“Sipping” on Greek Participles

So . . . are you slipping on Greek participles when you’d rather be “sipping” on them instead? Here are some tips:

Greek Participles Defined

Participles are verbal adjectives. Being part verb, they have tense, voice and mode, while being part adjective, they also have (as do nouns and adjectives) gender, case, and number. As a result, the parsing of participles is represented through all six of these distinctions:  tense, voice, mode, gender, case, and number (e.g., λύων ‒ Present, Active, Participle, Masculine, Nominative, Singular).

Participles may be used “adjectivally” including as a substantive, when no antecedent noun is present.  In these instances, as with all adjectives, they agree in gender, case, and number with the nouns or pronouns they modify.  Used “adverbially,” participles may receive adverbial modifiers, and may take a direct object.


Participles are declined in all three genders:  masculine, feminine, and neuter. The masculine active participle is declined like the 3rd Declension masculine, lingual mute stem noun, ἄρχων.* The feminine active participle is declined like the 1st Declension feminine noun, γλῶσσα (whose nominative singular ends in α, and is not preceded by ε, ι, or ρ).  The neuter active participle is declined like 3rd Declension neuter nouns whose stems end in –ματ.

The middle and passive participle endings are declined like 2nd Declension masculines and neuters; the feminine is declined like 1st Declension feminine nouns whose nominative singular ends in . Remember Aorist Passive participles always use endings that are active in “appearance.” To get a more comprehensive “satellite view” of Greek Participles formation,  click  on each of the images, below.


In circumstantial (temporal, adverbial) clauses, the time frame of the participle in translation is related to the tense and time frame of the leading (Indicative) verb.  The Present participle is found where the action of the participle is represented as taking place at the same time as the action of the leading (Indicative) verb, regardless of when the action of the leading verb takes place.  The action of the Aorist and Perfect participles denote action that has occurred prior to the action denoted by the leading (Indicative) verb, regardless of whether the action of the leading verb is represented as occurring in the past, present, or future.  For more on translation of participles, both “Circumstantial” (temporal, adverbial) participles (i.e., those without a definite article), as well as “Articular” (adjectival) participles, see the post, “Participle = Verbal Adjective.” (Also see: Wermuth’s GREEKBOOK (pp. 68-69).

*NOTE:  It is imperative that the beginning Greek student learn the declension of the 3rd Declension noun ἀρχῶν, ὁ (ruler). From this noun Present “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…).

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The Subjunctive Mode: “Southern Greek!”

Remember, the Subjunctive mode endings (Active, Middle, and Passive) are simply Indicative endings whose thematic vowel has lengthened (e.g., -ω, -εις, -ει, -ομεν, -ετε, -ουσι become –ω, -ῃς, -ῃ, -ωμεν, -ητε, -ωσι, respectively).* Think of these Subjunctive endings as “Southern Greek,” since the sound of all the endings has a longer (Southern?) vowel sound. In Wermuth’s GREEKBOOK (p. 35), the Subjunctive mode endings are coded “S-1” (active endings) and “S-2” (middle and passive endings). “S” for Subjunctive; “S for “Southern.” Remember, too, that when you see “active” Subjunctive endings with no verb stem (i.e., ὦ, ᾖς, ᾖ, ὦμεν, ἦτε, ὦσι[ν]), you’re looking at the Present Active Subjunctive of the verb εἰμί.

In the Subjunctive mode, the “circumflex” accent that occurs over the thematic vowel of the verb endings in the Aorist passive voice is the result of a collision of the stem’s ending vowel (η-) and the thematic vowel of the endings (–ω, -ῃς, -ῃ, -ωμεν, -ητε, -ωσι). Therefore: λυθῶ…λυθῇςetc. Think of it as a car accident resulting in a “fender bender” (what the circumflex accent looks like. See also: “Signal Flags” for verbal forms chart, p. 45 in the GREEKBOOK). So, when observing either a -θῆ- or a -θῶ- (-φῆ- or -φῶ-, etc.) toward the end of a verbal form, you always are looking at an Aorist Passive Subjunctive. (For other “Signal Flags for Verbal Forms,” see p. 45 in the GREEKBOOK.)

When attempting to translate a Subjunctive mode clause, always remember that you must identify what use of the Subjunctive is in play. For example, is it an exhortation (1st person plural Subjunctive verb form = “We should…”)? Or, is it a clause with ἵνα ( = “in order that, so that, that”)? Or maybe the clause ends with a Greek question mark ( ; ), indicating the presence of a 1st person singular or plural Subjunctive verb form and a question of doubt as to what the speaker(s) should say or do. (For a concise listing and explanation of all the “Uses of the Subjunctive” mode, see pages 36-39 in the GREEKBOOK).

A cultural distinction seems important when translating the Subjunctive mode verb form that occurs in the 1st person plural. The use of the Subjunctive here is the exhortation, which many (if not most) grammars and bible translations render with “Let us…” While this is perfectly legitimate under Greek grammatical rules, culturally it seems weak, since we often use the contraction “Let’s…” in everyday speech when we are simply hoping that something will occur. In this regard, it seems much more preferable (and therefore I teach my students) to render this use of the Subjunctive with a culturally stronger, clearer “We should…” Now, read (and hear) the difference contrasted with the following short verse from 1 John 4:7:

“Let us love one another.”

ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλων =                   [or]

“We should love one another.” (Culturally stronger)

* NOTE: With regard to the Greek diphthong ει,” it seems preferable and wise to pronounce it phonetically the same as the identical diphthong in the English word “height,” as opposed to the phonetic sound in the English word “freight.” This is because the “ει” diphthong occurs within the 2nd and 3rdpersons of “active voice” verb endings of the Indicative mode (-ει,  -εις), later “lengthening” to when used in the same persons in the Subjunctive mode (-ῃ,-ῃς). Since the phonetic sound of is the same as the diphthong in “freight,” it tends to confuse the usage of these separately occurring endings (“ει” in the Indicative; “ῃ” in the Subjunctive, also “middle/passive voice” Indicative 2nd sing.) if pronounced identically.

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“Getting Prepped” — Directional-Positional Greek Prepositions

While there are quite a few more Greek prepositions than these, the visual below concentrates on the ones having directional or positional functions. Many English words are also derived from these particular Greek prepositions, including apostasy, catacomb, diameter, enshrine and envelope, epidermis, exodus, hypercritical, hypodermic, parallel, and perimeter.

For a downloadable PDF of the above diagram, click here.  The same is also available at any time from the sidebar.

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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.

Go to: Wermuth’s GREEKBOOK.com

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