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 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?