Good Greek Grammar?

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Fri Sep 14 19:33:20 EDT 2001

At 3:42 PM -0500 9/14/01, ross purdy wrote:
>I believe you are essentially right. Bad grammar is bad grammar, but good
>grammar may not adequately describe current usage. Over time, grammar should
>be updated to common usage. In any immediate context, usage needs to conform
>to grammar if it is going to be understood in any larger context.  The point
>is that the one ruling the larger context right at the moment is
>authoritative...a majority rule. But over time, the chicken is a result of
>the egg laid...uhhhhmmmm...which egg has been conformed to the chicken
>having laid it?
>The purpose of learning grammar is to express ourselves to be understood.
>But we must understand unorthodox usage to understand others who fail at
> extra burden...but then again that is what makes language
>exiciting and wonderful and is to be encouraged.
>Anyways, koine is essentially a frozen language since it is dead. It is a
>slice out of time. So a good Greek Grammar should describe its usage
>accurately to be authoritative, right? In this case, Grammar will rule since
>it is the only factor that can be dynamic.

I may be missing the chief point here, but I think that to speak of Koine
Greek as "a frozen language" is potentially misleading. The Greek spoken
and written in the era of the NT's composition is by no means homogeneous
in idiom or usage as is the Attic of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. and the
2nd and later centuries A.D. Koine Greek, rather, is fascinating to a
historical linguist in much the same way as Homeric Greek is fascinating,
because it bears witness to competing older and newer forms: second aorists
with alpha endings compete with forms of the same verbs with the older O/E
endings; hINA + subjunctive clauses are still used to indicate purpose but
may be simple noun clauses and in some instances seem pretty close to the
modern Greek infinitive (NA + subj.). Some of what we read in the GNT
reflects considerably the Greek that was taught in the schools, while some
does not. This is not so simply a matter of "good" or "bad" Greek but of
discernible "norms" of usage and degrees of conformity to such norms such
that texts are sufficiently lucid as to admit of minimal uncertainty as to
authorial intent. But even such "norms" are not by any means limited: there
are legitimate alternative ways of expressing ordinary notions.

>Why would we call an odd usage bad grammar? Because it does not conform to
>the observed typical patterns. I do not think the one observed exhibiting
>the odd usage is being condemned for some social indiscretion as much as we
>are trying to identify a hindrance to understanding what was meant. I guess
>a good Greek Grammer would help us to understand even bad Greek Grammar, or
>perhaps we should say an odd usage, since, we want to be able to explain all
>the phonomena in order to understand it all.


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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