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I am writing a fantasy book and am having trouble with when and how to use words such as "Elfin", "Elven", "Elfish", and "Elvish". I don't understand the difference between using a V or an F. Help?

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marked as duplicate by Chris Sunami, RyeɃreḁd, choster, TimLymington, Josh61 Jun 16 '14 at 17:36

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Does it remotely matter? Just use whatever seems best. It's fantasy. – user24964 Jun 16 '14 at 16:13
It does matter to me honestly, I'm very OCD on the topic. And I read that question and I could not find a helpful answer. – Michael Jun 16 '14 at 16:34

The choice is yours:

  1. If you want elves like Tolkien’s, use Elves and Elven and Elvish.

  2. If you want elves like Wolfe’s, use Aelf (plural Aelfe) and Aelfinn.

  3. If you want elves like Andrew Lang’s or Walt Disney’s, use Elfs and Elfin and Elfish.

The first is English, the second Nordic, and the third Tinkerbelly.

Names matter.

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Thank you, this is actually very helpful since I have read many books that use both forms of the spelling and it confused me then. – Michael Jun 16 '14 at 16:38
"Tinkerbelly." I like it. – Kevin Jun 16 '14 at 16:59

Consistency matters here. Whether you habitually convert the f to a v or not should tell you what to do in these circumstances.

The singular, elf, obviously has an f at the end. If, when you use the plural, you say elves, then it follows that you use elven and elvish, as the f-alternatives break consistency.

However, if you use elfs as the plural, then it is best that you use elfen and elfish. In this case, the v-alternatives break consistency.

Nevertheless, let us consider other words that function similarly. Think of the word thief: From it, we get the plural thieves (f converts to a v in the presence of a voiced suffix), the noun thievery (same process), the adjective thievish (same process), and the verb to thieve (this originally had a voiced suffix, which was lost as time went on; it is retained to some cases, he thieves, thou thievest, X thieved, etc.). The only word related to thief whose f does not become a v is theft, and that occurs because -t is a voiceless, not voiced, suffix.

So, if you say thieves, not thiefs, and you say wives, not wifes, and you say dwarves, not dwarfs, it follows that you use the v-forms of elf; but the choice is up to you. My only advice is to remain consistent.

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Thank you, this makes my usage clear as I instantly transform the word elf to elves and elvish. – Michael Jun 16 '14 at 16:48
My initial instincts were similar to yours, but I did a little background research, and apparently the accepted plural has always been "elves" not "elfs", even prior to Tolkien popularizing "elvish" and "elven". In other words (according to google n grams) almost no one uses "elfs" and no one ever has, even back when "elfish" and "elfin" were in common use. – Chris Sunami Jun 17 '14 at 3:01

(I decided to make this an actual answer instead of a comment, since the OP didn't feel it was adequately covered in the question I tagged as a duplicate, When to use "Elven", "Elvish" and "Elfic"?).

Following influential author JRR Tolkien, the "v" spelling is generally considered more "serious", the "f" spelling more whimsical. There is no difference in the grammar.

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Also thank you, the characters in the book are actually meant to be serious and I would name the more whimsical characters of similar physical traits as faeries. – Michael Jun 16 '14 at 16:40

V is widely accepted and used for this matter

Elven and Elvish

Books like Lord of the Rings can be a good source as it's in the same genre you are writing.

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