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Sindarin Grammar P37: Verbal Nouns

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 Sindarin verbal noun is formed with the suffix -ed (for basic verb) or -d (for derived verbs ending in -a). These are roughly equivalent to English verbal nouns ending in “-ing”: car- “do” vs. cared “doing”, that is they function as gerunds. In Sindarin, verbal nouns are also used as the objects of other verbs, functioning like an English infinitive: “to do”. This is a trait Sindarin seems to share with Welsh, which does not have distinct gerunds and infinitives but only has a verbal noun form which is used for both. Sindarin examples include:

The verbal object may also have objects of its own: e aníra tírad i Cherdir Perhael “he desires to see Master Samwise”. Unlike nouns that are the direct objects of verbs, a verbal nouns does not undergo soft mutation. As seen in the last example in the list above, the infinitive need not directly follow the main verb, because an adverb can intervene: e aníra ennas suilannad “(lit.) he desires there to see”.

The Sindarin verbal noun suffix is derived from the primitive suffix -ita; this suffix is also seen in the Quenya particular infinitive:

General infinitive [Q] -ie, karie. (S -ita. cared.) (PE17/68).

With basic verbs, presumably the i underwent a-affection, so that -ita > -ed(a). In the case of derived verbs, it seems -t(a) was applied directly to the verb stem to became -d. However, there are a few examples of the vowel a becoming o, as in galod gerund of gala- “to grow”. The likely phonetic developments are -ātā > -ǭta > -od(a) with the long ǭ shortening at the end of the polysyllable as it generally did. It may be that this -ad/-od variation in derived verbs reflects differences in ancient verb forms: those ending in vs. . Without more information, though, I’d stick with the established Neo-Sindarin practice of using -ad for all gerunds of derived verbs.

Conceptual Development: We have no real information on verbal nouns for Gnomish of the 1910s, but Early Noldorin of the 1920s had both infinitives and gerunds, though they often coincided. In Tolkien’s first sketch verbs in the Early Noldorin Grammar from the 1920s (PE13/126-127), he gave the infinitives for basic and derived verbs as maded (mad-) and glathrad (glathra-) respectively, similar to Sindarin forms of the 1950s and 60s. However, he also gave a verbal noun gladhros, as well as past infinitives derived by adding -ad to the past tense forms: manthiad, glathrathiad >> glathraithiad. The past infinitive forms were the same in his second sketch, but the present infinitives became medwi and glathrod (PE13/129).

The i-infinitives for basic verbs reappeared in Early Noldorin word lists of this period, but in a few cases the i intrudes to form i-diphthongs. Examples include:

  • ᴱN. crann- “finish”: crenni “to finish” (PE13/161).
  • ᴱN. curan- “curdle”: curenni “to curdle” (PE13/141).
  • ᴱN. gonod- “count up”: inf. genedi vs. genaid; †goenoedi vs. †goenoid (PE13/162).
  • ᴱN. mad- “eat”: medi “to eat, eating” (PE13/163).
  • ᴱN. rhang- “slay”: rhengi “to slay in battle” vs. inf. rheing (PE13/152).

These word lists also had several examples of what appear to be -ad/-od gerunds of derived verbs:

  • ᴱN. eithla- “well forth”: inf. eithlod “springing, welling forth” (PE13/158).
  • ᴱN. glaba- “babble”: glabod “babbling” (PE13/162).
  • ᴱN. meria- “dwell”: meriad “to dwell, live, stay” (PE13/150).

However, there were a couple of explicitly marked infinitives in the Early Noldorin word lists that were modification of the verb stems without a suffix:

  • ᴱN. adag- “well forth”: inf. adob “to build” (PE13/158).
  • ᴱN. golwad- “stick”: golod “to stink” (PE13/162).
  • ᴱN. rhoidia- “let go”: rhoid “to let go” (PE13/152).
  • ᴱN. thirad- “finish”: thirod “making complete” (PE13/165).

The first of these appeared as the infinitive adog (g instead of b) in the Early Noldorin Grammar (PE13/132). There were also some infinitives formed with a suffixal -th that might be tied to the verbal noun glathros appearing in the first draft of verb conjugations from the Early Noldorin Grammar:

  • ᴱN. elaig- “shield”: inf. alaith “shielding, warding off” (PE13/158).
  • ᴱN. gonod- “count”: inf. gonoth (PE13/152); compare with inf. genedi, genaid above.
  • ᴱN. sag- “fight”: inf. sagoth (PE13/153).

Finally, there were a few verbal nouns that don’t fit in to any of these patterns, such as: peda “to say” from ped- (PE13/152), inf. eithran “stabbing, pricking” from eithra- (PE13/158).

The i-infinitives reappeared for Noldorin basic verbs in The Etymologies of the 1930s:

  • N. adleg-: †adlegi “*to release” (EtyAC/LEK).
  • N. blab-: blebi “[to] flap, beat” (Ety/PALAP).
  • N. dag-: degi “to slay” (Ety/NDAK).
  • N. dar-: deri “[to] stop, halt” (Ety/NDAK).
  • N. echad-: echedi “[to] fashion” (Ety/KAT).
  • N. gad-: gedi “[to] catch” (Ety/GAT).
  • N. gir-: giri “[to] shudder” (Ety/GIR).
  • N. gwedh-: †gwedi “[to] bind” (Ety/WED).
  • N. had-: hedi “[to] hurl” (Ety/KHAT).
  • N. lhav-: lhefi “to lick” (Ety/LAB).
  • N. mad-: medi “[to] eat” (Ety/MAT).
  • N. orthor-: ortheri “[to] master, conquer” (Ety/TUR).
  • N. osgar-: esgeri “[to] cut round, amputate” (Ety/OS).
  • N. rhedh-: rheði “to sow” (Ety/RED).
  • N. thrib-: thribi “[to] scratch” (Ety/SRIP).
  • N. tir-: tiri “[to] watch” (Ety/TIR).
  • N. tog-: tegi “to bring” (Ety/TUK).
  • N. tol-: teli “to come” (Ety/TUL).
  • N. trenar-: treneri “[to] recount” (Ety/NAR²).
  • N. trevad-: trevedi “[to] traverse” (Ety/BAT).

Many of the above are attested only in their infinitival form. These i-infinitives caused internal i-mutation of the base vowel (and in the case of esgeri the entire verb), but there is no sign of i-intrusion in this period.

Derived verbs in The Etymologies had a new infinitive form ending o. Examples were very numerous, and many derived verbs were attested only in their infinitival form. Some representative examples:

  • N. atlanna-: atlanno “to slope, slant” (Ety/TALÁT).
  • N. anna-: anno “to give” (Ety/ANA¹).
  • N. bartha-: bartho “to doom” (Ety/ANA¹).
  • N. beria-: berio “to protect” (Ety/BAR).
  • N. cuina-: cuino “to be alive” (Ety/KUY).
  • N. dagra-: dagro “to battle” (Ety/KUY).
  • N. dringa-: dringo “to beat” (Ety/DRING).
  • N. ercha-: faro “to prick” (Ety/ERÉK).
  • N. fara-: faro “to hunt” (Ety/SPAR).
  • N. gala-: galo “to grow” (Ety/GALA).
  • N. glavra-: glavro “to babble” (Ety/GLAM).
  • N. harna-: harno “to wound” (Ety/SKAR).
  • N. negra-: negro “to pain” (Ety/NÁYAK).
  • N. panna-: panno “to open, enlarge” (Ety/PAT).
  • N. presta-: presto “to affect, trouble, disturb” (Ety/PERES).
  • N. rada-: rado “to make a way, find a way” (Ety/RAT).
  • N. rosta-: rosto “to hollow out, excavate” (Ety/ROD).
  • N. tamma-: tammo “to knock” (Ety/TAM).
  • N. telia-: telio “to play” (Ety/TYAL).
  • N. tuia-: tuio “to swell” (Ety/TIW).

These Noldorin-style infinitives appeared in other contexts in the 1930s, such as medi “to eat” and tangado “to confirm, establish” from the (currently unpublished) Noldorin Grammar from this period (PE17/44), and they bear a striking resemblance to the more common Welsh verbal noun suffixes (-u, -o, -io, -i). However, there are also examples of verbal nouns ending in -ed/-ad, such as:

  • N. arnediad “without reckoning” = ar- + nedia- + -(a)d (Ety/NOT).
  • N. aronoded “countless” = ar- + (g)onod- + -ed (Ety/NOT).
  • N. heniad [unglossed] beside infinitive henio “[to] understand” (Ety/KHAN; EtyAC/KHAN).
  • [deleted] N. bacthad from bactha- “trade” [unglossed] (EtyAC/MBAKH).

It may be these were true gerundal forms. However, there is no sign of the Noldorin-style infinitives with -i and -o in Sindarin of the 1950s and 60s, where -ed/-ad/-od forms seem to function as both gerund and infinitive, as discussed above.

Neo-Sindarin: It is the general assumption of most Neo-Sindarin writers that the -ed/-ad verbal nouns function as both gerunds and infinitives, and behave in all respects like nouns except (a) they cannot be inflected in the plural and (b) are not mutated when functioning as the infinitival object of another verb.

The similarity in function between Sindarin and Welsh verbal noun (which in each language serves as both a gerund and an infinitive) can give additional clues to more complex uses of verbal nouns. In Welsh, the direct object of a finite verb undergoes soft mutation, but the direct object of an infinitive does not. This is because the infinitive is, strictly speaking, a noun, and its relationship to its object is essentially an appositional genitive. The closest Welsh equivalent to “I want to slay a wolf” would be “I want slaying of a wolf”. In Sindarin this might be merin daged draug (and not dhraug) where daged draug is an appositional genitive “slaying [of a] wolf”.

In the situation where the direct object of the verbal noun is a pronoun, Welsh uses a possessive pronoun, so “I want to slay him” would be “I want his slaying (the slaying of him)”. In Sindarin this might be merin i naged dín. In cases where the verbal noun has a subject, in Welsh it comes between the main verb and the infinitival verb in the dative, so perhaps in Sindarin merin ammen daged draug “I want us to slay a wolf, (lit.) I want for us slaying of a wolf” and merin an i adan i naged lín “I want the man to slay you, (lit.) I want for the man you slaying”.

This is all speculative, but fits the notion that the Sindarin infinitive is functionally a noun.


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