B. Ward Powers bwpowers at
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
>some situations.

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
AUSTRALIA.                         Director, Tyndale College

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