Ancient Greek grammar
Ancient Greek grammar (here mainly referring to that of the Attic dialect) is morphologically complex and preserves several features of Proto-Indo-European morphology. Nouns, adjectives, pronouns, articles, numerals and especially verbs are all highly inflected. This article is an introduction to this morphological complexity.
The Classical Greek script did not use accents. Accents were devised in the Hellenistic era by scholars who wanted to make it easier for foreigners to learn Greek. The general use of these accents began during the Byzantine Empire. Modern Greek has used only two diacritics since 1982, namely the diaeresis and the acute.
- Rough breathing (Greek: δασεῖα, Latin: spiritus asper) (῾), written over a vowel letter, denotes the sound /h/ at the beginning of a word, preceding the vowel. The smooth breathing (Greek: ψιλή, Latin: spiritus lenis) (᾿) denotes the absence of the /h/ sound. The vowel υ always has the spiritus asper, while other vowels can occur with either of the two. The spiritus asper is also conventionally written over a word-initial ρ.
- The acute accent (Greek: ὀξεῖα) (΄) is used on long or short vowels or at the third syllable from the end. If there is a long vowel before a long vowel it will take an acute accent. e.g.: κώμη (kṓmē "village"), ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos "human").
- The grave accent (Greek: βαρεῖα) (`) is used on long or short vowels and replaces the acute accent but only on the last syllable. However it is not used when the next word causes an inclination of the accent and also when a punctuation mark follows. e.g.: ὁ καλὸς ποιμὴν ποιμαίνει (ho kalòs poimḕn poimaínei "the good shepherd herds") but ἔλαφός τις (élaphós tis "a deer")—the word τις is behaving as if it is one word with ἔλαφος—and ἐλθέ, Ἰωάννη (elthé, Iōánnē "come, John").
- The circumflex (Greek: περισπωμένη), displayed as either a tilde (˜) or an inverted breve ( ̑) is used on long vowels. It is on long syllables before short syllables and on nouns in the genitive and the dative case whose final syllable is accented. Also, it is often placed where a contraction has taken place: e.g.: τιμάειν → τιμᾶν (timân "to honor"); κῆπος (kêpos "garden"); nominative αὐγή (augḗ "dawn"), genitive αὐγῆς (augês) and αὐγῶν (augôn), dative αὐγῇ (augêi) and αὐγαῖς (augaîs).
In Ancient Greek, all nouns, including proper nouns, are classified according to grammatical gender as masculine, feminine or neuter and present forms in five distinct morphological cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and vocative). Furthermore, common nouns present distinct forms in the singular, dual and plural number. The set of forms that any particular noun will present for each case and number is determined by the declension that it follows. The form of the declension is additionally determined by the final letter or letters in the stem.
Attic Greek has a definite article, but no indefinite article. The definite article agrees with its associated noun in number, gender and case. Proper names usually take a definite article, as do abstract nouns. Adjectives are either placed between the article and noun or after the noun, in which case the article is repeated before the adjective. Dependent genitive noun phrases are positioned in exactly the same way, even though this frequently results in splitting the article and noun by a long dependent phrase. For example, τὸ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἔργον tò toû anthrṓpou érgon, literally "the (of the man) deed", or "The deed of the man." In earlier Greek, for instance Homeric Greek, there was no definite article as such, the corresponding forms still having their original use as demonstrative pronouns.
|Singular||Dual||Plural||Singular||Dual [ar 1]||Plural||Singular||Dual||Plural|
|Nominative||ὁ (ho)||τώ (tṓ)||οἱ (hoi)||ἡ (hē)||τώ (tṓ)||αἱ (hai)||τό (tó)||τώ (tṓ)||τά (tá)|
|Genitive||τοῦ (toû)||τοῖν (toîn)||τῶν (tôn)||τῆς (tês)||τοῖν (toîn)||τῶν (tôn)||τοῦ (toû)||τοῖν (toîn)||τῶν (tôn)|
|Dative||τῷ (tôi)||τοῖν (toîn)||τοῖς (toîs)||τῇ (têi)||τοῖν (toîn)||ταῖς (taîs)||τῷ (tôi)||τοῖν (toîn)||τοῖς (toîs)|
|Accusative||τόν (tón)||τώ (tṓ)||τούς (toús)||τήν (tḗn)||τώ (tṓ)||τάς (tás)||τό (tó)||τώ (tṓ)||τά (tá)|
- The forms τά (tā́) and ταῖν (taîn) for feminine duals also exist.
The Ancient Greek verbal system preserves nearly all the complexities of Proto-Indo-European.
Verbs have four moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive and optative), three voices (active, middle and passive), as well as three persons (first, second and third) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Verbs are conjugated in four main combinations of tense and aspect (present, future, perfect, and aorist), with a full complement of moods for each of these main "tenses", except for the following restrictions:
- There is no future subjunctive or future imperative.
- There are separate passive-voice forms (distinct from the middle) only in the future and aorist.
In addition, for each of the four "tenses", there exist, in each voice, an infinitive and participles. There is also an imperfect indicative that can be constructed from the present using a prefix (the "augment") and the secondary endings. A pluperfect and future perfect indicative also exist, but are rather rare. The distinction of the "tenses" in moods other than the indicative is predominantly one of aspect rather than time. The Ancient Greek verbal system preserves nearly all the complexities of Proto-Indo-European (PIE).
A distinction is traditionally made between the so-called athematic verbs, with endings affixed directly to the root (also called mi-verbs) and the thematic class of verbs that present a "thematic" vowel /o/ or /e/ before the ending. All athematic roots end in a vowel except for /es-/ "be". The endings are classified into primary (those used in the present, future, perfect and rare future perfect of the indicative, as well as in the subjunctive) and secondary (used in the aorist, imperfect, and pluperfect of the indicative, as well as in the optative). Ancient Greek also preserves the PIE middle voice; the passive voice that occurs in the future and aorist is an innovation.
Dependence of moods and tenses
Ancient Greek has both the articular infinitive (infinitive with the article) and the infinitive without the article. The latter is divided into two categories: the final infinitive and the specific infinitive. When the subject of the infinitive is the same as the subject of the main verb, then the subject of the infinitive is in the nominative case. When the subjects are different, the subject of the infinitive is in the accusative case. When the subject of the infinitive is in the nominative case, it is usually omitted. (This means that the subject of the infinitive is only present when it differs from that of the subject of the main verb.)
- The articular infinitive uses the neuter article of the singular and replaces the corresponding noun of the verb. (This involves using a preposition phrase as the direct object in English.)
- κακόν ἐστι τὸ παρανομεῖν.
- It is bad to break the law(s).
- The infinitive without the article is separated into two categories.
- The specific infinitive is applied in every tense and is often translated in English as a dependent clause, optionally introduced by "that...", though sometimes it may be translated directly as an infinitive.
- λέγουσιν τὸν Σωκράτη σοφὸν εἶναι.
- They say that Socrates is wise.
- νομίζουσιν τὸν Σωκράτη σοφὸν εἶναι.
- They consider Socrates to be wise.
- [ὑμεῖς] νομίζετε τοὺς πολεμίους [ὑμεῖς] νικῆσαι.
- You think that you beat the enemy.
- The final infinitive is not used in the future tense and is translated into English as an infinitive.
- βούλομαί σε εἰς τὰς Ἀθήνας ἰέναι.
- I want you to go to Athens.
- ἀνάγκη ἐστὶ μάχεσθαι.
- It is necessary to fight.
The participle is a verbal adjective and has many functions in Ancient Greek. The participle can be active, middle or passive and can be found in present, aorist, future and perfect. It is divided into three categories: adjectival participle (ἐπιθετική), attributive (κατηγορηματικὴ) and adverbial (ἐπιρρηματική).
- The adjectival participle most often is used with the article. It functions as an adjective and it can be used with every tense. The adjectival participle is translated as a relative clause ("who...", "which...", "whom...").
- οὗτός ἐστι ὁ κλέψας τὸν χιτῶνα.
- This is the one who stole the chiton.
- ἔχων τις ὄνον ἐπώλησεν αὐτόν.
- Someone who has a donkey sold it.
- The attributive participle is always without the article and is used with every tense. The attributive participle sides with the following:
- εἰμί, γίγνομαι, ὑπάρχω
- προσεοικότες γίγνονται τοῖς γονεῦσιν οἱ παῖδες.
- The children take after their parents.
- δῆλός εἰμι, διαβιῶ, διαμένω, διάγω, διαγίγνομαι, οὐ διαλείπω, διατελῶ, λανθάνω, οἴχομαι, τυγχάνω, φαίνομαι/φανερός εἰμι, φθάνω
- δῆλος ἦν ἐπιθυμῶν προσελθεῖν.
- It was evident that he wanted to come (He was evident that he wanted to come).
- Verbs that mean commencement, termination, patience, tolerance, fatigue:
- ἄρξομαι διδάσκων περὶ τοῦ θείου.
- I will start teaching about god.
- οὐκ ἀνέχομαί σε ὑβρίζοντα.
- I don't tolerate you insulting me.
- Verbs that mean sense, knowledge, learning, memory and their contrary verbs:
- αἰσθάνομαί τινας παραβαίνοντας τοὺς νόμους.
- I understand that some people break the laws.
- Verbs that mean announcing, showing, proving:
- ἀπέδειξε Λύσανδρον κτείναντα Φιλοκλέα.
- He proved that Lysander killed Philocles.
- Verbs that mean passions of the soul, such as ἀγανακτῶ (I am vexed), αἰσχύνομαι (I am ashamed), ἥδομαι (I am pleased), χαίρω (I am happy), λυποῦμαι (I am sorry), ὀργίζομαι (I get angry) etc.
- χαίρω ὁρῶν σε ὑγιῆ.
- I am happy to see you healthy.
- ἀγανακτεῖ ὑπομένων τὰς ὕβρεις.
- He is vexed to tolerate the insults.
- εὖ/καλῶς/δίκαια/κακῶς ποιῶ, χαρίζομαι, ἀδικῶ, νικῶ, περιγίγνομαι, κρατῶ, ἡττῶμαι, λείπομαι.
- καλῶς ποιεῖτε τοὺς γέροντας ἐπιμελοῦντες.
- You are doing well by taking care of the old men.
- The adverbial participle is used without the article in every tense and functions as an adverbial definition. This participle expresses time, cause, purpose, supposition, opposition, concession and matter.
- The temporal participle is used with every tense and especially aorist. It expresses a simultaneous or an anterior action and rarely a posterior one. It is usually found with temporal adverbs such as ἅμα (while, immediately), ἐνταῦθα (then), ἔπειτα (after), εὐθύς (immediately), ἤδη (already), μεταξύ (meanwhile).
- ἀποπλεύσας εἰς Λάμψακον τὰς ναῦς ἐπεσκεύαζεν.
- After having sailed to Lampsacus he repaired the ships.
- ἐπαιάνιζον ἅμα πλέοντες.
- They were singing the paean while they were sailing.
- The causal participle is used with every tense and rarely future. It is usually translated as a causal clause or nominative absolute.
- ὁρῶν αὐτοὺς λυπουμένους ὑπεσχόμην γράψειν τὴν ἐπιστολήν.
- As I see them sad I promised to write the letter.
- εἰδώς σε ἱκανὸν ὄντα οὐ φοβοῦμαι.
- As I know that you are competent, I am not afraid.
- The final (telic) participle (expresses purpose) is used with the future tense. It forms the negation with μή. If the participle is preceded by a verb that expresses movement, then it stands alone. If the verb does not express a movement then the participle is often found with the '.
- ἀνεχώρησεν ἀπαγγελῶν τὰ γεγονότα
- He left in order to announce the events.
- ψεύδεται ὡς κρύψων τὴν ἀλήθειαν.
- He lies in order to hide the truth.
- ἔπεμψεν Ἀριστοτέλη ἀγγελοῦντα τὰς σπονδάς.
- He sent Aristotle in order for him to announce the agreements (Aristotle will announce).
The gerundive is a passive verbal adjective that indicates the necessity for the action of the verb to be performed. It takes the nominative endings -τέος, -τέᾱ, -τέον, declining like a normal first/second declension adjective. Its stem is normally of the same form as the aorist passive, but with φ changed to π and χ to κ. e.g.
- παύω → παυστέος (to be stopped)
- λαμβάνω → ληπτέος (to be taken)
Gerundives may be used as straightforward adjectives, with the agent, if any, in the dative:
- βοῦς θυστέος ἐστίν
- An ox must be sacrificed
They may also be used to express impersonal necessity
- ποιητέον (ἐστί) ...
- It is necessary to do...
Time and aspect
One of the most notable features that Ancient Greek has inherited from Proto-Indo-European is its use of verb "tense" to express both tense proper (present, past, or future) and the aspect of the time (as ongoing, simply taking place, or completed with a lasting result). The aspectual relation is expressed by the tenses in all the moods, while the temporal relation is only expressed in the indicative and to a more limited extent in the other moods (also called the dependent moods).
With regard to the time relation that they express in the indicative, the seven tense-aspects are divided into two categories:
- Primary: denoting present or future time. These are the present tense (in its ordinary use), perfect, future tense and the rare future perfect.
- Secondary (also called historical), denoting past time. The secondary tenses are the imperfect, pluperfect, and the aorist (in its ordinary uses)
This classification, which properly applies only to forms of the indicative, is also extended to the dependent moods in the cases where they express the same time relation as the indicative. The time relation expressed by a verb's tense may be present, past or future with reference to the time of the utterance or with reference to the time of another verb with which the verb in question is connected. Compare for instance ἀληθές ἐστιν, it's true with εἶπον ὅτι ἀληθὲς εἴη, I said that it was true (= I said "it's true").
A verb also expresses one of three possible aspects, irrespective of the mood it may be in:
- Imperfective aspect: indicating an ongoing, continuous, or repeated action. The present and the imperfect convey this aspect.
- Perfective aspect (traditionally also called aorist aspect in Greek grammar): indicating that the action is started and concluded at the same time, or that the action is focused on a single point in time, or that the action simply occurs without reference to its duration or lasting effect. The aorist conveys this aspect in all moods.
- Perfect (traditionally also often called perfective, but not to be confused with the above): indicating that the action is completed with a result that remains into the time being considered. The perfect (in all moods) as well as the pluperfect and future perfect carry this combination of relative tense and aspect.
Mood of the dependent verb
The rules on mood sequence (Consecutio modorum) determine the mood of verbs in subordinate clauses in a way analogous to but more flexible than the Latin rules on time sequence (Consecutio temporum) that determine their tense.
Putting aside special cases and exceptions, these rules can be formulated as follows:
- In dependent sentences, where the construction allows both the subjunctive and the optative, the subjunctive is used if the leading verb is primary, and the optative if it is secondary. E.g. πράττουσιν ἃ ἂν βούλωνται, they do whatever they want; but ἐπραττον ἃ βούλοιντο, they did whatever they wanted.
- Similarly, where the construction allows both the indicative and the optative, the indicative follows primary, and the optative follows secondary tenses. E.g. λέγουσιν ὅτι τοῦτο βούλονται, they say they want this; εἶπον ὅτι τοῦτο βούλοιντο, they said they wanted this.
- BRANDÃO, Jacynto L.; SARAIVA, Maria O. de Q.; and LAGE, Celina F. Ελληνικά: introdução ao grego antigo. Belo Horizonte (Brazil): Editora UFMG, 2005. p. 44, 67 and 512.
- FREIRE, Antônio. Gramática Grega. São Paulo (Brazil): Martins Fontes, 1987. p. 17.