Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1

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There are many reasons why one may study ancient Greek and Koine Greek; as a student of the classics, archaeology, new testament studies, pure interest, but when we learn a new language we are often bowled over by the amount of rules and terms to remember with just the basics. So in response to some of my students I am here providing some of the most important rules when learning basic Greek so one can remember them, refer to them and read the Greek better.

The Alphabet:

  • 24 Letters, many similar to English ones
  • 7 vowels
  • Short vowels = α  ε  ι  ο  υ
  • Long vowels = α  η  ι  ω  υ = note Eta and Omega are long forms of Epsilon and Omicron
  • Γγ is pronounced as ng. Thus ἅγγελος is angelos (angel)
  • There is still debate over how eta is pronounced
  • Iota can sometimes behave as a consonant when it begins a work (ie. Like a Y in English). Thus IAKWB is Yakob
  • Ensure that there is a difference in sound between k and x, by over-emphasising the h sound in x.
  • Watch Nu – it looks like an English V
  • Watch Rho – it looks like an English P
  • The letter sigma is written in two different ways, depending on where it is in the word. Lunate sigma at end of word. Eg. χριστός
  • It can often be helpful to know that in English words derived from Greek the U has become a Y, eg. Mystery
  • DIPHTHONG = Two different vowels combined into one syllable
  • Four sibilants or s sounds = ζ ξ σ ψ

Accents and Breathings:

  • Rough breathing mark ( = initial h
  • Smooth breathing mark ) = no initial h sound
  • E(n = one = hen
  • E)n = in = en
  • Initial rho and upsilon always have the rough breathings, eg. ῥῆμα (word) and ὑποκριτής (hypocrite)
  • With a rho = H not pronounced
  • If with a capital letter = breathing goes to left
  • Acute /
  • Grave \

    Oldest Known Image of Jesus from Duras Europos 235AD
  • Circumflex ~
  • Accents occasionally distinguish between words that are otherwise identical. Eg. εἰ means ‘if’; εἶ means ‘you are’
  • Accents serve to indicate which syllable in a Greek word is to be stressed in pronunciation
  • Apostrophe indicates the omission of the final short vowel before a word that begins with a vowel or a diphthong δι’ αὐτου= (through him)
  • This is called ELISION
  • DIAERESIS (¨) occurs where two vowels that normally combine to form a diphthong are to be pronounced separately
  • CORONIS (‘) indicates the combination of two words with the loss of an intermediate letter or letters. Combination of two words = CRASIS eg. I’m, eg. κἀγώ = καί ἐγω “and I”

Present and Future Verbs:

  • ACTIVE VOICE = subject is performing an action
  • PASSIVE VOICE = subject is being acted upon
  • MIDDLE VOICE = subject is pictured as acting in its own interest
  • AFFIRMATION is said to be INDICATIVE mood
  • Express a command = IMPERATIVE mood
  • Express a contingency = SUBJUNCTIVE mood
  • Express a verbal idea without limiting it by person and number = INFINITIVE MOOD
  • Expresses a polite request = OPTATIVE mood
  • PRIMARY (or PRINCIPLE) TENSES = present, future, perfect and future perfect
  • SECONDARY (or HISTORICAL) TENSES = imperfect, aorist and pluperfect
  • Greek has separate sets of person-number suffixes for the primary tenses and for the secondary tenses
  • Greek adds a vowel before the suffixes –men and –te = CONNECTING VOWEL
  • By removing the –w we obtain the present stem
  • The conjugation of present active indicative of –w verb = substitute present stem of that verb, add primary suffices with appropriate connecting vowels
  • Greek indicates future time by adding a sigma to the present stem = FUTURE TIME MORPHEME = ‘will’ equivalent
  • When the stem of a verb ends in a consonant, a phonological change will occur when the future time morpheme sigma is attached.
  • Π, β, φ, + σ = ψ
  • Κ, γ, χ + σ = ξ
  • Τ, δ, θ drop out before the σ
  • ‘Not’ is expressed by the adverb οὐ
  • Used with the indicative mood
  • μή is used with all other moods
  • Both precede the word to which they refer
  • Finite verbs convey = tense, voice, mood, person, and number
  • + its source (lexical or vocabulary form) of the verb

Nouns of the Second Declension:

  • NOMINATIVE = subject
  • ACCUSATIVE = object
  • GENITIVE = possessor
  • DATIVE = indirect object
  • VOCATIVE = person or thing addressed
  • Greek nouns can be grouped together according to the manner in which their endings change
  • Change in case and number
  • Number = singular or plural
  • Nouns with the same pattern of ending are called declensions
  • Three basic declensions in Greek
  • Second declension may be divided into two main groups = nouns whose nominative singular end in –os; and those than end in –on
  • There are also several feminine nouns of the second declension
  • Some second declension nouns are irregular in their formulation eg. ἰησοῦς
  • ABLATIVAL GENITIVE = indicates a source = ‘from a house’
  • LOCATIVE DATIVE = ‘in a field’
  • INSTRUCTIONAL DATIVE = ‘by a word’
  • Definite article = THE
  • NT writers typically placed the subject after the verb

Nouns of the First Declension:

Papyrus 66: This manuscript contains almost the complete Gospel of John
  • Next most regular declension after the second
  • Five paradigms
  • Differences between these paradigms are due to certain phonetic changes and are confined to the singular
  • No neuter nouns of the first declension
  • If the stem of a word ends in the phonemes ε, ι, or ρ, then the α of the nominative singular is retained
  • If the stem of the word ends in a sibilant phoneme then the α of the nominative singular lengthens to -ης and –η
  • If the stem ends in a phoneme other than ε, ι, ρ, or a sibilant, then the η in the nominative singular is retained throughout the singular
  • Mostly feminine
  • 112 masculine nouns of the first declension
  • All five paradigms have the same plural endings
  • Prepositions with One Case
    • Used with a noun (or pronoun) in order to clarify the relationship of the noun to some other word in a sentence
    • Located before the noun = PRE-POSITION
    • In Greek, numerous prepositions take a single case, but others take two or even three cases
    • Four Greek Prepositions that are used with a single case
    • Απο = takes genitive case = from, away from, of = αφ’ before rough breathing
    • Εις = takes accusative case = into, to, for, in
    • Εκ = takes genitive case = out of, from, by
    • Εν = takes the dative case = in, within, by, with, among
    • A preposition is always to be read in conjunction with what it governs in a sentence
    • This combination is called a prepositional phrase
  • The Paradigm of the Definite Article
    • The feminine article followed the paradigm of φωνη
    • The masculine and neuter inflections follow ανθρωπος/δωρον with the exception of the nominative singular
    • The root of the definite article is the rough breathing in the nominative masculine and feminine (singular and plural) and τ elsewhere


  • A Greek adjective agrees with the noun that it modifies in gender, number, and case.
  • Most adjectives will therefore have 24 forms like the article
  • Called THREE-TERMINATION ADJECTIVES as have for masculine, feminine and neuter
  • Smaller number of TWO-TERMINATION ADJECTIVES with no separate forms for the feminine
  • Frequently these include COMPOUND ADJECTIVES = composed of two of more constituent parts eg. Αδυνατος ‚impossible‛
  • Feminine forms follow the first declension
  • Masculine and neuter forms follow the second declension
  • When stem ends in ε, ι, or ρ, the feminine singular will use α; otherwise it will use η
  • Summary of the Uses of the Adjective

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

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7 thoughts on “Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1

    Mysteria Misc. Maxima: January 27th, 2012 « Invocatio said:
    January 27, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    […] Are you learning ancient Greek? Here’s some rules to keep in mind when declining all those indicative middle-voice participles. (Graeco Muse) […]

    Top Posts 2012 | GraecoMuse said:
    May 2, 2012 at 12:27 am

    […] Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1 […]

    […] Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1 […]

    GraecoMuse Turns One « GraecoMuse said:
    October 13, 2012 at 12:50 am

    […] Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1 – 11/01/12 Ancient Greek helmets […]

    Aristotelis Koskinas, Tourist Guide said:
    October 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    A very useful tool to hear pronunciation is the Forvo ( available in several languages (and Greek).

    Learning Ancient Greek Resources « GraecoMuse said:
    January 9, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    […] Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1 […]

    Raspberry ketone said:
    April 17, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    It’s difficult to find experienced people on this subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking
    about! Thanks

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