OSU Department of Linguistics OSU Department of Slavic
Languages and Literatures

Brian D Joseph, Publications

GREEK, Ancient

Consultant: Brian D. Joseph, Professor of Linguistics, The Ohio State University

NOTE: accents, diacritics, and special symbols have been eliminated or modified in the interest of making the text readable in the absence of the appropriate encoding system and font. Thus, long marks and the like are not indicated, and so cited forms should be used with caution.

Language Name: Ancient Greek, Classical Greek, Greek (without reference to time period, the ancient form of the language is usually taken as the unmarked value, and within Ancient Greek, the Attic dialect (see below on Dialects) is the usual point of reference); autonym: hellenike (actually an adjective derived from Hellen, the word for a 'Greek' in general (as opposed to a member of one of the Greek dialect groups; as an adjective, it is modifying an understood noun 'language').

Location: Temporally, Ancient Greek can be located from its earliest attestation in the 14th century BC (see below on Origin & History) up through the end of the Hellenistic period in (roughly) the 4th century AD. Spatially, Ancient Greek in its earliest attested forms was spoken in the southern Balkan peninsula, in territory that is now the modern nation of Greece, both on the Greek mainland and on some of the Aegean islands, most notably Crete. By relatively early in the first millennium BC, Greek was spoken over all of the Aegean islands and Cyprus, and there were Greek-speaking colonies in Asia Minor, along the west coast of what is now Turkey, in Southern Italy, in parts of the Western Mediterranean, and in the Black Sea area. Colonization continued during the Archaic and Pre-Classical periods up to the 7th century BC and into the Classical period, but it was during the Hellenistic period, as part of the the expansion of the empire of Philip of Macedon and especially his son Alexander the Great, who both adopted Greek as the official language of their court, that Greek achieved its greatest geographic distribution, spreading all over the eastern Mediterranean, with a major cultural center in Alexandria, and the Levant, and extending as far east as India.

Family: Ancient Greek is generally taken to be the only representative (though note the existence of different dialects) of the Greek or Hellenic branch of Indo-European. There is some dispute as to whether Ancient Macedonian (the native language of Philip and Alexander), if it has any special affinity to Greek at all, is a dialect within Greek (see below) or a sibling language to all of the known Ancient Greek dialects. If the latter view is correct, then Macedonian and Greek would be the two subbranches of a group within Indo-European which could more properly be called Hellenic.

Related Languages: As noted above, Ancient Macedonian might be the language most closely related to Greek, perhaps even a dialect of Greek. The slender evidence is open to different interpretations, so that no definitive answer is really possible but most likely, Ancient Macedonian was not simply an Ancient Greek dialect on a par with Attic or Aeolic (see below). More broadly within Indo-European, Greek shows itself as a "centum" language, with a distinct outcome for the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) labiovelars, opposed to a single outcome for both the palatals and the velars of PIE. Despite some suggestive affinities to Armenian and Indo-Iranian, the general consensus is that these connections are not so strong as to warrant treating these branches as part of a larger subgroup within Indo-European. Moreover, even though culturally there are close ties in the Classical and Post-Classical periods between speakers of Greek and speakers of Latin, reflected also in Western academic circles (where courses on comparative Greek and Latin grammar are taught as part of Classical Linguistics), there is no special linguistic relationship between Greek and Latin within Indo-European.

Dialects: The main dialects of Ancient Greek, identifiable in the end of the Archaic period, are Attic-Ionic (comprising Attic and Ionic), Aeolic (consisting of Boeotian and Thessalian on the mainland and the Greek of the island of Lesbos and of adjacent northwest Asia Minor), Arcado-Cypriot (taking in Arcadian, in the Peloponnesos, and Cypriot), and West Greek (covering not only Northwest Greek, such as Aetolian, and Locrian, but also Doric, which includes Laconian (the dialect of Sparta), Corinthian, Megaran, Cretan, and Rhodian). Attic-Ionic and Arcado-Cypriot are sometimes classed together as East Greek, with Aeolic being seen as intermediate between East and West Greek. The ancients themselves were aware of some of these dialect differences, as indicated by the existence of verbs such as aiolizein 'to speak Aeolic', dorizein 'to speak Doric', and attikizein 'to speak Attic', all of which can be contrasted with hellenizein 'to speak (common) Greek' (cf. the autonym hellenike noted above).

Prior to the Archaic period, the earliest attested dialect is Mycenaean Greek, preserved mainly on clay tablets inscribed with syllabic characters commonly referred to as "Linear B"; these tablets have been found primarily at sites of major Mycenaean palaces, with the earliest coming from Knosos on Crete (where Mycenaeans had overcome the local Minoan rulers) dating from the 14th century BC, and others coming from sites on the mainland somewhat later, e.g. Mycenae and Pylos from the 13th and 12th centuries BC, the dates being a function of the adventitious preservation of the tablets in fires that destroyed the palaces. The relationship of Myceneaen Greek with the dialects of the later Archaic period is uncertain, since it shows some innovative features in common with both Arcado-Cypriot and (at least part of) Aeolic; moreover, considerable uniformity is evident in Mycenaean both during its two centuries of attestation and over its geographic range of mainland Greece, the Peloponnesos, and some Aegean island, especially Crete. Thus it has been suggested that Mycenaean Greek may represent a supra-regional koine in use in the second millennium BC. Also, though not a distinct dialect, the language of the Homeric epics, especially the Iliad and the Odyssey, represents an archaic form of Greek, largely based on Ionic but with a significant overlay of Aeolic. In the Hellenistic period, a dialect known as Pamphylian is found in southwest Asia Minor, but it may not be a separate dialect so much as a local variety heavily influenced by the Hellenistic Koine. The Hellenistic Koine refers to the form of the language that spread extensively in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, roughly 300 BC to 300 AD, based mainly on Attic and Ionic with some input, to a much lesser extent, from other dialects; it shows some degree of simplification of certain structural features and innovative pronunciations as compared with Greek of the Classical period.

Number of Speakers: In Mycenaean times, the number of speakers of Greek, by modern standards, was probably somewhat small, though no doubt numbering in the several tens of thousands. In the Classical period, the numbers were considerably higher; Athens, the largest city at the time, for instance, had a population of some 60,000 adult males at the height of its power and influence in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, suggesting a total population at a given moment of at least 300,000. Factoring in available information about the size of armies (some 7,000 of Alexander's soldiers were provided by the Greek League) and about other Greek cities, e.g. that 6,000 people were killed in Thebes in 335 BC when Alexander razed it, that the large amphitheaters found in many parts of the Greek world typically could hold at least 10,000 spectators, and such, one can estimate the Greek-speaking population in ancient times, perhaps quite conservatively, as approaching 800,000, at any one time. With the spread of Greek during the Hellenistic period, the number of speakers grew accordingly over Alexander's empire, and surely numbered over several million (though not all in the empire spoke Greek as their first language) at its peak.

Origin and History: The earliest stages of the prehistory of Greek, from the conventional date of reconstructed Proto-Indo-European, roughly 4500 BC, to the first attestation in the Mycenaean period, c.1400 BC, are somewhat obscure. Still, it is generally agreed that Proto-Greek speakers first entered Southeastern Europe, and the Balkans in particular, sometime between 2200 BC and 1600 BC, most likely coming in several different migratory waves. The earliest of these migrations may well have been speakers of what in the first millennium BC became Arcado-Cypriot, and in the second millennium BC is represented by Mycenaean Greek (note the affinities referred to above between Mycenaean and Arcado-Cypriot), settling in the southern part of the Greek mainland and in the Peloponnesos. A later wave brought Ionic speakers into Attica as well as other parts of central Greece and the Peloponnesos. At this point, still in the second millennium BC, West Greek speakers are believed to have been grouped in the northwestern part of the southern Balkan peninsula.

The next major historical event that had important linguistic consequences is the Dorian invasions of 12th century, in which West Greek speakers from the northwest moved into the Peloponnesos, leading to end of the Mycenaean civilization and thus to the establishment of a new dialect base in Greece. The small pocket of Arcadian speakers in the central Peloponnesos is presumed to be a remnant of a more widespread Arcado-Cypriot-like dialect from the second millennium BC (note the affinities Mycenaean Greek shows with later Arcado-Cypriot). The Dorians moved as well into many of the Aegean islands, including Crete, so that the dialect picture in first millennium BC Greece is quite different from that of the second millennium BC. Somewhat later, in the 8th century BC, a period of massive colonization began, spreading Greek all over the eastern Mediterranean, with colonists from mainland localities transplanting their dialect abroad, sometimes with different dialects in neighboring settlements (as in Southern Italy, for instance).

The Classical period, during which Athens established itself as the political, cultural, and economic center of the Greek world, was still a period in which the various dialects were able to thrive, though increasingly Attic was being used as a common language throughout much of Greece. This expansion of Attic led to the adoption of some non-Attic features by users of the dialect, even in Attica. This dialect mixing represented the beginnings of the koine dialektos, or "common dialect", more usually referred to simply as the Koine, as Koine Greek, or as Hellenistic Greek (after the historical period in which it arose). With the rise of the Macedonian Empire in the 4th century and the decision of Philip II of Macedonia to adopt (the modified) Attic as the official administrative language of his state, and with the subsequent expansion of Macdeonian influence under his son Alexander the Great, the Greek language, in its emerging Koine Greek form, was spread throughout Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria and the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Persia. The resulting language was remarkably uniform throughout this territory, but, due in part to influences from substratum languages in the areas it came to be spoken in, as local populations shifted to the new variety of Greek, including speakers of any older dialects of Greek that were eventually ousted (especially in the eastern Mediterranean), there was some variation as well. What might be (somewhat artificially) characterized as a standard form of the Koine was the language used for the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament, and as the medium for a vast array of literary, philosophical, religious, historical, and scientific documents from the Hellenistic period. In addition, there are numerous official inscriptions in stone written in the Koine, and thousands of informal personal letters and documents written on papyrus. The Koine also is the basis for the development of Medieval and Modern Greek, described in the next chapter (GREEK, Modern).

Basic Phonology

Inventory: The consonant system of Classical Greek, illustrated with the Attic dialect, had nine stops, with three distinctive points of articulation - labial, dental, and velar - and three distinctive manners of articulation - voiced, voiceless unaspirated, and voiceless aspirated; two nasals (with [N] as an allophone before velars); two liquids, a trill (with a voiceless allophone in initial position) and a lateral; a voiceless sibilant (with a voiced allophone before voiced consonants); and a glottal fricative; the glides [w] and [j] occur in the coda of diphthongs (and thus could be treated as allophones of corresponding basic vowels):

Table 1: Consonants of Classical (Attic) Greek
Labial Palatal Dental Velar Glottal
b d g
p t k
ph th kh




Fricatives s (z) h
Trill r ()
Lateral l
Glides w j
There may have been a voiced dental affricate [dz], corresponding to the letter < > (see Basic Orthography, below), but most of the evidence concerning the pronunciation of < z > suggests it represented a true cluster of [z] + [d] (thus phonemically /s/ + /d/).

Dialectally, [w] had a wider distribution, being found in most dialects outside of Attic-Ionic in positions other than postvocalic; [j] occurs in Mycenaean in initial and intervocalic position. Mycenaean also had a series of labiovelar stops (gw, kw, kwh) which correspond, under different conditions and in various words, to labials, dentals, or velars in first millennium BC Greek. In addition, one set of signs (the "z-series") in the Mycenaean Linear B syllabary seems to represent a series of affricates, writing sounds that derive from clusters of dental and velar stops with a palatal glide. Generally, differences from Attic in the other dialects are not so much in the phonemic inventory but rather in the lexical distribution of sounds; still, some spellings in non-Attic inscriptions may point to segmental differences, e.g. Central Cretan (Doric) < > / < > and Ionic < >, corresponding to Attic <>, may indicate a [ts] if not still in the dialects at least in a stage not far removed in time from the attested spellings.

By contrast to the relatively straightforward consonant inventory, the vowel system of Ancient Greek was quite complex. Length was distinctive and several degrees of height were distinguished as well; in addition, there were numerous diphthongs:

Table 2: Vowels of Classical (Attic) Greek Table 3: Diphthongs of Classical (Attic) Greek

The front rounded vowels [y] / [y:] are found only in the Attic-Ionic dialect; the other dialects correspondingly have back rounded [u] / [u:] instead.

The Ancient Greek accentual system was pitch-based, with three distinctions: high pitch (acute) and low pitch (grave), possible on long or short vowels, and, only on long vowels, contour (high-low) pitch (circumflex). Accent placement was predictable generally only in finite verb forms and some noun forms, and in certain morphologically definable formations; otherwise it was unpredictable, and placement of accent served to distinguish words. Similarly, accent type on a given syllable also could signal lexical distinctions. Generally, only one high pitch was allowed per word and it had to fall on one of the last three syllables; in certain groups of clitic elements, multiple high pitches on a single prosodic group were possible.

Basic phonological rules: A basic phonological process involving consonants was the iterative deletion of all word-final consonants other than [s r n], the only final consonants therefore allowed on the surface; thus underlying /galakt/ 'milk/NOM.SG' surfaced as [gala], and /kleptonts/ 'stealing/NOM.SG.MASC' surfaced as [klepton]. Other morphophonemic alternations include t ~ s before i (e.g. plout-os 'wealth' / plous-ios 'wealthy'), devoicing/deaspiration before s (e.g. ag-o 'I lead' / ak-s-o 'I will lead', e-graph-e '(s)he was writing' / e-grap-s-e '(s)he wrote'), and intervocalic loss of underlying s (e.g. alethes 'true/NOM.SG.NTR' / aletheO-a 'true/NOM.PL.NTR' (which in Attic contracts to alethe; compare also aletheia from /alethes-ia/)), among others. Contractions of vowel sequences are quite usual, even across word boundaries when the first element is a prosodically weak word such as the definite article or kai 'and'; the outcomes of these contractions vary from dialect to dialect and constitute one of the major isoglosses distinguishing the dialects.

Other information: The Classical Attic system given above underwent several changes in the post-Classical period, not all of which were completed by the end of the Hellenistic period, around the 4th century AD. In the consonants, earlier b d g fricativized to v d y, as did ph th kh, yieldingf th x, and hwas lost (a change found in several ancient dialects other than Attic). New instances of the voiced stops b d g were provided by loan words and possibly also as variants of voiceless p t k after nasals. In addition, the once-allophonic [z] took on phonemic statusIn the vowels, earlier [o:] raised to [u:], distinctive vowel length was lost, and the movement of several vowels to [i] was underway; the long palatal diphthongs lost their offglide, the w offglide became [v] or [f] depending on the voicing of the following sound, and each of the other diphthongs merged with some short monophthong. The ultimate result is the (considerably simplified) vowel system in Table 4:

Table 4: Late Hellenistic Vowel System

These changes in the phonology were the beginnings of the developments that characterize Modern Greek in contrast to Classical Greek; see the next chapter (GREEK, Modern) for more details.

Basic Morphology: For the most part, Ancient Greek was a fusional inflecting language morphologically, with relevant grammatical information generally being indicated through the endings of inflected words, i.e. nouns, pronouns, adjectives, article (which in Homeric Greek was clearly a pronoun, with the determiner function developing by the Classical period), and verbs. Each ending typically encoded values for several categories simultaneously.

Noun Morphology: Nominal forms in Ancient Greek, comprising nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and determiners (specifically, the definite article), showed markings for five cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and vocative), three numbers (singular, dual, and plural), and three generally arbitrary noun classes ("genders", usually referred to as masculine, feminine, and neuter). In addition, cutting across the gender classes were different inflectional ("declensional") classes for nouns and adjectives, based on phonological characteristics of the final segment(s) of the stem, thus giving o-stems (in the nouns mainly masculine but with some feminines, as well as neuters with a different nominative/accusative form), a-stems (mostly feminine but with some masculines), i-stems (mostly masculine and feminine, though some neuters occur), various consonant stems (s-stems, n-stems, t -stems, etc., in all genders), and so on. In most accounts, the a-stems are considered one inflectional class (though the feminine and masculine a-stems have different endings in some cases), the o-stems a second, and consonant stems (subsuming i - and u-stems, largely for historical reasons) a third.

The actual endings that realized these various categories were thus quite diverse, so that, since agreement in gender, number, and case was required between heads and modifiers, the actual form that these agreeing elements took could be very different. Some examples of article plus adjective plus nominal head are given in Table 5.

Table 5: Examples of nominal inflection
'the wise divinity' (MASCULINE) 'the worthy hope' (FEMININE)
NOM.SG ho sophos daimon
ACC.SG ton sophon daimona
GEN.SG tou sophou daimonos
DAT.SG toi sophoi daimoni
VOC.SG sophe daimon
NOM.SG he: axia elpis
ACC.SG ten axian elpida
GEN.SG tes axias elpidos
DAT.SG tei axiai elpidi
VOC.SG axia elpi
NOM/ACC/VOC.DU to: sopho: daimone
GEN/DAT.DU toin sophoin daimonoin
NOM/ACC/VOC.DU to: axia elpide
GEN/DAT.DU tain axiain elpidoin
NOM/VOC.PL hoi sophoi daimones
ACC.PL tous sophous daimonas
GEN.PL ton sophon daimonon
DAT.PL tois sophois daimosi
NOM/VOC.PL hai axiai elpides
ACC.PL tas axias elpidas
GEN.PL ton axion elpidon
DAT.PL tais axiais elpisi
Moreover, the same phonological segments could signal very different categories, depending on the gender and inflectional class they occurred in. For instance, -es signaled neuter singular nominative/accusative of s-stem adjectives (e.g. alethes 'true') and nominative plural masculine/feminine for consonant stems (cf. daimones/elpidesin Table 5); -os could mark masculine nominative singular of o-stems (cf. sophos in Table 5), genitive singular of consonant stems (cf. daimonos/elpidos in Table 5), or nominative/accusative singular of neuter s-stems (e.g. genos 'race'); etc. Personal pronouns had special forms, while demonstrative and other pronouns generally followed some other nominal declensional pattern. Adjectives also showed inflection for comparative and superlative degree.

Verb Morphology: The verbal system of Ancient Greek encoded many more categories than did the nominal system. The categories of tense (present, past, and future), aspect (distinguishing continuous action (imperfective) from simple occurrence (so-called "aoristic") from completed action (perfective)), and voice (active, passive, and so-called "middle") are relevant for all verbs, whether finite, i.e. those that show the encoding of three persons and three numbers (singular, dual, plural), in agreement with the subject, and of mood (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and optative), or nonfinite, i.e. without person, number, and mood marked, covering the participles (11 in all) and the infinitives (11 in all). Not all combinations of categories have distinct realizations or even any realization at all; for instance, there are no first person dual active forms, there are no moods other than the indicative for the past imperfective (the so-called "imperfect"), and passive and middle voice forms are identical in the present tense and the imperfect as well as in the present and past perfective (the so-called "present perfect" and "pluperfect").

The value of some of these categories and their interactions with one another require some comment. With regard to voice, middle is used to mark actions that a subject performs on him- or herself (e.g. reflexives), or for his or her own benefit, though in some instances, especially verbs which have only middle voice forms (so-called "deponent" verbs), such as ergazomai 'I work' (NB: not '*I work for myself'), middle voice seems to be simply a different inflectional class. With regard to the various tense and aspect categories, the interrelationships among the categories are noteworthy, and are summarized in Table 6, giving the conventional names for the different tense-aspect combinations:

Table 6: Ancient Greek Tense-Aspect Relations
Tense Present Past Future
Aspect__________ _______________ _______________ _______________
Continuous present imperfect future
(no realization) aorist future
Completed perfect pluperfect future perfect
(generally only passive)

The verbal inflectional picture is complicated further by the fact that a variety of formations existed for different of the combinations of categories, and that the endings could be different for each formation. For example, some verbs formed the aorist tense with an -s-suffix, in which case the 1SG ending was -a (e.g. egrap-s-a 'I wrote'), while others modified the root vocalism, in which case the 1SG ending was -on (e.g. elip-on 'I left', vs. present leip-o). Similarly, a few verbs have a 1SG ending -mi in the present, while most have -o, with further differences in other person/number endings. Finally, phonological differences in verbal stems could lead to surface differences in the realization of categories; for instance, stems ending in a consonant or the front rounded vowel -y- marked their 3SG imperfect with the ending -e (e.g. egraph-e'(s)he was writing') while those ending in -a- had a 3SG imperfect in -a, from a contraction of -a- + -e (e.g. etima '(s)he was honoring').

Negation was marked by syntactic means, with a separate word for 'not' associated with (but not necessarily adjacent to) the verb. There was in general no regular inflection for causative or frequentative or iterative, though occasionally some verbs show such functions through derivation (e.g. petomai 'I fly' vs. the frequentative potaomai 'I fly hither and thither').

A full synopsis of the verb grapho 'I write' is given in Table 7, with first person singular forms for all tense, aspect, voice, and all moods but imperative, for which second singular is used, as well as nonfinite participial and infinitival forms; not all forms given here are actually attested, but they were in principle possible:

Table 7: Synopsis of grapho
Present Past
(AOR unless marked)
Future Perfect
(PRES unless marked)






gegrammenos o
gegrammenos eien












gegrammenos o
gegrammenos eien

General Rules: The most general rule of Greek word formation is that most derivation and inflection involves suffixes and/or vowel change (usually referred to as "ablaut" or "gradation"). Inflectional suffixes are well-illustrated above; an inflectional use of ablaut is seen in aorist elip-on 'I left' vs. present leip-o, and a derivational use inpetomai 'I fly' vs. frequentative potaomai 'I fly hither and thither'. An example of a derivational suffix is seen in attik-iz-o 'speak Attic', dor-iz-o 'speak Doric', hellen-iz-o 'speak Greek', where the (very common) suffix -iz- derives verbs from nominal bases. There is, however, one inflectional prefix, the so-called "augment" which occurs with past tense forms (imperfect, aorist, pluperfect); with most consonant-initial verbs it has the form e-, as in egraphon, egrapsa, egegraphe in Table 7; contractions with vowel-initial verbs give different results for the "augmented" forms. There are also a few infixes, as in the present stem la-m-b-vs. aorist stem lab- 'take'. Also, reduplication figures in the formation of the perfect, as in gegrapha in Table 7. In derivation, there is the wide use of lexical (content) prefixes, sometimes referred to as "preverbs", to alter or add to the basic meaning of a root, as in grapho 'I write' versus kata-grapho'I register' (literally "I write down") versus hupo-grapho 'I write under' (cf. hupo 'under'), etc. Finally, Greek makes extensive use of compounding to create new words, generally involving stems as first members, including noun-noun compounds (e.g. khoro-didaskalos 'chorus-teacher'), verb-noun compounds (e.g. terpsi-noos 'soul-delighting', literally "delighting soul"), and exocentric compounds (e.g. kako-daimon 'ill-fated', literally "having a bad fate"), among others.

Other Informtion: Several changes in morphological categories took place between Classical Greek and Hellenistic Greek. In both the noun and the verb, dual number became increasingly restricted in use, and ultimately was lost. In the noun, the dative case was being replaced in Hellenistic times by various prepositional alternatives and in some functions by the genitive case. In the verb, the optative mood was increasingly on the wane, partly the result of sound changes that led to partial homophony, in several forms in the paradigm, with the subjunctive and, less so, with the indicative). Similarly, the various forms of the perfect (present perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect) were used less and less, eventually being lost. In a change that affected both the morphology and the syntax, the infinitive began to give way in this period to finite subordinate clause substitutes. There were also several changes in the actual form of grammatical endings, due to sound changes and analogical changes within the various systems of endings.

Basic Syntax

Constituent Order: The order of major constituents in a sentence was generally free, so that both Subject - Verb and Verb - Subject orders are found. Similarly, the object may precede or follow the verb or even the subject, though weak pronominal objects generally occurred as clitics in second position within their clause, often as part of a string of clitic elements, including sentence connectives. These possibilities are illustrated in the example sentences at the end of chapter.

Elements that make up constituents, however, are subject to tighter ordering restrictions. For example, the definite article always precedes a noun it occurs with, and adjectives generally occur between the article and the noun. In fact, Greek shows a systematic word-order difference between attributive adjectives, which follow the article (possibly repeated after the noun) and determine a noun phrase, and predicative adjectives, which occur outside the article and determine a copular sentence (with zero-copula), as illustrated in (1) with ho 'the', sophos 'wise', and basileus 'king':

(1) a. ho sophos basileus 'the wise king'
b. ho basileus ho sophos 'the wise king'
c. sophos ho basileus 'The king is wise'
d. ho basileus sophos 'The king is wise'
Within the noun phrase, the article afforded great flexibility, with extended prenominal modifiers possible, even multiple "embeddings" of articulated nouns (see (4) below).

Case-marking: Nominative case is used to mark the subjects of finite verbs, while accusative is the usual case for the subject of an infinitive. Accusative is also the typical case for the direct object, though some verbs idiosyncratically govern objects in other cases (e.g. arkhomai 'begin' takes a genitive object). The dative case marks indirect objects, as well as parties with an interest in some action, possession with 'be', agent with some passives, instrument or case, accompaniment, time at which, and place in which. The genitive marks a variety of relations between nouns, including possession, and can be used for partitive verbal objects, e.g. (Thucydides 1.30) tes ges etemon 'they ravaged some of the land' (literally: "of-the land they-ravaged"). The vocative is essentially an asyntactic case, being used for direct address.

Accusative, dative, and genitive can also be assigned by prepositions; although some prepositions govern just a single case (e.g. en 'in' always takes the dative), in many instances, a preposition can govern more than one case, with differences in meaning associated with the differential case assignment. For example, epi'on, upon' occurs with the dative or genitive to denote place on which, but with the accusative for place towards which.

Negation: Greek negation is marked by one of two separate (adverbial) words, distributed mainly according to verbal mood: ou occurs with the indicative and the optative moods, whereas me occurs with the subjunctive and the imperative. The two negation markers can cooccur, with their relative order correlating with different functions; for example ou me is an emphatic negator with a future tense, but me ou can be used in an interrogative sentence that implies a negative answer.

Other information: The system of verbal complementation in Ancient Greek was quite elaborate, with many nonfinite forms - infinitives and participles - available to serve as complements to main verbs, and also many finite (tensed, aspectual, modal) forms cooccurring with various subordinating conjunctions. Moreover, there was a fairly complex set of conditions governing allowable combinations of tenses and moods, especially in indirect discourse and in conditional sentences.

As with phonology and morphology, so too with syntax are various changes to be found between Classical and Hellenistic Greek. Besides changes with moods and with the dative (see under Morphology), a striking change in the syntax was the increased use of finite complementation in place of infinitival forms; although the infinitive is still very much in use in Hellenistic Greek, it often competes with finite expressions; thus both aksios lusai'worthy to loosen(INF)' and aksios hina luso'worthy that I loosen(FIN)' occur in the New Testament.

Basic Orthography

The earliest writing system for Greek was the so-called Linear B syllabary, adapted from another system originally designed for an entirely different language; the source system probably was that now known as "Linear A", found all over Crete and at other Minoan sites from the second millennium BC). Greek Linear B was in use at the various Mycenaean palaces in the second millennium BC, most notably Pylos in the Peloponnesos and Knosos on Crete (after the Mycenaean invasion there), and has been found mostly inscribed onto clay tablets for record-keeping purposes, though, more rarely, the signs have been found painted onto vases as well. In Cyprus in the first millennium BC, inscriptions occur that are written in a syllabary, entirely different from, but surely related to, the Mycenaean one, with both most likely having a common source, presumably Minoan Linear A.

Still, the most significant and enduring writing system for Greek is the Greek alphabet. Adapted from the North Semitic Phoenician consonantal writing system and embellished with separate signs for vowel sounds, the Greek alphabet first appears in inscriptions in the 8th century BC. The paths of transmission from Phoenician and of diffusion within the Greek world are obscure, but there is considerable variation in local ('epichoric') varieties of the alphabet all over Greece, concerning both the shapes of certain letters and the phonetic value attached to various letters. The Ionian alphabet came to predominate, ultimately becoming the standard medium in Athens and most Greek states; see Table 8

Table 8: The Greek Alphabet (Ionian version, as used for Classical Attic; 5th century BC

Attic is the basis for the phonetic values)

Loanwords and Contact with Other Languages

Ancient Greek shows a long history of the results of contact with speakers of other languages, and as noted above, the Koine period was characterized by extensive contacts between Greek speakers and non-Greek speakers, with a considerable number of Latin words entering the language. There are some words in Greek that seem to come from "pre-Greek" (sometimes referred to as "Pelasgian"), i.e. from an indigenous language of the Balkans before the coming of the Greeks, e.g. plinthos 'brick', where the cluster -nth- is otherwise unusual in Greek. Also, the Ancient Greek lexicon contains some early loan words from Anatolian languages, e.g. elephas 'ivory' (attested in Mycenaean Greek), and Semitic languages, e.g. khiton 'tunic', kuminon 'cumin', etc. (both attested in Mycenaean).

Other loanwords entered in Classical period, mostly cultural loans from languages such as Persian (e.g. satrapeia 'satrapy'), but it was in the later Hellenistic period that large numbers of loan words from Latin made their way into Greek. In addition, derivational suffixes from these words came to have a wider use within Greek. Some examples include magistor 'master' (Latin magister), denarion 'small coin' (Latin denarius), and titlos 'title' (Latin titulus), as well as the adjectival suffix -ianos, the agent noun suffix -arios, and the instrumental noun suffix -arion.

Common Words: Nouns are cited in the nominative singular form, adjectives in nominative singular masculine; all forms cited are taken from the Classical Attic dialect as (somewhat artificially) representative of all of Ancient Greek):

man: aner (i.e. male person); anthropos (i.e. human being)
woman: gunev
three:treis (MASC/FEM.NOM), tria (NTR.NOM)
yes:nai; malista; ge (and note that there are other affirmative adverbs as well)
no:ou (ouk before vowels); oukhi

Example Sentences

The following sentences provide instances of several of the verbal and nominal categories discussed above, and illustrate some aforementioned aspects of Greek syntax, e.g. possible placements of subjects and objects relative to the verb, negation, use of moods, use of cases, and the versatility provided by the definite article through the placement of modifiers between the article and the noun (multiple times in (4)) within the noun phrase:

oSokrates, nunmen Anutoiou peisometha,all' aphiemen se (Plato Apology 29c)
OSocrates/VOC nowbut A./DAT.SGnot believe/1PL.FUT.MIDbut acquit/1PL.PRESyou/ACC
'O Socrates! At this time we will not believe Anutos, but we (will) acquit you'

eiounme epitoutois aphioite,eipoimi anhumin
ifindeedme/ACC onthese/DAT acquit/2PL.PRES.OPTsay/1SG.AOR. OPT PARTyou/DAT.PL
hoti"egohumas aspazomaimenkai philo,peisomai
thatI/NOM you/ACC.PLsalute/1SG.PRES.MID butand love/1SG.PRESobey/1SG.FUT.MID
demallon toi theoi e; humin(Plato Apology 29d)
butrather the-god/DAT.SGthan you/DAT.PL
'If indeed you were to acquit me on these terms, I would say to you (that) "I salute and love (you), but I will obey the god rather than you"'

tagartes ton pollonpsukhes ommata
the/NTR.NOM.PL for the/FEM.GEN.SG the-many/MASC.GEN.PL soul/FEM.GEN.SG eyes/NTR.NOM.PL
karterein prosto theion aphoronta
endure/PRES.INFtowards the-divine/ACC.NTR looking/NTR.NOM.PL.PRES.ACT.PPL
adunata (Plato Sophist 254a)
'For the eyes of the soul of the multitude are powerless to endure looking towards the divine'

Basic Bibliography

Blass, Friedrich & Albert Debrunner. 1961. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Buck, Charles D. 1955. The Greek Dialects. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Liddell, Henry G., Robert Scott, & Henry S. Jones. 1968. A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford, at the Clarendon Press.

Palmer, Leonard. 1980. The Greek Language. Atlantic Heights, NJ: Humanities Press.

Schwyzer, Eduard. 1939. Griechische Grammatik I: Lautlehre, Wortbildung, Flexion. Munich: C. H. Beck.

Schwyzer, Eduard & Albert Debrunner. 1950. Griechische Grammatik 2: Syntax und syntaktische Stilistik. Munich: C. H. Beck.

Smith, H. 1920. A Greek Grammar for Colleges. New York: American Book Co.

Ventris, Michael & John Chadwick. 1973. Documents in Mycenaean Greek (2nd edn.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brian D Joseph
Brian D Joseph