Tolkien Gateway


Revision as of 08:47, 20 January 2010 by Gilgamesh (Talk | contribs)

(See also Sindarin words)

Sindarin was the Elvish language most commonly spoken in Middle-earth in the Third Age. It was the language of the Sindar, those Teleri which had been left behind on the Great Journey of the Elves. It was derived from an earlier language called Common Telerin. When the Noldor came back to Middle-earth, they adopted the Sindarin language, although they believed their native Quenya more beautiful. Before the downfall, most of the Men of Númenor also spoke the language. Knowledge of it was kept in the Númenórean realm-in-exile Gondor, especially amongst the learned. Sindarin is the language referred to as "the Elven-tongue" in The Lord of the Rings.

Sindarin became the language of the Noldor because of the command of King Elu Thingol of Doriath. Upon learning of the Kinslaying at Alqualondë, he declared that Quenya, the language of the Noldor, should be prohibited in his lands. As the Noldor were dwelling in a Sindarin-speaking land, and because of the decree of Thingol though it did not directly affect them, they gradually switched entirely to Sindarin. Their names were also changed to Sindarin, such as Noldofinwë to Fingolfin, and Turukáno to Turgon.

Tolkien originally imagined that the language which would become Sindarin was spoken by the Noldor. However, Tolkien later decided that it was the language of the Sindar. For this reason it is called "Noldorin" in the older material, such as the Etymologies. When Noldorin became Sindarin, it also adopted some features of the originally unrelated language Ilkorin. Tolkien based the sound and some of the grammar of his Noldorin/Sindarin on Welsh, and Sindarin displays of the consonant mutations that characterise the Celtic (especially Brythonic) languages. The language was also probably influenced to an extent by the Germanic languages, as Tolkien was a scholar of both Old English and Old Norse.

The written script alphabet of the Elven languages is typically Tengwar, although Cirth can also be used.

The word Sindarin itself is actually a Quenya word given by the Noldorin Exiles. It is pronounced [ˈsindarin]. It is likely the Vanyar called it Þindarin ([ˈθindarin]).



Sindarin is mainly analytic, though traits of its highly inflected progenitor can still be seen.


Sindarin was designed to have a Welsh-like phonology. It has most of the same sounds and similar phonotactics.

Letter IPA Notes
a ɑ  
b b  
c k  
ch x  
d d  
dh ð  
e ɛ  
f f, v Represents [v] when final or before n, [f] everywhere else.
g ɡ  
h h  
hw ʍ  
i j, i Represents [j] before a vowel, [i] everywhere else.
l l  
m m  
n n  
ng ŋ, ŋɡ Represents [ŋ] when final, [ŋɡ] everywhere else.
o ɔ  
p p  
ph f, ff Represents [f] when final, [ff] everywhere else.
r r  
s s  
t t  
th θ  
u u  
v v  
w w  
y y Pronounced like the German ü

An accent signifies a long vowel (á, é, etc). In a monosyllabic word, a circumflex is used (â, ê, etc). However, for practical reasons, users of the ISO Latin-1 character set often substitute ý for ŷ.

Diphthongs are ai (pronounced like aisle), ei (day), ui (too young), oi (boy), and au (cow). If the last diphthong finishes a word, it is spelt aw. There are also diphthongs ae and oe with no English counterparts; Tolkien recommended to substitute ai and oi respectively if one does not care about details. If one does care, it is similar to pronouncing a or o respectively in the same syllable as one pronounces an e (as in pet).

In archaic Sindarin, there was a vowel similar to the German ö (IPA: [œ]), which Tolkien mostly transcribed as œ (usually not as oe as is often found in publications like The Silmarillion, cf. Nirnaeth Arnoediad [read: Nírnaeth Arnœdiad], Goelydh [read: Gœlydh]). This vowel later came to be pronounced ɛand is therefore transcribed as such [sc. Gelydh].

Archaic Sindarin also had a spirant m or nasalized v (IPA: [ṽ]), which was transcribed as mh (though always pronounced [v] in later Sindarin).



Sindarin plurals are characterised by i-affection, or umlaut. The Sindarin term for this is prestanneth ("affection of vowels, mutation"). Almost all Sindarin words form their plurals like English man/men and goose/geese — by changing the vowels in the word. The plural patterns are:

In Non-final Syllables
a > e galadh > gelaidh
e > e bereth > berith
i > i fireb > firib
o > e golodh > gelyth
u > y tulus > tylys
y > y (no example available)
In Final Syllables
a > ai adan > edain
â > ai tâl > tail
e > i edhel > edhil
ê > î hên > hîn
i > i brennil > brennil
î > î dîs > dîs
o > y annon > ennyn
ó > ý bór > býr
ô > ŷ thôn > thŷn
u > y urug > yryg
û > ui hû > hui
y > y ylf > ylf
ý > ý mýl > mýl
au > oe naug > noeg

Note that ai can sometimes become î (or, less commonly, ý).

The reason for this is that the primitive plural ending (still present in Quenya as -i) affected the vowels in the word by making them higher and fronter. After this sound change occurred, the suffix disappeared when all final vowels were lost.

Class Plural

Sindarin also has several suffixes which denote a so-called class plural. For example, -ath indicates a group of something, e.g. elenath from elen (an archaic form of êl), meaning "star" and -ath. It means "a group of stars" or "all the stars in the sky". Another ending, -rim, is used to indicate a race, e.g. nogothrim from nogoth — "dwarf" and -rim, meaning "the race of dwarves". The ending -hoth is generally used in an unfriendly sense, e.g. gaurhoth from gaur — "werewolf" and -hoth, meaning "werewolf-host".


Sindarin has a complex series of mutations. There are three main different types of mutations: soft mutation (or lenition), nasal mutation and stop (occlusive) mutation. Additionaly, a mixed mutation is also observed after certain particles or prepositions. Finally, it is presumed that Sindarin also once had what we could call an archaic spirantal mutation (also sometimes called liquid mutation by scholars). It is still uncertain whether this mutation is still productive or if it only occurs in ancient constructs.

Initial mutations must not be confused with assimilations that may occur in compound words (such as, for instance, in the names Araphor, Arassuil, and Caradhras).

The following table outlines how different consonants are affected by the different mutations:

Basic Soft Nasal Mixed Stop Liquid
b v m b b v
c g ch g ch ch
d dh n d d dh
g ' ng g g '
h ch ch h ch ch
lh thl 'l 'l thl 'l
m v m m m v
p b ph b b ph
rh thr 'r 'r thr 'r
s h s h s s
t d th d th th

Here the apostrophe indicates elision.

Words beginning in b-, d-, or g- which descend from older mb-, nd-, or ng- are affected differently by the mutations:

Basic Soft Nasal Mixed Stop Liquid
b m mb mb mb b
d n nd nd nd d
g ng g g g g

Take, for example, the deictic article i, which triggers soft mutation. When added to a word like tâl, it becomes i dâl. In Sindarin's phonological history, t became d in the middle of a word. Because i tâl at the time was considered one word, the t became d, and thus i dâl. However, without the article the word is still tâl.

Mutation is triggered in various ways:

  • Soft mutation, the most widely occurring mutation, is triggered by the singular article i, the prefixes athra-, ath-, go-, gwa-, ú-, and u-, as well as the prepositions ab, am, adel, be, dad, di, na, nu, and î, and after avo. It also affects the second element in a compound, an adjective following a noun, and the object of a verb.
  • Nasal mutation is triggered by the plural article in, and the prepositions an, dan, and plural 'nin.
  • Mixed mutation is triggered by the genitive article en, and the prepositions ben, erin, nan, 'nin, and uin.
  • Stop mutation is triggered by the prepositions ed, ned, and o(d).
  • Liquid mutation is presumably triggered by the preposition or.


Pronouns are perhaps the most poorly attested feature of Sindarin. What has been reconstructed by the comparative method is largely conjectural and is not agreed upon, and therefore will not be addressed in this article.

Sindarin pronouns, like those in English, still maintain some case distinction. Sindarin pronouns have nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative forms.

First Person Second Person Third Person
Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative im       e  
Accusative nin #men le (resp.) le (resp.) den di
hain (inanim.)
Genitive nín mín [subi. vín]   lín tîn [subi. dîn]  
Dative enni [refl. anim] ammen        
Enclitic -n -m  ?-ch   -r


Sindarin verbs are also quite complex. The number of attested verbs in Sindarin is small, so the Sindarin verb system is imperfectly known; no verb has a full paradigm of forms available. There are two main types of verbs: basic and derived. Basic verbs have stems which end in a consonant, and derived verbs have stems which incorporate some sort derivational morpheme (such as a causative ending) which ends in -a.

Basic Verbs

Basic verbs, though smaller in number than derived verbs, have a very complex conjugation which arises from Sindarin's phonological history.

Basic verbs form the infinitve by adding -i: giri from gir-. This ending causes an a or o in the stem to umlaut to e: blebi from blab-. Sindarin does not use infinitive forms very often, and rather uses the gerund to achieve the same meaning.

For all persons except the third person singular, the present tense is formed by the insertion of -i, and the proper enclitic pronomial ending: girin, girim, girir. As with the infinitive, -i causes an a or o in the stem to umlaut to e: pedin, pedim, pedir, from pad-. The third person singular, because it has a zero-ending, does not require the insertion of -i. This leaves the bare stem, which, because of Sindarin's phonological history, causes the vowel of the stem to become long: gîr, blâb, pâd.

The past tense of basic verbs is very complicated and poorly attested. One common reconstructed system is to use -n: darn. However, the only time this -n actually remains is after a stem in -r. After a stem ending in -l, -n becomes -ll: toll. After -b, -d, -g, -v, or -dh, it is metathesized and then assimilated to the same place of articulation as the consonant it now follows. The consonant then experiences what could be called a "backwards mutation": -b, -d, and -g become -p, -b, and -c, and -v and -dh become -m and -d. The matter is complicated even further when pronomial endings are added. Because -mp, -mb, -nt, -nd, and -nc did not survive medially, they become -mm-, -mm-, -nn-, -nn-, and -ng. In addition, past tense stems in -m would have -mm- before any pronomial endings. Because this all may seem rather overwhelming, look at these examples which show step-by-step transformations:

  • cab- > **cabn > **canb > **camb > camp, becoming camm- with any pronomial endings.
  • ped- > **pedn > **pend > pent, becoming penn- with any pronomial endings.
  • dag- > **dagn > **dang (n pronounced as in men) > **dang (n pronounced as in sing) > danc, becoming dang- with any pronomial endings.
  • lav- > **lavn > **lanv > **lanm > **lamm > lam, becoming lamm- before any pronomial endings.
  • redh- > **redhn > **rendh > **rend > rend, becoming renn- before any pronomial endings.

The future tense is formed by the addition of -tha. An -i is also inserted between the stem and -tha, which again causes a and o to umlaut to e. Endings for all persons except for the first person singular can be added without any further modification: giritham, blebithar. The first person singular ending -n causes the -a in -tha to become -o: girithon, blebithon, pedithon.

The imperative is formed with the addition of -o to the stem: giro!, pado!, blabo!.

Derived Verbs

Derived verbs have a much less complex conjugation because they have a thematic vowel (usually a) which reduces the number of consonant combinations which occur.

The infinitive is formed with -o, which replaces the -a of the stem, e.g. lacho from lacha-.

The present tense is formed without modification to the stem. Pronomial endings are added without any change.

The past tense is formed with the ending -nt, which becomes -nne with any pronomial endings, e.g. erthant, erthanner.

The future tense is formed with -tha. With the addition of the first person singular -n, this becomes -tho.

The imperative is formed like the infinitive.


During the First Age there were several dialects of Sindarin:

With the exception of Doriathrin, the dialects were changed under Noldorin influence, and adopted many Quenya features, as well as unique sound changes devised by the Noldor (who loved changing languages). The distinct dialects disappeared after the Noldor and Sindar were dispersed during the later Battles of Beleriand. In the refuges on the Isle of Balar and the Mouths of Sirion a new dialect arose under the refugees, which mainly took after Falathrin. During the Second Age and Third Age Sindarin was a lingua franca for all Elves and their friends, until it was displaced as the Common Tongue by Westron, a descendant of Adûnaic which was heavily influenced by Sindarin.

Sindarin is actually a Quenya term. No Sindarin word for Sindarin is known, but usually the term Edhellen ("Elvish") is used in Neo-Sindarin.

External Links