The Plural of Dwarf

by Varda-(Valar)
Dec. 8, 2001 - Letters
Nov. 6, 2004 - Return

    From whence came Tolkien's original idea for using "dwarves" as a plural for "dwarf"?
    The plural "dwarves" instead of dwarfs (which is preferred by a number of critics and is correct philologically) is instead used by Tolkien because it went better with "elves". He wished later, according to his Letters, that he had used the historical plural for dwarves of "dwarrows". "Dwarves" went into general usage as many people, both readers and fellow writers, agreed with Tolkien's ear and logic.

    "The real historical plural of 'dwarf' (like teeth of tooth) is dwarrows anyway: rather a nice word, but a bit too archaic. Still I rather wish I had used the word dwarrow."

Reference: The Letters of JRR Tolkien  Letter # 17 To Stanley Unwin, Chairman of Allen and Unwin, p. 23, 24

    In Return of the King, "Appendix F" just before the discussion of the names Hobbit, Gamgee, and Brandywine, and before the discussion of the Eldar, the plural of dwarf is addressed:
    It may be observed that in this book as in The Hobbit the form dwarves is used, although the dictionaries tell us that the plural of dwarf is dwarfs. It should be dwarrows (or dwerrows), if singular and plural had each gone its own way down the years, as have man and men, or goose and geese. But we no longer speak of a dwarf as often as we do of a man, or even of a goose, and memories have not been fresh enough among Men to keep hold of a special plural for a race now abandoned to folk-tales, where at least a shadow of truth is preserved, or at last to nonsense stories in which they have become mere figures of fun. But in the Third Age something of their old character and power is still glimpsed, if already a little dimmed; these are the descendents of the Naugrim of the Elder Days, in whose hearts still burns ancient fire of Aule the Smith, and the embers smolder of their long grudge against the Elves; and in whose hands still lives the skill in work of stone that none have surpassed.
    It is to mark this that I have ventured to use the form dwarves, and remove them perhaps, from the sillier tales of these latter days. Dwarrows would have been better; but I have used that form only in the name Dwarrowdelf, to represent the name of Moria in the Common Speech: Phurunargian. For that meant 'Dwarf-delving' and yet was already a word of antique form.
-"Appendix F", Return of the King