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Quenya Grammar P66: Past

The Quenya past tense is, like in most languages, used to refer to events occurring in the past: i nér mante, manten “the man ate, I ate”. Of all the Quenya tenses, the past is the most complex in its formation.

Origins of the Past Tense: The Quenya past tense originated from two competing ancient patterns: (1) nasal infixion (mat-mantē) and (2) the past tense suffix -nē (kar-karnē). Tolkien described these ancient past forms in numerous places:

On the other hand n-infixion and n-suffixion remained concurrently in use, and often performed identical functions: as in the strong past tenses formed with either n-infix + suffix ē, yē, or with suffix nē, nyē, as √KAT pa.t. *ka-n-tē beside √KAR pa.t. *kar-nē (Tengwesta Qenderinwa 1, late 1930s, PE18/46).

Past … the pure undefined past (referring to an action thought of as over) was usually formed either (a) by nasaling the aorist (in which case the augment was usual): as manti, amanti “ate”; or by a suffix (added to the unmodified base) -nḗ: √MBAR: mbarnē “dwelt” / ambarnē; or blended form mantē, ambarni etc. (Quendian & Common Eldarin Verbal Structure, late 1940s, PE22/96).

These were derived from those formations described above: see general account of Quendian and Eldarin. The varieties amatyē, (a)manti, mātiye were given up, and for Past the augmentless formations: mantḗ or karnḗ were adopted (Quenya Verbal System, late 1940s, PE22/96).

On the other hand nasal-infixion and n-suffixion remained concurrently in use and to some extent in competition, as seen in the formation of past-tense stems with intrusion as *kantē < √KAT, or with suffixion as in *karnē < √KAR (Tengwesta Qenderinwa 2, around 1950, PE18/95).

Past … the pure undefined past, referring to an action thought of as over, was usually formed either: (a) by nasalizing the aorist: in which case the augment was usual: as amanti, manti “ate”; or (b) by the suffix -nē added to the unmodified base: as √MBAR, pa.t. mbarnē, ambarnē “dwelt” (Common Eldarin: Verb Structure, early 1950s, PE22/131).

… played a chief part in the indication of past time in C.E., being found both as a verbal suffix marking past tenses, and by a curious treatment (probably descending from primitive Quendian methods of agglutination) also in the form of a nasal inserted before the final consonant of a verbal stem, while the ē followed (linguistic notes from 1968, VT49/30).

In Late Notes on Verb Structure written 1969 towards the end of his life, Tolkien considered discarding nasal infixion as an ancient past tense formation:

would it not be best to eliminate inserted nasal from pa.t., the rare cases being transposition of stops (p, t, k + n). So that e.g. √KJABA “taste”, LABA “lick” would not have pa.t. tyambe or lambe, and insertion be used for other purposes (as already in lambe “tongue”), but tyamne, lamne or later tyáve, láve (PE22/151).

This late idea must be taken with a big grain of salt, since it overthrows three decades of established past tense formations. For most (but not all) basic verbs, the end result of this new system would be the same as the old, since ancient metathesis was common and the more irregular past tenses would be reformed to match the perfect as with tyáve, láve above. However without nasal infixion, the past tenses for half-strong ya-verbs such as sirya-sirinye no longer make sense, and these past forms are quite common (see below for details).

Strong Past Tenses of Basic Verbs: Tolkien labeled the past tenses of basic verbs as “strong” since they frequently involved modification of the verb stem. The most detailed description of past tenses for basic verbs appears in Quenya Verbal System (QVS) written in the late 1940s (PE22/102-103). Nearly all of this information remains relevant to Tolkien’s later ideas of the language, since his conception of the past tense for basic verbs was mostly established by the 1930s, and the relevant phonetic changes remained fairly stable. The past tense for basic verbs depends mainly on the (ancient) final consonant of the stem, which appeared immediately before or after the past tense nasal n.

p, t, k. √KAP “leap”, √MAT “eat”, √RUK “pluck”: past kampe, mante, runke (PE22/103).

With voiceless stops, nasal suffixion vs. infixion doesn’t matter, since a suffixed nasal would undergo metathesis: pn, tn, kn > mp, nt, ñk. Basic verbs of this type are common, and this past tense pattern is well attested:

  • cat-cante “*shaped” (PE18/90).
  • quet-quente “*said” (PM/401).
  • nak-nanke “*slayed” (PE22/156).
  • [ᴹQ.] tak-tanke “*fastened” (Ety/TAK).
  • [ᴹQ.] top-tompe “*covered” (Ety/TOP).

b, d, g. √KYAB “taste”, √LAB “lick”, √KUB “bow“; √SYAD “cleave through”, √MED “wish, want”, √SED “rest”, √WAD “err, stray”; √NDAG “slay”, √LUG “be heavy”. More examples are given here since the developments were more various. Owing to the early pre-classical loss of [ʒ] from initial and medial g, very few of the older basic verbs with g-medial survived in Quenya in strong form: thus √NDAG appears, as a verb, only in the “weak” from nahta-, pa.t. nahtane. In case of [v] from b the historic forms were mn or mb, but “perfect” stem with lengthening tended to intrude. kave “can”, kambe “could”. tyave “taste”: pa.t. tyambe or later tyáve; perf. atyávie. kuve “bow”: pa.t. kumbe, perf. ukúvie. lave “lick”: pa.t. láve (always so since lambe, substantive = “tongue”), perf. alávie. hyare “cleave”: pa.t. hyande (non-classical TQ var[iant] hyarne), perf. ahyárie. sere “rest”: pa.t. sére, perf. esérie; similarly ware “err”. mere “wish for, desire”: with pa.t. always mende. An example of [g] is the common verb, used impersonally in Q., lue “it is heavy, sad”, luin “it is heavy on me, I am sad”: pa.t. lunge, perf. ulungie (the historic form †uluiye is rare and archaic) (PE22/103).

Basic verb with stems ending in ancient g rarely survive in Quenya, and the few that do are best treated as irregular verbs. Basic verbs stems ending in ancient b had a historic past tense with mb, but the intervocalic development in the aorist was to v, obscuring this relationship. The past tense of these verbs was usually reformed to match the perfect: †tyambe,lambe later tyáve, láve after perfects atyávie, alávie.

Basic verbs stems ending in ancient d are the most variable, since the intervocalic development d > r is further removed from its ancient past form. Here there are three possibilities:

  1. The ancient past tense with nd survived: [ᴹQ.] rer-rende “sowed” (Ety/RED).
  2. The past tense was reformed to match the perfect: yor-yóre “enclosed” from perfect oiórie [oyórie], archaic past †yonde (PE17/43).
  3. The past tense was reformed to rn by analogy with verbs whose ancient stem ended in r: nir-nirne “pressed”, archaic past †ninde (PE22/165).

With these verbs, there is simply no other option but to memorize the past form, since there is no fixed pattern.

ph, th, kh. Not many strong verbs with these medials survive. Where they do they preserve the historic forms with pp etc. < mph etc. with occasional forms derived from phn > pt, khn > kt, ht (ñkh, khn [???]). √RAPH “snatch”: Q raphe, rafe: pa.t. rappe. √LAKH “kick”: Q lahe: pa.t. lahte, lakke. √PITH “spit”: Q pise (pithe): pa.t. pitte (PE22/103-104).

Basic verbs with stems originally ending in aspirates are another rare group. The intervocalic developments were [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ] > [ɸ, θ, x] > [f, s, h]. The nasal infixed forms became [mpʰ, ntʰ, ŋkʰ] > [pp, tt, kk]. In the case of basic verbs with stems ending in f and h, the pp and kk were close enough to the stem that this past tense generally survived. In the case of s vs. tt, these past tenses were frequently reformed to ns after the change of [θ] > [s], such as kense past tense of kes- “search, examine” (PE17/156). As Tolkien explained it in the Outline of Phonology (OP2) written in the early 1950s: “Where this grammatical renewal occurred in TQ after the change of þ > s, ns remained as in TQ panse ‘smoothed’ for PQ patte, after pase ‘smooths’ (PE19/89)” [and then possibly > passe (PE19/89 note #96 and 97), but I recommend ignoring this is a problematic late sound change of ns > ss for the purposes of Neo-Quenya].

m, n. … [m] shows in past both mn and mm. √KHIM “adhere”: hime, pa.t. himne, perf. ihímie, similarly √KIM “light on, find”. √KHAM “sit down”: hame, pa.t. hamme, perf. ahámie (ahammie). [n] usually shows nn: √KEN “see, perceive”, pa.t. kenne, perf. ekénie (ekennie); √TON “tap, knock”: tone, pa.t. tonne, perf. otonnie (otónie); √MEN “aim at, intend, purpose”, with allative “make for, proceed towards”, menne; but √MUN “groan, moan (?)”, in Q. used = to express dislike, not to like: mune, pa.t. us[ually] múne (not munne), perf. umúnie (PE22/104).

Velar nasal [ŋ] vanished early enough that it rarely factored into verbal inflections, the most notable exception being enge (< eŋŋē) the past tense of ea “exist” (PE22/147; VT49/29). Basic verbs with stems ending in nasals m, n for the most part simply suffix -ne in the past tense. In theory with a nasal-infixed m-stem the result would be [nm] > [mm], but the only example is ham-hamme above, and later Tolkien changed this verb to har- “sit”. Some more examples of these mn past forms:

  • cam-camne “*received” (VT47/21).
  • nem-nemne “*seemed” (PE22/152).
  • okom-okomne “*gathered” (PE17/157).
  • [ᴹQ.] tam-tamne “*tapped” (Ety/TAM).

There are a couple examples of n-stem and m-stem verbs with past tenses with long vowels, reformed to match the perfect (probably): [ᴹQ.] mun- “to dislike” → past múne above, and sam- “to have” → past sáme (PE17/173).

l, r. [l] usually employs ll (< nl), but ld (< ln) also appears. √TUL “come”: tule, pa.t. tulle, perf. utúlie. √KHAL (cf. halda “high, tall”) in orhale “exalt”, pa.t. orhalde (orhalle), perf. orahallie. √OL “grow”, olle “became”, perf. olólie, ólie. Also from weak present: ehtelu- “well, bubble out” (< et-kelu), pa.t. ehtelle, perf. ehtelunelye (see below) or etekélie. [r] usually employs [rn]: √KAR: karne “made”, perf. akárie. √NDUR “grow, be, dark”: nure, nurne, unúrie (PE22/103).

For basic verb with stems ending in l, Tolkien generally favored ll past tenses (< nl), especially in the 1930s and 40s. In addition to the examples above there were:

  • ᴹQ. tol-tolle “stood” (PE22/117).
  • ᴹQ. vil-ville “*flew” (Ety/WIL).

There are, however, examples of l-stem verbs whose past seems to be reformed to match the perfect, most notably túle “came” (PE22/140; LR/47; SD/246) the past form of tul- “come” probably altered to make its perfect utúlie. It is hard to tell if this is a “new idea” or was inspired by an “old idea”, since in Early Qenya its past form was likewise túle (PE14/28) or túlie (PE14/57; PE16/124) using the Early Qenya past tense pattern of vowel-lengthening (see Conceptual Development below). It may be that past túle was an early form Tolkien wanted to retain and came up with a new justification for it. Indeed, even in 1969 when he decided the “normal” past tense was the result of nasal-suffixion, it seems he vacillated between tulde (PE22/158) and túle (PE22/140).

Verbs whose ancient stems ended in r show pasts with rn pretty much universally:

  • nor-norne “ran” (PE17/58).
  • quer-querne “turned” (VT49/20).
  • tar-tarne “stood” (PE17/71).
  • [ᴹQ.] mer-merne “*wished” (Ety/MER).
  • [ᴹQ.] tur-merne “*controlled” (Ety/TUR).

This was not generally true of verbs whose ancient stems ended in s > z > r:

s. This became [z] medially; but ns became prehistorically (common to Noldorin and Quenya) > ss. (Since later Q. tolerated ns this is sometimes found for pa.t. ss in late classical Q. and TQ.) This form was adopted since snḗ > zne > nne was obscure: this nn only survived in archaic poetic †lanne “heard” [lasnḗ], no doubt kept alive by frequent use together with kenne “saw”. So hlasta- “hear”; hlasse (†hlanne), perf. ahlázie. Similarly nusta “smell”: nusse, unúzie.

These ss/ns past tenses appear in Tolkien’s later writing as well: hríza “snow” with past forms hrinse and hrisse (PE17/168); the “modern” form of this is verb is probably hris- with the [z] dissimilating away from the preceding hr. There is one example, though, where it seems an originally s-stem verb developed a strong past tense rn after the sound change [z] > [r]: virne the (strong) past of virya- “change” derived from the root √WIS, which appears beside a half-strong past tense viranye (PE17/189).

y, w. Verbs with these medials rarely survived with full strong conjugations owing to the weakness, and from point of view of Q. phonetic insufficiency, of medial y, w after a short vowel. But several strong pasts survive. These always show addition of -nē. So: koita- “live, be alive”, pa.t. koine, perf. okoine [sic.]. √LAW “abound”: lauta, pa.t. laune, perf. alaunie used impersonally in Q. as malta launen “gold abounded to me” = “I had lots of gold” (PE22/103).

There are not any attested basic verbs whose stems end in y, w. Roots of this form require a formative suffix (tă, yă), putting them into the category of half-strong verbs. Some of these half-strong verbs have strong past tenses, produced by dropping the formative suffix and adding -ne. In addition to the examples above there is caine past tense caita- “to lie” (PE17/72; PE22/159).

To summarize, the most common patterns for basic verbs whose modern stems end in various consonants are:

  • p, t, k: Past tenses with nasal infixion: top-, cat-, tak-tompe, cante, tance.
  • s (< þ): Past tenses with nasal infixion: pas-panse (†patte).
  • m, n: Past tenses with ne-suffixion: cen-, nem-cenne, nemne.
  • f, h: Past tenses with pp, cc [kk]: raf-, lah-rappe, lacce.
  • v: Past tenses reformed after the perfect: lav-láve.
  • l: Past tenses with ll (< nl) or reformed after the perfect: tol-tolle, tul-túle.
    • If you accept Tolkien’s abandonment of ancient nasal-infixed past tenses, use ld (< ln): tol- → *tolde.
  • r: This case is the most variable, since it depends on how the r was derived:
    • r (< r): Past tenses with ne-suffixion: car-carne.
    • r (< z < s): Past tenses with ss, ns or reformed to rn: hlar-hlasse, hriz-hrinse, virya → (strong past) virne.
    • r (< d): Past tenses with nd, or reformed either to rn or after the perfect: rer-rende, nir-nirne, yor-yóre.

For beginners, it is probably easier to memorize the past tenses rather than the rules.

Weak Past Tenses of Derived Verbs: Most derived verbs ending in a or u formed a weak past tense by adding -ne to the unmodified stem: i nér laitane, laitanen “the man praised, I praised”; i nér lirune, lirunen “the man sang, I sang”. Tolkien discussed the past tenses of the various classes of derived verbs in QVS of the 1940s, and most classes used this weak pattern:

ā-verbs … The past tenses of such verbs could either be weak olane “grew, were growing”; or strong óle “grew, finished growing, grew up, became” (PE22/116).

ū̆-verbs … The past was weak lirŭne, kelŭne. Strong forms like kelle, ehtelle (ehtelu) were not strictly parts of the u-verb conjugation but parallel forms from defective unextended base-verb (PE22/117).

The causatives … The past is made with -nḗ: hence ortane, tultane, kaltane. Those with a long stem and short vowel before make past tense in -táne: niñqitáne (analog[ical] after áre, áva [gerund and future forms in the late 1940s]) (PE22/117).

QVS indicates that while ne-suffixion was the most common way of forming the past, some derived verbs had variant strong pasts formed directly from the root. The weak past is also the most common past tense for derived verbs elsewhere in Tolkien’s writing:

  • [ᴹQ.] lanta-lantane “fell” (SD/246, 310).
  • [ᴹQ.] onta-ontane “*begat” with strong variant óne (Ety/ON).
  • [ᴹQ.] sinta-sintane “*faded” (Ety/THIN).
  • [ᴹQ.] ulya-ulyane “*poured (transitive)” vs. (intransitive) strong past ulle (Ety/UL).
  • ahya-ahyane “*changed” (PM/395).
  • airita-airitáne “hallowed” (VT32/7).
  • ala-alane “*grew” with strong variant alde (PE22/164).
  • anta-antane “*gave” with archaic strong variant †áne (PE17/147).
  • apta-aptane “refused” (PE19/90).
  • ava-avane “*refused” with strong variant aune (WJ/370; VT49/13; PE22/164).
  • caita-caitane “*laid (transitive)” (PE22/164) vs. intransitive strong past caine (PE17/72; PE22/159).
  • fara-farane “*hunted” with strong variant farne (PE22/164).
  • fanta-fantane “veiled” with archaic strong past †fāne (PE17/174-5, PE17/180).
  • finta-fintane “*decorated” (PE17/17).
  • hehta-hehtane “*forsook” (WJ/365).
  • henta-hentăne “*examined” (PE17/77).
  • indu-indune “willed” (PE22/165).
  • kesta- → [deleted] kestane “asked” (PE22/139).
  • kesya-kesyane “*caused interest” (PE17/156).
  • komya- → [deleted] komyane “*collected” (PE17/157).
  • lelta-leltane “sent” (VT47/21).
  • mahta-mahtane “*wielded” (VT49/6).
  • niku-nicune “snowed” (PE17/168).
  • norta-nortane “rode” with augmented variant onortane (VT49/48).
  • ora-orane “*warned” with strong variant orne (VT41/13).
  • orta-ortane “raised” (LotR/377; Let/426; PE17/70).
  • penda-pendane “*sloped” (PE17/171).
  • tengwa-tengwane “*read” (VT49/48).
  • tenta-tentane “pointed” with deleted strong past tente (VT49/23).
  • tulya-tulyane “*lead” (PE22/164).

As indicated by several examples above, the weak past form is subject to prosodic lengthening when the verbal stem is long enough (trisyllabic): airitáne, ninquitáne, though not of course if the second-to-last syllable of the stem is heavy: ampanótane (PE22/114).

There are quite a few examples with both weak and strong past tenses. There is no universal pattern for when one might be used over the other, but in several verbs the weak past is transitive (caitane, ulyane) and the strong past is intransitive (caine, ulle). Likely the strong past is from the causative suffixes -tā, -yā and the weak past is from formative suffixes -tă, -yă dropped in the past tense, so in these cases the two past forms originate from distinct ancient verbs.

There are other occasional oddities like the past tense onortane “rode” with a vocalic augment versus more ordinary nortane. These are probably remnants of a competing ancient past tense formation with vocalic augment, as seen in the Sindarin past, but until we get more information about them, I would ignore them for the purposes of Neo-Quenya.

Half-strong past tenses: In QVS, Tolkien identified two classes of verbs that formed “half-strong” past tenses: those with formative suffixes -tă, -yă and the talat-stem verbs. In these verbs, the past tense was formed with nasal infixion before the last consonant:

Past. This was originally formed “strong” with n-intrusion before the last consonant: as sirya: sirinye “flowed”; talta: talante. Where the stem was of √AT type this past could be made from ’ta-form: as orta: *rontē “rose”; ista: sinte “knew”. But few examples — only sinte “knew” is common — survive; the usual form is oronte “rose”.

 

Where the base was verbal a strong form without present affix frequently appeared: so kenya “see”; pa.t. always kenne. lasta “hear”; pa.t. lasse. síre beside sirinye.

The talat-stems tended to be weak: thus taltane beside talante; or sulpane only (not *sulumpe).

Similarly naktane [elsewhere nahtane] “slew” beside analogical nahante. Since the stem is historically √NDAG the historic pasts would have been *ndañge or *nda’ante (PE22/115).

I use the term “half-strong” pasts to distinguish them from the ordinary “strong” past formed directly from the primitive root; this terminology is useful because many verbs have both “half-strong” and “strong” past tense variants. The way that the formatives and talat-stem verbs arrived at the half-strong past tense is a bit different. For the talat-stem verbs, these half-strong past were simply derived from the ordinary Common Eldarin nasal-infixed past tense. There was a general trend among talat-stem verbs towards the weak conjugation, however, and many talat-stems verbs had variant weak past tenses, some of which replaced the original half-strong past completely:

  • [ᴹQ.] sulpa- → archaic †sulumpe “*lapped up”, later replaced by weak sulpane (PE22/115).
  • talta-talante “*fell” vs. weak taltane (PE17/186).
  • karpa-karampe “*spoke” (PE17/126).

Among formative verbs, the half-strong past involved a special formation in CE, where the nasal was inserted before the formative suffix along with an extra base vowel which was added to make the form pronounceable: siryăsir-i-n-y-e. This class verbs was large enough that the half-strong past usually survived. However, weak or strong past tense variants are still pretty common:

  • [ᴹQ.] lanta-lantane “fell”, weak only (SD/246, 310).
  • [ᴹQ.] nahta-nahante “slew” (PE22/115) vs. weak nahtane (PE22/102).
  • [ᴹQ.] sirya-sirinye “*flowed” vs. strong síre (PE22/115).
  • amya-amanye (PE17/157; deleted forms).
  • hrisya-hrisinye “*snowed” vs. strong hrinte (PE17/168; deleted forms).
  • lelya-lende “*went” strongly only (WJ/363).
  • lenweta-lenwente “*migrated” (PE17/51).
  • nahta-nakante “slew” (PE22/156) vs. strong nanke (PE22/157).
  • melya-melenye (PE17/77).
  • menta-menne (intransitive), strongly only (PE17/93).
  • ninquita-ninquinte “*whitened” (PE22/157) vs. weak [ᴹQ.] ninquitáne (PE22/117).
  • orta-oronte “rose” intransitive vs. transitive ortane “raised” (PE22/164).
  • orya-oronye “*rose” (PE22/164) vs. weak oryane (PE22/157).
  • sirya-sirinye “*flowed” (PE22/164) vs. weak siryane (PE22/157).
  • tankata-tankante “*fixed” (PE17/76).
  • tenta-tenante [sic.] “*indicated” vs. weak tentane (VT49/23).
  • tenya-tenne “*arrived” strongly only (VT49/24).
  • virya-virinye “*changed” vs. strong virne (PE17/189).

There is quite a lot of variation here, and many (but not all) of the variant forms coexisted in a single source. One special subgroup of the formatives are those formed from roots ending in Y or W, where the formative suffix was required not by the meaning of the verb but by its phonetic character; without the formative suffix the inflected forms would be extremely irregular. This group of verbs could have past tenses that were either half-strong (as above) or strong (from the root + -nē), but the half-strong pasts where rather peculiar:

  • [ᴹQ.] lauta-laune “abounded”, strong only (PE22/103).
  • koite-koine “*lived”, strong only (PE22/152).
  • auta-oante “went away” vs. strong váne (WJ/366).
  • kaita-keante “went away” vs. strong kaine (PE22/157).
  • raita-rëante “*smiled” (PE17/182).

These unusual half-strong past forms were the result of phonetic developments like aya > ëa [*kayantē > keante] and awa > öa [*awantē > oante], and apparently they were common enough that they frequently survive.

Summary: To summarize, there are four major ways the past tense might be formed in Quenya:

  • Strong past: From nasal infixion (cat-cante) or suffixion (car-carne) directly to the primitive root.
  • Weak past: From derived verbs, ne-suffixion to the stem: henta-hentane, liru-lirune.
  • Half-strong past: Nasal infixion before the last consonant, for talat-stem verbs (talta-talante) or formative verbs (sirya-sirinye).
  • Reformed to perfect: A reformed past matching the perfect if the past was too irregular to survive: lav-láve (after perfect alávie) replacing older †lambe.

As a general rule, basic verbs have strong pasts and most derived verbs have weak pasts, except the talat-stem and formative verbs which tend to have half-strong pasts. Some basic verbs tend to reform their past to match the perfect, notably those with stems ending in v (lav-láve) or l (tul-túle).

There are, however, many exceptions to these rules, due to (a) competing past tense formations in Common Eldarin and (b) competing patterns for reforming past tenses in Quenya. The result is a past tense system that is quite irregular. For example, basic verbs ending in l might have pasts with ll from ancient nasal-infix (tunle > tulle), pasts with ld from ancient nasal-suffix (tulne > tulde) or pasts reformed after the perfect (túle). The formative verbs might have a strong past from ancient forms that dropped the formative suffix (nahta-nance), the “normal” half-strong past (nahta-nacante) or a reformed weak past (nahta-nahtane).

To make things even more complicated, some verbs have different past tenses if they are used transitively (with a past derived from an ancient causative verb) or intransitively (with a past derived from an ancient formative verb). The transitive pasts are typically weak, and the intransitive pasts can be either strong or half-strong:

  • ulya- → weak ulyane “poured (something)” vs. strong ulle “poured (out)”.
  • orta- → weak ortane “raised” vs. half-strong oronte “rose”.

The end result is past-tense tense system full of irregularities.

Conceptual Development: The past tense in Early Qenya was also very irregular. In the Early Qenya of the 1910s, Tolkien had not yet invented a distinct perfect tense, so there was no other tense referring to the past. Thorsten Renk looked at these early past tenses in some detail in his article on the Quenya Past Tense (QPT). In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, there were a lot of competing past tense forms, the main competition being between nasal-infixion vs. vowel-lengthening.

  • ᴱ√HAŘA [HAÐA] > ᴱQ. har- “remain” → past hande vs. hāre (QL/39).
  • ᴱ√LAQA > ᴱQ. laqa- “catch” → past lanqe vs. lāqe (QL/51).
  • ᴱ√LUTU > ᴱQ. lutu- “float” → past lunte vs. lūte (PE16/56-57, 60).
  • ᴱ√NAKA > ᴱQ. naka- “bite” → past nanke vs. nāke (QL/64).
  • ᴱ√QISI > ᴱQ. qisi- “whisper” → past qisse [< *qinsē] vs. qīse (QL/77).
  • ᴱ√RAŘA [RAÐA] > ᴱQ. rara- “scrape” → past rande vs. rāre (QL/77).

The examples above show both nasal-infixed and vowel-lengthened past forms on a single verb, but the majority of Early Qenya basic verbs show only one form or the other. Depending on the final consonant, some past tenses were favored over others: verbs whose primitive stem ended in a liquid favor vowel lengthening (mal-māle, pere-pēre) whereas those ending in voiceless stops favor nasal infixion (mata-mante, sipi-simpe). However, this pattern was not universal: liquids sometimes have past tenses with -lle (< -nle) and -rne (either a nasal-suffix or metathesis) and voiceless stops sometimes have past tenses with lengthened vowels (see above).

Verbs whose primitive stem contained a syllabic ḷ, ṛ, ṇ also formed past tenses via ancient lengthening. Here the result was frequent vowel gradations in the past tense, due to the differences in the phonetic developments of short vs. long syllable consonants:

  • ᴱ√MṆTYṆ > ᴱQ. minty- “remind” → past mantye [< *mṇ̄tʲē] (QL/62).
  • ᴱ√NṆGṆ > ᴱQ. nang- “have a cold” → past nange [< *nṇ̄gē] (QL/66).
  • ᴱ√QINGI [?QṆGṆ] > ᴱQ. qingi- “twang” → past qange [< *kʷṇ̄gē] (QL/66).
  • ᴱ√SṆTYṆ > ᴱQ. sinty- “sparkle” → past santye [< *sṇ̄tʲē] (QL/85).
  • ᴱ√TṂPṂ > ᴱQ. tump- “build” → past tampe [< *tṃ̄pē] (QL/93).
  • ᴱ√TṆQṆ > ᴱQ. tunq- “hear” → past tanqe [< *tṇ̄kʷē] (QL/62).
  • ᴱ√(U)ṆQ(U)Ṇ¹ [ṆQṆ¹] > ᴱQ. unq- “hook into” → past anqe [< *ṇ̄kʷē] (QL/98).
  • ᴱ√(U)ṆQ(U)Ṇ² [ṆQṆ²] > ᴱQ. †unqu- “hear” → past anqe [< *ṇ̄kʷē] (QL/98).
  • ᴱ√DẎṆTṆ [or ẎṆTṆ] > ᴱQ. yanta- “augment” → past yante [< *yṇ̄tē] (QL/66).
  • ᴱ√ḶKḶ² > ᴱQ. ilk- “seem” → past alke [< *ḹkē] (QL/42).
  • ᴱ√KḶKḶ > ᴱQ. kilk- “reap” → past kalka [rather than expected kalke] (QL/47).
  • ᴱ√KḶPḶ > ᴱQ. kulp- “contain” → past kalpe [< *kḹpē] (QL/47).
  • ᴱ√MLŘL [MḶÐḶ] > ᴱQ. mild- “pound” → past malde [< *mḹðē] (QL/62).
  • ᴱ√MḶKḶ > ᴱQ. milk- “possess” → past malke [< *mḹkē] (QL/62).
  • ᴱ√PḶTYḶ > ᴱQ. pilty- “strike” → past paltye [< *pḹtʲē] (QL/74).
  • ᴱ√QḶŘḶ [QḶÐḶ] > ᴱQ. qildi- “be quiet” → past qalde [< *kʷḹðē] (QL/78).
  • ᴱ√SḶKḶ > ᴱQ. silki- “mow” → past salke [< *sḹkē] (QL/84).
  • ᴱ√SḶTḶ > ᴱQ. silt- “sift” → past salte [< *sḹtē] (QL/84).
  • ᴱ√SḶPḶ > ᴱQ. sulp- “lick” → past salpe [< *sḹpē] (QL/84).
  • ᴱ√TḶDḶ > ᴱQ. tildi- “cover” → past talde [< *tḹdē] (QL/93).
  • ᴱ√TḶTḶ > ᴱQ. tilt- “make slope” → past talte [< *tḹtē] (QL/93).
  • ᴱ√TḶPḶ > ᴱQ. tulpu- “uphold” → past talpe [< *tḹpē] (QL/93).
  • ᴱ√(U)ḶQ(U)Ḷ [ḶQḶ] > ᴱQ. ulqu- “rend” → past alqe [< *ḹkʷē] (QL/97).
  • ᴱ√VḶKḶ > ᴱQ. vilki- “cut” → past valke [< *vḹkē] (QL/101).
  • ᴱ√‘ṚMṚ > ᴱQ. arm- “gather” → past arme [< *ṝmē] (QL/102).
  • ᴱ√TṚQṚ > ᴱQ. tarqa- “preserve” → past tarqe [< *tṝkʷē] (QL/94).
  • ᴱ√TṚTYṚ > ᴱQ. tirty- “partition” → past tartye [< *sṝtʲē] (QL/94).
  • ᴱ√VṚTYṚ > ᴱQ. virti- “serve” → past vartye [< *vṝtʲē] (QL/102).

Early Qenya derived verbs frequently have a weak past with the suffix -ne, especially for u-verbs. In the case of u-verbs, the past suffix sometimes preserved an earlier long ū:

  • ᴱQ. allu- “wash” → past allune (QL/30).
  • ᴱQ. kal(l)u- “illuminate” → past kallune (QL/44).
  • ᴱQ. malu- “devour” → past malūne, variant maltune (QL/58).
  • ᴱQ. nuru- or nūru- “growl” → past nurūne (QL/68).
  • ᴱQ. qelu- “well up” → past qelūne (QL/76).

Derived verbs ending in a often had weak pasts, but sometimes had a strong past as well:

  • ᴱQ. fanta- “fall asleep” → past fantane vs. strong fante (QL/37).
  • ᴱQ. lampa- “beat” → past lampane (QL/51).
  • ᴱQ. likinda- “blow a trumpet” → past likindane (QL/54).
  • ᴱQ. lokta- “sprout” → past loktane (QL/55).
  • ᴱQ. lopeta- “amble” → past lopetāne (QL/56).
  • ᴱQ. minda- “diminish” → past mindane (QL/61).
  • ᴱQ. niqista- “snow” → past niqistane (QL/66).
  • ᴱQ. olta- “magnify” → past oltane (QL/69).
  • ᴱQ. peanta- “enjoin” → past peantane vs. strong peane (QL/72).
  • ᴱQ. pelekta- “hew” → past pelektane vs. strong pelenke (QL/73).
  • ᴱQ. piekta- “prick” → past piektane (QL/73).
  • ᴱQ. rista- “plant” → past ristane (QL/80).
  • ᴱQ. rukta- “smoke” → past ruktane (QL/80).
  • ᴱQ. saikelta- “starve” → past saikeltane (QL/82).
  • ᴱQ. sesta- “compare” → past sestane (QL/82).
  • ᴱQ. tanta- “dance” → past tantane (QL/94).
  • ᴱQ. tiuta- “strengthen” → past tiutane vs. strong tīwe (QL/93).
  • ᴱQ. tunda- “tunda” → past tundane (QL/96).
  • ᴱQ. wasta- “dwell” → past wastane (QL/102).

Large numbers of derived verbs had only strong pasts, however:

  • ᴱQ. anta- “give” → past āne (QL/31).
  • ᴱQ. halta- “leap” → past halle [< *hanlē] (QL/39).
  • ᴱQ. húta- “whoop” → past hue [< ᴱ√HUHU¹] (QL/41).
  • ᴱQ. kapta- “startle” → past kāpe (QL/45).
  • ᴱQ. konta- “roll up” → past kōme [< ᴱ√KOMO] (QL/47).
  • ᴱQ. kosta- “debate” → past kōse (QL/48).
  • ᴱQ. linta- “soothe” → past līne (QL/54).
  • ᴱQ. makta- “slay” → past māke (QL/58).
  • ᴱQ. mukta- “cacare [Latin]” → past mūke (QL/63).
  • ᴱQ. nauta- “guess” → past nāve [< ᴱ√NAVA] (QL/65).
  • ᴱQ. nesta- “feed” → past nēse or nesse [< *nensē] (QL/66).
  • ᴱQ. panta- “open” → past pante (QL/72).
  • ᴱQ. poita- “cleanse” → past poine (QL/75).
  • ᴱQ. pukta- “copulate” → past pue [< ᴱ√PU(HU)] vs. irreg. pūke (QL/75).
  • ᴱQ. poita- “cleanse” → past poine (QL/75).
  • ᴱQ. qosta- “choke” → past qōre [< ᴱ√QOÐO] or qōse (QL/78).
  • ᴱQ. rakta- “reach” → past rai or [< ᴱ√RAHA] (QL/78).
  • ᴱQ. rauta- “hunt” → past rāve [< ᴱ√RAVA] (QL/79).
  • ᴱQ. resta- “aid” → past rēse (QL/79).
  • ᴱQ. ripta- “aid” → past rīpe (QL/80).
  • ᴱQ. sahta- “be hot” → past sai [< ᴱ√SAHA] (QL/81).
  • ᴱQ. saita- “be hunger” → past sanye or sāye [< ᴱ√SAẎA] (QL/82).
  • ᴱQ. sehta- “see” → past sie (QL/82).
  • ᴱQ. tanta- “bounce” → past tante (QL/93).
  • ᴱQ. tunta- “notice” → past tūne (QL/95).
  • ᴱQ. tyulta- “stick up” → past tyūle (QL/50).
  • ᴱQ. vasta- “rush” → past vasse [< *vanse] (QL/100).

Conversely, some examples non-derived verbs were reinterpreted and assigned weak pasts. This includes a few basic verbs that originally had syllabic consonants for their vowel, but there are other examples as well (talta-stem verbs?):

  • ᴱ√KṆŘṆ [KṆÐṆ] > ᴱQ. kanda- “blaze” → weak past kandane vs. strong kande [< *kṇ̄ðē] (QL/84).
  • ᴱ√QṆTṆ > ᴱQ. qanta- “fill” → weak past qantane vs. strong qante [< *kʷṇ̄tē] (QL/78).
  • ᴱ√SḶPḶ > ᴱQ. salpa- “sip” → weak past salpane (QL/84).
  • ᴱQ. tompo- “bang” → weak past tompone [< ᴱ√TOMPO] (QL/94).
  • ᴱQ. tyosto- “cough” → weak past tyostone [< ᴱ√TYOSO] (QL/50).

There are a large number of Early Qenya verbs with “half-strong” past tenses (according to later terminology), though some also have either weak or strong variants. One notable characteristic of these early half-strong (formative?) verbs is that the stem ends in the base vowel, with -i, -u > -e, -o:

  • ᴱQ. avalta- “strip” → past avalante vs. weak avaltane (QL/34).
  • ᴱQ. kalta- “set light to” → past kalante (QL/44).
  • ᴱQ. lahta- “‽” → past lahante (QL/50).
  • ᴱQ. lekte- “join together” → past leqente [< ᴱ√LEQE] (QL/53).
  • ᴱQ. mekte- “aim at” → past mekente (QL/60).
  • ᴱQ. nikte- “cleanse” → past niqente [< ᴱ√NIQI] (QL/66).
  • ᴱQ. nohto- “stick out” → past nonte [< ᴱ√NOHO] (QL/66).
  • ᴱQ. olto- “burden” → (transitive vs. intransitive) past olonte vs. strong ōle (QL/69).
  • ᴱQ. orto- “raise” → past oronte (QL/70).
  • ᴱQ. otto- “knock” → past otonte (QL/71).
  • ᴱQ. pelte- “run” → past pelente (QL/73).
  • ᴱQ. pipte- “hang” → past pipente (QL/74).
  • ᴱQ. piute- “flourish” → past piwente or pivente (QL/74).
  • ᴱQ. rakta- “pile” → past rakante (QL/78).
  • ᴱQ. silte- “flicker” → past silinte (QL/83).
  • ᴱQ. sokto- “drench” → past sokonte (QL/85).
  • ᴱQ. sorto- “settle” → past soronte (QL/85).
  • ᴱQ. talta- “burden” → past talante vs. strong tāle (QL/88).
  • ᴱQ. tyasta- “put to the test” → past tyasante (QL/49).
  • ᴱQ. ulto- “pour” → past ulunte (QL/97).

The early ya-verbs behaved quite differently, though. They seemed to form pasts by adding the suffix -ne directly to the y of the verb, so that -yne > -ine, as in: tintya- → past tintine. This could have various phonetic effects on the preceding consonant, including the frequent introduction s or t (either via a normal sound change like ti > tsi or by analogy with other past tenses).

  • ᴱQ. kitya- “tickle” → past ekitsine (QL/47).
  • ᴱQ. linya- “run smoothly” → past lintine (QL/54).
  • ᴱQ. listya- “bless” → past listine (QL/55).
  • ᴱQ. mirtya- “grin” → past mirtine (QL/61).
  • ᴱQ. mauya- “cry” → past mausine (QL/60).
  • ᴱQ. naitya- “damage” → past naïksine (QL/65).
  • ᴱQ. niqisya- “snow” → past niqistine (QL/66).
  • ᴱQ. orya- “sow” → past orīne [irreg.] (QL/70).
  • ᴱQ. paitya- “repay” → past paisine (QL/72).
  • ᴱQ. palasya- “splash” → past palastine (QL/72).
  • ᴱQ. panya- “plan” → past pantine (QL/72).
  • ᴱQ. pietya- “prick” → past pieksine (QL/73).
  • ᴱQ. poitya- “clean” → past poiksine (QL/75).
  • ᴱQ. purya- “set fire to” → past pustine [< ᴱ√PUÐU] or purīne (QL/75).
  • ᴱQ. qilya- “adorn” → past qīlline vs. strong qīle (QL/77).
  • ᴱQ. qeletya- “perish” → past qeleksine (QL/76).
  • ᴱQ. saitya- “starve” → past saiksine (QL/82).
  • ᴱQ. sutya- “sweeten” → past suksine (QL/87).
  • ᴱQ. tatya- “feel for” → past tapsine [< ᴱ√TAPA] (QL/89).
  • ᴱQ. tenya- “touch” → past tentine (QL/91).
  • ᴱQ. tintya- “sparkle” → past tintine (QL/92).
  • ᴱQ. turya- “catch fire” → past tustine (QL/96).
  • ᴱQ. ’winya- “flash” → past ’wintine (QL/104).

By the 1930s and 40s ya-verb pasts were mostly replaced by weak or half-strong forms (siryasirinye). However, there is at least one example of an “Early Qenya style” past form of a ya-verb in Tolkien’s later writing: lelya- “attract” → past lēline (PE17/151).

The past tenses in the Quenya Lexicon end in -e, consistent with the past forms in The Qenya Verb Forms also written around this time (PE14/28). In the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s, however, past tenses of basic verbs ended in -ie, though weak pasts still showed final -ne (PE14/57-58). As Tolkien described it:

The past stem is obtained by the suffix -ye, (i̯ie >) -ie, or -ne; but -ie (the commonest) is normally accompanied by stem strengthening consisting of (1) a-infixion, (2) n-infixion, (3) vowel lengthening (this last perhaps largely an analogical extension from the ā resulting in many stems). The stems that apparently have an original stem vowel ḷ, ṛ, ṇ () thus often show a kind of vowel gradation between il, ul &c., the product in the normal stems, and al &c., the product (either by nasal infixion or a ?) in the past.

There are no obvious examples of past tenses involving a-infixion in the 1920s, but attested pasts of basic verbs from the 1920s show the same competition between nasal-infixion and vowel lengthening seen in the 1910s, the main change being that the strong past tenses now ended in -ie, sometimes triggering various phonetic changes like ti > tsi > si:

  • ᴱQ. kala- “shine” → past kálie (PE14/46) or kallie [< *kanlie] (PE16/75) vs. earlier kāle (QL/44).
  • ᴱQ. kapta- “leap” → (strong) past kampie (PE14/56).
  • ᴱQ. karp- “pluck” → past karpie [< *kṝpje] (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. kiri- “cleave” → past kírie (PE16/100).
  • ᴱQ. lilt- “dance” → past lalsie (†laltye) [< *lḹtje] (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. mapa- “seize” → past nampie (†mampie) (PE14/58; PE15/76) vs. earlier nampe (QL/59).
  • ᴱQ. mata- “eat” → past mansie (†mantye) (PE14/58) vs. earlier mante (QL/59).
  • ᴱQ. mel- “love” → past mélie (PE14/57) vs. earlier mēle (QL/60).
  • ᴱQ. pist- “spit” → past pastie, pastye [< *pṣ̄tje] (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. qet- “say” → past qensie [< *kʷentje] (PE14/58) vs. earlier qente (QL/77).
  • ᴱQ. silt- “sift” → past salsie [< *sḹtje] (PE14/58) vs. earlier salte (QL/84).
  • ᴱQ. soro- “sit” → past sōrie (PE14/46; PE15/77) vs. earlier sōre (QL/85).
  • ᴱQ. sulp- “lick” → past salpie [< *sḹpje] (PE14/58) vs. earlier salpe (QL/84).
  • ᴱQ. tanta- “bounce” → past tansie, tantye [< *tṇ̄tje] (PE14/58) vs. earlier tante (QL/93).
  • ᴱQ. tiqi- “melt” → past tinqie or tíqie (PE14/58) vs. earlier tinqe (QL/92).
  • ᴱQ. tulu- “come” → past tūlie (PE14/57; PE16/124) vs. earlier tūle (PE14/28).
  • ᴱQ. tump- “beat” → past tampie [< *tṃ̄pjē] (PE14/58) vs. earlier tampe (QL/93).
  • ᴱQ. tunq- “hear” → past tanqie [< *tṇ̄kʷjē] (PE14/58) vs. earlier tanqe (QL/93).
  • ᴱQ. tuvu- “receive” → past túvie (PE14/58) vs. earlier tūve (QL/96).

Derived verbs in the 1920s mostly behaved as they did in the 1910s, except their strong pasts were sometimes formed with -ie:

  • ᴱQ. hari- “hate” → weak past harīne vs. strong hărie (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. kaita- “lie” → strong past kaine (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. kelu- “flow” → weak past kelūne vs. strong kelwie (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. lapta- “?” → weak past laptăne (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. lokta- “sprout” → half-strong past lokante (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. maktya- “kill” → ya-verb past maksine (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. tanga- “beat” → weak past tangane (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. tantila- “hop” → weak past tantilane vs. strong tantille (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. tantya- “set bouncing” → ya-verb past tansĭne (PE14/58).
  • ᴱQ. tulya- “bring” → ya-verb past tulĭne (PE14/58).

The Qenya Conjugations from early 1920s also show past forms with -ie (PE16/124-127), along with a similarly formed perfect, distinguished from the past by short vs. long pronominal suffixes: 1st person tūlien (past) vs. tūlienye (perfect), 2nd person tūliel (past) vs. tūlieste (perfect), etc. Starting later in the 1920s, though, these ie-past forms started to fall out of Tolkien’s favor. In English-Quenya Dictionary (PE15/67-79) and Quenya word lists (PE16/132-145) written the mid to late 1920s, some strong past forms appear with only e along with some ye- and ie-pasts:

  • ᴱQ. kar- “leap” → past kárie or karne (PE15/71).
  • ᴱQ. lata- “be able to” → past lante (PE15/71).
  • ᴱQ. lilt- “dance” → past lalsie (†laltye) [< *lḹtje] (PE15/71).
  • ᴱQ. mala- “be able to” → past malle (PE15/67).
  • ᴱQ. mapa- or mapta- “ravish” → past nampie (PE15/76).
  • ᴱQ. soro- “sit” → past sórie (PE15/77).
  • ᴱQ. tanta- “dance” → past tantye [< *tṇ̄tje] (PE15/71).
  • ᴱQ. vana- “pass, depart” → past vanye (PE15/76).
  • ᴱQ. elta- “drive” → strong past elle (PE16/133).
  • ᴱQ. ista- “know” → strong past íse (PE16/133).
  • ᴱQ. tul- “come” → past túlie (PE16/133).
  • ᴱQ. hyal- “resound” → past hyalle (PE16/144).
  • ᴱQ. ná- “to be” → past nanye (PE16/141).
  • ᴱQ. pal- “shake” → past palle (PE16/143).
  • ᴱQ. qal- “die” → past qalle (PE16/134, 143).
  • ᴱQ. sal- “?remove” → past salle ( PE16/143).

In drafts of the ᴱQ. Oilima Markirya from the late 1920s we see a variety of forms for the past tense of lutu- “float, sail”: lunte (drafts 1a-1b, PE16/56-57), lūte (draft 1c, PE16/60) and lútie as it appeared in the final poem (MC/216). It’s hard to discern a pattern in these vacillations, but there seems to be a propensity for ie-pasts to appear with vowel-lengthened forms (including lengthened syllabic consonants) and a tendency for pasts with nasal infixion or suffixion to use only -e: compare karne vs. kárie (PE15/71). These distinctions may represent the gradual emergence of the distinct past and perfect tenses as Tolkien conceived of them in his later writings.

In the 1930s and 40s, Tolkien gradually abandoned -ie as a suffix for the past tense. The “last gasp” of the ie-past may be the early versions of the poem I call the ᴹQ. Lament of Atalante. The first versions of this poem appeared in the The Lost Road from the 1930s (LR/47, 56), and they contain several ie-forms that look like past tenses: lantier “fell [plural]”, ullier “poured [plural]”. However, the 1930s versions of the poem also contains several strong past forms that without -ie: tūle “came”, kāre “made”, lende “went”. In later versions of the poem from the 1940s, “fell” was remade into a weak past lantaner but ullier “poured” remained unchanged (SD/247, 310). Some of these “pasts” may have been reinterpreted as “perfects” in later versions of the poem, or they may have been loosely translated perfects all the way back in the 1930s.

In any case, there are no signs of ie-past forms in The Etymologies written around 1937. All the strong past forms there use nasal infixion or suffixion, with a couple exceptions showing vowel lengthening:

  • ᴹQ. farya- “suffice” → farne (Ety/PHAR) vs. half-strong farinye (EtyAC/PHAR).
  • ᴹQ. hat- “break asunder” → hante (Ety/SKAT).
  • ᴹQ. kar- “make” → karne (Ety/KAR).
  • ᴹQ. lenna- “go” → lende (Ety/LED).
  • ᴹQ. onta- “go” → óne vs. weak ontane (Ety/ONO).
  • ᴹQ. rer- “sow” → rende (Ety/RED).
  • ᴹQ. tak- “fasten” → tanke (Ety/TAK).
  • ᴹQ. tam- “tap” → tamne (Ety/TAM).
  • ᴹQ. tap- “stop” → tampe (Ety/TAP).
  • ᴹQ. tir- “watch” → tirne (Ety/TIR).
  • ᴹQ. top- “cover” → tompe (Ety/TOP).
  • ᴹQ. tur- “control” → turne (Ety/TUR).
  • ᴹQ. vil- [>> wil-] “fly” → ville [< *winlē] (Ety/WIL).
  • ᴹQ. ulya- “pour” → ulle vs. weak ulyane (Ety/ULU).
  • ᴹQ. um- “not be, not do” [< ᴹ√UMU] → úme (Ety/UGU).
  • ᴹQ. vanya- “depart” → vanne (Ety/WAN).

The strong past forms óne and úme, along with the occasional appearance of káre and túle, are probably remnants of the alternate Early Qenya past-tense formation using vowel lengthening. Starting with the 1930s, though, such forms are very much the exception rather than the rule. Tolkien eventually contrived a new reason for these forms in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) written in the late 1940s, as borrowing from the (newly invented) perfect tense, as described above (PE22/103). There are, however, a few examples of vowel-lengthened (archaic?) strong pasts of derived verbs in Tolkien’s later writing that where it is less likely (though not impossible) they were reformed from the perfect, so it is not clear whether he entirely abandoned the concept of vowel-lengthened pasts, especially since vowel-lengthening was a feature of the Sindarin past tense system:

  • [ᴹQ.] sirya-sirinye “*flowed” vs. strong síre vs. perfect isírie (PE22/115).
  • anta-antane “*gave” with archaic strong variant †áne vs. perfect ānie (PE17/147).
  • fanta-fantane “veiled” with archaic strong past †fāne vs. perfect afānie (PE17/174-5, PE17/180).

Tolkien went on to describe his new past/perfect system in great detail in QVS, and the system remained more or less them same thereafter except for some very late (and possibly experimental) ideas for removing ancient nasal-infixion as noted above (PE22/151).

To summarize the conceptual development of the Quenya past tense:

  • For basic verbs:
    • Early Qenya had two competing strong past formations with either nasal infixion (mante) or vowel lengthening (túle).
    • In the early 1920s he switched strong pasts to use the suffix -ie with various phonetic effects on the preceding consonant (mansie, túlie).
    • In the late 1920s and 1930s Tolkien gradually abandoned ie-pasts, eventually repurposing this suffix for the perfect.
    • By the 1940s Tolkien also abandoned ancient vowel-lengthened past forms, explaining such forms as reformations from the perfect instead.
  • For derived verbs:
    • Even in Early Qenya, many derived verbs had weak past forms with -ne, but it was also quite common for derived verbs to have only a strong past derived from the root: lampa-lampane vs. kapta-kāpe.
    • In Early Qenya there were past forms resembling the later half-strong past like orto-oronte, but only for “formative” verbs with t.
    • Early Qenya ya-verbs had pasts ending with -ine with various phonetic effects on the preceding consonant: listya-listine, poitya-poiksine.
    • Evidence of half-strong pasts for ya-formative verbs appears in The Etymologies of the 1930s: farya- > farinye (EtyAC/PHAR).
    • Tolkien discussed the past tense forms of derived verbs in great detail in the 1940s Quenya Verbal System, and seems to have more or less stuck with that system thereafter.

Neo-Quenya: For purposes of Neo-Quenya, I recommend ignoring Tolkien’s very late vacillations on nasal infixion and stick with the system he used for most of the 1930s through 1960s, where basic verbs form past tenses using either nasal infixion or nasal suffixion (but mostly infixion). Given all the competing possibilities for past forms in Quenya, it is frequently impossible to know the proper past tense of a verb from its stem form alone. New students of Quenya are better off memorizing past tenses and trying to internalize the system rather than learning the many possible rules for past tense formation. The past and present forms are often only vaguely related to each other. This is not too different from people learning English, which has a similarly irregular system of past tenses: “see” vs. “saw”, “come” vs. “came”, “walk” vs. “walked”, “pin” vs. “pinned”.

However, there are a large number of verbs with no attested past tense, and we need some kind of heuristic to determine their past tense. I suggest the following:

  1. For most basic verbs, assume a strong nasal infixed or suffixed past tense with sound changes as appropriate:
    • p, t, k, s (from þ) → mp, nt, nk, ns.
    • l, f, hll, pp, kk.
    • m, n, rmn, nn, rn.
  2. Especially unstable basis pasts are reformed to match the perfect: tyav-, lav-tyáve, láve (†tyambe,lambe).
  3. Derived verbs ending in a and u-verbs mostly have weak pasts ending in -ne: henta-hentane, liru-lirune.
  4. Intransitive verbs ending in ta and (especially) ya probably have half-strong pasts: sirya-sirinye, tankata-tankante.

In cases where the transitive and intransitive variants of derived verbs use the same consonant in their suffixes, you might have different pasts or perfects depending on whether a verb is used transitively or intransitively. However, the suffix -tā is more common for transitives, and -yă more common for intransitives, so overlaps with -tă intransitives or -yā transitives are relatively rare.

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