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lesson 9 index      printable pages      

 9.1: 1)  Asking about identity:   τίς, τί

2) Other Interrogatives

Gender of the interrogative   τίς, τί.  In English we choose "who" or "what" depending on whether we are asking about a person or thing: Who came?  What are you eating?  The corresponding Greek interrogative has two genders, but these are grammatical, not biological genders, as we know.  So the Greek speaker or writer chose τίς, especially as an adjective, to agree with a masculine or feminine noun, even if it were not personal.

Case of the interrogative: In popular  American English, the use of the interrogative has been reduced to two cases: Nominative (who?, what?, which?) and Genitive (often avoided too, whose?).  Traditionally " who?" had, and continues to have in writing, a special form for the  Accusative referring to a person "whom").  The Greek interrogative pronoun or adjective that we have been using only in two forms, τίς  (Masculine or Feminine), τί  (neuter), was used in all cases except, normally, the Vocative. Its endings are new to you, because they resemble very closely those of the 3rd declension (even though τίς, τί does not technically belong  to a noun declension).  Here is a paradigm:



  masculine & feminine


masculine & feminine



















a) There are two endings in nominative and Accusative, but one common ending in Genitive and Dative of both numbers.
b)  There is an acute accent falling always on the letter  ι. Let us remember this.
c) We will be able to apply the endings (with some variants, that will be indicated later) when we learn the third declension.  Having observed how dental consonants drop before  σ, you will not be surprised to see that  ν has dropped in the nominative masculine or feminine singular or the dative plural.   The nasal  ν , of course, is a dental from the point of view of its articulation.
d) When translating  the Greek texts or composing sentences in Greek we need to keep in mind that gender is often an arbitrary grammatical attribute of nonpersonal nouns, and that we must adapt our translation to the patterns of our own language.. It would obviously be wrong  to translate, e.g., τρέπονται εἰς τίνα χώραν;  as "To whom land are they going?"  because  χώρα is feminine in Greek ...


a) [τίνες ἐστέ, ὦ νεανίαι; ] [ ἐκ τίνος χώρας δεῦρο1  ἥκετε; ]

          PN         V         vocative               ........  ἐκ + gen  .........      adv        V

Who are you, young men?  From what / which land have you come2 here?

b)  [ τί μέν ἐσμεν]  [ τί δ οὐκ ἐσμέν;]  [ σκιᾶς ὄναρ3 ἄνθρωπος. ]

          PN                       V            PN                       V                   gen           PN               S  

What are we?  What are we not?  Man is the dream of a shadow.  [Adapted from Pindar, a lyric poet of the 5th century BCE]

Other interrogative pronouns and adjectives

Greek has several other interrogatives that do not ask, or do not ask only, about identity, but about quality or quantity.  In most cases they need to be rendered into English not with one word, but with a periphrasis.  For those who know Latin, the corresponding Latin interrogatives, or even their Romance derivatives, will help.

ποῖος, ποία, ποῖον  asks about quality, characteristics, etc.
ποῖος; (= qualis? what sort of ... (a masculine noun intended)?
ποία;   (= qualis? what sort of ... (a feminine noun intended) ?

ποῖον; (= quale? what kind of thing?  something of what sort?

πόσος, πόση, πόσον  asks about size or magnitude in the singular, number in the plural
πόσος; (= quantus? how large, great, etc.  (a masculine noun intended)?
πόση;    (= quanta? how large, great, etc.  (a feminine noun intended)?
πόσον; (= quantum? something of what size?   how much?
In the plural:
πόσοι, πόσαι, πόσα;  (= how many?

A few  interrogative adverbs

πῶς;  = how?
πότε;  = when?
ποῦ;  = where?
ποῖ; = whereto (the old fashioned "whither")?
πόθεν;  = wherefrom (the old fashioned "whence")?

Note 1: This adverb means "here" denoting direction: =  "toward here."
Note 2: The Present tense of the verb ἥκω  is equivalent to English "I have come (Present Perfect)."
Note 3: This is a neuter noun of the 3rd declension.