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Hellenistic Greek
Lesson 11: First Declension Nouns © 2009

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The Lesson at a Glance

First Declension Nouns

The nouns you have learned so far have all been second declension nouns. In this lesson you are introduced to nouns that use a different set of endings called first declension endings. Most first declension nouns are feminine, but a few are masculine.

Grammatical Discussion

In this lesson you are introduced to a set of nouns that do not use the endings you learned earlier (the second declension endings). While most second declension nouns are masculine, most first declension nouns are feminine, though a few are masculine.

Because there is a great deal of similarity between the forms for masculine and feminine nouns of the first declension, it is extremely important that you learn the appropriate article with each first declension noun. In many cases, knowing which article belongs with a given noun will be the only way for you to identify the noun’s gender, and identifying its gender may be crucial for a correct understanding of many texts.

Nouns of the first declension are used in the same ways as nouns of the second declension (which you have already studied). The only difference is their form (endings).

Case Endings for Feminine First Declension Nouns

All first declension feminine nouns use the following case endings. It is absolutely imperative that you memorize them. Without them, you will not be able to understand even the simplest Hellenistic Greek texts.

Every form except nominative singular adds something to the end of the noun.

Singular


The nominative singular adds nothing. It is the form in the vocabulary list—the lexical form.

Nominative

Genitive

ς

Notice that the genitive singular and accusative plural endings are the same. For most first declension nouns this is not a problem since the thematic vowel connecting the stem to the ending is different for singular and plural.

Dative

ι

The dative singular adds iota subscript—a small ι written below the final letter.

Accusative

ν

Plural

Nominative

ι

Genitive

(ο)ν

The ο of the genitive plural ending contracts with the thematic vowel, so you will never see it. What you will see, is the consistent change it causes.

Dative

ις

Accusative

ς

Thematic Vowels for First Declension Nouns

The endings listed above are the same ones you have already learned for feminine adjectives. As you saw with those adjectives, most nouns add η for their singular forms and α for the plural forms before the case endings. Nouns that have stems ending in ε, ι, or ρ, though, add an α before every case ending, both singular and plural.

First declension nouns whose stems end in σσ mix these two systems. They add α for nominative and accusative singular, but η for genitive and dative singular. This results in the pattern below

Singular

Most Fem. 1st Decl. Nouns

Stems Ending in ε, ι, or ρ

Stems ending in σσ

Nom.

-η

-α

-α

Gen.

-ης

-ας

-ης

Dat.

-

-

-

Acc.

-ην

-αν

-αν

Τhe only difference between the endings in the first two lists is the thematic vowel. Where the left group has η, the right group has α.

Nouns with stems ending in σσ use α for nominative and accusative singular, and η for genitive and dative singular.

The best strategy for learning to recognize the case and number of first declension nouns is to learn the bare case endings, not these three lists of specific spellings. Just remember that there will always be either an α or an η before the singular case ending.

Plural

The same strategy works well for the plural endings, but here your task is a little easier. The plural endings never us η as the thematic vowel.

All Feminine First Declension Nouns

Nom.

-αι

The thematic vowel (α) contracts with the ο of the genitive plural ending to form ω.

Gen.

-ων

Dat.

-αις

Notice that the accusative plural ending is identical to the genitive singular ending only for nouns with an α thematic vowel in their singular froms. That is, nouns whose stems end in ε, ι, or ρ.

Acc.

-ας

Memorize the basic endings (in red above).

The two nouns φωνή and ἡμέρα have different thematic vowels (since the stem of ἡμέρα ends with ρ, while the stem of φωνή does not end with ε, ι, or ρ). Compare their forms in the chart below, and notice that while the thematic vowel is different, the case endings are the same. The noun θάλασσα has a stem ending in σσ, so its thematic vowel is α in the nominative and accusative singular, but η in the genitive and dative singular.

Singular

Nom.

φωνή

ἡμέρα

θάλασσα

Gen.

φωνς

ἡμέρας

θαλάσσης

The iota case ending for the dative singular is written below the thematic vowel.

Dat.

φων

ἡμέρ

θαλάσσ

Acc.

φωνήν

ἡμέραν

θάλασσαν

Plural

Nom.

φωναί

ἡμέραι

θάλασσαι

Gen.

φωνν

ἡμερv

θαλάσσων

The α thematic vowel contracts with the ο of the genitive plural ending to form ω.

Dat.

φωναῖς

ἡμέραις

θαλάσσαις

Acc.

φωνάς

ἡμέρας

θάλασσας

Exercise 1: Feminine First Declension Case Forms

Click here to practice recognizing the case and number of first declension nouns.

Case Endings for Masculine First Declension Nouns

Most first declension nouns are feminine. A few, however, are masculine. Two masculine first declension nouns are included in the vocabulary list below. Both are shown with the masculine article.

προφήτης, -ου, ὁ
μαθητής, -ου, ὁ

From their form in the vocabulary list, you can immediately see the only differences between masculine and feminine first declension nouns: the nominative and genitive singular endings. All of the rest of their case endings are identical to the ones for feminine first declension nouns. Here is a graph of the only differences:

Masculine

Feminine

Nominative singular

-

Genitive singular

-ου

The nominative singular ending for masculine first declension nouns is identical to the genitive singular ending for feminine first declension nouns. How will you know whether this ending is nominative singular or genitive singular when you see it in a Hellenistic Greek text? The only way you can know is to know the gender (masculine or feminine) of the noun on which the ending is found. This is why it is absolutely imperative that you learn the article with each noun.

Exercise 2: Masculine First Declension Case Forms

Click here to practice finding the augment in the aorist form of compound verbs.

Vocabulary

First Declension Nouns

The vocabulary list for this lesson contains roughly half of the thirty one first declension nouns that occur fifty times or more in the Chistian New Testament. The rest are presented in the next lesson. In addition to their frequent use in the New Testament, most of these words are used widely in other Hellenistic Greek literature as well.

Make a mental note of the location of the accent mark as you view each word. Accents for nouns are not recessive. They remain on the same syllable unless the general rules for accents force them to move. To know where to write the accent mark for a noun, you have to learn its placement on the nominative singular (lexical) form.

109

ἀλήθεια, -ας, ἡ

truth, truthfulness, faithfulness

The alpha is short in the nominative and accusative singular endings of words like ἀλήθεια. In the other cases it is long. This means the accent mark cannot be on the third syllable from the end in the genitive and dative cases.

162

βασιεία, -ας, ἡ

kingdom

61

Γαλιλαία, -ας, ἡ

Galilee

50

γλῶσσα, -ης, ἡ

tongue, language

92

δικαιοσύνη, -ης, ἡ

righteousness, justice

166

δόξα, -ης, ἡ

brightness, glory, opinion, reputation

114

ἐκκλησία, -ας, ἡ

assembly, church, congregation

52

ἐπαγγελία, -ας, ἡ

promise, pledge

135

ζωή, -ής, ἡ

life, way of living

91

θάλασσα, -ης, ἡ

sea, lake, ocean

Notice that, unlike the other words in this list, the nominative and genitive singular forms of θάλασσα have different thematic vowels. This difference is explaned below.

156

καρδία, -ας, ἡ

heart, inner self, mind

75

κεφαλή, -ής, ἡ

head, origin, starting point

261

μαθητής, -ου, ὁ

student, disciple

Notice that μαθητής is masculine. It is listed here with the masculine article (ὁ). Can you find the other first declension noun in this list that is masculine?

50

παραβολή, -ής, ἡ

parable, comparison, proverb, poem

144

προφήτης, -ου, ὁ

prophet

103

ψυχή, -ής, ἡ

life, mind, soul

106

ὥρα, -ας, ἡ

hour, time, occasion

Reading and Translation

1. [θεωρέω = I see, observe]

κύριε, θεωρῶ

Lord, I see

Can you explain why there is a circumflex accent over the final ω in θεωρῶ? If not, you should review the section on contraction in lesson 7.

2. [ὅτι = that; σύ = you]

κύριε, θεωρῶ ὅτι προφήτης εἶ σύ (John 4:19)

Lord, I see that you are a prophet

2. Some priests and Levites once asked John the Baptist,

ὁ προφήτης εἶ σύ; (John 1:21)

Are you the prophet?

3. ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἐστιν αὐτῶν.

The kingdom of heaven is theirs.

4. αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (Matthew 5:3)

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The kingdom of heaven is theirs

5. [λέγω = I tell, I speak]

τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγω (John 8:45)

I tell the truth
I speak the truth

6. [Ἄλλην is the accusative feminine singular form of ἄλλος = another.]

Ἄλλην παραβολὴν έλάλησεν αύτοῖς (Matthew 13:33)

He told them another parable

7. [μετά, when followed by a genitive case noun, is translated as "with."

Ἰησοῦς μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ. . . (Mark 3:7)

Jesus, with his disciples. . .

Notice that when a preposition is present (μετά in this example) the usual meanings of the cases may be suspended. The genitive case is usually translated using a phrase with "of" or "from" or as a possessive (his, hers, John's), but the preposition overrides this usual meaning.

8. [άναχωρέω = I withdraw, go away; πρός = toward]

Ἰησοῦς μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ἀνεχώρησεν πρὸς τὴν θάλασσαν (Mark 3:7)

Jesus, with his disciples, withdrew toward the sea

9. [πολὺ πλῆθος = a great crowd]

πολὺ πλῆθος ήκολούθησεν

a great crowd followed

10. [ἀπό = from]

Ἰησοῦς μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ἀνεχώρησεν πρὸς τὴν θάλασσαν, καὶ πολὺ πλῆθος ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ήκολούθησεν (Mark 3:7)

Jesus, with his disciples, withdrew toward the sea, and a great crowd from Galilee followed

Vocabulary Quiz

Click here to take the quiz.