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Sindarin Grammar P38: Present

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 simple present tense seems to be based on the ancient Common Eldarin aorist tense. We have relatively few examples of its uses, so its exact function is hard to determine, but many Neo-Sindarin writers assume it functions more or less like the English simple present, but can also function like the present continuous/imperfect as well: the phrase tôl achar(n) was in different places glossed as either “vengeance comes (tôl)” (WJ/254) or “vengeance is coming” (PE17/166).

For derived verbs, the present tense is simply the unadorned verb stem: gala “grow” (gala-). For monosyllabic basic verbs, the stem vowel is lengthened as is often the case in monosyllables: câr “do, make” (car-). Unlike the past tense, the lengthened vowel does not change in quality, since this lengthening was quite late. Thus the present tense of tol- “come” is tôl (though in one place Tolkien did write tûl, WJ/301). Presumably vowel lengthening would not occur if the basic verb stem was polysyllablic, such as *echad “shape” for the verb echad-, but there are no attested examples of this after the Early Noldorin and Noldorin of the 1920s and 30s (see Conceptual Development below).

Things become more complex when pronominal suffixes are added. In the case of derived verbs, a pronominal suffix usually means the final a of the verb changes to o as in galon “I grow” (gala-), but in some cases the a is preserved: before -r and pronominal suffixes that were clusters; see verb inflections for further discussion. In the case of basic verbs, the ancient aorist suffix i is preserved, and causes internal i-affection of the base vowel: cerin “I do” (car-); see the discussion in vowel mutations for the origin of this sound change. The net result is that for many basic verbs, the vowel becomes e in an inflected present tense:

  • car-: present tense cerin “I do” (PE17/132).
  • heb-: present tense hebin “I keep” (LotR/1061).
  • tol-: present tense *telin “I come” (unattested).

Because the large number of collisions in the present tense, basic verbs are probably less likely to survive in Sindarin than they are in Quenya, which may explain why we sometimes see derived verbs or prefixed verbs in Sindarin (and Noldorin) where their Quenya equivalents are basic verbs:

This should not be overgeneralized, since there are numerous examples of basic verbs that are direct cognates in both Sindarin and Quenya, and even a few examples where Sindarin has a basic verb and Quenya a derived one: S. pad- “walk” vs. Q. pata- (PE17/34). However, you should be careful when crafting (Neo) Sindarin neologisms, because apparently distinct verb stems may produce unexpected homonyms in inflected forms. For example, this would be the case if Sindarin used basic verbs derived from the roots √TAK and √TEK (*tag- and *teg-), as opposed to attested Noldorin taetha- and teitha-.

Half-Strong Presents: Sindarin and Noldorin has a class of causative half-strong verbs from which the past tense suffix -ant is derived; see the discussion in the entry on verb classes for further details. The attested examples were mostly derived from ancient adjectives plus the causative suffix -tā̆, as in ✶tankatā- or ᴹ✶tankāta- “make firm” > [N.] tangad(a)-. Unlike most derived verbs they consistently have no vocalic suffix in their attested 3rd. singular present forms:

  • S. covad “make meet”, past covant (PE17/16, 158).
  • N. tangod “make firm”, past tangant, infinitive tangado (PE17/44).
  • N. lhimmid “moisten”, past lhimmint (Ety/LINKWI).
  • N. nimmid “whiten”, past nimmint (Ety/NIK-W).
  • N. pannod “fill, *(lit.) make full” (Ety/KWAT).

One possible explanation is that in such verbs, the final was short (or shortened very early), so that it was lost as opposed to the long of other derived verbs which survived. If this was the case, then this vowel would also have remained short before pronominal suffixes, and would not mutate ao as was usually the case with derived verbs. The inflected forms would therefore be covadan “I make meet”, tangadan “I make firm”, nimmidan “I whiten” and so forth. To indicate this, I represent these half-strong verbs with a parenthetical (a) in their verb stem: tangad(a)-.

In a couple of these verbs, we instead see ao in 3rd. singular before the final d. It seems this vowel was long in ancient forms, so that tankātă, kwantātă > tanchǭd(a), panthǭd(a) > tangod, pannod. Whether this was a general rule or applied only to a few verbs is unclear. In general we don’t have much information about this verb class, so all these details are necessarily speculative.

Present Continuous/Imperfect: Quenya has distinct aorist and present tenses, the latter being strictly speaking a present continuous or imperfect tense, as in Q. tulin “I come” vs. túlan “I am coming”. In some notes written in 1969, there are hints that Sindarin might be the same. There is a verb form tolen “I am coming”, part of a future construction tolen cared, roughly equivalent to English “I am going to make (car-)”, except with “coming (tol-)” instead of “going” (PE22/168). This does not seem to be the ordinary Sindarin simple present, where we would expect to see telin (see above). In her book A Fan’s Guide to Neo-Sindarin, Fiona Jallings suggests that this may represent a distinct Sindarin present continuous/imperfect formed by (a) adding e to the verb stem and (b) adding any pronominal suffixes as needed (FGNS/232-233).

One challenge with this verb form is that is hard to reconcile with what we know of the Common Eldarin present continuous, which was associated with the vowel suffix (PE22/130, 134). There is no obvious Sindarin phonological development that would produce -e from . My best guess is that for reasons unknown, the ancient present continuous suffix was shifted forward to a long vowel sound Tolkien designated as either ǣ or ę̄, perhaps long IPA [æ]. This [ę̄] became [ai] in Sindarin (PE18/96), and then usually [ai] became [ae].

However, in the final syllable of polysyllable, sometimes [ae] became [e], in much the same way that [au] become [o] in polysyllables (much more frequently). The au development is probably the result of unstressed [ǭ] shortening to [o], and the ae development is probably likewise the result of unstressed [ę̄] becoming [e]. This is the only explanation I can come up with for how might develop into -e in Sindarin; hat tip to Elaran for giving me the idea for this etymology, though the one I am proposing is not exactly what he suggested.

Absent more information, however, it is probably best to avoid this barely-attested verb tense for now.

Conceptual Development: We have a small number of attested Gnomish present tense forms, not enough to establish any clear patterns beyond the fact that the present tense of derived verbs ending in -a seemed to be the unadorned verb stem: G. en nin·ista mai “I am well aware of that” for ista- “to be aware” (GL/52), G. a·laithra nin “I forget it, *(lit.) it slips for me” for laithra- “to let slip, forget” (GL/52). Gnomish used pronominal prefixes, so vowel variation by suffix would have been less of an issue in this period.

There were extensive verbal conjugations appearing with the Early Noldorin Grammar of the 1920s, giving us a pretty clear picture of the present tense at this conceptual period. In a section labeled “Regular Verbs”, Tolkien gave both a present indicative and aorist indicative for basic verbs (PE13/131-132). The uninflected present indicative was the verb stem, with the vowel lengthened if it was monosyllabic. Inflected forms mostly added an e followed by a pronominal suffix in the singular, or i in the plural; the plural i triggered internal i-affection as appropriate:

  • ᴱN. adag- “build”: present adag, m./f. sg. ádageb/adages, pl. edegir, m./f. pl. edegig/edeg(a)is.
  • ᴱN. gurdh- “die”: present gwardh, m. sg. gwardheg, pl. gwerdhir, m. pl. gwerdhig.
  • ᴱN. lhuv- “wash”: present lhú, m./f. sg. lhu(v)eg/lhu(f)es, pl. lhuir, m./f. pl. lhuig/lhu(a)is.
  • ᴱN. mad- “eat”: present mád, m./f. sg. madeg/mades, pl. medir, m./f. pl. medig/med(a)is.
  • ᴱN. tangad- “make firm”: present tangad, m./f. sg. tangàdog/tangàdas, pl. tangadar, m./f. pl. tengèdir/tengèd(a)is.

For adag-, the masculine singular suffix was -eb rather than -eg, probably due to dissimilation. For the verb gurdh-, the difference between the stem and the present forms (gwardh-) was probably due to varying phonetic developments for syllabic from its ancient form gwṛð- (see below). It isn‘t clear why the masculine and feminine singular forms of tangad- used different vowels (-og/-as), but these alternate suffixes also appeared as (archaic?) variant forms for mad- as well: m./f. sg. madog/madas.

The aorist forms were mostly produced with suffixal -iant which becomes -ienn- when inflected; this suffix induces internal i-affection on the stem. Archaic forms seem to indicate an infixed nasal with lost final aorist -i intruding into the stem:

  • ᴱN. adag- “build”: aorist edegaint (†edainc), m. sg. edengiob [perhaps archaic].
  • ᴱN. gurdh- “die”: aorist gwridh, m. sg. gwridheg.
  • ᴱN. lhuv- “wash”: aorist lhuaint (†lhîf/lhîw).
  • ᴱN. mad- “eat”: aorist medaint (†maint), m./f. sg. medeinniog/medeinnias (†meinniog/meinnias), pl. medennir (†mennir), m./f. pl. medennig/medenn(a)is (†mennig/mennis).
  • ᴱN. tangad- “make firm”: aorist tengaint, m./f. sg. tenge(i)nniog/tenge(i)nnias, pl. tengennir, m./f. pl. tengennig/tengenn(a)is.

The aorist of gurdh- most strongly indicates the i-intrusion from ancient forms, probably from ancient *gwṛði > gwrið. The uninflected -aint vs. inflected -einn- are likely due to the differing phonetic developments for ai and nt in final syllables vs. non-final syllables.

Some of the above formations can be seen in earlier sketches of the verb system (PE13/129), where the archaic aorist form maint was apparently the normal form, along with inflected mennin (1st sg.), mennib (2nd sg.) and so forth. In these earlier sketches, the joining vowel depended on the pronominal suffix rather than singular vs. plural, with 1st. sg. and 1st. pl. exclusive -on, -um not inducing i-affection and 2nd. sg., 1st. pl. inclusive and 2nd. plural -ib, -inc, -ist inducing i-affection (in the first sketch, these were -o, -anc, -ast respectively PE13/127).

These early sketches also had present tense examples for the derived verb ᴱN. glathra- “polish” (PE13/126, 129), already more or less the same as the later Noldorin and Sindarin system of the 1930s-1960s. The Early Noldorin pronominal suffixes were added to the derived-verb stem with an o/a vowel variation depending on whether the suffix was a single consonant or a cluster: gladhron “I polish” vs. gladhrast “you (pl.) polish”. The only difference from later Noldorin and Sindarin was in the pronominal suffixes themselves.

By The Etymologies of the 1930s, the present tense of basic verb was also revised to be consistent with the system eventually seen in Sindarin, with uninflected present forms being the stem with a long vowel (if monosyllabic) or the bare stem if polysyllabic:

  • N. blâb “flap” (Ety/PALAP).
  • N. lhôd “float” (EtyAC/LUT).
  • N. orthor “master, conquer” (Ety/TUR).
  • N. osgar “cut round, amputate” (Ety/OS).
  • N. sôg “drink” (Ety/SUK).
  • N. tôg “bring” (Ety/OS).
  • N. tôl “comes” (Ety/TUL).

Inflected forms also had i before the pronominal suffix and showed internal i-affection, though many of the examples are in deleted drafts: gerin (gar-) “I hold, have” (Ety/ƷAR|GAR); [deleted] herin (hadh-) “[I] sit” (EtyAC/KHAM); [deleted] tegin (tog-) “*I bring” (EtyAC/TUK). It seems from this point forward, Tolkien maintained the same basic system for simple present forms in Noldorin of the 1930s up through Sindarin of the 1950s and 60s.

Neo-Sindarin: I would recommend the following conjugations for the present tense, using car- “do”, gala- “grow”, and tangad(a)- “make firm, confirm” as examples:

  Basic Derived Half-Strong
1st sg. cerin “I do” galon “I grow” tangadan “I confirm”
2nd sg. cerig “you do” galog “you grow” tangadag “you confirm”
2nd sg. (polite) ceril “you do” galol “you grow” tangadal “you confirm”
(archaic polite) ceridh “you do” galodh “you grow” tangadadh “you confirm”
3rd sg. câr “he/she does” gala “he/she grow” tangod “he/she confirms”
1st pl. cerif “we do” galof “we grow” tangadaf “we confirm”
2nd pl. ceridh(ir) “y’all do” galodh(ir) “y’all grow” tangadadh(ir) “y’all confirm”
3rd. pl. cerir “they do” galar “they grow” tangadar “they confirm”

See the entries on subject suffixes and verb inflections for more details on the inflectional suffixes. For polysyllabic basic verbs, the verb stem is not lengthened, as suggested above: echad “he/she makes or fashions”. Basic verbs with inflectional suffixes undergo internal i-affection, as discussed in vowel mutations: a, oe and u (very rare) → y. It is not entirely clear if verbal prefixes are mutated, but I suspect no if recognized: ortherin (orthor-) “I conquer (= over-rule)”, and yes if unrecognized: ephedin (aphad-) “I follow”.

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