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Alphabet: Accent Marks

You have already gotten to know some of the special marks that are used in writing Greek, such as the smooth and rough breathing marks and also the iota subscript. Now you are going to learn some more about the accent marks which you have already seen, but which have not yet been discussed in detail.

Stress marks. As you already know, most Greek words have a stressed syllable, and that syllable is marked with an accent mark so that you know where the stress goes. That is really convenient. Think about what it is like for people learning English, since we do not have any accent marks to let people know which syllable is stressed! You should also note that some Greek words do not have an accent mark of any kind. This is because in pronunciation they are combined with the following word or the preceding word in a single pronunciation unit. (You will learn much more about these word combinations later on!)

Tone marks. So the accent mark is really helpful in indicating the stress in the word. The problem, however, is that there is not just one accent mark - there are three different accent marks! This is because in addition to marking the stressed syllable in a word, the accent marks also indicated the "tone" used to pronounce the vowel. Ancient Greek was a tonal language, but modern Greek no longer has tones. English is also not a tonal language, so it is very hard for us to appreciate this aspect of ancient Greek. (An example of a modern tonal language would be Chinese.)

Acute, grave and circumflex. So, as a result, there are three different accent marks indicating the tone, but these different marks do not have any effect on your pronunciation of the words! Each of these marks indicates the stressed syllable, but aside from that they are treated the same in how the Greek is pronounced:

acute: this is the accent mark that shows a "rising" tone - found on the ultimate, penultimate, or antepenultimate syllables ά έ ί ό ύ ή ώ αί εί οί υί αύ εύ ού
grave (pronounced as if it were the word grav, not grave): this is the accent mark that shows a "falling" tone - found only on the ultimate syllable ὰ ὲ ὶ ὸ ὺ ὴ ὼ αὶ εὶ οὶ υὶ αὺ εὺ οὺ
circumflex: this is the accent that marking a rising then a falling tone - found only on the ultimate or penultimate syllables ᾶ ῖ ῦ ῆ ῶ αῖ αῖ οῖ υῖ αῦ εῦ οῦ

Breathing and accent marks combined. It is very often the case that a breathing mark and an accent mark need to appear over the same vowel at the beginning of a word, in which case they are combined. The breathing mark is put inside the circumflex mark, while in the case of the acute or the grave, the breathing mark goes first, followed by the accent mark. Here are some examples:

ἄ ἕ ἢ ὦ ἧ εὔ οὖ

Rules for accent marks. As you can see from the discussion in Croy (Lesson 1, Section 5), there are a lot of rules that determine how the accent marks were used. Your goal should be to understand what you can learn from looking at the accent marks - but you should not worry too much about knowing how to use the accent marks yourself when you write your own words and sentences in Greek (see below). Based on the rules that govern the placement of the accents, you can actually learn a lot about a Greek word. Here are some of the main rules:

These rules will become important later on when you start working on Greek "morphology", the way that the form of the word changes to indicate its function in the sentence. Very often the changes to the form of the word also cause a change in the accent. You will learn the different rules for that as you go along.

Rules for writing accents. You are never going to be required to correctly generate acute, grave, and circumflex accents on the Greek writing that you do for this class. However, you are expected to know where the stress in the word goes! You can indicate that with the acute accent mark if you want. You will not be required to use the grave or the circumflex. This will also be the case when you do dictation exercises for this class. You can just use an acute accent mark to indicate the word stress that you hear when you are writing out a dictation exercise. You do not have to know when the word stress would be indicated with a grave or a circumflex accent mark.

Do practice copying accents. At the same time, when you are copying a passage in Greek where all three accent marks are used, you should copy the accent marks that you find there! Slowly but surely, you will actually learn the rules for accents in this way. So, if you are copying out words or sentences for practice, copy the accent marks too. It's good practice for the future, even though you are not required to be able to use the grave or circumflex accents in the Greek writing and dictation that you do for your class assignments.

There is one last set of marks that you need to learn so that you will be able to read and write Greek... can you guess what they are? It's time for you to learn about... Greek Punctuation Marks.


Biblical Greek Online. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. Page last updated: April 9, 2005 8:06 PM


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