- "The Elves have their own labours and their own sorrows, and they are little concerned with the ways of hobbits, or of any other creatures upon earth."
- ― Gildor Inglorion
The Elves were the fairest creatures in Arda, a far more beautiful race than Men, and generally tall (seldom less than six feet for elf women, no less than six and a half feet for elfmen). Among them, those who had gone to Valinor were the fairest and had the greatest skill of body.
Practical considerations, including a number of occasions where Men were mistaken for Elves (most notably Túrin Turambar), suggest that the points of difference between Elves and Men must have been subtle.
Almost all of the Vanyar had light-coloured, yellow or deep golden hair. The name Vanyar means "the Fair" in Quenya with the primary sense of "pale" or "light-coloured" and the secondary sense of beautiful. The name was probably given to them by the Noldor and referred to the hair colour of the Vanyar, because the Noldor regarded it as beautiful. Other Elves - including the Noldor, Sindar, and Avari - had dark brown or black hair, as in the cases of Finwë or Maeglin.[note 1] Lúthien Tinúviel and her remote descendant Arwen Undómiel, both described as the fairest of all Elves, were dark haired. Additionally, a silver hair colour existed among the Teleri and in the royal houses of the Sindar, with Thingol, Círdan and Celeborn all described as having silver hair.
In some cases elves had atypical hair colour, either due to simple happenstance or intermarriage between clans. A prime example is the royal house of the Noldor and their descendants: Míriel Serindë of the Noldor, the first wife of Finwë and mother of Fëanor, is described as having silvery hair. Fëanor himself possessed "raven-dark" hair, but not all the sons of Fëanor shared this trait; Maedhros and the twins Amrod and Amras had auburn hair (though Amrod's hair grew darker after childhood).:355 This rare red-brown hair colour was a trait of Fëanor's wife Nerdanel and her father Mahtan, who had the epessë Rusco 'fox' due to his hair colour.:353 Finarfin, the youngest son of Finwë, and his descendants had golden hair on account of Finwë's second wife, Indis of the Vanyar. Finarfin's daughter Galadriel displayed an extremely rare hair colour nowhere else observed; golden-silver hair, said to be dazzlingly beautiful ("the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, had been snared in her tresses").
Another Noldo with noteworthy hair colour was Glorfindel, whose hair is described as "shining gold" in colour. Idril, the daughter of Turgon, King of Gondolin, had golden hair inherited from her mother, Elenwë of the Vanyar. Thranduil, father of Legolas and a Sindarin Elf, is described as having "golden" hair in The Hobbit, but Legolas' own hair colour is not recorded. The golden hair colour is sometimes implied among the other Elves: Amroth, a Sindarin Elf of Lothórien is one such case, whose hair is described as "bright" and shining like a spark of gold in the sun. In The Lord of the Rings, a very similar reference is made for an Elf of Lothórien, who had hair that "glinted like gold" in the sun.
When Tolkien describes Elven eyes, they tend to be grey. This is certainly true of Lúthien and her descendants, including Elrond and his children (Arwen, Elladan and Elrohir). Voronwë, who guided the man Tuor to Gondolin, also had grey eyes.
Though he was half-Noldorin, Maeglin is said to have dark eyes (possibly from his father Eöl, who was not of the Noldor), while Olwë (the brother of Lúthien's father Thingol, and a Telerin king) had blue eyes. The eye colour of most other Elves is not mentioned, and so would be difficult to generalize.
Whether Elvish ears were pointed or not is open for speculation, but it should be noted that there are no explicit references to pointed Elvish ears in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion.
In the Etymologies (a linguistic manuscript from ca. 1937-8 published posthumously) is stated that "the Quendian ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped than Human." In another linguistic manuscript (from ca. 1959-60), the Elvish connection between ears and leaves is again noted: "Amon Lhaw. ¶SLAS-, ear. las, leaf. slasū > Q hlaru, S lhaw."
Answering to a question on Hobbit ears, Tolkien wrote that these were "only slightly pointed and 'elvish'". Some readers take this to mean that Elvish ears were pointed, while others argue that it is an ambiguous statement.
The Elves were like Ainur in spirit; they loved all beauty of nature, especially water, the Sea and the stars, since they were the first things they saw; as a consequence Ulmo and Varda were the Ainur closest to them. They were marked by an insatiable curiosity and a desire of learning and creating.
They detested all evil and were usually more resistant to being corrupted than Men, unless evil tricked them with fair form, like Annatar. Conversely, their work harmed evil, like lembas and the Elven rope that brought pain to Gollum's skin. They were, however, susceptible to greed, pride and jealousy, as exemplified by the story of the House of Fëanor, or the jealous and unjustified hatred of Saeros toward Túrin. 
Like Men and Dwarves, Elves did sleep. In The Two Towers, it says of Legolas, "[He] already lay motionless, his fair hands folded upon his breast, his eyes unclosed, blending living night and deep dream, as is the way with Elves."
Also, unlike Men, Elves were ambidextrous.
Although Elves were generally considered the most powerful of the Children of Ilúvatar, there are accounts that some Men from the Great Houses of the First Age were physically stronger, though less agile. It is told that the Dragon Helm was given to Fingon, but "in all Hithlum no head and shoulders were found stout enough to bear the dwarf-helm with ease", so the High King gave it to Hador, a Man.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Three is Company"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Carl F. Hostetter (ed.), The Nature of Middle-earth, "Part Two. Body, Mind and Spirit: VI. Descriptions of Characters", Heights, p. 194
- Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, p. 107
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar: C. The Clan-names, with notes on other names for divisions of the Eldar", Vanyar
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), pp. 118, 125
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar": Sindar
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Three. The Later Quenta Silmarillion: (I) The First Phase: 6. Of the Silmarils and the Darkening of Valinor"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XI. The Shibboleth of Fëanor", "The names of the Sons of Fëanor"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Flies and Spiders"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Beren and Lúthien"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings"
- Conrad Dunkerson, "Do the Elves in Tolkien's stories have pointed ears?", The Tolkien Meta-FAQ (accessed 15 February 2012)
- Michael Martinez, "Do Tolkien’s Elves Have Pointy Ears?" dated 21 September 2011, Middle.earth.Xenite.org (accessed 15 February 2012)
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies", p. 368 (roots LAS1 and LAS2)
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Addenda and Corrigenda to the Etymologies — Part One" (edited by Carl F. Hostetter and Patrick H. Wynne), in Vinyar Tengwar, Number 45, November 2003, p. 26
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), p. 77
- John Garth, "Facebook discussion" dated 3 February 2017, Facebook (accessed 5 February 2017)
- J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 27, (dated March or April 1938)
- Various, "Tolkien Society Facebook group discussion", Facebook (accessed 5 February 2017)
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Narn i Hîn Húrin (The Tale of the Children of Húrin)"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Riders of Rohan"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Eldarin Hands, Fingers & Numerals and Related Writings — Part Three" (edited by Patrick H. Wynne), in Vinyar Tengwar, Number 49, June 2007