√NEL root. “three”
This root served as the basis for Elvish words for “three” for much of Tolkien’s life. However, in its earliest appearance in the Qenya Lexicon of the 1910s, ᴱ√NELE was glossed “point” with derivatives like ᴱQ. neldor “beech”, ᴱQ. nele “tooth” and ᴱQ. nelt “corner”, while the derived numeral was ᴱQ. nelde “four” (QL/65). The contemporaneous Gnomish Lexicon also had G. nel “point, end, tip, jutting end” (GL/60), and G. deldron “beech” was almost certainly derived from a strengthened form of the root ndel- (PE11/8; GL/30). ᴱQ. nelde “three” first appeared in the Early Qenya Grammar of the 1920s (PE14/49, 82).
In the first layer of The Etymologies of the 1930s, this root was glossed “point, triangle” (EtyAC/NEL), but Tolkien changed the gloss of ᴹ√NEL to “three” and gave it two extended roots ᴹ√NELED (also “three”) and ᴹ√NELEK “tooth” (Ety/NEL, NELEK). In this revised paradigm, probably “tooth” was derived from the sense “triangle”. In The Etymologies of the 1930s, Ilk. neldor “beech” was still derived from this root, but was said to refer to the “three trunks” of Hirilorn.
In later writings from the 1950s and 60s, the gloss of √NEL was consistently “three” (WJ/421; VT42/24; VT47/10-11), and the extended form √NELED “three” appeared regularly as well (VT42/24; VT47/11). √NELEK “tooth” also appeared in several documents from the 1940s and 50s (PE19/58; PE21/56, 71).
References ✧ VT42/24, 26; VT47/10-11, 16, 24; WJ/421
ᴹ√NEL root. “three”
References ✧ Ety/BERÉTH, LEP, NEL, TIL; EtyAC/NEL
ᴱ√NELE root. “point”
Reference ✧ QL/65 ✧ “point”