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Quenya Grammar P55: u-verbs

The u-verbs are a class of verbs whose stem combines a biconsonantal root (like √KEL) with a suffixal -u: [ᴹQ.] celu-. These verbs often (but not always) have an “inceptive” aspect, like [ᴹQ.] seru- “to settle on, sit or lie down” vs. [ᴹQ.] ser- “to rest”. As Tolkien described them in the Common Eldarin: Verb Structure (EVS2) of the 1950s:

u-verbs. The u seems to have been in Eldarin a “phonetic inflexion”: that is, it had no significance for the defining of tense, mode, or aspect, but served to complete the phonetic content of the word, which, as far as the particular verb went, was incomplete without it. The u-addition was thus normally (or very frequently) present throughout the conjugation. Thus u-addition appears most often after the sonants, l, r, n, m: as tolu, khamu, and especially after basic sundómar e, i: as sedu, liru, siru (beside sirya), kheru, kelu, etc. It most often appears in intransitive verbs as kelu “well up”, but that is not due to the force of the affix: since there are old examples of transitive verbs such as telu “roof in”. In many cases the u-verbs have an inceptive sense, as in: sedu “go to rest”, kelu “well forth, begin to flow”, tolu “stand up”, khamu “sit down”; a similar sense is often seen in the verbs showing affixes lu, ru, nu: as koiru “come to life” (PE22/135).

See the entry on inceptive verbs for a more detailed discussion of the occasional inceptive aspect of u-verbs, along with other inceptive formations.

Although u-verbs appear in Tolkien’s later writing from the 1950s and 60s, the latest complete conjugational paradigm we have from the published corpus appears in the Quenya Verbal System of the 1940s (PE22/117):

  • Stem: liru-.
  • Infinitive: lirue “to sing”.
  • Aorist: liru “sings”.
  • Present: lírua “is singing”.
  • Past: lirune “sang”.
  • Perfect: ilírie “has sung”*.
  • Future: lirúva “will sing”.
  • Gerund: liruye “singing”.

* This perfect is based on the perfect etekélie of [ᴹQ.] ehtelu- “to bubble up” (PE22/103). See also the Neo-Quenya section below.

Although this paradigm is from the 1940s, isolated examples in later writing indicates that it mostly remains valid in the 1950s and 60s: lirule 2nd-sg aorist of liru- “sing” (PE22/138), nurrua present of nurru- “mumble” (MC/222), indune past of indu- “to will, do on purpose” (PE22/165). The inflection of u-verbs was somewhat different when the stem consonant was a velar [k]. In that case, the velar could be labialized to [kw] in the aorist and present tense, as in:

  • Stem: nicu- “to be chill, freeze”.
  • Aorist: nique “freezes”.
  • Present: níqua “is freezing”.
  • Past: nicune “froze”.

The only explicit example we have of this pattern is the verb nicu- given above appearing in etymological notes from the mid-1960s (PE17/168). The verb mikwi- “to kiss” (stem micu-?) might another example (PE16/96). This strongly implies that this small subclass of u-verbs would have inflected aorists using -i when subject suffixes were added: niquin “I freeze”.

Conceptual Development: There are verbs with a distinct -u suffix all the way back in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s. Other than their past tenses (which mostly seem be weak) we have no information on how they were inflected in the earliest period:

  • ᴱQ. allu- “wash”, past allune (QL/30).
  • ᴱQ. malu- “devour”, past malūne or maltune (QL/58).
  • ᴱQ. kal(l)u- “illuminate, light up”, past kallune (QL/44).
  • ᴱQ. qelu- “well up”, past qelūne (QL/76).
  • ᴱQ. tyalu- “play”, past tyalūne (PE15/76).

In the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) of the 1920s, Tolkien gave a more complete conjugational paradigm for u-verbs (PE14/58):

  • Stem: ᴱQ. kelu- “flow”.
  • Present: kelu “flows”.
  • Past: kelūne or kelwie “flowed”.
  • Future: kelūva “will flow”.

The variant strong past kelwie is based on the 1920s past-tense suffix -ie, repurposed in the 1930s or 40s for the perfect tense; in the 1920s the perfect was a compound tense (PE14/57). The EQG u-verbs appear immediately above a set of inflections for an i-verb, ᴱQ. hari- “hate”: present hari, past harīne and future haryuva. There is one other potential i-verb from the Qenya Lexicon, ᴱQ. koli- “to prick” (QL/47), but there no signs of a distinct i-verb class in the 1930s or later.

Oddly, the only mention of u-verbs in The Etymologies of the 1930s is ᴹQ. palu- a variant of palya- “open wide, spread, expand, extend” (Ety/PAL) with a side mention of other similar forms: “On -u- suffix frequent in Q after el, al, see Q Structure; cf. kelu, telu, smalu, etc.” (EtyAC/PAL). The u-verbs were explicitly mentioned in Quendian & Common Eldarin Verbal Structure from the 1940s, however:

In addition many bases of simple √TAL form made verbs of a different sort, employing a fixed vocalic suffix (ū or ā̆) after the base: as √KEL: kelu “flow, well up” (PE22/98).

They were discussed in more detail in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) of the 1940s:

-ū̆ verbs. The sense-difference between these and normal verbs is not so clear, since an additional -u seems often to have been added as a mere formative: to increase the phonetic content of the stem, as liru- “sing (gaily)”; or to distinguish between bases of identical (or similar) form with different senses, as kelu- “spring forth (of water)”: √KEL, KYEL “run away especially downwards or to an end”, cf. kelya “(it) sends running down = it rains”.

But often as in case kelu- above this suffix marks the beginning (more or less sudden) of an action that may continue later, and was thus anciently and still in Quenya often conjoined with the prefix ete/et- “out”: so in the ancient ektelu- (< etkelu) “gush forth”. It may thus sometimes correspond to the English “up” not in the completive sense as in “eat up” but in such expressions as “wake up, stand up”, or “down” in “sit down”. It is sometimes combined with the formatives t, y etc. described above (in Q. the forms -lu, -yu, -ru being favoured).

Thus Q seru- “settle on, sit or lie down, come to rest on”; hamu- “sit down, take a seat”; tolu­ “stand up, get up, leave one’s seat”. (ek)koiru “come to life”; tuilu “bud, open (of flowers and leaves)”, etc. (PE22/114).

These notes indicate the sometimes-inceptive nature of u-verbs. QVS is also the source of the most complete conjugational paradigm of u-verbs, as discussed above. In QVS Tolkien mentioned u-verbs sometimes had strong past tenses derived directly from the root (PE22/117), but this does not seem to be the norm. The last detailed discussion of u-verbs in the published corpus appears in Common Eldarin: Verb Structure (EVS2) from the 1950s (see the quote above), but individual u-verbs continued to appear in the 1960s.

Neo-Quenya: Absent more information, I would assume that the 1940s conjugational paradigm remains valid for u-verbs. It mostly remains phonologically plausible. The only possible exception is the perfect form ilírie which (a) looks too much like a basic verb and (b) contradicts the statement that “the u-addition was thus normally (or very frequently) present throughout the conjugation” (EVS2, 1950s, PE22/135). I would not be surprised to see distinctive u-verb perfect forms like ilírwie appear in some future publication resembling the past form kelwie from the 1920s, or perhaps weak perfects like ilirunie. Unless and until such forms are published, though, I’d stick with the attested pattern.

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