Tengwar – Black Speech General Use

General Use: overview


There is only one known text in the Black Speech written in Tengwar: the inscription on the One Ring. Though this text occurs in several different versions (DTS 7, DTS 2, DTS 33, DTS 34, DTS 63, DTS 69), all relevant details are the same in all versions.

According to AppB, the One Ring was forged around the year 1600 in the Second Age. Assuming that the inscription was made at the same time, that makes it the oldest dateable Tengwar text in the chronology of the Elder Days (though the Sindarin inscription on the Doors of Durin was probably older [ibid.]).

About 4,859 years later, Frodo said to Gandalf: I cannot read the fiery letters. Gandalf commented: The letters are Elvish, of an ancient mode, but the language is that of Mordor. This has led some to conclude that Frodo was unfamiliar with what is here called the General Use. However, other explanations to why Frodo could not read the fiery letters are far more probable: they were written in a language unknown to him; the unusual slanted style of the script made it difficult to decipher; and there is no space between words.

This last feature is found only in the Ring inscription among all our samples of Tengwar. Breaks only occur at the end of poetic lines (coinciding with the commas and line break in the transcription), each of which is indicated both by punctuation and space (see also Tengwar Punctuation). It is not known if this way of writing is typical for the Black Speech.

Below is a detailed analysis of the mode used for the writing on the One Ring. Note: the different tengwar are frequently referred to below by their Quenya names. For a complete list of these, see the article Tengwar Names.


The sound values of the tengwar are given in Figure 1. Unattested tengwar are given in grey, and unattested sound values are marked with an asterisk.

Figure 1: The tengwar

As the table shows, only a limited number of different tengwar are actually found in the Ring inscription. This might indicate that the Black Speech had a very restrictive phonology, permitting only a small number of different sounds, or it might just be a consequence of the brevity of the text. It seems probable that many of the unattested tengwar would have the same sound values as in other examples of general use, but given how little is known about Black Speech phonology, we cannot be certain that those tengwar were used for the language at all.

In the 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings, a variant of the inscription is shown (DTS 69) in which hwesta with an extended stem occurs; but this is a spelling error [LRRC, entry 50 (I:59). [Ring inscription]].

It may be noted that fricatives (sh, gh) are commonly represented by letters with extended stems in the Ring inscription. The exception is th, which is written with the letter súle with a raised stem. This th occurs at the beginning of a word, while the other fricatives occur after vowels (and consequently have vowel marks on top of them). If there ever were such things as spelling conventions for the Black Speech, they might have dictated that tengwar with extended stems should be used after vowels, and tengwar with raised stems in other positions.

Similarly, there are two tengwar each for r and z. As in other examples of general use, the letters óre and esse nuquerna are used after vowels, while rómen and esse are used after consonants (and presumably initially).

As in other languages, a superimposed horizontal line indicates a preceding nasal of the same series. The Ring inscription attests mb and mp, where the line stands for m.


Vowels are in the Black Speech general use written as tehtar placed above the following consonant. Where there is no consonant following the vowel, a short carrier is used instead. If a word ends with a vowel and the next begins with a consonant, the vowel is still placed on a vowel carrier rather than on the first letter of the following word.

Figure 2 shows the tehtar used to represent vowels in the Ring inscription. Only three vowels are attested: a, i and u (and its long counterpart û). Note that the curl open to the right represents u rather than its more usual value o. As Tolkien explains, “The curl to the right was favoured, and the application depended on the language concerned : in the Black Speech o was rare” [AppE]. This “rare” o thus seems to have been written with the curl open to the left.

Figure 2: Vowel tehtar

There was also a long â, attested in the word ghâsh. Most likely it was written as a on a long carrier. No long î is attested, but if it occurred it was probably written either on a long carrier or as a doubled tehta.

Sample text

Here is an example of “debased” Black Speech. Beside the sounds attested in the Ring inscription, this version of the language also contains h, o, s and (presumably) the diphthong ai. These sounds are here transcribed as they would be in other languages that employ the general use.

Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai
— Grishnâkh’s curse in The Lord of the Rings (of debatable meaning)