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Declension of Nouns, Adjectives, Etc.



Content
[go] General Observations about Declension of Words
[go] Declension of the Greek article
[go] The First Declension
[go] The Second Declension
[go] The Third Declension
[go] The Declension of Adjectives
[go] The Declension of Pronouns
[go] The Declension of Participles
[go] Superlatives
[go] Numbers

General Observations about Declension of Words
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So far you should still be with me. You may have a little rasp in the back of your throat, bitten your tongue once or twice, and be mildly puzzled about why the 's' changes when it is on the end of the word. But you are still with me. Now, however, is where we separate the regular army from the weekend warriors (the best I could do for a non-sexist comparison). When I first heard of declension (in Spanish declinación), I thought it had something to do with going downhill. How wrong was I! Believe me, this is the long uphill climb. There is no parallel in modern English to what the ancient Greeks did to nouns and adjectives (however, there was in Old English) and not too much in Spanish either for that matter. In order to understand what we will be discussing, some background information is necessary.

In English, word order is of critical importance. There is a big difference between, say "dog bites man" and "man bites dog". But in Greek there would be no confusion as to meaning if the order of the first phrase was swapped around (for the second phrase there might be, no matter what the order!). The reason for this is that Greek is what is called an 'inflected language'. The words change form (are inflected) according to the role they play in the sentence. Thus, in Greek it would always be clear as to who bit whom, regardless of the word order. So, let's take a look at how Greek is able to encode this information into the various words used in the sentence. In this part of the discussion we will be looking at the type of words that can be 'declined' as contrasted with conjugated. The types of words that can be declined are: the definite article, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and participles.

There are several things to keep track of in the declension of words. They are:

Gender: Greek has three genders, masculine, feminine, and neuter. If you're interested, Greek is the same as Latin in this regard.

Number: Ancient Greek had singular, dual, and plural. However, Hellenic Greek does not use the dual, so we have only to worry about singular and plural.

Case: (This is where it starts to get complicated.) While most authorities say there are four cases (or five if you include the vocative), scholars Dana and Mantey say there are eight cases, but only four (sometimes five) inflected forms. Normally I would favor the simpler form, but since I found using the eight cases so helpful in understanding the construction of some sentences, I have elected to follow the lonely lead of Dana and Mantey. The student is of course free to follow the crowd. Here is a brief summary of the eight cases (cases in italics share the inflected form of the case immediately above):

CaseBasic idea of the Case
Nominative This case designates or names. Its main use is to identify the subject of the clause or sentence.
Genitive This case describes or specifies. It attributes quality to the word modified. It is adjective-like in the way it works. It has a variety of uses too numerous to describe now. It is expressed in English by words like: of.
Ablative Has the same form as the Genitive. It is the case of origin or separation. It can also have prepositions along with it to assist. It is expressed in English by words like: off, out, from, away.
Dative This case shows personal interest. Its most frequent usage is to identify the indirect object of a verb. It is expressed in English by words like: to or for.
Locative Has the same form as the Dative. This case shows location or position. It is expressed in English by words like: in, on, among, at, by.
Instrumental Has the same form as the Dative. This case expresses the means by which something is done or accomplished, or its association. It is expressed in English by words like: with, by.
Accusative This case marks the limit or end of an action. Its most frequent usage is to identify the direct object of a verb.
Vocative This is the case of direct address. In the plural form it always takes the same form as the nominative plural. In the singular form it can vary.

There are three systems of inflection or three declensions in Greek. The first generates endings in which the "a" sound predominates. The second generates endings in which the "o" sound predominates. The third has a system where consonant stems predominate. (Note that the "stem" of a word is that part of a word that remains virtually unchanged in all of its forms.) The "o" sound (second declension) is the most common. The first declension has both masculine and feminine forms, while the second and third declension have either masculine, feminine, or neuter forms.

Declension of the Greek article
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The definite article in Greek is an adjective. Like all Greek adjectives, it is declined and agrees in gender, number, and case with the word it modifies.

  SingularPlural
  Masc.Fem.Neut. Masc.Fem.Neut.
Nominative o h to oi ai ta
Genitive tou thV tou twn twn twn
Ablative tou thV tou twn twn twn
Dative tw th tw toiV taiV toiV
Locative tw th tw toiV taiV toiV
Instrumental tw th tw toiV taiV toiV
Accusative ton thn to touV taV ta

The First Declension
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The first declension generates endings in which the "a" sound predominates.

All substantives of the first declension whose nominatives end in a or h are feminine in gender. Those whose nominatives end in hV or aV are masuline. There are no neuter substantitives in the first declension.

Feminine Nouns Endings
  Pure a Impure a h
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative a ai a ai h ai
Genitive aV wn hV wn hV wn
Ablative aV wn hV wn hV wn
Dative a ai h aiV h aiV
Locative a ai h aiV h aiV
Instrumental a ai h aiV h aiV
Accusative an aV an aV hn aV
Vocative a ai a ai h ai

Masculine Nouns Endings
  aV hV
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative aV ai hV ai
Genitive ou wn ou wn
Ablative ou wn ou wn
Dative a aiV h aiV
Locative a aiV h aiV
Instrumental a aiV h aiV
Accusative an aV hn aV
Vocative a ai a ai

The Second Declension
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The second declension generates endings in which the "o" predominates.

All substantives of the second declension whose nominatives end in oV are either masculine or feminine in gender. Those whose nominatives end in on are neuter.

Second Declension Noun and Adjective Endings
  Masculine Feminine Neuter
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative oV oi oV oi on a
Genitive ou wn ou wn ou wn
Ablative ou wn ou wn ou wn
Dative w oiV w oiV w oiV
Locative w oiV w oiV w oiV
Instrumental w oiV w oiV w oiV
Accusative on ouV on ouV on a
Vocative e oi e oi on a

The Third Declension
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The third declension is commonly called the consonant declension because most nouns have stems ending in a consonant. There are also some substantives that end in diphthongs, or vowels i or u.

Third Declension Noun Endings
  Masculine Feminine Neuter
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative V or none eV V or none eV none a
Genitive oV wn oV wn oV wn
Ablative oV wn oV wn oV wn
Dative i si(n) i si(n) i si(n)
Locative i si(n) i si(n) i si(n)
Instrumental i si(n) i si(n) i si(n)
Accusative a,n aV,V a,n aV,V none a
Vocative V or none eV V or none eV none a

The Declension of Adjectives
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Adjectives are declined in gender, number, and case the same as the substantives that they modify. This means that (in most cases) an adjective will have 3 gender endings, such as the word "good": masculine - agaqoV; femenine - agaqh; and neuter - agaqon. The one used depends upon the gender of the substantive modified.

The most numerous class of adjectives combines endings from the first and second declensions. A second large class uses endings wholy from the third declension. Another class is inflected partly according to the third and partly according to the first declension. (Why they chose to do it this way, I have no idea!)

First & Second Declension Adjective Endings
  Masculine Feminine Neuter
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative oV oi h ai on a
Genitive ou wn hV wn ou wn
Ablative ou wn hV wn ou wn
Dative w oiV h aiV w oiV
Locative w oiV h aiV w oiV
Instrumental w oiV h aiV w oiV
Accusative on ouV hn aV on a
Vocative e oi h ai on a

Third Declension Adjective Endings
  Masculine Feminine Neuter
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative hV eiV hV eiV eV h
Genitive ouV wn ouV wn ouV wn
Ablative ouV wn ouV wn ouV wn
Dative ei esi si esi ei esi
Locative ei esi si esi ei esi
Instrumental ei esi si esi ei esi
Accusative h eiV h eiV eV h
Vocative eV eiV eV eiV eV h

The following chart only shows one example of the third clase of adjectives.

Third & First Declension Adjective Endings paV (all)
  Masculine Feminine Neuter
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative paV panteV pasa pasai pan panta
Genitive pantoV pantwn pashV paswn pantoV pantwn
Ablative pantoV pantwn pashV paswn pantoV pantwn
Dative panti pasi pash pasaiV panti pasi
Locative panti pasi pash pasaiV panti pasi
Instrumental panti pasi pash pasaiV panti pasi
Accusative pavta pavtaV pasan pasaV pan panta
Vocative - ? - - - - -

Declension of the Irregular Adjective poluV
  Masculine Feminine Neuter
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative poluV polloi pollh pollai polu polla
Genitive pollou pollwn pollhV pollwn pollou pollwn
Ablative pollou pollwn pollhV pollwn pollou pollwn
Dative pollw polloiV pollh pollaiV pollw polloiV
Locative pollw polloiV pollh pollaiV pollw polloiV
Instrumental pollw polloiV pollh pollaiV pollw polloiV
Accusative polun pollouV pollhn pollaV polu polla
Vocative pole? polloi pollh pollai polu polla

Declension of the Irregular Adjective megaV
  Masculine Feminine Neuter
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative megaV megaloi megalh megalai mega megala
Genitive megalou megalwn megalhV megalwn megalou megalwn
Ablative megalou megalwn megalhV megalwn megalou megalwn
Dative megalw megaloiV megalh megalaiV megalw megaloiV
Locative megalw megaloiV megalh megalaiV megalw megaloiV
Instrumental megalw megaloiV megalh megalaiV megalw megaloiV
Accusative megan megalouV megalhn megalaV mega megala
Vocative megaV?? megaloi megalh megalai mega megala

The Declension of Pronouns
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The substantive to which a pronoun refers is called its antecendent. The pronoun agrees with its antecendent in gender and number.

In the following chart, only the first and second person are shown. The third person is not used. In its place, (as explained below) the pronoun autoV is used.

Personal Pronouns
  Singular Plural
  1st Person2nd Person 1st Person2nd Person
Nominative egw su hmeiV umeiV
Genitive mou sou,sou hmwn umwn
Ablative mou sou,sou hmwn umwn
Dative moi soi,soi hmin umin
Locative moi soi,soi hmin umin
Instrumental moi soi,soi hmin umin
Accusative me se,se hmaV umaV

autoV is used in three different ways:

  1. As an intensive pronoun; and means self, himself, herself, itself, etc.; and is in the predicate position.
  2. As an identical pronoun; it means same; and it is in the attributive position.
  3. When used alone in the genitive, ablative, locative, instrumental, dative, and accusative (the 'oblique' cases), it is the third person personal pronoun. (With the nominative it is not clear sometimes if it is an emphatic 'he' or an intensive 'self'.)

Declension of autoV
  Masculine Feminine Neuter
  Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur. Sngl.Plur.
Nominative autoV autoi auth autai auton auta
Genitive autou autwn authV autwn autou autwn
Ablative autou autwn authV autwn autou autwn
Dative autw autoiV auth autaiV autw autoiV
Locative autw autoiV auth autaiV autw autoiV
Instrumental autw autoiV auth autaiV autw autoiV
Accusative auton autouV authn autaV auto auta
Vocative e oi h ai on a

The Declension of Participles
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The participle is a verbal adjective, and is both a verb and an adjective at the same time (confusing!). Because it is an adjective, it is declined. Its gender, number, and case agree with the substantive it modifies. Like other adjectives, it is either attributive or predicate, and with the article it is also used as a substantive. Being a verb, it also has voice and tense.

The tense in the particple expresses 'kind of action'. The present participle expresses durative action; the aorist (past) participle expresses punctiliar action.

The participle does not express time, manner, cause, purpose, etc., which are actually suggested by the context.

(Note that the present active, middle, and passive participles of any regular verb can be made by adding to the present stem of the verb -wn, -ousa, -on, and -menoV, -menh, -menon. The future active and middle participles can be made by adding the same endings to the future stems of the verb.

Superlatives
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In Greek, adjectives have three degrees: positive, comparative, and superlative. The superlative form is not too common in the Christian Greek Scriptures, and the superlative idea is often expressed by the comparative form. When it does occur it generally has the elative sense of very or exceedingly.

The comparative degree of an adjective in -oV is generally formed by adding -teroV, -a, -on to the masculine stem of the adjective.

To form the superlative degree, -tatoV, -h, -on is added to the masculine stem of the adjective.

Numbers
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Greek numerals are adjectives. The ordinal numerals are declined the same as adjectives of the first and second declensions.

Greek uses the letters of the alphabet for the numerals along with three symbols that are not ordinarily used. These extra symbols are: for the number 6, for the number 90, and for the number 900. When letters are used as numerals, they are marked with a horizontal stroke placed above them, or by a short sloping line at the upper right. If the value of the letter is to be multiplied by 1000, then the letter is preceded by a short sloping line at the lower left. There is no symbol for zero in Greek.

Not all numbers appear in the Greek Scriptures, but for completeness sake the missing forms are also included in the following chart.

Greek Numbers

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