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     lesson 1 index         printable pages

1.1: The behavior of Greek nouns.  Nominative case

Each Greek noun has a  Gender (Masculine, Feminine, or  Neuter) which is always the same. Did I say "always"? Well, with a few exceptions... The Gender of nouns that denote biological individuals may be predicted, but the gender of nouns denoting objects is arbitrary, as is the case in a number of modern languages: a table is feminine in Greek and Spanish, a door is Masculine in German but Feminine in French, etc.  In some cases the form of the noun declares its gender, yet with other nouns the gender must be remembered as one learns the vocabulary.  In Lesson 1 we will deal only with masculine nouns.

Greek nouns may be used in the two Numbers we have in English: Singular and Plural.  There is also a Dual number, which we can safely ignore for quite a while.  However, changing from Singular to Plural is not as easy as the addition of an "s" in English (table/tables), not even as simple as the contrast between child and children.  The reason is that nouns display another variable.  Keep reading.

Greek nouns change their endings to mark the function they perform in a sentence.  Examples of these variable endings  in English cannot be given for nouns, but think about the English personal pronouns: we say "he" for a Subject, but "him" for a Direct Object.  He comes.  I see him.  "He" and "him" are Cases of the English pronoun.  Greek nouns have more than two Cases.  However, in Lesson 1 we will use only the Nominative case, which marks the Subject as well as the Predicate Nominative (in a Nominal Sentence), and the Accusative case, marking the Direct Object.

We start with the Nominative.  A masculine noun encountered in this lesson will have the following Nominative endings, marked in red, in singular and plural:







How are these endings used?  All the examples on this page are Nominal Sentences.   The use of the accusative will be illustrated as we continue.  Click to hear soundfile1.1.

1)   ὁ ἰατρός ἐστι φίλος.


How to mark the syntax?     [Go to abbreviations (always on the toolbar)]


ὁ ἰατρός is the Subject in the Nominative.  We will mark it as S.  The noun ἰατρός is preceded here by the article, which we will translate as "the."

ἐστι is the Verb, abbreviated as V

φίλος is the predicate nominative, abreviated as PN.


ὁ ἰατρός ἐστι φίλος.          The doctor is a friend.

              S               V          PN


Let us express the same thought, but with the nouns in the plural:


οἱ  ἰατροί εἰσι  φίλοι.          Doctors are friends.    (The verb, just as in English, needs to be plural:  εἰσί = "are")

              S               V          PN


         The ending with which a noun is cited first in a dictionary or vocabulary is called Nominative.
The Nominative ending of all the nouns used in Lesson 1 is -ος. 

         In a Nominal Sentence (A is B, or if you will, A = B) both the Subject and the Predicate are in the Nominative.


        WORD ORDER is rather free in Greek.  The same meaning may be expressed as follows:

φίλος ἐστι ὁ ἰατρός

φίλος ὁ ἰατρός ἐστι

ὁ ἰατρός φίλος ἐστίν

        is the Nominative of the Greek definite article = English "the" (there is no indefinite article in Greek, i.e. English "a, an").  For the time being we will translate it when it precedes a noun.  When it is not present, we will translate, e.g., διδάσκαλος  (in sentence 3) as "a teacher" in the Singular, and its plural without an article as "teachers."  Yet this is not a hard and fast rule: you will notice that in the translation of Sentence 2 the article is omitted.  The Greek article was present or absent in ways that contradict our own reactions as English speakers.  There was no indefinite article (a, an) in ancient or Biblical Greek.


2)   ὁ λόγος σῖτός ἐστιν.          Reason is food.

                   S               PN           V



       The Greek word λόγος may be rendered with several English words: reason, story, speech, word, among them. 


3)   ὁ λόγος διδάσκαλος  // ἐστιν //.          The story  is a teacher.

                   S                          PN                            V

The same thought, now in the plural: 

οἱ λόγοι διδάσκαλοί  //εἰσιν//.                          Stories are teachers.

              S                    PN                            V


       Here the verbs ἐστν or εἰσίν are left out.  We need to supply them in order to understand the syntax of the sentence.  Left out or implicit functions are indicated in this course with double slashes:  // ἐστν  //.


4)   διδάσκαλος ὁ πόνος   // ἐστν //.          Toil/ a task is a teacher.

                   PN                           S                           V


In the plural:

διδάσκαλοι οἱ πόνοι εἰσίν.               Tasks are teachers.



       Since both the Subject and the Predicate have a Nominative ending, how do we know which is which? (In some Nominal Sentences Subject and Predicate are actually interchangeable, e.g. "In ancient Athens, metics were resident aliens." or "In ancient Athens, resident aliens were metics."  In Greek, when the sense does not suffice to distinguish the subject from the predicate, we can use this rule-of-thumb: if only one of the Nominatives has an article, that is probably the subject.