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Quenya Grammar P32: Instrumental

The Quenya instrumental is formed with the suffix -nen and is roughly equivalent to English “with, by (means of)”. It indicates the instrument or means by which an action occurred, and hence cannot be used for “with” in the English sense of “accompanying” or “by” in the sense of “beside”:

The instrumental can also provide an alternate way of expressing the direct and indirect objects of a phrase. The most notable example of this is the following:

In the first phrase, the direct and indirect object are expressed normally: the direct object parma (the thing given) uninflected and indirect object sen(na) (the recipient of the giving) in the dative/allative. In the second example, the “direct object” is actually the recipient, anta-ne-nye-s = “give-(past)-I-him”, and the thing being given is in the instrumental, parma-nen = “book-(instrumental)”. This example is a bit peculiar, in that the same verb anta- is used in both cases, but that is because this verb is a merging of two ancient verbs antā- “give” and amtā- “enlarge, increase”, the latter vanishing except in its alternate meaning “present”. However, similar constructions might be used with other verbs, depending on the nature of their objects:

  • Instrumental: paranye parmanen “I am learning from [by means of] a book” (PE17/180).
  • Normal Object: henteanye parma “I am studying [lit. examining] a book” (PE17/156).

Both of the above phrases also have the sense of “I am reading a book”.

Forming the instrumental: With vocalic nouns, the instrumental suffix -nen is simply added to the noun. According to the Plotz Letter, the instrumental plural adds the suffix -inen to most vocalic noun stems (ciryainen), but for e-nouns it is added directly the plural with vowel lengthening that resembles prosodic lengthening (lassínen). The partitive plural shows similar prosodic lengthening: ciryalínen. The vocalic dual form, however, show assimilation of the dual suffix -t to the instrumental -nen: ciryanten, probably derived from primitive *kiryatnen with metathesis of -tnen > -nten.

The only example of an instrumental for a consonantal noun in the 1950s and 60s is the one given above, where the “joining vowel” a is used: ambar (ambart-) “doom”, ambartanen “by means of doom”. This is not really enough information to formulate a complete system, but it suggests a joining vowel a might be used with consonantal nouns. The consonantal plural and partitive plural probably behave similarly to e-nouns, and the u-dual likely shows prosodic lengthening for many words:

To summarize:

  • For vocalic nouns, the suffix -nen is used in the singular and -inen in the plural.
  • For e-nouns, the plural form is -ínen instead.
  • For consonantal nouns, the suffix -anen is used in the singular and -ínen in the plural.
  • For partitive plurals of all noun classes, the suffix is -línen.
  • The t-dual instrumental suffix is -nten.
  • For u-duals the suffix is -unen, often becoming -únen if the patterns of stress allowed it.


instrumentals Sg. Du. Part. Pl. Pl.
vocalic: cirya ciryanen ciryanten ciryalínen ciryainen
e-noun: lasse lassenen lassenten lasselínen lassínen
consonantal: atar ataranen *atarúnen *atarelínen *atarínen

Monosyllabic u-duals would not show prosodic lengthening, for example: nat “thing”, natunen “by means of two things”. Consonantal nouns ending in -n probably assimilated to the instrumental: atan “man”, atannen “by means of a man”

Forms marked with a * are unattested and hypothetical. Consonantal forms are especially speculative, including the singular inflection. See the Neo-Quenya section below for more discussion.

Origins of the instrumental: Tolkien most frequently gave the primitive form of the instrumental as ✶-mē̆n (PE21/65, 79), though he vacillated quite a bit with the primitive form ✶-nem, for example giving primitive ✶-ne(m)/-me(m) in a document from the early 1930s (PE21/3) and in a document from the 1940s he said it was derived from ✶-nēm (PE21/68). As Tolkien described it in Common Eldarin: Noun Structure from the early 1950s:

a suffix mē, mēn, ?mene. Though not related to any stem surviving in recorded Eldarin that had a related meaning, this element added to noun stems had an instrumental function. √MEN signifies “direction, object, point moved toward” in Eldarin [and thus is probably not the root of the instrumental]. In Q. this suffix as part of declension appears in the form -nen, but there are sufficient traces of men in Q. to show, in comparison with m-forms of the other dialects, that men is probably the original form, and nen a Quenya euphonic alteration (PE21/79).

Although a final -m > -n in Quenya, there is no regular sound change in Quenya’s phonetic history that would cause ✶-men to become -nen, which is probably why Tolkien said it was a “euphonic alteration”. Tolkien statement’s that “there are sufficient traces of men in Q[uenya]” is of particular interest, because it implies that some evidence of the ancient suffix ✶-men survived. Since there is no evidence of it with vocalic nouns, the best candidate for its survival is the instrumentals of consonantal nouns. Indeed, in Tolkien earlier writings from the 1930s, various assimilated forms with consonantal nouns show clear evidence of the primitive form ✶-men (or ✶-mem): see the discussion under Conceptual Development below.

Phonologically, the use of long í in the instrumental plurals of e-noun (lassínen) is somewhat peculiar. It cannot be explained by the normal rules of prosodic lengthening, became disyllables like lasse are not “long enough” to trigger that rule. In the Outline of Phonetic Development from the 1950s [OP2], Tolkien described the phonetic development of the instrumental plural as follows:

ei remained in AQ, but became ē in PQ. This development occurred only in stressed syllables (according to the accentual system observable in Parmaquesta). In final syllables other than stressed monosyllables, and in unstressed medial syllables it became ī. This ī was often substituted for ē, in other than basic stem-syllables, especially by grammatical analogy. So lassḗi (pl. of lassē “leaf”) > lássei, PQ lassī whence also PQ instrumental pl. lassī́nen for *lassēnen < AQ lasséinen (PE19/106).

Tolkien generally had the diphthong ei become either ī or ē in Quenya’s phonetic development, but the exact rules he used kept shifting. Sometimes ei > ē when stressed, and sometimes ei > ē only after y. Depending on which set of phonetic rules Tolkien was using, either (1) AQ lasséinen > PQ lassī́nen was the normal phonetic development, or (2) AQ lasséinen > PQ lassḗnen (as in the quote above) but then the vowel was changed to i by analogy with other plurals while retaining its length, perhaps to enforce the same stress pattern. Either of these scenarios could explain the presence of long í in lassínen.

Conceptual Development: There was no mention of an instrumental noun case in the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) from the 1920s, but the suffix -ĭnen appears as partitive meaning “of, out of” (PE14/46, 78). A contemporaneous example is ᴱQ. kuluinen “[made] of gold” (QL/72; PE14/46, 83). The first use of this suffix as an instrumental was in declension charts from later in the 1920s, though the suffix remained -inen (PE16/112, 113).

In the Declension of Nouns from the early 1930s, the instrumental simplified to -nen in singular vocalic nouns, for example kiryanen (PE21/4) vs. earlier kiryainen from the 1920s (PE16/113). It also seems the instrumental appeared as an independent preposition me in the late 1920s (PE16/146), though the phrase in which this preposition appears is untranslated, so its exact meaning is speculative. At this early concepual stage, the suffix was derived from -ne(m)/-me(m), as mentioned above (PE21/3). Instrumental plurals of vocalic nouns in the 1930s used either -inen or (archaic) -línen, the archaic form retaining the long plural suffix -li that was the norm in the 1920s and early 1930s. The vocalic dual instrumentals used the suffix -met in the Declension of Nouns, versus -imet from the 1920s (PE16/112, 114).

Because the instrumental suffix no longer started with i, Tolkien needed a new strategy for consonantal nouns. For noun stems ending in a single consontant, -nen/-men was generally added to the stem with various assimilations, described below. For noun stems ending in clusters, the suffix -anen was added, with a joining vowel a also used with the allative suffix -nta in the Declension of Nouns. Since both these suffixes began with n, the vowel a is almost certainly the result of ǝn > an from an ancient vowel that was lost in the base form, a vocalic development discussed elsewhere in this document (PE21/29). For example:

  • Base: *qende > *qendǝ > *qend > qen (qend-).
  • Instrumental: *qendenem > *qendǝnem > *qendanem > qendanen.

For consonantal plural instrumentals, the suffix -nen was added directly with lengthening of the plural suffix i, even in monosyllables: plural neri → instrumental plural nerínen (PE21/20). This is the same behavior seen for the instrumental plural of e-nouns (lassínen) in the Plotz letter.

Here are consonantal instrumental inflections from the Declension of Nouns (PE21/20-37):

  • nēr → (instrumental) nermen → (instrumental plural) nerínen.
  • tāl → (instrumental) talmen → (instrumental plural) talínen.
  • kas → (instrumental) karmen → (instrumental plural) karínen.
  • nēn → (instrumental) †nĕnwen, nēnamen.
  • hōn (hom-) → †humnen, homnen.
  • hunhunwen.
  • sūt → †sunwen, sutwen.
  • yāt (yak-) → †yangwen, yakwen.
  • māl → †malmen, malanen.
  • tettetanen.
  • sat (sap-) → sapanen.
  • qen (qend-) → qendanen.
  • let (leps-) → lepsanen.
  • fas (fass-) → fassanen.
  • nin (ning-) → †ninganen, ningwen.
  • nil (nild-) → nildanen.
  • mar (mard-) → mardanen.
  • hat (haht-) → hahtanen.
  • laman (lamn-) → lamnamen.
  • aran (arn-) → arnamen.
  • olar → †olarmen, olarnen.
  • ambor (ambos-) → ambornen.
  • qilir (qiles-) → qilernen.
  • andulandulmen.
  • EarendelEarendilmen.
  • pilenpilenwen.
  • amanamanwen.
  • soronsorunwen.
  • oron (orum-) → orumnen.
  • helen (helem-) → helemnen.
  • qelet → †qelinten, qeletwen, (recent) qeletanen.
  • kelutkelutwen, (recent) kelutanen.
  • talat → †talanten, talatwen, (recent) talatanen.
  • filet (filek-) → †filinken, filiqen, (recent) filekanen.
  • arat (arak-) →†arunken, aruqen, (recent) arakanen.
  • TinúvielTinúvielmen, (recent) Tinúviélanen.
  • falmarinfalmarinwen, falmarínanen, falmarínamen.
  • pilin (pilind-) → †pilinwen, pilindanen.
  • miqilis (miqilits-) → miqilitsanen.
  • veanerveanermen or veanéranen.
  • ValinorValinóranen.
  • KoiviénenKoivienenwen, Koivienénamen.
  • ahtumat (ahtumát- or ahtumatt-) → ahtumatwen, ahtumattanen.
  • telumet (telumett-) → †telumetwen, telumettanen.
  • Astulat (Astulaht-) → Astulahtanen.
  • peltas (peltaks-) → peltaksanen.
  • kaimasan (kaimasamb-) → kaimasambanen.

Note the regular use of -anen after clusters. This suffix was also sometimes used with stems ending in a single consonant provided they were dissyllabic or longer: assimilated talatwen vs. more recent talatanen, assimilated Tinúvielmen vs. more recent Tinúviélanen. For the most part, however, noun stems ending in a single consonant show assimilated forms: -men after liquids r, l, -nen after m, and -wen after n, t, k. The last of these probably represents a phonetic development of nm, tm, km > nw, tw, kw. Noun ending in s have instrumentals ending in -rmen, such as kas “head” with instrumental karmen (PE21/22); this is simply the regular phonetic development sm > zm > rm. Dual forms were similar, except they had -met, -net, -wet, or when a joining vowel was used (typical after clusters): -umet.

In declension charts later in the 1930s, the singular and plural vocalic suffixes -nen/-inen were mostly retained, with the eventual abandonment of the long plural -línen (or more accurately, its change to the partitive plural) sometime in the mid-to-late 1930s (PE21/53). There are few examples of consonantal instrumentals in later charts: in one set of declensions from the 1930s it seems the joining vowel changed to u: assimilated nermen vs. joining vowel nerunen, assimilated pilinwen vs. joining vowel pilindunen (PE21/52); in this chart the dual instrumental form was -(a)nwen, so there was no confusion with singular -unen.

Two notable exceptions to this regular use of singular instrumental -nen in the 1930s are the Entu, Ensi, Enta Declension (EEED) and Bodleian Declension (BD) both from the mid-1930s (probably), where Tolkien seems to have introduced a short instrumental suffix -in for vocalic nouns. In EEED, it was an alternative to (singular) -inen (VT28/8), whereas in BD -in was the only singular instrumental form, and -inen was used only for plurals (VT36/8). These two declensions are the only places in the published corpus where this short instrumental -in appears, indicating that they were near contemporaries.

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 EQG for the Early Quenya Grammar and LQ for Late Quenya forms (in Plotz and elsewhere); the Entu, Ensi, Enta Declension (EEED) and Bodleian Declension (BD) are inserted between version 5c and 6 as discussed in the entry on noun cases. Sh. Pl. = “Short Plural” are for shorter plural forms where they exist; as of version 4 the long plural was archaic, and -inen became the only plural form as of version 6.


V instrumentals Sg. Du. Pl. Sh. Pl.
EQG¹ vocalic -inen      
EQG¹ consonantal -inen      
2 vocalic -inen -imet -línen  
2 consonantal -inen   -ínen  
3 vocalic -inen -imet -línen  
3 consonantal -inen -imet -ínen  
4 vocalic -nen -met †-línen -inen
consonantal -anen -umet -ínen  
5a vocalic -nen -met †-línen -inen
5b vocalic -nen -nwen -línen -inen
5c vocalic -nen -nwen -línen -inen
5c² consonantal -unen -anwen -ínen  
EEED vocalic -inen/-in -imet    
EEED consonantal -inen -imet    
BD vocalic -in -toinen -línen -inen
6 vocalic -nen -unen -inen  
LQ vocalic -nen -nten -inen  
LQ consonantal -anen³ ? ?  

¹ The suffix -inen in EQG was actually a partitive, not an instrumental. It had no plural form, because “-inen is of itself plural or collective” (PE14/47).

² Also with various assimilated consonantal forms as discussed above.

³ Only in one example: ambartanen, where it could be either a base-vowel or a joining vowel a (see below).

Neo-Quenya: The lack of examples for consonantal instrumental inflections means we must guess on how exactly they might be formed. Many Neo-Quenya authors simply assume the instrumental uses the joining vowel e much like the allative, ablative, locative and dative; I was myself in that camp until I wrote up this analysis of the instrumental. The only attested example of an consonantal instrumental in Tolkien’s later writing is ambartanen “by doom” (S/223; UT/138) as mentioned above. There are two possible explanations for this form:

  1. The vowel a before the suffix -nen is a preserved base vowel from ancient *ambartă-, lost in the uninflected form ambar (ambart-).
  2. The vowel a is a distinct joining vowel used for the instrumental, unlike the joining vowel e used with other noun cases.

This question could be resolved with more examples, such as the instrumental of oron (oront-) “mountain” which might be orontonen, orontanen, or orontenen, but these examples do not exist in the published Late Quenya corpus from the 1950s and 60s. As discussed in the entry on consonantal nouns, there is some evidence that a base vowel (ómataima) could be used with noun inflections:

Thus the fortified forms added to stems yielding monosyllabic nouns always require a dissyllabic stem with ómataima: nenesse “in (the) water” (PE21/79, from stem nēn-).

However, the attested examples with base vowel usage seem to be (a) limited to monosyllables and (b) archaic. There are examples from the early 1930s that show a as a general joining vowel for instrumentals, notably in the Declension of Nouns as discussed above. In that document, ancient final vowels were reduced to ǝ, which when followed by suffixal n, l, r, s had a phonetic development similar to syllabic ṇ, ḷ, ṛ, ṣ: in the case of ǝn, ṇ the result was an (PE21/29). So hypothetically:

  • Base: *orontŏ > *orontǝ > *oront > oron (oront-).
  • Instrumental: *orontonen > *orontǝnen > *orontanen.

This is my rationale for the suggested consonantal instrumental suffix -anen in the section on Forming the Instrumental above. The instrumental is sufficiently distinct from the allative, ablative, locative cases that I think it is reasonable for it to use a different joining vowel. I would definitely recommend -anen for stems ending in consonant clusters, but the Declension of Nouns also has a number of interesting assimilated forms that (mostly) remain phonetically plausible for Quenya as Tolkien imagined it in the 1950s and 60s:

  • Stems ending in r, l: suffix -men, as in nér, tál “man, foot” → (instrumental) nermen, talmen (PE21/20-21).
  • Stems ending in s: suffix -(r)men, as in cas (car-) “head” → (instrumental) carmen (PE21/22).
  • Stems ending in m: suffix -nen, as in hón (hom-) “heart” → (instrumental) homnen (PE21/23).
  • Stems ending in n, t, c [k]: suffix -wen, as in nén, quelet, filit (filic-) “water, corpse, sparrow” → (instrumental) nenwen, queletwen, filiquen [filikwen] (PE21/23, 35).

The Declension of Nouns example for the k-stem was actually filet (filek-) “cobweb”, but filit “sparrow” would have the same phonological developments. Almost all of these assimilated forms are the plausible result of primitive ✶-men combined with the stem, with the possible exception of -twen, -quen [-kwen]. In his later writings, Tolkien sometimes had tm, km > tw, kw (PE19/85) but sometimes > nw, ñgw (PE19/43 and 85 note #79). Even if the second phonetic development was in play, the instrumental forms -twen, -quen [-kwen] might still be viable by reformation to match the stem consonant.

These assimilated forms could be the “traces of men in Q[uenya]” mentioned Common Eldarin: Noun Structure (PE21/79). However, while I find these assimilated forms to be very interesting, for purposes of Neo-Quenya I would treat them as archaic (Parmaquesta) forms, and assume that -anen was the general consonantal instrumental suffix in “modern” (Tarquesta). There was such “recent” analogical leveling to -anen mentioned in the Declension of Nouns (PE21/35), as noted above.

As for plurals, the Declension of Nouns consistently shows -ínen for consonantal instrumental plurals, even with monosyllables, perhaps with a original to that of e-noun -ínen. I’d do the same in Neo-Quenya. For u-duals, the Declension of Nouns shows either -úmet or -umet depending on the rules for prosodic lengthening. I think -únen/-unen is safer for Neo-Quenya, however, with -únen when the rules of prosodic lengthening apply (atanúnen, queletúnen) and -unen when they don’t (natunen, orontunen, aldunen).

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