Quenya is a fictional language devised by J. R. R. Tolkien, and used in his fictional universe, often called Middle-earth. Here are presented a resume of the grammatical rules of late Quenya as established from Tolkien's writings c. 1951–1973. It is almost impossible to extrapolate the morphological rules of the Quenya tongue from published data because Quenya is a fictional irregular language that is heavily influenced by natural languages, like Finnish and Latin – not an international auxiliary language with a regular morphology.
Tolkien wrote several synchronic grammars of Quenya but only one has been published in full: The Early Qenya Grammar. Apart from that, he wrote several diachronic studies of Quenya, and its proto-language Common Eldarin, three of which have been published: The Qenyaqetsa (dealing with early Quenya or Eldarissa), Outline of Phonetic Development, and the Outline of Phonology.
- 1 Evolution
- 2 Nouns
- 3 Adjectives
- 4 Verbs
- 5 Prepositions and adverbs
- 6 Pronouns
- 7 Syntax
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
In the last stages of external development, Tolkien imagined a diglossic Elven society with a vernacular language for daily use, "the 'colloquial' form of the language", called Tarquesta High-tongue, and a more formal and conservative language for use in ceremonies and lore, Parmaquesta or Book-language: "which was originally the spoken language of the Noldor of Túna as it was at approximately period V.Y. 1300".
And Tolkien even conceived an Ancient Quenya "which is a vague term referring to forms of the language before about V.Y. 1200, or before the devising of the Feänorian alphabet (c. V.Y. 1250)".
Contrary to many auxiliary languages which have fairly simple systems of grammatical number, in late Quenya nouns can have up to four numbers: singular, general plural (or plural 1), particular/partitive plural (or plural 2), and dual.
In late Quenya Tarquesta, the plural is formed by a suffix to the subjective form of the noun.
- For plural 1 the suffix is -i or -r (depending of the type of the noun). In Parmaquesta the -í is (not always) long (the precise rules have not yet been published).
- For plural 2 the suffix is -li (-lí in Parmaquesta).
"Thus in Quenya Eldar (not with article!) = Elves, The Elves, All Elves; i Eldar = (all) the Elves previously named (and in some cases distinguished from other creatures); but Eldali, Elves, some Elves. With Eldali the definite article is seldom used,"
Not all nouns can have all four numbers since some of them are pluralia tantum having no singular variant for referring to a single object, such as armar "goods (things for sale, or the things that you own)"; some other nouns, especially monosyllabic ones, use only one of the two plurals judged the most aesthetic by Elves (i.e. Tolkien); with the word má 'hand' "the only plural in use (at any recorded period) was máli ". The word tó 'wool' has no dual or plural, according to Tolkien.
- lasse "leaf", lassi pl. 1 "leaves", lasseli pl. 2 "some/several/a number of leaves"
- alda "tree", aldar pl. 1 "trees", aldali pl. 2 "some/several/a number of trees"
- Elda "Elf", Eldar pl. 1 "Elves (as a kind)", Eldali pl. 2 "some/a lot of Elves"
Quenya nouns are declined. Declining is the process of inflecting nouns; a set of declined forms of the same word is called a declension. Parmaquesta has ten cases (including short variants). These include the four primary cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, and instrumental; three adverbial cases: allative (of which the dative is a shortened form), locative (also with a shortened form), and ablative; and an adjectival case.
- The nominative is the subject of a verb. It is also used with most prepositions.
- The accusative is the direct object of a verb. It has the same form as the nominative in Tarquesta, but is distinct in Ancient Quenya and in Parmaquesta.
- The genitive is mainly used to mark origin (e.g. the best painters of France). Its usage sometimes overlaps the ablative, sometimes the adjectival.
- The instrumental marks a noun as a means or instrument.
- The allative expresses motion towards: elenna, 'toward a star, starward(s)'.
- The dative is the indirect object of a verb.
- The locative expresses location or position: Lóriendesse, 'in Lórien'.
- The ablative expresses motion away from: earello, 'from the sea'.
- The adjectival case describes qualities, and turns almost any noun into an adjective. It is also used to indicate possession or ownership. In Tarquesta, this usage sometimes overlaps with the genitive.
The declension of the noun in Parmaquesta has been published in the so-called "Plotz Declension" that Tolkien provided in a letter to Dick Plotz in 1967. This provides the "classical" declension of two vocalic-stem nouns cirya "ship" and lassë "leaf", in four numbers: singular, pl. 1, pl. 2, and dual. The declension has eight chief cases in three groups that Tolkien labelled a, b, and c. Of these cases, Tolkien named only
- the primary cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, and instrumental; and
- the adverbial cases: allative, locative, and ablative.
The allative and locative in turn have (unnamed) short forms (except in the loc. dual), of which the short allative form appears to correspond to the dative case. The third group, c, has only one member (and only in singular and in plural 2), which appears to correspond to the adjectival case as described in the essay "Quendi and Eldar – Essekenta Eldarinwa" written in c. 1960.
The declension of cirya and lasse given below is taken from the Plotz Declension and reflects the forms of Classical Quenya. The declensions of ondo "stone", nér "man", and cas "head" are taken from an earlier conceptual period of Quenya (c. 1935).
According to Tolkien adjectives appear only in -a, -e, -o (rare), and -n (stem nearly always -nd); melin "dear", pl. melindi.
Quenya adjectives may be freely used as nouns.
The comparative forms of adjectives are in late Quenya normally expressed by the use of the preposition lá, much as in French plus:
- A (ná) calima lá B. "A is brighter than B."
- French: A est plus brillant que B.
Note that the use of the copula ná, when in the present tense, is optional.
Some adjectives are irregular. The following table provides the comparative and superlative forms of the adjective mára "good":
|mára||arya||i arya + gen. case|
- A (ná) arya B. "A is better than B."
Tolkien wrote: "The inflections of [Qenya] verbs are always pretty regular". According to Tolkien's own terminology, Quenya verbs are either in a personal form or an impersonal form. Usually in linguistics, an impersonal verb is a verb that cannot take a true subject, because it does not represent an action, occurrence, or state-of-being of any specific person, place, or thing. This is not how Tolkien used the term "impersonal". An impersonal verb form is a verb to which no pronoun is attached, as care or carir ; carin "I do" is a personal form (-n).
The impersonal conjugations provided below were written by J.R.R. Tolkien in the late 1960s, but only in singular forms. There are apparently two main types of verbs in late Quenya: weak transitive verbs, which are usually 'root' verbs, such as car- "make; do" from the Elvish base or root KAR-, and derivative intransitive verbs with a strong conjugation, whose stems end mainly in -ta, -na, -ya, formed by putting a verbal suffix to a base or root, like henta- "to eye", from the Elvish base KHEN- "eye".
|Derivative verb (strong)||Root verb (weak)|
Some Quenya verbs have an irregular conjugation. The verb auta- comes from the root AWA-, meaning "depart, go away, disappear, be lost, pass away". This verb is used in a sentence in the chapter "Of the Fifth Battle" in The Silmarillion: "Auta i lómë! The night is passing!".
|Stem||auta-, av-, va- (< wa-)|
|Present (continuative)||avëa, auta||avëar, autar|
|(Aorist) Past||vánë (< wánë), avantë||váner (< wáner), avanter|
|Future||auva, autuva||auvar, autuvar|
Negation of verbs
As explained by Tolkien, verbs in Quenya are negated by prefacing a "negative verb" ua- (not marked for tense) to the impersonal form of the same tense:
|Negation of verb car-|
|carin||'I make'||→||uan care||'I do not make'|
|cáran||'I am making'||→||uan cára||'I am not making'|
|carnen||'I made'||→||uan carnë||'I did not make'|
|caruvan||'I shall make'||→||uan caruva||'I shall not make'|
|acáriën||'I have made'||→||uan acárië||'I have not made'|
Note that the pronoun is added on the negative verb, not on the main verb, and that the endings are regular. The negative verb concept was apparently borrowed from Finnish.
In Parmaquesta (and in verse) the verb ua- could be completely conjugated.
- a and á for the imperative mood: A laita te! "Bless them!", Á hyame rámen! "Pray for us!".
The Present Imperative of the verb auta-, cited above, is á va usually written áva as in Áva márië! "Go (away) happily!".
The prohibitive mood negates the imperative mood. The two moods have in late Quenya distinct verbal morphology. In late Quenya prohibition is expressed by the particle áva.
- Áva carë! "Don’t do it! Don't make it!"
- Á carë! "Do it!"
When used alone, the particle is avá (sometimes ává, with two long a) meaning: "Don't!" (I forbid you to do as you intend).
Nai is used for the optative mood:
- nai tiruvantes.
Other particles like ce, cé are used in the corpus of published Quenya texts, but their precise functions are not known from any of Tolkien's published linguistic papers.
The plural forms (suffix -r in late Quenya) are used only with a detached plural subject. "When the emphatic pronoun is used separately the verb has no inflexion (save for number)".
- Finwë care. 'Finwë is making'.
- Quendi carir. 'The Elves are making'.
- Carinye. 'I am making'.
- Carimme. 'We are making'.
- Elye care. 'He/She is (really) making'.
- Emme carir. 'We are (really) making'.
Late Quenya verbs have also a dual agreement morpheme -t:
- Nai siluvat elen atta. "May two stars shine."
In the imperative mood plurality and duality are not expressed. There is no agreement. The verb stays singular. If a plural verb is used as in Á carir it means "let them do it" referring to persons not present or at any rate not addressed directly.
The copula in late Quenya is the verb na-. Tolkien stated that it was used only in joining adjectives, nouns, and pronouns in statements (or wishes) asserting (or desiring) a thing to have certain quality, or to be same as another, and also that the copula was not used when the meaning was clear.
- Eldar ataformaiti can be translated as either "Elves are ambidexters" or "Elves were ambidexters".
- A mára. "A is good" or "A was good".
|Copula||Exist (have being)|
Prepositions and adverbs
In Quenya there are many similarities in form between prepositions and adverbs. Many Quenya prepositions have adverb-like uses with no complement. In Common Eldarin, these prepositions were postpositions instead, and later became inflectional endings. Case markings combine primarily with nouns, whereas prepositions can combine with phrases of many different categories. This is why most prepositions in Quenya are used with a noun in the nominative case.
- an i falmali = i falmalinna(r) "upon the many waves"
The preposition an is related to the -nna case ending.
Quenya has a conjugated preposition formed from the contraction of a preposition with a personal pronoun.
- ótar "(together) with you (Sir or Mam)", and ótari "(together) with you (Milords or Miladies)".
- rámen "for us".
As with all parts of Quenya grammar, the pronominal system was subject to many revisions throughout Tolkien's life. The following table of late Quenya is taken from two sources of c. 1965–1973, and does not reflect the pronominal system as it stood when Tolkien invented "Qenya" around 1910, which was the early Quenya.
|Early Noldorin Quenya Forms||Long subjective||Short subjective||Separate||Possessive||English|
|1st person singular||-nye||-n||ní||-nya||I|
|2nd pers. imperious/familiar sg.||-tye||–||tyé||-tya||(thou)|
|2nd pers. formal/polite sg.||-lye||–||lyé||-lya||you|
|3rd animate person singular||-se||-s||sé||-rya/-ya||he, she|
|3rd inanimate person singular||-sa||-s||sá||-rya/-ya||it|
|Impersonal singular agreement||nil||–||–||nil|
|1st pers. pl. inclusive||-lwe/lve||–||wé/vé||-lwa/-lva||we (with you)|
|1st pers. pl. exclusive||-lme||–||mé||-lma||we (without you)|
|2nd person imperious/familiar plural||-nce||–||(?)||-nca||you lot, you guys,
|2nd person formal/polite plural||-lde/-lle||–||lé||-lda/-lla||you|
|3rd animate person plural||-ntë||–||té||-nta||they|
|3rd inanimate person plural||-nta||–||sa1||-nta||they|
|Impersonal plural agreement||+ -r||–||–||+ -r|
|1st pers. dual inclusive||-ngwe/-nque||–||wet||-nqua||you and I|
|1st pers. dual exclusive||-mme/-nwe||–||met||-mma||(s)he and I|
|2nd person imperious/familiar dual||-xë/-ccë||–||tyet||-xa/-cca||you two|
|2nd person formal/polite dual||-llë/-stë||–||let||-lla||both of you|
|3rd person dual||-sto/-ttë||–||tú||-twa||those two|
|Impersonal dual agreement||+-t||–||–||+-t|
- Printed sa in the source, it is probably a casual error for sá. But te, not té, was used by the Gondorians: cf. a laita te in The Lord of the Rings. Maybe both forms (sa, sá; té, te) could both be used in Low Quenya.
The separate pronouns have both a short (lyé, sé, mé) and long form (elye, emme, esse, elwe). Evidence from the published corpus suggests that long separate forms were intensive pronouns, a complete list of which has not been published yet. Tolkien named them "emphatic disjunct pronouns", while short independent pronouns could normally be used in place of enclitic ones.
"I love him" (or "her") can be expressed in Quenya as Melinyes or Melin sé. "I love them" would be then Melinyet or Melin té (these two forms are reconstructed). As with regular nouns, Quenya lacks a distinction between nominative and accusative case, so the same direct case is used for both; melin is the first person singular form of the verb, making it clear that té is the object and not the subject.
The verbal inflexions are subjective but an -s (singular) and a -t (plural and dual) may be added to the long subjective pronouns as objectives of the 3rd person:
- utúvie-lye-s, "You have found it/him/her".
- utúvie-lye-t, "You have found them".
In the internal development of the language, similar to English, Dutch, and Portuguese, the second person familiar was abandoned in colloquial Noldorin Quenya before the Exile, (see T-V distinction). The following forms became obsolete:
- -tye, -nce, -xe, -cce
- -tya, -nca, -xa, -cca
- tyé, tyet
The ancient polite forms became used in an ordinary context, and so, perhaps at the time when Fëanor was banished from Tirion, a new honorific form was created in Late Noldorin Quenya by adding tar, the Quenya word for sir and madam.
- Carilye tar, "you do, sir", became Carlitar.
The possessive determiners (analogous to English my, his, etc.) are used to indicate the possessor of the noun they determine. They mark the person and number of the possessor, and are inflected to agree with the noun they are attached in number and case. While the English language distinguishes between masculine and feminine singular possessors (his vs. her), late Quenya does not. As in English, possessive determiners do not necessarily express true possession.
Their forms in Early colloquial Noldorin Quenya are as follows:
|one||two||three or more|
|dual||-(e)nqua, -(e)mma||-(e)nquat, -(e)mmat||-(e)nquar, -(e)mmar|
|plural||-(e)lwa/-(e)lva, -(e)lma2||-(e)lwat/-(e)lvat, -(e)lmat||-(e)lwar/-(e)/lvar, -(e)lmar|
|second person||singular||-tya, -lya||-tyat, -lyat||-tyar, -lyar|
|dual||-xa, -cca, -lla||-xat, -ccat, -llat||-xar, -ccar, -llar|
|plural||-nca, -lda, -lla||-ncat, -ldat, -llat||-ncar, -ldar, -llar|
|third person||singular||-rya, -ya||-ryat, -yat||-ryar, -yar|
- The i forms, -inya, are used with consonantal nouns: atar, atarinya 'my father'.
- The e forms, -emma, are used with consonantal nouns: atar, ataremma 'our father'.
"Since by Quenya idiom in describing the parts of body of several persons the number proper to each individual is used, the plural of parts existing in pairs (as hands, eyes, ears, feet) is seldom required. Thus mánta "their hand" would be used, (they raised) their hands (one each), mántat, (they raised) their hands (each both), and mánte could not occur".
- Ortanentë mánta. They raised their hands.
- Ortaner mánta. They raised their hands.
- Varda ortanë máryat. Varda has uplifted her (two) hands.
So far, according to the published corpus of Quenya texts, mánte is the sole possessive determiner with a plural ending in -ë (< -ai). The usual plural ending is -r, hildinyar, "my heirs". This was probably an older device from Parmaquesta.
Quenya allows for a very flexible word order because it is an inflectional language like Latin. Nevertheless, it has word order rules. The usual structure is subject–verb–object.
Tolkien explained in his grammar of Common Eldarin the use of the adjective in late Quenya:
"Adjectives normally preceded the qualified noun, and in attributive use were seldom separated from it by other words or elements. A standing exception was made by numerals which usually immediately followed the noun. They [the preceding adjectives, not numerals] in fact made "loose compounds" with the qualified noun, and only the qualified noun was inflected. In Quenya attributive adjectives are inflected for number only, if they precede their nouns. If they follow, the situation is reversed. Thus Sindar Eldar, Grey Elves, or Eldar sindar (abnormal order, only permitted in verse). But Sinda Eldo, a Grey Elf's, Sindar Eldaron, Grey Elves', or (abnormally) Eldar sindaron".
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages", Parma Eldalamberon 17, pp. 76.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Outline of Phonology.", Parma Eldalamberon 19, p. 68.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Common Eldarin: Noun Structure", Parma Eldalamberon 21, p. 73.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "The words for 'hand", Vinyar Tengwar 47, p. 6.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Declension of Nouns", Parma Eldalamberon 21, p. 40.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages", Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 63.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages", Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 135.
- First published in the fanzine Beyond Bree in March 1989.
- Parma Eldalamberon 16, p. 113–115
- JRR Tolkien, "Early Qenya Grammar", Parma Eldalamberon 14, p. 77.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Comparative in Eldarin", Parma Eldalamberon 17, pp. 90–91.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Early Qenya Grammar", Parma Eldalamberon 14, p. 56.
- Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 77 for henta- and p. 144 for car-
- Parma Eldalamberon, 17, p. 63.
- Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 144.
- J.R.R. Tolkien. "DLN", Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 143.
- Parma Eldalamberon, 17, p. 76.
- Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 43.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages", Parma Eldalamberon 17, pp. 93–94.
- Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 9.
- Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 7.
- Vinyar Tengwar 43, p. 29
- "Quenya Pronominal Elements", in Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 51.
- Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 57.
- Vinyar Tengwar 49, p. 15.
- "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 110.
- Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 58.
- Only the singular forms are provided by Tolkien in the table, the plural and dual forms are deduced from the published corpus and are conjectural. Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 57.
- Parma Eldalamberon 17, p. 161.
- From the Namárië poem by J.R.R. Tolkien.
- J.R.R. Tolkien. Common Eldarin: Noun Structure. in Parma Eldalamberon, n° 21, p. 77.
- Gilson, Christopher (ed.). Parma Eldalamberon. Mountain View, CA: Elvish Linguistic Fellowship / Mythopoeic Society. Missing or empty
- Hostetter, Carl F. (ed.). Vinyar Tengwar. Crofton, MD: Elvish Linguistic Fellowship / Mythopoeic Society. ISSN 1054-7606. Missing or empty