Negation is a complex topic in Quenya, and a controversial one in Neo-Quenya. This is, in part, because Tolkien kept changing his mind on how negation worked. Bill Welden examined the conceptual evolution of Quenya in his article on “Negation in Quenya” (VT42/32-34), with a brief followup in a later letters column (VT44/4, 38). Before examining possible systems for Neo-Quenya, I will first discuss the conceptual development of negation, mostly following the outline of Bill Welden.
Conceptual Development: In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, Tolkien gave the basic negative root as ᴱ√Ū² (QL/96) with extensions ᴱ√UMU and ᴱ√UVU (QL/98). These extensions were the basis for a negative verb ᴱQ. um- “to not be” and a negative prefix ú- or uv-, the latter used before vowels. Tolkien also gave another primitive negative in the form of syllabic ᴱ✶ḷ- (QL/41) which developed into al-, il-, ul- based on its phonetic environment (PE12/11; QL/29, 41, 97). ul- seems to have taken on an additional “bad” connotation, and became the basis of words like ᴱQ. ulka “evil” and ᴱQ. ulban “monster” (QL/97).
The negative verb ᴱQ. um- reappeared in the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s as (masc. pl.) tūmil “they … not”, (neut. pl.) taumil and (fem. pl.) tyūmil (PE14/86). The word ᴱQ. munta “nothing” was probably related (PE14/48, 81). A plural negative ur appears in the sentence ᴱQ. néri ur natsi nostalen máre which might mean “*men are not beings good by nature” (PE15/32) and singular ui in ᴱQ. sinda nekka ui sara ro sinda hyalin me sinda móro “*this pen is not writing on this paper with this ink” (PE16/146), these sentences being from the 1910s and 1920s, respectively.
Negative syllabic ḷ reappeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s, which produced the negative prefix ᴹQ. il- (Ety/LA), but here it seems to be based on a new negative root ᴹ√LA, which produced another negative prefix ᴹQ. al(a)- and a negative particle ᴹQ. lá “not” (Ety/LA). Going forward al(a)- became the only negative prefix from √LA, with il- coming to mean “all”. The negative verb ᴹQ. um- also reappeared as a derivative of the roots ᴹ√UGU or ᴹ√UMU, along with a negative prefix ᴹQ. ú-, but Tolkien now said this prefix was “usually with a bad sense” (Ety/UGU) and had an “evil connotation” (Ety/GŪ). The word ᴹQ. úmea “evil” was derived from this root.
By the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) of the late 1940s, ᴹQ. lá- had replaced um- as the Quenya negative verb (PE22/125-126). In the Quenya Prayers of the 1950s, lá was the main form of negation: álame [á-la-me] tulya úsahtienna “lead us not into temptation” (VT43/12) and alalye [á-la-lye] nattira arcandemmar “despise not our petitions” (VT44/5). But in the earliest versions of these prayers Tolkien used úa and úalye (VT43/8-9) representing some uncertainty on Tolkien’s part between u-negation and la-negation.
Between the 1st and 2nd edition of the The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien decided to abandon la-negation completely (“Definitive Linguistic Notes”, DLN, 1959, PE17/143):
Delete √AL|LA “not”. Quite unsuitable. AL, LA have already too much to do.
Substitute: Negation. Primitive Eldarin. Negation divided into 1) refusal and negative command (future); and 2) denial of fact (past and established present).
1) √ABA, BĀ- distinct from AWA, WA “away”
2) √Ū, ?UGU – originally expressing privation.
Tolkien’s rejection of la-negation was motivated by the other uses of similar forms, notably lá “beyond” < √LAƷ and the prefix al(a)-² “well, happily” < √AL(A); at one point Tolkien even said lá meant “yes” rather than “no” (PE17/158).
In DLN, Tolkien introduced a negation of volition ABA/BĀ, versus the negation of fact Ū. The root √AB for refusal dates back to The Etymologies in the 1930s (Ety/AB), but its use as a negative particle vá “don’t” and ván “I won’t” was new. Tolkien continued to mention this negation of volition in later documents such as the Quendi and Eldar essay (circa 1960, WJ/371) and Late Notes on Verb Structure (LVS, 1969, PE22/161-162).
As for Ū, Tolkien defined its new negative verb as ua- in DLN (PE17/144); the first appearance of this verb was in Quenya prayers from the 1950s as noted above, though in the prayers it might instead have been a negated imperative u-á (VT43/8-9). ua- was a “semi-verb” rather than a true verb, because it was inflected for person but did not normally inflect for tense; this was done in the negated verb instead (PE17/143):
- uan care “I do not make”.
- uan cára “I am not making”.
- uan carne “I did not make”.
- uan caruva “I am not going to make”.
The verb ua- was only inflected for tense archaically or when it was used alone: past, perfect, future úne, uie, úva (PE17/144). The stem form of this negative seems to have shifted to ui by 1967 (uin care, PE17/68) and 1968 (VT49/29); conceivably ui could be an aorist versus present tense ua, but I think it is likelier that ua > ui. Like ná “to be”, the negative verb seems not to distinguish between present and aorist, and Tolkien was probably vacillating on whether the ancient aorist or present came to be its normal form in modern Quenya.
In 1969, Tolkien became dissatisfied with u-negatives due to their similarity to negation in certain real-world languages:
û will not do. It is not necessary to avoid at all costs similarities with known European languages — Eldarin is deliberately devised to resemble them in style — but here the resemblance either to Greek ou (phon. û) or to the unrelated Norse ú as a prefix, is too close (LVS, PE22/160).
As a replacement, Tolkien reintroduced lá as the negation of fact vs. vá as negation of volition:
The negative lá simply denies that the positive statement is true in fact. Q. possesses another negative derived from the base ABA “refuse (an order, request, petition); prohibit, discountenance another’s proposed or likely action”. In Q. the derived negative takes the form vá, often reiterated as vá vá, váva (PE22/161).
ú was not completely abandoned, but was modified in sense. This seems to be a partial restoration of the paradigm from The Etymologies of the 1930s, where la-negatives coexisted with u-negatives, but the latter had a “strong” or “bad” connotation:
ú should remain, but with the sense “bad, uneasy, hard” — similar to lE *dus, Greek dus-, Gmc. tuz- (tor-). This will leave unótima in GL [Galadriel’s Lament] correct, with meaning “difficult/impossible to count” … ú should be from a √UG “dislike” with varying degrees of intensity, with other derivatives, such as Q uhta “dislike, feel disgust with, avoid as painful or nasty” (PE22/160).
As for lá, in this specific note Tolkien said it was (like earlier ua-) inflected for person but not normally for tense: “the lá does not express difference of tenses, normally unnecessary: the tense of lá plus pronominal affix is always that of the previous verb, now negatived” (PE22/160). Early in same bundle of documents, however, Tolkien indicate that lá might carry the verb tense and the modified verb would be in the aorist: “it is intended that Eldarin should express negation by a negative verb (as Finnish) or rather that the personal and tense affixes should be attached to the negative and the verb be expressed by an indeclinable stem-form” (PE22/153), along with past, prefect and future forms: lāne, alaie, lauva; this seems to be a transient idea.
Around this time Tolkien composed the “Ambidexter Sentence”, and the earliest versions of this sentence used la-negation (VT49/6):
- potai hyarmen láne “sinister” símaryasse: “left had no ‘sinister’ connexions”.
- etta hyarmen láne ulca hya úmara símaryassen.
Later versions of this sentences shifted to u-negation:
- epetai i hyarma ú ten ulca símaryassen “consequently the left-hand was not to them evil in their imaginations” (VT49/8).
In a letter to the editors of Vinyar Tengwar, Bill Welden reported that Tolkien wrote one more essay on negation towards the end of his life, where he once again abandoned la-negation:
Back to ú
lá can be beyond …
ū should be negative particle (VT44/4).
The full essay where this last note appears remains unpublished.
- In the 1910s and 20s, u-negation was the norm with negative verb: ᴱQ. um-, though a set of negative prefixes (al-, il-, ul-) from syllabic ḷ- also existed.
- In the 1930s, Tolkien introduced the negative root √LA; it coexisted with u-negation which took on an additional “evil” or “bad” connotation.
- In the 1940s and 50s, la-negation became the norm, though ú- survived as a negative prefix.
- In 1959, Tolkien decided to abandon la-negation, since LA had been overburdened with too many meanings. He restored u-negation with a negative verb ua- or (later) ui-.
- In 1969, Tolkien became dissatisfied with u-negation due to its similarity to some European languages, restoring la-negation again. However, it seems he soon remembered all the other meanings that la carried, and abandoned it again as a negation.
Neo-Quenya: Tolkien’s vacillations on Eldarin negation present significant challenges for Neo-Eldarin (as it did for Tolkien himself). The best known Eldarin negatives from The Lord of the Rings were in Sindarin rather than Quenya, in particular the phrase ú-chebin estel anim “I have kept no hope for myself” (LotR/1061) and the negative prefix al- in alfirin “immortal”, a flower-name whose meaning became known after the publication of Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien in 1981 (LotR/875; Let/248). The first clear system of negation for Quenya did not appear until the publication of The Etymologies in 1987, but that document presented two negatives rather than one: adverbial lá “no, not” (Ety/LA) and the negative verb ᴹQ. um- (Ety/UGU).
From that point forward, Neo-Quenya writers tended to fall into three camps: (1) those that favored la-negatives, (2) those that favored u-negatives, and (3) those allowed for both. The publication of Bill Welden’s article “Negation in Quenya” in the 2001 issue of Vinyar Tengwar did little to clear up the issue. Welden’s position was that there was no simple answer, and that Tolkien himself vacillated between la-negatives and u-negatives. The main difficulty is that both systems of negation permeate the Legendarium. Discarding one system in favor of another also requires discarding a large number of attested examples. Tolkien himself was similarly constrained by the presence of both S. alfirin and S. ú-chebin (along with Q. únótima “numberless”) in The Lord of the Rings.
I think the “least bad” option is to adopt the compromise position of allowing both forms of negation to coexist, which is essentially the system Tolkien used in the 1930s. It then becomes a question of deciding how to organize the various la-negatives and u-negatives into an internally consistent system. The approach I propose is to “modernize” the system of The Etymologies that used both negatives.
In this compromise system, I would propose that in Common Eldarin, √LĀ originally represented negation in the sense of “an absence of a thing” whereas √Ū represented negation in the sense of “the opposite of a thing”. Thus lā was a “weak negative” and ū was a “strong negative”. The negative ū picked up some unpleasant connotations by association with roots like √UG “dislike”, especially when used as a prefix, to explain words like úcare “misdeed, sin” (vs. lacare “inaction”) and úvanimo “monster” = ú + vanima + mo “un-beautiful-one” (vs. lá vanima, simply “not beautiful”). The negative verb ui- has no such unpleasant connotation, however.
Such a system would allow most of the existing words with ú- and al(a)-/la- negative prefixes to remain unmodified. It would allow people to use either lá or ui for verbal negation, depending on their preferences. The major difficulty of such a system is that there is no indication that Tolkien himself considered such as system in his later writings from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, where he tended to flip back and forth between using either la-negation and u-negation but not both at the same time. As I said above, however, I think such a compromise system is the “least bad” option, as any attempt to adopt a system of pure la-negatives and u-negatives would alienate half the community and make a hash of big chunks of published material.
I do think there is some ambiguity in the best option for u-negatives, however. In his Quenya course, Thorsten Renk advocated using ua as the negative verb for u-negatives, and Helge Fauskanger tends to use ua in his Neo-Quenya New Testament (though he occasionally also uses ui). I favor ui as the later of the two forms used by Tolkien, which also happens to have a larger set of words associated with it, but the only “full conjugation” of the negative verb (with past, perfect and future tenses) is for the verb ua (PE17/144). However, I think those past, perfect and future forms work with ui as well.
Forming the Negative: The conjugation of negative verbs is discussed in the entry on irregular verbs. As noted above, Tolkien generally described the negative verb as a “semi-verb” that would allow pronominal subject suffixes but was not itself inflected for tense; the tense inflection was instead on the negated verb, as Tolkien indicated for both the u-negative (PE22/160) and la-negative (PE17/143). This was also the case in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) of the 1940s, where inflection of the negative verb for tense was archaic:
The tense forms are usually employed only when sense of lá is “not to be”. In normal use the tense inflexion is assumed by a following verb: á kela karit “do not make it!” nila karit “I do not make it” (or nilat kare); melalti kára/melar káralti “we are not making them”; helalthi menne kare/helar menne karilthi “they did not mean to make them”.
But in archaic language and frequently in verse the whole apparatus of conjugation could be assumed by the negative, the actual verb remaining in the aorist or aorist-present infinitive uninflected. Thus: “We were not going to make them for you”, me·le·lavanelti kare. This use was always most common and still survives most often in the case of simple past and future: helavate mate “they will not eat it”; leláne tule “you did not come” (PE22/127).
Modernizing the above examples:
- lán care sa “I do not make it”.
- lálme cára tai “we are not making them”.
- lánte mínane care tai “they did not intend to make them”.
- (archaic) lánel(ye) tule “you did not come”.
- uin care sa “I do not make it”.
- uilme cára tai “we are not making them”.
- uinte mínane care tai “they did not mean to make them”.
- (archaic) únel(ye) tule “you did not come”.
The archaic forms (with tense on the negative verb) would be acceptable in poetry but not normal speech.
Refusal with vá: The negative imperative would use the negation of volition vá: áva or (standalone) avá “don’t”. It can also be used in the first person to indicate refusal “won’t”, but in the second or third person means “must not”:
- áva care sa “do not make it”.
- ván care sa “I won’t make it”.
- válye care sa “you mustn’t make it”.
Tolkien described this use of vá in several places:
Quenya also. Va! as interjection or adverb, expressing will, wish etc. of speaker. Therefore meaning according to context ”I will not, shall not”; or “don’t!” As ū- it was sometimes (mainly in verse) used as a verbal prefix. The longer form avá, ává was only used as negative imperative: avá “don’t!” ava/va was often personalized in Quenya in 1st person singular, 1st person plural exclusive only: ván/vanye and vamme “I won’t, we will not” (Definitive Linguistic Notes, 1959, PE17/143).
A longer form áva or avá (stressed on the last syllable), which shows combination with the imperative particle *ā, was commonly used as a negative imperative “Don’t!”, either used alone or with an uninflected verbal stem, as áva kare! “Don’t do it!” Both vá and áva sometimes received verbal pronominal affixes of the first singular and first plural exclusive: as ávan, ván, ványe “I won’t”, avamme, vamme “we won’t” (Quendi and Eldar, circa 1960, WJ/371).
In this simple use vá always expressed the will or wish of the speaker, and referred to the immediate present or to the future; it could only be fully understood by one who had heard the words (order, request, or statement of intention) to which it was a rejoinder. Like lá it could be combined with pronominal affixes, assimilated to those used in verbs; but the long vowel was retained before two consonants, since vá was always emphatic … Thus: ványe “I won’t”; vátye “don’t! you are not to”; váse “he mustn’t, he is not to”; válme “we won’t, we say no”; válde “you are not to (do so)”; vár “they are not to”, etc. (Late Notes on Verb Structure, 1969, PE22/161).
Thus vá indicates refusal or forbiddance from the point of view of the speaker, not of the subject. In first person (singular or plural) it means “will not” (I/we refuse), but in second or third person it means “must not” (I/we forbid): válye = “you must not”, vante = “they must not”. In longer phrases, vá could be used as a negative particle before the verb, but unlike lá or ui it was not inflected for person:
Where the reference of va required definition, it could be used as a negative particle in a full sentence, always preceding the verb. This was in the future normally: as e.g. itas vá tuluvanye = “in that case I won’t come”; vá tuluváse = “he is not to come, he shan’t come”; vá matuvatye mastanya = “you are not to eat my bread, you shan’t eat my bread”. The aorist could be used when the time was indefinite, that is general (including the immediate present). Thus vá karis i “he is not to do it (now or ever)”; vá meninye ó le “I won’t come with you” in a case where immediate departure is concerned (LVS, PE22/162).
The verb following vá was usually in the future, since it necessarily addressed an action that had not yet taken place, but could be in the aorist if that action was imminent or for no specific time (or all time). Since vá caris sa means “he must not do that”, in order to express refusal on the part of the subject (“he won’t do that”), you need to use the full verb of ava- “to refuse”:
When the refusal or disapproval of other persons than the speaker were [expressed] the form va could not be used. It was then necessary to use the full verb derived from base ABA. This was an a-verb, of a type which originally appears only to have differed from the normal in having a stem ending in -a (not -i) in the aorist (LVS, PE22/163).
Thus “he won’t do that” = avas care sa, literally “he refuses to do that”. This was an ordinary verb and could be inflected for tense and person: avanelye care sa “you wouldn’t do that, you refused to do that”. This same verb also means “forbid” (VT49/13; PE22/163) and presumably has that sense when it had a direct object: avanes lye care sa “he forbade you to do that” or with the longer verb váquet-: váquentes lye care sa, more literally “he told you not to do that”.
Negative Copula: There are no examples of negative particles being used with the verb ná- “to be”. Rather, the negative verb is used by itself with the meaning “to not be”. This is one of the few times the negative verb is declined for tense, as described by Tolkien in QVS: “The tense forms are usually employed only when sense of lá is ‘not to be’ (PE22/127)”. The best example of this is the “Ambidexter Sentence” from 1969, which used la-negation in its first drafts but u-negation in later drafts:
- etta hyarmen láne ulca hya úmara símaryassen “*thus the left hand was not evil or sinister in their imaginations” (VT49/6).
- epetai i hyarma ú ten ulca símaryassen “consequently the left-hand was not to them evil in their imaginations” (VT49/8).
Some more examples with a la-negative:
- i atan lá raiqua “the man is not angry”.
- lás raiqua “he is not angry”.
- lánes raiqua “he was not angry”.
- i atan lauvas raiqua “the man will not be angry”.
Based on the “Ambidexter Sentence” above, it is possible that ú served a special function as a negative copula for u-negatives. Without further information, however, I would use the ordinary negative verb ui and its other conjugations for this purpose:
- i atan ui raiqua “the man is not angry”.
- uis raiqua “he is not angry”.
- únes raiqua “he was not angry”.
- i atan úvas raiqua “the man will not be angry”.
The only other time negative verbs are declined for tense is when the main verb is not expressed: i elda cenne orco mal i atan úne “the elf saw an orc but the man did not”.
Differences between lá and ú: If we allow both la-negation and u-negation to coexist in Neo-Quenya, this opens up the question of what the difference is between the two, if any. With regards to the negative verbs lá and ui (earlier ua- or um-), we cannot use Tolkien as a guide, because there is no evidence that he ever allowed both to function as negative verbs simultaneously. Since the coexistence of two negatives verbs is essentially a diplomatic compromise for Neo-Quenya, it’s probably best to assume the difference in meaning is minimal. Perhaps ui is somewhat more emphatic that lá, but otherwise they mean basically the same thing and the choice between the two is largely aesthetic.
Regarding negative prefixes ú- versus al(a)- (or la-) we have more to go on, because there are times when the two coexisted. In LVS from 1969 (just prior to the restoration of la-negation) Tolkien said the following of ú-:
ū- negative prefix. cannot be used when it leaves more than one positive possibility. It only denies the stem joined with it and asserts its opposite. úmáre “not good = evil” (not any diminished grade of goodness as fair, mediocre, middling[?]). Hence never **úcarne “not red” (PE22/152).
In The Etymologies of the 1930s, ú had an “evil” or “bad” connotation vs. more neutral lá. This was also true in LVS after the (brief?) restoration of la-negation, where Tolkien noted the “the ‘bad’ sense of ū-prefix, and its derivatives” (PE22/167). As such, I would interpret u- as “un-, anti-, non-” indicating the opposite of the thing modified, but al- as “no-” or the absence of the thing modified. Thus “nobody” = alquen, but úquen = “nonperson”.
Furthermore, ú- was probably mostly used to modify good things, or to modify neutral things into bad things. The word úcare means “misdeed, sin” versus lacare “inaction”. You can be úalassea “unhappy” but not **úraiqua “unangry”. For negating “bad” things I would use la-negation, as in alahasta “unmarred”. This rule is mostly consistent with the examples of ú- and al(a)-/la- prefixes appearing in the published corpus.
However, since Tolkien kept changing his mind how negation was formed, there are also examples of more “neutral” words beginning with ú-, such as úfanwea “unveiled”. There are also words with al(a)-/la- implying the opposite if a thing, like alasaila “unwise”. So in some cases the two are more interchangeable, and the choice between them is largely aesthetic.
As a final note, in this paradigm I think it is best to use lá as a “negative adjective” before nouns to indicate the absence of a thing, as is hirnen lá matta coasse “I found no food in the house”.