Glossary of grammatical terms

   (Ancient Greek version)

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Listed below are the most important general terms in traditional English grammar, which is the framework we shall use in approaching Greek. If you are not familiar with this terminology you should study this list carefully. Start with the parts of speech, viz adjective, adverb, article, conjunction, interjection, noun, preposition, pronoun, verb. These are the categories into which words are classified for grammatical purposes and are the same for Greek as for English.

Active see Voice

Adjective An adjective is a word which qualifies (i.e. tells us of some quality of) a noun or pronoun: a red car; a short Roman; Cleopatra was sensitive; she is tall.

Adverb Adverbs qualify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs: he walks quickly; an excessively large Persian; my chariot was going very slowly. Certain adverbs can qualify nouns and pronouns: even I can do that. They may even qualify a whole clause: we went to Greece last year; we also saw Istanbul.

Apposition A noun (or noun phrase) is in apposition to another noun or pronoun when it follows by way of explanation and is exactly parallel in its relation to the rest of the sentence: we, the rightful owners, were evicted from our home; I, the undersigned, have the pleasure of telling you . . .

Article English has two articles the and a/an. The is called the definite article because a noun preceded by it refers to someone or something definite: the cat belonging to the neighbours kept me awake last night. A/an is called the indefinite article because a noun preceded by it refers to someone or something indefinite: No, I do not want a dog.

Aspect is the term applied to the use of verbal forms to express an action in respect of its inception, duration, or completion, but NOT of the time when it occurs. It is most commonly employed in Greek in connection with the moods (other than the indicative) of the present and aorist tenses; e.g. the present imperative is used for continual actions (keep hitting that Persian! Greek here has a single word [the present imperative of the verb κρούω] for keep hitting) but the aorist imperative is used for single actions (hit that Persian!).

Attributive Attributive and predicative are the terms applied to the two ways in which adjectives can be used. An adjective used attributively forms a phrase with the noun it qualifies, and in English always comes immediately before it: ancient Rome, a high building, the famous poet. An adjective used predicatively tells us what is predicated of, or asserted about, a person or thing. A verb is always involved in this use, and in English a predicative adjective always, in prose, follows the noun or pronoun it qualifies, generally with the verb coming between them: men are mortal, Caesar was bald. This use frequently involves the verb to be, but there are other possibilities: he was thought odd, we consider Cicero eloquent. All adjectives can be used in either way, with the exception of some possessive adjectives in English such as my, mine (the first can be only attributive, the second only predicative).

Auxiliary verb Many tenses in English are formed with the present or past participle of a verb together with some part of have or be (or both); when so used the latter are called auxiliary verbs: he was running when I saw him; I have read this glossary five times; we have been working for the past week at Greek. These combinations (was running, have read etc.) are called composite tenses. Other auxiliary verbs in English are shall, will, should, would. Greek has a much smaller number of composite tenses.

Case In any type of expression where it occurs, a noun (or pronoun) stands in a certain relationship to the other words, and this relationship is determined by the meaning we want to convey. The two sentences my brothers bite dogs and dogs bite my brothers contain exactly the same words but have opposite meanings, which are shown by the relationship in each sentence of the nouns brothers and dogs to the verb bite; here (as is normal in English) this relationship is indicated by word order. In Greek, where word order is used somewhat differently, the relationship is shown by particular case endings applied to nouns. If a noun is the subject of a verb (i.e. precedes it in a simple English sentence such as the above), it must, in Greek, be put into the nominative case with the appropriate ending; if it is the object of a verb (i.e. follows it in English) Greek puts it into the accusative case. In English we still have this system with pronouns; we say I saw her today, we cannot say me saw her because I is the nominative case, required here to show the subject of the verb, whereas me is the accusative case. With nouns in English we only have one case which can be indicated by an ending and this is the genitive; girl's, boy's. In Greek we have five cases, nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative.

Clause A clause is a group of words forming a sense unit and containing one finite verb, e.g. Hector feared Achilles; I am not happy today (the finite verb is in bold type). We can have either main clauses, which can stand on their own, or subordinate clauses, which cannot. In the sentence Xerxes owned a palace which had cost much money, the first four words constitute the main clause and this forms a complete sense unit; if, however, you were to say to a friend which had cost much money you would risk being thought odd. Subordinate clauses are further divided into adverbial which function as adverbs, adjectival, which function as adjectives, and noun clauses, which function as nouns.

Comparison (of adjectives and adverbs) see Inflexion.

Conjugation see Inflexion.

Conjunction Conjunctions are joining words and do not vary in form. Some conjunctions can join clauses, phrases or individual words (e.g. and, or) but most have a more restricted use. Those that are used to join clauses are divided into co-ordinating conjunctions (and, or, but), which join a main clause to a preceding one (I went to the theatre, but you were not there), and subordinating conjunctions, which subordinate one clause to another (the doctor came because I was ill ).

Declension see Inflexion.

Deponent A deponent verb is one which is middle or passive in form (see Voice) but active in meaning. Deponent verbs do not exist in English.

Finite This term is applied to those forms of verbs which can function as the verbal element of a clause. The only non-finite forms of a verb in English and Greek are participles and infinitives. We can say Alexander defeated the Persians because defeated is a finite form of the verb to defeat. We cannot say Alexander to have defeated the Persians because to have defeated is an infinitive and therefore non-finite, nor can we say (as a full sentence) Alexander having defeated the Persians because having defeated is a participle.

Gender In English we only observe natural gender (apart from such eccentricities as supposing ships feminine). If we are talking about a man we refer to him by the masculine pronoun he, but we refer to a woman by the feminine pronoun she, and we refer to a thing, such as a table or chair, by the neuter pronoun it. Greek, however, observes natural gender with living beings (generally), but other nouns, which may denote things, qualities and so on, are not necessarily neuter. For example τράπεζα table is feminine, λόγος; speech is masculine. This has important grammatical consequences, but the gender of individual nouns is not difficult to learn as, in most cases, it is shown by the ending.

Imperative see Mood.

Indicative see Mood.

Infinitive Infinitives are those parts of a verb which in English are normally preceded by to, e.g. to eat, to be eaten, to have eaten, to have been eaten. These are, respectively, the present active, present passive, past active, and past passive, infinitives of the verb eat. As in English, a Greek verb has active and passive infinitives, and infinitives exist in different tenses. A Greek infinitive is not preceded by anything corresponding to the English to.

Inflexion The form of adjectives, adverbs, nouns, pronouns, and verbs changes in English and in Greek (but much more so) according to the requirements of meaning and grammar. Inflexion is the overall term for such changes and covers conjugation, which applies only to verbs, declension, which applies to nouns, pronouns, and adjectives (which include participles), and comparison, which applies to adjectives and adverbs. The term conjugation is also used for the categories into which verbs are classified, and the term declension is similarly used for those of nouns and adjectives.

Interjection Interjections are words used to express one's emotions. They do not form part of sentences and have only one form (i.e. are not subject to inflexion). Examples are εὖ γε bravo! φεῦ alas!

Intransitive This is a term applied to verbs which cannot, because of their meaning, take a normal object, e.g. come, die, go. The opposite term is transitive; transitive verbs can take an object, make, hit, repair. He hit the man is a perfectly possible sentence, but he dies the man is nonsense. Sometimes in English we have pairs of verbs, one transitive and the other intransitive, which are obviously connected in sense and etymology, as to fall and to fell. We can say John is falling from the tree but John is falling the tree is without sense. If we mean John is causing the tree to fall, we can say John is felling the tree; hence to fall is intransitive, to fell is transitive. Some verbs are transitive in English but intransitive in Greek, and vice-versa. There are also a number of verbs in English, such as to move, which can be either transitive or intransitive, while their Greek equivalents are exclusively one or the other, e.g. I moved the lamp from its place (transitive); the previous year he moved from Athens to Thebes (intransitive). The Greek κινέω move, however, can, in the active, only be used transitively.

Middle see Voice

Mood is a term applied to verbs. Every finite form of a Greek verb is in one of four moods, which are:


Indicative, to express a fact: the doctor operated on me     yesterday.

Subjunctive, which originally expressed what the speaker willed or expected (let us go is expressed in Greek by a single subjunctive form of the verb go; cf. be that as it may, i.e. let that be as it may ). In Greek it is used in a number of idiomatic ways which cannot be given a single meaning. A few relics of the subjunctive survive in English (if I were you; be in the above example). A Greek subjunctive is often to be translated with an English auxiliary verb such as let, may, would etc.

Optative, which originally expressed what the speaker desired or considered possible. Like the subjunctive it cannot be given a single meaning. In one of its uses it expresses a wish of the type May that not happen!

Imperative, to give an order: do this immediately!

    There is also a fifth, the infinitive mood, which is solely taken up by infinitives. The other part of the Greek verb, participles, is not considered to be in any mood.

Noun A noun is a naming word: book, river, truth, Socrates, Sparta. Proper nouns are those we write with a capital letter, all others are common nouns.

Number A noun, or pronoun, or verb is normally either singular or plural in Greek just as in English; Greek also possess a dual to express two people or things generally associated, but this is not used consistently.

Object A noun or pronoun which is the object of an active verb suffers or receives the action of that verb: Plato wrote dialogues; Xenophon killed many barbarians; the Persians destroyed Athens. By definition we cannot have an object of this sort after intransitive verbs or (normally) verbs in the passive voice. It is sometimes called a direct object to distinguish it from an indirect object which we get after verbs of saying and giving: he told a story to the child. In English we can express this slightly differently: he told the child a story; but child is still the indirect object because the direct object is story.

Oblique Cases The overall term applied to the accusative, genitive, and datives cases.

Optative see Mood

Participle Participles are those forms of a verb which function as adjectives: the running horse, a fallen tree.

Passive see Voice

Person There are three persons, first, second, and third. First person is the person(s) speaking, i.e. I or we; second person is the person(s) spoken to, i.e. you; and third person is the person(s) or thing(s) spoken about, i.e. he, she, it, they. The term person has reference to pronouns and also to verbs because finite verbs must agree with their subject in number and person. Naturally, when we have a noun as subject of a verb, e.g. the dog ran across the road, the verb is in the third person.

Phrase A phrase is an intelligible group of words which does not have a finite verb: into the woods, Plato's five tired donkeys. A phrase can only be used by itself in certain circumstances, as in answer to a question.

Postpositive is the term used of words (mainly particles) which, if qualifying a word, must be placed after it, or, if qualifying a clause, cannot stand as its first word.

Predicative see Attributive.

Preposition Prepositions are invariable words which govern a noun or pronoun and show the relationship of the noun or pronoun to the rest of the sentence: Gorgias went to Athens; we live in Samos; I saw Alcibiades with him.

Pronoun Pronouns stand in place of nouns. The English personal pronouns are: I, you, he, she, it, we, they (in the accusative case me, you, him, her, it, us them). Other words such as this, that can function as pronouns (I do not like that! ) or as adjectives (I do not like that habit! ); for convenience we shall call them demonstrative pronouns. We also have reflexive pronouns (he loves himself ) and relative pronouns (I do not like the woman who was here ).

Sentence A sentence is a unit of speech which normally contains at least one main clause. It may be either a statement, question or command. For the Greek marks of punctuation used with each see Unit 1.

Stem The stem is the form of a word before endings are applied. In Greek, nouns normally have only one stem, which sometimes cannot be deduced from the nominative singular. With verbs in Greek we have different stems for some, but not all, tenses. English verbs such as to break are comparable; break- is the present stem and to it the ending of the third person singular is added (giving breaks); brok- is the past stem, giving us brok-en for the past participle.

Subject The subject of a clause is the noun, pronoun, or noun-equivalent which governs its verb. In English and Greek a finite verb's person and number are determined by the subject. We cannot say I is because I is the first person pronoun and is is the third person; we must use the first person (singular) form am. Likewise we must say we are and not we am because we is plural. An easy way to find the subject is to put who or what in front of the verb; with the sentence the ship was hit by a submerged rock, we ask the question what was hit by a submerged rock? and the answer, the ship, is the subject of the clause.

Subjunctive see Mood.

Tense Tense is a term applied to verbs. Every finite form of a verb, as well as participles and infinitives, indicates that the action or state expressed takes place in a particular time; for a complication in Greek see Aspect. The verb in I am sick refers to the present, in I will be sick to the future. These temporal states are called tenses, and in Greek we have seven: present, future, imperfect, aorist, perfect, pluperfect, future perfect.

Transitive see Intransitive

Verb A verb, when finite, is the doing or being word of its clause. It must agree with the subject in person and number. For non-finite forms of verbs see finite. A finite verb varies according to person, number, tense, mood, and voice.

Voice is a term applied to verbs, whether finite or non-finite. In English there are two voices, active and passive. The subject of an active verb is the doer of the action; the soldier lifted his shield. With a passive one the subject suffers or receives the action: the shield was lifted by the soldier. Greek has another voice, the middle, which usually means to do something to or for oneself.

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