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Quenya Grammar P72: Active Participles

Note: I skipped P71 because it is just small bridge chapter introducing participles.


The Quenya active participle resembles the English present participle: matila “eating”. When an active participle is used as an adjective (i matila atan “the eating man”), the modified noun functions like the subject of the verbal action (“the eating man” is the one who eats). In Tolkien’s later writing, we have two main sources of information about the active participle: the final version of the Markirya poem composed sometime in the 1960s and some Late Notes on Verb Structure (LVS) written in 1969. In the latter Tolkien said:

the verbal adjs. or participles formed with {-la >> -ila >>} -(i)lā and capable of expressing tense (PE22/154 and note #52).

Adjectival. 1. The verbal participles (capable like the definite infin. ita of taking pronominal affixes) in {-la >>} -ila. Thus from √KAR were made: a) aor. indef[inite] karila, doing; perfect káriela; future karuvaila. Only these 3 forms were made: the aor. was used as a present; the perfect functioned as “past” because this participle, the least frequently used, was only employed of a past immediately preceding the time of a subsequent and often consequential action or event (PE22/155 and note #59).

This document includes several examples:

  • ista-istaila “*knowing” (PE22/156).
  • kaita-kaitaila “*lying” (PE22/156).
  • kar-karila “doing” (PE22/155).
  • kuita-kuitaila “*living” (PE22/156).
  • nahta-nahtaila “*slaying” (PE22/156).
  • núta-nútaila “*lowering” (PE22/156).
  • orya-oryaila “*rising” (PE22/156).
  • tir-tirila “watching (something)” (PE22/155).
  • tulta-tultaila “*sending” (PE22/156).

Many of these replaced deleted forms without ai: istila, kaitila, kuitila, nahtila, orila. Most of the examples have the active participle suffix -ila added to the aorist stem, but according to these notes the suffix could also be added to the (augmentless) perfect and future stems as well: matila “eating”, mátiela “having eaten”, matuvaila “will be eating”.

The examples from the Markirya poem follow a slightly different pattern, with active participles using the suffix -la (MC/222):

  • amorta-amortala “heaving”.
  • falasta-falastala “surging”.
  • fifíru-fifírula “fading”.
  • háka-hákala “yawning”.
  • hlapu-hlápula “blowing”.
  • ilka-ilkala “gleaming”.
  • nurru-nurrula “mumbling”.
  • píka-píkala “waning”.
  • rúma-rúmala “moving”.
  • ruxa-ruxal[a] “crumbling”.
  • sisíla-sisílala “shining”.
  • talta-taltala “falling”.
  • tihta-tihtala “blinking”.

This may simply be another paradigm for forming the active participle, as indicated by the revisions in LVS of -la >> -ila. However, some of the verb forms in Markiya are rather unusual: háka-, píka-, and rúma- all resemble present continuous/imperfect tenses rather than aorist verb stems, for unattested verbs *hak-, *pik-, *rum-. Thus it is conceivable these are actually imperfect active participles, indicating an ongoing action rather than a single act. If so, this imperfect active participle seems to be formed by adding -la to the present continuous form of basic verbs (rúmala), or to the bare stem of derived verbs and u-verbs which lengthens the base vowel if possible (amortala, hlápula).

Tolkien mentions a third pattern of participle formation in notes written in 1967:

Present participles were hardly part of conjugation. Simple[?] -ı̯a used only in compounds, as melumatya “honey-eating”; saukarya “evil-doing” (PE17/68).

This could be a third paradigm for active participle formation, or it could be fossilized remnants of an archaic Common Eldarin pattern for verbal adjectives which survives only in limited cases. I think the latter is more likely based on the description.

Using the active participle: The only examples we have of active participle usage in Quenya is as an adjective, in the Markiya poem, and this is probably the most common use: i matila atan “the eating man”. Languages often have multiple uses for verbal participles, however. For example, English also uses its present/active participle for:

  • Indicating the present continuous/imperfect: “the man is eating”.
  • For abbreviated subordinate clauses: “I saw the man eating his dinner”.

Quenya doesn’t use the active participle in the first way, because it has a distinct present continuous verb tense: **i atan ná matila is wrong, the correct syntax is i atan máta. However, Tolkien did say “verbal participles (capable like the definite infin. ita of taking pronominal affixes) in -ila” (PE22/155) which hints that the active participle might be used for clause-like constructions. So perhaps cennen i matilas atan “I saw the eating-it man” is valid, or even cennen i atan matila ahtumatya “I saw the man eating his dinner”, but since we have no examples, we don’t know the exact syntax.

Conceptual Development: Tolkien listed several participle constructions in The Qenya Verb Forms from the 1910s. This document divided Quenya conjugations into Active, Medial/Reflexive and Passive voices, and the participles for the active voice used the suffix -nwa with all tenses (present, past, future), except for the aorist which used -wa/-ya (PE14/28). The -la suffix appeared for participles in the passive voice instead (PE14/30), so it seems in this early conception -la and -nwa were passive/active, as opposed to later when they were active/passive.

In the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) of the 1920s, Tolkien said the participle suffix was -n (-nd-) used with each verb tense: tulin(d)-, túlien(d)-, tuluvan(d)- (present, past, future); it did not distinguish between active and passive participle forms, however (PE14/57). In EQG Quenya used rather English-like compound tenses with participles to construct perfect and imperfect aspects. They were combined with ᴱQ. e- “to be” as the auxiliary verb: e tulien “is having come” = “has come” (perfect) = e + past participle; tulinde “is coming” (imperfect) = present participle + e. Based on these examples it seems the present and past participles may have, like English, been used respectively for active and passive as well.

In Qenya Conjugations from the late 1920s or early 1930s, Tolkien gave active and passive participles for both the present and past:

Participle active tule (tuli̯) p[ast] act[ive] tulilya (tulíla)
passive tŭlĭna; pass[ive past] tulinwa (tulīna).
… The forms in brackets are the older ones (PE16/128).

In this paradigm it seems the active suffix is -la/-lya and the passive suffixes are -na/-nwa, except the present active participle is simply the uninflected aorist form. Participle forms resembling this paradigm appear in the drafts of the Markirya poem from the late 1920s, such as: ᴱQ. lut- “sail” → lutilya, lutsilya, lutya “sailing” (PE16/56, 62, 77). However, in the finished version of the poem that Tolkien presented with his “A Secret Vice” essay in 1931, several examples hint that the participle suffix was -ne, possibly a partial restoration of the EQG participle suffix -n(d). Forms glossed as active participles include (MC/213-214):

  • ᴱQ. falasta-falastane “surging”.
  • ᴱQ. *hista-histane “fading”.
  • ᴱQ. *karka-karkane “snarling”.
  • ᴱQ. lausta-laustane “roaring”.
  • ᴱQ. lunga-lungane “bending”.
  • ᴱQ. *pik-píke “blinking”.
  • ᴱQ. *pusta-pustane “blowing”.
  • ᴱQ. tini-tíne “shining”.
  • ᴱQ. ?ulmu-ulmula “mumbling”.
  • ᴱQ. ?yam-yáme “yawning”.

It is challenging to analyze these examples, because many of these “verbs” are attested nowhere else (those marked with a * or ?). Of those that are, tíne resembles the “aorist-like” active participle for basic verbs from Qenya Conjugations, except that it has a lengthened stem vowel; píke and yáme fit this same pattern. The forms falastane, pustane, histane are used in phrases parallel with tíne and may represent similar verb forms as suggested by Gilson, Welden and Hostetter (PE16/84, notes on line #11). Thus these -ne forms might be active participles for derived verbs. There is also ulmula “mumbling” whose suffix -la resembles the past active participle from Qenya Conjugations, but ulmu- is unlikely as a verb. Furthermore, -ne in this period is regularly used as a past-tense suffix, such as i súru laustaner “the wind lausted (made a windy noise)” in the Earendel (Poem) from the same “Secret Vice” essay (MC/216). Thus it is hard to tell exactly what Tolkien is doing here.

Tolkien returned to the topic of verbal participles in this Quenya Verbal System (QVS) written in the late 1940s, where he discussed active participles at some length. Tolkien first defined an “aorist participle active”:

The aorist participle active is just an ordinary substantival adjective with suffix {-iā >> -yā >>} added to the aorist or aorist-present stem treated as a noun. So karia “making”; matia “eating”; tulia “coming”. A suffix { >> -yā >> -lā >>} -yā is also used with similar significance. This participle is purely general and aorist in significance. If the action is thought of as continuous or parallel to the action of another verb to “present” or rather imperfect participle is used (PE22/107-108).

This paragraph originally contained similar forms for derived verbs, but these were deleted: istea “knowing”, ortea “rising”, keluya “issuing forth (of water)” (PE22/106 note #39). Tolkien returned to the suffix -yā later in QVS where he described it as the “general adjective” suffix and the derived-verb forms reappeared in this section:

General adjectives, expressing (without reference to time or duration) the notion of the verb as attached attributively (or predicatively) to a noun, are frequently formed with the suffix yā́, added to aorist stem-form. These are frequent with strong verbs: as karia “active (in making)”; nemia “apparent”. So also istea “knowing”, ortea “rising, ascendant”, taltea “insecure”. olea “growing, living (of plants etc.)”. farea “hunting, of prey” as in farea nasto “hunting animal, beast of prey” (farāyā́ > fárăyā > farea) … yea is usually reduced > ea. sirea “flowing, liquid” (PE22/110-111).

This “general adjective” suffix resembles the -ı̯a suffix mentioned in 1967 that was “hardly part of conjugation” (PE17/68, see above). Given the variance between the meaning of these 1940s adjectives and their original verb (ᴹQ. talta- “slip down” vs. taltea “insecure”, ᴹQ. sirya- “flow” vs. sirea “liquid”), it is possible Tolkien likewise considered this an ancient formation in QVS where the meaning of the adjective could become detached from its verb via semantic drift.

The other active participle described in QVS was the imperfect participle using the suffix -lya:

The imperfect participles.

These denoted (more or less) continuous action contemporary with that of the main verb: that is “present” from the point of view of the situation envisaged. They are not however made from the “present” stems, but with basic stem + ómataima + suffix -lyā. Thus karalya “doing, making”; matalya “eating”; himilya “adhering”, nurulya “growing dark”, etc. Where the base or stem ended in l (ll, ld) the suffix was dissimilated to -rya: as in tulurya “coming”; tultarya “sending hither”; olarya “growing”; silirya “shining”; olorya “becoming”.

“Weak presents” seem originally to have often made “strong” present or imperfect participles, as izilya “knowing” (ista); sirilya, flowing (sirya); but these (where surviving) were purely adjectival and outside normal conjugation. The conjugational forms were istalya, ortalya (from both orta “rise” and orta “raise”); olarya “growing”.

This is the most used active participial form, often employed adjectivally as well as verbally (PE22/107-108).

This suffix -lya was more participle-like than the “general adjective” -ya. It also intruded into the system of verb conjugations. For example, a “consuetudinal past” was formed by adding the past suffix -ne to the imperfect participle: karalyane “I used to make” (PE22/101). The imperfect participles also replaced the ordinary present continuous verb forms in circumstances where the usual conjugation was ambiguous or inconvenient. This was the so called “long imperfect” that was especially common with a-verbs: nov-novalya “*is thinking” vs. usual present continuous nóva that conflicted with the future form (PE22/101 note #101); fara- → present continuous faralya “is hunting” (PE22/116).

The same suffix -lya could be added to the past or perfect tense to form the “perfect participle” which function as a past active participle:

The perfect participles. Though these are in a sense “perfects” they are only so in that they naturally normally refer to an action that has been (or was) completed before the main action.

They are formed from the stem (with or without augment) of the past or perfect. The active participle uses the suffix lya as above.

Thus karnelya, akárielya, √KAR. †tullerya, utúlielya, √TUL. etc.

In early classical Q. there is still observable a distinction in use between the two forms: a kind of tense concord: karnelya, past part. being used with a main action in the past: mar karnelya e·tulle = “having built a house he came”; but mar akárielya e utúlie [“*having built a house he had come”].

But in later classical Q. and in TQ the past-perfect participle is used (without augment) made usually from the recognized past stem: karnelya; though the intrusion of the perfect-forms is more frequent. For instance with basic medial [l] the participle has always the form túlielya not tullerya (PE22/108).

Just as the imperfect participle was used to form the long imperfect, this perfect participle was the basis for the long perfect. The suffix -lya could also be added to the future stem to produce the future active participle: karuvalya “about to make”, matuvalya, tuluvalya (PE22/109). Thus, just like the 1969 active participle suffix -(i)la in LVS, the suffix -lya could be used to form participles for the present, past and future, and these examples from QVS give clues to how the -ila past and future active participles might be used.

The idea of the -lya active participle may have lingered for some time in Tolkien’s mind, since this suffix was mentioned again in LVS, though at that point he rejected it in favor of -(i)la:

aorist act[ive] karil(y)a. kárielya (karnela). kăruvalya.
káriéla. karuvaila. lya clashes with -lya “thine” (PE22/152).

Neo-Quenya: For purposes for Neo-Quenya, I would stick with the suffix -ila for active participles, added to the verb stem for both basic and derived verbs:

  • cen-cenila “seeing”.
  • laita-laitaila “praising”.
  • liru-liruila “singing”.

Past and future active participles can be formed by adding -(i)la to the (augmentless) perfect and future stems, with meanings similar to those given in QVS. In the case of the past/perfect active participle, the addition of -la triggers prosodic lengthening:

  • cen-céniéla “having seen”: i atan céniéla orqui ruhtaina (ná) “the man having seen orcs is terrified”.
  • liru-liruvaila “will be singing”: i liruvaila elda tule síra “the will-be-singing elf comes today”.

It is possible that the -la active participles from Markirya are from a distinct paradigm than the -ila participles, but I think it might be legitimate to use these as “imperfect” or “present continuous” active participles, similar in sense to normal active participle but with the extra connatation of ongoing action contemporary with the main verb. I would form them by adding -la to the present form of basic verbs but to the verb stem of derived verbs, lengthening the stem vowel if possible:

  • cen-cénala “(currently) seeing”.
  • laita-laitala “(currently) praising”.
  • liru-lírula “(currently) singing”.

Thus i lírula atan tára halla = “the (currently) singing man is standing tall” or i lírula atan tarne halla = “the (then) singing man stood tall”.

For Neo-Quenya I would not use the -ya suffix to form participles, but I think it can be added to verbal stems to form (ancient) adjectives which might have drifted semantically from the meaning of the base verb, as in fir- “die” → firya “mortal”.

On the basis of the example rámar sisílala “the wings shining”, it seems that the active participle is not declined into the plural to agree with the noun it is modifying. It is dangerous to over-extrapolate from a single example, but this concept has made it into several Neo-Quenya courses, including those of Helge Fauskanger and Thorsten Renk. Until further evidence appears I would stick with established conventions.

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