Quenya Grammar P92: Prepositions

Quenya Grammar P92: Prepositions

Like most head-initial languages, Quenya uses prepositions to express various relationships between words: i falmalinnar imbe met “on the foaming waves between us” (LotR/377), or ilye mahalmarabove all thrones” (UT/305), ve maiwi yaimielike gulls wailing” (MC/222). The preposition appears at the beginning of the expression, followed by the noun, pronoun or noun phrase it modifies.

Prepositions and Noun Cases: In English, this type of relationship is expressed almost exclusively through prepositions, but Quenya also has a system of noun cases that serve a similar function, as in falma-li-nna-r “on the foaming waves = waves-(many)-(allative)-(plural)”. It is not always clear when you should use a noun case over a preposition, but for the most part noun cases are preferred. Many noun cases have a prepositional equivalent of similar origin, but these prepositions is generally archaic:

  • Genitive -o vs. prepositional o “from” (PE17/148; PE22/168).
  • Allative -nna vs. prepositional an(a) “to, towards” (PE17/127; Ety/NĀ¹).
  • Ablative -llo vs. prepositional ló, ollo “away from” (VT49/24; EtyAC/LŌ).
  • Locative -sse vs. prepositional se “at” (VT43/30).

Some of the prepositions remain in use with alternate functions. For example is still used in the more specialized sense of “by the agency of”, as in nahtana ló Turin “*slain by Túrin” (VT49/24). The word an came to be used mainly as a conjunction with the sense “for, furthermore”: an cé mo querne cendelë númenna “for if one turned the face westward ...” (VT49/8). For the most part, though, in the purely relational sense, the noun case is more usual: coasse “at the house” rather than **se coa.

The noun cases tend to be rather general, and their exact meaning depends on context. The locative -sse could mean “at, in, on, by”, for example: máresse “at home”, tauresse “in the forest”, paluhtasse “on the table”, aldasse “by the tree”. The actual meaning is “at the location of”, and the exact nature of the relationship is situational: “in” for containers, “on” for surfaces, “by” for vertical objects, etc. Where this is ambiguous, prepositions can be used to more precisely express the relationship: mi coa “in the house”, ara coa “beside the house”, to coa “on (top of) the house”, etc.

There are also examples of prepositions being combined with case endings as an additional qualifier: et Eärello Endorenna utúlienOut of the Great Sea [ablative] to Middle-earth I am come”, as opposed to simply Eärello “from the sea”. Likewise [ᴹQ.] nu huinenna “under shadow [allative]” rather than simply nu huine. There are other examples where a given preposition requires the noun be in a specific case:

Q ú, adverb and preposition “without, destitute of” usually followed by genitive, ú calo “without the light” (PE17/143).

In languages with both prepositions and noun cases, the two tend to interact in complex ways. For example, in Quenya prayers from the 1950s, it appears that mi “in” + genitive plural was used to mean “among”, as in Aina Wende mi Wenderon “Holy Virgin of [among] virgins” (VT44/12) and manna nalye mi nínaron “blessed art thou amongst women” (VT43/27), though the latter was ultimately revised to imíca. Unfortunately, we don’t really have enough information to sort out these complexities in Quenya.

Prepositions and Pronouns: When a pronoun is used with a preposition, it is generally the independent pronoun form that is used, not the subject suffix: imbe met “between us two” (LotR/377; RGEO/59), ó le “with you” (PE22/162). There are a number of examples where the pronoun is agglutinated to the preposition; most of the examples appear in Quenya prayers from the 1950s: i Héru aselye “the Lord is with thee” (VT43/28), a Aina Maria arca atarme “Holy Mary, pray for us” (VT44/12).

There are a couple inflection charts where Tolkien lists various combinations of pronouns with a given preposition:

  • ar(a) “beside”: arni, astye, alle, arse; arme, arwe, arde, arte (VT49/25).
  • ó “with”: óni, óle, óse, ósa; óme, óle, óte, óta (VT43/29).

Some of these prepositional inflections seem to use longer subject forms:

  • ca(ta) “behind”: canye; calye (VT43/29).
  • et “out”: etel(ye); etemme, etengwe, etel(le) (VT43/36).
  • mi “in”: mil(ye); mimme, mingwe, mil(le) (VT43/36).

The pronouns might be assimilated to the preceding preposition, sometimes preserving archaic forms: 2nd sg. alle = *as + le, 2nd pl. arde = *ar + de vs. modern independent 2nd sg. and pl. lye, le. The pronouns might be separated from the preposition by a joining vowel: 1st. pl. etemme, 2nd. sg. aselye. There are even a few examples of prepositions agglutinated to both a pronoun and a noun case ending: á hyame rámen úcarindor “pray for us sinners” (VT43/28) where rá-me-n = “for-us-(dative)”; i Héru olesse “the Lord is with thee” (VT43/27) where o-le-sse = “with-you-(locative)”.

The various examples do not seem to be part of an internally consistent paradigm, so turning them into a coherent system is not straightforward. Absent more information, we don’t what rules Tolkien settled on (if he settled on any at all).

Possible Postposition: There is one Quenya word, pella “beyond”, that might be an example of a postposition rather than a preposition, as in:

In the last example, Tolkien revised pell’ >> han in the next version of the prayer. In some notes on the Namárië poem written between the 1st and second edition of LotR (late 1950s or early 1960s) Tolkien said it was an “adverb and quasi-preposition = beyond, here in poetic order placed after noun”. This seems to indicate its position is abnormal, but in the prose version of Namárië from The Road Goes Ever On published in 1968, it is still Andúne pella (RGEO/58). However, I suspect Tolkien did not intend to introduce post-positions into Quenya, and this word placement is either abnormal or adverbial.

Neo-Quenya: I recommend against using agglutinated pronouns with prepositions, since the syntax is unclear. I also recommend favoring noun cases over prepositions, as described above. Beyond that, the use of prepositions is quite similar to English, with the exception of prepositions combining with noun case endings. Thus most of the usage rules fall under the individual prepositions themselves, which is more a question of vocabulary than grammar.


Submitted by Atwe Thu, 05/21/2020 - 11:36

Indeed it is a dilemma that often comes up when one learns or writes in Quenya - whether to use a case or a preposition to convey the adverbial meaning we intend; it is especially and mostly true with the three spatial adverbial cases - locative, ablative, and allative. These three cases seemingly encompass quite a lot of spatial relations that in other languages are often expressed in may different cases; e.g. Q locative apparently can mean inessive (in) or superessive (on) or adessive (at) and so on, so it often seems easier and more precise to turn to prepositions like mi, to, se, to convey a more specific meaning.

I have a personal theory, or guidance if you like, that I try to follow with the spatial adverbial cases. It is not based on any textual evidence, just a way I try to resolve the dilemma. According to my theory every noun – or most of them – has a "natural" locative/allative/ablative meaning which is "naturally" understood when the noun is in that specific case. E.g. when an Elf hears the word tauresse they will "naturally" understand it to mean "in the forest" – i.e. an inessive –, because that's the natural locative sense associated with that noun; and if for some reason they want to say "on the forest" or "at the forest" specifically – i.e. a superessive or adessive sense –, then they would turn to a preposition and say to i taure or se i taure. Similarly, koanna would by default mean "into the house" (an illative), and when one wants to say "to the house" (an allative) then it would be tenna/an i koa, and when you want to say "onto the house" (a sublative) then it's probably or or to with a verb that has a directional sense.


I have not thought it totally through and it's quite possible that this approach would not work with a lot of nouns, but these are the sort of things I am trying to consider when I construct sentences in "my dialect".

Submitted by Paul Strack Fri, 05/22/2020 - 01:15

I entirely agree. tauresse almost certainly means “in the forest”. orontesse almost certainly means “on the mountain”. If you wanted to express “inside the mountain” you’d say mi oron. If you wanted to express “by the forest” you’d say ara taure.