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Quenya Grammar P24: Dative

The Quenya dative is used for the indirect object of a phrase and is formed using the suffix -n. The indirect object is the recipient or beneficiary of an action, as opposed to the direct object which is the immediate target. In English, the indirect object comes immediately before the direct object in a sentence: “I give you the knife”, “I wish you well”. Alternately, English can indicate the indirect object with prepositions like “to” or “for”: “I give the knife to you”, “I wish happiness for you”. In Quenya, these phrases would use the dative:

  • antan i cirma len “I give the knife to you”; le-n = “to you”.
  • merin márie len “I wish happiness [lit. goodness] for you”; le-n = “for you”.

Positioning of the dative: Unlike English, Quenya tends to place the indirect object after the direct object:

  • tultauvas sa nin “he will send it to me” (PE22/156).
    • tulta-uva-s sa ni-n = send-(future)-he it me-(dative).
  • antanen hatal sena “I gave a spear to him” (VT49/14).
    • anta-ne-n hatal se-na = give-(past)-I spear him-(dative).
  • sí man i yulma nin enquantuva? “who now shall refill the cup for me?” (LotR/377).
    • sí man i yulma ni-n enquant-uva? = now who the cup me-(dative) refill-(future).

The second example uses a long dative form sena (see below). The third example shows that direct-indirect object ordering is the trend even when the objects are displaced from their usual position after the verb. This ordering preference may be a remnant of Common Eldarin, where the direct and indirect object could be shown through word order alone:

It also survived in cases where two objects of the same verb occurred: the direct object of the verb was then usually placed first (nearer to the verb) and not inflected.

Note: This order was normal in Eldarin and was primitively the chief means of distinguishing what we should call “direct” and “indirect” objects. Thus in unemphatic pronouns (which are archaic in form and largely escaped the later inflexional elaborations), where two such occurred in a sentence, the one nearer to the verb (or most closely agglutinated to it) was taken as the direct or nearer object; the second was in function usually what we should describe as “dative”. There was in Eldarin no distinction felt or marked between “I taught K. music” and “I gave K. a gift.” In such cases in Eldarin, and some of the derived tongues, it remained possible to express both by uninflected forms (PE21/75).

This quote indicates that “some of the derived tongues” descended from Common Eldarin still allow uninflected indirect objects marked only by position. However, I think Quenya is unlikely to be one of those languages, given how prevalent the dative marker is. There is no evidence in the published Quenya sentences that the indirect object can be marked by word order alone.

Having the indirect object follow the direct object is not required. The dative might be placed elsewhere in the phrase, for purpose of emphasis:

  • á men anta síra ilaurea massamma “give us this day our daily bread” (VT43/18).
    • á me-n anta síra ilaurea massa-mma = (imperative) us-(dative) give today daily bread-our
  • ar á men apsene úcaremmar “and forgive us our trespasses” (VT43/19).
    • ar á me-n apsene úcare-mma-r = and (imperative) us-(dative) forgive trespass-our-(plural)

In the original sentences, the dative was agglutinated to the imperative particle (ámen), but I have separated them here to make the dative more obvious. In these examples, the indirect object “us” is placed before the verb for emphasis, with the direct object (“bread”, “trespasses”) appearing after. Another example is:

  • ore nin caritas “[it] urges me to do it” (VT41/13).
    • ore ni-n car-ita-s = urges me-(dative) do-(infinitive)-it

Here the verb is impersonal (no explicit subject) and the direct object is the particular infinitive phrase carita “to do it”. The dative appears before the direct object because it is the indirect object of the urging, not the doing: ore caritas nin would mean “[it] urges doing it for me”.

Datives without a direct object: Quenya can have a dative without any direct object: quentes nin “he talked to me”, lirnes nin “she sang for me”. This is especially the case with intransitive verbs. Some attested examples:

  • órenya quete nin “my heart tells [to] me” (VT41/11).
    • óre-nya quete ni-n = heart-my tells me-(dative).
  • emmë apsenet tien i úcarir emmen “we forgive those who trespass against us” (VT43/12).
    • emmë apsene-t tie-n i úcar-i-r emme-n = we forgive-those them-(dative) who trepass-(aorist)-(plural) us-(dative).

The second phrase is a bit difficult to parse. As analyzed by Wynne, Smith and Hostetter (PE43/21), the first part of the phrase has both direct object via the plural object suffix (-t) followed by an indirect object tien: “we forgive those [the trespasses] for them [the trespassers]”. The second part of the phrase has only an indirect object emmen for the intransitive verb úcar- “to trespass, sin, [lit.] do wrong”, thus: “who trespass against us”. Here the “beneficiary” of the action (the sinning) is receiving a negative result.

The dative for larger phrases: Here is a more elaborate example of an indirect object without a direct object:

  • vanda sina termaruva Elenna·nóreo alcar enyalien “this oath shall stand in memory of the glory of the Land of the Star” (UT/305).
    • vanda sina termar-uva Elenna-nóre-o alcar enyalie-n = oath his stand-(future) Star-land-of glory memory-(dative).

In this example, the subject is “oath” and the verb is “stand” (in the sense “endure”), and the second half of the sentence is a single noun phrase Elenna·nóreo alcar enyalien. This entire noun phrase is in the dative, a loose compound of Elenna·nóreo alcar with enyalie, which means something like “star-land’s glory memory”, hence Elenna·nóreo alcar enyalien = “for Star-land’s glory memory”. Thus the dative can be applied to an entire noun phrase, and in such situations is added to the last word in the phrase (Quenya’s “last declinable word” rule). The dative can also be applied to relative pronouns, so that a subordinate clause can be put into the dative:

  • yan i wilyar antar miquelis “to whom the air gives kisses” (PE16/96).
    • ya-n i wilya-r anta-r miquelis = who-(dative) the air-(plural) give-(plural) kiss.

There are even examples where the dative is applied directly to an adjective, where that adjective is being used as a noun: mólome mára poldóreain “work [is] good for the strong” (PE22/123); here poldórea is the adjective form of poldore “strength” (Ety/POL), and poldóreain is a dative plural form inflected as if the adjective were a vocalic noun.

The dative with wishes and commands: The dative can be used in optative (wishes) or imperative statements to indicate the beneficiary of the wish or command:

In the last phrase Tolkien first wrote faire aistan for “to the Holy Ghost”, another example of the dative being applied to an entire noun phrase: faire “spirit” plus aista “holy”. Here the dative is added to the adjective (last declinable word).

Idiomatic uses of the dative: The use of the dative to indicate a beneficiary appears in a number of idiomatic expressions, notably nas mára nin “it is good to me = I like it” (VT49/30), or mára tyen “good to you = like” (PE22/166). Another idiomatic use of the dative is in conjunction with the impersonal ec- “it may happen, it is possible”. Thus ece nin “it is possible for me = I can/I may” (VT49/20, 34):

Certain prepositional phrases require the use of the dative, notably the preposition “on behalf of”:

In another version of this phrase, the preposition and dative were agglutinated together: rámen (VT43/28). It seems that dative pronouns (like pronouns in general) were often agglutinated to preceding prepositions or particles, such as rámen and the example ámen given above.

Forming the dative: Basic dative inflections are formed with the suffix -n. For consonantal nouns, a joining vowel -e- was used to separate the suffix from the final consonant: i ataren “to the father” (VT43/37). For vocalic nouns, the dative preserved the more archaic i-plural: ciryain “for the ships” (Plotz), fírimoin “for mortals” (LR/072). For consonantal and e-noun plurals, as well the partitive plural, the dative suffix was added directly to the plural suffix -i/-li: lassin, ciryalin (Plotz).

In the dual, the dative n underwent metathesis with the dual -t resulting in the dual dative suffix -nt: ciryant (Plotz). It is not clear what the dative of a u-dual noun would be, but most likely it would be appended directly to the dual suffix -u: aldun. Helge Fauskanger suggested (HFQC) that the dative dual form for u-duals might be -uen based on the Middle Quenya genitive form veruen (Ety/LEP), but that seems like too much of a stretch for me.

To summarize:

  • The dative is most situations is formed by adding -n to the singular, dual or plural stem.
  • For singular consonantal nouns, it is formed by adding -en.
  • For plural vocalic nouns, it is formed by adding -in.
  • For duals normally formed with -t (t-duals), the dative dual is formed by adding -nt.


Datives Sg. Du. Part. Pl. Pl.
vocalic: cirya ciryan ciryant ciryalin ciryain
e-noun: lasse lassen lassent lasselin lassin
consonantal: atan atanen atanun atanélin atanin

The long dative: There are a few datives formed with -na instead of -n. This is probably tied to the ancient origin of the dative suffix, which was derived from primitive ✶-na “to”, also related to the allative suffix -nna (VT49/14). Thus these “long datives” are probably archaic, poetic and possibly emphatic. For example:

  • antanen hatal sena “I gave him a spear” (VT49/14).
    • antanen hatal sena = gave-(past)-I spear it-(dative).
  • epetai i hyarma ú téna ulca símaryassen “consequently the left hand was not to them evil in their imaginations” (VT49/7).
    • epetai i hyarma ú té-na ulca síma-rya-sse-n = consequently the left-hand [was] not them-(dative) evil imagination-their-(locative)-(plural).

In the second sentence, the long vowel in téna indicates that it is being used emphatically, which might be tied to its use of the long dative. In another version of the second sentence, Tolkien used the normal dative form ten with a short vowel (VT49/8). The long dative could be subject to prosodic lengthening: mariéna “to happiness [lit. to goodness]” the long dative of márie (PE17/162).

The long dative has the same form as the short allative, but the long dative is used with vocalic nouns whereas the short allative is used with consonantal nouns.

Origins of the dative: In Common Eldarin, the direct and indirect objects were originally shown by position alone:

It also survived in cases where two objects of the same verb occurred: the direct object of the verb was then usually placed first (nearer to the verb) and not inflected. This order was normal in Eldarin and was primitively the chief means of distinguishing what we should call “direct” and “indirect” objects (PE21/75).

At some point in the history of Common Eldarin, a dative/allative suffix -a/-d was introduced:

But inflected objective forms were already developed in Eldarin. The elements employed were affixion of an element -a, or of an element -d … Being in origin more or less equivalent to the use of English “to” these were originally used only to mark the indirect object or dative, and were most employed with nouns that were the names of persons: Ulmo, man, king, singer, woman, etc. … These elements were in origin “allative” (PE21/75-76).

However, this dative/allative inflection began to drift in meaning, leaving a gap where a new dative was required:

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).

In Quenya this new dative suffix was -n(a) as described above:

n was used[?] as dative or pl. Hence allative[?] +nă. kiryană (PE21/77).

The “dative” -n was of course in origin a reduction of -nă “to” (VT49/14).

The older -a/-d suffixes vanished from Quenya, except for the a-suffix’s influence on the development of the Parmaquesta accusative form, and the survival of the d-suffix (phonetically modified) in a few fossilized adverbs: mar(dar) “homewards”, kas(ta) “upwards, towards the top”, tar(a) “thither”, sir(a) “hither”.

Conceptual Development: In the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s, the dative was marked by an -r added to vocalic and plural forms, and -e added to consonantal nouns (PE14/43-44, 74). In case of nouns whose final syllable contained r, the dative suffix dissimilated to -l (PE14/44). The dual dative ending was -qit (PE14/76).


Datives Sg. Du. Pl.
vocalic: pelko pelkor pelqit pelkolir
consonantal: hen hende henqit hendir

As an example of dissimilation, Tolkien said for nominative tantare, the dative form was tantarel. There was no sign of this dissimilation in later declension charts (e.g. dative plural karir, PE16/112).

Tolkien adjusted these dative declensions later in the 1920s, changing the consonantal singular dative inflection to -en or -ar (PE16/112-114). In the larger Declension of Nouns document from the early 1930s, Tolkien said:

Dative formed with a suffix -r (< t) ultimately from -to or ta and originally allative “towards” (PE21/3).

In this document the system remained basically the same as before, except -en became the norm for consonantal singular datives (PE21/20). In charts after this, Tolkien introduced a short plural -r for vocalic nouns, whose dative form was -re(n), with the same -en suffix as consonantal nouns (PE21/43). Finally in a chart from later in the 1930s, Tolkien adopted a paradigm very similar to the one he presented in the Plotz, with -n for dative singular and -ino (as opposed to -in seen from Plotz) for dative plural of vocalic nouns (PE21/53). In this chart the dual dative was -uno (PE21/54) vs. -nt in Plotz.

The full set of conceptual developments is given in the table below, using the version numbers for the declension charts from PE16 and PE21, with version 0 for the Early Quenya Grammar and LQ for Late Quenya forms (in Plotz and elsewhere). The introduction of new forms is indicated by bold, except for the dual which changed frequently. Sh. Pl. = “Short Plural” for these declension charts that had archaic short plurals for vocalic nouns. Starting with version 2, the e-nouns could use the consonantal plural dative forms (-ir rather than -lir).


V Datives Sg. Du. Pl. Sh. Pl.
0 Vocalic: -r -qit -lir
0 Consonantal: -e -qit -ir
1 Vocalic: -r -vi -lir
1 Consonantal: -e -ir
2 Vocalic: -r -n -lir
2 Consonantal: -en/-ar -ur -ir
3 Vocalic: -r -u -lir
3 Consonantal: -en/-ar -u -ir
4 Vocalic: -r -u -lir -er/-ir
4 Consonantal: -en -u -ir
5a Vocalic: -r -tar -lir -re(n)
5b Vocalic: -r -tar -lir/-líre -(i)re(n)
5c Vocalic: -r -tar -lir/-líre -(i)re(n)
5c Consonantal: -en -(a)tar -ir/-íre
6 Vocalic: -n -uno -ino
LG Vocalic: -n -nt -in
LG Consonantal: -en -un? -in?

The dative form for vocalic nouns in Tolkien’s writing consistently uses the n-suffix from the mid-1930s and forward. For example, this form of the dative appears several times in Fíriel’s Song (LR/63, 72), such as Eldain “for Elves” and nin “[to] me”. One complication, though is that in the mid-1930s, the genitive form of consonantal nouns uses the suffix -en, e.g. in the aforementioned Fíriel’s Song: Ilúvatáren “of Ilúvatar”. This en-genitive is ubiquitous in The Etymologies of the 1930s, and continues to appear in phrases up through the 1940s; the genitive Ilúvatáren reappears in Lament of Atalante with “The Notion Club Papers” written in the 1940s (SD/246-7, 311).

It seems unlikely that -en would be both the genitive and dative singular forms of consonantal nouns at the same time, so there may be some as-yet-unpublished dative singular for consonantal nouns distinct from -en in the 1930s and 40s. The first use of -en for the dative singular of consonantal nouns (and only appearance outside of a declension chart) appears in the Alcar i Ataren prayer from the 1950s, and in the 1950s and 60s the genitive singular form of consonantal nouns uses the suffix -o, for example: Híni Ilúvataro “Children of Iluvatar” from the early 1950s (PE21/83).

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