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Elvish Roots – Man and Woman

This post is an exploration of the conflux of Eldarin words having to do “man/woman, husband/wife, bride/groom”.

In Quenya, I think Q. nér “man” is quite well established, and Q. nís/nisse “woman” also well attested. I can’t imagine using anything else. These words point to the roots √N(D)ER and √N(D)I(S) as the basis for the concepts of “man” and “woman”.

Man/woman in Sindarin are a bit stickier. We do have S. dîr “man” as a cognate of Q. nér “man”, but it seems even in Tolkien’s later writing this was used only as a fossilized form and an agental suffix. There is no Sindarin cognate of Q. nís/nisse, and the Noldorin cognate “woman” is marked archaic. It looks like our best options are N. benn “man” and N. bess “woman”. Note that bess was used as “wife” in the King’s Letter, but if we give it that sense exclusively that leaves us with no good word for “woman”.

For husband/wife: in Quenya we have Q. veru/veri from the root √BER, and ᴹQ. venno/vesse from ᴹ√BES (or possibly ᴹ√BED). We also have Q. indis “wife”, but that seems a better choice for “bride”, as it was used in ᴹQ. In Sindarin, it looks like the best choice is N. herven/herves, with perhaps S. bess allowed to mean “wife” as well as “woman”.

For Quenya, venno/vesse are direct cognates of N./S. benn/bess, but veru/veri seem better attested, both dating back ᴱQ. I am inclined to use veru/veri, but we can’t use the root √BER without discarding N./S. benn/bess. Fortunately, since intervocalic s became r in Quenya, veru/veri could also be derived from the root ᴹ√BES. My working theory is that Ancient Quenya used ✶besū/besī for “husband/wife”, but Ancient Telerin used variants ✶besnō/bessē, which through semantic drift came to be used for “man/woman” (as was the scenario in Noldorin).

For bride/groom: Noldorin has doer/dîs (with variant dineth) from √NDER/√NDIS and these seem fine for Sindarin as well if we adapt N. doer as Neo-Sindarin daer. For Quenya, I think indis “bride” is best. For “groom” we have EQ. vestaner, which I guess is workable, but I think it would be better to repurpose the ᴹQ. name Ender “bridegroom” as a general word for “groom”: ᴺQ. ender “groom” is a more direct analog for Q. indis “bride”.

The net result is:

  • “man/woman”: Q. nér/nís or nisse, S. bess/benn
  • “husband/wife”: Q. veru/veri, S. herven/herves
  • “groom/bride”: Q. ender/indis, S. daer/dîs or dineth

The original roots for “man/woman” are √NER/√NI(S), strengthened to √NDER/√NDIS for “groom/bride”.

The root for “marriage” is ᴹ√BES, producing the words for “husband/wife” in both languages, as well as the words for “man/woman” in Sindarin after some semantic drift. I would also use the verbal derivatives of this root, such as ᴹQ. vesta- (and ᴺS besta-) “to marry”, ᴹQ. vestale “marriage”, etc.


When I first wrote this post, I concluded that using the later root √BER for “marriage” was problematic, because it meant I had to throw out a bunch of words in the Noldorin/Sindarin languages without any clear replacement. I concluded that the “best” Neo-Eldarin root for marriage was either ᴹ√BES or ᴹ√BED, but didn’t explicitly pick between the two.

I admit that my motive was that I was hoping to figure out a way to use ᴹ√BED, which would allow the salvaging of a bunch of Gnomish words related to marriage and kinship derived from the early root ᴱ√BEÐE. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to do it.

Both ✶besnō and ✶bednō would produce N./S. benn, and bed+tā and bes+ta both produce Q. vesta, since primitive d+t > st. I thought I could figure out a similar replacement for bessē > bess, seduced by Tolkien’s apparent derivation of N. bess from ᴹ√BED in the Etymologies entries for ᴹ√NĪ¹ and ᴹ√NDIS (see VT45/37 and VT46/4).

Unfortunately, primitive d+s > ts, which in Sindarin evolves to th. Thus ✶bedsē > betse > beth, not bess. As near as I can tell, the apparent connection for ᴹ√BED to bess is a remnant of the early derivation ᴱ✶beðs(e) > G. bess.

Thus, I think the only reasonable option is either ᴹ√BES or (if you would rather use the absolute latest root) √BER. I still prefer ᴹ√BES, which allows me to retain the relevant Noldorin words in Sindarin. Note that none of the above changes the conclusions of my original post: it just means I am picking ᴹ√BES over ᴹ√BED.


  1. Menelion | | Reply

    Thanks Paul!
    I believe, we can use synonyms for supple differences in sense. For instance, I’d use Venno/Vesse for husband/wife, and Veru/Veri for spouse/spouse (oh well… English doesn’t have this distinction :)). In some languages (such as French and Russian) there are two forms of the word “spouse” depending on the gender of the person.
    And one last note: it seems, Tolkien used the word Veru at one time as a dual for “a married couple, spouses”. That would clash with Veru as the word for husband.

    • pfstrack | | Reply

      Using the variant forms for different meanings is certainly possible. My own personal preference for Neo-Eldarin is to pick from among multiple forms with identical meanings rather than assigning different meanings. I think consistency is important.

      As for Veru “married couple” vs. Veru “husband”, I doubt the two could coexist. Right now my preference is for Veru “husband”. If you did use Veru “married couple”, I’d suggest you stick to the contemporaneous Venno/Vesse “husband/wife”.

      These are all compromises, though. From what I’ve seen, Veru “husband” is more popular than Venno, because it appears in Tolkien’s later writing. For example, Helge Fauskanger uses it in his Neo-Quenya New Testament. This is my motive for using Veru, but if you used Venno, people would probably still understand what you meant.

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