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The ranger's Favored Enemy feature description says:

When you gain this feature, you also learn one language of your choice that is spoken by your favored enemies, if they speak one at all

I am confused. What language options does the PHB give you to choose from?

Are you supposed to choose a respective language from the Languages table (PHB, p. 123)? Or can you pick any language that at least one type of your favored enemies speaks?

For instance, for Fey, do you have to pick Sylvan, or can you choose the Blink Dog language (since Blink Dogs are fey), Aquan or Giant (Sea Hags are fey too), Elvish (since Dryads speak Elvish), etc.?

On the one hand, Aquan/Giant/Elvish are definitely languages "spoken by your favored enemies". On the other hand, the Languages table specifies Fey as the "typical speakers" of the Sylvan language. Also, the latter doesn't work well with the "language of your choice" part, turning the "choice" into a moot point.

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    \$\begingroup\$ (By contrast, the Revised Ranger's version of the feature says: "When you gain this feature, you also learn one language of your choice, typically one spoken by your favored enemy or creatures associated with it. However, you are free to pick any language you wish to learn.") \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 9 '18 at 20:03
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You gain any one language that any of your favored enemies speak.

When you gain this feature, you also learn one language of your choice that is spoken by your favored enemies, if they speak one at all.

Breaking this down:

  • You gain one language.
  • It is a language of your choice. You get to pick.
  • Its only constraint is that it must be spoken by your favored enemies.

It does not say that you must gain the most common language of your favored enemies. In fact, that would contradict the rule that you get a choice.

Nor can it reasonably be interpreted to be a language that all your favored enemies speak. Many creatures speak only one unique language that is not shared by any others of their type.

Nor does any rule say it has to be a standard language listed in the Player's Handbook.

Therefore, you pick a language that is normally spoken by any creature within your category of favored enemies. If you take Favored Enemy: Monstrosity, you could take Umber Hulk language, although you will not often find it useful, and would be recommended to take the most common language possible.

Obviously, there's some DM judgement here. For example, the bandit entry says it can speak any language, but it's up to your DM what language the bandits of his world speak (probably not an ancient language like Auran, for example). The couatl speaks all languages, but obviously you cannot learn all languages just because you hunt couatl. And just as the favored enemy rules suggest that a ranger should take favored enemies of creatures they have actually encountered, it would be most logical for them to learn the languages of creatures they have encountered. The DM might also impose his own rules about what languages you can and cannot choose.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you add this to the answer? Also, the PHB says "your choices should reflect the types of monsters you have encountered on your adventures" — it seems the same is true for languages. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 8 '18 at 20:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ The couatl would imply, however, that someone with favored enemy (celestials) could choose any language—if the couatls speak all of them, the ranger presumably therefore gets to choose any one of them. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 9 '18 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I mentioned the couatl edge-case in my answer. While technically all languages are spoken by the couatl, it's an unusual case that the DM would probably disallow. I'd be interested to hear Jeremy Crawford's rules-as-written answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Jul 9 '18 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @QuadraticWizard it appears Crawford agrees with you. May be worth adding to your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Aug 19 '18 at 16:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron: Thanks for asking Crawford! :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 19 '18 at 20:04
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Any language spoken by an enemy (including nonstandard languages)

Fellow RPG.SE contributor David Coffron asked Jeremy Crawford (official rules designer for D&D 5e) this question on Twitter, and Crawford answered:

Favored Enemy language choice (can it be any language a fey speaks like can I chose blink dog?)

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If you want another example, Winter Wolf for monstrosity favored enemy or Giant Eagle for beast favored enemy.

Those are indeed languages spoken by members of those creature types. Those languages are legitimate choices for Favored Enemy.

So you can pick from any of the languages listed under your favored enemies' "Languages" in their statblocks.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't see any languages listed in the Blink Dog stat block. It says they understand but do not speak Sylvan, but no mention of any 'Blink Dog' language. Where is the existence of this language supported? \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Feb 27 at 16:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkTO: It's right there by "Languages": "Languages Blink Dog Understands Sylvan but can't speak it". (There's a missing comma after "Blink Dog", which I've reported to D&D Beyond.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 28 at 0:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh... I took it to mean that the blink dog understands Sylvan, not 'Blink Dog, Sylvan) \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Feb 28 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkTO: Should be fixed on DDB now: "Languages: Blink Dog , understands Sylvan but can't speak it". It does "speak" the blink dog "language". \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 28 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ My mobile app isn't updated, but in looking closely at it, there does appear to be an extra space between 'Blink Dog' and 'Understands' \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Feb 28 at 19:41

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