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Sindarin Grammar P40: Future

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.


There is no future tense in Gnomish or Early Noldorin, perhaps because the Welsh present tense can also be used to describe the future: strictly speaking the Welsh “present tense” is really “non-past”, just like the English simple present. The first mention of a distinct future form is in Quendian & Common Eldarin Verbal Structure (EVS1) from the late 1940s:

Future. All the Eldarin languages express a simple future inflexionally, but the inflexions and patterns used are different … In Old Noldorin the future was usually expressed by adding -thā to the aorist stem: matithā- “will eat”. This thā is probably in origin a defining adverb = “then, next”, since with time-reference the pronominal stem √THA in Noldorin referred forward (PE22/96-97).

A similar scenario is described in Common Eldarin: Verb Structure (EVS2) from the early 1950s:

Future. All the Eldarin languages express, or in their older periods expressed, a simple future inflexionally, but the inflexions and patterns are different in each … In primitive Sindarin the future was expressed in two ways: (a) by adding thā (> OS thō) to the aorist stem: as matithāni “I am going to eat”, the immediate future; (b) by adding ubā to the bare verbal stem as matubāni “I shall eat”, the remoter future. The element thā is adverbial, and meant originally “then, next”. The pronominal stem the/tha when used in Sindarin with time-reference pointed forward to the future. On the element uba see next. [The next section in EVS2 discussed uba as the basis for the Quenya future] (PE22/131).

There are no signs of the ubā future in Sindarin outside of this note, and in notes from the 1960s Tolkien explicitly said Sindarin did not use this root for the future (PE22/167; see below). Regarding the “pronominal stem the/tha”: the drafts of the Moria gate inscription from the 1940s read [N.] Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i thíw thin “Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs” (TI/182), with [N.] thin “these” instead of later [S.] hin “these” from the version published in The Lord of the Rings (PE17/40).

Sindarin futures did not appear until fairly late in the writing of The Lord of the Rings, in particular in Fanuilos, le linnathon “Fanuilos, to thee I will sing” (LotR/238; RGEO/64; PE17/21) from the final form of of the poem A Elbereth Gilthoniel (but not in its drafts). A couple future forms also appeared in the King’s Letter from the unpublished epilogue of LotR written in 1948 or 49 (SD/129):

The last example is part of a subjunctive expression. A future form of the copula na- appeared in an untranslated phrase from the Túrin Wrapper written in the early 1950s, but it was rejected and replaced with another form:

I am of the opinion that tho(r) may be a specialized future copula “will be”, from the same root as the future suffix -tha. This future copula may not be compatible with Tolkien’s later conception of the Sindarin future (see below).

All of the example future forms mentioned above are for derived verbs ending in a. The only attested future for a basic verb is kjawathāni > cawathon “*I will taste” (S. caw- “taste”) from verbal notes written in 1969 (PE22/152). Tolkien also wrote ?cauthon next to it indicating a possible phonetic simplification of the word; the question mark is his. This example indicates the future suffix for basic verbs would be -atha, contradicting his statement from the early 1950s that thā was added to the aorist stem: [OS.] matithāni (PE22/131). The future form cawathon seems to be based on a new etymology of the future suffix -(a)tha, described elsewhere in the same set of 1969 verbal notes:

In S. the verb aþa, atha had become agglutinated to the verb stem, and formed a kind of “future”, expressing the intention of the subject, closely resembling in sense and uses English will (when not mere future): “I will (I’ll) go, he will (he’ll) go”, espec. in the 1st and 3rd persons. In the second person the implication of “will” of the subject is clearest in questions or negation. Cf. song in LR, linnathon “I will sing, I intend to sing”. This was a fairly late development, as is shown by the fact that aþa, aþon etc. could still be used with ellipse of the verb stem, as e.g. in linnathol? “will you sing (please)”, answer aþon “I will”. Apart from this athon “yes, I will” (or in plur. athof, athab) the verb atha- was no longer “free” (PE22/167).

The ancient root for this suffix was described earlier in these notes:

… “to be willing, consent, agree”: positive of √ABA “refuse” but naturally less often so emphatic. It was, however, similarly constructed. The element found in Eldarin appears to have been an old one, a “mono-consonantal reversible” ÞĀ̆/AÞA. Its basic sense was probably “be helpful, be willing to assist, in any work etc., agree, consent” (PE22/165).

As described in this notes, the suffix -(a)tha has a more specific sense than just “the future”. It means “I intend”, and can only be used in connection to a being with a will of its own. As such it cannot be used in phrases like “it will rain” or “the tree will fall”. For this purpose Tolkien described another construction:

S. had no pure future tense, but used the verbal √TUL as an auxiliary of the future (unrelated to personal wish or intention) … S. lost the stem UB altogether [the basis of the Quenya future], and used √TUL “come, approach” for both coming in space and in time. The “future simple” was expressed by using √TUL as an auxiliary, as in tolen {m… >>} cared “I am coming, drawing near to eating, I am going to eat/shall eat” [sic. — Tolkien seems to have started to write maded “eating”, then switched to cared but without switching the English glosses] (PE22/167-168).

This note also indicates the root UB for Quenya futures was not used in Sindarin. The tolen construction resembles the English periphrastic future formed by “going to” as “I am going to see my father”, except the Sindarin verb is “come” rather than “go”. This Sindarin future makes use of an otherwise unattested present continuous or imperfect form of the verb; the ordinary present form would be telin “I come”. See the entry on the Sindarin present for a further discussion of the form tolen “I am coming”. The formula seems to be the present continuous of the verb tol- followed by a verbal noun: tolel maded “you are going [lit. coming] to eat”.

Finally, this same set of notes mention a third future construction using the verb nidh- “intend”:

The older strong verb niðin, pa.t. eniðen was weaker, and sometimes became no stronger than “will” in E. (when that is used [to] imply the wish or intention of the subject): I will do it, I mean to do it, & so could operate sometimes almost as a future auxiliary: niðin mened “I have a mind to go, I intend to go” (PE22/165).

It is not clear what the distinction is between this construction and Tolkien’s 1969 ideas for the future -(a)tha suffix as described above.

Neo-Sindarin: For purposes of Neo-Sindarin, I would ignore Tolkien’s 1969 notion that the future suffix -(a)tha was only used to express intent. As interesting as the tol-based future is, it relies on a present continuous form tolen that we know almost nothing about. Thus, I would use -(a)tha as the Sindarin simple future as Tolkien seem to do in the 1940s and 50s, more or less analogous to the English use of “will” futures: menathon = “I will go”.

Based on the examples we have, I would follow the common Neo-Sindarin practice of adding -atha to basic verbs and -tha to derived verbs, but when pronominal suffixes are added, I would change ao follow the same rules as derived verbs; see verb inflections for further discussion. Thus future tense inflections would be as follows:

  Basic Derived
1st sg. carathon “I will do” galathon “I will grow”
2nd sg. carathog “you will do” galathog “you will grow”
2nd sg. (polite) carathol “you will do” galathol “you will grow”
(archaic polite) carathodh “you will do” galathodh “you will grow”
3rd sg. caratha “he/she will do” galatha “he/she will grow”
1st pl. carathof “we will do” galathof “we will grow”
2nd pl. carathodh(ir) “y’all will do” galathodh(ir) “y’all will grow”
3rd. pl. carathar “they will do” galathar “they will grow”

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