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Quenya Grammar P41: Possessive Pronouns

Quenya expresses possession with suffixes. For ordinary nouns, Quenya uses the possessive noun case -va, but possessive pronouns have their own set of suffixes. For the most part, the possessive suffixes are the same as the long subject suffix, with the e changed to a: -nye “I” vs. -nya “my”. Most Neo-Quenya writers use a possessive paradigm similar to the one presented on VT49/16 from the late 1960s. For the most part this is:

  Subject Possessive
First Person Singular -n(ye) -nya “my”
Second Person Singular -t(ye) -tya “your (familiar)”
Second Person Singular -l(ye) -lya “your (polite)”
Third Person Singular -s -rya “his, her, its”
First Person Plural (inclusive) -lve -lva “our (inclusive)”
First Person Plural (exclusive) -lme -lma “our (exclusive)”
Second Person Plural -lde -lda “your (plural)”
Third Person Plural -lte -lta “their” ¹
First Person Dual (inclusive) -mme -mma “our two (but not your)”
First Person Dual (exclusive) -nquë -nqua “your and my” ²
Second Person Dual -ste -sta “your two”
Third Person Dual -tte *-tta “their two” ³

¹ 3rd person plural possessive -nta is also attested (PE17/57), reflecting Tolkien’s ongoing vacillation between -lte and -nte.

² In the paradigm on VT49/16, Tolkien gave -ngwe/-ngwa as the 1st person dual exclusive suffixes, but in the (slightly later) Quenya Pronominal Elements (QPE) he gave the subject suffix as -(i)nque (VT49/51). It seems Tolkien decided that the -ngwe/-ngwa forms were archaic, so I’d recommend -nque/-nqua instead; -nqua is attested in an older paradigm from the late 1950s or early 1960s (PE17/57).

³ On VT49/16 he gave the 3rd person dual forms as -ste/-sta which were the same as 2nd person duals, but he marked the 3rd person duals as archaic (†). In QPE he indicated that 3rd person dual †-ste > -tte, so likely the possessive form also > -tta.

Possessive pronouns have two “dimensions of plurality”, the plurality of the possessor and the plurality of the possessed. The possessive suffixes are attached to the noun before any other suffixes, and the plurality of the possessed is indicated by the ordinary dual/plural suffixes, added to the possessive suffix as if it were a vocalic noun:

  • hildinyar “my heirs” (LotR/967) = hild-(i)nya-r.
  • máryat “her (two) hands” (RGEO/58-59) = má-rya-t.

All combinations are possible:

  • Both singular: atarinya “my father”.
  • Plural possessed: atarinyar “my fathers”.
  • Plural possesser: atarelma “our father”.
  • Both plural: atarelmar “our fathers”.

The possessive pronoun is simply suffixed to vocalic nouns, but in the case of consonantal nouns, some kind of “joining vowel” is needed to separate the noun from the suffix. This vowel is either e or i:

  • atarinya “my father” (UT/186) = atar-(i)nya.
  • ataremma “our father” (VT43/13) = atar-(e)mma, using earlier exclusive possessive -mma from the 1950s.

We don’t have enough examples to establish a clear pattern, but I suspect the joining vowel would be the same as the “vocalic augment” used to form the emphatic pronouns, thus: *atarinta “their father” (emphatic inte), *atarelya “your father” (emphatic elye). There is evidence that if the last consonant of the noun matched the first consonant of the suffix, assimilation could happen as in aranya = aran-nya “my king” (UT/193). The 3rd person singular possessive is a special case where I would suggest using -ya with consonantal nouns: see below for discussion.

3rd person singular -rya: The 3rd person singular possessive suffix -rya is a bit of a special case. Its origin is distinct from the other suffixes. It originated from an ancient suffix -syā, as Tolkien stated in several places: “ómaryo, genitive of *óma-syā ‘her voice’ (PE17/76)” and “we have in Galadriel’s Lament -rya = her < sya (PE19/102 note #102)”. Tolkien described this origin in some detail in notes having to do with to omentielmo vs omentielvo from the early 1960s (PE17/130):

3 person adj. zya > rya. This caused confusion with the plural rya. It will be noted (see below) that the possessive adj. of 3 person Plural and Dual was different in formation from those of 1. 2. Plural, Dual, being formed with -ya added to the numeral indicator only. The inclusion of the latter was evidently a later elaboration. This is shown by pl. rya (not lya) — which may have been an altered form to avoid clash with 2 sg. — and by use of -ya sg. and pl. after nouns with consonantal stem as talya “his foot,” makilya “his (or their) sword.”

After the change of zya to rya in “correct” language -rya remained, but in colloquial or informal EQ [Exhilic Quenya], the r was dropped in sg. (aided by the appearance of -ya e.g. in talya). Thus for má-rya-t EQ would use má-ya-t: má-rya-t would only be used where several persons each raised both their hands. The lateness of the forms with -ya after vowels is seen in the retention of the final vowels preceding: thus óma-yo “of her voice” (an old formation would > ómëo). This use of -ya only after vowels was considered “incorrect”.

There is a lot to unpack in this note. First, Tolkien indicates that 3rd person possessive suffixes originated by adding ya to (a) s in the singular and (b) numerical markers in the plural and dual. In the singular, the result was -syā > -zya > -rya for vocalic nouns, but consonantal nouns just used -ya: talya (tal-ya) “his foot”, makilya (makil-ya) “his sword”. This singular form conflicted with 3rd person plural -rya from plural -r + ya, so that in Exhilic Quenya the singular form -ya spread from consonantal nouns to vocalic nouns: márya “his hand” (classical) vs. máya (colloquial). This popular colloquial formation was considered “incorrect” for vocalic nouns among loremasters.

Tolkien gave a slightly different explanation in notes from the mid-1960s:

The 3rd sg. remained aberrant and gave later trouble. The full OQ forms -sjā > sya became zya and in Q. -rya. This still survived in Q. as a “correct” form, and was used in writing, especially formal or poetic. But -rya now suggested plurality, as if ya had been added to -r plural. In colloquial Q. it thus became used for the plural replacing the “archaic” -ntya, and in the sg. the r was dropped. (The continued existence of such forms as talya “his foot” assisted this.) That these forms, such as kambeya “his hand”, yulmaya “his cup”, were recent is shown by their forms: older eya, aya would have become -ëa (VT49/17).

In this new scenario, plural -rya was not of ancient origin, but rather a reinterpretation of singular -rya by association with plural -r so that it displaced older 3rd plural †-ntya. Otherwise the later developments of this new scenario remained as before: to avoid conflict, the singular -ya spread from consonantal to vocalic nouns.

A third mention of these “colloquial” 3rd person variants singular -ya and plural -rya appeared in the VT49/16 chart of possessive suffixes. Beneath the “normal” 3rd person possessives -rya, -lta, -sta associated with the 3rd person verb formations, there was another set, -ya, -rya, -twa mixed in with the “impersonal” verb formation.

[Personal] caris -rya carilte -lte cariste -sta
[Impersonal] care -ya carir -rya carit -twa

Since “impersonal” possessive suffixes don’t make a lot of sense, it seems likely that this row is another iteration on the colloquial possessives as suggested by the editor of the article Patrick Wynne, but it hard to say for sure.

It therefore seems that these “colloquial” 3rd person possessive suffixes were an enduring idea, with classical 3rd person possessives being -rya (singular) and -lta/-nta (plural) but colloquial forms becoming -ya (singular) and -rya (plural). The vast majority of Neo-Quenya writers treat -rya as singular, however. I would not use these colloquial forms in Neo-Quenya writing, but I would use -ya as the 3rd singular possessive suffix for consonantal nouns, since these consonantal forms date back to Old Quenya and were valid in both classical and “colloquial” Quenya.

Possessives and noun cases: The possessive suffixes are appended to the noun first, followed by any additional suffixes for case and number, using the same inflections as vocalic nouns:

  • omentielvo “of our meeting”; genitive = omentie-lva + -o (LotR/81).
  • lintieryanen “with his speed”; instrumental = lintie-rya + -nen (PE17/58).
  • tielyanna “upon your path”; allative = tie-lya + -nna (UT/22).

In Quenya Prayer’s from the 1950s, Tolkien experimented with putting the possessive suffix after the case suffix: rocindillomman “*from our debtors” = rocindi-llo-mma-n (VT43/20), sangiessemman “*in our necessities” = sangie-sse-mma-n (VT44/8). This seems to be a temporary idea perhaps limited to the late 1940s and early 1950s, and is seen in only one other place in the published corpus: ᴹQ. nóressella “in your land” = nóre-sse-lla (Quenya Verbal System, late 1940s, PE22/124). Since we have very few published possessives from the 1930s and 40s, however, it could be that possessive following noun case was normal in the 1930s and 40s before switching order in the 50s.

Independent possessive pronouns: In addition to the pronominal possessive suffixes, Quenya has a set of independent possessive pronouns. We don’t have a full paradigm from Tolkien’s later writing, but the pattern from the attested forms seems clear:

  • ᴹQ. ninya “my” (LR/72).
  • Q. menya “*our” (VT43/20).

The independent forms seem to be the independent pronouns + -nya, so that other forms would be *lyenya “your (polite)”, *venya “our (inclusive)”, etc. The forms ninya and menya match emphatic possessive forms from the Early Qenya Grammar (PE14/54), so perhaps these independent possessives were also emphatic in Tolkien’s later writing. Where they appear, they are used as adjectives, and in some examples they are declined like adjectives to agree in number with the noun: menye rohtar “*our trespasses” (VT43/19).

It has become established Neo-Quenya practice to use these long possessives as pronouns as well as adjectives, equivalent to English “mine, yours, theirs” and so forth: sina ninya, tana lyenya “this is mine, that is yours”. I believe this usage was first suggested in Helge Fauskanger’s Quenya Course (HFQC/Lesson 19). In this usage, presumably the possessive pronouns would be declined like nouns instead of adjectives.

Conceptual Development: There was a full possessive pronoun paradigm in the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) from the 1920s, but they were prefixes instead of suffixes. Tolkien also gave a set of “emphatic” (longer) possessive adjectives, which functioned as adjectives following the noun (PE14/54):

  Subject Possessive Emphatic
1st Person Singular ni nya- ninya
2nd Person Singular ke tya- ketya
3rd Person Singular (m.) hu hwa- ¹ (h)úva
3rd Person Singular (f.) hi hya- (h)íva ²
3rd Person Singular (n.) ha ha- (h)áva ²
1st Person Plural Exclusive me mea- menya
1st Person Plural Inclusive qe qea- qenya
2nd Person Plural le lea- lelya
3rd Person Plural (m.) tu tua- ¹ túva ¹
3rd Person Plural (f.) si sia- ¹ síva ¹
3rd Person Singular (n.) ta ta- ¹ táva ¹

¹ With variant forms omitted for brevity.

² In the original these were written — íva and — áva, with the “—” probably representing optional (h) as discussed by the editors, PE14/54 note #87.

The EQG non-emphatic forms seem to be the subject forms + (y)a, and the emphatic forms seem to involve reduplication in 1st and 2nd person, and addition of -va in 3rd person. The EQG variations are an indications that the Neo-Quenya practice of making long possessives by adding -nya to the independent pronoun may be oversimplified, but until we have more examples it is probably best not to over-speculate on what the long possessive forms might be.

We have scattered examples of possessives in the 1930s and 40s, but they all seem to follow the later pattern of using the subject suffixes with e > a: Q. -tta “his” vs. ᴹQ. ette “he (emphatic)” (PE22/118, 121), Q. -lla “your” vs. ᴹQ. -lle “you” (PE22/119; SD/47). In the 1950s and 60s we have two complete possessive paradigms (PE17/57, VT49/16), and in both charts the possessives match the subject suffixes with e > a, excluding only the aberrant 3rd singular and colloquial forms as discussed above.

Neo-Quenya: To summarize my recommendations for Neo-Quenya usage:

  • Make the possessive suffixes the same as the subject suffixes with e > a.
  • As an exception, use -rya for 3rd singular possessive.
  • With consonantal nouns, use a “joining vowel” identical to the vowel augment (e or i) of emphatic pronouns.
  • With 3rd singular possessive, use -ya with consonantal nouns.
  • To avoid confusion, I would not use the “colloquial” possessives: 3rd singular -ya and 3rd plural -rya.
  • Add the possessive suffix to the noun first, followed by other suffixes for case and number, as if declining a vocalic noun.
  • For “long” (emphatic?) possessives, take the independent pronoun and add -nya. Use them either as independent adjectives (“my”) or pronouns (“mine”).

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