In the learning of Koine Greek, accents are not very significant, and are often ignored entirely (particularly in the study of the New Testament and Septuagint). Even in the study of Classical Greek, only a rudimentary knowledge of accents is necessary. However, for the sake of comprehensiveness, the information regarding them is provided below.
Accents and Morae
Ancient Greek was a language that distinguished between long and short syllables. Recall that the letters omicron and epsilon always denote short vowels. Iota, alpha, and upsilon can denote either short or long versions, but the letters eta and omega are always long, and all the diphthongs are long, except that αι and οι are usually short at the end of a word. 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. Here are basic rules of accentuation:
- Almost every Ancient Greek word has an accent, and the accent will always fall on one of the last three syllables. Examples: οὐ-δείς, Ἀ-σί-α, ἄν-θρω-πος.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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