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Select Elvish Words 9.95: Can, May

9.95 Can, May

Q. ec- v. “to have a chance of; may, can”

An impersonal verb meaning “may, can”, or more specifically “have chance, opportunity or permission”, appearing in notes from 1967 based on the root √ek “it is open” (VT49/20). As suggested by Patrick Wynne, this verb is likely related to the particle of uncertainty . As a verb, it was used impersonally with the putative subject in the dative: ece nin “I may, I can = (lit.) there is chance for me [to do it]” (VT49/34 note #23). For “can” in the sense “am able to”, see pol-.

Conceptual Development: An earlier verb of similar meaning was ᴱQ. lata- “am able to (used of opportunity, permission)” from the English-Qenya Dictionary of the 1920s (PE15/67).

Q. -ima suf. “-able, [ᴹQ.] -ible, able to be done, [ᴱQ.] possible”

An adjective suffix. When used with verbs, it functions like the English suffix “-able, -ible”: cénima “visible”, mátima “edible”, nótima “countable”. When used in this way, the base vowel of the verb is also lengthened, as opposed to when -ima is used as an ordinary adjective suffix without lengthening:

Only the adjs. in -ima found with long stem vowel were adjs. of possibility. -ima was frequently used with stems (verbal, adj[ectival] or nominal) with a short vowel, and the sense possessing to a high degree (at all times and by nature) the property mention[ed]. So kalima “luminous (by nature always)”, vanima “beautiful”, norima “running, swiftly a course[?]”, kelima “fluent”, istima “wise (in sense of knowing much), knowledgeable, very well informed”, melima “loving, very affectionate” — but lamélima “unlovable” (PE22/156).

In most cases these two functions for the suffix -ima can be distinguished by the presense or absence of a long vowel, meaning “-able” (long vowel) or “having a [strong] nature of” (short vowel) respectively. But with many weak verbs, lengthening was not possible and the a was retained, as with tultaima “*fetchable, summonable” (PE22/156). With other a-stem verbs (a-verbs, formative verbs), the suffix -ima replaced the final vowel, as with nútima “*lowerable” from the verb núta- “lower” (PE22/156).

When used with intransitive verbs, the sense “-able” was not appropriate, so the suffix had its other meaning “having a [strong] nature of”:

When formed from intransitive stems as kalima “luminous” [from the verb cal- “shine”] they differed from the [active] verbal participles in -ila (a) as being more intensive, (b) as being always aorist[?] and without special reference to a present or particular occasion (PE22/155).

Based on the example calima “luminous”, there was no vowel lengthening when the suffix was used with intransitive verbs.

Conceptual Development: As a general adjective suffix, ᴱQ. -ima dates all the way back to the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, but its first clear mention as a verbal suffix of possibility is in Qenya Verb Forms written in the 1920s where it was glossed “-able, possible”, including an example indicating it was associated with vowel-lengthening: tūlima (PE14/33).

In the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) of 1948 the suffix could use consonant-doubling as an alternate method of strengthening the stem: ᴹQ. mattima “edible” or ᴹQ. qettima “utterable” (PE22/111). In QVS it took the form -alima with weak verbs: ᴹQ. istalima “knowable” or ᴹQ. ortalima “able to be raised” (PE22/111). In Common Eldarin: Verb Structure (EVS2) of the early 1950s Tolkien said it sometimes took the form -tima, as in mastima < ✶matˢtimā (PE22/137). But elsewhere it was only used with vowel lengthening when functioning as a suffix of possibility.

Tolkien also discussed the -ima suffix at length in Late Notes on Verb Structure (LVS) written in 1969 (PE22/155-156). Based on the example tultaima from LVS, I believe weak verbs in Tolkien’s later system simply appended -ima to the verb stem. Presumably u-stem verbs would be similar, though we have no examples. With a-verbs (and probably formatives as well) the final a in the verb was replaced, as with the nútima example noted above.

Q. -itë (-iti-) suf. “adjectival ending; [with verbs] capable of doing, generally (and naturally) doing”

A suffix for adjective formation, dating all the way back to Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s. When used with verbs, it has the more specific meaning “capable of doing, generally (and naturally) doing”, as in active cenítë “able to see” vs. passive cénima “visible, able to be seen”, both from cen- “to see”. The verbal use of this suffix was first described in the Quenya Verbal System (QVS) from 1948 (PE22/111), and was described again in Late Notes on Verb Structure (LVS) from 1969 (PE22/155).

When used with a verb, the suffix was preceded by the base vowel of the verb: i, e, a, o, u. This produced various diphthongs, and in the case of ei usually had [ei] becoming [ī]. The basic examples Tolkien gave were tirítë “watchful, vigilant, *apt to watch”, cenítë “able to see”, caraitë “active, busy, *apt to do”, coloitë “capable of bearing, tolerant (of), enduring”, and yuluitë “drinking (as a habit), *aquatic”.

Conceptual Development: As a general adjective suffix, there was a variant ᴱQ. -voite that was quite common in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, also appearing in ᴹQ. hanuvoite “*masculine” in The Etymologies of the 1930s (Ety/INI), but not thereafter. In Tolkien’s earlier writings, -itë had no specific verbal function, and ᴱQ. -alka, -elka, -olka was the suffix meaning “able to” in notes on The Qenya Verb Forms from the 1920s (VT14/33). This earlier verbal suffix also varied in form depending on the base vowel of the verb.

Q. pol- v. “can, to be able to”

A verb in notes associated with the 1959-60 essay Ósanwe-kenta meaning “can, have physical power and ability” (VT41/6). The example Tolkien gave was polin quetë “I can speak (because mouth and tongue are free)”, as opposed to istan quetë “I can speak (because I have learned a language) [= “I know (how) to speak”]” and lertan quetë “I can speak (because I am free to do so there being no obstacle of promise, secrecy, duty)”. Another later expression for “can” was the verb ec- “may, can, have chance, opportunity or permission”, which was used impersonally: ecë nin care sa “I can do that, (lit.) there is a chance for me to do that” (VT49/20).

Conceptual Development: The English-Qenya Dictionary of the 1920s had the verb ᴱQ. mala-² “am able to (used of capacity, ability)” (PE15/67). The documents Quendian & Common Eldarin Verbal Structure (EVS1) and Quenya Verbal System (QVS), both from the late 1940s, had ᴹQ. kav- “can”, with past tense kambe “could” (PE22/92, 102).

⚠️G. og- v. “to be able, can”

A verb appearing in the Gnomish Lexicon of the 1910s as G. og- “am able, can” with variant ogra-, along with adjective forms G. ogra “able” and G. ogriol “possible” (GL/62). It had an associated noun form G. ogor “might, power; ability” so it was probably originally based on physical ability.

Neo-Sindarin: For purposes of Neo-Sindarin, I would use ᴺS. pol- for “to be (physically) able”; see that entry for discussion.

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