“Abso-tively, Posi-lutely” Unusual: The Greek “Genitive Absolute” Construction!

Yes, the Greek “Genitive Absolute” construction is “abso-tively, posi-lutely unusual!! But . . . you can still translate this unusual Greek construction. Here are five plausible steps for recognizing and translating the  “Genitive Absolute” —

(1) Identify the “Genitive Absolute” construction = a circumstantial participle and a noun or pronoun, both occurring in the genitive case in a “dependent” clause.


1. χρονίζοντος δὲ τοῦ νυμφίου ἐνύσταξαν πᾶσαι καὶ ἐκάθευδον.(Matt. 25:5)

“And while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.”

2.τοῦ δὲ ‘Ιησοῦ γεννήθεντος ἐν Βηθλέεμ . . . ἰδοῦ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς ’Ιεροσόλυμα.(Matthew 2:1)

“And after Jesus was born in Bethlehem . . . behold wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem.”

(2) Translate the main (“independent”) clause of the sentence (the part not containing the “genitive absolute” construction).

(3) Identify the time frame (present or past time) of the Indicative verb in the main (“independent”) clause. The time frame of the participle in the “genitive absolute” construction will be translated either as being “simultaneous” with the time frame of the Indicative verb of the main (“independent”) clause, or as occurring “prior” to the time frame of the main Indicative verb (see point 5, below).

(4) Translate the noun or pronoun in the “genitive absolute” construction (“dependent” clause) as if it were in the Nominative case. And finally . . .

(5Translate the genitive participle as an indicative verb, preceded by the adverbial, circumstantial word “While…” if the participle is a Present tense participle, or with the word “After…” if the participle is in the Aorist tense.

Click here for a downloadable PDF, also available anytime from the sidebar under the category GREEK “UNUSUAL CONSTRUCTIONS”.

I’ll Not Remain “Mute” About This!

I’ll not remain mute about this.  I’ll teach you something about “Mute Stem” changes (JPEG) within Greek verbs, so you won’t need to remain “mute” about the subject, either!  As a New Testament Greek student it can be helpful in the “short run” (or longer) if you can visualize in your “mind’s eye” certain critical pieces of information.  Some of that critical information is this: “What happens when certain Greek consonants collide with other Greek consonants, and why? Please read the following treatise on “Mute Stem” changes where, below the following chart, I will give you a fairly easy way to “set up this chart” in your mind.

The basic components (the “labials,” “gutterals” and “dentals”) of the above “Mute Stems Changes”chart can be fairly easily replicated in your mind if you remember this “set up” process.  While these three categories of Greek letters (“labials,” “gutterals” and “dentals”) are listed horizontally as they function within the chart, it’s easier to set them up vertically. Here’s how:

(1) Start reciting the Greek alphabet: αβγ...δthen start writing the letters (vertically) as soon as you get to β, γ, δYou now have the first letter of each of the three categories of letters.

(2) Next, vertically write (with Greek letters) the first letters of the acronym:preachers’ kids (are) terrific”…or…π, κ, τNow you have the second letters of each row.

(3) For the final vertical row, add the Greek equivalent of an“h” to the letters you just wrote (π, κ, τ), resulting in: φ, χ, θ. With this done, you can now more easily memorize the results of collisions with various consonants that occur.

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Participle = “Verbal Adjective”

When you see a Greek word that looks like a verb at its beginning that has declined endings, that word must be a Participle. It is critically important that the beginning Greek student learn the declension of the 3rd Declension noun ἀρχῶν, ὁ (ruler). From this noun active participle endings are derived, and the noun’s stem (ἀρχ-) is replaced with a verbal stem (or, as I like to say in class, “We’re putting Noah back into the ‘ark’ [ἀρχ-] and sending him on a vacation.”  The resultant verb stem + declined endings = a verbal-adjective, the grammatical description for a participle (e.g., λύων, λύοντος…).

When studying and memorizing participle endings, it is helpful to remember the nominative singular forms of each of the active, middle and passive endings that occur. Including thematic vowel changes, there are four active forms of participle endings (one of them used “passively” with Aorist passives) and three middle/passive forms. Since participles are verbal adjectives, the student will observe a verbal stem with declined endings in all three genders. The active endings (nominative singular) are represented by: -ων,    -ουσα, -ον (Present, 2nd Aorist); -ας, -ασα, -αν (1st Aorist); -εις, -εισα, -εν (1st2nd Aorist passive; remember: Aorist Passives always utilize “active looking” endings); and -ως, -υια, -ος (Perfect). Since each of these groups of endings are declined in a similar way with the masculines and neuters in the 3rd declension and the feminines in the 1st declension (like γλῶσσα), knowledge of the nominative singulars becomes a “jumping off” point in the student’s mind for recognition of any other case forms he may encounter. The middle/passive endings are much more simple, occuring in the 2nd declension for masculine and neuter forms, and the 1st declension for the feminines (like ἀγάπη) and represented by; -ομενος, –ομενη, –ομενον (Present, 2nd Aorist); -αμενος, -αμενη, -αμενον (1st Aorist); –μενος, -μενη, -μενον (Perfect).

When the Greek “circumstantial” (temporal, adverbial) participle occurs (without an article) in the Present tense. The “temporal” (time-oriented) adverb used to translate a Present tense circumstantial participle is “As” (or “While”). The time frame of the “dependent” (temporal, circumstantial) clause should be consistent with the time frame of the indicative verb of the “independent” (main) clause.

(PRESENT) βλέπει τὸν κύριον ἐρχόμενον πρὸς αὐτὸν καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ …
“He is seeing the Lord (as He [the Lord] is) coming toward him and he is saying to him…” (John 1:29a)

When the Greek “circumstantial” participle occurs in the Aorist tense. The “temporal” (time-oriented) adverb used to translate an Aorist tense circumstantial participle is “After.” Again, the time frame of the “dependent” (temporal, circumstantial) clause is translated concurrent with the time frame of the indicative verb in the “independent” (main) clause. (ibid, p. 69)

(AORIST) ἐλθῶν οὖν ὁ Ἰησους εὖρεν αὐτὸν.
“Therefore after He came Jesus found him.” (John 11:17a)
(Better): “Therefore after Jesus came He [Jesus] found him.”

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“Okay, I’ll Make a ‘Contract’ (Verb) with You”

Here’s a look at “Contract Verbs” made a lot easier. Remember, the only two tenses that are impacted by “contractions” of vowels are the Present and Imperfect, since these are the only two tenses that utilize a “Present” stem (1st Principal Part) with nothing added to the end before it encounters the thematic vowel(s) of the personal endings.

Notice that I’ve set up this chart in a “logical” fashion, where the contract verb vowels (α, ε, or ο ) and the potential vowels that they can collide with in forming tenses and moods (modes).  These are listed in a logical progression, either alphabetically (above) or in a similar progress from short ε, to ει, to η (long “e”), to , to οου, and ω.  Not only is this a logical way to set up a chart like this, it also reveals patterns of results of the collisions that make the entire chart more memorable in your head.

(1) Observe the collision of α with any “e-class” vowel: short (ε), diphthong (ει), and long “e” (η or) results consistently in α.  When colliding with “o-class” vowels:  short (ο) , diphthong (οι), or long (ω), the result is always as long as possible: ω.

(2) Moving on, the ε contract vowel when colliding with other vowels always gets longer, either a little longer:  to a diphthong (ει), or as long as possible (η or ω) within the category of vowel with which it’s colliding.

(3) The final contract vowel ο also gets longer through it’s collisions with other vowels— to an ου diphthong when meeting ε, an ο, or an ου; to an οι diphthong when colliding οι diphthong when colliding with anything that has an ι in it (ει, and ); and to ω when it encounters any long vowel (η or ω).

Click image below for to view in a separate window, or click here for a downloadable image (JPEG also available from the sidebar). Also, click to download this PDF for an extended look at all the results of all the collisions for each type of “Contract Verb” in every “Present” and “Imperfect” tense situation where they occur.

**REMEMBER, too, that the predominant indicator that a “contraction” (collision) of vowels has occurred is the Greek circumflex (~) accent that appears (most often) over the location of the contraction.
NOTE:  For you language “geeks,” the English word “contract” comes from two Latin root words (cum + tractus) which mean “to draw together.” A legal “contract” is a “drawing up/together” of certain conditions.  A housing “contractor” also “draws together” certain skilled workers to complete the construction project. Other English derivatives would be “tractor” and “traction.”

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The “Bottom Line” on μι-Verbs

Don’t be intimidated by these “irregular” New Testament Greek verbs.  If you pay attention, they too reveal structural “patterns” that you can find some comfort level in recognizing in context. The primary “bottom line” characteristics of μι-Verbs are presented in the image below, and also as part of a downloadable PDF that includes μιVerb Indicative Mode formation charts as well as a listing of the most frequently occurring μι-Verbs in the New Testament.

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“You ain’t nothin’ but a noun dog, declining all the time!” . . . OR . . . “The ‘Satellite View’ of all Greek Noun Declensions”

The following Greek Nouns Declensions chart, available here as a downloadable PowerPoint presentation and here as a downloadable PDF, details all of the types and genders of nouns that the New Testament Greek student will encounter. I know of no other paradigm in existence that condenses all of these case endings—based on the “8-case” paradigm—into a single, concise chart of all Greek noun declensions. I call it the satellite view of all Greek noun endings. Of significant value are the horizontal relationships existing between each type of noun presented in a vertical layout that can be clearly observed in this comprehensive, single-page layout. Assisting in your memorization of these endings are the use of arrows showing either identical or similar continuity, and yellow highlights denoting pattern shifts.

* NΟΤΕ:  The PowerPoint presentation also includes an overview of the “8-case” system, as well as a static view of the declension and translation of the 2nd declension masculine noun λόγος.

Of particular significance within the eight-case system for inflected noun endings are two additional cases not readily found in the more widely used five-case system. Sharing the same endings, singular and plural, as the Dative case are the Locative and Instrumental cases. As a memory aid, a helpful acronym for these three cases is to refer to them as the “L.I.D.” cases, particularly since their singular and plural forms always reveal, either an “iota subscript” or an iota “sandwiched” in between two other letters (e.g., οις, –αις). So, the “L.I.D.” acronym has an “I” in it, and the endings also all have an “I” in them in the form of an iota. (Note: 3rd Declension L.I.D. plurals have σι as their shared cases’ ending.)

It’s also noteworthy that Neuter nouns (pronouns, adjectives) always repeat their nominative endings in the accusative case (singular and plural, respectively).

There are various types of Greek nouns declined in the 3rd Declension, also called the “Consonant Declension.” These types derive their names based on the final letter(s) of their respective stems. Stems in this declension are not readily identifiable by referring to their Nominative singular (lexical) forms, but rather (usually) from their Genitive singular forms. It is helpful, therefore, for the student to memorize the Genitive singular stems of these types of “irregular” Greek nouns. For more on this click here.

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All the New Testament Greek Vocabulary in W.H. Davis’ Beginner’s Grammar of the Greek New Testament

The following PDF contains all the New Testament Greek Vocabulary in W.H. Davis’ Beginner’s Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Listed in textbook appearance order, this textbook-inclusive itemization of New Testament Greek vocabulary is accompanied by a numerical conflation of Sake Kubo’s A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon words used more than 50 times and Bruce Metzger’s Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek words used from 10 times all the way up to 46-49 times. Click here to open the *PDF.

For an online study of the same vocabulary categorized into manageable Davis lesson order groups click here to go to Cram.com (formerly FlashcardExchange.com).

[*Note: This PDF only includes the 489 New Testament words presented within the Davis grammar.]

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The Greek Alphabet (PowerPoint)

Even at the very beginning of your Greek experience, things don’t have to be ominously difficult. Take the Greek alphabet (PDF or PowerPoint download) for instance, the lower case letters in particular. From the outset it is readily observable just how many of the lower case Greek letters resemble corresponding letters from the English alphabet. Notice English similarities to the alpha, beta, delta, epsilon, iota, kappa, omicron, sigma, tau, and upsilon. Even the zeta can be easily recognized as corresponding to the English “z.” And, pi we have become comfortable with as a mathematical symbol. These 12 Greek letters are half of the alphabet! As for the more “difficult” Greek letters, there are ways to correctly recognize and remember many of them quite early on in one’s studies. For example, look at the Greek lambda, corresponding to the cursive English “ l. ” Simply remove the upper loop from the English letter and you have the Greek lambda (i.e., l = λ). Similarly, with the gamma, removing the loop from the head of the English cursive “g ” leaves its Greek equivalent ( γ with a loop in its tail ). The Greek mu, nu and rho can also been seen as corresponding to the English “m,” “n” and “r” if one only adds a little information in the “mind’s eye.” Even the Greek omega (ω) looks, humorously, like a infant’s bottom when one shockingly discovers he needs a diaper change. The exclamation, “Ohhhhh” can be heard all across the room! And that is exactly what the omega represents in English: a long “o.” All together this encompasses 18 of the 24 Greek alphabet’s letters. The remaining six can be learned with limited difficulty through frequent encounters with them within the spelling of various Greek words. An a online animated Greek alphabet tutorial link can be accessed here.

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Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 9:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Signal Flags” for Greek Verbal Forms (Chart)

The following chart is a systematic “visual tour” of many of the possible characteristics seen within various Greek verbal forms one encounters in their various tenses, voices, and modes. One or more of these “clues” may be spotted simultaneously by the student, giving him the mental “signal(s)” he needs to help him more quickly to identify that form’s parsing. Notice that the chart is a simulated left-to-right look at any verbal form (including participles and infinitives) that one might encounter, noting the various characteristics to watch for at progressive locations within the word’s structure. Once the “signal flag” clue has been identified, the corresponding tense(s), voice(s), and mode(s) can be traced to the right-hand side of the chart, where a final determination should be possible. While not intended to be an exhaustive overview of the various Greek verbal characteristics, this chart presents most of the regularly occurring ones. A downloadable PDF is also available anytime from the sidebar of this blog.

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“Deponent?” … “Defective?” … “Middle/Passive?” — “Calling a ‘horse’ a ‘horse.'”

There’s a famous older expression from another generation, even another millenium now, regarding “…calling a ‘horse’ a ‘horse,'” which basically means identifying something for what it really is. In the realm of personal character traits, this might mean simply being honest with yourself and/or others.  In the realm of language and grammatical terminology, it may have some meaning application as well.

For example, within the corpus of Greek grammatical terms, “deponent” is a term appropriately ascribed to a category of Greek verbs appearing with middle or passive endings, yet necessarily translated in the active voice. Examples:

  • ἔρχομαι — Present/Deponent/Indicative/1st person, singular = I am coming, going
  • ἤρχομην — Imperfect/Deponent/Indicative/1st person, singular = I was coming, going

Notice the “parsing” (identification of tense, voice, mode [mood], person, and number) of the above two examples of the deponent verb, ἔρχομαι. While many (if not most)  Greek “parsing” resources will list the parsing of deponent verbs as middle/passive, I have always felt it to be extremely beneficial to “call a ‘horse’ a ‘horse'” when parsing deponent verbs.  There are at least two obvious reasons:

1. It reminds the Greek student that he’s looking at a specific category of Greek verbs (Deponent).

2. It reminds the Greek student not to translate these verbs as middle or passive, since they are neither.

By “calling a ‘horse’ a ‘horse'” and identifying deponent verbs for what they really are, the Greek student will readily recognize and accurately translate these verb with an active voice translation. Remember, too, that some Greek verbs (like ἔρχομαι) may be deponent in one or more tenses or modes without being deponent in all. [Example:  ἤλθον = Aorist/Active/Indicative/1st person, singular/3rd person, plural.] Other “deponent” verbs frequently encountered include: βούλομαι (I am wishing), and πορεύομαι (I am proceeding).

“So,” you may ask, “when are these deponent verbs appropriately called defective?” (Good question.)   (more…)