="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" viewBox="0 0 512 512">

39 Participles: Use and Function

2011.05.0008

A bilingual (Latin and Greek) grave monument. 1st c. A.D. Athenian Agora Excavations.


The Function of Participles

 

Now that we have learned how to form participles, let’s see how they are used in Greek. Recall that participles are VERBAL ADJECTIVES.

  • VERBAL: participles have tense and voice, and can take objects or introduce clauses or phrases
  • ADJECTIVAL: participles have gender, number, and case that matches the antecedent (usually a noun or pronoun)

Α participle performs three basic functions:

  • ATTRIBUTIVE: when a definite article precedes it (i.e., the participle falls in the attributive position).
    • In this use, the participle is primarily an adjective.
  • CIRCUMSTANTIAL: when no article precedes it (i.e., the participle falls in the predicate position).
    • In this use, the participle is often translated into English with a dependent clause.
  • GENITIVE ABSOLUTE: when a noun and participle form their own independent clause within a sentence.
    • In this use, the participle is primarily an adjective.

 

Attributive Function

A participle is ATTRIBUTIVE when a definite article precedes it (S 2049-2053). In this use, the participle is primarily an adjective. The participle can refer to a specific person or persons doing the action or to the whole class of people who perform this action.

  • οἱ ἄνδρες φεύγουσιν. 
    • The men flee.
  • οἱ φεύγοντες ἄνδρες…
    • The fleeing men…
    • The men who flee…
  • οὐ τιμῶμεν τοὺς ἐκ τῆς μάχης φεύγοντας
    • We do not honor those fleeing from battle.
    • We do not honor the men who flee from battle

 

Circumstantial Participles

A participle is CIRCUMSTANTIAL when no article precedes it (S 2054-2069). Most participles that you will encounter are circumstantial participles. In this use, the participle introduces the circumstances under which an action occurred. It is often translated into English with a dependent clause.

  • τρέχομεν. λαμβάνομεν τοὺς ἵππους. 
    • We are running. We catch the horses.
  • τρέχοντες λαμβάνομεν τοὺς ἵππους.
    • We are running and we catch the horses.
    • When we are running, we catch the horses.
    • Because we are running, we catch the horses.
    • Although we are running, we catch the horses.
    • If we are running, we catch the horses.
    • Since we are running, we catch the horses.
    • While we are running, we catch the horses.
    • As long as we are running, we catch the horses.

Make sure you identify the antecedent of the circumstantial participle correctly.

  • λαμβάνομεν τρέχοντες τοὺς ἵππους.
    • We catch the horses, while we are running.
  • λαμβάνομεν τρέχοντας τοὺς ἵππους.
    • We catch the horses, while they are running.

 


Tenses of Participles

 

The TENSE of the CIRCUMSTANTIAL participle indicates a temporal relationship with the main verb (S 2061):

  • The PRESENT participle:
    • refers to action happening at the SAME TIME as the main verb
  • The FUTURE active participle:
    • refers to action AFTER the main verb
  • The AORIST participle:
    • often refers to action PRIOR to another verb

 

Present Circumstantial Participles:

  • τρέχοντες λαμβάνομεν τοὺς ἵππους.
    • While we are running, we catch the horses.
  • τρέχοντες ἐλαμβάνομεν τοὺς ἵππους.
    • While we were running, we caught the horses.
  • λαμβάνομεν φεύγοντας τοὺς ἵππους.
    • We catch the horses, while they are running away. 

 

Future Circumstantial Participles:

  • λαμβάνομεν φεύξοντας τοὺς ἵππους.
    • We catch the horses, while they are about to run away.

In practice, the future active participle often expresses PURPOSE (S 2065):

  • ἐτρέχομεν διώξοντες τοὺς ἵππους.
    • We were running, when we were about to chase the horses.
    • We were running, in order to chase the horses.

 

Aorist Circumstantial Participles

  • λαβόντες οἱ ἄνθρωποι τοὺς ἵππους, ἤγαγον οἴκαδε.
    • After the men captured the horses, they led them home.
    • Τhe men captured the horses, before they led them home.

 


Negatives

 

The negative for a participle is normally οὐ (S 2045):

  • οὐ τρέχοντες ἐλαμβάνομεν τοὺς ἵππους.
    • Although we were not running, we caught the horses.

For GENERIC ATTRIBUTIVE participles, however, the negative is μή:

  • λαμβάνομεν τοὺς μὴ τρέχοντας ἵππους.
    • We catch horses that do not run.

For CIRCUMSTANTIAL participles expressing a NEGATIVE CONDITION, the negative is μή:

  • λαμβάνομεν τοὺς ἵππους μὴ τρέχοντας.
    • We catch horses, if they are not running.

 


The Genitive Absolute

 

You have now seen how Greek often links depictions of actions together by making one or more of the verbs participles. We also know that participles always modify their ANTECEDENTS (i.e., the noun or pronoun that it describes). If the antecedent is not part of the main sentence, however, a problem arises: what should be the case of the noun/pronoun and participle pair, if they are not connected grammatically with the rest of the sentence?

In this situation, there is sort of a default setting. If the antecedent of the participle is not part of the main sentence, then both this noun and the participle go into the GENITIVE case. This construction is called the GENITIVE ABSOLUTE (< Latin absolutus, i.e., “cast off” or “freed” from the rest of the sentence).

The genitive case has no particular meaning other than to mark the phrase as a DEPENDENT CLAUSE consisting of a CIRCUMSTANTIAL PARTICIPLE and its ANTECEDENT. As such, a genitive absolute is translated like any other circumstantial participle.

 

For example, consider the following sentence, which does not have a genitive absolute:

  • ἀφίκοντο μὲν οἱ πολέμιοι, ἐκ δὲ τῆς πόλεως ἐλείπομεν.
    • The enemy arrived, but we were leaving the city.

 

Greeks often preferred to express such sentences by converting one of the clauses into a genitive absolute construction:

  • ἀφικομένων τῶν πολεμίων ἐκ τῆς πόλεως ἐλείπομεν.
    • When the enemy arrived, we were (already) leaving the city.

 

Context within a passage will help determine the most appropriate translation of a genitive absolute.

  • τῶν πολεμίων ταῦτα ποιησάντων ἐκ τῆς πόλεως ἐλίπομεν.
    • When the enemy had done these things, we left the city.
    • Because the enemy had done these things, we left the city.
    • Although the enemy had done these things, we left the city.
    • After the enemy had done these things, we left the city.
    • Since the enemy had done these things, we left the city.
    • κτλ

 

  • τῶν βασιλέων καταλυθέντων οἱ στρατηγοὶ τὴν πόλιν κατέσχον.
    • When the kings had been deposed, the generals occupied the city.
    • Because the kings had been deposed, the generals occupied the city.
    • Although the kings had been deposed, the generals occupied the city.
    • After the kings had been deposed, the generals occupied the city.
    • Since the kings had been deposed, the generals occupied the city.
    • κτλ

– τὸ τέλος –

 


Key Terms and Concepts

  • ATTRIBUTIVE PARTICIPLE
  • CIRCUMSTANTIAL PARTICIPLE
  • GENITIVE ABSOLUTE
  • TENSE OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL PARTICIPLE
  • FUTURE PARTICIPLES AS PURPOSE
  • NEGATIVES FOR A PARTICIPLE

Exercises

Ι. Identify the participles in the Reading Passages that follow this lesson, and provide the following information for each:

  • Tense
  • Voice
  • Gender
  • Number
  • Case
  • Antecedent
  • Function (Attributive, Circumstantial, Genitive Absolute)

Readings

Lysias 2.30-33: AGE Readings 21.

κατὰ Λουκᾶν 22:7-23: AGE Readings 21b.

 

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Participles: Use and Function by Wilfred E. Major and Michael Laughy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.