(The Elvish writing system)

Internet Sources: Daniel S. Smith; Gernot Katzer)


Tengwar is a system of letters that logically follows phonological rules. The shape of the letters characterises the phonological properties of the phonemes represented.

The 24 primary letters are arranged into 4 vertical series (témar) according to the location of phoneme formation within the vocal tract:


1st series (Tincotéma): dental sounds,

2nd (Parmatéma). labial sounds,

3rd (Calmatéma): velar (guttural) sounds,

4th (Quessetéma): labiovelar (a guttural sound followed by a weak w-sound).

(Series 3 and 4 vary somewhat according to the requirements of different languages.)


Each téma has 6 grades (tyeller), which differ from each other in respect of voice, aspiration and nasality.


The primary letters are each formed of telco (stem) and lúwa (bow).

The letters of the same series share distinct features:


1st téma: open bow to the right,

2nd téma: closed bow to the right,

3rd téma: open bow to the left,

4th téma: closed bow to the left.


The number of lúwar and the shape of the telco provide information about voice and degree of closure:


1 lúwa > voiceless (grades 1, 3 and 6)

2 lúwar > voiced (grades 2, 4 and 5)

telco downwards > stop consonant (grades 1 and 2)

telco upwards > opening of the consonant to a ‘spirant’ (grades 2 and 3)

short telco > nasal (grades 5 and 6, since voiceless nasals are very rare the 6th grade is used for the weakest or ‘semi-vocalic’ consonants of each series).


Each letter has a name which contains the sound represented by the letter in question. Usually, the Quenya ‘full names’ are used, even if the letter in Sindarin denotes a sound that does not appear in the Quenya name (this accounts for the discrepancies in the chart, representing the Sindarin writing system).


The vowels in Tengwar are represented by so called tehtar (diacritics) placed above a consonantal letter. In Quenya (most words end in a vowel) the tehtar are placed upon the preceding consonant, whereas in classical Sindarin (most words end in a consonant) they are placed above the following consonant. If it is not possible to place the tehta above a consonant, it is placed above a ‘short carrier’ (like i without dot). Long vowels are represented by doubling of the tehtar (ô, û) or by placing them upon a ‘long carrier’ (like j without dot).

examples: calma (lamp) Quenya:


Sindarin (classical mode):


Since a is the most frequent vowel in Quenya its tehta is often omitted:



The Sindarin mode of Beleriand uses letters for representing the vowels instead of tehta.

Sindarin (mode of Beleriand):


Inschrift am Moria-Westtor

Sindarin classical mode:


Sindarin mode of Beleriand:


Transcription: Ennyn durin Aran Moria; (Doors of Durin, King of Moria;

pedo mellon a minno. speak friend and enter.)