previous chapter.
Answers are in Answer Key 2.1 at the end of this chapter.
This section goes over Quenya verbs in more detail. It introduces three major Quenya verb classes (basic, a-stem and u-stem), revisits the aorist and present tenses, and introduces the past tense.
Quenya verbs can be divided into three major groups: basic verbs, a-stem verbs and u-stem verbs. Here is a mix of verbs to illustrate these verbs classes:
A few notes on the vocabulary list above:
These markers will be discussed in detail in Section 2.4 Reading Vocabulary Entries.
126.96.36.199 Basic Verbs: The most straightforward verb class, these verbs all date back to some ancient verbal root. In this respect, they are the most primal verbs. Despite the name “basic”, they tend to have more complex tense formations, so they are basic in their meaning but not in their conjugation.
188.8.131.52 A-stem Verbs: A-stem verbs involve the addition of a suffix to some ancient base form, which may or may not be a verbal root. For the a-stem verbs, these suffixes end in the vowel a (with some complexities we will discuss in Chapter 8, Section §8.1). The verb tenses for most a-stem verbs are similar, especially in the aorist and present tenses. However, there are several “hidden verb classes” within this larger group, meaning there are various exceptions that we will discuss later in the course. Because they represent such a large group, a-stem verbs have a variety of meanings.
184.108.40.206 U-stem Verbs: The u-stem verbs are formed from a similar derivational process, but their verb stems all end in u. They are much rarer than the a-stem verbs. Many u-stem verbs have an inceptive function, which means they indicate the start of an action. Compare the basic verb har- “sit” vs. haru- “sit down” = “begin to sit”, and basic tar- “stand” vs. tolu- “stand up” = “begin to stand” (from a different verbal root). There are exceptions such as celu- “to flow”, though given its similarity to other u-stem verbs it often has the sense “flow forth” = “start to flow”.
220.127.116.11 The Base Vowel: For many verb conjugations, it is important to identify the base vowel of the verb: its first vowel, ignoring any prefixes. Here are some verbs with base vowels underlined:
The addition of a prefix does not change the base vowel of a verb. For example, with the prefixed verb entul- “to return, come again” (= en- “again” + tul- “come”) the base vowel still remains u: entul-.
The base vowel is important because it is modified in several verb tenses. For example, it is lengthened in the present tense: túla- “is coming”, entúla- “is coming again”. Similarly, the perfect tense of basic verbs (a) adds the base vowel as a prefix if possible, (b) lengthens the base vowel and (c) adds the suffix -ië: utúlië “has come”, entúlië “has returned”.
18.104.22.168 How do we know this? This presentation of verb classes is descriptive: it represents an analysis of Tolkien’s use of verbs in various documents not specifically about verbs themselves. As such it is a simplified view of Quenya verbs dating back to the early 2000s, and many Quenya courses organize verbs into these three groups. However, the publication of Parma Eldalamberon #22 (PE22) in 2015 included a number of previously unknown documents on Quenya verbs, which significantly expanded our knowledge of how Quenya verbs behave. In particular, it indicated there were a lot more verb classes than these basic three, the “hidden verb classes” mentioned above.
For educational purposes, though, this simplified view of Quenya verbs is very useful. It lets you learn the basics of Quenya verb conjugation without getting bogged down in too many details on the more obscure verb classes. For now, the variations for these more specialized verb classes will be treated as exceptions to normal conjugations, and are discussed in Chapter 8, Section §8.1.
22.214.171.124 The Use of the Aorist: The aorist verb tense is not specifically associated with the past, present or future. You might even think of it as the “no tense” tense, since it does not mark the verb for any particular time. As Tolkien described it:
This “tense” actually defined no tense or time. Its uses most closely resembled those of the simple present of English: “I eat, I do”. It was thus used of all statements true at all times (as in proverbs): “gold glitters”; “the sun rises in the morning”. It is also used of habitual actions: “I walk to my work”, “I sleep badly at night” (PE22/129).
As noted here, the aorist serves a function similar to English’s simple present: matë = “eats”. Three basic uses of the aorist are:
Like the English simple present, the aorist can also be used with adverbs of time to serve as a replacement for other tenses: yestas sí “he/she starts (yesta-) now” (present) or yestas enar “he/she starts tomorrow” (future). Unlike English, this can also be done with adverbs of the past: yestas nöa “he/she starts yesterday” (past). This use with past adverbs doesn’t work in English, because the English simple present is really a “not past” tense, but it works in Quenya because the aorist is genuinely timeless. This use of the aorist with temporal adverbs is rare, however, and usually Quenya employs its past, present or future tenses. In particular, we won’t use the aorist this way in any of the exercises for this course.
126.96.36.199 Aorist Conjugations: Here is how the aorist is conjugated for our three major groups of verbs:
188.8.131.52 Advanced Topic: Historic Origin of the Aorist: The somewhat mysterious change of ë to i in the aorist tense of basic verbs makes more sense if you know how the aorist tense originated. In the ancient aorist, the suffix was always i, but in Quenya’s phonetic evolution, a short final i became e (PE22/99). Thus the ancient aorist ✶mati “eat” became in modern Quenya matë. This change did not occur when inflections were added, because the short i was not final, so ancient ✶mati-n(i) became modern matin “I eat”.
It is pretty clear that Quenya’s aorist was inspired by the aorist tense of Ancient Greek, especially since Tolkien used the same name for the Quenya tense. The aorist has been well understood for quite a while, since it is a verb tense that is both common and fairly straightforward. Some detailed explanations of the aorist were published in Parma Eldalamberon #22 (PE22), which had several important documents on verbs, including the Quenya Verbal System written by Tolkien in 1948 (PE22/99-127) and Common Eldarin Verb Structure written in the early 1950s (PE22/128-140). This course makes regular use of information from these two documents in its discussion of Quenya verbs.
184.108.40.206 The Use of the Present Tense: The present tense is, like its name suggests, used to describe things that are happening now, or at least “now” within the context of the discourse. As Tolkien described it:
Present. This is a genuine tense, and can only be used of what is happening now, or of what is regarded as “now” in narrative or supposition. This tense also as a rule describes a fairly continuous action or event or process, that began before the immediate moment and is likely to go on for some time (PE22/130).
Since the present is ever moving, an action can only occur in the present tense if it is an ongoing action, otherwise it would be in the past as soon as it was spoken of. This makes the Quenya present the equivalent of the English present continuous tense, which likewise describes an ongoing action: máta = “is eating”. The English simple present can also be used for the present time, however, and in some cases the Quenya present tense can be translated into the English simple present, as in Frodo’s greeting elen síla lumenn’ omentielvo “a star shines (sil-) on the hour of our meeting” (LotR/81).
The reverse is not true when translating from English to Quenya. Where you see an English present continuous verb (“I am eating”) you must use the Quenya present tense (mátan), because only that tense includes the notion of an ongoing action. In linguistics, verbs describing an ongoing or incomplete action are called “imperfect”, as opposed to the “perfect” for a completed action. Thus in some respects the Quenya present tense (ongoing) is the opposite of the Quenya perfect tense (complete) that we will discuss in Chapter 5, §5.4.
For clarity, the exercises of this course always translate the Quenya aorist tense using the English simple present (matë = “eats”) and the Quenya present tense using the English present continuous (máta = “is eating”), and vice versa.
220.127.116.11 Present Tense Conjugations: Here is how the present tense is conjugated for our three major groups of verbs. Recall that the “base vowel” of the verb is the first vowel of that verb, ignoring any prefixes:
One complication with the present tense is that Quenya does not tolerate long vowels before consonant clusters. Thus the present tense only lengthens the base vowel of the verb if that vowel does not appear before a consonant cluster. Likewise, if the base vowel is part of a diphthong, that vowel cannot be lengthened. It is common for a-stem verbs to have a consonant cluster or a diphthong, so for these verbs the present tense is marked only by the change of final -a to -ëa. Compare fárëa “is hunting” (lengthening possible) to lelyëa “is travelling” and caitëa “is lying down” (lengthening not possible).
18.104.22.168 Advanced Topic: Historic Origin of the Present Tense: For basic verbs and u-stem verbs, the basic formation of the present tense dates back to the ancient form of the language: lengthen the base vowel and add an -a to the stem, as described by Tolkien in Common Eldarin Verb Structure in the early 1950s (PE22/136). In the case of a-stem verbs, their ancient forms frequently already ended in a, so the suffix was -ya instead of plain -a so that the ancient present tense form ended in -aya, as indicated in various notes from the mid-to-late 1960s (PE17/186, PE22/164). In Quenya’s phonetic history, the combination aya often developed into ëa, thus forming the basis for the modern present tense for a-stem verbs.
As previously mentioned, there are a number of “hidden verb classes” within the a-stem verbs, and their historical present tense forms were not all the same. In Late Notes on Verb Structure from 1969, Tolkien said something like “make Q. ea as present tense invade other forms” in a hard-to-read note (PE22/164). This indicates that many (all?) of the alternate present tense formations for more specialized verb classes were displaced by the -ëa present, which became the usual way of forming the present for a-stem verbs in Quenya. For now, we will use the -ëa present suffix for all a-stem verbs. The alternate (and possibly archaic) present tense forms of more specialized verb classes will be discussed in Chapter 8, Section §8.1.
The Quenya past is, obviously enough, used to describe events in the past: i atan mantë “the man ate”, manten “I ate”. The Quenya past tense is very irregular, though. Different verb classes form the past tense in various ways, and there were competing methods of past tense formation in the ancient form of the language producing a variety of results in modern Quenya. It is often impossible to determine the past tense of a Quenya verb from just its verb stem. Here are the past tense forms of the verbs introduced in Chapter 1, §1.2.2:
In the list above we see more “reliability markers” as mentioned in previous sections: ^ for past forms adapted from earlier or rejected writings, * for past forms that are readily derived from what we know about the Quenya language. The unmarked past forms were provided by Tolkien. In some cases we just don’t know what the past tense of a given Quenya verb is, because Tolkien never wrote it down and didn’t give us enough information to figure it out.
The Quenya past is irregular, but this is not to say there are no rules to the Quenya past tense. For example, the suffix -në shows up a lot in Quenya past tense forms, the same way that the suffix “-ed” shows up in a lot of English past tenses. However, there are too many rules for the Quenya past tense to cover at this stage of the course. For now, treat every verb entry as two vocabulary items, one for its stem and another for its past tense, and memorize both. If you feel this unreasonable, just look at the English past forms above, which are also very unpredictable. The pain you suffer in learning the Quenya past tense is the same pain suffered by thousands of English-as-a-second-language students, and that’s just the way things go sometimes when learning a foreign language.
Once you know the past form, the regular verb inflections are added to that form:
Here are some more vocabulary words having to do with travel.
Here are some travel-related verbs, some of which we’ve seen before.
22.214.171.124 Verbs of Movement: Of the various movement verbs, men- (“go”) is the most generic, and simply means going in some direction. The verb tul- means movement towards the speaker (“come”) and auta- means movement away from the speaker (“go away, depart”). The verb lelya- has the implication of a longer journey (“travel”) and anya- is for the end of a journey (“arrive”). The verb menta- means directing someone to go (“send = cause to go”), while tulta- means directing someone to come toward the speaker (“send for = cause to come”). Finally tulya- means the speaker is taking someone with them (“bring”), with the secondary implication that the speaker is leading them on the journey; it does not mean “lead” in a political sense.
126.96.36.199 Verbs of Location: The other verbs in the above list have to do with being in a particular location. The verbs har-/haru- and tar-/tolu- are in pairs: har- “to sit” vs. haru- “sit down” (= begin to sit); tar- “to stand” vs. tolu- “stand up” (= begin to stand); the forms of tar- and tolu- are more distinct because they are based on different verbal roots (TAR “stand” and TOL “stick up”). The verbs har- “sit” and tar- “stand” can also be applied to geographic features as appropriate based on verticality: i osto harë “the city sits” but i oron tarë “the mountain stands”. Flat geographic features use the verb lat- “extend, be situated”, which basically means “lie” but used only of places: i sírë latë ar’ i ambo “the river lies (is situated) beside the hill”. The other Quenya verb for “lie” is caita- “lie (down)” which is not used for places but rather for one thing lying on another: i atan caita “the man lies (down)”. It is mostly used of lying people and animals, though it can be used of a thing lying on another thing as well.
The verb har- means “stay” as well as “sit”, so if an Elf says á harë mecin “sit/stay please”, they are probably asking you to stay for a while. If they want you to sit down, they would say á haru mecin “sit down please” (these are imperative phrases, which will be discussed in Chapter 3, §3.4.2). The verb ser- means “rest”, but it can also be used in the sense of “stay for a time” = “tarry”: i atan séra i tauressë “the man rests/tarries in the forest”. For someone staying or dwelling in a place more permanently, the correct verb is mar- “dwell, abide, live”: i atan marë i ostossë “the man dwells/lives in the city”. The verb mar- only means “live” in the sense “live in a place”; the general verb for being alive is coita-: eldar coitar anda “Elves live long (= for a long time)”.
The above discussion for verbs of location is mostly based on notes in the Quenya Verbal System written in 1948 (PE22/125-126). However several of the verbs in those notes used earlier and abandoned forms, such as ham- “sit” instead of later har- “sit” from the 1960s (PE17/162; UT/305). In the discussion for this course, some of the abandoned verbs from 1948 have been updated to their later forms from the 1950s and 60s.
188.8.131.52 Verb Class Summary:
184.108.40.206 Aorist Tense Summary:
220.127.116.11 Present Tense Summary:
18.104.22.168 Past Tense Summary: The Quenya past tense is very irregular. Vocabulary entries for this course have the past form below the verb stem. The student should just memorize both until Chapter 4, §4.4, when past tense forms are discussed in more detail.
22.214.171.124 Verb Inflection Summary (Refresher): Some common verb inflections are:
This exercise uses vocabulary and grammar from sections 2.1.4 Vocabulary: Places, 2.2.5 Vocabulary Travel, and 2.2.6 Section Summary, as well as some words and suffixes from Chapter 1, §1.5.1. In these (and later) exercises you find it helpful to consult the Quenya-to-English glossary in Chapter 13 and the English-to-Quenya glossary in Chapter 14 for words you don’t remember. As mentioned in the Introduction, there are also a set of online Memrise courses you can use for vocabulary drills.
As extra practice, you may also want to read the Quenya phrases (both questions and answers) aloud following the guidelines from section 2.1.5 Pronunciation Summary from earlier in this chapter.
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Answers are in Answer Key 2.2 at the end of this chapter.
Most languages have at least one verb with a meaning like “to be”. Quenya has two different verbs where English might use the verb “be”: ná- “to be” and eä- “to exist”. The verb “to be” tends to be very specialized in different languages, and the way that Quenya uses its “to be” verbs is not the same as how English uses them.
126.96.36.199 Usage of ná-: As Tolkien described it, ná “join[s] adj[ectives]/nouns/pronouns in statements (or wishes) asserting (or desiring) a thing to have a certain quality, or to be the same as another” (PE22/147). It is thus used like the English verb “be” to equate two things: a noun to another noun, a pronoun to a noun or a (pro)noun to an adjective. In this last case, the statement asserts that the (pro)noun has the quality of that adjective:
The parenthesis in the sentences above indicates where the use of ná is optional. In sentences where ná carries no additional information, it is usually omitted: i nauco hesto “the dwarf [is] a captain”, i atan turca “the man [is] strong”. If, however, the verb ná carries a pronominal suffix or a verb tense, it becomes required: nás turca “he is strong”, i atan nánë turca “the man was strong”. Without ná, there is nothing for the pronoun or verb tense to attach to. The verb ná is also required when it is used impersonally, without an explicit subject: ná mára “[it] is good” (PE17/93).
188.8.131.52 ná- Conjugations: Here is how ná- is conjugated in the major Quenya verb tenses:
We haven’t fully discussed the future and perfect tenses yet, but their meaning should be clear. The verb ná- is somewhat unusual in that it doesn’t distinguish between the aorist and present tenses; the simple stem ná is used for both timeless statements and statements about the present.
The present/aorist form ná is so short that it usually uses long subject suffix like -nyë and -lyë, in which case the vowel shortens, as is generally the case before consonant clusters: nanyë “I am”, nalyë “you are”. The main exception is nás “he/she/it is”, which typically uses the short suffix and the long vowel. With future, past and perfect tenses, the short pronoun suffixes again become more common: nauvan “I will be”, nánel “you were”, anaies “he/she/it has been”.
The verb ná can be used impersonally (without a subject) when describing general circumstances. Compare:
If you say ná lauca “it is warm”, you mean that the environment is warm. If you say nás lauca “he/she/it is warm”, you mean the thing under discussion is warm. For these impersonal expressions, it is more common for the ná to be placed second: mára ná “it is good”, lauca ná “it is warm”, as discussed in the next section.
184.108.40.206 ná- Placement: The optional nature of ná means its placement within a sentence can be unusual. When the verb ná is inflected, it is usually placed in the sentence the same way as most verbs, between the subject and “object” (properly the predicate), as in i atan náne turca “the man was strong”. In the present/aorist, the ná can be and usually is omitted: i atan (ná) turca “the man is strong”. As a sentence grows in complexity, though, the omitted ná can be ambiguous, so sometimes the ná is added at the end. Consider these sentences:
In a longer phrase like this, omitting the ná entirely can be confusing, so the speaker can tack a ná onto the end as a way of indicating that “this longer sentence is in fact a ‘to be’ statement”. The net result is that the ná often appears after the predicate noun or adjective. This pattern generalizes to other cases, so that impersonal “it is good” is usually mára ná rather than ná mára, “you will be good” may be mára nauval rather than nauval mára, and you can even say elda nanyë “an elf am I”.
Thus there are three places where ná might appear in a phrase:
In the last ordering, the placement is technically after the predicate and not at the end of the sentence. Thus if the subject is displaced from its usual position at the beginning of the sentence, the ná still follows the predicate noun or adjective. For example:
The reversal of predicate and subject is also possible in simple statements which omit ná, such as halla i elda “tall [is] the elf”. While Quenya typically follows the same subject-verb-object order as English, we will see that word order is freer in Quenya than it is in English. This reversed formation can only be used if something separates the adjective from the noun. “An elf [is] tall” must be elda halla, because halla elda would mean “a tall elf”. However, halla i elda means “tall [is] the elf” because i “the” separates the adjective from the noun (PE21/77-78).
220.127.116.11 ná- Plurality Agreement: When a “to be” statement compares a noun and an adjective, then the adjective must be in the plural to match a plural noun. Likewise, if a past or future form of ná appears and the subject noun is plural, then the inflected verb form needs the usual plural verb suffix -r:
If a normally-omitted ná is restored in a complex sentence with a plural noun subject, the verb must also be marked for plurality:
18.104.22.168 ná- vs. Verb Tenses: One last word of warning for English speakers: not every use of English “is” will correspond to a Quenya ná. For example, in the English sentence “the dwarves of the mountain are coming”, the verb form “are coming” is not a “to be” statement. It is the present continuous form of the verb “to come”, which corresponds to Quenya túlar (túla-plural). Compare:
We will see other examples in this course where Quenya uses different sentence structures in cases where English would use “is/are”.
22.214.171.124 How do we know this? Some parts of the above are based on Tolkien’s own notes on the usage of ná, but others are extrapolated from how he used ná in sentences, making some of the above speculative. Tolkien described the optional nature of ná in simple subject-predicate sentences on several occasions (PE17/93; PE21/77-78). It’s frequent displacement after the predicate was also explicitly mentioned by Tolkien (PE17/93; VT42/33), and this formation regularly appears in example sentences. The placement of inflected ná between subject and predicate is less clear, but seems to be supported by the small number of examples we have, such as: savin Elessar ar i nánë aran Ondórëo “I believe that E[lessar] really existed and that he was a King of Gondor” (PE22/158); cé tulis, ní nauva tanomë (VT49/19) “*if he/she comes, I will be there (tanomë)”, but note also cé tulis, tanomë nauvan on the same page with an inflected form after the predicate.
The conjugation of ná given in Section 126.96.36.199 is mostly based on a conjugation table from 1969 (VT49/27). That conjugation actually had distinct aorist nai vs. present ná forms. However, this use of aorist nai never appeared in actual sentences and ná was frequently used in an aorist sense, so I feel comfortable saying that aorist nai was probably a transient idea and that ná was used for both present and aorist. Tolkien also experimented with other past/future forms, such as the bare tense markers né and uva for “was” and “will be” (VT49/30), but náne and nauva are what usually appear in actual sentences.
As for long pronouns nanyë, nalyë vs. short nás, that pattern fits most of the examples, but only nás appears in actual sentences (PE17/126; VT49/30). In one place Tolkien did have nassë “he/she is” (VT49/30), but that conflicts with the noun nassë “being” (PE17/174-175), so I think nás is better. As for the reversion to short pronoun prefixes in future/past forms, that also fits the examples (VT49/19, 28), though in the case of the past forms it was for a variant (and probably transient) past form anë: anen, anel, anes “I was, you were, he/she was” (VT49/28). Patrick Wynne discussed various late notes on ná in Vinyar Tengwar #49 (VT49/27-31).
188.8.131.52 Usage of ëa- The closest equivalent to the verb ëa- in English is “to exist”. The Quenya word for the universe (all of existence) is the closely related word Eä (S/20; Let/286). Tolkien specified that the verb ëa- meant “exist (have being in primary world of history)” and that it was “not followed by any adj. or noun but only by a[n] adverb (or negated adverb) mainly of time” (PE22/147). In other words, the verb ëa- cannot be used to equate two nouns or a noun and an adjective; that’s what ná- is for. The verb ëa- can only be followed by adverbs and prepositional expressions. Compare:
184.108.40.206 ëa- Conjugations: Here is how ëa- is conjugated in the major Quenya verb tenses. Like ná-, this verb uses the same form for both the aorist and present tenses (VT49/29):
220.127.116.11 How do we know this? Tolkien outlined the distinction between ëa- “exist” (from the root EÑE) and ná- “be” (from the root NĀ) in Late Notes on Verb Structure written in 1969 (PE22/147). The most complete conjugation of ëa- appears in another note from 1969, where Tolkien specified that it used the same form for the aorist and the present (VT49/29). This 1969 conjugation is presented in the section above.
Note that in some of Tolkien’s earlier writings, he used ëa instead of ná as the basic “to be” verb, most notably in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) written in 1948 (PE22/122-124). Some of the ideas presented in this 1948 document remain applicable to Quenya, but with ëa updated to ná. In particular, there is an interesting discussion on how Quenya handles locational expressions that still remains relevant (PE22/125-126). It is summarized in the following section but (a) with ëa revised to ná and (b) some of the locational verbs updated to later forms, as discussed in the section section 18.104.22.168 Verbs of Location.
22.214.171.124 Locational Expressions: English frequently uses “be” in expressions of location, but it seems Quenya rarely does so. The verb ná is generally omitted as is often the case, with the usual exceptions for inflected forms, such as tanomë i osto “there [is] the city” (PE22/124) versus tanomë nauvan “I will be there” (VT49/19). Omitting ná may also be possible with prepositional expressions or a directional noun cases (-nna, -llo, -ssë):
As usual, with more complex expressions the ná is more likely to be (re)introduced. Where a verb is required, Quenya still prefers to avoid ná, using an alternate verb where possible as described in the section on 126.96.36.199 Verbs of Location:
To practice “to be” statements, here is a list of nouns for different kinds of persons, followed by a list of adjectives for different qualities, some of which we’ve seen before.
As a reminder, the ^ reliability marker indicates forms adapted from early or rejected forms of Quenya. The forms in parentheses indicate noun stems, used in inflected forms: nér (ner-) “man” means the uninflected form is nér, but with suffixes it becomes ner- as in plural neri “men”. The bracket notations like [w-] and [þ] appear for the first time in this vocabulary list and indicates the archaic pronunciation, which can be important to tengwar spelling as discussed in Chapter 4, §4.1. For example vendë [w-] means the modern pronunciation is vendë “maiden” versus archaic/poetic †wendë. These archaic pronunciations will be discussed further in Chapter 3, §3.1.2.
188.8.131.52 Summary of ná-:
184.108.40.206 Summary of ëa-:
220.127.116.11 Pluralization Summary (Refresher):
Practice the pronunciation of the following words using the pseudo-phonetic representations from section 2.1.5 Pronunciation Summary.
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Pick appropriate locational verbs for these sentences (hint: they won’t be ná or ëa):
Answers are in Answer Key 2.3 at the end of this chapter.
This section discusses the features for vocabulary entries in this course.
18.104.22.168 Basic Vocabulary Elements: The basic elements of a word entry are as follows.
Strictly speaking the glosses are not perfectly accurate translations, since the meaning of Quenya words do not exactly overlap with the meaning of English words. Where a Quenya word has several glosses, its meaning encapsulates all of those glosses, but it might not be usable in all the same circumstances as the English words. Simple words like “eagle” are generally clear, but words with more complex meanings like har- “sit, stay” could correspond to either of the English words in different circumstances. Full word definitions are beyond the scope of this course, though some words are discussed in more detail in the vocabulary entries if their definitions are of particular interest.
For some words, parentheses are used to represent alternate forms:
The longer form is generally used as an independent word: i nando núra “the valley [is] deep”; i nissi túver i tollë “the women discovered the island”. The shorter form is used in compounds or as a “pseudo-prefix” in names: Tasarinan “Willow-vale” or Nan-tasarion “Vale of Willows”, Tol Eressëa “The Lonely Island”, Moriquen “Dark-elf”. Lost consonants are restored to the inflected forms of compounds. For example, the stem form of Moriquen is Moriquend-: Moriquendi “Dark elves”, Moriquendo “of a Dark-elf”, Moriquendello “from a Dark-elf”.
The entries for verbs (v.) are a bit different:
22.214.171.124 Reliability Markers: The past tense ^handë of har- in the example above includes a reliability marker, which indicates our level of knowledge for a given item. The reliability markers used in this course are as follows:
These markers can apply to the words themselves, inflections of a word such as its past tense, or even individual glosses. Reliability markers only appear in the vocabulary entries, since including them in example sentences would be very messy. There is one more marker of note: a double asterisk ** is used in cases that are known to be wrong, since telling students what not to do is important as well.
126.96.36.199 Language Markers: This course rarely makes use of language markers, since almost all the Elvish words in the course are Quenya. They appear occasionally, however, and are useful for understanding the online dictionary associated with this course: https://eldamo.org.
The different conceptual periods of Elvish are covered in section 2.7 Advanced Topic: Conceptual Development of Quenya later in this chapter. You don’t need to understand these conceptual periods to learn Quenya itself, but they are important background for when you want to go beyond this course to learn directly from Tolkien’s own writing.
It is fairly common for Quenya words to use different base forms with and without inflections. Vocabulary entries have the uninflected form, also known as the simplex, followed by an optional stem form in parentheses if it is different from the uninflected form, for example: perian (periand-) “halfling”.
188.8.131.52 Noun Stems: One common reason for nouns to have different stem forms is for there to have been sound losses, usually consonant reductions, that occurred in the simplex but not in inflected forms. An example of this is perian (periand-) “halfling”, where the final nd reduced to n in the simplex (perian) but was retained in inflected forms like plural periandi “halflings”. In such cases, the stem is longer than the simplex.
Sometimes, though, the sound losses were in the inflected forms. An example of this is soron (sorn-) “eagle”, where the second o was preserved in the simplex (soron) but was lost when inflections were added: sorni “eagles”. In such cases, the stem is shorter than the simplex.
184.108.40.206 Verb Stems: Verbs are different from nouns in that the vocabulary entries show the stem form rather than the simplex: mat- “to eat”. The verb stem is the basis for the verbs conjugations into tenses (aorist, present, future, past, perfect), but verbs can only be used in a conjugated form: matë, máta, matuva, mantë, amátië “eats, is eating, will eat, ate, has eaten”. In a sense, each of these tense-forms is itself a stem, to which further suffixes like pronominal inflections are added, e.g. máta “is eating”, mátan “I am eating” (máta-n).
Just as some nouns have distinct stem forms, the aorist stem of basic verbs has a different form in the simplex (matë) as opposed to when it is inflected (mati-). It is the same basic phenomenon at play, where an ancient i changed to ë in the simplex but was retained with inflections: matin “I eat” (mati-n).
This course includes quite a bit of vocabulary, but it cannot cover the entire breadth of known Quenya words, or the nuances of individual definitions. Fortunately, there are a number of online dictionaries that include many more Quenya words than appear in this course. My current recommendations (as of 2023) are the sites:
Of the two, Parf Edhellen is more “beginner friendly”, and more accessible to non-experts. Eldamo (my own dictionary) is more academically oriented and includes a lot of extra detail that can be overwhelming to beginners, but those extra details can be helpful as you develop more knowledge. Both of these dictionaries can be used as additional resources for more vocabulary. The two sites are based on similar data sets, so there is very little in Eldamo that is not also in Parf Edhellen, and vice versa.
Dictionaries can be dangerous for beginners to use, however, for two reasons. First, dictionaries don’t teach you grammar, and just stringing together words from a dictionary without any grammatical background will usually produce gibberish. Second, dictionaries typically include words from the entire breadth of Tolkien’s life, including early (and possibly abandoned) words from his youth, along with other words he used later in his life but were only transient notions he quickly discarded. It requires some degree of expertise to sort out “good” words from the “bad” words, with the added complication that even experts don’t always agree which words are which.
One of the main goals of this course is to provide you with the necessary background information to help you make these finer distinctions. The course can’t cover all the relevant issues (things can get very complicated), but it should teach you enough that you can avoid the major pitfalls and use online dictionaries with some degree of safety.
In fact, once you complete this course, you will likely “graduate” from using the vocabulary presented here and will start using the dictionaries instead. That’s partly because the dictionaries will have more words, but also because the best dictionaries include more recent information from new research that is not reflected in the course. The nature of introductory language courses is such that they can’t always stay current with the latest-and-greatest information from new publications, and this course (like the ones before it) will almost certainly lag behind our best understanding of the Quenya language.
However, you need to learn the basics before you can grapple with more complex notions, so for now I recommend sticking with the course’s vocabulary lists, and wait until you know more before exploring the dictionaries.
Here are some vocabulary words having to do with the sea:
Here are some vocabulary words having to do with the sky:
Recall from the first chapter that Quenya does not use the definite article i for known unique things the way that English does, so where English would say “the Sun, the Moon, the sky/heavens”, Quenya says only Anar, Isil, menel.
Since this section didn’t introduce any new grammar, this exercise is mainly about practicing the vocabulary above.
As a quick refresher, recall from Chapter 1, Section §1.5.1 the three Quenya conjuctions: ar “and”, hya “or”, mal “but”. Also recall the indeclinable relative pronoun i “who, which, that” and the two declinable relative pronouns ya “which, that” (for things) and ye “who, that” (for people and animals).
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Answers are in Answer Key 2.4 at the end of this chapter.
The relationships of Elves and the way they think about love is different from mortal men. According to Tolkien, marriage was the natural state of the Elves and nearly all of them married, but this did not keep them from having rich relationships with others beyond their spouse.
The basic word for the emotion of “love” in Quenya is melmë, with the related verb mel- “to love”. It is the basis for the words melindo and melissë “lover” (male and female), but is also the basis for meldo and meldë “friend” (again male and female). Properly speaking mel- is not limited to romantic love. As Tolkien described it:
Love, which Men might rather call “friendship” or even “liking” (but for the greater warmth, strength, and permanency with which it was felt by the Quendi [Elves]) was represented by words derived from √MEL. Emel (or melmë, a particular case) was primarily a motion or inclination of the fëa [soul], and therefore could occur between those of the same or of differen[t] sexes. In itself it included no sexual (or rather procreative) desire, though naturally in Incarnates a difference of sex altered the emotion (NM/16).
Thus mel- was used of any deep emotional attachment to another person regardless of gender. It could be used for close friends as well as lovers. This is why the Elvish words for “friend” and “lover” are based on the same root. There was a different root for less intimate emotional attachments: √NDIL.
√NDIL may be compared with the Greek element phil, occurring in such words as Anglophile and bibliophile, or in such as philosophy. It expressed a deep concern for or interest in things or objects of thought ... √NDIL (nilmë) may be called “love”, because while its mainspring was a concern for things other than self for their own sakes, it included a personal satisfaction in that the inclination was part of the “lover’s” native character, and study or service of the things loved were necessary to their fulfilment (NM/16).
This root was also the basis of a couple more words for “friend”: nildo and nildë (male and female), but such friendships were of a more casual nature, for those one was “friendly” with but less permanently attached emotionally. Unlike √MEL, the root √NDIL could also apply to “love” of things as well as people, such as a devotion to an art, science or nation. On the other hand purely sexual love was based on a third root √YER, but it was not detached from √MEL:
The desire for marriage and bodily union was represented by √YER; but this never in the uncorrupted occurred without “love” √MEL, nor without the desire for children. This element was therefore seldom used except to describe occasions of its dominance in the process of courting and marriage. The feelings of lovers desiring marriage, and of husband and wife, were usually described by √MEL. This ‘love’ remained, of course, permanent after the satisfaction of √YER in the “Time of the Children”; but was strengthened by this satisfaction and the memory of it to a normally unbreakable bond (NM/20).
For the Elves, sexual desire or yermë was almost always preceded by close emotional attachment or “love” melmë, and the notion of yermë without melmë was anathema (though melmë without yermë was normal of course). It was melmë “love” that led to marriage, and only in the context of such marriage could yermë “desire” be naturally fulfilled through the act of procreation. To do otherwise was to fall into the realm of mailë “lust”. That is not to say that such “improper” relationships did not occur among the Elves, but they were seen as rare and unhealthy.
In times of peace most Elves married soon after they reached adulthood. Elves might meet and choose their romantic partner or “lover” (melindo or melissë) even as children, but the “lovers” needed to be adults before their families would allow a marriage. Betrothal involved the exchange of rings of silver, and the assent of both parties was required. Betrothals lasted at least a year, and could sometimes be (much) longer. If the feelings were not shared or were altered over time, the betrothal could be broken by one party returning the ring (which was melted and not reused for other engagements).
Most betrothals were not broken, and the day of marriage was usually a feast involving both families and the rest of the community. The father of the groom gave a gift to the bride and the mother of the bride gave a gift to the groom. The silver rings of engagement were replaced by golden rings of marriage, exchanged anew between bride and groom, and the engagement rings were returned to become a private treasures of each spouse. The ceremony involved requests for the blessings by Manwë and Varda, as well as an invocation of Eru (who was otherwise mentioned only rarely in Elvish rituals).
However, it was not this ceremony that “sealed” the marriage, but rather the first act of procreation between the spouses. This sexual union of yermë also sealed and strengthened the melmë between them into a permanent bond. In circumstances of isolation two Elves could “marry each other” through this act of yermë without the trappings of ceremony, and such marriages were as legitimate and permanent as the more formal ones. In ordinary circumstances, a period of child rearing followed soon after marriage.
Despite their immortality, the Elves tended to have children when they were young, soon after adulthood and in the early days of their marriage. Most elvish households had only a few children, no more than four being normal. Large families like the seven sons of Fëanor were extraordinary (and no one else matched Fëanor’s count). Though Elves remained physically strong throughout their life, the act of procreation taxed their spirits. After a certain number of children (varying by individual), an Elf lost the ability and desire to have more. After this “Time of the Children” the marriage entered a long period of a close but not sexual relationship, with yermë lost but melmë remaining.
Elvish marriages were permanent, and given their immortality this basically meant they were eternal. Divorce was not possible, and remarriage was allowed only in the most extraordinary circumstances, where one of the spouses died and also refused to reembody, remaining forever within the halls of Mandos. The only known instance of remarriage within the tales is that of Finwë to Indis after the death of his first wife Míriel. The permanence of Elvish marriage was less onerous than it might seem, since most Elves were able to find “soul mates” with whom permanent union was a joy. One of the tragedies of the unions between Elves and Men is that the love and marriage between them remained permanent, but the bodies and spirits were soon parted.
After the “Time of Children”, the marriage was less intimate than it was in the beginning, and it became more like close friendship once the desire for children waned. In fact, it was not unusual for long-married Elves to live apart for extended periods, as their interests drew them in different directions. Elves could also have close friendships (melmë) with people other than their spouse.
It is not clear how much of this idealized view of marriage was reflected in the actual lives of Elves. In times of strife, marriage could be delayed, as well as childrearing after marriage. It was the act of child bearing itself that taxed their spirits, so that Elves who refrained from having children remained fertile long into their lives, though those who lived millenia without childbearing would eventually lose that capacity. It was also possible that some Elves would never find a suitable mate, either because one could not be found, or because the one they loved did not share their feelings.
It was also possible for Elves to have unhealthy marriages, though they still remained permanent. The best known example is the union of Eöl and Aredhel, where Eöl trapped Aredhel into marriage. But even there Tolkien said “It is not said that Aredhel was wholly unwilling, nor that her life in Nan Elmoth was hateful to her for many years” (S/133). Tolkien also said that “Even when in after days, as the histories reveal, many of the Eldar in Middle-earth became corrupted, and their hearts darkened by the shadow that lies upon Arda, seldom is any tale told of deeds of lust among them” (MR/210).
Most of the above material draws from the essay Laws and Customs Among the Eldar published in the book Morgoth’s Ring (MR/207-227), along with some linguistic notes from essays on Time and Aging published in The Nature of Middle-earth (footnotes on NM/16, 20). By 21st century standards, it may seem that Tolkien’s vision of Elvish marriage was overly idealized or even prudish, but do bear in mind that Tolkien was a devout Catholic born at the end of the 19th century, so modern sensibilities don’t necessarily apply.
Here are some vocabulary words having to do with love:
Here are some vocabulary words having to do with the family:
The words !nil- and !orendë are our first examples of neologisms in this course: new Elvish words invented by fans (only one of which, orendë, is the invention of the course’s author). The exclamation mark “!” before vocabulary words indicates they are neologisms. This particular pair of neologisms is included here because we know that the contrasting words mel- (“to love deeply and emotionally”) and nossë (“extended family”) had particular meanings in Tolkien’s writings, but we don’t know the Quenya words for the opposing terms (“to love less emotionally” and “nuclear family”).
Because they are neologisms, these words are not universally accepted among writers of Quenya and won’t be used in exercises, but they are helpful for purposes of discussion, and I personally would use both of them for Quenya writing in less formal settings. A discussion of Neo-Quenya appears in the (optional) section later in this chapter: 2.7 Advanced Topic: Conceptual Development of Quenya.
Since this section didn’t introduce any new grammar, this exercise is mainly about practicing the vocabulary above. The various capitalized names in the exercise (Lëa, Oren, Cissë, Miro, Tilë) are not intended to have any particular meaning other than as individuals in the story. Here are some adverbs and conjunctions used in the story, not previously introduced:
Translate the following into English:
Translate the following into Quenya:
Answers are in Answer Key 2.5 at the end of this chapter.
It’s time for some more analysis of Tolkien’s own writing, this time Elendil’s Oath, which he proclaimed after his arrival in Middle-earth, an oath that was renewed by Aragorn after the War of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Book 6, Chapter 5: The Steward and the King). First a bit of new vocabulary:
Actually sinomë “here” appeared in section 2.1.4 Vocabulary: Places, but you may have forgotten it; compare it to tanomë “there”. Elendil’s Oath also involves two verb tenses we haven’t fully discussed yet, but at least the verbs themselves are familiar: perfect utúlië “have come” (tul- “to come”) and future maruva “will dwell” (mar- “to dwell”). The oath is:
Et Eärello Endorenna utúlien.
Sinomë maruvan ar Hildinyar tenna Ambar-metta.
Broken down this is:
Et Eär-ello Endore-nna utúlie-n.
Out Sea-from (Middle-earth)-to (have come)-I.
Sinomë mar-uva-n ar Hildi-nya-r tenna Ambar-metta.
Here dwell-will-I and heir-my-(pl.) until World-end.
More naturally translated:
Out from Sea to Middle-earth I have come.
Here I will dwell and my heirs until World-end.
We see both directional cases -llo “from” and -nna “to” in the oath: -llo/-nna often appears in pairs like this. Endórë “Middle-earth” and Ambar are missing the definite article i because they are unique things, but ëar “sea” is also missing the definite article, because in this circumstance it refers to the Great Sea bordering western Middle-earth, and is thus unique in this context. Other than this, the English translation above is fairly clear.
Tolkien’s actual English translation is pretty close, with a bit of poetic flourish added:
Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come.
In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world.
As with Frodo’s greeting, the actual Elvish phrase published in The Lord of the Rings shows some elision (vowel loss): tenn’ Ambar-metta rather than tenna Ambar-metta as given above. Also note how the long vowel of Endórë shortens when the directional case suffix -nna is added: Endorenna, not **Endórenna. These subtle vowel shifts will be discussed in Chapter 6, Section §6.1.
The last complicated bit for this analysis is hildinyar “my heirs”. The theory of this course is that the i before -nyar is because the stem form of hildë “heir” is hildi-, and it has nothing to do with the plural. It is possible, though, that this word is actually hil (hild-) and the i is the usual joining vowel of the suffix -(i)nya “my”. See Chapter 3, Section §3.2.3 for a more detailed discussion of possessive pronouns.
When most people think of Tolkien’s Elvish languages, they think of them as they are presented in The Lords of the Rings in a relatively polished form. But Tolkien worked on the Elvish languages throughout his life. Because of publications like The History of Middle-earth series and the academic journals Parma Eldalamberon (PE) and Vinyar Tengwar (VT), we have access to numerous drafts of Tolkien’s linguistic documents, and can study how Tolkien’s ideas on the languages evolved over his life. For the development of Quenya, it is common for scholars to divide Tolkien’s work up into three broad periods:
The spelling of Early Qenya without the u is deliberate. In his earliest writings, Tolkien usually named the language “Qenya” instead of the name “Quenya” he used later in his life (different spellings, same pronunciation). Within each conceptual period there are a few major documents you should be aware of.
2.7.1 Early Quenya (1910s-1920s): The first iteration of Qenya was mainly represented by the Qenya Lexicon (QL) written by Tolkien in the 1910s and the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) written by Tolkien in the 1920s, posthumously published in 1998 (PE12) and 2003 (PE14) respectively. The Qenya Lexicon is sufficiently important that many dictionaries reference it directly rather than the journal where it appears (PE12). Page references in this course and its associated online dictionary eldamo.org use QL/41 to mean “Qenya Lexicon p. 41”, which was actually published in Parma Eldalamberon #12 (that is PE12/41).
In this period Tolkien was mostly working on Qenya as a language in and of itself. The vocabulary and grammar of Early Qenya covered the full scope of a living existence. QL included references to some “real world” elements like terms from the Christian church and even a word for the sound of machine gun fire (Tolkien fought in World War I). Qenya was still a private work, and Tolkien didn’t share its existence publicly until he gave a speech on his “Secret Vice” of language invention in 1931. Early Qenya bore some striking resemblances to Indo-European languages, most notably the ancient form of the Elvish languages which used syllablic consonants (ṇ, ḷ, ṛ), just like Proto-Indo-European.
2.7.2 Middle Quenya (1930s-1940s): In the early-to-mid 1930s Tolkien went through a major overhaul of the phonetic elements of the Elvish languages. The end result was a very important work labeled simply The Etymologies (Ety) written in the late 1930s which described the etymological origins of Elvish words within Tolkien’s fictional universe. The Etymologies organized its words around the primitive roots from which the words were derived. Like QL, The Etymologies is sufficiently important that I make references to it directly in this course: Ety/KIR refers to the entry for the root √KIR in that document. The Etymologies was first published posthumously in The Lost Road and Other Writings (LR/341-400) from The History of Middle-earth series in 1987. Carl Hostetter and Patrick Wynne also published extensive errata for The Etymologies in Vinyar Tengwar #45-46 in 2003-4.
There was no unified Quenya grammar in this period, but Tolkien wrote several more specialized documents on Quenya nouns, verbs and the language’s phonological character. In this period Tolkien also revealed the existence of his tales to the rest of the world with the publication of The Hobbit in 1937. Shortly after, Tolkien started working on his most famous work, The Lord of the Rings, which he wrote between 1937 and 1949. His private work on The Silmarillion also advanced considerably in this period.
In the 1930s and 40s, the Elvish languages became increasingly tied to Tolkien’s Legendarium. The “real world” elements of the languages mostly vanished (through Tolkien did later translate a few Catholic prayers into Elvish in the 1950s). Some of the more obvious resemblances between Primitive Elvish and Proto-Indo-European were removed. Carl Hostetter made a persuasive argument (at Omentielva Otsea in 2017) that The Etymologies itself may have been created primarily as a way of explaining names in The Silmarillion (and to a lesser extent The Lord of the Rings), rather than being a general-purpose linguistic work like the Qenya Lexicon.
2.7.3 Late Quenya (1950s-1970s): The Lord of the Rings was published as three separate books in 1954-5, at which point the world at large finally learned of Tolkien’s Elvish languages. This was followed by a second edition in 1965. In the 1950s and 60s Tolkien also went through a major rewrite of The Silmarillion in the hopes of publishing it after The Lord of the Rings, work that Tolkien himself was sadly unable to complete. The Silmarillion was edited and published in 1977 by his son Christopher Tolkien instead, four years after J.R.R. Tolkien’s death in 1973. The publication of The Lord of the Rings did not stop Tolkien’s work on the Elvish languages, and he continued to modify them throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s up until his death.
For the first time in his life, Tolkien was constrained by the need to remain consistent with already published material, the Elvish names and phrases in The Lord of the Rings itself. He no longer had complete freedom to adjust the languages as he saw fit as his ideas evolved. The main vocabulary list from this period is a set of documents collectively known as Words, Phrases and Passages from the Lord of the Rings (WPP), documents Tolkien wrote to codify the linguistic elements in LotR; WPP was published posthumously in Parma Eldalamberon #17 in 2007. In the process of writing WPP, Tolkien discovered various inconsistencies in the linguistic elements of The Lord of the Rings, and in some cases Tolkien was forced to reverse-engineer an explanation for those inconsistencies since he could not change the published books.
This is not to say the names in The Lord of the Rings were invented willy-nilly. They were largely based on the foundation of The Etymologies from the 1930s. But The Lord of the Rings is over a half million words long, and in any work of that size some mistakes are inevitable. The character of WPP is therefore different from the earlier works like the Qenya Lexicon and The Etymologies: it existed primarily as a way of explaining the Elvish words Tolkien already had rather than inventing new words as was the case with earlier vocabulary lists.
Tolkien’s later work on his languages is therefore of a curious character. He continued to innovate and refine the features of the Elvish languages, but he also spent time figuring out how to make those features compatible with his already-published works. Like The Silmarillion, Tolkien never produced a “finished” version of his Elvish languages, and his work on the languages continued until it was interrupted by his death in 1973.
2.7.4 Neo-Quenya (post-Tolkien): Very little was known about Tolkien’s Elvish languages at the time of his death. It was not until The History of Middle-earth series was published in the 1980s, followed by the linguistic articles in the academic journals Parma Eldalamberon and Vinyar Tengwar beginning in the late 90s, that the rest of the world got an inkling of the depth and complexity of his languages. Both the book series and the academic journals began publishing the earliest material first, putting students of Elvish in the peculiar position of knowing more about the Elvish languages as Tolkien imagined them in his youth than they did about his later writings.
With the publication of The Etymologies in 1987, and Words, Phrases and Passages twenty years later in 2007, students of Elvish were finally able to build a picture of how Tolkien imagined Elvish in the period before and after the publication of The Lord of the Rings. As more information became available, however, the fundamentally incomplete nature of the Elvish languages became clear. While some of his ideas about the Elvish languages were quite stable, there were other areas where Tolkien kept changing his mind. Figuring out which of his ideas were compatible with others can be very challenging, and almost always involves some degree of guesswork. This isn’t necessarily a problem for those involved in the pure academic study of Tolkien’s languages, but for those who actually want to use Quenya to craft compositions of their own, it can be a significant challenge.
That is especially the case when presenting Quenya to relative beginners, as this course aims to do. To avoid this issue, most Quenya courses (including this one) present a simplified version of the Elvish languages to make it easier for students to grasp. Such “post-Tolkien” renditions of Elvish are usually referred to as Neo-Quenya, and they gloss over the messier details and contradictions of the source material. You can’t reasonably expect the student to grasp the complexity of sixty years of worth of evolution for Tolkien’s languages when they are still wrestling with basic grammar.
2.7.5 More on Neologisms: One common feature of Neo-Quenya is the use of neologisms, or fan-invented words that “fill in the gaps” of the Elvish languages as described by Tolkien. Not every neologism represents a new concept. For example, we don’t know the past tense of every Quenya verb and sometimes we need to guess, such as assuming the past tense of mar- “to dwell” is *marnë “dwelled”. Strictly speaking these are neologisms as well. However, when most people think of neologisms, they think of words that add new concepts to the Elvish languages, such !nil- “to love (less emotionally)” or !orendë “nuclear family”.
The exercises in this course avoid using neologisms, but not because neologisms are inherently bad. A lot of new students have a strong desire to “use only words that Tolkien used”, but the reality is that it is only a matter of time before you run into something that Tolkien didn’t have a word for, especially if you want to talk about modern things like computers or automobiles. At that point your choices are (a) don’t say anything at all, (b) use some complex circumlocution to get around the missing word or (c) coin some neologism. However, different people have varying levels of tolerance for neologisms (and different kinds of neologism), so you will likely see some disagreements on what is the best way of translating a particular phrase.
220.127.116.11 Pronunciation Summary Part 1:
18.104.22.168 Aorist Tense Summary:
22.214.171.124 Present Tense Summary:
126.96.36.199 “To Be” Verb Summary: