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Sindarin Grammar P39: Past

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 past tense seems to function similarly to the English past tense, but its formation is more complicated and we have relatively few examples to work from. The Sindarin past tense seems to be marked by a variety of morphological features, not all of which apply in every case:

  1. A vocalic augment causing soft mutation of the following consonant: agor “did” for car- “do”; this is mostly used for basic verbs.
  2. Mutation of the base vowel via vowel lengthening: edíw “failed” for dew- “fail”; this is mostly used for certain basic verbs.
  3. Nasal infixion: echant “made” for echad- “make”; this is mostly used for half-strong verbs and certain basic verbs.
  4. Past suffix -ant: teithant “drew” for teitha- “draw”; this is mostly used for (transitive) derived verbs.
  5. Past suffix -as: mudas “toiled” for [N.] muda- “toil”; this is mostly used for (intransitive) derived verbs.

Past Tense, basic verbs: The origin of the common Sindarin past tense for basic verbs appears in notes after the Quendi and Eldar (Q&E) essay, written around 1960:

*ekwē was probably a primitive past tense, marked as such by the “augment” or reduplicated base-vowel, and the long stem-vowel. Past tenses of this form were usual in Sindarin “strong” or primary verbs: as *akāra “made, did” > S agor (WJ/415 note #30).

A similar explanation appears in notes from the mid 1960s:

√MEN-, have as object, (in)tend, proceed, make for, go towards: [Q.] menta-, but past tense mennē-, perfect emēnie: in [ancient] Sindarin these were blended into a past-tense form emēne-. [In modern Sindarin the past form would be evin] (PE17/93).

Thus it seems the Sindarin past tense was a blending of features from the Common Eldarin past and perfect tenses: the vocalic augment and vowel lengthening from the CE perfect, and suffixal and the (occasional) nasal infix from the CE past. Indeed, attested Sindarin past tenses of basic verbs seem to fall into one of two groups: (a) those with a vowel augment and vowel mutation via vowel lengthening vs. (b) those with nasal infixion/suffixion.

  • Augment and/or Mutation:
    • BAL: bal- “have power” → past aval “had power” (PE17/131).
    • DAK: dag- “slay” → past aðag “slayed” vs. aðanc (PE17/131); elsewhere this verb is from the root √NDAK.
    • DEW (ei): dew- “fail” → past edíw “failed” (PE17/151).
    • KAR (ao): car- “make, do” → past agor “made, did” (WJ/415).
    • KAW (ao): caw- “taste” → past agowen “I tasted” vs. cawn (PE22/152).
    • NID: nidh- “intended” → past eniðen “I intended” (PE22/152).
    • NOR (ou): nor- “run” → past onur “ran” (PE17/168).
    • SAM (aaw): sav- “have” → past ahawv > aw “had” (PE17/173).
  • Nasal Infixion:
    • DAK: dag- “slay” → past aðanc “slayed” vs. aðag (PE17/131).
    • KARAP: carfa- “speak” → [deleted] past agramp “spoke” vs. agarfant (PE17/126).
    • KAT: echad- “make” → past echant “made” [deleted edagant] (PE17/42).
    • KAW: caw- “taste” → past cawn “tasted” vs. agowen (PE22/152).
    • KWET: ped- “say” → past pent “said” (VT50/20).
    • (W)AW: gwae- “go” → past awn, anu “went”, anwen “I went” (PE17/148).

Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of variation in these forms. In those pasts with vowel lengthening, two lack the expected vowel change: aval, aðag (from bal-, dag-). In one case the initial consonant does not mutate: edíw (from dew-). In one case the vowel augment is different from the base vowel eniðen (√NID); perhaps this is by analogy with verbs whose base vowel is e such edíw. The vowel augment is a bit less obvious for aw (from sav-), since the initial consonant s vanished medially: asāmē > ahauv(e) > auv > aw.

For those pasts with nasal infixion, some have a vowel augment but others do not: cawn, pent, awn (from √KAW, √KWET, √WAW), though the last may be due to haplology: awawnē > awn(e). The lack of an augment in echant is probably due to its verbal prefix; Tolkien considered but deleted a past form with an augment between the prefix and the verb: edagant. Most of the roots with nasal infixion originally ended in voiceless stop, though a couple ended in w instead; the verb caw- “taste” has past tense forms both with and without nasals (cawn vs. agowen).

Despite these variations, the most common pattern adheres to the one described in Q&E: in the ancient past the base vowel was added as a vocalic augment and also the base vowel was lengthened. As the sounds changed in Sindarin, the consonant after the augment underwent soft mutation, while the lengthened base vowel underwent its usual changes: ē > ī, ō > ū, ā > au. Finally, the lengthened vowel shortened in final syllables, resulting in the mutation e, i, ai, u, o, though in the last case aw remained if the result was a monosyllable: aw past of sav- (see above) and aul as the strong past of gala- (see below). Although we only have a couple of examples, it seems the vowel remained short even when pronominal suffixes were added, as in: agowen, enidhen; the suffixes were probably added to the uninflected form.

It is not entirely clear what the augment would be for verbs with base vowels i and (very rare) u, but based on enidhen (from √NID) it seems possible that the augment would be e and o by analogy with those verbs having base vowels e and o. So perhaps the past tense of tir- “watch” would be *edir, and the past tense of tol- “come” (from √TUL) would be *odul.

Nasal-infixed pasts mostly appear with verbs whose ancient roots ended in p, t, k. These became b, d, g in the verb stem, but in past forms the original voiceless stop was preserved (or restored) as they usually were when they appeared after nasals at the end of words, so that b, d, gmp, nt, nc: *agamp “leapt” from cab-, √KAP; echant “made” from echad-, √KAT; adhanc “slayed” from dag-, √DAK (perhaps *annanc from √NDAK).

Many Neo-Sindarin writers assume these would undergo their medial developments when followed by a pronominal suffix so that b, d, g-mm-, -nn-, -ng-: *agammen “I leapt”, *echannen “I drew”, *adhangen (or *annangen) “I slayed”; such medial developments occurred in earlier conceptions of the past tense (see Conceptual Development below). However, our only attested Sindarin example is echanthel “*you made” (VT47/38) which seems to indicate that the spirantal combination nth was retained (or restored) as sometimes happened in Sindarin phonological history (VT42/27). Assuming echanthel was not archaic, perhaps the inflected past forms would be: *agamphen “I leapt”, *echanthen “I drew”, *adhanchen (or *annanchen) “I slayed”.

Strong Past Tense, derived verbs: In Quenya, it is somewhat common for a derived verb (one with suffixal -ta, -ya) to have a strong past tense based on the verbal root rather than the verb stem, such as the strong past menne for the verb Q. menta- “send”, mentioned above (PE17/93); see the entry on the Quenya past tense for further details. There are a couple examples of this in Sindarin as well:

  • AN: anha- [anna-] “give” → past ōn “gave” (< ✶ānē), onen or ónen “I gave” (PE17/93; LotR/1061), rather than transitive weak past **annant.
  • GAL: gala- “grow” → past aul “grew” (< ✶agālē), analogical angol (PE17/131), rather than intransitive weak past **galas.

There were some similar strong pasts in Noldorin (see Conceptual Development below). Both of these Sindarin strong pasts have some peculiar features. The monosyllabic past tense of ōn “gave” (< ✶ānē) does not show the expected development whereby [ǭ] became [au] seen in other monosyllabic pasts such as aul (gala-, √GAL) and awn (gwae-, √WAW). Nor does its inflected form show the usual shortening of the lengthened base vowel: ónen “I gave” vs. agowen “I tasted” (caw-, √KAW) or eniðen “I intended” (nidh-, √NID). It is not clear whether ōn is an irregular past tense, is a remnant of some earlier conceptual framework, or represents a special development for strong pasts of verbs beginning with ancient ā.

As for aul “grew” (< ✶agālē), it is a perfectly regular phonetic development, but Tolkien gave it an alternate past tense: “analogical angol (?after) freq[uent] ng- (?words)” (PE17/131). This seems to indicate that the somewhat obscure past form aul was reformed to angol by analogy with basic verbs whose ancient form became with ng-, such as (hypothetical) *angol “shone” past tense of gal- [ng-] “shine (clear)” (√ÑGAL). This also tells us that basic verbs beginning with ancient nasalized stops would show their medial development after the vocalic augment in their past forms, hence *annanc “slayed” (for dag- [nd-], √NDAK) and *ammor “dwelled” (for hypothetical mar- [mb-], √MBAR).

We don’t really have enough information to tell which derived verbs would have strong pasts. Strong pasts in Quenya are quite irregular (remnants of irregularities in Common Eldarin), and it seems likely the same would be true of Sindarin.

Past Tense, transitive derived verbs: Aside from a couple strong pasts, the ordinary (or weak) past tense suffix for most derived verbs in Sindarin is -ant. It seems this past suffix was extrapolated from the past forms of half-strong verbs such as tangant past tense of [N.] tangad(a)- “make firm” (PE17/44); see the discussion under verb classes for further details. In notes from around 1969, Tolkien concocted a new explanation for -ant, but abandoned it almost immediately:

Make a Q. past continuous. was eating. mātante. istante, oryante, ortante. (?More) like (?aorist) in syntax. and also helps to explain wide[?] use of -ant as past in S. [added underneath] better mātānē > mātane. istane (PE22/157).

In this quote, Tolkien seems to have briefly considered a new way of forming a Quenya past continuous or past imperfect using a suffix -ante which would have helped explained Sindarin past suffix -ant, but he immediately rejected this in favor of restoring the older past continuous Quenya construction; see the entry on Quenya compound tenses for details. This leaves the older explanation of -ant produced by analogy from nasal-infixed past tense forms as the best explanation for the derived verb past tense suffix in Sindarin.

Sindarin and Noldorin examples of this weak past suffix for derived verbs includes:

  • S. carfa- “speak” → past agarfant “spoke” [deleted pasts carfant and agramp] (PE17/126).
  • S. r(a)itha- “try” → past rithant “*tried” (PE17/167).
  • S. teitha- “draw” → past teithant “drew” (PE17/43; LotR/305).
  • N. damma- “hammer” → past dammant “*hammered” (Ety/NDAM; EtyAC/NDAM).
  • N. dilia- “stop (up)” → past diliant “*stopped (up)” (Ety/DIL; EtyAC/DIL).
  • [deleted] N. gara- “hold, have” → past garant “*held, had” (EtyAC/GAR).
  • [deleted] N. mela- “love” → past melant “*loved” (EtyAC/MEL).
  • N. †nara- “tell” → past †narante “*told” (Ety/NAR²; EtyAC/NAR²).
  • N. ortha- “raise” → past orthant “*raised” (Ety/ORO).
  • N. tiria- “watch” → past tiriant “*watched” (Ety/TIR).

The first example carfa- is unusual in that it shows a vocalic augment agarfant and an unusual (deleted) nasal-infixed strong past tense agramp; both are probably due to the fact that this was originally a TALAT-stem verb from the root √KARAP. This example also indicates that the suffix -ant is only used for the transitive past tense, as discussed in the next section on intransitive derived verbs (see below). This is consistent with the generalization of this suffix from causative pasts like tangant “made firm, confirmed”: all these causatives, as well as all the verbs given above with -ant pasts, are transitive.

The verb r(a)itha- is strange in that it does not demonstrate the expected phonetic developments for its verb stem based on its primitive form (*riktā-), but that should not really affect the past suffixes. This example is interesting in that it shows inflected pasts as well:

  • 3rd sg. past rithant: no pronominal suffix.
  • 1st sg. past rithanen: with -n “I”.
  • [deleted] 1st sg. past rithantin.
  • [deleted] 1st pl. past rithantem; with the -m “we” suffix used in the 1950s through mid 1960s.

These inflected forms are unfortunately not terribly consistent, and they are also inconsistent the expected medial development of nt > nn. See the discussion in Inflected Pasts below.

Past Tense, intransitive derived verbs: In notes of uncertain date but probably from the late 1950s or early 1960s, Tolkien indicated that -ant was the past tense suffix only for transitive verbs:

… KARAP … [Q.] karpa- = “talk, speak, use tongue”, karampe-, S carfa, {carfant (agramp) >>} agarfant. -nt, Sindarin past of transitive verb. -ir [s was written above this] of intransitive. agarfast “he talked” [intransitive]. agarfant beth “he spoke words” [transitive] (PE17/126).

The past suffix -ir appears only in this note, but the suffix -s appears in variant past forms for r(a)itha- “try” mentioned above: rithas “*tried” and rithessin “*I tried”, possibly intransitive pasts vs. transitive rithant (PE17/167). This suffix also appears in the past forms of various intransitive Noldorin verbs:

  • N. egledhia- “go into exile” → past egleðas “*went into exile” vs. (archaic) †eglant (Ety/LED; EtyAC/LED).
  • N. eria- “rise” → (analogical) past erias vs. (archaic) †oronte “arose” (Ety/ORO; EtyAC/ORO).
  • N. ista- “have knowledge” → past istas vs. (archaic) †sint “knew”, explicitly marked “intr.” (Ety/IS; EtyAC/IS).
  • N. muda- “labour, toil” → past mudas “*toiled” (Ety/MŌ).

In Gateway to Sindarin, David Salo suggested this -s(s) past suffix might be derived from primitive *-nsē, analogous to the derivation of -ant (GS/119). Indeed, since the past suffix -ant was based on half-strong transitive verbs like tangad(a)- “make firm” (< ✶tankata-), it seems likely that the suffix -as was derived from inceptive verbs like ✶tankas- “become firm” (PE22/135). Tolkien described such inceptive verbs in Common Eldarin: Verb Structure written in the late 1940s, and these inceptives did indeed have past suffixes -nsē, as in ✶niñkwinsē “*became white”. This does not, unfortunately, explain -ir or -ast in agarfast (PE17/126); these may represent a new (transient?) conception.

Based on examples like agarfast vs agarfant and rithas vs rithant, it seems both intransitive -as(t) and transitive -ant can be used with the same verb, depending on whether it has a direct object: agarfast “he talked” vs. agarfant beth “he spoke words” (PE17/126). Many Neo-Sindarin writers assume this suffix becomes -sse- when pronominal suffixes are added, as in mudas “(he) toiled” vs. mudassen “I toiled” (GS/119; FGNS/240). However, our only attested example shows -ssi- as in: rithessin “I tried” (PE17/167). See the discussion in Inflected Pasts below.

Half-Strong Pasts: As mentioned above, there is a category of half-strong causative verbs like [N.] tangad(a)- “make firm”, whose past forms like tangant were the basis for the widespread past suffix -ant (PE17/44). The verb tangad(a)- “make firm” is only attested as a Early Noldorin or Noldorin verb in the 1920s and 30s, but there is an attested Sindarin half-strong verb with a similar past tense:

  • covad(a)- “make meet” → past covant “[made] met” (PE17/16, 158).

More such half-strong pasts appear in Noldorin:

  • lhimmid “moisten” → past lhimmint “*moistened, made moist” (Ety/LINKWI).
  • nimmid “whiten” → past nimmint “*whitened, made white” (Ety/NIK-W).
  • eria- “rose” → archaic half-strong past †oronte “arose”, later becoming regular intransitive past erias (Ety/ORO; EtyAC/ORO).

The last of these strong pasts †oronte is probably derived from a different ancient verb, intransitive or(o)tă-; in any case it seems to have been reformed using the more common intransitive past suffix -as to erias. These pasts of causative verbs with suffixal -d(a) (< ancient -tā̆) superficially resemble strong pasts of basic verbs in that they seem to have nasal infixion before the d, but in fact these Sindarin half-strong pasts are more consistent with the pasts of half-strong verbs as seen in Quenya. For example from ancient ✶ninkwitā- “make white” we get:

  • past *ninkwintē > nimphinte > [N.] nimmint.
  • present *ninkwită > nimphid(a) > [N.] nimmid.

As these past forms are the basis for the common past suffix -ant, they probably have similar behavior when they are inflected with pronominal suffixes, as for example [N.] tangennin or tengennin “*I confirmed” (PE17/44); see the next section on Inflected Pasts.

Inflected Pasts: We have relatively few past forms inflected with a pronominal suffixes in Sindarin and Noldorin, but those we see show one of two patterns: (a) joining vowel e or (b) joining vowel i that may or may not induce i-affection. Examples include:

  • S. anna-: uninflected ōn, inflected onen or ónen (PE17/93, 147).
  • S. caw-: inflected agowen (PE22/152).
  • S. echad-: uninflected echant, inflected echanthel (VT47/38).
  • S. gwae-: uninflected awn or anu, inflected anwen (PE17/148).
  • S. nidh-: inflected eniðen (PE22/165).
  • S. r(a)itha-: uninflected rithas, inflected rithessin (PE17/167).
  • S. r(a)itha-: uninflected rithant, inflected rithanen vs. [deleted] rithantin and rithantem (PE17/167).
  • N. drava-: uninflected dramp, inflected drammen (Ety/DARÁM).
  • N. had-: uninflected hant, inflected hennin (Ety/KHAT).
  • N. haf-: uninflected hamp, inflected hemmin (EtyAC/KHAM).
  • [deleted] N. hadh-: uninflected hant, inflected hannen (EtyAC/KHAM).
  • N. hal-: uninflected haul, inflected holen or holin [second vowel is unclear] (EtyAC/KHAL²).
  • N. mad-: uninflected mant, inflected mennin (PE17/44).
  • N. mad-: uninflected madant, inflected medennin (PE17/44).
  • N. tangad(a)-: uninflected tangant, inflected tangennin or tengennin (PE17/44).

The two possible joining vowels would depend on how the ancient past tense vowel ē developed. The expected historical development would be:

  • past *mantē-n(i) > manthīn > menthīn > mennin.

However, it is possible that the ē shortened early, before i-affection, so that *mantĕn > manthen > mannen. It is also possible that the shortening varied by verb class or by pronominal suffix. For example, in Sindarin it seems all basic verbs had e as a joining vowel, but Tolkien vacillated between e and i for derived verbs in the one example we have: r(a)itha-. This vacillation between i vs. e and i-affection vs. no i-affection dates back to Early Noldorin; see Conceptual Development below.

Summary of the Sindarin Past: To summarize the main known features of the Sindarin past tense:

1) Basic verbs ending in stops (b, d, g from ancient p, t, k) have a nasal infixed past tenses, frequently with a vocalic augment that mutates the first consonant. These is no augment if the verb has a prefix, and for verbs that began with ancient nasalized stops they show their medial developments (to long nasals): cab-agamp “leapt”, echad-echant “made”, dag- [nd-] → annanc “slay”. When pronominal suffixes are added, most Neo-Sindarin writers assume the final cluster also shows its medial development (to long nasals): agammen “I leapt”, echannen “I make”, annangen “I slayed”; however our one example (echanthel) hints that they may remain spirantal instead: agamphen, echanthen, annanchen.

2) Other basic verbs had a vocalic augment and vowel mutations of the base vowel: a, e, oo, i, u, based on ancient vowel lengthening (later shortened in the non-final syllable): car-agor “did”, men-evin “went”, nor-onur “ran”. In cases where the base vowel is i or (very rare) u, it seems the augment is e or o by analogy with other basic verbs: nidh-enidh “intended”. The base vowel remains short when pronominal suffixes are added: agoren “I did”, enidhen “I intended”. If the uninflected past tense becomes monosyllabic from the loss of initial consonants, the mutation is aau as in: gala- → (strong past) aul “grew” (< ✶agālē); this au likely reverts to o if pronominal suffixes are added, but it remains long if the example ónen generalizes, as in: ólen “I grew”.

3) Transitive derived verbs form pasts using the suffix -ant: teitha-teithant “drew (something)”. Intransitive derived verbs use -as: brona-bronas “endured”. Some verbs may use either past suffix, depending on whether they have a direct object. Many Neo-Sindarin writers assume any pronominal suffixes would use the joining vowel e and the final cluster would show its medial form: teithannen “I drew (something)”, bronassen “I endured”; however it’s possible the joining vowel is i which induces internal i-affection on the verbal root: teithennin “I drew (something)”, brenessin “I endured”.

4) There is a class of half-strong causative verbs with suffixal -d(a) (< -ta) that have nasal infixed past tenses: tangad(a)-tangant “made firm, confirmed”, nimmid(a)-nimmint “made moist, moistened”. With pronominal suffixes these behave like derived verbs: tangannen or possibly tengennin “I confirmed”. In fact, these half-strong causatives are the basic for the (transitive) past tense suffix -ant.

5) There are a few derived verbs that has strong past derived form the verbal root: anna-ōn “gave”, gala-aul “grew”. Like Quenya, these strong past are probably irregular (remnants of CE irregularities). See below for further examples of strong pasts from Noldorin.

Conceptual Development: This section break down the main past tense patterns in the periods prior to Sindarin.

Gnomish Pasts: Patrick Wynne discussed the past tenses of Gnomish verbs from the 1910s in great detail in his 2004 article on The Goldogrin Past Tense. I will only summarize his main findings here. The main Gnomish past tense patterns are:

  • Strong pasts with vowel lengthening and mutation: G. lav- “lick”, past lôvi (GL/53).
  • Strong pasts with nasal infixion: G. mad- “eat”, past manti (GL/56), mostly but not exclusively with verb stems ending in stops (b, d, g).
  • Weak pasts of derived verbs with suffixal -i: G. gultha- “endure”, past gulthi (GL/43).
  • Weak pasts of basic verbs or derived verbs with suffixal -thi: G. ol- “seem”, past olthi vs. strong ûli (GL/62); -thi probably generalized from the previous item.
  • Weak pasts of derived verbs with suffixal -ni: G. saptha- “dig”, past sapthani vs. (archaic) strong †sôbi (GL/67).
  • Strong pasts with vowel gradation due to ancient syllabic ṇ, ṛ, ḷ: G. cwintha- “fill”, past cwanthi (GL/28), probably derived from ᴱ√QṆTṆ.

The last of these was due to varying phonetic developments of short vs. long syllabic consonants ( vs. ṇ̄). The Gnomish strong past patterns are surprisingly similar to those of Sindarin except (a) the presence of suffixal -i, (b) the absence of any vocalic augment and (c) differences in the vowel mutations: i, e, a, o, uai, î, ô, û, au.

Early Noldorin Pasts: Roman Rausch described the Early Noldorin past tenses from the 1920s in his 2008 article on The Early Noldorin Past Tense; my analysis mostly coincides with his, though I’ve organized things a bit differently and glossed over some of the more obscure patterns. Tolkien outlined several sets of verb conjugations in the Early Noldorin Grammar of the 1920s. The only derived verb in this grammar that had a past tense used the suffix -th(i), at this point with i-intrusion in uninflected pasts:

  • ᴱN. glathra- “polish”, past glathraith, 1st. sg. glathrathin (PE13/129).

The first sketches of basic verb conjugations used strong pasts with nasal infixion and (ancient) suffixal i and i-intrusion. Note the vacillation on i-affection in the verb stem, something seen in later Sindarin as mentioned above.

  • ᴱN. mad- “eat”, past maint, 1st. sg. manthin (PE13/129).
  • ᴱN. dag- “slay”, past dainc, 1st. sg. dengin (PE13/130).

However, in the final set of conjugations from the Early Noldorin Grammar, the basic verb pasts used the suffix -ath which became -aith or -eth(i) (with i-affection) in the plural:

  • ᴱN. tangad- “make firm”, past tangadath, m. tangadathog; pl. tengedaith, m. pl. tengedaithog (PE13/131).
  • ᴱN. mad- “eat”, past madath, m. madathog; pl. medaith, m. pl. medaithog (PE13/131).
  • ᴱN. adag- “build”, past adagath; m. pl. adagethig (PE13/132).
  • ᴱN. lhu- “wash” (< lub-), past †lhovath, lhuath; m. pl. lhovnedethig (PE13/132).

In contemporaneous Early Noldorin word lists from the 1920s, this -ath suffix seems to have been repurposed as a past imperfect:

  • ᴱN. dadnuv- “*sink”, imperfect dadnuvath or dadnovath (PE13/164).
  • ᴱN. mad- “eat”, past imperfect madath “was eating”, pl. medaith “were eating” (PE13/163).
  • ᴱN. maitha- “ravish”, imperfect maithaf (PE13/163).

The last of these is probably dissimilation of -ath > -af after th, seen in one of the pasts in the Early Noldorin Grammar as well, past gwardhaf vs. present gwardh (ᴱN. gurdh- “die”, PE13/132). In these Early Noldorin word lists, the past forms of basic verbs frequently have nasal infixion with i-intrusion and i-affection, but many of these forms were marked archaic or Old Noldorin (ONo.):

  • ᴱN. adag- “build”, past edainc (PE13/136, 165).
  • ᴱN. crib- “bend”, past †crimp, pl. crimmi, modern form cribaint (PE13/141).
  • ᴱN. dag- “slay”, past dainc (PE13/141); in another document the modern form is said to be degaint (PE14/66).
  • ᴱN. gonod- “count up”, past †genynt, modern form genedaint (PE13/145).
  • ᴱN. hug- “futuere [Latin = copulate]”, past hync, pl. hyngi (PE13/147).
  • ᴱN. lhid- “float”, past lhint (PE13/148).
  • ᴱN. lhif- “drink”, past lhimp or lhifaint (PE13/148); these are analogical pasts replacing older obscure pasts developed from syllablic .
  • ᴱN. mad- “eat”, past ONo. maint, modern form medaint (PE13/164).
  • ᴱN. ped- “say”, past †pint, pl. †pinthi, modern form pedaint (PE13/164).
  • ᴱN. sag- “fight”, past †sainc, pl. †sengi, modern form segaint, pl. segenni (PE13/164).

It is notable that almost all the verbs with nasal infixion ended with a stop: b, d, g. The “modern” form of many of these pasts used the suffix -aint seen in the past tenses of derived verbs, probably the precursor to the Sindarin and Noldorin weak past tense suffix -ant used for derived verbs. Examples include:

  • ᴱN. glaba- “babble”, past glebaint (PE13/162).
  • ᴱN. maitha- “ravish”, past maithaint or mebaint (PE13/149, 163).
  • ᴱN. meria- “dwell”, past meriaint (PE13/152).
  • ᴱN. rhoidia- “let go”, past rheidiain(t), pl. rheidien(n)i (PE13/152).

In Early Noldorin, however, this weak past suffix invaded the past forms of basic verbs, as with the “modern” pasts of basic verbs given above, replacements for nasal-infixed pasts. There other basic verbs which have only weak pasts:

  • ᴱN. nuv- “sink”, past nyvaint, † (PE13/151).
  • ᴱN. gair- “have room for”, past geraint (PE13/161).
  • ᴱN. gwaist- “recognize”, past gwestaint, †guist (PE13/146).
  • ᴱN. hist- “spit”, past haist or histaint (PE13/147).
  • ᴱN. pis- “whisper”, past pisaint (PE13/152).

Some of these represent reformed pasts from verbs whose roots had syllabic consonants, such as hist- “spit” < *hṣt. Finally, there are a couple past forms that had vocalic augments, the first time this appeared in the language’s conceptual development:

  • ᴱN. cara- “do”, past agor, pl. agori or egerni (PE13/161).
  • ᴱN. curan- “curdle”, past cyrenaint or agyraint (PE13/141).

The first of these was very similar to the Sindarin past tense of car- “do”, with a vocalic augment and vowel mutation ao, differing only in its plural forms.

Noldorin Pasts: Carl Hostetter examined Noldorin past tenses from the 1930s in his 2003 article on The Past-Tense Verb in the Noldorin of the Etymologies. I’ve organized things differently for greater consistency with the Sindarin discussion above, as many of the Sindarin examples were not yet published when Hostetter did his analysis.

Like Early Noldorin, many Noldorin basic verbs had past tenses with nasal infixion, but the i-affection of Early Noldorin seems to have been abandoned in uninflected forms. Also like Early Noldorin, these nasal infixed pasts were mostly for verb stems ending in stops (b, d, g), and many basic verbs had alternate weak pasts using the suffix -ant:

  • N. †adleg- “*release”, past †adlenc (EtyAC/LEK).
  • N. dag- “slay”, past danc or degant (EtyAC/NDAK).
  • N. echad- “fashion”, past echant (Ety/KAT).
  • N. gwedh- “bind”, past †gwend/gwenn, later gweðant (Ety/WED).
  • N. had- “hurl”, past hant (Ety/KHAT).
  • [deleted] N. hadh “sit”, past hant or hadhant (EtyAC/KHAM).
  • N. haf- “sit”, past hamp or hafant (EtyAC/KHAM).
  • N. nestag- “insert”, past nestanc (Ety/STAK).
  • N. rhib- “flow like a (?torrent)”, past rhimp (Ety/RIP).
  • N. sog- “drink”, past sunc or sugant (Ety/RIP).
  • N. trevad- “traverse”, past trevant (Ety/BAT).

The weak past suffix -ant only appeared for transitive basic verbs, a pattern that was noted in the (currently unpublished) Noldorin Grammar of the 1930s (PE17/44). The suffix -ant was also the norm for transitive derived verbs in the 1930s, such as the past forms dammant, orthant, tiriant; for a more complete list see the section above on Past Tense, transitive derived verbs. However, Noldorin also had some examples of strong pasts for derived verbs:

  • N. banga- “trade”, strong past banc (EtyAC/LEK).
  • N. doltha- “conceal”, archaic strong past †daul (Ety/DUL).
  • N. drava- “hew”, strong past †dramp, [later 1st-sg] drammen (Ety/DARÁM).
  • N. egledhia- “go into exile”, strong past †eglant, [later] egleðas (EtyAC/LED).

The last of these archaic strong past was reformed using the intransitive past tense suffix -as, also seen in other intransitive pasts like erias, istas, mudas, as described above in the section on Past Tense, intransitive derived verbs. As with the Noldorin strong pasts of basic verbs, nasal infixion appeared in verbs whose root ended in an ancient voiceless stop, voiced stop or nasal. The archaic strong past †daul of doltha- had vowel mutation and was from a root ᴹ√DUL ending in a liquid, and there were several similar vowel mutations in basic verbs whose stems ended in liquids l, r:

  • N. hal- “lift” → past haul, 1st. sg. holen or holin [second vowel is unclear] (EtyAC/KHAL²).
  • N. trenar- “recount” → past trenor or trener (Ety/NAR²).

These Noldorin pasts resemble those seen earlier in Gnomish and later in Sindarin based on vowel mutation resulting from ancient vowel lengthening, missing only the past suffix -i of Gnomish and the vowel augment of Sindarin.

Summary of Conceptual Developments: There is more continuity in the past tense of Sindarin and its conceptual precursors than it appears at first. As far back as Gnomish, there were two basic variants of the past tense: those with nasal infixion and those with vowel mutations resulting from ancient lengthening. Furthermore, nasal infixion most frequently appeared in basic verbs (or strong pasts of derived verbs) whose ancient root ended in a voiceless stop p, t, k, which became in the “modern” verb b, d, g.

Conversely, verb roots ending in softer sounds and continuants generally had vowel mutations in Gnomish. There are relatively few examples of this in Early Noldorin or the Noldorin past tenses, but this may be a coincidence, especially since analogical weak pasts using the suffixes -aint or -ant were common in these conceptual periods. The few examples of basic verbs with strong pasts whose stems did not end in stops in Early Noldorin and Noldorin usually show vowel mutations.

It is unfortunate that some early theories on (Neo) Sindarin from the 1990s and early 2000s posited that verb stems with liquids also used nasal infixion, such as (hypothetical) past forms like nar- “tell” → **narn and tol- “come” → **toll (< ancient tulnē) appearing in Helge Fauskanger’s Suggested Conjugation of Sindarin Verbs and David Salo’s Gateway to Sindarin (GS/116). As far as I can tell, such nasal infixed past forms for liquids were not a feature of the language at any conceptual stage, and these theories were a misapplication of Quenya past tense patterns to Sindarin.

That said, there does seem to be a conceptual shift in the classes of basic verbs using nasal infixion between Noldorin and Sindarin. In particular, there are several examples in The Etymologies of roots ending in voiced stops or nasals that uses nasal infixion of some kind; Sindarin verbs with similar roots seem to use augments and vowel lengthening:

  • Noldorin:
    • DARAM: N. drava- “hew”, (archaic) strong past †dramp (Ety/DARÁM).
    • LED: N. egledhia- “go into exile”, (archaic) strong past †eglant (EtyAC/LED).
    • WED: N. gwedh- “bind”, (archaic) past †gwend/gwenn (Ety/WED).
    • KHAD: [deleted] N. hadh “sit”, past hant (EtyAC/KHAM).
    • KHAM: N. haf- “sit”, past hamp (EtyAC/KHAM).
  • Sindarin:
    • NID: nidh- “intended” → past eniðen “I intended” (PE22/152).
    • SAM: sav- “have” → past ahawv > aw “had” (PE17/173).

Care must be taken here, since evidence is scant, and some final consonants (such as voiceless spirants) are completely missing from attested Noldorin and Sindarin past tenses.

For derived verbs from Gnomish through Early Noldorin to Noldorin, the common past tense suffix shifted from -thi >> -aint >> -ant. However, the notion that the past suffix was generalized from specific verbs forms seems to date back to Gnomish, where the suffix -thi seems to have been extrapolated from the past forms of verbs with the very common verbal suffix -tha. We know a similar extrapolation occurred for the Noldorin and Sindarin suffix -ant, and it seems likely the same was true of Early Noldorin -aint as well.

There is one widespread feature of earlier conceptions of the past tense that does not appear in Sindarin, namely the invasion of the weak past suffix -ant into the past forms of basic verbs. Such an invasion occurred fairly frequently in Gnomish, Early Noldorin and Noldorin, such as: G. tir- “look for” → past tirthi; ᴱN. nuv- “sink” → past nyvaint; N. gwedh- “bind” → past gweðant. There are no signs of this in Sindarin, but it could again simply be lack of examples.

Neo-Sindarin: My basic recommendation for (Neo) Sindarin past tenses appear in the Summary of the Sindarin Past section above. However, there is so little evidence and so many contradictions that every author who has defined a system of past tenses for (Neo) Sindarin has their formulated their own opinions and variations, and I am no different. In this section I tried to describe the more common variations and areas of uncertainty in these systems of Neo Sindarin pasts, as well as highlighting those places where my own suggestions are outside the mainstream.

Probably the largest area of agreement is in the weak past suffixes of derived verbs, which are almost universally accepted to be -ant (transitive) or -as(t) (intransitive); I favor -as for intransitives over -ast because it has a clearer etymology from ancient inceptive verbs ending in -s. There is some uncertainty on what the joining vowel should be for inflected past tenses, but most frequently Neo Sindarin writers use e (which is the typical joining vowel in strong pasts) as in: teithannen “I drew (something)” or bronassen “I endured”. The actual evidence is inconsistent, but I see no reason to go against the consensus until we get more information.

The largest area of uncertainty is in which basic verbs use nasal-infixed pasts versus vowel mutations, with opinions ranging from “nasal infixion for nearly everything” to “nasal infixion only for stems ending in stops b, d, g”. I personally fall towards the latter end of the spectrum. As noted above, the notion that nasal infixion might be used for pasts of stems ending in liquids l, r was an early Neo-Sindarin theory from the 1990s and 2000s that is almost certainly wrong: there is no evidence to support it and numerous counter examples. This class of basic verbs should definitely use augments and vowel mutations, as in agor “did” for car- “do”.

There is a muddled middle ground for basic verbs ending in nasals, voiced spirants and voiceless spirants. There is some evidence for nasal infixion in verbs whose stems end in nasals or voiced spirants, but this evidence dates back to the Noldorin of the 1930s; the few Sindarin examples point to augments and vowel mutations. There are no examples for pasts with voiceless spirants after the Gnomish of the 1910s, but if they had nasal infixion their pasts would coincide with basic verbs ending in stops. I recommending making such pasts with vowel mutation like erith “remained” for reth- “remain”. The net result is that I recommend using nasal infixion only for Sindarin basic verbs ending in b, d, g.

Another area of ambiguity is whether or not nasal infixed pasts should get vocalic augments as well. Augments are generally omitted among Neo-Sindarin writers that follow the “nasal infixion for everything” rule, but are generally included among Neo-Sindarin writers that are more circumspect on applying nasal infixion. The actual evidence is mixed, but for now I’d recommend using vocalic augments, which is the trend in more recent Neo-Sindarin writing: agamp “leapt” rather than camp for cab- “leap”.

As for the augments themselves, as noted above there is ambiguity on what the augment should be for base vowels i, u; the latter is rare in Sindarin verbs since normally ancient short ŭ > o, but can be relevant for verbs like tol- “come” < √TUL, whose ancient past utūlē would have developed into udul in Sindarin, with the u-pair preventing the usual ŭ > o. However the one example we have, enidhen “*I intended” from the verb nidh-, implies an augment of e for the base vowel i, likely by analogy with pasts tenses of verbs with base vowel e. It is possible that verbs with base vowel u (modern or ancient) would behave the same way, so that the past tense of “come” would be odul, which is what I recommend. This recommendation is based on only one example, however, and at the moment is a minority opinion.

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