Quenya Grammar P10: Definite Article

Quenya Grammar P10: Definite Article

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”.

Like English, Quenya may use i in the titles of persons, especially for divinity: i Ataren ar i Yondon ar i Airefëan “The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (VT43/36); i Héru aselyë “the Lord is with thee” (VT43/28), i Eru “the One” (UT/305). However, Quenya seems less inclined to use the definite article for sobriquets: Atanatar Alcarin vs. “Atanatar the Glorious” (LotR/1038), Varda Aratarya (lit. “Varda [in] her sublimity”) vs. “Varda the Sublime”; Quennar Onótimo vs. “Quennar the *Reckoner” (MR/50), though the last of these did also appear as Quennar i Onótimo (MR/48). The definite article is, however, used in the title of documents and narratives: i Equessi Rúmilo “The Saying of Rúmil” (WJ/398); i Túrin i Cormaron “The Lord of the Rings” (PBL).

In cases where two definite nouns were part of a single phrase, Quenya often only marks the first of these with a definite article: i Valaron arcanwar “the thrones of the Valar [lit. the Valar’s thrones]” (PE22/147); i arani Eldaron “the kings of the Eldar” (WJ/369); i tyulma ciryava “the mast of the ship” (PE21/80); i coimas Eldaron “the lembas of the Eldar” (PM/395). The last of these also appears as i·coimas in·Eldaron (PM/403); see below for a discussion of in. The phrase i tyulma ciryava also appeared as tyulma i ciryo (“mast of the ship”), perhaps emphasizing the definiteness of this ship over the definiteness of the mast.

In all the examples in the previous paragraph, one of the nouns in the phrase is inflected in the genitive or possessive-adjectival cases. This may be a factor in this construction. English has no problem saying “the ship’s mast” vs. “the mast of the ship” with only one noun marked with definite article. The phrase i tulma ciryava may simply be a parallel of that construction, but with Quenya’s extra freedom in arranging inflected nouns. In one place Tolkien said that the definite article could be omitted completely in such cases:

note article = “the” is usually not used when noun is defined by a possessive or genitive [referring to elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo “a star shines on the hour of our meeting”, as opposed to *i lúmenn’ omentielvo] (PE17/13).

There are a few other examples where Quenya seems to omit the definite article where it would be required in English, notably Anar “the Sun” and Isil “the Moon”. However, a more likely interpretation is that these are actually proper names, more equivalent to English “Sol” and “Luna”, and an Elf would not say i Anar any more that an English speaker would say “the Jupiter”.

The presence or absence of the definite article influences the meaning of plural forms, much as it does in English:

Definite were plurals referring to whole classes, to things naturally or habitually considered in plurality (as English heavens = “the sky”, the sands = “all the sand in a given locality”, etc.), and in the syntax of many languages a plural with a definite article, meaning all the members of a group previously mentioned, or in mind. Thus in Q. 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 (VT49/8).

Thus much like English, Eldar mante coimas = “Elves ate lembas (as a general rule)” vs. i Eldar mante coimas = “the Elves ate lembas (referring to this specific group)”. For further discussion see plural nouns.

Conceptual Development: Tolkien introduced the definite article i very early. It is mentioned in both the manuscript and typescript versions of the Early Qenya Grammar from the 1920s:

Definite article. i-; before vowels n-; older and in poetry in-. The n form is also frequently used after a preceding vowel, as: i·lambe “the tongue”; i·noldoli “the gnomes”; i·lambe’n·noldolion “the tongue of the gnomes”. The definite article is indeclinable (PE14/42).
DEFINITE ARTICLE. , before vowels (older and in poetry in·). The n form is also frequently used after a preceding vowel, as: i·lambe “the tongue”; i·noldoli “the gnomes”; i·lambe n·noldolion “the tongue of the gnomes”. THE DEFINITE ARTICLE IS INDECLINABLE (PE14/71).

These variant n- definite articles appear fairly often in Tolkien’s early writing (PE15/32; PE16/62, 72, 74, 77), but by the 1930s they had disappeared. There is no mention of n- or in articles after that, except for one late example from the 1950s: i·coimas in·Eldaron (PM/403). This might be transient restoration of the paradigm from the 1920s, but without more examples it has hard to be sure.

The Early Qenya Grammar from the 1920s also had an indefinite article in the form of the suffix ᴱQ. -ma:

Indefinite article. “a”, in pl. “some, certain”, is suffixed -ma. Trissyllabic nouns of which the penultimate syllable is short, lengthen the final vowel, as: tantare “dance”; tantaré·ma “a dance”.

Consonantal nouns usually allow the full stem, as in declension, to reappear. The form of the article is then -uma, as: peltas (pl. peltaksi) “pivot”: peltaks·uma.

Occasionally after l, r, n a shorter form is used, as: kaimasan “bed-chamber”: kaimasam·ma, or kaimasamb·uma; wingil “sea-nymph”: wingil(d·u)ma.

This -ma is declined like ordinary adjectives, q.v. (PE14/42).

The typescript version (PE14/71) has the same set of rules and examples. There is no sign of this suffix from the 1930s forward; later on -ma was mostly used as an instrumental suffix.


Submitted by Atwe Sat, 11/16/2019 - 10:51

Ad absurdum one might say that Q does not have a singular indefinite article, but does have a plural indefinite article, in the form of the partitive plural suffix.

Submitted by Paul Strack Sat, 11/16/2019 - 14:30

Perhaps, but I think it is more accurate to say that any “indefiniteness” of the plural is marked by the absence of the definite article rather than by the plural marker itself. After all, the plural marker can be combined with the definite article without fundamentally changing its meaning.

Submitted by Paul Strack Sun, 11/17/2019 - 15:56

Atwe, I just realized you were probably referring to the partitive plural suffix -li, which does indeed have a certain aspect of “indefiniteness” to it.

That would indeed be worth mentioning.

Submitted by Paul Strack Tue, 11/19/2019 - 02:34

Yes, sort of, but not entirely. Indefinite Eldar is possible (and generally refers to the whole category: all of Elvenkind), and there is at least one example of definite -li: i falmalinnar “upon the (many) waves”

Take a gander at P19 on partitive plurals.

Submitted by Lokyt Tue, 11/19/2019 - 14:54

OK, I see. It's more like elda "an/one elf" - eldali "multiple/numerous elves" - eldar "all elves" vs. i elda "that elf" - i eldali "those multiple/numerous elves" - i eldar "all those elves", where the latter series is equipped with a reference to some specification of which set of elves is being denoted.
Which IMHO also explains the structure i eldalinnar imbe met as "those multiple/numerous elves (that are) between us" - in constrast with i eldannar imbe met "all those elves (that are) between us" (the former indeed being of much less usability, as Tolkien indicates with his "seldom used"): the definite article has practically a deictic function, in this case pointing at the specification (i nar) imbe met.

Sounds better?

BTW going with this, I'd have to disagree that Q. has no word (or at least a specific morpheme) for "some" - though we don't know what it is. Stuff like "some of these (previously defined) elves" could simply not be expressed without it.
(Take e.g. "elves are sitting and elves are singing" vs. "elves are sitting and some of these elves are singing": eldali hárar ar eldali lírir must be the former, not the latter, while eldali hárar ar i eldali lírir is definitely "elves are sitting and these many elves are singing".)

Submitted by Paul Strack Wed, 11/20/2019 - 15:03

You have a point that Quenya could have a word for “some” and we simply don’t know what it is. However, I think it is more likely that that Quenya has some kind of idiomatic expression for “some of those”. For example

i Eldar hárar ar Eldantali lírir lit. “the Elves sat and some of their Elves sang”

Submitted by Atwe Wed, 11/20/2019 - 15:58

Nótima is glossed as limited in number, some, few, several (as opposed to "many, a lot, but unable to specify just how many"), so I think coupled with a partitive it can serve until a better alternative is published (what's Quenya for "fat chance"?).

Núnatani ner andakoivie, ente nótime Núnatallion koitaner (koiner?) tenna koranari *neltuxa.


The Dúnedain were longeval, some of the Dúnedain even lived for three hundred years.


EDIT: probably nótime i Eldaron is more correct in this instance.

Submitted by Lokyt Wed, 11/20/2019 - 18:34

Atwe, you're of course right that in the "some-of-these" constructions, practically any quantifier could do the trick if it was semantically fitting enough: masse i eldaron ("a handful of all these elves"), asta i eldaron ("one of multiple even portions of all these elves") etc. etc.

But this is not the only thing "some" is needed for. There must also be words like "someone", "somewhere", "somehow"...

Submitted by Atwe Wed, 11/20/2019 - 19:19

In reply to by Lokyt

The answer to that may be somewhere in the ai/qui particles/ prefixes.

"Someone/something" are covered by mo/ma or quen/qua.


@Paul Strack, once you did a great analysis of the Q "uncertainty particles" over on Discord, would you mind posting it over here, too?

Submitted by Paul Strack Thu, 11/21/2019 - 02:08

Urg. The uncertainty particle analysis is long buried in Discord. But I do intend to get to it eventually in the Quenya grammar series.

As for “some”, Quenya probably has a variety of solutions for English’s “some”. I believe -li would be the normal solution for “some of a group”. Quenya probably has a different  solution for “indefinite some” as in “somebody, somewhere” and so forth.

I agree ai- may be our best option for “sometime” construction, but I think it is not a prefect fit, so I’m reserving the option to change my mind. It would also be nice to be able to distinguish between “sometime” and “anytime”.

Submitted by Atwe Thu, 11/21/2019 - 11:36

I have managed to locate your analysis on Discord, so with your permission I am going to copy it here, but in a new thread, so that it has its own topic, and people (those 4 who visit and comment on this site, heh) can contribute.