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As the fellowship was parting from Lorien, Lady Galadriel sings a song in Elven. The song talks about Elbereth.

The poem goes like this:

Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen,
yéni únótimë ve rámar aldaron!
Yéni ve lintë yuldar avánier
mi oromardi lisse-miruvóreva
Andúnë pella, Vardo tellumar
nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni
ómaryo airetári-lírinen.

Sí man i yulma nin enquantuva?

An sí Tintallë Varda Oiolossëo
ve fanyar máryat Elentári ortanë,
ar ilyë tier undulávë lumbulë;
ar sindanóriello caita mornië
i falmalinnar imbë met, ar hísië
untúpa Calaciryo míri oialë.
Sí vanwa ná, Rómello vanwa, Valimar!

As you can see there is a Vardo and a Varda. When Frodo translated it he only spoke of Varda. Is it a typing mistake or are Vardo and Varda two different people? Or maybe it's some Elven grammatical rule?

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21

"Varda" and "Vardo" refer to the same person: the Vala1 Varda.

The difference between the two words is a grammatical rule; it's essentially the difference between "Varda" and "Varda's" (as in "belonging to Varda").

I can't find a reference from Tolkien himself at the moment (someone who has History of Middle-Earth V may be able to provide a quote from the discussion of Quenya phonology in that volume), but this translation by Ardalambion2 translates the line (emphasis theirs):

Vardo tellumar nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni ómaryo airetári-lírinen "under Varda's blue vaults wherein the stars tremble in the voice of her song, holy and queenly": Vardo is the genitive of Varda

In comments, Sean Duggan points me to a Wikibook on Neo-Quenyan morphology which describes the genitive rules for different suffixes. The relevant rule is (emphasis theirs):

In words on -a this final letter is replaced by -o:

máma "sheep" → mámo

Genitive case, if you're not a grammar nerd, is the possessive form of a noun.

Varda and Elbereth are both names for one of the Queens of the Valar, though Varda is her "proper" name and Elbereth is more of an epithet, identified in The Silmarillion:

With Manwë dwells Varda, Lady of the Stars, who knows all the regions of Eä. Too great is her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves; for the light of Ilúvatar lives still in her face. In light is her power and her joy. [...] Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love. Elbereth they name her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.

The Silmarillion, Valaquenta, Of the Valar


1 Singular form of "Valar." At this point you may be thinking to yourself "that seems awfully grammatically pedantic." Yeah, it's going to be that kind of answer

2 Ardalambion is a fansite maintained by Helge Kåre Fauskanger, a Norwegian philologist3 and Tolkien enthusiast. His project is one of the most comprehensive sources on Tolkien's constructed languages

3 Person who studies the historical development of languages. Tolkien was also one, you won't be surprised to learn

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  • 2
  • @SeanDuggan I've added it, although I'd really like to add a quote from Tolkien. Couldn't find anything in Letters, and I don't have HoME V. I'll check the Appendices when I get home tonight, but I don't have a lot of confidence Mar 23 '15 at 17:29
  • According to a non-canon source (La lengua de los Elfos - ISBN 84-450-7397-4), there are two genitive cases in Quenya, Vardo being a partitive-derivative genitive (indicating a source or origin), while e.g: lisse-miruvóreva is a possessive-adjectival genitive.
    – ninjalj
    Mar 24 '15 at 0:58
  • According to that book, a letter from Tolkien to Dick Plotz has the full declinations for kirya and lasse, and gives as a reference Basic Quenya - Nancy Martsch, Beyond Bree.
    – ninjalj
    Mar 24 '15 at 1:03
  • @ninjalj If so, that letter isn't included in Tolkien's Letters; the only letter to Dick Plotz contains a brief discussion of the etymology of Númenor, but nothing else linguistic in nature Mar 24 '15 at 1:12
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Yes, it's a Quenya grammatical feature. The -o ending here is how Quenyan language shows posession. Vardo tellumar translates as vaults of Varda or Varda's vaults."

There's another example of this in the same song:

untúpa Calaciryo míri oialë

Calaciryo míri means the treasure (jewels) of Calacirya.

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