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Croy Index: Vocabulary - Prosody - Verbs - Nouns - Adjectives - Nominals - Other Topics - Syntax List

3.17 Characteristics of Greek Nouns

Make sure you read through Croy's discussion of the characteristics of Greek nouns. Below you will also find some notes to help you understand the materials in this section.

As Croy explains, every Greek noun has three features: gender, number, and case. All the nouns you are learning about in this lesson are feminine in gender, so you don't have to worry about gender right now. Just function on case and number.

Number is pretty easy for us to understand because, like English, Greek has a singular number, and a plural number. In English, the ending "s" usually indicates the plural number. In Greek, there are also endings used to indicate a plural, but they are not the same as the English "s" ending.

In fact, there are lots of different endings that indicate the plural number in Greek, because each case has its own singular and plural endings.

Case is absolutely vital in Greek, but it is something hard for English speakers to understand sometimes. Case refers to the grammatical relationship between the noun and another word - usually, but not always, it refers to the relationship between the noun and a verb. You can tell the case of a noun by looking at the ending (just like the "s" ending tells you about number in English).

There are five cases, or types of relationship, that the noun can have to other words in a sentence:

Nominative: the only thing that a noun in the nominative case can be is the subject of a sentence, so if you find a noun in the nominative case - great! - it means you are looking at the subject of the sentence (or at a nominative predicate; see below for an explanation of this term). Because a dictionary lists words according to their nominative form, the nominative is sometimes called the dictionary form or the lexical form.

English: She is my friend.
In this sentence, "she" is in the nominative case (English pronouns do have case!)

Accusative: the accusative is usually the object of a verb in the sentence, although sometimes the accusative can be the object of a preposition, as you will learn later (and remember, verbs that take objects are called transitive verbs - verbs that do not take objects are called intransitive)

English: Do you know her?
In this sentence, "her" is in the accusative case

Because the Accusative is the single most important case to be able to recognize and produce, there is an Accusative Drill you can use to practice the forms (so far, you only know the feminine noun forms).

Genitive: the genitive is often used to express possession ("the land of milk and honey") but it can also be a form of description ("a horse of a different color")

English: Wendy's car is parked outside.
In this sentence, "Wendy's" is in the genitive case

Dative: most of the time, the dative is used as the indirect object of a verb ("I gave food to the small children" - food is the direct object, and small children the indirect object)

English: I told her that it was alright.
In this sentence, "her" is in the dative case (and yes, the English dative and the English accusative are identical in form - some Greek case endings will also be identical for more than one form)

Vocative: technically speaking, the vocative is not really a case, because a vocative word does not have any relationship at all to the rest of the sentence! It is just plunked down into the sentence as a form of address between the speaker and the intended audience of the speech. Most of the time the vocative case form is identical to the nominative case. That is true for all the nouns in this lesson, for example.

English: O people, listen to what I say!
In this sentence, the word "people" is being used as a vocative.

Remember, Greek nouns have case AND number. So there is a nominative singular ending, AND a nominative plural ending; an accusative singular ending, and an accusative plural ending. You are going to be learning lots of endings this week (and lots more endings as you learn about different noun declensions in the coming weeks).

About the nominative predicate. In addition to being the subject of a verb, the nominative case can be used in a nominative predicate. This is when there is a linking verb such as "to be" or "to be called" creates a link between the nominative subject and the predicate part of the sentence that comes after the verb. Here are some examples of sentences with verbs that introduce a nominative predicate:

English: She is a good person.
Nominative predicate: a good person.

English: Are you a football player?
Nominative predicate: a football player.

English: They will be called a great nation.
Nominative predicate: a great nation.

Word order. Unlike English, where word order is very rigid, Greek has free word order. This is because the case endings give you the grammatical information you need to understand the sentence. In English, instead of case endings, the word order determines the grammar.

In Greek, word order is not important for grammar! The subject of the verb is in the nominative case, but it might come before the verb (as in English), or after it. The object of the verb is in the accusative case, but it might come after the verb (as in English) or before it. This is probably the single most important thing for you to understand about Greek - the word order is almost completely free. Your English instincts about word order can really make trouble for you when reading Greek.

Greek word order is driven by style and emphasis, not by grammar. That means Greek word order is a beautiful thing! When you write in Greek, you can choose the word order that best emphasizes the message you want to convey. Words found at the beginning of the sentence or at the end receive more emphasis than words in the middle. So try to appreciate the word order of each Greek sentence you read! What word(s) stand at the beginning of the sentence or clause? What word(s) stand at the end? The position of these words represents a choice, a conscious choice, made by the speaker in order to convey the meaning of the sentence more fully. Unfortunately, when you translate Greek into English, these subtle kinds of emphasis are lost, because English word order is not so flexible.

Note about grammar terminology. There is a lot of grammar terminology (transitive and intransitive verbs, nominative predicate, etc.) that you need to learn for this course. It will be repeated again and again each week, but it might be confusing at the beginning of the semester. If any term is not clear to you, please post a question at the class Discussion Board - that way you can get an answer to your question, and it might be helpful for other students who are not sure about some of the terms themselves.

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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