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Sindarin Grammar P28: Independent Pronouns

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.


In Sindarin, subject pronouns are suffixed to verbs, but Sindarin also has a set of independent pronouns that can be used in different contexts. Unfortunately, we have no complete paradigms for independent Sindarin pronouns other than a (very early) paradigm for Gnomish of the 1910s. We do have several complete paradigms of subject suffixes which provide clues as to what the independent forms might be. However, since verb inflections use only impersonal forms for the 3rd person, these paradigms provide no information on the 3rd person independent pronouns. As such, any (Neo) Sindarin pronominal paradigm needs to be pieced together from scattered evidence, and there are several pronouns whose forms we don’t currently know.

Pronouns with and without n: One major complication with Sindarin pronouns is that some attested pronouns end in n such as: nin “me”, men “us”, ten “*it”, whereas others do not: ci “you”, le “you”, ti “*they” (with ten and ti only attested in mutated form den and di). One common assumption in descriptions of Neo-Sindarin is that the pronouns without n are nominative forms, and the pronouns with n are accusative or oblique forms. However most of the attested uses of independent pronouns (both with and without n) are functionally objects. Examples are very limited:

Of these, den “it” and di “them” (lenited forms of ten, ti) are most uncertain. The word den seems to mark passive voice in the phrase where it appears, and could be either a singular or plural pronoun as suggested by Bill Welden (VT44/25-26). Likewise di is unglossed, but the corresponding Quenya version of this sentences (sív’ emmë apsenet tien i úcarir emmen) uses a 3rd person plural object -t, making it likely the Sindarin does as well. Note that in this last sentence, the object of the preposition sui “as” was given as men in the first version of this sentence, later revised to (stressed?) mín.

It is worth asking where this n in Sindarin pronouns originated from. In Quenya, a suffixal -n marks dative pronouns, and it possible the pronominal ending n in Sindarin is of similar origin. It seems this suffix was introduced towards the end of the Common Eldarin period to mark a “second object”, though it is possible this development was limited to Ancient Quenya. As discussed in Common Eldarin: Noun Structure from the early 1950s, the most ancient dative markers were -a and -d:

But inflected objective forms were already developed in Eldarin. The elements employed were affixion of an element -a, or of an element -d … Being in origin more or less equivalent to the use of English “to” these were originally used only to mark the indirect object or dative (PE21/75).

But at some point the language’s development these ancient dative forms were eroded away and replaced by -n:

n was used as dative or pl. Hence allative + . kiryană (PE21/77).

If this -n was also used in Ancient Sindarin as a second (dative) object marker, it would have vanished in most cases since final nasals vanished after vowels. Hence: ancient dative *kiryan > *kirya > kirı̯ > cîr “(to a) ship” would have become indistinguishable from the nominative form of ordinary nouns in Sindarin. But perhaps it survived in frequently used pronominal forms, where it generalized from dative to a universal object marker. This derivation of Sindarin n-pronouns from an ancient “second object” marker is very speculative, but I can’t think of any other plausible explanation.

Pronoun Usage: The fragmentary information described above isn’t really enough to assemble a coherent set of rules for Sindarin pronominal usage without a lot of guesswork. The conventional wisdom in Neo-Sindarin textbooks is that the n-less pronouns are for subjects and the n-pronouns are for objects, but this is not a perfect fit for the attested examples, where n-less pronouns are sometimes objects. Conversely, subject pronouns are almost always subject suffixes, the main exception being e “he” (discussed with the subject suffixes) and g(ī)’ovannen “thou met” (see below). For this reason, I refer to the n-less pronouns as “independent pronouns” and the n-pronouns as “object pronouns”.

In the examples above, the n-pronouns appear (a) as direct objects (after imperatives only, but I think this is a coincidence): tiro nin, caro den and (b) as the objects of prepositions: sui men/mín, and likewise in dative pronouns like annin, ammen. The n-less pronouns appear as either objects of indicative verbs (le nallon “to thee I cry”, gohenam di “we forgive them”) or in one case the subject of a passive participle: g(ī)’ovannen “thou met”. This “subject of a participle” construction must be taken with a grain of salt; Tolkien was trying to figure out how the phrase mae govannen “well met” worked after he decided the adverb mae should cause soft mutation; the presence of pronoun gi (mutated ci) was an intermediate idea, and he ultimately decided the verb was covad-.

The use of the pronoun le is also unusual in the phrases above, in that it is used as indirect object rather than a direct object: “to you/to thee”. This is in contrast to proper dative pronouns attested elsewhere like annin, ammen, anim (PE17/147; LotR/307; LotR/1061). In her book A Fan’s Guide to Neo-Sindarin (FGNS), Fiona Jallings suggests that the actual form might be len with the n lost due to nasal mutation (FGNS/199). Thorsten Renk suggested that this pronoun may have special behavior because it is a loan word from Quenya instead of a “native” pronoun (see le vs. de below). I think it is notable that le is an object of a verb without a direct object. Perhaps where there is no direct object, the indirect object requires no special marking. Christopher Gilson suggested something similar, citing pronominal usage from the Early Quenya Grammar (EQG) as a precedent:

The gloss of le “(to) thee/you” indicates that the dative case is implicit. For the conception that in Quenya the unemphatic “accusative” forms (the bare pronominal stems) are often employed for the unemphatic dative, “especially when there is no direct object expressed”, see EQG, p. 53 (PE17/27).

However, there are definitely sentences with an indirect but no direct object which uses a full dative pronoun:

I suspect the use of le as an indirect pronoun is an archaic or poetic devise Tolkien used to make the meter of his poems correct, and that proper dative pronouns would be used in more ordinary speech. One interesting possibility is that di in gohenam di “we forgive them” may likewise be an unmarked dative: “(lit.) we forgive [to] them”. If so, both of the attested non-nominative independent pronouns may be unmarked datives of verbs without a direct object, putting these uses of di (ti) and le into the same category. Assuming this is true, it may be that the n-pronouns are the normal accusative pronouns in all circumstance.

le vs. de: One curious feature of Sindarin is that one of its major pronouns, 2nd person singular polite le, is not a “native” pronoun, but is a loan from Quenya. This is discussed in notes on Quenya Pronominal Elements from 1968:

2 b) [second person polite] originally (as modern English) probably did not differentiate sg. and pl. In CE l/d actually interchanged not infrequently especially as an initial consonant of stems. But agreement of Sindarin and {Telerin >>} Quenya in distinguishing l- sg. and d- pl. {Sindarin, Telerin had de for sg. and pl. >>} (Telerin has de for both). Only Quenya distinguished sg. as le and pl./dual as de (differentiated later by inflexion). The use of le as “polite/deferential” sg. {only remains in the Quenya as used by the Noldor >>} was introduced by Noldor from Quenya and became general in the Sindarin of Beleriand apart from Doriath, where it was not used (VT49/50-51 and p. 56 notes #26-28).

In his description of the revisions for this note, Carl Hostetter said “This and the preceding sentence may seem contradictory, but the clarification of this is provided by the following sentence, in that only Quenya distinguished sg. le / pl. de ab initio [in the beginning], whereas the same distinction found in Sindarin is a later borrowing from Quenya” (VT56, note #28). In other words like Telerin, Sindarin originally used de for both singular and plural polite 2nd person (and continued to do so in the Doriathrin dialect) but under the influence of Quenya introduced singular polite le, something that was originally only a feature of Quenya. This borrowing of le from Quenya is supported by notes elsewhere:

le “(to) thee/you” — polite 2nd person singular. This was a Quenya borrowing in the Sindarin used by the Noldor or mixed peoples, replacing the pure Sindarin form de, ðe which remained in use in Doriath and in the Havens (notes associated with The Lord of the Rings, late 1950s or early 1960s, PE17/26).

The language of Sindarin, but of a variety used by the High Elves (of which kind were most of the Elves in Rivendell), marked in high style by the influence of Quenya, which had been originally their normal tongue. Examples of this are … [the use of] le, the reverential 2nd person sing. (The Road Goes Ever On, 1962, RGEO/64-65).

Based on the 1968 note, the replacement of older de by le occurred only in the singular, and 2nd person plural remain de in all dialects of Sindarin.

Possible Sindarin Pronoun Paradigm: Based on the fragmentary evidence above, we can construct the following pronoun paradigm for Sindarin. All of these pronouns are attested either with or without an n, though the 3rd person pronouns appear only in lenited forms:

  Sg. Pl.
1st person ni “I/me” me “we”
2nd person familiar ci “you”  
2nd person polite le “you (polite)” de “y’all”
3rd person te “he/she/it” ti “they”

For Neo-Sindarin writing, there is broad consensus on the pronominal elements in the above paradigm. It is not clear whether 2nd person familiar ci can be used in the plural, as it was in the subject suffix paradigm (sg. -g, pl. -gir) from 1962 (PE17/132). It is also not clear what the 1st person inclusive plural pronoun should be: it could be either *gwe as a development from the 1968 primitive inclusive ✶we (VT49/50), or it could be *pe as the independent form of the 1969 mutated pronominal subject suffix suffix -b seen in athab (PE22/167). Personally I recommended avoiding this question by assuming Sindarin lost the exclusive/inclusive distinction and uses me for both, as Tolkien said in some notes written around 1965:

Sindarin had lost the Common Eldarin (CE) distinction between “we” Pl. l a. exclusive of the person(s) addressed, and 1 b. inclusive (PE17/129).

The above are the independent pronoun forms. The object forms would simply add an -n.

Emphatic Pronouns: There is a somewhat mysterious pronominal paradigm from the 1950s mentioned in passing within a footnote from VT50 (VT50/13-14 note #16), with 1st. sg. pronoun en, 3rd. sg. pronoun eth or is, and 3rd. pl. pronouns est, ent, ith or idi(r); these may be connected to the (possible) 3rd sg. pronoun ed appear in the Túrin Wrapper (VT50/5). It is not clear if these are part of the same paradigm or are from multiple paradigms. Based on the prefixed vowel, I suspect these are emphatic pronouns, possibly corresponding to Q. inye, esse, inte. These notes also mention a Sindarin impersonal plural pronoun î(r).

It is possible these emphatic pronouns might be usable as independent subjects, much like emphatic pronouns in Quenya (see the discussion of im below). However, until we get more information on these pronouns and the full context for where they appear, I would avoid using them in Neo-Sindarin.

Reflexive Pronouns: There is a reflexive pronoun im used in several places:

Based on the first two sentences from The Lord of the Rings, it was long believed that im is a specifically 1st person pronoun or reflexive pronoun: “I” or “myself”. Beneath a table of possessive suffixes from 1957, the pronoun im appears next to two others, ech and est (2nd and 3rd person), which may be a more extensive reflexive or emphatic paradigm (PE17/46). In notes on im Narvi hain echant written between the 1st and 2nd edition of The Lord or the Rings, Tolkien said:

im, emphatic separate nominative of 1st person sg. “I, I myself”. Cf. Old Q imne. Im unclear if m of sg. 1 or reflexive singular (PE17/41).

Here it Tolkien was uncertain whether im was an emphatic 1st person pronoun, or a reflexive pronoun, but I think it likely Tolkien considered im to be the subject of the sentence “I, Narvi, made them” when he first wrote it. However, in notes from 1969 Tolkien made it clear im was a general reflexive, not specifically 1st person:

im does not mean “me”, but = “self(same)” and is general reflexive; anim “to self” … But im Narvi hain echant cannot = “I, Narvi” since verb is 3 pers. It must mean “It was Narvi himself” (sc. it was verily Narvi) who made them (VT47/37-38).

Nearby Tolkien wrote the unglossed phrase im Elrond echanthel, which seems to illustrate this use of this general reflexive with a 2nd person -l, and perhaps means “*(your)self Elrond, you drew [them]”. In another note from around this time period Tolkien wrote:

In Sindarin (owing to clash with the reflexive im < immā, immō) imm, im (< imbī) only survived in imlad = T. imbe, and imrad “a path or pass between mountains, hills or trackless forest”. Cf. Imladris “the Canyon of the Cleft” (VT47/14).

This derivation of reflexive im from the more generic inanimate and animate immā, immō supports the notion that it was a general reflexive usable with all persons, equivalent to “self”, and I would recommend that use for Neo-Sindarin.

Conceptual Development: We have a complete pronominal paradigm from Gnomish of the 1910s (PE13/97) as discussed in the entry of subject suffixes. The Gnomish language had noun cases, and its pronouns had different forms for different cases, as indicated by various forms of G. gwe- “you (pl.)” which had nominative, possessive and dative forms gweth, gwethra and gwir (GL/44).

After the 1910s, however, complete pronominal paradigms appear only in the form of subject suffixes, with the exception of a paradigm of possessive suffixes from 1957 (PE17/46). Isolated independent pronouns appear in a variety of places in the published courpse, but it is currently difficult to determine how these examples might fit into the larger picture of Sindarin pronouns. Tolkien wrote several lengthy discussions of pronouns that remain unpublished, which will hopefully shed more light on this topic.

One interesting set of pronouns appears in The Etymologies of the 1930s, in the forms of 3rd person gendered pronouns N. ho, he, ha “he, she, it” (Ety/S). These had variant object(?) and plural forms like hon(o) and huin (for ho “he”). In notes from the 1960s, however, Tolkien made it clear that Elvish did not make a distinction for sexual gender in its pronouns (PE17/135, PE49/37 note #37). Therefore, I would avoid using these pronouns in Neo-Sindarin.

Neo-Sindarin: For purposes of Neo-Sindarin, I would distinguish independent pronouns (without n) from object pronouns (with n) and use the following prononimal paradigm:

  Sg. Pl.
1st person ni “I/me” me “we”
2nd person familiar ci “you”  
2nd person polite le “you (polite)” de “y’all”
3rd person te “he/she/it” ti “they”

The above are the independent forms; object forms would be those with an n added. As noted above, it is possible that ci was used for 2nd person familiar plural as well. It is possible that Sindarin has a 1st person inclusive pronoun “we and you” (equivalent to Q. ve), but we don’t know if it should be *gwe or *pe. I recommend adhering to the 1965 statement that Sindarin lost this distinction (PE17/129), and would use (or misuse) me for both exclusive and inclusive “we”; this may not be correct, but it is at least readily comprehensible.

I would use object forms like nin, men for pronouns used as direct objects of verbs or the object of prepositions. It seems the independent forms could sometimes be used as objects as well, especially for indirect objects of verbs without direct objects, but I suspect this use of unadorned pronouns for objects is an archaic or poetic construction. For the most part I recommend using dative pronouns like annim, ammen instead. This use of object pronouns is consistent with established Neo-Sindarin practice. There may also be circumstances where independent pronouns can be used for the subject rather than the more usual subject suffixes; see the entry on the copula for details.

Sindarin has a reflexive pronoun im “self(same)” used for all persons. It seems that Sindarin has a set of emphatic pronouns as well, but we don’t yet have enough information to reliably construct an emphatic paradigm, so I would avoid using them for now.

Also note the pronominal paradigm above is assembled from a variety of sources, and we do not know whether Tolkien himself ever considered them part of the same paradigm. The 3rd person pronouns in particular are especially speculative. However, there is broad consensus among more recent Neo-Sindarin writers that the pronouns above are the best ones we have from the currently published material, though there is some dispute on the ones not included in this table (most notably 1st plural inclusive).

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