Tengwar – General Use

General Use: overview


Sample languages:

Samples: DTS5, DTS7, DTS10:1, DTS37, DTS38, DTS39, DTS41, DTS43, DTS44, DTS46, DTS47, DTS49, DTS50, DTS51, DTS52, DTS54:2, DTS56, DTS58, DTS59, DTS62, DTS64, DTS67, DTS68, DTS70, DTS72, DTS81, DTS84, DTS89


This mode, which is the most well attested of all, is referred to as “the general use” in DTS 58. It is there stated that the mode is “applicable to both S[indarin] and Q[uenya]”, but as the list above demonstrates, the attribution of tengwar to sounds found in this mode is attested in a large number of other languages as well.

It may be that the use was not so “general” before the Third Age, since the description “general use” is qualified by the statement “of the period of the tale” (i.e. The Lord of the Rings). Despite this, the mode might be very old indeed. We know that Sauron used it for the inscription on the One Ring [DTS 7] some time around the year 1600 in the Second Age [AppB]. There is some interesting circumstantial evidence that the Númenóreans used a closely similar system for Adûnaic and Quenya [DTS 50, 51].

The “general use of the period of the tale” may itself have succeeded another, older, general use. One source states that Feanor constructed the Tengwar “both as a general phonetic alphabet, and devised special arrangements to fit the characteristics of Qenya, Noldorin, and Telerin” [AR, my emphasis]. This older general use was probably a mode in which the third series represented velars and the fourth series labiovelars, on parallel with the Classical mode. A table entitled “Feänorian Alphabet. General or Phonetic form” displays just such a mode (see R24 and Arden R. Smith, Elfscript message 4790, June 25, 2005).

Since the General Use has been applied to so many languages, and most samples exhibit what appear to be language-specific adaptions, this document begins with a general discussion of the mode, and then moves on to more specific information about each language. At present language-specific information is only available for English and Black Speech.

Note: the different tengwar are frequently referred to below by their Quenya names. For a complete list of these, see the article Tengwar Names.


Even though some tengwar appear to have vocalic properties in the General Use, only consonants are usually represented by tengwar. Consonant modifications, as well as vowels, are represented by diacritic marks — tehtar. Figure 1 is a summary of the phonetic values of the tengwar in all variations of the mode. The sound values are given according to the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Figure 1: The tengwar

Consonant Modifications

In the General Use, tehtar are used to indicate that consonants are long or double, that they are preceded by a homorganic nasal (nasalized), followed by w (labialized), or followed by s.

Long or Double Consonants. Most samples of the General Use follow the convention described in AppE, indicating a long or doubled consonant by placing a horizontal line below the tengwa (or in the case of lambe, inside it). If the consonant is a nasal (n or m), the line may optionally be placed above the tengwa (cf. Nasalized Consonants below). In the Old English documents (DTS 50 and 51), two parallel diagonal lines are used instead.

Nasalized Consonants. States AppE, “a bar (or a sign like a Spanish tilde) placed above a consonant was often used to indicate that it was preceded by the nasal of the same series (as in nt, mp, or nk)” The nasalization tehta is well attested in the General Use. If placed on the nasals n or m, it can also be seen as indicating a doubled consonant since it will mark the nasal as preceded by the same nasal, in effect doubling it.

Labialized Consonants. A following w, in languages where this occurs, is written with the “modified u-curl” alluded to in AppE.

Following s. A following s is indicated by a curl extending from the tengwa, commonly attached to its rightmost bow. The curl may be written as a swash crossing itself, as seen in the example.


Vowels are in the General Use primarily represented by ómatehtar, vowel-marks. As demonstrated in DTS 58, vowel-marks may in this mode be placed either above the following or the preceding consonant tengwa. Figure 2 displays the ómatehtar in the General Use. The most common value of each vowel-mark, where one can be identified, is given first.

Figure 2: The ómatehtar

As can be seen in Figure 2, there is significant variation in the application of the vowel-marks between different samples. The General Use permits the vowels to be placed above either the preceding tengwa or above the following — though not both in the same document, for obvious reasons. The tehta transcribed <y> is only used for transliteration of the Roman letter Y in English orthographic spelling (cf.).

When there is no tengwa available to carry the tehta, a carrier is most often used instead: for short vowels, a short carrier is used, for long vowels, a long carrier.

In Figure 1, some tengwar are assigned to vowels, namely i, e, a, u. These are rarely used to represent vowels by themselves, though the Old English documents (DTS 50 and 51) frequently employ vala and vilya for u and a. See also the section Vowel Modifications below.

In some samples of General Use, where the vowel tehtar are written above the preceding consonant tengwa, all tengwar are by default followed by the vowel a. A single dot can then be placed below a tengwa to indicate that it is not followed by any vowel.

Vowel Modifications

Long Vowels. Long vowels are primarily indicated by placing the vowel tehta on a long carrier. Another method is to double the tehta. This is primarily done with the u/o curls. In at least one sample, vowels are sometimes marked as long by placing a vowel tehta on a tengwa that has the same vowel sound assigned to it.

Diphthongs. In a few samples (especially DTS 50 and 51), diphthongs are written simply as two consecutive vowels. But usually, the first element of a diphthong is represented by a vowel tehta, and the second element by a tengwa. When so written, the preferred placement for the tehta seems to be over the tengwa representing the second element of the diphthong, even when this means reversing the reading order. A parallel to this is seen in the Classical mode. In all cases where a diphthong is represented by a tengwa-tehta combination, the diphtong is falling, i.e. stressed on the first element. Consequently, the stressed element is always represented by the tehta, the unstressed element by the tengwa.