Ancient Greek/Printable version

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Ancient Greek

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At one time, all well-educated men (and they were almost always men) were expected to have at least a passing familiarity with Classical Greek. That age has passed, for better or worse, but many of the reasons that motivated the study of Greek are still forceful. Indeed, some of them are so common now as to seem trite and obvious: The people who used this language were the founders of Western civilization. They created bodies of thought that have profoundly affected the course of both intellectual and political history and are still influential to this day. They created and defined many of the forms that art continues to take. They laid the foundation for geometry, and invented the scientific method. To fully understand almost any area of human endeavour requires wrestling with the ancient Greeks.

Now one can do this by reading translations. Certainly innumerable Greek texts, including all the "important" ones, have been translated into all the major languages. But we hardly need to review the problems of translation here. It is a second-best alternative at any time, and in the case of a language two thousand years old that arose in a culture very different from our own, it sometimes seems an astonishing feat that we manage to render anything at all. It is perhaps only due to the inestimable influence of the Greeks' language and thought on our own that we manage it so well.

But by virtue of the fact that you are reading this, it's clear that you're considering an attempt at overcoming these obstacles by going directly through them, by studying Classical Greek. You may be wondering, though, is it for you?

Of course, there's no single answer to this question. If Greek is not your first foreign language, it should not present any shockingly new difficulties. It is a bit more complex in some ways than, say, Spanish or German - for example, it has nearly twenty forms of the definite article - but the principles are the same. There are verbs that must be conjugated, nouns that must be declined, and so on. The tremendous practice you gained in learning your other foreign language(s) will serve you very well in learning Greek. And as a bonus, you'll never have to worry about learning to understand native speakers: There are none!

If Greek will be your first foreign language, there are again advantages and disadvantages. Certainly the first few lessons may not be as easy as they would if you were learning, say, Spanish. And you're unlikely to find many other speakers among your friends, as you might with a modern language. But English has derived many words from Greek, and few of the principles of grammar are wildly different. Besides, if you don't know anyone else who reads Greek, you'll look all the more impressive by knowing how!

Before you begin, a word on prerequisites. This course assumes no previous foreign language knowledge. As mentioned above, learning a third or fourth language is usually easier than learning a second, but all this course presumes is English fluency.

We will try to avoid rote memorization where possible, but the fact is that memorization is impossible to avoid completely. Rules of grammar, of accent, even the alphabet itself must simply be memorized. This is not as difficult as many people seem to think, however, and the text will try to provide helps where possible.


The Greek alphabet, adopted in Attica in 403 B.C., contained 24 letters, and survives to this day, although, as is natural with most languages, the sounds of the letters have changed. While the Greeks themselves throughout the classical period wrote only in capitals, and without punctuation, this wikibook will use the current convention - that is, to use lower case letters where appropriate, to include accents and other diacritical marks, and to mark punctuation.

Graphemes[edit | edit source]

Greek Letter Name English Name IPA English
Homeric Classical
Α α ἄλφα alpha [a, aː] a1 (father)
Β β βῆτα beta [b] b (bet)
Γ γ γάμμα gamma [g, ŋ] g (get);
ng (king) wherever it precedes γ, κ, ξ, or χ2
Δ δ δέλτα delta [d] d (dog)
Ε ε εἶ, later ἔψῑλόν epsilon [e] ai6 (bait)
Ζ ζ ζῆτα zeta [zd] [zd] zd3 (wisdom)
Η η ἦτα eta [ε:] ai6 (hair)
Θ θ θῆτα theta [tʰ] t!4 (top)
Ι ι ἰῶτα iota [i, iː] ĭ1 (hit), ee (seem)
Κ κ κάππα kappa [k] k (scoop)
Λ λ λάβδα lambda [l] l (lame)
Μ μ μῦ mu [m] m (mile)
Ν ν νῦ nu [n] n (no)
Ξ ξ ξεῖ, later ξῖ xi [ks] x3 (axe)
Ο ο οὖ, ὄ, later ὂμῑκρόν omicron [o] ō6 (boat)
Π π πεῖ pi [p] p (spot)
Ρ ρ ῥῶ rho [r] r ('Scottish' r)
Σ σ ς5 σίγμα sigma [s] s (sit)
Τ τ ταῦ tau [t] t (stop)
Υ υ ὗ, later ὒψῑλόν upsilon [u, uː] [y, yː] u7 (unicorn)
Φ φ φεῖ, later φῖ phi [pʰ] p!4 (tophat)
Χ χ χεῖ, later χῖ chi [kʰ] c!4 (coop)
Ψ ψ ψεῖ, later ψῖ psi [ps] ps3 (apse)
Ω ω ὦ, later ὦμέγα omega [ɔː] [oː] aw6 (law)
1. the letters ι, α, and υ can represent short and long vowels.
2. This is called a gamma nasal. (e.g. αγγελος)
3. the letters ξ, ζ, and ψ all represent double consonant sounds (ks, zd, ps).
4. While many pronounce these characters according to the English sounds "th" (as in thin) and "ph" (as in photo) and the Scottish "ch" (as in loch), scholars suggest that this is not the correct ancient pronunciation. Evidence for this comes to us from Coptic, a language once spoken in Egypt. Coptic, unlike Greek, has a letter that corresponds to the English letter "H", which is ϩ or hori (Greek only has the rough breathing mark). When one word ends with either τ, π, or κ, and the word directly following begins with ϩ , the last letter of the first word will often contract with the first letter of the second word, resulting in θ, φ, and χ, respectively (e.g. πετ ϩοογ >> πεθοογ). While this affected the spelling it did not affect pronunciation, resulting in two pronounced sounds (t-h, p-h, k-h). The following "H" sound is called aspiration.
5. the letter σ is written ς at the end of words, e.g. βασις (but ΒΑΣΙΣ). This form is called sigma lunate, because it looks like a crescent moon.
6. Due to changes in the English language over time, the terms "long" and "short" are confusing here. The Greek letters epsilon and omicron were short and contrasted with the long eta and omega. In English, the "long" ā sound in "bait" is actually short when compared to the word "bayed." Similarly, the "short" ĕ sound of "bed" is long when compared to the word "bet." (It's the following consonant that determines the length in English.) In Ancient Greek, short epsilon had the sound of ā in "bait," while long eta had the sound of ĕ in "bed." The story is similar for omicron and omega (but because of variation in the way English is pronounced, it is not easy to find example words). The most important thing to remember, though, is that epsilon and omicron are short, whereas eta and omega are long.
7. Like u in French or ü in German. Can be pronounced by pronouncing ee while pursing the lips as if for the oo in "food."

Pronunciation[edit | edit source]

It is difficult, but not impossible, to reconstruct the pronunciation of an ancient language. Through various methods, particularly by comparison with other languages, and observation of sounds that are confused, we can form good estimates. However, please note that scholars do not agree on the pronunciation of Ancient Greek. The following pronunciation guide is simply one reconstruction. If you ever take a formal class in Ancient Greek, you may find that your professor or teacher pronounces the words differently depending upon the reconstructed model which they learned in school.

Also, just as English pronunciation has changed over time and is different in different regions of the English speaking world, Ancient Greek pronunciation was dependent both on era and dialect. Many dialectical changes are reflected in the spelling of words (so it is not necessary to explain those here), however, it is important to note that there are differences between the pronunciation of Homeric Greek and Classical Greek.

In addition to the table above, some particular points need to be raised over pronunciation.

  • Normally, γ is pronounced with a 'hard' g sound. However, before κ, χ, γ, it is pronounced as a nasal [ŋ].
  • ι is normally a separate vowel. However, in certain circumstances, it is possible to pronounce it as a semivowel [j] (like English y). Generally, the effect is the same.

Diphthongs[edit | edit source]

IPA English
Homeric Classical
αι [ai] eye
[aːi] [aː]
ει [eː, ei] [eː] hay
[εːi] [εː] hay/hair
οι [οi] boy
[oːi] [ɔː]
αυ [au] loud
ευ [eu]
ηυ [εːu]
ου [oː, ou] [oː] soon

Notice the short line under the long vowels α, η, ω in three instances: this is the iota subscript. It indicates that there was originally an iota after the vowel, i.e. ῳ = ωι. Some texts simply print an iota after the vowel: this is known as an iota adscript, and some texts mix the two, using a subscript with lowercase letters, and an adscript for capitals (Ωιομην for ῳομην). By Classical times, these had become monophthongs (one vowel sound) equivalent to their non-iotized counterparts, and can simply be pronounced as such. Note that when alpha takes the iota subscript, one can infer that the alpha was originally long, whereas the diphthong αι is formed from short alpha.

Aspirates[edit | edit source]

The letters θ, φ, χ are not fricatives: they are not the same as the sounds th, f, ch in thin, foot, and loch (although these are the sounds they have become in Modern Greek). These letters have hard sounds, but are pronounced with an exhalation, like an h sound. Listen hard to your voice when you pronounce the examples above: you'll find that there is a difference between the p in pot and in spot. Don't worry if you have too much difficulty making this distinction; many teachers and students prefer to use the fricative versions (th, f, kh) so that they are easier to distinguish for speakers and listeners.

Diacritical Marks[edit | edit source]

You will notice that many Greek letters have marks over them, and you will likely recognise the more common accents from other languages. In Greek, the accent does not mark stress (as in Spanish) or a change in vowel quality (as in French), but the pitch. Do not worry about remembering accents to begin with - it is quite possible to have a degree in Classics with only the vaguest knowledge of accents.

Greek has three accents: the acute or oxytone accent, written ´, and indicating a rise in pitch, the grave accent, `, indicating either a fall in pitch or a normal pitch (no one knows for sure), and a circumflex, or a perispomenon, ῀, which indicates a rise, followed by a fall. In some texts this appears as a rounded carat, like the sign ^, in others, like a tilde, ~. Accents only appear on vowels. If a diphthong is accented, the accent appears on the second character.

The diaeresis, ¨, is not strictly an accent, nor is it an umlaut, as used in German. It is mainly found on iotas to indicate that the letter should be pronounced separately from the vowel before it. For example, Verdi's opera Aïda is not pronounced 'eye-da', but 'a-yee-da'. Likewise, whereas αι is a diphthong, αϊ is two separate vowels.

More important than accents are the breathing marks. Breathings normally occur only at the beginning of a word, though they will, at times, be present in the middle - where two words have been joined together. Greek has two types of breathing, the smooth breathing, ᾿, and the rough breathing, ῾. Unlike accents, these are quite important, and you should try to learn them. A word that begins with a rough breathing on a vowel should be pronounced with an 'h'. So the Greek word ὅρος, meaning 'boundary', should be read 'horos', while ὄρος, a mountain, should be read 'oros'. Be careful never to confuse breathings with quotation marks or accents; when you write or quote Greek, the breathings should look like half-rings to clearly distinguish them from other marks. When rho occurs at the beginning of a word, it too takes a rough breathing mark and is transliterated rh, whereas when two rhos occur consecutively, the first takes a smooth breathing and the second a rough, although these breathing marks are not always indicated. Whenever upsilon occurs at the beginning of a word, it takes a rough breathing, except in the name of the letter itself. As with accent marks, breathing marks are written on the second of the two characters of a diphthong. Accents and breathings are usually written to the left of capital letters: Ἇ for ἇ.

Vowel length[edit | edit source]

In Ancient Greek, vowels may be long or short. The vowels ε and ο are always short, whereas η and ω are always long. The vowels α, ι, and υ, on the other hand, may be either short or long. It is often taught in grade school that, e.g., the "a" in "rat" is short, whereas the "a" in "rate" is long. This is not at all like vowel length in Ancient Greek. In Ancient Greek, a long vowel is literally "longer" than a short vowel, that is, its sound lasts for twice as long as the sound of a short vowel. Originally, this was the only difference between short and long vowels, but as the language evolved, the short and long vowels began to differ not only in quantity (length) but also in quality (kind).

It is not always possible to tell whether an alpha, iota, or upsilon is short or long. In dictionaries and textbooks, as here, long alphas, iotas, and upsilons are marked with a macron (¯), whereas short vowels are usually unmarked, but occasionally marked with a breve (˘). If an alpha, iota, or upsilon takes a circumflex, one may conclude that it is definitely long (see the following section), so it is not marked with a macron. If an alpha, iota, or upsilon takes an acute or a grave and it is long, there are typographic difficulties and thus it might not carry a macron even though it is supposed to (although one might occasionally see an attempt, e.g., ἀγορᾱ́, which might not render correctly in your browser).

In practice, alpha, iota, and upsilon are usually short in the word stems of Classical Greek (although the same might not be true of all Ancient Greek dialects); most long alphas in Classical Greek occur in grammatical endings, which makes it easier for the learner to remember which vowels are short and which are long. Developing a habit of pronouncing Ancient Greek words, in reading and in memorization, with full attention to vowel length, will aid the learner in remembering vowel length as well.

Accents and Morae[edit | edit source]

Ancient Greek was a language that distinguished between long and short syllables. Recall that the letters omicron and epsilon always denote short vowels for the purposes of accentuation (length can be determined differently for the sake of meter). Alpha, iota, and upsilon (α, ι, υ) can denote either short or long. but the letters eta and omega are always long, and all the diphthongs (αι, οι, ει, υι, αυ, ευ, ου) and vowels with an iota subscript (ᾳ, ῃ, ῳ) are long, except that αι and οι are usually short at the end of a word (exceptions will be noted). αι and οι are long when (1) they are not at the end of a word, (2) they end a verb in the optative mood, (3) they end noun in the locative, e.g οἴκοι (4) they end certain adverbs, e.g. αἰαῖ.

The basic unit of meter is a mora. The difference between long and short vowel is the number of morae (singular: mora) it contains. A short vowel counts as one mora, and a long vowel counts as two.

Rules for Accentuation[edit | edit source]

  1. Almost every Ancient Greek word has an accent, and the accent will always fall on one of the last three syllables.[1] Examples: ποταμός (river; accent on the ultima), ἵππος (horse; accent on the penult) ἰπποπόταμος (hippopotamus; accent on the antepenult).[2]
  2. The rules for accents vary based on the type of word being accented, e.g. nouns and verbs[3] are accented differently.
Recessive Accents (Verbs)[edit | edit source]
  1. Most verbs have recessive accents (they go as close to the beginning of the word as possible), except infinitives and participles (which have persistent accents) and forms of a few verbs like εἰμί which have enclitic forms.
  2. Recessive accents always appear over the antepenult or penult. They appear over the antepenult if the last syllable is short, and over the penult if the last syllable is long.
  3. In the optative, αι and οι are long at the end of a word
  4. Contract Verbs (and other contract words) have accents that reflect the uncontracted form of the words
    • If the accented syllable is not the one that contracts, there is no effect on the accent.
    • If the accented vowel is the first of the two vowels that contract, the resulting vowel will have a circumflex
    • If the accented vowel is the second vowel in the contracted pair, it will have an acute accent.
  5. Consider the example of παιδευσαι: παίδευσαι 2nd person singular aorist middle imperative, (αι is short) παιδεύσαι 2nd person singular aorist active optative (αι is long), παιδεῦσαι aorist active infinitive (accent is persistent).
Persistent Accents (Nouns and Adjectives)[edit | edit source]

1. Nouns by default have persistent accent: that is to say, the accent (whichever it is) remains, as the same accent, on the same syllable (given by the principal parts of the noun) regardless of the declensional endings it might take on, unless prohibited by a rule of accentuation.

Accent Pronunciation[edit | edit source]

  1. When a short vowel takes the acute accent, its pitch is rising. When a long vowel takes the acute, its second mora has a rising pitch. The mora immediately following has a falling pitch, even if it is on the next word.
  2. A circumflex can occur only over a long vowel. It indicates that the first mora has a rising pitch and the second a falling pitch. It is only allowed to occur on the last two syllables.
  3. The pronunciation of the grave accent is not precisely known. An acute accent on the last syllable (the ultima) changes into a grave unless the word stands last in its clause. The grave does not occur under any other circumstances. Example: ὁρ-ῶ αὐ-τό, but αὐ-τὸ ὁ-ρῶ.
  4. If the last syllable is long, the accent will not fall on the third last syllable (the antepenult). (This rule has exceptions, but don't worry about them right now.)
  5. If the second last syllable (the penult) is long and it takes the accent:
The accent will be an acute if and only if the ultima is long. Examples: βαί-νω, σῴ-ζω
The accent will be a circumflex if and only if the ultima is short. Examples: βαῖ-νε, σῷ-ζε

Punctuation[edit | edit source]

Ancient Greek is generally punctuated in texts for the reader's convenience. Full stops and commas are used in roughly the same way as English. However, there is no exclamation mark, and the Greek question mark is used—it looks like a semicolon ( ; ). Instead of colons and semicolons, Greek texts have a raised dot ( · ).

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Words that do not have accents are called enclitics. These tend to be small particles. They are also explained below.
  2. Betts, Gavin and Alan Henry. Teach Yourself Ancient Greek. Ontario, Canada: McGraw-Hill, 2009. p.5
  3. The notes on recessive accents are taken from Platonic Psychology summarized from Eleanor Dickey's unpublished Greek Prose Composition

External Resources[edit | edit source]


A single language can comprise several different dialects, which are often dictated by geography. Consider the word aunt. In the Northeast of the United States, the word is often pronounced "ɔnt"; in the South, however, one often hears it pronounced "aint"; in the Midwest, it is pronounced "ant".

So it was with Ancient Greek. Unlike American English, however, differences in Greek dialects led to differences not only in pronunciation, but in spelling, as well. Thus, in the Attic dialect the word for "sea" is θάλαττα, with a "t" sound. In the Ionic and Doric dialects, however, the word is spelled θάλασσα, with an "s" sound. Sometimes vowel sounds shift between dialects. For example, the Attic word μήτηρ ("mother") in Doric becomes μάτηρ. Ancient Greek has a number of dialects, chief among them being Attic, Ionic, Doric and Aeolic. Due to its prevalence in ancient Greek literature, Attic Greek is considered the "standard" form of the language, and is the dialect studied in most Greek language textbooks.

Just as in English, the main feature distinguishing Attic from other contemporary dialects is the vowels. Unless it came after an ι, ε, or ρ, what was originally an ἄλφα usually shifted to an ἦτα (whence Attic "μήτηρ"). Another feature distinguishing Attic was a process called "contraction." What this means is that when two vowels encounter each other during morphological change they often contract to form one vowel or diphthong in order to be pronounced more easily. The student needn't worry about this much to begin with, but it will become relevant later on. For now, note that Attic was just one of many dialects in a diverse region that would eventually become Greece, and that these features distinguish the way the Athenians spoke.

Basic Nouns

Gender[edit | edit source]

Ancient Greek, like many other languages, has nouns of different genders. An Ancient Greek noun is either masculine, feminine, or neuter. The names of men and male gods are always masculine, whereas those of women and goddesses are always feminine. A group consisting of only men, or both men and women, is grammatically masculine, and a group consisting of only women is grammatically feminine.

Furthermore, the grammatical gender in Greek is not always linked with actual gender. Inanimate objects are not necessarily neuter: they can be either masculine, feminine, or neuter. One can sometimes, but not always, infer the gender of a noun from its ending. It is important to know the gender of a noun because any adjectives used to describe that noun will have to match the noun in gender.

Number[edit | edit source]

In English, most nouns can be either singular or plural. The same is true in Ancient Greek. Ancient Greek also had a dual number, which, in its earliest attestations, was used instead of the plural when there were exactly two of something. It is not necessary to learn the dual number right now, as it gradually faded from the language, and in the Classical era it was already rare.

Case[edit | edit source]

In English, word order and prepositions are used to indicate the roles that nouns play in sentences. For example, the sentences "Alice sees Bob" and "Bob sees Alice" use exactly the same words, but in different orders; in the former, it is understood that Alice is the subject and Bob is the object, and in the latter, vice versa. In Ancient Greek, on the other hand, there is considerable (although not total) freedom in the ordering of words in a sentence. How did the Greeks know which noun was the subject and which was the object? They changed the endings of the nouns, rather than their order. This is known as declension. (They also changed the ending of the word in the plural, just as we often do in English by adding "s".) Only some pronouns in English still retain the vestiges of declension; "I"/"me" is one good example, as is "who"/"whom".

Declension in Ancient Greek is complex because not all nouns use the same set of endings. Nouns are classified into three broad categories, known as the first declension, second declension, and third declension. Even nouns belonging to the same category do not necessarily use the same set of endings, although there are conspicuous similarities.

There are 5 cases in Greek. The case of a noun tells you something about its role in the sentence:

  • The nominative case is used when a noun is the subject of a sentence (e.g., I am running). It is also used when it is the predicate of a copula whose subject is in the nominative (e.g., Who is it? It is I).
  • The genitive case denotes possession or limitation. Whereas in English we often use "'s" or the word "of" to denote possession (e.g., Alice's car, or the end of the day), in Greek the noun is simply put into the genitive case.
  • The dative case is the case into which indirect objects fall; whereas in English we usually use the word "to" (e.g., My friend gave a book to me), in Greek the noun is simply put into the dative case. The dative case has many other uses, to be explained later.
  • The accusative case is usually used for the direct object of a verb.
  • The vocative case is used when directly addressing a person, god, etc.

The accusative, genitive, and dative cases, but not the nominative and vocative, are also used for nouns that are objects of prepositions. Prepositions indicating motion towards, into, or against something are generally used with an accusative noun; prepositions governing motion away, out of, or under, the genitive; fixed position and proximity, the dative.

With nouns expressing time or dimension, the accusative case indicates a length of time or space (as in Odysseus sailed for ten years); the genitive indicates time within which (as in We'll arrive within the next hour), and the dative indicates when something happened (as in There will be a test tomorrow).

Important: When a noun is indicated in the dictionary or in the vocabulary of a textbook such as this, usually both its nominative singular and genitive singular forms are given. This is because the nominative form often does not give enough information to decline the noun, whereas the nominative and genitive together often do. Of course, if the noun has no singular form, then the nominative and genitive plural will be given.

Basic Nouns/First Declension

The first declension consists primarily of feminine nouns, with a few masculines. It is characterized by the recurrence of the letter alpha, and for this reason it is often referred to as the alpha declension, although the alpha was often changed to eta in the Attic dialect.

Accentuation[edit | edit source]

Nouns of the first declension have persistent accents. This means that, in general, when these nouns are declined, the accent does not move, although it does move if not doing so would violate one of the rules of accentuation, and it changes from an acute to a circumflex or vice versa if required by those rules. (This can happen when the final syllable goes from being short to long or vice versa; note that the terminal αι in the nominative plural is considered short.) In addition, when the accent in the nominative falls on the last syllable, it changes to a circumflex in the genitive and dative singular and plural.

The accent on the genitive plural of a first declension noun always falls on the last syllable.

Feminine nouns[edit | edit source]

Feminine nouns of the first declension may be further subdivided on the basis of α/η and ᾱ/ᾰ distinctions in the singular. However, in the plural, all nouns of the first declension have the same endings, which consistently have alpha instead of eta. The nominative singular and vocative singular are always identical, as are the nominative plural and vocative plural.

Nouns in eta[edit | edit source]

In Attic Greek, most feminine nouns of the first declension have eta throughout the singular, because long alpha was usually changed to eta in this dialect, except after epsilon, iota, or rho.

ἡδονή, ἡδονῆς, (hedoné, hedonês) "pleasure"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative ἡδονή ἡδονᾱ́ ἡδοναί
Genitive ἡδονῆς ἡδοναῖν ἡδονῶν
Dative ἡδονῇ ἡδοναῖν ἡδοναῖς
Accusative ἡδονήν ἡδονᾱ́ ἡδονᾱ́ς
Vocative ἡδονή ἡδονᾱ́ ἡδοναί

νίκη, νίκης, (níkē, níkēs) "victory"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative νῑ́κη νῑ́κᾱ νῖκαι
Genitive νῑ́κης νῑ́καιν νῑκῶν
Dative νῑ́κῃ νῑ́καιν νῑ́καις
Accusative νῑ́κην νῑ́κᾱ νῑ́κᾱς
Vocative νῑ́κη νῑ́κᾱ νῖκαι

Note: There is nothing irregular about the accentuation of νῑ́κη. In the nominative and vocative plural, the last syllable becomes short, which forces the acute to change to a circumflex, per the rules of accentuation.

Nouns in long alpha[edit | edit source]

After epsilon, iota, or rho, the long alpha is retained:

θεᾱ́, θεᾶς, (theá, theâs) "goddess"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative θεᾱ́ θεᾱ́ θεαί
Genitive θεᾶς θεαῖν θεῶν
Dative θεᾷ θεαῖν θεαῖς
Accusative θεᾱ́ν θεᾱ́ θεᾱ́ς
Vocative θεᾱ́ θεᾱ́ θεαί

χώρᾱ, χώρᾱς (khórā, khórās) "land, country"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative χώρᾱ χώρᾱ χῶραι
Genitive χώρᾱς χώραιν χωρῶν
Dative χώρᾳ χώραιν χώραις
Accusative χώρᾱν χώρᾱ χώρᾱς
Vocative χώρᾱ χώρᾱ χῶραι

δημοκρατίᾱ, δημοκρατίᾱς, (dēmokratíā, dēmokratíās) "democracy"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative δημοκρατίᾱ δημοκρατίᾱ δημοκρατίαι
Genitive δημοκρατίᾱς δημοκρατίαιν δημοκρατιῶν
Dative δημοκρατίᾳ δημοκρατίαιν δημοκρατίαις
Accusative δημοκρατίᾱν δημοκρατίᾱ δημοκρατίᾱς
Vocative δημοκρατίᾱ δημοκρατίᾱ δημοκρατίαι

Nouns in short alpha[edit | edit source]

Like the more common nouns in long alpha, these have stems ending in epsilon, iota, or rho. The short alpha appears in the nominative, accusative, and vocative singular:

ὑγίειᾰ, ὑγιείᾱς (hygíeia, hygieíās) "health"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative ὑγίειᾰ ὑγιείᾱ ὑγίειαι
Genitive ὑγιείᾱς ὑγιείαιν ὑγιειῶν
Dative ὑγιείᾳ ὑγιείαιν ὑγιείαις
Accusative ὑγίειᾰν ὑγιείᾱ ὑγιείᾱς
Vocative ὑγίειᾰ ὑγιείᾱ ὑγίειαι

Note the shift in accent resulting from the lengthening of the ending.

Nouns in short alpha and eta[edit | edit source]

These nouns generally had stems ending in -σσ-, which was changed in Attic to -ττ-. They have short alpha in the nominative, accusative, and vocative singular, and eta in the genitive and dative singular.

θάλαττᾰ, θαλάττης, (thálatta, thaláttēs) "sea"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative θάλαττᾰ θᾰλᾰ́ττᾱ θάλατται
Genitive θαλάττης θᾰλᾰ́τταιν θαλαττῶν
Dative θαλάττῃ θᾰλᾰ́τταιν θαλάτταις
Accusative θάλαττᾰν θᾰλᾰ́ττᾱ θαλάττᾱς
Vocative θάλαττᾰ θᾰλᾰ́ττᾱ θάλατται

Masculine nouns[edit | edit source]

Masculine nouns of the first declension end in -ης or -ᾱς, with the -ου ending characteristic of the second declension in the genitive singular. Other than that their case endings are the same as those of feminine nouns of the first declension, although the ending of the vocative singular is inconsistent (and may be -ᾱ, -ᾰ, or -η). Note that the vocative plural, however, still matches the nominative plural.

νεᾱνίᾱς, νεᾱνίου, (neāníās, neāníou) "young man"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative νεᾱνίᾱς νεᾱνῐ́ᾱ νεᾱνίαι
Genitive νεᾱνίου νεᾱνῐ́αιν νεᾱνιῶν
Dative νεᾱνίᾳ νεᾱνῐ́αιν νεᾱνίαις
Accusative νεᾱνίᾱν νεᾱνῐ́ᾱ νεᾱνίᾱς
Vocative νεᾱνίᾱ νεᾱνῐ́ᾱ νεᾱνίαι

πολῑ́της, πολῑ́του, (polítēs, polítou) "citizen"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative πολῑ́της πολῑ́τᾱ πολῖται
Genitive πολῑ́του πολῑ́ταιν πολῑτῶν
Dative πολῑ́τῃ πολῑ́ταιν πολῑ́ταις
Accusative πολῑ́την πολῑ́τᾱ πολῑ́τᾱς
Vocative πολῖτᾰ πολῑ́τᾱ πολῖται

Basic Nouns/Second Declension

The second declension, in contrast to the first, consists primarily of masculine and neuter nouns. It is occasionally referred to as the ο-declension, because of the recurrence of the vowel omicron. It is the simplest of the three declensions of Ancient Greek, featuring a bit more than a single set of endings, and regular persistent accentuation throughout.

As in the first declension, the declension remains identical in the nominative, vocative, and accusative of the dual. Moreover, after one recognizes the basic second declension (which in many ways is similar to the first declension), the accentuation is similar to that of the first declension: ἄνθρωπος like ὕγίεɩᾰ; θεός and πτερόν like θεᾱ́ or ἡδονή.

Masculine and feminine nouns[edit | edit source]

These can be recognized by their -ος ending, which was transliterated as -us in Latin and found its way into English (e.g., "Dionysus"). The vast majority of these are masculine.

ἄνθρωπος, ἀνθρώπου, (ánthrōpos, anthrópou) m, "man; human being"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπω ἄνθρωποι
Genitive ἀνθρώπου ἀνθρώποιν ἀνθρώπων
Dative ἀνθρώπῳ ἀνθρώποιν ἀνθρώποις
Accusative ἄνθρωπον ἀνθρώπω ἀνθρώπους
Vocative ἄνθρωπε ἀνθρώπω ἄνθρωποι

The nominative and vocative plurals are always identical. Note that the lengthening of the ending causes the accent to shift (as the accent cannot stand on the antepenult if the ultima is long) in several of the cases. Also recall that final -οι is usually short.

θεός, θεοῦ, (theós, theoû) m, "god"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative θεός θεώ θεοί
Genitive θεοῦ θεοῖν θεῶν
Dative θεῷ θεοῖν θεοῖς
Accusative θεόν θεώ θεούς
Vocative θεέ θεώ θεοί

νῆσος, νήσου, (nêsos, nésou) f, "island"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative νῆσος νήσω νῆσοι
Genitive νήσου νήσοιν νήσων
Dative νήσῳ νήσοιν νήσοις
Accusative νῆσον νήσω νήσους
Vocative νῆσε νήσω νῆσοι

Again, note the persistent accent, which changes to an acute before long endings, as expected.

Neuter nouns[edit | edit source]

These end in -ον and have the nominative, accusative, and vocative identical in both the singular and the plural, which is a feature of all neuter nouns in Ancient Greek:

πτερόν, πτεροῦ, (pterón, pteroû) n, "wing"

Singular Dual Plural
Nominative πτερόν πτερώ πτερά
Genitive πτεροῦ πτεροῖν πτερῶν
Dative πτερῷ πτεροῖν πτεροῖς
Accusative πτερόν πτερώ πτερά
Vocative πτερόν πτερώ πτερά

Note that, except in the nominative, accusative, and vocative, the endings are identical to those of masculine and feminine nouns of the second declension. Also note that, just as in the first declension, whenever a noun of the second declension is accented on the ultima, the accent changes to a circumflex in the genitive and dative singular and plural.

Basic Nouns/Third Declension

παις, παιδος - child

Singular Plural Dual
Nominative παῖς παῖδες παῖδε
Genitive παιδος παίδων παίδοιν
Dative παιδῐ́ παισί παίδοιν
Accusative παῖδᾰ παῖδᾰς παῖδε
Vocative παῖ παῖδες παῖδε

Table to -stem differents[edit | edit source]

Basic Verbs

Greek verbs are simultaneously incredibly complicated and remarkably simple, as many verbs follow common ending patterns, or inflections, but there are vast number of these endings. Verbs can be in 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). Unlike English verbs, which normally have at most five forms (sing, sang, sung, singing, sings), a single Greek verb can have hundreds of forms. However, by breaking Greek verbs down into their respective components, each verb can quickly and easily be identified. This means every verb can give out a lot of useful information about the rest of the sentence. For instance, the English verb form are singing could take a variety of subjects (you are singing, you all are singing, we are singing, they are singing), but a Greek verb includes the subject within its ending.

Principal Parts[edit | edit source]

A verb in Greek has any of 6 principal parts. A principal part is a form of a verb that cannot be derived from another form—that is to say, they are principal, fundamental to the verb. Tenses are formed by adding inflectional affixes to an appropriate stem, given by a principal part. The 6 principal parts are:

  • Present and imperfect, active and middle
  • Future, active and middle
  • Aorist, active and middle
  • Perfect and pluperfect, active
  • Perfect and pluperfect, middle
  • Future and aorist, passive

It is important to stress that not all verbs have all 6 principal parts. For example, ἥκειν, meaning "to have arrived", has only one principal part—the first, ἥκω; while grammatically present (that is to say, it has a present stem and uses present and imperfect endings), it has a perfect sense. The Greek copula has two principal parts, the first and second, being εἰμί and ἔσομαι. In view of these limitations, it is not possible to form a pluperfect tense for either of these two verbs. On the other hand, οἶδα, has a sole fourth principal part. It has a perfect stem and uses perfect and pluperfect endings. Its grammatical meaning is "to have seen", but the implication is therefore "to know", and it is used in the latter sense.

Personal Endings[edit | edit source]

The most important marker on a verb (and usually the easiest to spot) is its personal ending. A finite verb will alter its ending depending upon its subject's person (first, second, or third person) and number (singular or plural). This is similar to the way verbs are formed in English: for example, if you take almost any verb in the present tense in the third person singular (the he/she/it form) will add an -s to the end: I work, but she works. Here is how the present of a simple verb conjugates, or changes its personal ending:

Present Tense[edit | edit source]

Singular 1 λύω I release
2 λύεις You release
3 λύει He/she/it releases
Plural 1 λύομεν We release
2 λύετε You release
3 λύουσι(ν) They release

A simple mnemonic (with a twist) for the plural is "Men eat sushi".

Notice that the stem, λυ-, does not change. Additionally, the ν at the end of the third person plural form is usually inserted at the end of a sentence and also before another word that begins with a vowel. This ν makes the ending of a Greek form easier to distinguish, so that words do not elide (this added ν is known as the ν-movable, paragogic ν or ephelcystic ν in some grammars). If the verb is not at end of a sentence or before a word that begins with a vowel, the ending is just -ουσι.

Tenses[edit | edit source]

Verbs also change according to their time frame. Since most narrative occurs in the past, these verb forms are critical to know. There is a slightly different set of endings used by verbs in the past, and, in Classical Greek, the past time frame is denoted by adding a past temporal augment, commonly as an ἐ-, to the beginning of the verb. Depending on the mood, there may be less tenses available (the following are the 7 tenses of the indicative mood.)

Imperfect Tense[edit | edit source]

Singular 1 ἔλυον I was releasing
2 ἔλυες You were releasing
3 ἔλυε(ν) He/she/it was releasing
Plural 1 ἐλύομεν We were releasing
2 ἐλύετε You were releasing
3 ἔλυον They were releasing

This is known as the imperfect form. Again, notice how it is composed of the same stem as in the present (λυ-), but includes a past temporal augment. Note also that the accent moves back one syllable.

Future Tense[edit | edit source]

The future tense takes the same endings as the present tense. However, it is different from a present verb by the addition a sigma to the present stem, then adding the present endings as normal:

Singular 1 λύσω I shall release
2 λύσεις You will release
3 λύσει He/she/it will release
Plural 1 λύσομεν We shall release
2 λύσετε You will release
3 λύσουσι(ν) They will release

Aorist Tense[edit | edit source]

The aorist tense expresses an action in a non-continuous aspect and generally in the past. The aorist tenses are formed from the third principal part. Morphographically, there are three types of aorist stems that are regular: first (or sigmatic) aorist, second aorist, and root aorist. First aorist stems are quite common, second aorists less so, and root aorists limited to a few verbs. A verb usually has only one of the three types of aorists. These are the first aorist forms of λύω:

Singular 1 ἔλυσα I released
2 ἔλυσας You released
3 ἔλυσε(ν) He/she/it released
Plural 1 ἐλύσαμεν We released
2 ἐλύσατε You released
3 ἔλυσαν They released

Here are the second aorist forms of λείπω (to leave):

Singular 1 ἔλιπον I left
2 ἔλιπες You left
3 ἔλιπεν He/she/it left
Plural 1 ἐλίπομεν We left
2 ἐλίπετε You left
3 ἔλιπον They left

Here are the root aorist forms of δύω:

Singular 1 ἔδυν I caused to sink
2 ἔδυς You caused to sink
3 ἔδυ He/she/it caused to sink
Plural 1 ἔδυμεν We caused to sink
2 ἔδυτε You caused to sink
3 ἔδυσαν They caused to sink

Perfect Tense[edit | edit source]

The perfect tense is different to the aorist in that the aorist describes a complete action that occurred in the past (e.g. ἔλυσα, I untied), and the perfect describes an action that began in the past and is implied to still be occurring (e.g. λέλῠκᾰ, I have untied). Conjugating the perfect is quite complex. First, add the first consonant of the present stem and an ε preceding it to the front of the present stem. Then add a consonant (most often κ, but can be ψ, φ etc. to aid pronunciation, as in the future) and the corresponding ending (these are the same as the first aorist) to the end on the stem.

Singular 1 λέλῠκᾰ I have released
2 λέλῠκᾰς You have released
3 λέλῠκε(ν) He/she/it has released
Plural 1 λελύκᾰμεν We have released
2 λελῠκᾰτε You have released
3 λελῠκᾱσῐ(ν) They have released

(present stem λύ-)


Singular 1 κέκλοφᾰ I have stolen
2 κέκλοφᾰς You have stolen
3 κέκλοφε(ν) He/she/it has stolen
Plural 1 κεκλόφᾰμεν We have stolen
2 κεκλόφᾰτε You have stolen
3 κεκλόφᾱσῐ(ν) They have stolen

(present stem κλέπτ-)

Pluperfect Tense[edit | edit source]

The pluperfect tense refers to a situation that existed due to events that had taken place in the past. The pluperfect is rather uncommon, as often just the aorist with conjunctions such as ἐπεί (when) are used to indicate the pluperfect. To conjugate the pluperfect, simply take the completed perfect equivalent and add the ε augment to the beginning.

Singular 1 ἐλέλῠκᾰ I had released
2 ἐλέλῠκᾰς You had released
3 ἐλέλῠκε(ν) He/she/it had released
Plural 1 ἐλελύκᾰμεν We had released
2 ἐλελῠκᾰτε You had released
3 ἐλελῠκᾱσῐ(ν) They had released

Future Perfect Tense[edit | edit source]

The future perfect tense used to express an action that will be completed in the future. It is rather rare but is formed by combining the perfect active participle of the verb with the future form of to be.

Singular 1 λελῠκώς ἔσομαι I shall have released
2 λελῠκώς ἔσῃ You will have released
3 λελῠκώς ἔσται He/she/it will have released
Plural 1 λελῠκώς ἐσόμεθᾰ We will have released
2 λελῠκώς ἔσεσθε You will have released
3 λελῠκώς ἔσονται They will have released

Irregular verbs[edit | edit source]

Like most languages, Ancient Greek has irregular verbs, which cannot be conjugated on the basis of principal parts alone. There are a number of irregular verbs that appear often in Ancient Greek texts, and they must be known along with the regular verbs. Here follows the present tense of the verb to be:

Singular 1 εἰμί I am
2 εἶ You are
3 ἐστί He/she/it is
Plural 1 ἐσμέν We are
2 ἐστέ You are
3 εἰσίν They are

and the imperfect:

Singular 1 ἦ (or ἦν) I was
2 ἦσθα You were
3 ἦν He/she/it was
Plural 1 ἦμεν We were
2 ἦτε You were
3 ἦσαν They were

and the future:

Singular 1 ἔσομαι I will be
2 ἔσῃ (or ἔσει) You will be
3 ἔσται (or ἔσεται) He/she/it will be
Plural 1 ἐσόμεθᾰ We will be
2 ἔσεσθε You will be
3 ἔσονται They will be

As you can see, like Ancient Greek, even the English forms of to be are far from predictable!

Deponent verbs[edit | edit source]

Some verbs have middle or passive endings but are active in meaning. Consider βούλομαι (to want):

Singular 1 βούλομαι I want
2 βούλει You want
3 βούλεται He/she/it wants
Plural 1 βουλόμεθα We want
2 βούλεσθε You want
3 βούλονται They want

Glossary of Grammatical Terms

Glossary of Grammatical Terms[edit | edit source]

As some of you may not have a solid grounding in English grammar, either due to the fault of your educational system or because English is not your first language, it is important to have a solid set of definitions to reference while learning Ancient Greek. I am hoping, ultimately, to link grammatical terms (at least the first time that they appear) to the glossary for your convenience. Alternatively, you can read this section first to make sure you are familiar with the basic structure.

Please note: at the moment, this is an evolving piece of work. Hopefully, it will soon be full of references, but if not please add the necessary entries (or comment asking someone else to add them).

Noun[edit | edit source]

  • Basic Definition: a noun is a person, place, or thing. e.g. man, room, and table are all nouns.
  • Subcatagories
    • Proper noun: a proper noun refers to a specific person, place, or organization and is indicated by the capitalization of its initial letter; e.g. Socrates, Athens, or the Lyceum.
    • Abstract Noun: an abstract noun refers to a concept rather than an actual physical person place, or thing; e.g. justice.

Adjective[edit | edit source]

  • Basic Definition: a descriptor that modifies or is grammatically linked to a noun, e.g. red.
    • Adjectives can modify nouns directly (e.g. the red ball rolls). This is called an attributive adjective. Alternatively, adjectives can be linked to the noun by a linking verb,[1] e.g. Socrates is smart. In the latter case, smart is a predicate adjective (also known as a predicate nominative).
      • In English, adjectives modify nouns based upon word order. Attributive adjectives modify then noun that they directly precede while predicate adjectives follow a linking verb. In Ancient Greek, the word order does matter, but it is more flexible because Greek is inflected language. As such, the endings of the words (case endings) establish the relationship between noun and adjective as well as word order. There is still, however, a marked word order difference between attributive adjectives and predicated adjectives:
        • Attributive adjectives may
          • come between the article and the noun:
          • come after the article when the article follows the noun:
          • come after the article when the article is repeated both before and after the noun:
        • Predicate adjectives may
        • come in any other position in the sentence beside one of these three. One common predicate adjective position is as follows:

Article[edit | edit source]

Pronoun[edit | edit source]

Verb[edit | edit source]

Adverb[edit | edit source]

Conjunction[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. See linking verb below