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Sindarin Grammar P24: Dative

DISCLAIMER: This article is preliminary research on the part of its author (Paul Strack) and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the owner of this site. Since the source material is complex and its interpretation can be subjective, multiple conclusions are possible.


The dative, or indirect object, can be marked in two ways in Sindarin. First, it can be marked by word order alone, with the indirect object following the direct object:

This order (subject, verb, direct object, indirect object) is different from English, where instead the indirect object precedes the direct object: “I gave the Edain (indirect) hope (direct)”. This Sindarin ordering of objects seems to be a remnant of Common Eldarin word order:

This order was normal in Eldarin and was primitively the chief means of distinguishing what we should call “direct” and “indirect” objects. Thus in unemphatic pronouns (which are archaic in form and largely escaped the later inflexional elaborations), where two such occurred in a sentence, the one nearer to the verb (or most closely agglutinated to it) was taken as the direct or nearer object; the second was in function usually what we should describe as “dative”. There was in Eldarin no distinction felt or marked between “I taught K. music” and “I gave K. a gift.” In such cases in Eldarin, and some of the derived tongues, it remained possible to express both by uninflected forms (Common Eldarin: Noun Structure, early 1950s, PE21/77).

In these notes Tolkien does not indicate which “derived tongues” could use word order to mark indirect objects, but there is no sign of this in Quenya (which always marks the dative with -n), making Sindarin the likeliest candidate.

The other method of marking the dative is the preposition an “to, for”:

S an, dative chiefly with pronouns or persons. < ana, hence vocalic mutation, but takes form m before m, b. “to, for”. dative after word “give”, but in Quenya -nna is used. S ōn annin, but Q antane nin(na)

AN/NĀ “to, towards”. S an “to”, na. an chiefly in forming datives of pronouns, as anim “to myself”, ammen “to us” … S an, vocal[ic mutation] (ana), dative with place or person (from 1957 Quenya Notes, PE17/148).

All the clear examples of this dative formation involve pronouns:

The preposition an mutates the following word, but what mutation should be used is not entirely clear. In the 1957 quote above, Tolkien said dative an would produce the soft mutation, but elsewhere there are indications this preposition would produce the nasal mutation:

In the second example, if an were to cause soft mutation the result would be ’lamhoth.

Finally, there is one curious example where the indirect object seems to be marked with a suffixed na:

Without more information, I would not use this last bit of syntax in Neo-Sindarin writing.

Conceptual Development: In the Gnomish Grammar of the 1910s, the language had a distinct dative inflection:

The allative or dative, which is used either by itself to denote movement towards, either of thought or physical. Its commoner use is as a pure dative but it also is usual as a dative of advantage, and is employed as well alone adverbially as in bari “home, homewards” … dat[ive] all[ative] -i, -r; [plural] -ir, -thir (GG/10).

On the following page he gave -wid as the (archaic) dual dative. There are not many dative examples in Gnomish with nouns:

There are several examples in the Gnomish Lexicon of dative (or possibly oblique) pronouns with the suffix -n:

  • G. on iltathi nin pieg “*he stuck me (nin) with a pin” (GL/51), where Tolkien explicitly said “with dative of person or thing pricked”.
  • G. a·laithra nin “I forget it, *(lit.) it slips for me (nin)” (GL/52).
  • G. u lâ fin sî “no room for you (fin) here” (GL/52).

However, Tolkien gave the dative form “to us” as mir with -r (GL/57). A (possibly) dative form gwir also appears for the pronoun gwe- (GL/44).

In the 1920s and 30s there are no (published) mentions or examples of the dative, making it difficult to trace the conceptual development of the dative between Gnomish and Sindarin.

Neo-Sindarin: Most writers of Neo-Sindarin use the preposition an with nasal mutation to mark the dative. Using word order is also acceptable, though less common.

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