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Hellenistic Greek © 2009, 2015
Lesson 7: The Article

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The Lesson at a Glance

The Article

You have already learned sixteen of the forms of the Greek article (the masculine and neuter forms). In this lesson you will explore some of the uses of the article and learn the remaining eight forms, the feminine forms.

Grammatical Discussion

Usage of the Article

English has two different kinds of articles: a definite article (the word “the”) and an indefinite article (the words “a” and “an”). Greek does not distinguish between these two types of articles. For that reason the usage of the article in Greek has some striking differences from the word “the” in English. While “the” is often the best translation for the Greek article, the Greek article is used in some contexts where we clearly would not use “the” in English. In such cases, the Greek article must be left untranslated.

With Abstract Nouns

One example of the difference between the Greek article and the English word “the” may be found in the use of abstract nouns (that is, words that refer to abstract ideas like love, peace, friendship, etc.). For example, ἡ ἀγάπη should usually not be translated as “the love,” but simply “love” since we do not use an article in English with nouns that indicate abstract concepts except in a few very restricted contexts.

At the same time, in a phrase such as ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ the article (ἡ) should be translated: “the love of God.” Here it is translated because the English rule against articles with abstract nouns does not apply when those nouns are modified by another phrase (such as “of God” in this example).

ἡ ἀγάπη ➞ love (1 Corinthians 13:4; Notice that it would be inappropriate to say "the love" in this context.)

ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ➞ the love of God, God's love, love for God (Romans 8:39)

With Proper Names

Another case in which the Greek article is left un-translated is when it occurs with a proper name. English does not use articles with proper names except in a few very specialized contexts. You will probably never hear anyone say something like

*I saw the Steven this afternoon.

The asterisk (*) at the beginning of this sentence indicates that the string of text does not follow the normal grammatical patterns of the language. Such a string of text is ungrammatical. Whenever you find an asterisk at the beginning of any string of text in this course, it has this same meaning.

If you were attempting to distinguish between several people named Steven, though, you might say something like

I saw the Steven you’re talking about, but I didn’t see any other Stevens.

In contrast to English, Greek often uses the article with proper names, even when there is no attempt to distinguish between more than one person with the same name. For this reason, ὁ Ἰησούς must be translated simply as "Jesus," not “the Jesus.”

Observe the following examples from Mark 9:2:

ὁ Ἰησοῦς ➞ Jesus (not "the Jesus")

τὸν Πέτρον ➞ Peter (not "the Peter")

τὸν Ἰάκωβον ➞ Jacob / James (not "the James")

τὸν Ἰωάννην ➞ John (not "the John")

With Equative Verbs

An equative verb is one like “is” in the sentence “John is the secretary,” where is indicates that “John” and “the secretary” refer to the same person. It “equates” the subject with the complement.

The Greek article may also be used to indicate the subject of any equative verb. In the sentence θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1), the article (ὁ) marks λόγος as the subject of the verb ἦν, so the translation should be “The word was God,” not “God was the word.” Here the article usually is translated, but it serves a function not found in English

θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος ➞ The word was God (John 1:1)

κύριός ἐστιν ὁ ὑιὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ➞ The Son of Man is Lord (Mark 2:28)

With Adjectives

As you saw in lesson five, the article may also be used to distinguish attributive uses of an adjective from predicate uses. If you do not remember the meanings of these terms, review lesson five.

Translation and Context

The rules for using the article discussed here should make it clear that there are many times when an article is present in the Greek text yet an article would not be appropriate in the English translation. When you encounter the article in a Greek text, you must ask yourself, "Why is the article here?" It is not enough to simply put "the" in your translation.

Similarly, there are times when a Greek text does not contain an article, but “the” is clearly needed in the English translation. The determining factor for whether or not to include the article in the English translation of a Greek text is the context of the Greek phrase. For example, in John 1:1 we find the statement

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος ➞ In the beginning was the word (John 1:1)

The noun ἀρχῇ ("beginning") does not have an article before it, but the context of John, chapter one makes it clear that ἀρχῇ refers to a specific beginning, not the process of beginning in general nor one beginning among many. For this reason, it must be translated as "the beginning," not simply "beginning" or "a beginning." The key question is "What does the context demand?"

Agreement of the Article

The article always has the same gender, case, and number as the word it modifies. This agreement can be helpful in identifying the case, gender and number of unfamiliar nouns. It can also help you determine which of several words the article is modifying.

τὰ καλὰ ἔργα

All three words are neuter accusative plural.

the good works (Matthew 5:16)

τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους

All three words are masculine accusative plural.

my words (Mark 8:38)

τῶν ἁγίων ἀγγέλων

All three words are masculine genitive plural

the holy angels (Luke 9:26)

τὸ μικρὸν ποίμνιον

All three words are neuter nominative singular.

the little flock (Luke 12:32)

Forms of the Article

Study the following forms of the Greek article and commit them to memory. The article appears almost 20,000 times in the Greek New Testament alone, and learning its forms will help you learn the endings for adjectives and nouns as well. It is well worth your time to memorize all of the forms of the article.

Singular

Masculine

Feminine

Neuter

Nominative

τό

Genitive

τοῦ

τῆς

τοῦ

Dative

τῷ

τῇ

τῷ

Accusative

τόν

τήν

τό

Plural

Masculine

Feminine

Neuter

Nominative

οἱ

αἱ

τά

Genitive

τῶν

τῶν

τῶν

Dative

τοῖς

ταῖς

τοῖς

Accusative

τούς

τάς

τά

Note the following five features of the article forms:

1. With only a few exceptions, the endings for the article are the same as those for adjectives. The exceptions are the nominative masculine singular and the nominative and accusative neuter singular forms. These are different from the adjective endings you have studied.

2. All but four forms of the article begin with τ. The four that do not are the nominative case of the masculine and feminine forms.

3. The genitive plural form is always the same (τῶν), regardless of gender.

4. The nominative and accusative case forms of the neuter article are identical (τό for nominative and accusative singular, τά for nominative and accusative plural). This same pattern holds true of all Hellenistic Greek words that are neuter.

5. The genitive and dative cases of the neuter forms of the article are identical to those of the masculine forms. (This is also true of nouns and adjectives.)

Exercise 1: Forms of the Article

Take a few minutes now to practice recognizing the 24 forms of the article. Click here to get started.

Vocabulary

Browse through the vocabulary lists below, but do not try to memorize these words yet. When you have read through the lists, do the reading and translating exercise that follows them, then return to these lists to study the words you still don't recognize.

Four Nouns

As you study the list of nouns below, remember that nouns are listed with their nominative singular form, followed by the genitive singular ending, then the nominative singular form of the appropriate article.

76

πρόσωπον, -ου, τό

face, appearance

77

σημεῖον, -ου, τό

sign, symbolic event

94

τόπος, -ου, ὁ

place (topography = making of maps)

54

χρόνος, -ου, ὁ

time, period of time, occasion (chronology = a list or account organized by time)

One Verb Form: ἦν

You have already learned several forms of the verb εἰμί ("I am"). Here is one more.

315

ἦν

he was, she was, it was

Nine Other Words

639

ἀλλά

but, instead, on the contrary (Contrast ἄλλος above.)

2792

δέ

but, and

1768

εἰς

to, into, toward, in
Nouns, adjectives, and articles that immediately follow the preposition εἰς are assigned accusative case forms.

914

ἐκ, ἐξ

out of, from, since (The English word exit is derived from this Greek word.)
Nouns, adjectives, and articles that immediately follow the preposition ἐκ are assigned genitive case forms.

2752

ἐν

in, on, at, by, with, among
Nouns, adjectives, and articles that immediately follow the preposition ἐν are assigned dative case forms.

19870

ὁ, ἡ, τό

the (when translated)
It is often necessary to leave the article untranslated since the rules for its use in Greek are different from the rules for the use of the article in English.

208

οὕτως

so, thus, in this way

194

παρά

at, by, with, alongside, beside
You will learn later that the various meanings of the preposition παρά are associated with the case of the words that immediately follow it.

333

περί

about, around, concerning
You will learn later that the various meanings of the preposition περί are associated with the case of the words that immediately follow it.

Reading and Translation

After reading the vocabulay lists above, read the phrases and sentences below, then return to the vocabulary lists to study the words you still do not recognize.

A few of the phrases in this reading and translation exercise are repeated from the previous lesson. Read them again now.

1. ὁ. . . νόμος ἅγιος

The Law is holy (Romans 7:12)

2. [ἐντολή is a first declension noun translated “commandment.” Use the article (ἡ) and what you know about adjective endings to determine its case, gender, and number in the following sentence.]

ἡ ἐντολὴ ἀγία

The commandment is holy (Romans 7:12)

Why does ἅγιος have a masculine form in number 5, but a feminine form in number 6? Can you explain in your own words before you read the explanation below?

In sentence number 1, ἅγιος (holy) describes the masculine noun, νόμος, so it has a masculine form to match that noun. In number 2 this same adjective describes the feminine noun, ἐντολή, so it has a feminine form to match that feminine noun.

3. ὁ. . . νόμος ἅγιος καὶ ἡ ἐντολὴ ἀγία καὶ δικαία καὶ ἀγαθή.

The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good (Romans 7:12)

4. [ἡ ἡμέρα = day]
τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρα

on the third day (Matthew 16:21)

The preposition "on" in the English translation reflects the dative case of the Greek phrase above.

5. τῇ ἡμέρα τῇ τρίτῃ

on the third day (John 2:1)

Compare 4 and 5. Both are translated the same way, but the Greek word order is different, and there is an extra article in 5. This is normal. Greek adjectives my come before the noun they modify (as in 4), or follow it (as in 5). If the phrase has an article, the article must be repeated when the adjective is attributive and follows the noun.

6. [γυνή = woman; Σαμάρεια = Samaria]

γυνὴ ἐκ Σαμαρείας

a woman from Samaria (John 4:7)

7. [Αἰγύπτος = Egypt]

ἐξ Αἰγύπτου

from Egypt
out of Egypt

8. [ἐκάλεσα = I called]

ἐξ Αἰγύπτου ἐκάλεσα τὸν υἱόν μου.

Out of Egypt I called my son (Matthew 2:15)

9. [ἐλάλησεν = he spoke, he told]

ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς

He spoke to them
He told them

10. ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς. . . ἐν παραβολαῖς

He told them. . . in parables (Matthew 13:3)

11. [ἀγάπη is a first declension feminine noun that you may have heard before. Guess at its meaning in the following phrase.]

ἡ ἀγάπη

love

Ἡ ἀγάπη should not be translated as "the love" unless the context makes "the" necessary. English does not use the article with abstract nouns unless the noun is modified by an additional phrase. Greek, however, does.

12. [ὑποκριτής = hypocrite, ἀνυπόκριτος = sincere]

ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος

Love is sincere
Love must be sincere
Let love be sincere (Romans 12:9)

The presence of the article before the noun ἀγάπη but not before the adjective ἀνυπόκριτος means this is a predicate construction. It needs a verb in the English translation.

The verb most frequently chosen for English translations of Greek predicate constructions that are singular is is, but the context of Romans 12 makes it clear that this predicate adjective construction should be understood as a command. In English we communicate this with the form of the verb: Let it be or It must be, rather than is. Check your favorite translation of the Bible and you will see that this is standard.

Vocabulary Quiz

Use the following exercises to help you learn the vocabulary for this lesson.

Nouns

Other Words