B. Ward Powers
bwpowers at optusnet.com.au
Fri Sep 7 23:06:48 EDT 2001
At 08:00 PM 010907 -0300, Brent Hudson wrote:
>I am teaching an Introductory Greek class this year for the first time. My
>next class is on accents and while I'm not expecting them to master the
>rules, I do want them to have a little understanding of their importance in
I respectfully suggest to Brent, if I may, that this is an unnecessary
lesson to give in Introductory Greek: because the number of situations in
koine Greek where an accent is important is VERY small. Teachers of Greek:
Why (by teaching your students all about accents, or even, anything much at
all about accents, at an introductory stage) do you place upon the necks of
these disciples a yoke which neither we nor our fathers have been able to
bear? (John 16:10 is the Bible verse for the teacher's outlook in the early
stages of teaching Greek.)
The Hodder title "Teach Yourself New Testament Greek" was, I believe, the
first Beginners Grammar to omit accents altogether, followed in this by
John Wenham's "Elements of New Testament Greek". In contrast to this
approach, I do not advocate LEAVING OFF the accents on printed Greek words
- these accents appear in the printed Greek New Testament, and during our
teaching course we are supposed to be readying our students for using the
GNT, so the printed Greek words NOW (during the Beginners Course) should
look the same as they will THEN, when our students begin to use the GNT for
But all we need to do at Introductory Greek stage is tell our students of
those few occasions when an accent matters. And I would strongly recommend
doing this, not in a special lesson for the class at an early stage, but
progressively, when each of these (accent-differentiated) forms is encountered.
And I can only identify six occasions when it is significant to note an
accent. We could double this list if we were to include a differentiation
between word forms consisting of accent-plus-breathing, but students can
pick up this difference from being careful about breathings, which we
certainly SHOULD insist on.
Including accents for Greek words in postings to the b-greek list poses a
problem for some members, because of how our respective email programs
reproduce them. I am using a forward slash, /, after a letter for an acute
accent, and a tilde, ~, for a circumflex. Hope this reproduces okay for
your email program.
Here is the list of those six occasions I am aware of where accents
differentiate words and forms:
1. A circumflex can only be found above a long vowel or diphthong. This
helps with pronunciation of vowels which may be short or long (if one is
distinguishing long vowels from short vowels in one's pronunciation
scheme). Very occasionally it may differentiate forms: thus, LU~SAI, aorist
active infinitive and also aorist middle imperative second singular;
LU/SAI, aorist active optative third singular. But this is the only such
instance I can detect.
2. The circumflex distinguishes EI~ (you are) from EI (if).
3. The acute distinguishes the relative pronoun forms hO/, hH/, hOI/, hAI/,
from the forms of the article hO, hH, hOI, hAI, without the accent.
4. The position of the acute distinguishes ALLA/ (but) from A/LLA (nom and
acc neuter plural of A/LLOS, other).
5. In contraction, when a short vowel which bears the acute contracts with
a following long vowel or diphthong, this acute accent amalgamates with the
notional grave on that long vowel or diphthong to give a circumflex over
it. In the case of liquid verbs, which take an epsilon as their future
morph instead of a sigma, with this epsilon then immediately contracting
with a following long vowel or diphthong, the present and future forms are
distinguished only by this accent. Thus SU/RW (present) and SURW~ (future);
KRI/NW (present) and KRINW~ (future), etc. At the point in the course where
one meets this issue, one could then point out the rule for verb accents:
an acute falls on the third beat from the end of the form, with a long
vowel or diphthong in the final syllable counting as two beats; there is a
notional grave upon every vowel/diphthong which does not bear an overt
accent; when in the contraction of two vowels the first carries an acute
and the second a notional grave, these will join together to give a
circumflex over the contracted vowel/diphthong.
6. Corresponding adjectives and adverbs distinguish their interrogative and
indefinite forms by accent, the interrogative taking an accent upon the
second or third syllable from the end, and the indefinite taking an acute
upon the last syllable. Thus TI/NOS and TINO/S, PO/SOS and POSO/S, POI~OS
and POIO/S, PO/TE and POTE/, PO/QEN and POQE/N. Allied to this: the
monsyllables POU and PW have a circumflex upon the interrogative forms and
an acute upon the indefinite forms.
These are the only six occasions I am aware of when accent alone (i.e.,
when there is no difference of breathing as well) will differentiate forms.
(If I have missed other word differentiations which depend upon accent
alone, I would be most grateful to have them drawn to my attention.)
We should however note one other aspect of accents which can profitably be
7. At an appropriate point you could also mention that an acute on the
final syllable of a word "turns around" to become a grave when the word is
followed by another word without intervening punctuation. And when you meet
examples, you could maybe talk about the behaviour of the accent on clitics
(en- and pro-). But the longer you can leave this, the better.
On this list from time to time - and as recently as during the last couple
of months - there have been references to the frequently high drop-out rate
of students from Greek classes. I have heard of students who found the
teaching of accents, and the importance placed by teachers upon reproducing
them correctly in their student work, as being the final straw which caused
them to pull out of the class. I reckon we teachers have to make every
effort to retain our students by making Greek as interesting and relevant
as possible. And in my considered judgement, a full-on teaching about
accents at an introductory stage is neither interesting nor relevant.
Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-8714-7255
259A Trafalgar Street Phone (Australia): (02) 8714-7255
PETERSHAM NSW 2049 email: bwpowers at optusnet.com.au
AUSTRALIA. Director, Tyndale College
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