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Hellenistic Greek © 2009, 2015
Lesson 4: Nouns

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The Lesson at a Glance

Case

Greek nouns are assigned grammatical case forms that indicate their function within a sentence. In this lesson you will learn the main functions of four sets of case forms.

Gender

Every Greek noun is assigned one of the three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. In this lesson you will learn the forms for a large group of masculine and neuter nouns.

Number

Greek nouns, like English nouns, may be either singular or plural. You will learn the singular and plural forms for a large group of Greek nouns.

Article

You will also learn the masculine and neuter forms of the Greek article. The article is usually translated as “the” in English.

Grammatical Discussion

What is a Noun?

A noun is a word that functions like any one of the words in red in the list below.

As you learn more Greek, you will become very confident in your ability to recognize and understand Greek nouns.

If you want to read a more precise definition the grammatical term, noun, click here.

Grammatical Function, Word Order, and Case

In English we usually determine the grammatical function of a noun by its position in a sentence. For example, we know that “Sarah” is the subject of the sentence, “Sarah called her sister,” because the word “Sarah” comes before the verb “called.” We know that “her sister” is the object of the same sentence since it comes after the verb.

Word order is not a reliable indicator of grammatical function in Greek, however. The subject of a Greek sentence may be at the beginning of the sentence, at the end of the sentence, or even between the verb and its object. The grammatical function of a Greek noun is determined by its case ending—the spelling of the last syllable of the noun.

You will learn to distinguish four “cases” in this lesson—nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. (A fifth case, the vocative case, will be discussed later.) The appropriate endings for these four cases are shown below. You must commit these four pairs of endings to memory! You will not be able to understand Greek without them!

Second Declension Masculine Noun Endings

A declension is a set of nouns, pronouns, or adjectives that share the same set of case endings. The nouns studied in this lesson are traditionally called “second declension” nouns. You will study first declension nouns later. The case endings for the noun λόγος are shown in red in the following chart. Memorize them now.

Second Declension Masculine Nouns

Case Name

Singular

Plural

Nominative

λόγος

(a) word

λόγοι

words

Genitive

λόγου

of a word, from a word

λόγων

of words, from words

Dative

λόγ

in a word, by a word, for a word, with a word

λόγοις

in words, by words, for words, with words

Accusative

λόγον

(a) word

λόγους

words

Based on this chart, identify the case of the noun, θανάτου. Is θανάτου nominative, genitive, dative, or accusative?

Now do the same for λόγους. What case is λόγους?

If you are studying in a classroom setting, your instructor may ask you to state the case and number of any one of the forms listed in the chart above.

Grammatical Number

What is wrong with the following phrase?

*five pen

An asterisk (*) at the beginning of any string of text in this course indicates that the string of text does not follow the normal grammatical patterns of the language. Such a string of text is ungrammatical.

We would expect to see “five pens.” The word “five” demands that the word “pen” be given its plural form: “pen.” We use singular forms to speak of a single item: "pen" indicates a single pen. We use plural forms to speak of two or more items: "pens" indicates two or more pens.

Nouns in Hellenistic Greek, as in English, may be given either a plural or singular form. In the list above the singular forms are given in the left column and the plural forms in the right column. When identifying a noun, we refer to this distinction between singular and plural as a distinction in number. If you are asked to give the number of a Greek noun, you need to say whether the noun is singular or plural.

Usual Significance of the Case Forms

As your command of Greek improves, you will realize that each of the case forms has several different functions. For now, however, you should concentrate on learning only the following uses.

Case Name

Usual Significance

Nominative

A noun with the nominative case form may serve as the subject of the sentence in which it occurs.

For example, in the sentence, “Janet called Tim,” “Janet” would have the nominative case form in Greek.

Genitive

A noun with the genitive case form usually parallels a phrase in English with either “of” or “from.”

For example, υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ = son of God (Luke 22:70).

Dative

A word with the dative case form usually parallels a phrase in English with “to,” “in,” “for,” “by,” or "with."

The indirect object was given the dative case form in Hellenistic Greek. For example, “Bill” in the sentence, “Susan gave the book to Bill,” or "Susan gave Bill the book," would have the dative case form in Hellenistic Greek.

Accusative

A noun with the accusative case form may serve as the direct object of a sentence.

For example, in the sentence, “The girl threw the ball,” “the ball” would have the accusative case form in Greek. (Other functions of the accusative case will be discussed later.)


Exercise 1: Recognize Masculine Case Forms

Look at the list of masculine case forms above, then click here to practice recognizing and interpreting them.

Grammatical Gender

English uses separate gender forms only with pronouns (he, she, it). When speaking of human beings in English, grammatical gender is normally aligned with the sex of the person indicated. For example, “He went to the bank,” asserts that the person who went to the bank was male, while “She went to the bank,” asserts that the person who went was female. When not referring to humans, English speakers normally (but not always) use “it,” which does not specify gender.

In Greek every noun and pronoun is assigned a specific gender. Even nouns that do not refer to humans may be masculine or feminine. For example, ἄρτος (the Greek word for “bread”) is masculine, even though the object to which it refers is neither male nor female.

Similarly, some words that do refer to humans are assigned neuter gender. For example παιδίον (a Greek word for “child”) is neuter, even though any given child is either male or female. The word κοράσιον (“girl”) is neuter even though it always refers to a female. Gender in Greek is a matter of grammar, not biological sex, even though most words that refer exclusively to males are assigned masculine gender and most words referring exclusively to females are assigned feminine gender.

Several of the nouns presented in this lesson are masculine. Their nominative singular form ends in -ος. See the vocabulary list. Others are neuter. Their nominative singular form ends in -ον.

Second Declension Neuter Noun Endings

Neuter nouns use the endings given below in red:

Second Declension Neuter Nouns

Case
Name

Singular

Plural

Nom.

παιδίον

(a) child

παιδία

children

Gen.

παιδίου

of a child, from a child

παιδίων

of children, for children

Dat.

παιδί

to a child, by a child, for a child

παιδίοις

to children, by children, for children

Acc.

Same as nominative

Same as nominative

The genitive and dative endings for neuter second declension nouns are exactly like those of masculine second declension nouns (shown above). The nominative and accusative case forms of any neuter noun are exactly alike.

Exercise 2: Recognizing Neuter Noun Forms

Compare the table of Neuter Second Declension Nouns with the table of Masculine Second Declension Nouns (above), then click here to practice recognizing the neuter forms.

Exercise 3: Distinguishing Masculine and Neuter 2nd Declension Nouns

Now that you have had a little practice with neuter nouns, click here to practice recognizing the difference between masculine and neuter nouns.

The Article

Like the nouns discussed above, the article (usually translated as “the” in English) has separate forms for each case, gender, and number. Observe the masculine and neuter forms of the article in the table below and compare them to the endings on the noun forms you just studied.

Singular

Plural

Case
Name

Masc.

Neut.

English Gloss

Masc.

Neut.

English Gloss

Nom.

τό

the

οἱ

τά

the

Gen.

τοῦ

τοῦ

of the, from the

τῶν

τῶν

of the, from the

Dat.

τ

τ

to the, by the, in the, for the

τοῖς

τοῖς

to the, by the, in the, for the

Acc.

τόν

τό

the

τούς

τά

the

It is sometimes necessary to leave the article untranslated. In Greek the article may appear with personal names, for example, where it usually may not (in all but a few contexts) in English. Notice the following example:
ὁ Πέτρος (Acts 2:14)
Peter [not “the Peter”]

Exercise 4: Recognizing the Greek Article

Review the table above then click here to see how many forms of the article you can identify.

Locating Nouns

When asked to “locate” a noun, you should give its gender, case, and number (in that order). If asked to locate the noun δούλῳ, for example, you should respond: δούλῳ is masculine dative singular.”

Vocabulary: 16 Common Greek Nouns

As in all vocabulary lists in this course, the first greek form shown for each word is called the lexical form because that is the form of the word you would use to look the word up in a dictionary (lexicon). The lexical form of every masculine second declension noun ends with -ος.

You will learn the meaning of -ου later. It is included in the vocabulary lists for nouns to help you recognize what type of noun the word is. The little wordis the masculine form of the article. Including it with a noun in the vocabulary list lets you know that the noun is masculine.

Comments in parentheses in the right column do not represent meanings of the Greek words. They are only intended as memory aids.

The numbers in the left margin of the table below indicate the number of times each word appears in the New Testament. These same words appear many more times in other Hellenistic Greek literature.

Browse through the following list of words, but do not attempt to memorize all of them now. After finishing the reading practice at the end of the lesson, return to this vocabulary list and study any words that you still do not recognize.

Masculine Second Declension Nouns

175

ἄγγελος, -ου, ὁ

messenger, angel

343

ἀδελφός, -οῦ, ὁ

brother (Philadelphia = the city of brotherly love)

550

ἄνθρωπος, -ου, ὁ

man, person (anthropology = the study of humanity)

80

ἀπόστολος, -ου, ὁ

apostle

97

ἄρτος, -ου, ὁ

bread

124

δούλος, -ου, ὁ

slave, servant

120

θάνατος, -ου, ὁ

death (euthanasia = mercy killing)

1317

θεός, -οῦ, ὁ

God, god (theology = theory about God)

717

κύριος, -ου, ὁ

master, lord, Lord

330

λόγος, -ου, ὁ

word, matter, event

194

νόμος, -ου, ὁ

law, principle (Deuteronomy = the second law)

Neuter Second Declension Nouns

Notice that the lexical form for each of these neuter nouns ends with -ον, not -ος. Notice also that the article is τό rather than ὁ. When you see these two indicators in a dictionary, you know that the word is a neuter second declension noun.

34

βιβλίον, -ου, τό

book, scroll

76

εὐαγγέλιον, -ου, τό

good news, gospel (evangelistic; εὐ-, good + ἀγγελία, message)

71

ἱερόν, -οῦ, τό

temple, sanctuary

52

παιδίον, -ου, τό

child

99

τέκνον, -ου, τό

child

Reading Practice

Read each Greek phrase or sentence and try to decipher its meaning. After attempting your own understanding, look at the English translation provided. Can you tell why the translation is worded the way it is?

1. ὁ υἱός = the son
ὁ υἱός τοῦ ἀθρώπου

The son of man

2. κύριός ἐστιν

He is Lord

3. κύριός ἐστιν τοῦ σαββάτου

He is lord of the sabbath

4. κύριός ἐστιν τοῦ σαββάτου ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρωπου

The son of man is lord of the sabath

In this sentence, both κύριός and υἱός appear in the nominative case. When two nouns or noun phrases, both in the nominative case, occur with ἐστιν, and one has an article while the other does not the one with the article must be treated as the subject. In the sentence above,υἱὸς appears with the article (ὁ) while κύριός does not. Therefore, ὁ υἱὸς is the subject and must come first in the English translation.

This rule works only if the two words involved are both nouns. If one is a pronoun the use of the article will not reliably mark the subject. In fact, the pronoun itself is often the subject:

οὕτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός
This
is my beloved son (Matthew 3:17).

5. ἦν is the imperfect tense form of ἐστίν. Translate it as "was" in the following sentence.
θεός ἦν ὁ λόγος

The word was God

θεός ἦν ὁ λόγος does not mean "God was the word." Since the article appears with λόγος and not with θεός, we know that λόγος is the subject and must come first in the English translation.

6. The Gospel of Luke says that, in explaining the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus told his disciples:
ὁ σπόρος ἐστὶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ. What does ὁ σπόρος mean?

In this sentence both nominative case nouns have an article. There is no syntactic way to tell which one is intended as subject. Only the larger context can suggest which works better in that role.

STOP! Don't look at the translation below until you've made a guess!

ὁ σπόρος means “the seed.”

The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11)
The word of God is the seed

7. οἱ λόγοι τῶν προφητῶν

The words of the prophets (Acts 15:15)

8. εἰμὶ ἀπόστολος

I am an apostle

Hellenistic Greek did not have an indefinite article (such as “a” or “an” in English). When no article appears with a Greek noun, the translator must decide whether or not to include an indefinite article in English. Whether or not one belongs in the translation is usually clear from the rules of English grammar.

9. εἰμὶ ἀπόστολος;

Am I an apostle?

10. οὐκ = not
οὐκ εἰμὶ ἀπόστολος;

Am I not an apostle?

11. The Greek word αὐτός is often translated as he, she, or it. What case is αὐτόν (usually translated as him, her, or it)?

αὐτόν is accusative case.

12. [καλεῖ = he calls]
κύριον αὐτὸν καλεῖ

He calls him Lord (Luke 20:44) [Pay attention to the noun endings, not the order!]

13. [ἀκούετε = You (y'all) hear, listen, or obey]
τὸν νόμον ἀκούετε

You hear the law
You listen to the law
You obey the law

14. τὸν νόμον οὐκ ἀκούετε

You do not hear the law
You do not listen to the law
You do not obey the law

15. τὸν νόμον οὐκ ἀκούετε;

Do you not hear the law? (Galatians 4:21)
Do you not obey the law?

Where does the word “do” come from in the English translation above?

When “do” appears in an English sentence immediately before the subject (“you” in this example), it functions as a verbal question mark. It indicates to the listener that the sequence of words is a question.

Greek does not use such a device. Since the Greek sentence ends with a question mark here, however, our English translation must be a question, and we must insert “do” in the English translation (unless the English translation includes one of the following words: can, could, may, might, will, would, or should before the subject).

16. [ἀποστέλλω = I send]
ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελον

I send the messenger
I send the angel

17. ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου

I send my messenger (Luke 7:27)

18. What case is μου

The little word μου (my, of me, from me) is genitive case.

19. Can you guess what με means?

με is the accusative singular form of μου. It is usually translated as "me."

20. [κρίνει = you judge]
κρίνεις τὸν ἀδελφόν σου

You judge your brother

21. How is σου translated in the example above?

σου is translated as "your."

22. [In the following sentence translate τί as “why?”]
τί κρίνεις τὸν ἀδελφόν σου;

Why do you judge your brother? (Romans 14:10)

23 [εὐχαριστῶ = I give thanks]
εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ

I give thanks to God

24. εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου

I give thanks to my God (Philippians 1:3)

25. What case is τῷ θεῷ?

τῷ θεῷ is dative case.

26. [εἰσίν = they are]
υἱοί εἰσιν θεοῦ

They are sons of God (Luke 20:36)
They are children of God

27. What case is υἱοί in the sentence above?

υἱοί is nominative case (masculine nominative plural).

28. What case is θεοῦ in the same sentence?

θεοῦ is genitive case (masculine genitive singular).

29. εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ

You are the son of God

30. εἶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ;

Are you the son of God? (Luke 22:70)

Notice the question mark (;) at the end of this sentence from Luke 22:70. It is your only clue that the sentence is a question.

Vocabulary Practice Quiz

Review the vocabulary lists above, then take the Vocabulary Practice Quiz provided here.