In recent messages the verb form _karin_ 'I make, build' from the
_Etymologies_ s.v. the verbal root KAR- 'make, do' (V:362), was
incidentally cited, classifying it as 1st person singular aorist.
The label of _karin_ as an aorist form is supported by the note c.
1969 cited at VT41:17, where Tolkien tells that verb forms with _-i_
are "the stem of the aorist tense". According to this, _kari-_ whould
be the aorist stem of the root KAR-. Complementarily, the form _kare_
(seemingly < *_kari_ with regular opening of final _-i_) acts as
infinitive in the sentence _alasaila ná la kare tai mo nave mára_ 'it
is unwise not to do what one judges good' at VT42:34, which is
explicitly told by Tolkien to be "in general 'aorist' terms", in a
text from the last years of his life (cf. VT42:33 for the dating).
However, it is possible that _karin_ at _Etym._ is not an aorist form,
but present. Verb forms in _-i-_ (_-e_ in the absence of suffixes)
belong to the present tense of "regular" basic verbs in earlier
conceptual stages: see "_Matar_ and _Tulir_" (MT), "The Qenya Verb
Forms" (QVF) and various examples at the verbs section of the "Early
Qenya Grammar" (EQG), PE14:23-34, 57-58. Actually, the aorist tense
occurs in a very distinct form (ended in _-ya_, -_mo_, _-le_...) at
QVF (cf. PE14:28, 34).
I think it probable that _karin_, and the many other verbs ending in
_-in_ from _The Etymologies_, were conceived in that context as
present forms, as in the earlier paradigms. Their glosses are not
helpful, as English present tense may be used for both the present and
aorist functions. However, present is to me a more natural tense to be
given as the first reference in a dictionary than the aorist.
In fact, MT apparently represents only present tenses, and both QVF
and EQG give the conjugation of the present tense first; furthermore,
at QVF, where both present and aorist are represented, aorist in fact
is given last, and when there is a relation between their forms aorist
is told to be "as present" (PE14:28, 34), and not the reverse(*). So,
if _Etym._ ever used aorist as the "reference" tense, that singularity
could be expected to be noted somewhere throughout the text.
Related to this, the difference between the well-known greeting _elen
síla lúmenn' omentielvo_ 'a star shines upon the hour of hour meeting'
and its draft forms _eleni silir..._ 'the stars shine...' and _elen
silë..._ 'a star shines' (VI:324-325), has been elsewhere considered a
change in the tense (aorist > present, cf. VT41:15, for instance), but
instead they could be a reflection of a change in the conception of
how the present tense was formed.
A limitation of this argument is that in _The Lost Road_, more or less
contemporary to the _Etymologies_ and written before any draft of _The
Lord of the Rings_, the form _tye-méla_ '[I] love thee' (not directly
glossed) occurs, seemingly a present like that of _elen síla..._ , and
like present _quéta_ in contrast to aorist _quete_ (VT41:15, 18). So,
it seems that the present formation of _The Lord of the Rings_ and
later texts was already conceived when the _Etymologies_ was being
composed. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily mean that _-i_ was
already conceived as the aorist stem characteristic, as it was in the
last years of Tolkien's life. The Q. verb _mel-_ 'love' is given at
_Etym._ just as the stem (and not *_melin_), leaving room to think
that it might not be the same kind of basic verb as _kar-_, and that
its present form could be different (thus enabling _tye-méla_ and
_tye-meláne_). And even if this was not implied, as Patrick Wynne and
Rich Alderson recently noted, there is no reason to think that a verb
need have one and only one form for a given tense.
(*) Against this, it could be argued that the conception of time is
different for Elves and Men, and that the first ones could find
completely natural to refer a verb by the tense which expresses an
habitual or time-indefinite action... if it is that the _Etymologies_
were conceived to be composed by some Elven sage, and that fact was
considered in this kind of details.
[Helios raises a important point of caution: given the shifting nature of
Tolkien's languages, even in fundamental categories, it is important
to distinguish between what Tolkien actually _states_ about any
particular class or formation at a particular stage in the conceptual
development of his languages, from what is _assumed_ to be the
case based on the evidence from other conceptual stages.
That being said, I don't agree that there would necessarily be
anything odd in citing the aorist form of a verb as opposed to the
present tense form, _per se_. The actual practice seems to be rather
to cite the _least marked_ formation first, followed by whatever forms
are necessary to illustrate the other formation classes. It happens that
for Latin as for most Western European languages this least marked
form of the verb is its present tense; but this neeed not be true of
languages generally. So in those stages of Tolkien's languages where the
aorist is the least marked form, it would be quite expected for the
aorist form to be the first cited. CFH]