Gandalf, true to his role as a skilled advisor of all the free peoples of Middle-earth, knows many languages of Elvish and Mannish origins, at least a bit of Khuzdul too. Did Tolkien ever reveal the complete extent of Gandalf's linguistic knowledge?

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    All of them. More than six million forms of communication, in fact. Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 13:46

1 Answer 1


As the Fellowship were waiting outside the Doors of Durin to enter Moria, Gandalf remarked as he was searching for the opening words

I once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs, that was ever used for such a purpose.

He went on to say that he could remember "ten score" of such spells without any effort. This, coupled with Gandalf's well-known nature as a traveller (one of his nicknames was the Grey Pilgrim) indicated that he would have ecountered many peoples and gained knowledge of a wide variety of languages during his two thousand or so years in Middle-earth, though as far as I know Tolkien never placed a finite number on the total of Gandalf's linguistic skills.

"All the tongues" would suggest a knowledge of Quenya, Sindarin (Elvish), Adunaic (spoken by Men from Numenor), Westron (the common tongue) as well as the languages spoken by the Northmen and their descendants (such as the Rohirrim and the Men of Dale), as well as Black Speech (which he spoke aloud in Rivendell) and other languages used by the Orc-folk. This may also extended to languages used by the Corsairs of Umbar and even the Haradrim and the Men of Rhun.

One language that he may not have had a great deal of knowledge of is Khuzdul, the language of the Dwarves. Just before he attempted to discover the password for the doors, he remarks hopefully that

Only a few trials, I think, will be needed; and I shall not have to call on Gimli for words of the secret dwarf-tongue that they teach to none.

(from The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 4 (A Journey in the Dark))

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    @kviiri Sci-fi Stack Exchange - come for the minutia of LotR, stay for even more minutia of LotR... :-)
    – corsiKa
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 15:34
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    Note that the exact quote refers only to the spells - I wouldn't necessarily assume that he could speak the languages fluently beyond the spellbooks
    – Jake
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 16:15
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    @Jake - Do spells in the LotR even require words in any language? You never seem him speaking arcane words a la Harry Potter spells when performing magic. (Pretty sure "You shall not pass!" was just a ballsy thing to say to a Balrog, not the actual words of a spell.) Though come to think of it, for a wizard, Gandalf actually used magic very rarely in general... Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 16:57
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    @DarrelHoffman The Wizards were sent to Middle-earth to offer guidance and wisdom rather than power. That is why you don't see Gandalf working any magic. Saruman failed in his mission because he used his skills and wisdom to try and become a rival to Sauron, rather than helping to unite the free people of Middle-earth against him. Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 17:25
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    @GreenMatt but not all who use spells / magic are Wizards, assuming by Wizard you mean one of the Istari (who, as you say, are all Maiar, albeit in human-ish form).
    – MPF
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 3:44

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