Grammatical Terms in Ancient Greek

Back in March, Louis Sorenson posted a helpful comment to B-Greek: The Biblical Greek Forum. In it he included a link to a great resource for finding the terminology that Ancient Greek writers used to describe their language. Here’s the relevant portion of his comment:

Randall Buth in his books Living Koine lists some of these terms in his appendix on pages 175-178. William Annis has collected a number of those terms primarily from Eleanor Dickey’s Ancient Greek scholarship: a Guide to Finding, Reading, and Understanding Scholia, Commentaries, Lexica and Grammatical Treatises, from Their Beginnings to the Byzantine Period, Oxford University Press, 2007. You can find his collection of terms at

This terminology could be very useful in developing a new reference grammar for the Hellenistic Period. For earlier discussions of that topic, go here.

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar (again)

Between January of 2010 and January of 2011, I posted five separate discussions and invited comments on the topic of what belongs in an advanced grammar of Hellenistic Greek. Some of those posts generated quite thoughtful responses, but they have until now been scattered at several different locations on the blog. Here is an index listing all five so that they can be read together (if you have some time to kill, or if you’re just enthusiastic enough about Ancient Greek to care).

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar III: Papyri

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar IV: the now-defunct BDF project

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar V: The “Problem” of Dialect

If you would like to add to any of these discussions, it’s not too late.

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar V: The "Problem" of Dialect

When we discuss the “scope” of any grammar it is possible to discuss two quite different things. One is the range of issues it should address (See Scope IV). The other is the range of literature it seeks to cover, what I called “Documentary Scope” in my original post on this issue (Scope I, II, and III).

The problem of defining the documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar in the past century was fairly straight forward. It included either the Christian New Testament, or the New Testament plus the Septuagint. Little outside that body of literature was of immediate interest. The computer revolution, however, has made this limitation seem unreasonable, since we now have relatively easy access to a much broader range of literature.

What I have written in my first three posts on Scope was written as a way of thinking through the implications of this challenge. I suggested that an authoritative grammar of Hellenistic Greek should address at least (outside the biblical texts) a broad representation from other early Jewish and Christian literature and much of the available papyrii from outside the Jewish and Christian traditions.

Now I would like to consider the “problem” of dialect. This issue is acutely problematic with some authors who were able to manage more than one dialect reasonably fluently. Take Flavius Arrianus, for example. He wrote the Discourses of Epictetus (ΤΩΝ ΕΠΙΚΤΗΤΟΥ ΔΙΑΤΡΙΒΩΝ) and the Manual of Epictetus (ΕΠΙΚΤΗΤΟΥ ΕΓΧΕΙΡΙΔΙΟΝ) in fluent Hellenistic Koiné, but his History of Alexander (ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΑΝΑΒΑΣΕΩΣ) is a clear attempt to imitate the Attic of Xenophon and in his Indica (ΙΝΔΙΚΗ) he strives for the Ionic of Herodotus. In neither of these last two does he represent the actual speech of his time, but he certainly did represent the language of fine literature.

In my original post on Scope I suggested that we should include Arrian’s History of Alexander, but I would now reject that judgment. If our aim is to reflect the Hellenistic Koiné, the language seen in the biblical texts, then we should limit the Documentary Scope of the grammar to works that reflect that level of literature.

In this case, what we need goes well beyond a list of Hellenistic authors, but a considered discussion of each of their works and its relationship to the Koiné.

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar IV: the now-defunct BDF project

I would like to follow up on three entries I wrote on January 30 and February 1, 2010 on the scope of a Hellenistic Greek grammar.

At about that same time (Feb. 2, 2010), Mike Aubrey posted an outline over at ΕΝ ΕΦΕΣΩ of what he would like to include in a grammar, and I thought of the various outlines those of us working on the revision of the Blass-Debrunner-Funk grammar had come up with 12 years earlier.

Today while reorganizing my office, I found a document mailed by Daryl Schmidt on January 30, 1998 to those of us working on the revision.  It included his outline of the grammar as he perceived it at that point.

The outline he sent was definitely not final, and was the subject of much debate. It was one of several being discussed at the time. While the people on the committee had a good grasp of traditional Greek grammar, we had varying degrees of familiarity with the most recent models of linguistic theory, so there was a great deal of unease about terminology as well as the organization of the grammar.

I had many disagreements with Schmidt’s outline as it stood at that time, but understood it as representing his evolving understanding of the project, not a mandate for the form of the grammar. It was as a tool to prompt discussion.

I’m posting it below to invite your comments. The discussion of linguistics and Biblical Greek has come a long way over the last 12 years since it was written. Feel free to suggest where you would have made changes.

I, for example, would not structure a major portion of the grammar around the notion of “sentence” and would have much more to say about semantics and arguments structure. I’m sure Steve Runge (after a good laugh) could tell us clearly what’s wrong with the rudimentary section on “discourse” too.

Here is what Schmidt’s provisional outline included in January of 1998:


Sources: texts and mss
Grammar and Linguistics
Syntax: Words; Sentence types and patterns; Discourse units

Part 1: Grammar of Words

A. Introduction: rationale for categories

Lexical categories (“parts of speech”)
Formal features (morphology)
Grammatical features (e.g. gender, case, voice, aspect)

B. Major (“open”) classes: (heads of phrases)
noun, verb, adjective, adverb

C. Minor (“closed”) classes: (“function words”)
determiners, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions

D. Subclasses:
Lexical properties
Syntactical features

Part 2: Grammar of Simple Sentences

A. Sentence structures

1. Elements of a sentence
agreement of subject & verb
2. Equative sentences

a. nominal (verbless)
b. with equative verb

3. Intransitive
4. Transitive

B. Nominal Phrases

1. Introduction: constituents (determiners, adjectives, nouns)
modifiers and modifier roles
2. Functions
3. Pronouns
4. Substantival (headless)
C. Verb Phrases (predicate clauses)

1. Introduction: constituents (verbs and adverbials)
2. Verb features
3. Verb chains
4. Adverbials
5. Complement patterns

D. Sentence Variations

1. Reflexive & Passive
2. Negation
3. Questions
4. Commands

E. Coordination

1. Within phrases and clauses
2. Compound Sentences
3. Comparison

Part 3: Grammar of Complex Sentences

A. Formation of complex sentences

1. Introduction

a. Subordinate conjunctions
b. Infinitive & Participle

2. Functions of Embedded Sentences

B. Nominal embeds

1. Indirect Discourse

a. Indirect Questions
b. Indirect Statements
c. Indirect Commands

2. Other Nominal Embeds
3. Nominal uses of subordinate conjunctions: summary
4. Nominal uses of infinitive, with

a. Verbs of discourse
b. Verbs of commanding
c. Causative verbs (ποιέω)
d. Impersonal verbs

5. Nominal uses of participle

C. Adnominal Embeds (adjective clauses)

1. Relative pronouns (incl. “substantive”)
2. Participle (incl. “substantive”)

D. Adverbial Embeds (adverbial clauses)

1. with subordinate conjunctions
2. infinitive (with τό, ὥστε)
3. participle (incl. Gen. Abs.)
4. conditionals

Part 4: Grammar of Discourse

Discourse Structures
Narrative grammar


A. Phonology, Orthography, Accents
B. Morphology (incl. paradigms)

catalogue of verbs
loan words & cognations

C. Sumaries & Lists

grammatical/syntactical category functions
e.g. case functions
use of participles & infinitives
correlation with traditional categories

So, what do you think a reference grammar of Hellenistic Greek should include? How would it be different from Schmidt’s model?

Dr. Rod Decker's NT Resources Blog

I have added Dr. Rod Decker’s NT Resources Blog to the Blogs page at In keeping with the focus of on Linguistics and Ancient Greek, I include on the blogs page only blogs that deal directly with Linguists or that fairly regularly discuss in detail Greek texts from the Hellenistic period. Dr. Decker’s blog fits the second category well.

Pay him a visit at NT Resources if you enjoy discussions of the Greek text of the New Testament.

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar III: Papyri

Since the papyri have been mentioned twice already in this discussion of the scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar, I thought I would offer a little of my own take on the issue.

The papyri are extremely valuable for documenting language change. They are not as helpful for documenting a particular point in the middle of that change. Their very variability offers great evidence for the shifts that were occurring in pronunciation during the Hellenistic period, for example, but they don’t help in understanding Luke’s discourse preferences.

Their importance, from a linguistic point of view, has been that they have given us a clearer picture of conversational or informal Greek in and around Egypt and have clarified to some extent what we might call business Greek or the language of commerce. These are legitimate concerns for a grammar of Hellenistic Greek, but are not necessarily crucial for understanding the biblical documents.

It is very hard to sort out all of the variation in the papyri, but they are nonetheless fascinating.

See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar IV.”

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature

The discussion on the documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar has slowed a little, so I want to pull out one comment by Rick Brannan for further discussion. After citing O’Donnell’s proposed corpus, Rick proposes a few further works that I also think deserve serious attention.

He suggests two works from the Apostolic Fathers, and both fit the literary level and style of much of what is in the New Testament. He also suggests including Philo [of Alexandria], in addition to Josephus. Both of these authors were Jewish and each was bilingual (though not to the same degree), and because of this share certain features with several of the New Testament writers. Here’s what Rick Brannan had to say:

In Matthew Brook O’Donnell’s “Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament”, he outlines a corpus of Hellenistic works to use for corpus linguistic purposes; there may be some insight. See pp. 164-165 of his book. It comes down to the NT, a few LXX books (Judges, 1 Macc, 2 Esdras) Hermas, Ignatius’ letters, Josephus’ Life, Philo’s On Moses. Then it gets interesting: Strabo’s Geography, Epictetus’ Dissertations, Polybius’ History, Plutarch’s Cato Minor, Arrian’s Anabasis, Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, Cassius Dio’s Roman History, Apollodorus’ Library, and a generic “Selection of Documentary Papyri” and a generic “Selection of Inscriptions” (no further info on those last two). I think there should be more LXX, Apostolic Fathers (namely 1 Clement and Hermas, at least), Josephus and Philo, and that perhaps some of the early Greek OT Pseudepigrapha and NT Apocrypha too.

Are there other works from the Early Christian and Jewish communities that you think should be included in the documentary base for a serious grammar of Hellenistic Greek?

See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar III: Papyrii.”

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar

We could speak about the scope of a grammar of an ancient language in several ways. We could talk about what issues belong in a beginning grammar, what in an intermediate, and what in an advanced or reference grammar. Perhaps I will write about that at a later time. The issue of scope that I have in mind now is the documentary scope. What documents should serve as the basis for the grammar. What documents should the grammar enable its users to read?

This is an important question for Hellenistic Greek in particular because the answer has seemed obvious for so long, but there is reason to question the traditional answer. The majority of grammars of Hellenistic Greek deal either exclusively with the New Testament or are limited to the early Christian Literature. While the traditional reference grammars give passing attention to the wider Hellenistic literature, beginning and intermediate grammars in the past fifty years have seldom ever referred to anything outside the New Testament.

The early Christian literature is, of course, extremely important, and is what the majority of students of Hellenistic Greek most want to read. But do we not risk misunderstanding by failing to examine a wider range of literature? Here are a few ways in which a wider range of literature could make understanding of the biblical texts more accurate:

  • Grammatical structures that appear infrequently in the New Testament can be understood more clearly by comparing them to a wider range of examples.
  • Questions about the meaning of particular words and phrases that appear infrequently in the New Testament could by more clearly defined by considering a broader range of usage.
  • Comparison with texts outside the Christian tradition can clarify what common discourse structures looked like in Hellenistic literature at a broad range of levels. This would enable us to see what is truly unique in the early Christian literature and would also allow us to see how people outside the early Christian movement would have understood the earliest Christian texts.
  • I am attempting to move in the direction of including a broader range of Hellenistic literature in my own beginning grammar. While it is still heavily dominated by the early Christian literature, I am reading as much as possible outside that tradition to make sure that what I have to say in the grammar is actually true to a wider range of texts.

    Here are some of the texts I have been reading:

      Epictetus, Discourses (ΑΡΡΙΑΝΟΥ ΤΩΝ ΕΠΙΚΤΗΤΟΥ ΔΙΑΤΡΙΒΩΝ)
      Arrian, History of Alexander and Indica (ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΑΝΑΒΑΣΕΩΣ, ΙΝΔΙΚΗ) [Deleted on 1/26/2011]
      Diodorus Siculus, Library of History (ΒΙΒΛΙΟΘΗΚΗΣ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΚΗΣ)
      Chariton of Aphrodisias, The Story of Callirhoe (ΤΑ ΠΕΡΙ ΚΑΛΛΙΡΟΗΝ ΔΙΗΓΗΜΑΤΑ)

    These texts represent a fairly wide range of styles and literary levels, though not as wide as it might appear at first glance. The Discourses of Epictetus, for example, were actually written by Arrian. Epictetus did not write down his own teachings. The relationship between him and the document that bears his name is similar in some respects (not identical) to the relationship between Jesus and his words as presented in the Gospels. Jesus did not write them. In fact, he may have spoken in Aramaic, and the Gospel writers had to translate what was remembered of his words. Arrian wrote from notes, violating the intention of his teacher who thought true philosophy should be oral, not written.

    I would love to hear from you about what you see as the ideal documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar.

    See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature.”