Alpha to Eta?

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Sun Aug 12 19:23:48 EDT 2001

At 7:10 PM -0400 8/12/01, Barry Hickey wrote:
> I'm attempting a self study of Koine Greek and have come upon a question.
>Why does the final stem vowel alpha change to an eta in the Genitive
>singular and Dative singular of a noun like GLWSSA?  What rule of grammar
>necessitates the change?

There are two or three different rules involved here:

(1) The stem vowel of first-declension (alpha) nouns must be LONG in the
genitive and dative singular endings; so if the nominative (and accusative
as well) is in short alpha, as it is in quite a few first-declension nouns,
the genitive singular will be in long-alpha + S while the dative singular
will be in long-alpha with an iota subscript;

(2) In Attic and Ionic dialects (the basis of Koine forms), long alpha
gradually became eta over the course of time; therefore most short-alpha
first-declension nouns have genitive sg. in -HS, dative sg. in Hi;

(3) HOWEVER, that change of long-alpha to eta was inhibited if the
long-alpha was preceded by E, I, or R; consequently short-alpha nouns such
as GEFURA ("bridge") have genitive sg. in -AS (the alpha long) and dative
sg. in A- (also with the alpha long).

There are in fact quite a few apparent irregularities in the morphological
paradigms of Greek that can be shown NOT to be anomalies if one is
cognizant of the phonological principles and history involved.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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