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Quenya Grammar P83: Imperative

An imperative (command or request) in Quenya is typically formed using the imperative particle á, which generally proceeds the aorist form of the verb: á tule “do come” (PE22/140), a laita te “praise them” (LotR/953), á na márie “be well”, the sentence formulation of namárië “farewell” (PE17/162). The imperative particle ā is of ancient origin, and it is the basis for the imperative in Sindarin as well. As Tolkien described it in the Quendi and Eldar essay written around 1960:

ā the imperative particle, being originally independent and variable in place, survived in S as ō > o (WJ/365).

Tolkien discussed the use of the imperative particle in some detail in Common Eldarin: Verb Structure (EVS2) written in the early 1950s, where he said:

Eldarin had no special imperative verbal forms. But it had some special imperative arrangements of word order. Command, or request, could of course be expressed by any aorist, present, or future verbal form with appropriate tones. But where the second person was concerned the real curt imperative of command was expressed by the aorist form without any pronominal affix at all: mati “eat!” queti “say!” orja “rise, get up, up!” In conjunction with this the particle ā (common in all Eldarin as a brief call to attention) could be used.

In Q. when this was added with suppression of aorist-present vowel the expression was very imperious or urgent: tulā́ “come at once!” oryā́ “get up”. Preceding the verb it was less imperious. Thus there was a gradation: á tule! “do come!”, tule! “come” tulā́ “come at once”.

In Quenya Verbal System (QVS) written in the late 1940s Tolkien also said “Politer requests were often put as future questions” (PE22/105); this technique of using questions for oblique requests is common in many languages, including English. There is also an expression mecin meaning “please” that can be added to requests, as in á þak’ i fende, mekin “close the door, please” (PE22/166). Thus ranging least to most polite:

  • Suffixed á: matá “eat!”
  • Simple aorist: mate “eat”
  • Preceding á: á mate “do eat.”
  • With mecin: á mate, mecin “eat, please.”
  • Question as request: matuvalye? “will you eat?”
  • Question with mecin: matuvalye, mecin? “will you eat, please?”

In practice intonation matters, and an exacerbated or sarcastic matuvalye mecin! “will you please eat!” changes the tone of the request, just as it does in English.

Suffixed Imperative: The suffixed imperative is the most urgent. It is used for single-word commands that the speaker needs an immediate response to, such as norá “run!”, avá “don’t!”. In the examples from EVS2, the suffixed imperatives are marked for both length and stress at the end of the word: tulā́. EVS2 also indicates the final vowel of derived verbs ending in -a would be stressed and lengthened: oryā́ “rise! get up!”. Thus it seems these suffixed imperatives break the normal stress patterns in Quenya, having a long stressed syllable at the end of the word.

There are also quite a few examples of suffixed imperatives where the final vowel is unstressed: kena “see!” (VT47/31), hara “stay” (PE17/162), queta “speak” (PE17/137, 138). These unstressed suffixed imperatives are mostly used in longer phrases such as queta Quenya “speak Quenya!” and hara máriesse “stay in happiness”, a greeting. It seems in longer phrases the normal stress rules of Quenya apply, forcing the suffixed á to shorten.

In the Quendi and Eldar essay written around 1960 there are a couple of examples of suffixed imperatives with pronominal suffixes:

heka! imperative exclamation “be gone! stand aside!”. Normally only addressed to persons. It often appears in the forms hekat sg. and hekal pl. with reduced pronominal affixes of the 2nd person.

There are no other examples of suffixed imperatives that also have pronominal suffixes, so for the purposes of Neo-Quenya I’d treat these as transient experiments.

Prefixed Imperatives: Tolkien discussed the formation of prefixed imperatives in notes preparing for a letter to Richard Plotz, probably written around 1967:

In Quenya the imperative equivalent would be used. This with immediate time reference was expressed by ā before the verb (occasionally after it, sometimes before and after for emphasis). The verb was in the simplest form also used for the uninflected aorist without specific time reference past or present or future (as in the Greek “gnomic aorist”) … Plurality and duality are not in Quenya expressed in direct imperative address to person(s) present: ā rikir plural would mean “let them try” of persons not present, or at any rate not addressed (PE17/93-94).

Thus normally the imperative particle á immediately precedes the aorist form of the verb: á tule “come”, á laita “praise”, occasionally unstressed and shorted as in a laita, especially in longer phrases. This formation is used when addressing either a single person or multiple people. Generally nothing intrudes between the imperative particle and the verb, but there are some examples in Quenya Prayers from the 1950s where a direct or indirect object is placed between:

Likely this variant ordering has to do with emphasis, as there are examples elsewhere of object pronouns that follow the verb, e.g. a laita te “praise them”. In the examples above, the object pronoun is appended directly to the imperative particle, but in Neo-Quenya writing I think it would be acceptable to separate them for clarity: á men, á me. In the same set of prayers, there are examples of a subject pronoun lye also being attached to the imperative particle:

Here I think the use of the polite second person pronominal suffix lye increases the respectfulness of the request (here addressed to God or Mother Mary). I also suspect that in this case, the subject suffix should always be directly appended to the imperative particle.

In these prayers there is also one example where the imperative particle is embedded inside the verb, between a prefix and the base verb:

Tolkien replaced this peculiar formation with normal prefixed imperatives in later versions of the prayers: áme etelehta or alye eterúna. However, there is at least one example of an infixed imperative in other writings, in the fossilized salutation: alámen(e) “go with a blessing” (PE17/162), apparently from a verb *almen- “to go well or blessedly”. I would not use such infixed imperatives in Neo-Quenya, though.

Indirect Imperatives: There are a few examples of indirect imperatives aimed at parties who are either not present or are not being directly addressed:

This formation seems to be the equivalent of English “let” or “may” in indirect imperatives, as in “let Elrond do that” or “may Elrond do that”: á care Elerondo sa. It seems that where the acting party is named, the subject follows the verb, perhaps because a non-pronominal subject cannot intrude between the imperative particle and the verb, or perhaps as a remnant of ancient Verb-Subject-Object word order. It seems impersonal pronominal subjects are suffixed to the verb as usual, as in: á carir sa “let them (impersonal, indefinite) do that”, but it isn’t clear what would happen with personal pronouns. In EVS2 written in the 1950s, Tolkien said:

It is also a special feature of Eldarin imperative expressions that the subject pronoun usually preceded the verb, and if it followed was separated and in full form and did not become inflexional. It was, however, sometimes attached to the particle ā especially in other persons than the second.

Thus, lḗ tuli, tuli lḗ, āle tuli! [and] sē tuli, tuli sḗ, āse tuli! were probably CE expressions for “come (you)!, now you, come! let him come!” etc.

Where the pronoun, expressed or unexpressed, was plural (or dual) the appropriate number signs were affixed to the verb: le tulir “come ye!” (PE22/139-140).

Here Tolkien is describing Common Eldarin imperatives and not Quenya, but the example āle tuli is consistent with imperatives with suffixed 2nd person pronoun alye in Quenya prayers from the mid-to-late 1950s, as discussed above. Perhaps something similar happens with 1st and 3rd person pronouns, with agreement in number as described in EVS2: áse care sa “let him/her do that”, ante carir sa “let them (personal, specific) do that”, alve carir sa “let us do that”, and even alde carir sa “you (plural) do that”. It is unlikely, however, that following non-inflectional pronouns would be used in Quenya, because **á mate se “let him eat” would be confused with á mate se “eat him!”

Conceptual Development: The earliest Quenya imperative appears in the Qenya Lexicon, but it is marked as irregular and thus doesn’t necessarily indicate how normal imperatives would have been formed:

anno irreg. imperative. “give (me)!” Also used = “come, come” (QL/31).

In the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) of the 1920s, Tolkien described the imperative this way:

The imperative is the uninflected form, often especially in common verbs in -l, -n, -r, -s, -t without -e, as tul, mat, &c., or it may be expressed by the inflected forms and imperative voiced tone (indicated by !) often with en (2nd) or (en)no (1st), (es)sa (3rd) added. Thus: …

  • tul “come!”
  • le-tulil! le·tulil en [“you (plural) come!”]
  • me-tulil enno “let us come”, occasionally le·tul, me·tul, tu·tul.

Thus in EQG the normal imperative seemed to be indicated by tone alone, with an optional particle en of unclear origin; elsewhere in EQG en- was a stem for demonstratives (PE14/55). A “curt” imperative could be formed from the base verb stem: tul “come!”.

In Qenya Conjugations from the 1920s, this “bare stem” imperative reappears, along side imperatives with -a or á: tula “*come”, 3rd person masculine tuláto “*let him come”, etc. (PE16/125). In the third version of these conjugations, the “bare stem” imperative was dropped leaving only tula, tuláto (PE16/127).

Indirect evidence for ā-imperatives can be found in the The Etymologies with the Noldorin imperatives daro “halt” and edro “open” (Ety/DAR, ETER), but these correspond to forms appearing in drafts of The Lord of the Rings and may not have been added to The Etymologies until the early 1940s. The first explicit mention of ā as an imperative particle is in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) of the late 1940s:

There are no special imperative forms. Command (or request) could be indicated by voice tones. But commands or more imperative requests were often accompanied by ā! — so āsi, sí “come now, now” — (the Q. particle for calling attention) (PE22/105).

The system in QVS is very much like the one in EVS2 described above, with the caveat that in QVS subject pronouns were never suffixed to the verb, so imperative forms with following pronouns like tuli lḗ didn’t enter the picture until the early 1950s. Indeed, Tolkien statement in EVS2 that “It is also a special feature of Eldarin imperative expressions that the subject pronoun usually preceded the verb” may been an attempt to preserve some of the imperative forms from QVS with preceding pronouns, such as EVS2 lḗ tuli (Common Eldarin) versus QVS le tule (modern Quenya). But no such imperative forms appear after EVS2.

Neo-Quenya: For Neo-Quenya, I’d use two normal imperative forms, a “curt imperative” with suffixed for more immediate commands (matá “eat!”) and a more polite form with preceding á (á mate “eat”). Requests can be made more polite by including the pronominal suffix -lye (alye mate) or using mecin “please” (á mate, mecin). More oblique requests may be made through future questions: matuvalye? “will you eat?”

Object pronouns are normally placed after the verb, á rehta me “save us”, but may be placed before for emphasis: á me rehta (or áme rehta). Indirect or second person imperatives (“let him/her, let them, let us”) may be formed by adding the appropriate subject suffix to the imperative particle á, with subject-verb agreement for number: áse mate, ante matir, alve matir “let him/her eat, let them eat, let us eat”. This can also be done with purely impersonal imperatives á matir “let them (unspecified) eat”.

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