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Quenya Grammar P21: Nouns Cases

For Quenya as Tolkien conceived of it in the 1950s and 60s (Late Quenya), the language has seven major noun case inflections:

  • The dative case used for the indirect object of a sentence.
  • The genitive case that was more or less equivalent to English “of”.
  • The possessive-adjectival case, mostly used for possessives (equivalent to English: ’s).
  • The instrumental case indicating the means (instrument) by which an action occurred.
  • The allative case indicating motion towards the noun.
  • The ablative case indicating motion away from the noun.
  • The locative case indicating location at/in/on the noun.

The language also has a rather obscure “s-case” whose exact function is unclear, but seems to be a shorter form of the locative.

In “modern” Quenya (Tarquesta) the nominative (subject) and accusative (direct object) functions of the noun are unmarked. In Classical Quenya, however, there was a distinct accusative case, marked by a long final vowel.

Declension of noun phrases: Although described here as noun inflections, the Quenya noun cases are actually applied to entire noun phrases. In many cases, the result is the same, but sometimes a noun phrase will end with something other than a noun, especially in poetry. In such cases, the case marker appears on the last word of the phrase. Helge Fauskanger described this as the “last declinable word” rule in his Quenya course (HFQC/Lesson 17), based on the following quote from Tolkien:

Vorondo: genitive of voronda “steadfast in allegiance, in keeping oath or promise, faithful” adjectives used as a “title” or frequently used attribute of a name are placed after the name, and as is usual in Quenya in the case of two declinable names in apposition only the last is declined (UT/317).

The phrase in question is:

Here Elendil Voronda is “Elendil the Faithful”, a name and sobriquet, which is inflected in the genitive to modify the last word: voronwe “faith”. A more literal translation might be “Elendil the Faithful’s faith”. Here the genitive suffix -o is applied to the adjectival sobriquet Voronda rather than the proper noun Elendil. This same text gives another example of this phenomenon:

This second example is a bit trickier to parse, but the subject is vanda “oath”, the verb is termaruva “will stand”, and the phrase Elenna·nóreo alcar enyalien is a single noun phrase in the dative. The last two nouns, alcar enyalie, are in a loose compound “glory memory”, so a more literal translation might be “for Star-land’s glory memory”, with the entire phrase “Star-land’s glory memory” being the indirect object of the whole sentence.

This second example is a bit less obvious example of the “last declinable word” rule, because the word declined (enyalie) is a noun. But there are examples elsewhere of a dative inflection being applied to an adjective, such as i faire aistan “for the Holy Ghost” (VT43/37), where the adjective aista “holy” receives the dative inflection. There are further examples from the Markirya poem where a locative or allative suffix is applied to an adjective following the noun it modifies:

  • isilme ilcalasse “in the moon gleaming [lit. moon gleaming-(locative)]” (MC/222).
  • isilme pícalasse “in the moon waning [lit. moon waning-(locative)]” (MC/222).
  • isilme lantalasse “in the moon falling [lit. moon falling-(locative)]” (MC/222).
  • axor ilcalannar “on bones gleaming [lit. bone-(plural) gleaming-(allative)-(plural)]” (MC/222).

The last example is particular interesting. As pointed out by Helge Fauskanger (HFQC/Lesson 17) the adjective is declined in the allative plural to agree with the plural noun axor, and is not declined as a plural adjective *ilcale; the “last declinable word” is declined as if it was a noun.

Superficially, this “last declinable word” rule may seem a bit strange, but English does the same thing. In the sentence “the man who sang beautifully’s last performance was yesterday”, the possessive suffix (’s) is applied to the entire phrase “the man who sang beautifully”. In fact, “the man’s who sang beautifully last performance was yesterday” would be ungrammatical.

There are limits to the “last declinable word” rule, however. If a word is already declined into a noun case, it cannot be declined with another noun case:

  • lírinen ómo i·aire táríva “by the song of the voice of the holy queen” (PE17/76).
    • líri-nen óm-o i·aire tárí-va “song-(instrumental) voice-(genitive) the holy queen-(possessive)”.

The head noun of this phrase (líre “song”) is declined in the instrumental, but the instrumental cannot be applied to the end of the phrase, since the final qualifier i aire táriva “the holy queen’s” is already declined in the possessive-adjectival case (-va).

Another interesting example is:

Here there are three noun phrases in sequence, each declined in the dative:

  • Elaine-n = Elaine-(dative)
  • tári-n Periand-i-on = queen-(dative) hobbit-(plural)-(genitive)
  • melde-nya an-yára-n = friend-my (intensive)-old-(dative)

Thus it seems that where there are multiple noun phrases, each is declined separately. Note how in the second phrase the last word is not in the dative, because it is already in the genitive, while in the third phrase the last word (an adjective) is in the dative.

Finally, the “last declinable word” rule seems to be optional, especially in poetry, where sometimes an adjective appears (undeclined) after the decline noun phrase of which it would normally be a part:

  • rámainen elvie “on wings like stars [lit. wing-(plural)-(instrumental) starlike-(plural)]” (MC/222).
  • ondolisse morne “on the dark rocks [lit. rock-(plural) black-(plural)]” (MC/222).
  • Vardo tellumar nu luini “beneath the blue vaults of Varda [lit. Varda-(genitive) vault-(plural) beneath blue-(plural)” (LotR/377).

In the last example, the adjective (luine “blue”) rather surprisingly dangles outside the prepositional phrase, as opposed to its more normal prose form: nu luini tellumar.

Conceptual Development: In early versions of Qenya, there were two additional cases that I call the similative and the comitative, discussed here for completeness, but they seem to have been abandoned by the 1950s. There was also a partitive case; it was the precursor to the partitive plural and is discussed in that entry.

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