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Quenya Grammar P77: Verbal Nouns

P76 was skipped because it is just a short entry introducing verbal nouns and adjectives.


Aside from gerunds, there are a number of other mechanisms that were widely used in Quenya for forming nouns from verbs, but these were not strictly speaking part of verb conjugation.

Abstract noun endings: Quenya had a variety of abstract noun endings, and these could also be used with verbs: -ie, -ve, -le, -me and -re. Of these, only -ie (most gerunds) and -ve (gerunds of verb stems ending in a vowel) are part of the conjugational system, but the others suffixes were sometimes used to form nouns from verbal roots. In Common Eldarin: Verb Structure (EVS2) written in the early 1950s Tolkien said:

-lē, rē, mē and extended ălē, ărē, umē. These like the above are elaborations of the “abstract” ending e. They were widely used in Eldarin, but seldom became regular conjugational elements. In Q. rē, ărē (or dissimilated after r > lē, ale) was so frequent as to be virtually formable at will from any verbal stem. NB. These endings may disregard verbal formative or tense-endings. So Q fărăle “hunting” < phár-alē: farále “you hunt” [sic. later faralye] < pharā́le; lirale “merry singing”: lirule “you sing” [sic. later lirulye]. In Q. was usually added direct to bare stem, and was specially favoured after r, l. As a verbal derivative it was most frequent in compounds: e.g. essekarme “name-making” (PE22/138).

Despite Tolkien’s statement that “rē, ărē … was so frequent as to be virtually formable at will from any verbal stem”, there are very few examples of it in his later writings; of explicitly verbal stems, I can only find one example: coire “spring” < √KOY “live”. I suspect this statement is a remnant of the notion that -re was used as a gerundial suffix for derived verbs, an idea Tolkien had in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) of the late 1940s but seems to have abandoned in his later writings. The use of abstract -le with verbal stems, however, is fairly common: laitale “praise” (from laita-) and ontale “descent” (from onta- “beget”). As illustrated by coire, the exact meaning of these abstract nouns was not fixed and could drift from the original sense of the verbal root.

-sta: In Quenya -sta seems to be a suffix for nouns representing the “general action” of the verb:

, and strengthened -stā: as Q. nemesta “appearance, seeming”; tulusta “advent, arrival” (EVS2, PE22/137).

As originally written this paragraph read:

, and strengthened -stĭ (beside tē, ste). These were evidently very frequently employed in Eldarin; but in such a language as Quenya, where ti/sti became the same in form as the pronominal affixes tē̆/stē̆, they did not become part of normal conjugation, and survived either in isolated forms derived from ti added direct to a base or in the elongated form in which sti was added to base followed by ómataima: as Q nemeste “appearance, seeming”; tuluste “advent, arrival” (PE22/137 note #40).

Apparently Tolkien changed -ste > -sta to avoid conflict with pronominal suffixes. The earlier suffix -ste was discussed in more detail in QVS:

The noun of general action (aorist in time): corresponding closely to Latin nouns in “tio, sio”, or in English to various verbal forms such as “growth” (to grow); “song” (in general not particular use) beside “singing”; “help”; “appearance”; “payment”; etc.

The most regular, among many competing forms with different suffixes, was that made with -stḗ following in strong verbs after the ómataima: thus karaste “making, manufacture, construction”; meneste “intention”; nemeste “appearance”; tuluste “arrival”; faraste “hunting, the chase”; olaste “growth”; keluste “outflow”; liruste “singing, chant” (QVS, PE22/110).

Presumably these QVS forms would need to be revised to -sta to be consistent with Tolkien’s later ideas. Base on the examples nemesta and tulusta, it seems this suffix still followed the rule that the base vowel was inserted before the suffix after basic verb stems: tul-u-sta.

Unfortunately, there are no clear examples of this suffix as a verbal noun outside of EVS2 or QVS. Elsewhere the suffix -sta was also used as a sort collective suffix, such as in tengwesta “grammar, morphology” = “collection of matter concerning writing” from tengwe (PE21/82), but it is not clear that this function replaced its use with verbs.

-nde: In Quenya -nde seems to be a suffix for nouns representing a “verbal action or process”. It was mentioned in both QVS and EVS2:

Very frequent also was -nde, as mitta- “insert”, mittande “insertion, infixion”. turyande (turya- “strengthen”) “strengthening, fortification”. nde was more general and less particular than ste. ndē or ndĕ could be added to gerund, so karien, kariende (QVS, PE22/110).

ndĭ, ndē. This was added to base with ómataima in simple verbs: karandi “making”; or to stem with suffix in the case of derivative verbs: as oryande “arising”, tulyande “fetching”; kelunde “welling forth”. This form originally denoted a more considerable and durable process than sti, but this distinction was not always observed. ndi/ē could also be added to the ijē-gerund: in this case the sense was durative: karijendi “a process of manufacture” (EVS2, PE22/137).

Unlike -ste/-sta, examples of the verbal suffix -nde appear outside of QVS and EVS2. Both mittande and turyande appear in discussions of Primitive Elvish written in the mid 1930s and around 1950 (TQ1 and TQ2; PE18/45, 95) and arcande “petition” from arca- “to pray” appears in Quenya prayers written in the 1950s (VT44/8). However, -nde is also used a feminine agental suffix (PE17/69), notably in serinde “broideress, needlewoman” (MR/257; PM/333), presumably from a verb ser- “to show”; for further discussion see agental nouns. But this feminine agent is distinct from the hypothetical verbal noun *serende “process of sewing”, which would be formed with the base vowel before the suffix.

As noted above, the suffix -nde can also be added to the gerund, in which case it has the sense of a more intensive process or one that occurs over some length of time. Thus karie “making” but kariende “(process of) manufacture”. So perhaps: quetie “talking” but *quetiende “conversation”; cesie “search” but *cesiende “examination”; lehtie “releasing (of something)” but *lehtiende “emancipation”.

-ma: The suffix -ma is frequently used for nouns that describe an instrument for performing an action. Examples include:

  • KAL “shine” > calma “lamp, light; *shining thing” (LotR/1121; Ety/KAL).
  • KAR “do, make” > carma “tool, *making thing” (PE17/114).
  • KAW “shelter” > cauma “shelter, shield; *sheltering thing” (PE17/108).
  • KIR “cut” > cirma “knife, *cutting thing” (PE22/149).
  • PHAL “foam, splash” > falma “wave, *splashing thing” (PE17/73; Ety/PHAL).
  • LOY “fail” > loima “mistake, *failing thing” (PE17/151).
  • PAR “learn” > parma “book, *thing for learning” (PE17/180).
  • PEL “fence, encircle” > pelma “border, *encircling thing” (PE17/151).
  • TYUL (or √KYUL) “stand up” > tyulma “mast; *standing up thing” (PE21/80; Ety/TYUL).
  • YUL “drink” > yulma “cup, *drinking thing” (PE17/68, 180; WJ/416).

One of the longest descriptions of this suffix appears in some late etymological notes from the 1950s or 60s:

The derivative formed with the suffix -mā mainly used of actual physical tools and instruments, was fan-mā > fanwa a “veil or screen”; ufanwea “not veiled, unveiled”. As √YUL- “drink”: yulma a “drinking vessel”; √PAR- “learn, to acquire information, not by experience or observation, but by communication, by the instruction, or accounts of others in words or writing”: parma, a “book (or written document of some size)” … calma “a lamp or other device for shining light” (PE17/180).

This suffix was probably originally related to the indefinite pronoun ma “something, a thing”. The suffix -mā is ancient. As shown by the examples above, words containing it could acquire a variety of meanings distinct from the original verbal root. Some of its older uses, such as fanwa “veil” above, were obscured by phonetic changes. However, -ma is sufficiently widespread that it probably remains at least somewhat productive for creating new words.

-da: The suffix -da was used to indicate the result of an action as in yulda “draught, a thing drunk” vs. yulma “drinking vessel, a tool for drinking”. Tolkien described this suffix in several places in notes related to Words, Phrases and Passages in the Lord of the Rings from the 1950s and 60s:

From *MBAS were derived in PE *masta, probably = “batch” and *mbazdā, with the passive or product suffix -dā (as in carda “deed”, yulda “draught”) (PE17/51).

Assume a Primitive Eldarin derivation *mbasse “(baked) bread”. The other derivatives were *mbasta with short final, an infinitive or verbal noun formation denoting a single action of the stem (this ta being related to the frequent verbal suffix as in ista “know”, orta “rise”); and *mbazdā, a formation + (variant of ) denoting the passive result of the action, and when used substantivally a single product of this: mbazda would thus mean baked or a baked thing. The distinction between a single action, a single product of it was not maintained in Quenya or Sindarin and in practice words denoting products are found made with either or (lengthened owing to the influence of ). In Quenya we have masse “bread” as a material, and masta “a cake or loaf” (zd > st) (PE17/52).

Suffix. -mā “instrument”, yulma “a cup for drinking” … -da “noun result of action”, yulda “a draught, the amount drunk” (PE17/106).

The principal forms were the primitive simple form PE *mbar(a) > uninflected mbār, inflected mbăr-; and the derivative form *mbardā. Made with the suffix -dā chiefly used in “passive” sense: indicating resulting products of an action; as yul-da “what is drunk, a draught” (PE17/106).

Compared to -ma, the suffix -da was frequently obscured by sound changes like zd > st, and was apparently confused with another ancient suffix -ta of similar meaning. Thus there may not have been enough clear remnants of this suffix for it to have remained productive. Nevertheless, -da seems to be the passive (product) equivalent to active (instrumental) -ma, so it is worth noting.

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