Many of the Ringbearers (particularly those who carried it longer) used the word "precious" to describe it. Isildur described it as:

"But for my part I will risk no hurt to this thing: of all the works of Sauron the only fair. It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain."

Bilbo himself used it at least once, when arguing with Gandalf about leaving it behind when he was leaving Bag End (this exchange and the lines were different in the movie, but the word is still there):

"Well, if you want my ring yourself, say so!" cried Bilbo. "But you won’t get it. I won’t give my precious away, I tell you."

And Gollum used it incredibly frequently, almost as if it was the ring's name. It was even his last words:

"Precious, precious, precious!" Gollum cried. "My Precious! O my Precious!"

So my question: Why "Precious"? It wasn't part of the inscription. It wasn't part of the poem that included the inscription. Was it somehow part of Sauron's crafting spell? Did Tolkien ever indicate why the Ringbearers would use that word in particular, other than that it sounded good?

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    Frodo too, although it's a thought and not explicit dialogue: "Frodo drew the Ring out of his pocket again and looked at it. It now appeared plain and smooth, without mark or device that he could see. The gold looked very fair and pure, and Frodo thought how rich and beautiful was its colour, how perfect was its roundness. It was an admirable thing and altogether precious."
    – Rag
    Jan 13, 2014 at 23:33

6 Answers 6


In Tolkien's universe, the use of the word "Precious" was an authorial choice, not solely one made by the speakers.

This is an in-universe explanation: remember that The Lord of the Rings ("The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King") and The Hobbit ("There and Back Again") were both derived from The Red Book of Westmarch. The Red Book was written in Westron by Bilbo and other Hobbits, and in part translated from other sources originally written in Elvish.

Isildur spoke Adûnaic, an ancient language similar to but not identical to the Common Speech of Bilbo's time. Since Bilbo was not there when Isildur spoke this phrase, he must have read Isildur's speech in other sources written in Adûnaic or Elvish, and then translated it into Westron (the Common Speech). So the use of "precious" was Bilbo's choice as translator.

Bilbo and Gollum both spoke Westron (though Gollum's was older), so their use of "precious" would have been with a Westron word. And then of course in the fictional conceit, Tolkien obtained a copy of the Red Book in the writings of King Thain and translated it into English, yielding the English word "precious". Remember, Tolkien was a linguist and took great pains to make sure his fictional world was rich and realistic linguistically.

So in short: Isildur could not have used the same word as Bilbo and Gollum, though both words were translated later by Bilbo and then Tolkien to "precious".

I'm just speculating, but I believe that Bilbo first heard this usage of the word "precious" in relation to the Ring from Gollum -- and that this association stuck with him as he was writing the Red Book.

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    Hm, interesting. One point: Isildur's words above were written on a scroll found by Gandalf in Minas Tirith. The first time Frodo (and possibly Bilbo) heard them was at the Council, where Gandalf recited them presumably in Westron.
    – Plutor
    Nov 10, 2012 at 17:20
  • @Plutor. Good point, those scrolls were undoubtedly part of the sources for the Red Book. When I get time, I'll go through the relevant sections of THOME and see if the scroll itself is available. Nov 10, 2012 at 20:27
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    Riddles In The Dark (The Hobbit, chapter 5).
    – Plutor
    Nov 10, 2012 at 23:54
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    Isildur almost certainly did not write the phrase in Adûnaic: the faithful Númenoreans preferred Sindarin anyway, at least as a written language. Adûnaic in its original form (as the article you linked to says) was shunned in Middle-earth. Nov 11, 2012 at 1:11
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    @leftaroundabout Good point about what language Isildur wrote in - which further reinforces the fact that this word "precious" was translated many times. I've edited my answer to remove any reference to written source material in Adûnaic. Nov 11, 2012 at 3:45

How else could Isildur have expressed that the ring is precious to him? "It is of great worth to me, though I buy it with great pain," is not as elegant as the original. Maybe there is no deeper reason for "him" using that word, than Tolkien using it, because it sounds nice.

"My precious" is an old-fashioned phrase for a person you love. It was quite ordinary in Tolkien's time. He put it in the mouth of Gollum to show that he is as enarmoured of his ring as a normal person would be of his wife or child. The word "precious" shows Gollum's perversion, from loving another living being, to loving an object of power.

Bilbo calling the ring "my precious" is just an allusion (by the author, Tolkien) to him becoming increasingly Gollum-like. Bilbo using the word "precious" is a description of Bilbo, not of the ring.

But the real answer to this question will become apparent only after we list and count all the words used to describe the ring. Because Isildur calling the ring precious once means nothing. What else did the ringbearers call it? Maybe, with Gollum being the only exception, they used other words much more frequently?

  • The first two paragraphs are most of a good answer. The third is out-of-universe and the fourth is a repudiation of the first two!
    – Mark Olson
    Feb 11 at 13:06

I think this is an evidence of the corruptive will of the ring. No matter the language spoken, the ring would imbed an idea of itself in the mind of its wearer and that idea would always be the same since the ring would always think of itself in the same way. For a speaker of westron, this idea would have been translated into "precious".


Though the Ring was unadorned and simple, it's simplicity itself was elegant in it's flawless craftsmanship. The Ring also held a magical allure and touched their hearts in a deep and profound way that they each in turn, expressed in their own language, a feeling that translates to the word we recognize as carrying that meaning; Precious.

In English the word 'Precious' means;

Rare and worth a lot of money; very valuable or important; too valuable or important to be wasted or used carelessly; greatly loved, valued, or important.

1: of great value or high price (precious jewels)

2: highly esteemed or cherished (a precious friend)

No matter the language of the word used, it's meaning would be as the meaning above.


Elrond said to Frodo at the Council, "Bring forth the precious Ring!" I don't think it tells us much about the one saying it- it's character development for the Ring itself. This verbal tic doesn't appear to be overtly associated with Ring-madness as such; it's a symptom of seeing it, not of becoming enchanted by it in some lasting way.

Tolkien described the Ring as precious because that was how he imagined it. Haven't you ever pictured the Ring? Even dreamed of seeing it shining in your hand? It is precious, to all of us, to you, even if you do not admit it.


OK, to answer this question, I think you have to have an understanding of what The One Ring is. It doesn't just turn you invisible. So what does it do? Pretty much whatever you want it to. Doubtful? Look at the chapter when Sam has the ring, not wearing it, but holding it, he thinks, I wish I was an elven lord, the orcs seeing him see him as a powerful warrior and are afraid. There are some good write ups about what does the ring do, and I am not going to list them all here, I wish to be short in my answer, but I swear, the ring can create more effects than just not being seen.

I think that would be the most dear thing to you, to be what you want others to see, to maybe influence other's minds. Frodo tells Gollum, if you touch me again, you will burn in fire, then he does, was he telling the future here or planting a suggestion?

Who would feel that power and not say "wow this is the best thing" and love it?

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    The books never specifically spelled out what the rings can do. From Boromir's statement in book 2, ch. 10 ("...The Ring would give me power of Com­mand. How I would drive the hosts of Mor­dor, and all men would flock to my ban­ner!’), I have the impression that the One Ring gives you more of what you are. A warrior would become an unstoppable force. A leader would be unquestionable, unbetrayable, able to command even his enemies. A wizard or elvish lord would become almost god-like. I suppose that since Sam had the inner courage and strength of an elvish warrior that's what the orcs SAW.
    – Joe L.
    Jun 4, 2014 at 1:53

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