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Sindarin Grammar P25: Genitive

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.


Sindarin has several ways of expressing genitive (“of”) relationships between nouns. In one note from the late 1950s or early 1960s, Tolkien said Old Sindarin had three ways of expressing a genitive:

Note 3 forms of Genitive in Old Sindarin. [1] Without ending (in noun or article) follows an absolute noun and is then adjectival, implying any kind of relationship. So roch heryn = Lady(’s) horse, because connected with the lady (Arwen). [2] Purely possessive (singular) is -a, plural -on … [3] Subject[ive] = ān/n, -āna. roch na-heryna, the horse of (the) Lady. Objective. dagnir an Glaurung, Slayer of Glaurung = he who slew Glaurung (from notes associated with The Lord of the Rings, late 1950s to early 1960s, PE17/97).

The suffixal genitive -a/-on was archaic and rarely seen, and indeed in the notes mentioned above Tolkien also wrote “DON’T have inflected genitive”, perhaps rejecting it even as an archaic form. However, the other two ways of forming genitives are well attested, using either (a) two nouns in apposition with the genitival noun second or (b) a preposition such as na (indefinite) or en (definite).

Appositional Genitives: Tolkien described the formation of a genitive via apposition in several places:

The genitive when strictly so (esp. when implying identity, as “the city of Minas Tirith”) and not implying any movement of or from or partitive relation is expressed by mere juxtaposition (notes on the The Lord of the Rings, late 1950s or early 1960s, PE17/25).

Since all final vowels disappeared in Sindarin, it cannot be determined whether or not this language had in the primitive period developed inflexional . Its presence in Telerin of Aman makes its former presence in Sindarin probable. The placing of the genitive noun second in normal Sindarin is also probably derived from inflexional forms (Quendi and Eldar essay, around 1960, WJ/370).

In S. the simple genitive was usually expressed by placing the genitival noun in adjectival position (in S. after the primary noun). So Vol I., p. 319, Ennyn Durin Aran Moria: “doors (of) Durin King (of) Moria”, Vol. III, p. 41 Ernil i Pheriannath “Prince (of) the Halflings”, Vol. I, p. 320 Fennas nogothrim “gateway (of) dwarf-folk” (The Road Goes Ever On, 1962, RGEO/67).

The second quote indicates a possible origin for the appositional genitive in Sindarin: it may be the result of ancient genitival suffix being lost along with all other final vowels in Sindarin. Hence *andondī Durinō > S. ennyn Durin. Such appositional genitives are common in names in the Legendarium:

None of the above show any mutation, as opposed to the examples where the second element is adjectival which typically do undergo soft mutation:

This Sindarin behavior is distinct from that of Noldorin in the 1930s, where the genitival element usually underwent soft mutation. Compare:

A few of these mutated genitive forms slipped into The Lord of the Rings without correction such as Sarn Gebir “Rapids of the Spikes (ceber-plural)” (RC/327).

Definite Appositional Genitives: Most appositional genitives do not have a definite article, but there is at least one that does, namely:

This means that, like indefinite na vs. definite en, appositional genitive may or may not have definite articles. If we expand our scope to include plurals, the examples become numerous:

David Salo went so far as to posit that this genitival i(n) was a plural form of en in his book Gateway to Sindarin (GS/151), but I do not think this is the case, especially since en also appears before plural nouns (see below). Rather, I think it is simpler to assume this is an ordinary plural article in an ordinary appositional genitive. It may not be a coincidence that most singular appositional genitives have no definite article, and most plural appositional genitives do have such an definite article. However, there are examples of plural genitives without an article as well:

  • Ered Nimrais “White-horns Mountains (nimras-plural)” (LotR/258; PE17/89).
  • Emyn Beraid “Tower (barad-plural) Hills” (LotR/1097).
  • Fornost Erain “Norbury of the Kings (aran-plural)” (LotR/993).
  • Rath Celerdain “Lampwrights’ (calardan-plural) Street” (LotR/768; PE17/96).

Prepositional Genitives, an: There are two main prepositions used to form genitive-like constructions: na or en. Tolkien introduced the preposition na “with, of” very early, and it dates all the way back to Gnomish of the 1910s (where it was a genitive definite article; see Conceptual Development below). In addition to the quote above (where na was described as a “subjective genitive”), Tolkien discussed this preposition in a number of places:

NĀ¹- … N na with, by, prefix an-. Also used as genitive sign (The Etymologies, 1930s, Ety/NĀ¹).

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), and so an or na in some languages has the sense “along with, with, accompanied by, provided with, associated with” and the like. Cf. Bel. na which forms virtually adjectival expressions: as Taur na Foen “The Forest of Foen” (i.e. which included the mountain called the Foen) (Common Eldarin: Noun Structure, early 1950s, PE21/79).

na is rather a multi-functional word in appearance! Its functions in Quenya/Sindarin can however probably be derived from ANA/NĀ “allative” base. In Sindarin it is a preposition and in na-Thón functions like French “á”, provided with, marked by, with etc. (draft of a 1955 letter to Mr. David Masson, PE17/82).

√ANA/NĀ to, towards — added to, plu- … na (< ) “to, towards” of space/time. with vocalic mutation. before vowel n’ … S na, before vowels nan (nasal mutation), means “with” in sense of possessing, provided with, especially of characteristic feature. Orod na Thôn “Mount of the Pine Tree(s)”. na “to” and na “with” are therefore distinct before vowels and b, d, g, p, t, c, m, s but same before h, f, þ, r (rh), l (lh) … For this na(n) Quenya used suffix -va. S i·arben na megil and “The Knight of the Long Sword” = Q arquen andamakilwa. Thus after arose [?] genitive, as Aran lintaciryalíva, S aran cîr lim or aran na chîr lim = [Q] Aran linta ciryalion (Quenya Notes, 1957, PE17/146-147).

In the last quote Tolkien contrasts an appositional genitive aran cîr lim (no mutation) with a prepositional genitive aran na chîr lim “*king of swift ships”. He also contrasts the genitival preposition na “with, of” with the allative preposition na “to, toward”, distinguishable mainly because the genitival preposition causes nasal mutation but the allative preposition causes soft mutation: na thaur “of a forest (taur)” vs. na daur “to a forest”. Attested examples are (mostly) consistent with nasal mutation, and there are a couple of Noldorin examples from the 1930s where the preposition takes the form nan before vowels:

There are two Sindarin counterexamples to this suffix causing nasal mutation, however: Dor-na-Daerachas “Land of Great Dread” (rather than *Naerachas) and Mîr n’Ardhon “Jewel of the World” (rather than *Mîr nan-Ardhon). These could represent conceptual vacillations on the nature of the preposition or the operation of nasal mutation or both. There is also an apparent plural variant of this suffix, nia, attested in two places:

It is unclear why the second example shows no mutation. It’s also unclear how this variant arose, or what kind of mutation it might cause.

Prepositional Genitives, en: Genitives can also be formed with the preposition en. The relationship between this preposition and na is not entirely clear. One common theory is that en is a definite variant of na, produced from an inverted form an + the definite article i, undergoing i-affection: ani > en(i). The most complete notes we have on en and its origin are the notes on the “3 Genitives” of Sindarin, mentioned at the beginning of this entry. In it Tolkien said:

Subject[ive] = ān/n, -āna. roch na-heryna, the horse of (the) Lady. Objective. dagnir an Glaurung, Slayer of Glaurung = he who slew Glaurung. an preceded article in form {ani >>} eni. mellyn enin Edhellion [friends of the Elves] (PE17/97).

This paragraph seems to imply en originated from eni < ani as suggested above, with an (archaic?) definite plural form enin. However, this is immediately followed by another paragraph where Tolkien seems to explore another etymology:

The possessive has article ena usually, especially later, reduced to en before vowel (not when g is lost), na before consonant. Plural is enan > en n/, nan. Hauð en ellas [Mound of the Elf-maid]. nan ellas. i-mbair en N(d)engin, the houses of the Slain (PE17/97).

Here Tolkien seems to suggest an ancient form of ena (? = e + na), though where the preceding e came from is unclear. It is also unclear whether this is a competing etymology with eni, or whether en is a blending of ancient eni and ena. Some attested forms support the notion en is not exclusively a definite genitive “of the”, since (a) there are examples whose glosses have “of” but no “the” and (b) there are examples where en is used with proper names that theoretically do not need a definite article:

Based on examples like these, Thorsten Renk proposed that en was not exclusively definite in his article on The Sindarin Case System. However, glosses are not a completely reliable way of determining whether or not something is definite in Sindarin: English glosses frequently have “the” even though i is not present in the equivalent Sindarin. In the case of Echoriath, perhaps it is definite for the same reason that groups of mountains can be definite in English: “the Alps, the Rockies”. For purpose of Neo-Sindarin, I think it is easiest to assume en is the definite form of na.

One interesting feature of en is that is causes mixed mutation, and idea first proposed by David Salo (GS/79). The preposition originally ended in a vowel, and up to a point this vowel induced the phonetic changes on any following consonant leading towards soft mutation. But at one point this vowel vanished, bringing the nasal into contact with the consonant, leading to further sound changes due to various nasal effects. See the entry on mixed mutation for further discussion and the exact rules for this mutation.

In the PE17/97 notes mentioned above, Tolkien said the “plural is enan > en n/”, which Christopher Gilson suggested probably means that its plural induces normal nasal mutation. Examples of plurals with the preposition en include:

The inconsistencies in these examples make it hard to determine what the plural would be. For purposes of Neo-Sindarin I would assume it is simply en but without nasal loss and with nasal mutation, as indicated on PE17/97. Hence: e-dû “of the night” vs. en-nui “of the nights”. It’s conceivable that, like the dative preposition an, the definite plural genitive preposition would assimilate to a following labial, as in e-bereth “of the queen” vs. em-merith “of the queens”. Before vowels, I would assume en vs. enin: en Edhel “of the Elf” vs. enin Edhil “of the Elves”.

Archaic Genitive Suffixes: In the aforementioned PE17/97 notes, Tolkien said that Old Sindarin had some inflectional genitives:

glim maewion, maewia, (the) voices of gulls. lais geledhion, or galaðon, the leaves of trees. -a is gen[itive] . ion is ia > g[enitive] iōm, later n [?restored].

Tolkien followed this up with “X Don’t have inflected genitive!” However, there are indications elsewhere of this (archaic) genitive suffix, most notably in the phrase Túrin Turambar Dagnir Glaurunga “Túrin Turambar, Bane [Slayer] of Glaurung” (S/226). Here the suffix -a in Glaurunga must certainly be this archaic genitive. The “full genitive” form elenathon of the class plural elenath is mentioned in Tolkien’s notes on words in The Lord of the Rings (PE17/25). The genitive plural suffix -on is also a factor in the name Caras Galadhon “City of Trees”, but Tolkien reconceived of this as an adaptation of a Nandorin name Caras Galadon (PE17/60), a language where this genitive suffix apparently remained active.

It seems likely these suffixes were remnants of earlier ideas from Gnomish and Noldorin of the 1910s through 1930s. If they were a feature of Sindarin as Tolkien imagined it in the 1950s and 60s, they were definitely archaic and no longer used in “modern” Sindarin.

Functional Differences between Appositional and Prepositional Genitives: Given that there were two different genitives in Sindarin, what is the difference in meaning between the two? In many cases it seems the two are interchangeable, in much the same way that “the man’s sword” and “the sword of the man” mean essentially the same English. However, among the quotes above there are indications of some distinctions in meaning:

The genitive when strictly so (esp. when implying identity, as “the city of Minas Tirith”) and not implying any movement of or from or partitive relation is expressed by mere juxtaposition (notes on the The Lord of the Rings, late 1950s or early 1960s, PE17/25).

This means that the appositional genitive would not be used in cases where (a) the genitival noun is a part of [partitive] or describes the composition of the main noun and (b) is not used the genitival noun describes the origin of the main noun. For example, a “sword of iron” would not be **megil ang. I think most likely it would be megil nan-ang, since the closest thing I can find to a partitive genitive in the later corpus is Taur-na-Neldor “Beech-Forest” (LotR/469; RC/384). When describing the origin of something, it seems the preposition o “from” is used, as in Aerlinn in Edhil o Imladris “*Holy Song of the Elves of [from] Rivendell” (RGEO/62).

As for na, Tolkien compared its function to French “á” (PE17/82) and Quenya -va (PE17/147) meaning it could be used possessively, adjectivally and attributively. But it seems these functions are possible for appositional genitives as well:

Conceptual Development: In the Gnomish Grammar of the 1910s, the language had a distinct genitive case:

The genitive, denoting derivation and used by itself usually as a possessive or partitive but also employed with all prepositions etc. of ablative or derivative sense. It is occasionally used by itself in an ablative sense, as in bara from home, away, out, abroad … gen[itive] abl[ative] -a, -n; [plural] -ion, -thon (GG/10).

Rather interestingly, Gnomish also had a distinct genitive definite article: na· or nan· before vowels:

The forms na·, nan derive as follows: i + n genitive + a suffixal genitive giving ina. nan from ina· for euphony before a vowel but aided by i in·, a· an· and other variations. The forms ina and inan· or inon· occur archaically (GG/9).

It is likely this variant article is the inspiration for the later Noldorin and Sindarin genitival preposition na. Furthermore, Gnomish had its own genitival/ablative preposition: a(n), as described in the Gnomish Lexicon:

prefix causing initial consonant change ( mutation), a mark of genitive employed now both with and without -a termination — (also often syncopated leaving only the mutation) … a(n·) with vowel mutation. = Q ô. from {signifying motion} and used as addition to {both} ablative {and allative} cases. Is always suffixed to article in those cases. See grammar (GL/17).

Both the preposition and article can be seen in genitival expressions from this conceptual period. Examples of a(n) include:

The article na was sometimes (but not always) accompanied by the genitive inflection:

Also note how these forms mostly had soft mutation, since nasal mutation was not yet a feature of the language; hints of nasal mutation can be seen in examples like Fôs na Ngalmir, however.

The preposition a(n) “of” disappeared after the 1910s, though it later reemerged as the ancient basis for S. en “of the” (< ani). The article na morphed into a preposition by The Etymologies of the 1930s (Ety/NĀ¹), and this preposition continued to appear in Sindarin of the 1950s and 60s as discussed above. As for the genitive inflections -a, -n, -ion, it seems these were transfered to the Ilkorin language in the 1930s, though they survived conceptually as an archaic feature of Old Noldorin (Ety/THOR; PE21/59) and Old Sindarin (PE17/97).

The (definite) preposition en “of the” was not introduced until the switch to Sindarin in the 1950s.

Neo-Sindarin: For purposes of Neo-Sindarin, its probably best to treat both methods of forming genitives as more or less interchangeable, except that partitive genitives (indicating when something is a part of or the composition of something else) should be limited to prepositional genitives: megil nan-ang “swords of iron”, ram na-cheleg “wall of ice”, mâb en-adan “hand of the man”.

It is less clear how the genitive should interact with the definite article. It’s best to treat en as the definite form of na, but the conditions for when a definite article is required isn’t clear. Possibly of note is that fact that with appositional genitives, a singular genitive is usually missing the article, but a plural genitive is not.

Also possibly of note is the fact that the modified noun itself is often missing an article. It may be that the genitive helps determine the preceding noun, making the article less necessary. However, it is hard to tell, since most of our examples are names. Furthermore, there are exceptions to this rule, as in i arben na megil and “[the] knight of the long sword” (PE17/147) and i chîn Húrin “the children of Húrin” (S/198).

To summarize:

  • Genitives can be formed by putting the genitival noun in apposition after the modified noun.
  • Genitives can be also formed with the preposition na before an indefinite noun which causes nasal mutation, nia when the noun is plural.
  • When definite, this preposition because en, causing mixed mutation when singular and nasal mutation when plural; see the entry on mixed mutation for details.

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