Like English, Quenya has singular and plural nouns, with singular unmarked and plural marked by -i or -r. However, Quenya has two additional “special plurals”, the dual used when there are only two of an item (“both”), and the partitive-plural when the plural represent a subset of a larger group (“some”). Thus:
Quenya has a definite article i that is more or less equivalent to English “the”: i atan = “the man” [human]. Like English, the definite article is used to specify a definite thing specifically referred to (“the man”), as opposed to an indefinite thing (“a man”). Unlike English, there is no indefinite article in Quenya (English “a”); indefinite nouns are simply unmarked: atan = “(a) man”.
It has long been known that, under some conditions, the final vowel in Quenya words might lengthen when a suffix is added. One notable example is the phrase a vanimar, vanimálion nostari “O beautiful ones, parents of beautiful children” (Let/308, 448; LotR/981): why is the a short at the end of vanimar but long in vanimálion?
With rare exceptions, Quenya does not allow long vowels in final syllables. Such long vowels in final syllables were shortened in the history of Quenya’s phonetic development. It seems this remains an active phonetic rule in Quenya, applying to new compounds as well.
To understand stress in Quenya you need to know the difference between “heavy” syllables and “light” syllables; Tolkien often called these “long” syllables and “short” syllables. A “light” syllable is one that contains a single short vowel and is followed by zero or one consonant: ta or tan. A “heavy” syllable is one that is not light, that either (a) contains a long vowel or diphthong or (b) is followed by two or more consonants: tán, tain, tand. Only true diphthongs (ai, oi, ui; iu, eu, au) make up a heavy syllable.
Quenya has a rather small inventory of consonants: p, t, k; b, d, g; f, s, h; v; m, n, ñ [ŋ]; l, r, y, w; hl, hr, hy, hw (PE19/80-81). The last set is a group of voiceless consonants, represented in spelling by a preceding “h”. You can approximate the pronunciation of these voiceless consonants by blending the “h” sound with the following consonant. According to Tolkien voiceless hl, hr were often voiced to l, r in Third-Age pronunciation (LotR/1114-5), but the hl, hr are consistently retained in spelling.
This entry provides a basic overview of the major features of Quenya grammar. It lists these features with only minimal explanation, to provide a broader context for Quenya grammar as a whole. Knowing these major elements at a general level is helpful for understanding the details of more specific grammatic rules, since they are often interrelated.
Koranari kea yá nér kense resta ara Lichfield mi Staffordshire, Angalnóre, tinkove tamnain. Ya *mettas utúvies lane *aimanima tinko: nése maltave mainaron haura ya mine i amaltaron tuvina Angalnóresse.
I harwe *yore engwion tuxar, ar ambela kastar nelde *tion karmaron - *hérave langoron - astar ar mittar nar. Lá *kaptale sa i tamnar maltave: ilu pó ilu malta ná *úquélima (hya, arya, *hraiquélima), san lá rie mairea, mal *asakare ná *vortaitas tere yéni.
Quenya is probably the first Elvish language Tolkien worked on, and he worked on it throughout his life. Understanding how Tolkien’s ideas on Quenya evolved is critical to understanding the language itself. Students of Tolkien’s languages often distinguish the “Internal History” of the language (how the language evolved within Middle Earth) versus its “External History” (how Tolkien’s modified and refined the language within the scope of his lifetime). I prefer the terms “Conceptual History” or “Conceptual Development” as being more descriptive of the nature of this external evolution.