Quenya Grammar P23: Accusative

Quenya Grammar P23: Accusative

The accusative form in Quenya is used for the object of verbs and is unmarked in “modern” Quenya (Tarquesta). According to the Plotz letter, there was a distinct accusative form in Classical Quenya (Parmaquesta), marked with a long final vowel for singular vocalic nouns, and by the use of an -i plural for vocalic nouns in the plural:

  • Singular accusative: ciryā, lassē (vs. nominative cirya, lasse)
  • Plural accusative: ciryai (vs. nominative ciryar)

We don’t know how (or whether) the accusative was marked for dual or consonantal nouns (but see below).

Presumably the accusative form was also used for the object of prepositions, as it is with English object pronouns: “I saw him, I gave it to him”. It is hard to determine for certain, however, since by Tarquesta there was no distinction between the nominative and the accusative. There was a Common Eldarin (CE) objective form, which in one place Tolkien said was used for both verbal objects and the object of prepositions (PE21/67), so I think it likely the Quenya accusative was used the same way. This is largely a moot question in Tarquesta, but is relevant if you are trying to imitate Parmaquesta grammar.

Origins of the accusative: The Common Eldarin objective mentioned above originally had a -a/-d inflection used for indirect objects (dative) and allatives (PE21/75). But this inflection gradually came to be used for direct objects in some cases:

So that the objective inflexions derived from -a, d might become merely “accusative” signs, and the “dative” require some new type of expression, or new suffix. This was the case in Q. and probably in prehistoric Beleriandic (PE21/76).

This intrusion of the originally dative/allative suffix happened principally with the addition of the suffix -a to vocalic nouns used as direct objects:

An early development was to specialize forms made with a-suffix as direct object. In that case nouns with long vocalic ending became trimoric or over-long in the final: Ulmõ (objective). The -a was, however, seldom transferred to the direct object of basic nouns (never in dissyllables such as atar) (PE21/76-77).

Based on this, it seems likely that Ancient Quenya direct-object (accusative) vocalic nouns had, after the addition of the a-suffix, over-long final vowels as noted above: nominative ✶kiryā, accusative ✶kiryã. After the later shortening of final vowels, the result would have been PQ nominative cirya, accusative ciryā, as described in Plotz (hat tip to Lokyt for presenting this theory to me).

As for consonantal nouns, I see two possibilities. First, for consonantal nouns there was a distinct CE subjective case, marked by a long vowel in the final syllable, ✶atār, nēr (vs. object forms ✶atar, ner). Phonetic pressures probably forced disyllabic forms to lose the long subjective vowel in OQ or early PQ (✶atār > PQ. atar), but the distinct subject survived into TQ for monosyllables, with the uninflected/objective form being reinterpreted as the stem: nér (ner-). The uninflected short-vowel form might have survived for time in PQ as the accusative form of monosyllables with long vowel. This paradigm was suggested to me by Lokyt on the Aglardh forums, in December 2019.

Alternately, there were primitive nouns in CE ending in a short vowel, later lost, such as ✶nată > Q. nat “thing” (VT49/30). We know that the CE suffix -a could be added to such short-vowel nouns as well:

The limitation in use was not rigid. -ā̆ forms were also made from vocalic nouns, especially from those with original short vowels, as kantă, kantā (PE21/26).

For these nouns, the short ă would be lost for the subject, but the long ā might have survived to become an accusative suffix for objects: ✶nată, natā > PQ. nat, nata. This would match the consonantal accusative paradigm Tolkien used in the late 1920s through early 1930s (see below).

Conceptual Development: In the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s, the accusative form was marked with a -t in the singular and -nt [-(l)int] in the plural (PE14/43, 73), though in the manuscript version Tolkien said the -nt marker was poetic, and the normal accusative plural marker was -n: -(l)in (PE14/43). In a set of Qenya Declensions charts from later in the 1920s, Tolkien decided that the accusative and base forms of the noun were the same, so that the accusative was unmarked with the exception of singular consonantal nouns where it was marked by -a (PE16/111-115).

Tolkien retained this system in the more lengthy Declension of Nouns from the early 1930s (PE21/1-41), with the caveat that vocalic declensions ending in -i or -u also added -a in the accusative (PE21/14-15). In later declension charts signs of the system described in Plotz began to emerge, with the retention i-plurals in the accusative (PE21/50, 53), and long in the accusative plural of e-nouns (PE21/53). Tolkien’s notes and use of parenthesis indicate these distinct accusative forms were archaic, just as they were in Plotz.

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, there is rarely a reason to use the accusative forms unless you are trying to construct a Parmaquesta text. If so, I’d use the Plotz accusative forms for vocalic nouns. For consonantal monosyllables, I would add -a if the noun has a short vowel, but shorten the vowel if the vowel is long: nominative nat, accusative nata; nominative nér, accusative ner. I’d assume disyllabic and longer consonantal nouns did not have a distinct accusative form, even in PQ, which aided in the eventual loss of the accusative in TQ.


Submitted by Lokyt Sun, 11/24/2019 - 19:12

> Common Eldarin had an objective “inflection” that was simply the unmarked form of the noun

Are you sure about this? As I read PE 21/74-77, the objective (and the subjective, where it exists) are the marked ones, while the absolutive is unmarked...

Submitted by Paul Strack Mon, 11/25/2019 - 01:44

I was basing this on the following statement:

Eldarin originally expressed the (direct) object of a verb, expressed or understood, by the mere uninflected stem or 'absolute' form. (PE21/75)

But I didn’t read it carefully enough. Tolkien was talking about objective forms, not form. The direct object was uninflected, but the indirect object was.

I will clarify it.

Submitted by Paul Strack Mon, 11/25/2019 - 14:22

I modified the sentence above to read:

The Common Eldarin objective mentioned above was simply the uninflected (absolute) form of the noun for direct objects (PE21/75-76).

In my reading of Common Eldarin: Noun Structure, Tolkien used the term “objective” ambiguously. There was the “objective case” and the “objective inflection” -a/-d. The objective case was originally uninflected and used for both direct and indirect objects. The CE -a/-d inflection was introduced for indirect objects (dative) and was occasionally for things that an English speaker might consider a direct object, but it was crowded out by other forms in Q and survived only in some fossilized adverbs like kasta.

As evidence for his distinguishing the objective “case” from the objective “form”, in his discussion of the absolute form he said:

In nouns possessing a special subjective form it functioned as the simple objective, as atā́r “father” subjective, átar objective (PE21/74).

Regardless, I don't want to get too deep in the weeds in the CE objective, because other than its usage patterns and possibly influence on the development of the PQ accusative, it is outside the scope of this entry.

Submitted by Lokyt Mon, 11/25/2019 - 18:16

Oh, I finally see where the problem is:
PE 21/66-67 (written 1944-1946) only has CE. subjective (for the subject) and CE. objective (for both the direct and indirect object) "cases". It was only later in PE 21/74-77 (1950-1951) that Tolkien divided the objective "case" into CE. objective (originally indirect object only, later in Q. direct object only) and CE. absolutive (originally direct object only, later in Q. lost).
And as he makes no mention about to which of these would he attribute the accompaniment of CE. prepositions, one cannot really say. It might well be the absolutive. (Or it might not.)

That's one thing. The other one is that PQ. accusative simply (in the post-1950 period) developed from the CE. objective (not absolutive) "case" and that's it. So speculating how it could have developed from the absolutive (aka the bare stem) is pointless, it just didn't.

(And yes, good point that one should be aware of Tolkien's double use of "subjective/objective" for both the syntactic roles and the morphological "case" forms. I use it only for the latter throughout this discussion.)

Submitted by Paul Strack Mon, 11/25/2019 - 19:59

I very much disagree. I’m guessing you are referring to this:

So that the objective inflexions derived from -a, d might become merely “accusative” signs, and the “dative” require some new type of expression, or new suffix. This was the case in Q. and probably in prehistoric Beleriandic.

My reading of that statement is that Q. is one of the languages that developed a new dative form (-n). This does not mean that the PQ accusative developed from the CE -a/-d suffix. If it had, the PQ accusative would be ciryar rather than ciryā as it was in Plotz. C.f. tad > tar.

Submitted by Lokyt Mon, 11/25/2019 - 20:17

Indeed I'm refering to that.

And you've accounted only for the -d. But what about -a? I believe what happened was:  CE. absol. kirjā, obj. kirjāa (a trimoric final vowel, but the tilde is not supported by this font)  >  PQ. nom. kirja, acc. kirjá (with a due 1 mora shortening).
Tolkien demonstrates this with Ulmo (at the break of PE 21 pages 76 and 77).

Submitted by Paul Strack Mon, 11/25/2019 - 22:15

Hmm. OK, that quote does support your position:

An early development was to specialize forms made with a-suffix as direct object. In that case nouns with long vocalic ending became trimoric or over-long in the final: Ulmõ [objective]. 

I will mull it over some more.

Submitted by Lokyt Tue, 11/26/2019 - 15:44

Happy to hear that :)

But I'm not leaving you in peace just yet. Because:
"likely Parmaquesta would not have had a distinct accusative form for consonantal nouns, since such nouns were not inflected as direct object in CE."
What makes you say that? Is it PE 21/77 "-a was, however, seldom transferred to the direct object of basic nouns (never in dissyllables such as atar)"?
If so, then the original consonantal nouns (i.e. not those that lost the short final consonant in later developement!) indeed wouldn't have an accusative ending, but they would IMHO still have a distinct accusative form: their CE. subjective (nēr) would reflect as PQ. nominative, while their CE. absolutive (nĕr) would become PQ. accusative.

Submitted by Paul Strack Tue, 11/26/2019 - 22:17

I addressed that in the discussion of the nominative. I believe the original distinction of the CE subjective was lost in Q, probably by PQ if not sooner. There is no sign of the subjective plural in the PQ vocalic forms, for example. I believe nér vs ner- was reanalyzed as a distinction between the uninflected and stem forms.


Submitted by Lokyt Wed, 11/27/2019 - 01:01

I see. Well, we disagree on when the reanalysis took place (as I've indicated above, it was IMHO on the way from PQ. to the later forms of Q. - because as long as Q. retained the accusative in some noun classes, it had no reason to remove it from the others), but we can surely live with that difference :)

Submitted by Lokyt Mon, 12/02/2019 - 10:29

Oh, there's this part on PE 21/69 that I hadn't noticed before:
"In OQ the nom. sg. subjective was distinguished from the objective as above, except in so far as the loss of final vowels had altered or obscured this. Thus ndēr (subj.), ndere (obj.) both > nēr. This has led in PQ & TQ to the obliteration of the distinction of Subj. & Obj. throughout."
So this is how Tolkien imagined the chronology in cca 1945. (However, in the 1950-1951 conception, the subject-object distinction is marked only by the quantity in the case of consonantic nouns, so the above can't exactly apply anymore.)

Submitted by Paul Strack Thu, 01/16/2020 - 00:54

OK, I've gone over the material again and coming around to your way of thinking Lokyt. I now think it is probably that PQ had an accusative form for consonantal monosyllables, though probably not longer consonantal nouns.