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Quenya Grammar P62: Gerunds

The basic verbal noun in Quenya is the gerund, formed from the verb stem using the suffix -ie, roughly equivalent to English “-ing”. This English suffix is also used to form the active participle, but Quenya has a different suffix for that. Compare “eating is good” matie mára (ná) [gerund] vs. “the eating man” i matila nér [active participle]. The English suffix “ing” is ambiguous between the gerund and active participle; the Quenya gerundial suffix -ie is ambiguous in a different way, since it resembles the suffix used to form the Quenya perfect tense. The Quenya gerund and perfect can be distinguished, though, by other features of the perfect inflection:

ı̯e as verbal ending “-ing” should only be added to aorist stem. Hence matie “eating” is distinct from [perfect] (a)mátie “have eaten” (PE17/13).

The gerundial suffix is derived from ancient -(i)yē, as described by Tolkien in several places:

The “gerund” was formed with the suffix added to the aorist tense-stem: so karie “making”, nemie “seeming”, matie “eating”, tulie “coming”, etc. (Quenya Verbal System, 1948, PE22/99).

ijē: the commonest form of the “gerund”. It was distinguished from the similar tense-suffix [perfect suffix -ie] by being added to the bare stem, which showed neither lengthening nor nasal-infixion: karijē “doing, making”. In origin it was in fact probably the vowel ē (most frequent of all endings in Eldarin nouns that referred to notions and abstractions not to concrete objects) added to the aorist tense-vowel (Common Eldarin: Verb Structure, early 1950s, PE22/137).

In other cases Eldarin used a genuine full verbal noun made with a suffix comparable to the Latin gerund, or to English “-ing”. (The suffixes used in the later Eldarin languages for this purpose were various: ijē, bē, bijē, mē, mijē were among the most usual and probably oldest.) (ibid., PE22/128-129).

Other Gerund Suffixes: The previous quote indicates there were other gerundial suffixes in competition with -ie. Some of these appear elsewhere, such as:

General infinitive -ie, karie … After vowel stems or stems with medial u̯, ı̯, -ve, koive (koivie), kuive; sīve “knowing, knowledge”; nāve “being” (linguistic notes from 1967, PE17/68).

An earlier alternate gerundial suffix was -re in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) from 1948 where it was used for the gerunds of causatives and a-verbs:

An almost equally common form was -rḗ, or -árē̆: see for instance in istare “knowledge”, ataltare “collapse”, kelure “fountain”. This form in causatives and ā-verbs (q.v. below) often acted as a gerund, replacing the gerundial formations in iyḗ: ortare “lifting up”; niñqitáre “whitening, whitewashing” (PE22/110).

It is hard to judge whether a noun ending in one of these suffixes is actually a gerund, because both -ve and -re were also used to form abstract nouns: ilu “all” → ilúve “allness” (WJ/402); fanya “cloud” → fanyare “skies = the upper airs and clouds” (MC/223). Since the publication of PE22 in 2015, some Neo-Quenya writers have adopted the suffix -re for the gerunds of causatives, or even more generally for all weak or derived verbs ending in a. In the published corpus we have only one clearly attested gerund for a verb ending in a in Tolkien’s later writing, however: the weak verb henta- “to read” → hentie “reading” (linguistic notes from 1964, PE17/77). Until we have a bigger set of examples, I would stick to using -ie as the default suffix for gerund formation for all verb classes, with the exception of attested gerunds for irregular verbs like síve “knowing”.

Forming the Gerund: As noted above, the most common gerund suffix is -ie which is (1) suffixed to the stem of basic verbs, (2) replaces the final a of derived verbs or (3) added as the suffix -ye to u-verbs:

  • mat- “to eat” → matie “eating” (PE17/13; PE19/99).
  • henta- “to read” → hentie “reading” (PE17/77).
  • [ᴹQ.] liru- “to sing (gaily)” → liruye “singing” (PE22/117).

The u-verb gerund is from the Quenya Verbal System of 1948, which is the last time we see a complete u-verb paradigm in the published corpus. It remains plausible in Tolkien’s later conception of the language, however, since y was generally preserved after u.

For basic and talat-stem verbs, the gerund is simply the result of adding ancient -(i)yē to the stem; the same is true of u-verbs. In the case of formatives and weak verbs, the -(i)yē might have replaced the final ă in Common Eldarin (CE), or it might be the result of -ăyē > -ëe > -ie. Verbs that anciently ended in long ā (causatives and a-verbs) are problematic. Here the normal phonetic development would be āye > aie, aiye (as with Máya > Maia, Maiya, PE19/94). This is probably the reason Tolkien introduced the alternate gerund suffix -re for these verb classes in the 1948 QVS (see above).

For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I would assume that -ie replaces the final a for causatives and a-verbs as well, either because (a) the -(i)yē replaced final the ā in CE or (b) because the gerunds were reformed by analogy with other verb classes. Something similar seems to have happened with the perfect of causatives. This conclusion is rather tentative, though, since we have only one late example of a gerund for a verb ending in a, the aforementioned henta-hentie which is a weak verb derived from a non-verbal root (√KHEN) and not a causative.

Using the Gerund: The gerund behaves in all respects like a Quenya noun. It can be the subject or object of verbs, can be declined into various noun cases, and so forth. The gerund cannot itself take a subject or object suffixes; for this you would need to use the particular infinitive. Tolkien discussed the behavior of the gerund in some detail in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) document written in 1948. The examples are tricky to parse because this document belongs to a (brief) period before the publication of The Lord of the Rings where Tolkien used pronominal subject prefixes rather than suffixes. In this document Tolkien also used ye- for “to be” rather than ná-.

In all cases where the second verb is the subject of the first (by the first meaning the finite verb irrespective of the actual word order) the infinitive cannot be used. The Gerund is then used: matie ye mára “eating is (a) good (thing)”; ksaráre psare súle (proverbial) “longing frets the spirit”; karie ye mólome “making (things) is hard work”; tyavie la tyazie (proverb) “tasting is not necessarily liking”.

The Gerund is also usually employed when the second verb though not the subject of the first is not the direct object; e.g. when it requires substantival declension.

The infinitive cannot be declined. The gerund cannot take pronominal affixes. ni·utúlie nyariello ve atarella “I have just come from talking with your father”. ni·la nyára pa matie “I am not talking about eating” (QVS, PE22/119).

For consistency with the grammar of the 1950s and 60s, I would update these examples as follows, with gerunds underlined:

  • matie mára (ná)eating is (a) good (thing)”.
  • ksarie psare súlelonging frets the spirit”.
  • karie mólome (ná)making (things) is hard work”.
  • tyavie la tyazietasting is not necessarily liking”.
  • utúlien nyariello ve atarelya “I have just come from talking with your father”.
  • lanye nyára pa matie “I am not talking about eating”.

In all these examples, the gerund is required and an infinitive cannot be used, because either (a) the form is used as the subject or (b) the form is declined into a noun case or is the object of a preposition. At this conceptual stage, Tolkien had not yet introduced the notion of the particular infinitive (which may act as a verbal subject), but it likewise could not be used in the examples above because the particular infinitive only applies to a specific action, not general actions as in these phrases.

Where a “subject” might be required for the gerund (“the man’s eating”), this can be avoided by changing the expression into a subordinate clause. However, something resembling a gerundial subject can be made for simpler phrases by using a genitive. As Tolkien explained it in QVS:

If this Gerund required pronominal objects or subjects, two methods were open to use: (a) the most usual especially in long or complex expressions: to convert the whole expression into clause with ha (the subjective form of the objective sa above).

  • “Old Turo’s eating all the bread was a nuisance to us”.
  • Yára Túro mante ilqa masta ha me·ne umahtale.

Cf. the objective, me·{láner >> aller >>} láner fasta sa yára Túro etc.

(b) In less complex cases: the subject of a Gerund could as in English be put into the genitive: Turo matie masta “Turo’s eating bread”; etta matie masta “his eating bread” (QVS, PE22/119).

I would revise the examples above as follows for compatibility with later grammar. Here are examples where a “gerundial subject” is avoided by use of a subordinate clause:

  • yára Túro mante ilqa masta i náne umahtale men “old Turo ate all [the] bread which was a nuisance for us”.
  • lálme fastane i yára Túro mante ilqa masta “*it did not please us that old Túro ate all the bread”.

Here are examples where a simple subject-like expression with a gerund is formed by using a genitive or a pronominal possessive:

  • Túro matie masta (láne mára) “Turo’s eating bread (was not good)”.
  • matierya masta (láne mára) “his eating bread (was not good)”.

It is not clear whether the last example (matierya) is valid, however. In QVS Tolkien went on to say:

The objects followed the gerund. If pronominal they could be enclitic (if quite unemphatic) but NOT agglutinated. etta matie the ye umahta: “his eating it is a nuisance”. The inflexional forms are never used since these were purely possessive, matietta would (if anything) mean “a kind of eating, or style of eating, peculiar to him” (PE22/119).

Thus in 1948, the possessive suffix (-tta) could not be used as an oblique subject, which means that matierya might likewise be invalid for this purpose. However, since possessive suffixes could be used with particular infinitives by the late 1960s (caritalya “your doing it”, PE22/154), I think it is probable that Tolkien relaxed this rule. If so, possessives might be used for oblique subjects with both the particular infinitive for specific actions: matitaryas “his eating it”, but with the gerund for general actions: matierya “his eating (in general)”. In other words, it seems that in 1948 Tolkien imagined the pronominal possessive suffixes behaved only like the possessive/adjectival subject -va (see below), but that seems not to be true anymore by the 1960s.

For gerunds with multiple object, both direct and indirect, Tolkien said in QVS:

The Gerund can sometimes be followed by [two] pronominal objects: indir[ect] : direct. karie nye·te “making it for me (would be kind)”; ella karie nye te “making it for me (would be kind) of you”. But ha le·nye karite (a clause) (PE22/119).

I doubt this gerundial syntax remained valid after the introduction of the particular infinitive, which handles such constructions much more gracefully: caritas nin “making it for me” and caritalyas nin “your making it for me”.

Regarding gerunds with non-pronominal “subjects” Tolkien said:

Where a noun precedes a gerund it is not the subject since the gerund is not a verb. It can only be a “genitive of loose composition” (see Declension). Distinguish the following:

  • kirya karie “ship-making”, making a ship/ships (sc. is a difficult thing etc.). kiryava karie “the making of a ship”.
  • karie kirya “making a certain ship”. karie kiryali “making some ships”.
  • i néro karie kirya “the man’s making of a ship”.

But the -va adjective is objective not subjective. kiryava karie is practically equal to kirya karie “nautical construction” (PE22/119-120).

Thus when another noun is used in apposition with a gerund, it functions as the object of the gerundial action, whether is proceeds or follows. In both cirya carie “ship making” and carie cirya “making a ship”, the ship is the undergoer of the action, not the agent. When the noun precedes the gerund it describes a more general activity (“ship making”) and when following a more specific activity (“making a ship”). As noted above, for another noun to function subjectively for a gerund, it must be in the genitive as in: i néro carie cirya “the man’s making of a ship”; i ciryo carie falmali “the ship’s making of some waves”.

According to QVS; nouns in the possessive case -va can only function as an object of a gerund, and are mostly used attributively. Thus ciryava carie would basically mean “the making of ships (as a general activity)”, essentially the same in sense as cirya carie “ship making”. I suspect this would no longer be the case in combination with the definite article, though: i ciryava carie probably means “the ship’s making, the making of the (specific) ship”. Here the possessive and genitive functions would be distinct, with possessives functioning objectively and genitives functioning subjectively: i ciryava carie = “the making of the ship” vs. i ciryo carie “the ship’s making (of something, such as waves)”.

Tolkien finished his discussion of the gerund in QVS as follows (PE22/120):

The gerund can be [an] object of another verb. It is then general in sense: see above p. 2. nila tyaze matie makse “I do not like eating meat” (a statement of general character or taste). But níla tyaze matite sí “I don’t like eating (to eat) it now”. Distinguish.

  • mólome nakin(ye) “hard work kills me”.
  • (ye) mólome nakie·nye “(it is) hard work to kill me”.
  • ha mólome le·nakin(ye) “it is hard work for you to kill me” (rather than ella nakie nye mólome).

Updating to later pronominal suffixes and infinitive constructions, these would be:

  1. Gerund: lanye tyaze matie makse “I do not like eating meat”.
  2. Particular Infinitive: lanye tyaze matitas sí “I don’t like to eat it now”.
  3. Aorist: mólome nakin(ye) “hard work kills me”.
  4. Gerund: mólome (ná) nakie ni “(it is) hard work killing me” [probably not valid, see below].
  5. Aorist: nás mólome i nakelye ni “it is hard work for you to kill me [lit. that you kill me]”.
  6. Gerund: nakielya ni mólome (ná) [not valid according to QVS].

In the first example, a gerund is valid as a verbal object when describing a general action, but not for a specific action as in the second example, which in QVS requires a simple infinitive but in later syntax probably requires a particular infinitive. The fourth example indicates that (a) a gerund may be the predicate of a “to be” statement and (b) this is still valid if the gerund has an object. In later syntax I think that (a) probably remains true (alasse matie (ná) “happiness is eating”) but for (b) probably a particular infinitive would be more likely: mólome (ná) nakita ni. Examples five and six indicate that in 1948, a gerund could not be used as a verbal object if it had both a subject and an object itself, but I suspect in later syntax a particular infinitive might work as an alternative: nakitalya ni mólome (ná) “your killing me is hard work”.

To summarize:

  • Gerunds function in all respects like nouns: they can be both subjects and objects of verbs, can be declined into noun cases and be the object of prepositions.
  • For the most part, gerunds describe general rather than specific activities; for specific activities the particular infinitive is preferable.
  • Gerunds are not verbs, do not have verb tenses (they are always aorist) and cannot receive pronominal subject or object suffixes.
  • For simple expressions, something like an gerundial subject can be made with either a modifying noun in the genitive (i néro carie “the man’s making”) or a pronominal possessive suffix (carierya “his making”).
  • For simple expressions, something like an gerundial object can be made with a “genitive of loose composition” putting another noun in apposition with the gerund (cirya carie “ship making”), or by using a noun with the possessive suffix (ciryava carie “making of ships”). These modifiers mainly function as attributive modifiers of the general activity described by the gerund.
  • Where the “genitive of loose composition” follows the gerund, it refers to a more specific activity (carie cirya “making of a ship”). The same is probably true of a definite possessive (i ciryava carie “the making of the ship”).
  • These elements can be combined into a “gerundial phrase” that can still act as a noun (i néro carie cirya “the man’s making of a ship”); however, the more complex the phrase, the more likely it is to be replaced by a particular infinitive or a subordinate clause.

Conceptual Development: Gerunds appear in The Qenya Verb Forms of the 1910s, where they were simply variations of the infinitive: infinitive suffixes -nt/-nqe, -s(te), -l(de) vs. gerundial suffixes -nto, -sta, -ldo for active, reflexive and passive voices; like the infinitive, in this document the gerund could be formed for all verb tenses and all three voices (PE14/28-30). In Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s, Tolkien gave only a single suffix -sta for both infinitives and gerunds, but did not explain its use (PE14/56).

In Qenya Conjugations from the late 1920s or early 1930s, Tolkien gave an “aorist infinitive or gerund” suffix -u, with examples indicating it could be declined as a noun:

aorist inf. or ger. tulu, allat. tulur, tulunta, iness. tulusse, gen. tuluvo (PE16/128).

These examples are immediately preceded by a set of infinitives for all verb tenses: present, past, future infinitives tulint, túlient, tuluvant. All this makes me think the tulu- forms were properly gerundial. However, the tulu- forms were immediately followed by {tulista} >> tulinta “coming” (PE16/128 note #32), which might also be the “true gerund”. This in turn was followed by a set of active and passive participles, making it unlikely that tulinta “coming” is the active participle, since these were given as tūle/tulilya (probably present and past/perfect active participles according Christopher Gilson and Carl Hostetter: PE16/123; PE22/85).

The next set of clear gerunds in the published corpus date from the 1940s: kariemma “our doing” (PE17/14) and the QVS examples given above. Hereafter, Tolkien seems to have stuck mainly with -ie gerunds, with occasional alternate suffixes as described in the section on Other Gerund Suffixes above.

Neo-Quenya: Our best source of information about how gerunds function is from the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) document written in 1948, as discussed above. This document predates certain shifts in Tolkien’s conception of the language: the change from pronominal subject prefixes (back) to suffixes, the change of the verb “to be” from ye- to ná-, and the introduction of the particular infinitive. As such, it takes some extrapolation to interpret how the rules described in QVS might apply to Quenya grammar as Tolkien imagined after the publication of The Lord of the Rings. These extrapolations are embedded in the main text above, where they also help explain the original rules as Tolkien imagined them in QVS.

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