Parsing a Greek Noun
You have learned the basics of Greek verbs: how to form them, and how to translate them. Next we add another important part of speech: NOUNS.
A NOUN indicates a person, place, or thing. An English noun form normally indicates whether the person/place/thing is singular or plural. An INFLECTED Greek noun form, however, regularly represents THREE pieces of information:
I. GENDER indicates the class or category of nouns to which a given noun belongs.
Most Greek nouns are assigned one of three GRAMMATICAL GENDERS:
In some cases, the grammatical gender of a particular noun reflects the actual gender of a person or animal. In other cases, the gender of a noun is simply grammatical. This is perhaps clearest with the gender of nouns that are inanimate objects, but there are also nouns that possess an unanticipated grammatical gender. For example, ἀνδρεία, manliness, is a grammatically FEMININE noun. Learning the gender of each noun is therefore essential, and must be memorized as part of the vocabulary entry.
II. NUMBER indicates whether a noun is singular or plural.
As with English, Greek nouns change their endings to reflect a noun’s number. Also like English, Greek has two numbers:
Unlike English, Greek also has a third number: DUAL (!), which indicates a pair of something. More often, however, Greek simply uses the plural to indicate a pair of something: οἱ ὀφθαλμοί the eyes (S 195). As a result, the dual number is rare in Greek. For this lesson, we concentrate on the far more common singular and plural.
III. CASE indicates the noun’s function in a particular sentence.
Greek most often uses the following four cases:
Each of these cases represents a wide range of possible information about how the noun is to be understood within the context of a given sentence. What follows are some of the most common functions for each case.
Nouns in this case most often function as the subject of a verb, or as a predicate nominative.
- Mary sends the child of Joseph to the rulers. (Subject of verb).
- She is Mary. (Predicate nominative).
Nouns in this case often communicate the same function expressed by the English word of. It is used, for example, to denote possession.
- Mary sends the child of Joseph to the rulers.
Nouns in this case often communicate the same function expressed by the English words to or for. It is used, for example, to denote an indirect object.
- Mary sends the child of Joseph to the rulers.
Nouns in this case often function as the direct object of transitive verbs.
- Mary sends the child of Joseph to the rulers.
To parse a Greek noun means to identify the three qualities – gender, number, and case – of any given noun form. For example, a specific noun form could be:
Once you know these three qualities and the noun’s meaning, you have the tools to understand how to translate a noun in a given sentence.
Building a Greek Noun
I. Masculine Nouns
Now that you have learned what information a Greek noun conveys, let’s see how Greek inflects its nouns to convey this information. We begin with the NOUN STEM. The stem tells you the person, place or thing to which the noun refers. For example:
- παιδ child
- δαιμον divinity, spirit
- ἀρχοντ ruler
To indicate the number and case of a noun, Greek adds CASE ENDINGS to the stems. Since Greek nouns most commonly use two numbers (Singular, Plural) and four cases (Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative), Greek nouns need eight different endings to cover all the possibilities.
The first set of nouns are all MASCULINE in gender. These particular masculine nouns add the following suffixes to their stem to indicate number and case:
II. The Trouble with Sigma
Notice that two of the case endings involve adding a sigma to the stem: nom. sing. = –ς, dat. plu. = –σι. The set of nouns we are discussing have stems ending in a DENTAL (recall that the dental STOP consonants are –τ/-δ/-θ, and the dental NASAL is –ν). At this moment, it would be good to review some alphabet math so that we can see what pronunciation – and therefore spelling – changes arise.
Recall that when a σ follows a dental stop consonant, the dental disappears and the σ remains: e.g., δ + σ = σ. A similar process occurs when a σ follows a –ν, only sometimes (usually in the nominative singular) it is the σ that disappears: ν + σ = ν. In such instances, we often (though not always!) see the process of COMPENSATORY LENGTHENING, where a Greek vowel lengthens to make up for the loss of a consonant that follows. Note, however, that only a short vowel can be lengthened; if the vowel is already long or a diphthong, it cannot be lengthened further.
With this alphabet math in mind, take careful note of the ways that the trouble with sigma affects the spelling of our three nouns:
ὁ παῖς, παιδός child
|Nominative||(παιδς→ ) παῖς||παῖδες|
|Dative||παιδί||(παιδσι→ ) παισί|
ὁ δαίμων, δαίμονος divinity (cf. S 259; GPH p. 11)
|Nominative||(δαιμονς→ ) δαίμων||δαίμονες|
|Dative||δαίμονι||(δαιμονσι→ ) δαίμοσι|
ὁ ἄρχων, ἄρχοντος ruler (cf. S 259; GPH p. 9)
|Nominative||(ἀρχοντς→ ) ἄρχων||ἄρχοντες|
|Dative||ἄρχοντι||(ἀρχοντσι→ ) ἄρχουσι|
Spell it Like It Sounds!
Remember: A word ending in –σι can add a final –ν (MOVABLE NU) to ease pronunciation: e.g., εἴκοσί εἰσι → εἴκοσίν εἰσι. For the noun παῖς, for example, this means the dative plural form παισί can appear as παισίν. It does not affect the parsing, meaning, or translation.
III. Declining and Declensions
The process of writing or saying all the INFLECTED forms of a noun is called DECLINING a noun. This is because ancient scholars metaphorically described noun forms as “declining” down from their nominative singular form. The other cases – Genitive, Dative, and Accusative – are sometimes referred to as OBLIQUE CASES, to distinguish them from this nominative singular form.
Almost all Greek nouns belong to one of three INFLECTION patterns, called the FIRST DECLENSION, SECOND DECLENSION, and THIRD DECLENSION. Each represents a particular set of case endings for gender, number, and case. The nouns of this lesson belong to the THIRD DECLENSION.
IV. Noun Vocabulary
The vocabulary entry for Greek nouns always comprises three words: e.g., ὁ ἄρχων, ἄρχοντος. These three words represent the following:
- The DEFINITE ARTICLE, which signals the gender of the noun. The article ὁ indicates that a noun is masculine. For more on the definite article, see below.
- The NOMINATIVE SINGULAR, so you can see exactly how this form appears. This is particularly helpful if the nominative singular has been changed in response to a sigma, e.g., (ἀρχοντς→ ) ἄρχων.
- The GENITIVE SINGULAR, so you can identify the NOUN STEM, which can be found by dropping the ending –ος, e.g., ἀρχοντ-.
It is important, therefore, that all three words be memorized as the vocabulary entry for any given Greek noun.
Nouns and the Persistent Accent
For most Greek verbs, RECESSIVE ACCENTUATION determines which syllable receives the accent. In the case of most Greek nouns (and adjectives), PERSISTENT ACCENTUATION determines which syllable receives the accent.
The NOMINATIVE SINGULAR of each noun has a particular vowel or diphthong that receives the ACCENT. Where this accented vowel or diphthong is found – antepenult, penult, or ultima – is a matter of spelling, and must be memorized. For example, note that the accent is “born” on the alpha of ἄρχων, but on the omega of ἡγεμών. As a general principle, the accent on all the other INFLECTED forms of a noun tries to remain, or PERSIST, on the same vowel or diphthong on which it is found in the nominative singular, unless forced to change position or accent type (e.g., from circumflex to acute).
Note that the 3rd declension case ending for the nominative singular adds only a consonant (-ς) to the noun stem; the remaining case endings add ANOTHER SYLLABLE to the noun. In practice, this means that if the accented vowel or diphthong is found, say, in the ultima of the nominative singular form, the same vowel or diphthong becomes the penult in the remaining inflected forms.
There are three general PERSISTENT ACCENT situations or rules that apply to nouns of the third declension. (For a download of all the accent rules for nouns, click here: Greek Accents Nouns).
1. When the accent falls on the PENULT of inflected forms…
It stays there. If the penult is LONG, the accent is a circumflex with short ultima, acute with long ultima.
If the penult is SHORT, the accent remains acute throughout all forms.
2. When the accent is on the ANTEPENULT of inflected forms…
The accent can only be acute on the antepenult. If the ULTIMA becomes LONG (e.g., genitive plural –ων), the accent moves to the PENULT.
3. When the accent falls on a MONOSYLLABIC nominative singular noun…
The accent usually moves to the ULTIMA of the genitive and dative cases, singular and plural. In these situations, the accent on the ultima is ACUTE over short vowels (e.g. –ός), and circumflex over long (e.g. –ῶν). This accent pattern is irregular, and must be memorized.
The Definite Article
The DEFINITE ARTICLE, translated as the in English, is far and away the most common word in Greek. Greek, however, uses the definite article in more varied ways than does English. For example, proper names are often accompanied by a definite article: Socrates is good (ἀγαθός), for example, would be rendered in Greek as ὁ Σωκράτης ἐστὶν ἀγαθός. Other uses of the Greek definite article are treated in later lessons. For now, it is good to assume that unless there is some reason to omit it, the Greek definite article regularly accompanies nouns.
Like nouns, the definite article in Greek has three genders. For each, there are eight forms to cover the two numbers (singular and plural) and four cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative).
The definite article of MASCULINE NOUNS is as follows (S 332; GPH p. 41):
When a definite article accompanies a noun, both must parse the same. In other words, they must be the same in gender, number and case. Note the following examples:
ὁ παῖς, παιδός child
|Nominative||ὁ παῖς||οἱ παῖδες|
|Genitive||τοῦ παιδός||τῶν παίδων|
|Dative||τῷ παιδί||τοῖς παισί|
|Accusative||τὸν παῖδα||τοὺς παῖδας|
ὁ δαίμων, δαίμονος divinity
|Nominative||ὁ δαίμων||οἱ δαίμονες|
|Genitive||τοῦ δαίμονος||τῶν δαιμόνων|
|Dative||τῷ δαίμονι||τοῖς δαίμοσι|
|Accusative||τὸν δαίμονα||τοὺς δαίμονας|
ὁ ἄρχων, ἄρχοντος ruler
|Nominative||ὁ ἄρχων||οἱ ἄρχοντες|
|Genitive||τοῦ ἄρχοντος||τῶν ἀρχόντων|
|Dative||τῷ ἄρχοντι||τοῖς ἄρχουσι|
|Accusative||τὸν ἄρχοντα||τοὺς ἄρχοντας|
– τὸ τέλος –
Key Terms and Concepts
- GRAMMATICAL GENDER
- NOUN STEM
- CASE ENDINGS
- THE TROUBLE WITH SIGMA
- COMPENSATORY LENGTHENING
- OBLIQUE CASES
- PERSISTENT ACCENT
- DEFINITE ARTICLE
- ὁ ἀγών -ῶνος contest
- ὁ αἰών -ῶνος age, eternity
- ὁ ἄρχων -οντος ruler
- ὁ δαίμων -ονος divinity
- ὁ ἡγεμών -όνος guide, commander
- ὁ παῖς, παιδός child
- ὁ πούς, ποδός foot
Ι. Memorize the vocabulary, and practice declining each. Practice also declining the masculine definite article.
ΙΙ. For the following declined nouns, the accent has been placed on the nominative singular. Based upon the persistent accent rules, mark the accents for the remaining cases and numbers. Note: Some of the following nouns are introduced in the later lessons; do not worry if you do not know the definition or grammatical gender of these words. This exercise is simply to practice accent placement on nouns.
- Note: the υ of νύξ is short.
ΙΙΙ. Give the case and number for each inflected form, and provide the vocabulary entry (definite article, nominative singular, genitive singular).
IV. For the following sentences, provide the correct masculine definite article for each noun (i.e., its inflected form must match its noun in number and case). For each verb, give the person and number. For each noun, give the case and number. Translate each sentence into English.
- ________ ἄρχων παραδίδωσι ________ παῖδα ________ ἡγεµόνι.
- ________ ἄρχων ἐστὶν ________ παῖς.
- ________ δαίμων ἐστὶν ________ ἡγεµών.
- ________ ἡγεµόνες ________ ἀγῶνα ________ δαιμόνων καθιστᾶσι.
- ________ δαίμονες ________ ἀγῶνας καθιστᾶσι.
- ________ παῖδα εἶναι ἄρχοντα ἀφίησιν.
- ________ αἰὼν πάρεστιν.
- ________ ἡγεµὼν ________ παισὶ ________ ἄρχοντα παραδίδωσι.
- ________ ἀγῶνες ________ ἀρχόντων πάρεισιν.
- _______ παῖδες ______ δαιμόνων δεικνύασι ______ πόδας _______ ἄρχουσιν.