In Tolkien’s later writing, Quenya did not have a direct equivalent of English’s comparative “-er” suffix. In linguistic notes from 1966-67, Tolkien said that “A is brighter than B” is expressed using the preposition lá “beyond”: A (ná) calima lá B (PE17/90), where the copula ná- “to be” is optional as usual. Note that this paradigm for comparison was created in one of the periods where Tolkien did not use lá- for negation, so there was no conflict between the two. As Tolkien described it:
The comparative form of adjectives is not normally expressed by a suffix. In Quenya it is at simplest expressed by the use of the preposition lá: as A (ná) cálima lá B “A is bright beyond B” = “A is brighter than B” (PE17/90).
In earlier notes probably written around the start of the 1960s, Tolkien used a different comparative preposition epe “before (spatially)”: A ancalima na epe B “A is bright before B” (PE17/57); in the actual example Tolkien used anamelda “more dear” even though he translated it as “more bright”. This comparison with epe was used in combination with the intensive prefix an-.
Strictly speaking, the suffix an- meant “very” rather than “more”, so that ancalima meant “very bright” rather than “brighter”. Nevertheless this prefix could be used to express comparatives and superlatives, most notably in aiya Eärendil elenion ancalima “hail Eärendil, brightest of stars” (LotR/720). This phrase literally meant “very bright among stars”, but the formula “an-(adjective) (noun)-(genitive-plural)” could also be used to express superlatives (PE17/56), as in: anavanima Eldaron “most beautiful of Elves”.
In the early 1960s, Tolkien gave a second, more intensive prefix ar(i)-, which Tolkien described as:
There are no comparative or superlative suffixes. The usual prefixes are ar/ari; an/ana … The difference is that ari (< arya- “to excel”) implies a greater degree of the quality, and/or a greater gap between the thing so described and its (nearest) competitor. ari- is mainly used with genitive and is so virtually superlative … ancalima elenion “one of the brightest stars”. arcalima [elenion] “the brightest star of all” (PE17/56).
There is no sign of this “more intensive” prefix in Tolkien’s notes from later in the 1960s, where an- alone was used to express superlatives: ankalima imbi eleni “brightest among stars” or ankalima elenion as in The Lord of the Rings (PE17/91). More generically, the word in question could be compared to “all” as in A ankalima imb’ illi “A is brightest of all”, a pattern also used in the early 1960s with either the prefix ar(i)- or an(a)-: A arimelda na ilyaron or A anamelda na ep’ ilya “*A is dearest of all” (PE17/57).
Origin of an-: Tolkien did not give an etymology for an- in the notes from the early 1960s, but he gave two etymologies in the 1966-67 notes. First he derived it from the same root as anda “long”:
an- is derived from Primitive Eldarin √NDA in the form and(a), meaning “long” or “far” — of measurement in space or time. (We use “far” as an adjectival intensifier, but only in comparison: as “far brighter than / far the brightest of”.) In some forms the full anda- prefix is used. It is then more emphatic than the reduced and > an (PE17/90).
He then reconsidered towards the end of this note, saying “Or have am ? > an before dentals and before back consonants > añ”. He briefly explored this possibility, and then started over using this new etymology:
But there existed a “base” that was intrinsically “comparative”, √AMA. This signified “addition, increase, plus”. In its strengthened form *amba it appeared as the adverb ambe and adjective or substantive amba “more” used of any kind of measurement spatial, temporal, or quantitative. (In some uses it resembled French “encore”.) As prefix ama, am it was frequently used with adjectival stems to emphasize the greater degree in which the quality expressed was present, as compared with some other thing, person, or measurement, specified or implied by the context. When the (mental) comparison was with the normal or general degree in which a quality was present, this prefix became a strong intensive. Thus ankalima could be used in ankalima lá “(far) brighter than”, or by itself ankalima “extremely bright” (sc. brighter than other bright things usually are) (PE17/91).
Before consonants ancient *an- or *am- mostly produced the same result, because nasals typically assimilated to a following consonant:
am- became phonetically an- before t, th, d, s (but not before n, l, r), añ- (written in English an-) before k, kh, g, ñ; but remained before p, ph, b, m, w (mw later dissimilated to nw). In ancient formations these would produce ant-, ant-, and-, ans; añk, añk, añg, añg; amp, amp, amb, anw (PE17/92).
However before vowels and with extended prefixes, the results would be different: an(a)- vs. am(a)-. For example, compare anamelda “very dear” (PE17/56) and anyára “very dear” (VT49/40) versus am(a)ríkie “with more/additional effort” and am(a)lírie “with more vocalic art” (PE17/94).
Direct Comparison: Quenya probably handles direct comparison “A is like B” using the preposition ve “as, like”. This preposition is frequently used adverbially: yéni avánier ve linte yuldar “years have passed away like swift draughts” (RGEO/58), but presumably it could be used for direct comparison as well: néri (nár) halla ve eldar “men (are) tall as elves”.
For more complex comparisons, you can use the relative pronoun yalle which can function as the head of a subordinate clause, as in A karne ta yalle B (karne) “A did that as / like B (did)” (PE17/74). The verb in the subordinate clause can be explicit or implied, for example: á tire yalle Legolas (tire) “keep watch like Legolas (does)”. For simpler comparisons of actions you can use sille “like this” or talle “like that”: á care sille “do it like this”.
Conceptual Development: In the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, there was an “intensive” root: ᴱ√OLO² with derivatives like adjective ᴱQ. olda “much”, adverb ᴱQ. olde “very” and a prefix ᴱQ. olli- apparently meaning “many” (QL/69). In the Early Qenya Grammar (EQG) of the 1920s, Qenya had a complete system of comparative suffixes for both “more than” and “less than”: -lda and -tsa, with adverbial forms -ldo and -sten (PE14/47, 80). Thus from ᴱQ. ninqe “white”: ninqilda “whiter, *more white” and ninqitsa “less white”. There were also generic comparison adjectives ᴱQ. olda “more” and ᴱQ. mitsa “less”, the latter being the diminutive of mitya “little” (PE14/48, 80; PE15/74, 75). As for the superlative:
The superlative of comparison is expressed by the comparative with prefixed article (the article being again prefixed even if already prefixed to the noun) followed by the genitive plural adjectival or partitive in -ĭnen — the latter especially of collectives (PE14/48).
Thus the superlative formula was “i (noun) i (comparative) (group)” where the group was in the genitive or partitive. For example:
- ᴱQ. i·ner i·táralda ’n·Noldolion “the tallest man of (or among) the Gnomes, *(lit.) the man the taller of the gnomes [genitive]” (PE14/48, 81).
- ᴱQ. i mitta ’n·felda aksínen “the worst piece of steel, *(lit.) the piece the worse of steel [partitive]” (PE14/48, 81).
The -lda comparative survived all the way into the 1950s, and appeared in the 1st edition of The Lord of the Rings in the word vanimalda “most beautiful” (PE17/55); this word also appeared in the Quendi and Eldar essay from around 1960 (WJ/369). However, Tolkien rejected it sometime in the early 1960s (PE17/56), probably because it conflicted with the 2nd plural possessive suffix -lda “your (plural)”. He replaced it with comparison using the intensive prefix an- and the preposition epe (later still lá), as discussed above.
EQG from the 1920s also had intensive prefixes oli- and ari-, the second one probably a later addition to EQG (PE14/48 note #47) and this ari- reappeared in the 1960s (PE17/56, see above). As for an-, its use as an intensive prefix first appeared in The Etymologies of the 1930s, where it was derived as a blending of intensive prefixes a- and n- (EtyAC/A, N). At this stage there was another intensive ᴹQ. un-/um- of similar origin, but it was “used only in an evil sense, as in unquale ‘agony’ (EtyAC/A)”. The prefix an- was also mentioned in the first version of Tengwesta Qenderinwa (TQ1) from the late 1930s with a similar origin:
The Q. intensive prefix an (am, añ) is probably derived by blending of intensive sundóma prefix (see above) with this nasal (PE18/42).
It was mentioned again in the Outline of Phonetic Development (OP1) written shortly afterwards, but there it had a different origin, based on syllabic ṇ alone:
Syllabic nasal was also produced by the comparative prefix nŏ- > nǝ > ṇ. This yielded an before dentals, am before labials and añ before back-consonants. This quality a in latter cases may have been generalized, but probably the assimilation of nǝ > ṇ to non-dental consonants was after development of ṇ > an (PE19/55).
Intensive an- was mentioned again in the Outline of Phonology (OP2) from around 1950, but Tolkien abandoned its syllabic nasal origin and the “evil” intensives un-/um- from the 1930s, changing unquale to anquale (PE19/78 note #49). He gave a new origin for an- in Common Eldarin: Noun Structure from the early 1950s, connecting it to allative -nna and the root √NA/ANA:
The original sense of Eldarin ana was plainly “at side of, alongside, besides”, hence also “moreover, in addition, plus” (seen in use of an- as an intensive prefix) (PE21/79).
In the late 1960s he gave two new etymologies, first from *anda “far” and then from √AMA “addition, increase, plus”, as discussed above (PE17/91).
Neo-Quenya: Comparison in Neo-Quenya is challenging because of Tolkien’s shifting conceptions. Tolkien’s last two ideas for comparison were using the prepositions epe “before” (early 1960s) and lá “beyond” (1966 or 67). Thorsten Renk’s Quenya course uses epe-comparison, but Helge Fauskanger and Tamas Ferencz’s course both use lá-comparison, and I agree that’s probably the better choice.
However lá-comparison was coined in a period when lá- was not used as a negative, and is problematic when combined with it. This is one of the reasons I personally favor u-negation. For example, with both la-negation and lá-comparison, “A is not brighter than B” would be **A lá calima lá B; I think A ui calima lá B reads better.
For intensive an-, the question is whether it is derived from √AN or √AM, which in turn influences the form it takes when prefixed to certain words like those beginning with vowels. From the mid-1930s up until 1966 or 1967, the intensive was derived from primitive *an- (< ṇ-), and in this case I think it is better to use the older etymology. The prefix am- is more frequently used for “up”, and using the same prefix for intensives is problematic. Furthermore, there are hints that the prefix an- (but not am-) was used in Sindarin, notably in S. einior “elder” (PM/358), probably = an- + iaur “old”.
However adverbial and adjectival ambe and amba “more” are two incredibly useful words, worth retaining even if the intensive prefix is from primitive *an-. Perhaps a new etymology for ambe can be devised from primitive *an + bē “like” = “more-like”, and the adjective and noun form amba can be adapted from that.
Finally, it is worth considering the more superlative prefix ar(i)- from the 1960s; its Sindarin equivalent ro- is also attested, as in S. rovaed “*most shapely” (1957 linguistic notes, PE17/147). In this case, I think it’s best to assume ar(i)- is archaic in Quenya, and use the superlative formula ancalima elenion “brightest of stars” from The Lord of the Rings (LotR/720).
- Basic comparison uses the preposition lá “beyond”: Elerondo (ná) saila lá Boromir “Elrond is wiser than Boromir”.
- This can be made more intensive with the prefix an- “very”: Altáriel (ná) anasaila lá Boromir “Galadriel is much wiser than Boromir”.
- A superlative can be formed with the an- combined with genitive form of the group which the thing is the “greatest” among: Altáriel (ná) anasaila Eldaron “Galadriel is the wisest of Elves”.
- This superlative can be made generic by comparison to ilya “all”: Altáriel (ná) anasaila ilyaron “Galadriel is the wisest of all”.
- Alternately, perhaps a definite nominalized intensive can be used: Altáriel i anasaila (ná) “Galadriel is the wisest” (resembling the pattern in EQG).
- The intensive can also be used by itself: Altáriel anasaila (ná) “Galadriel is very wise”.
The intensive is formed with an-, assimilated as am- or añ- before labials and velars as appropriate: ampitya “very small”, añcalima “very bright” (written ancalima). The extended form ana- can be used to avoid awkward combinations: anasaila “very wise”. It is not clear how comparatives like “Boromir is wiser now” are formed when something is not compared directly to another, but perhaps it could be expressed as Boromir saila lá ya nés “Boromir is wiser than [beyond what] he was” or with an adverb Boromir ambe saila sí “Boromir [is] more wise now”.