The Quenya Perfect Tense

Abbreviations used:
LOTR: The Lord of the Rings
LR: The Lost Road
WJ: The War of the Jewels
PE: Parma Eldalamberon
VT: Vinyar Tengwar


The perfect tense as a distinct inflectional form of the Quenya verb emerges rather late in Tolkien's concept. Early tables of verb inflection published in PE14 show only present (aorist), past and future as inflected forms. The Early Qenya grammar however shows in PE14:57 the formation of compound tenses in which the participle (for example túlien (túliend-) 'having come') is combined with inflected forms of to be (like e 'is' or ie 'was') to form a perfect tense tuliende lit. '*is having come', 'has come' or a pluperfect tuliendie lit '*was having come' 'had come'.

The suffix -ie which would become later the chief characteristic of the Quenya perfect tense was in this conception a common past tense marker as described by Tolkien in PE14:56 as The past stem is obtained by the suffix -ye, -ie or -ne, but -ie (the commonest) is normally accompanied by stem strengthening consisting of (1) a-infixion, (2) n-infixion, (3) vowel lengthening (this last perhaps largely an analogical extension from the ā resulting in many stems (...)

Forms found with a suffix -ie are found in the Avallonian Fragments. While in LR:47,56 lantier and ullier are translated as 'fell' and 'poured' however, in the later version in SD:246,310 lantier is changed to lantaner whereas the translation of ullier is changed to 'should pour', indicating that at this point -ie was no longer associated with the past tense.

The first perfect forms seem to appear only in LOTR where avánier 'have passed' utúlien 'I have come' and utúvienyes 'I have found it' are observed. From these three forms, the main characteristics of the perfect tense can already be deduced: 1) an augment, i.e. the stem vowel is used as a prefix 2) a lengthening of the stem vowel and 3) an ending -ie. Apart from the augment, it is easy to see that this is rather close to how Tolkien describes past tense formation in PE14:56.

For a long time, not many more examples have been known about the perfect tense. However, Tolkien's 'Words, Phrases & Passages in The Lord of the Rings' [1] published in PE17 contains a substantial number of examples which allow to see the systematics of perfect tense formation in post-LOTR Quenya much better.

Attested perfect tense for primary verbs

For primary verbs (i.e. verbs which are directly derived from a primitive root without a derivational suffix) the perfect tense in most cases shows all three characteristics: In one case the root TALAT contains three consonants and its vocalization in Quenya creates a two-consonant cluster after the stem vowel which prevents lengthening: In one case, no augment is found although there is no reason why it should not be there: The verb #para- which ends in -a can nevertheless be plausibly analyzed as primary verbs as the ending could be an extension of the root by another insertion of the stem vowel, and there is no clear evidence for a derivational suffix. For the verb ava-, the root ABA is known and there is no need to assume a derivational suffix. #para- it fits well into the pattern above, but ava- shows an interesting reduplication of the first syllable as augment:

Attested perfect tense for derived verbs

Most examples of derived verbs show a perfect tense in which the derivational suffix is lost. The remaining stem is then treated as a primary verb, i.e. an augment, vowel lengthening and a suffix -ie occur:

The loss of the suffix cannot be readily correlated with loss of the derivational suffix in the past tense (cf. [2]): While e.g. fanta- shows an original past tense fāne (PE17:180), anta- is said to have a regular weak past tense antane (PE17:93) while an obsolete †āne is given in PE17:194. However, verbs like sirya- or melya- are only shown with past tenses sirinye, melenye (PE17:77) in which the suffix is not lost but rather subject to nasal infixion.

As the examples orya- and ua- indicate, in this conceptual phase the augment is dropped if the verb starts with a vowel.

In one case however it is explicitly stated that the perfect was made from the past tense (in this case a strong past tense with loss of the suffix):

As in the case of fir-, the form vānie demonstrates that in variants the augment may be left out.

Two examples show a perfect tense which is consistent with being coined from the weak past tenses ortane and hentane (in one case, again the augment is dropped as the verb starts with a vowel) (PE17:77):

One example shows no loss of any suffix and no involvement of the (weak) past tense. However, the verb seems to be coined from a noun by analogy: In one example, the perfect tense is directly formed from the aorist form and and not from the strong past tense nakante: Finally, we can present an example of a perfect tense in a later text. From the root HOR one finds in VT41:13 This is interesting, as it illustrates that Tolkien for a moment toyed with two different possibilities to realize the augment for verbs beginning with a vowel before he settled on the old pattern. In orórie we see a repetition of the whole first syllable instead of just the stem vowel whereas ohórie introduces a form in which the primitive initial vowel of the root reappears in the presence of the augment. Naturally, this would not be possible for all verbs beginning with a vowel as several roots per se start with a vowel.


It seems that the ending -ie is the most stable feature of the perfect tense which occurs in all ovserved forms. The lengthening of the root vowel is omitted when it is prevented by a consonant cluster which may either occur in a triconsonantal root (cf. talt-) or as part of a derivational ending (cf. henta-). The augment is usually omitted when the verb starts with a vowel and may also be left out in other cases, but at some stage Tolkien considered a repetition of the first syllable in this case.

While the formation of the perfect for primary verbs is straightforward, the situation is less transparent in the case of derived verbs. There is a strong tendency observed that derived verbs form perfect after loss of the derivational ending. This seems to happen whenever the verb has (or originally had) a strong past tense, regardless if that past tense shows loss of the ending or not. Only for verbs with a weak past tense, the perfect is then formed from the past. This tentative rule can explain all cases but nahta- which may be just an exception or may signify that there is yet another class of derived verbs which behaves differently.


[1] 'Words, Phrases & Passages in The Lord of the Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien, Parma Eldalamberon 17, edited by Christopher Gilson

[2] The Q(u)enya Past Tense by Thorsten Renk

Thorsten Renk

Back to the index