Quenya Grammar P22: Nominative

Quenya Grammar P22: Nominative

The nominative form in Quenya is used for subject of a sentence and is unmarked. It is simply the base form of the noun if singular, or its simple dual, plural or partitive plural forms if non-singular. The verb must be inflected into either the dual or plural to agree with the subject noun. There does not appear to be a special “partitive plural” verb inflection, so presumably the verb would be inflected in the plural for partitive plural subjects, but we have no examples:

  • i lasse lanta “the leaf falls”.
  • i lasset lantat “the pair of leaves fall”.
  • i lassi lantar “the leaves fall”.
  • lasseli lantar “some leaves fall”.

Since it is unmarked, the nominative form usually precedes the verb, as above. However, since other noun cases are marked in Quenya and there is a greater range of subject-verb agreement, the order of words in Quenya is freer than in English, especially in poetry. Compare the following poetic phrase with its more ordinary non-poetic phrase (with English gloss modified to better illustrate actual word order):

In the poetic phrase lumbule “shadow” must be the subject, because if tier “paths” were the subject, the verb would need to be in the plural: unduláver rather than unduláve. The Quenya phrase is thus unambiguous despite its strange word order, unlike it’s English equivalent.

In ancient Common Eldarin, there was a distinct “subjective” form used with certain noun classes, notably some nouns marked the subject with a lengthened vowel (PE21/62, 66, 75). There was also a special subjective plural suffix -(ī)m (PE21/58; 77). Both these ancient subjective inflections were lost, except in the case of monosyllables, where the ancient long vowel was reanalyzed as a distinction in the base form and the noun stem, such as in nér “man” vs. stem ner-; the Common Eldarin origin of this distinction was nēr subject vs. nĕr object, with the object form being the basis of future inflected forms (PE21/76).

Conceptual Development: In the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s, the nominative form was unmarked (PE14/43, 73). In a set of Qenya Declensions charts from later in the 1920s, Tolkien introduced a distinct nominative marker -n used in both the singular and plural (PE16/111-115). This nominative marker still appeared in the lengthy Declension of Nouns from the early 1930s (PE21/1-41) and several declension charts written after it (PE21/42-52) but disappeared from the declension charts written after these (PE21/53-54; Plotz).

There is a possible “last gasp” of this nominative marker in some notes from the 1960s in the archaic plural (nominative?) form lassin, but the wording is ambiguous:

Syntactically the loss of distinction of nominative/accusative, lassi accusative as nominative (for lassin), fanyar, (ilye) tier are nominative for accusative (PE17/76).

It is also possibly that lassin is an Old Quenya or Classical Quenya nominative plural derived from the Common Eldarin nominative plural suffix -(ī)m, mentioned above.