Attraction or Assimilation?, was Re: hWN in Acts 1:1

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 31 Oct 1996 06:13:06 -0600

Yet once more, o ye Muses, let us sing
of subtleties grammatick, words with wing
wherewith to hWN the dulling blade of wit
and probe the mysteries of Holy Writ:
it scarce were fitting just to sit and sigh
and cry "Enough! At last the sleeping dog let lie!"
Nay, we must ponder whether hWN may stand
as clausal subject in Luke's stylish hand:
Attractive as the notion is to some,
yet others doubt and turn down niggling thumb.

At 4:01 PM -0600 10/30/96, Randy Leedy wrote:
>The one point that bugs me about Carl's last (I think) post is
>something that came up a number of months ago: he refers in passing
>to the idea that a relative pronoun can be attracted from the
>nominative to an oblique case. To discuss this point is to veer off
>on a tangent, but I'd like to do it and see what kind of responses it
>generates. For one thing, the very thought of such a sentence gives
>me the heebie jeebies. If this is possible, then I'm going to have to
>admit that I don't come even close to thinking in Greek. (And I was
>hoping that perhaps I WAS coming close, because in a Windows program
>menu listing both LOGOS and WORD I was forever choosing the wrong one
>until I finally realized what was happening and renamed WORD so that
>it reads MS WORD!)
>The following simple sentence illustrates my point. THN BASILEIAN
>(God gave the kingom to His Son, Who died for our sins.) Here the
>relative functioning as subject (which would therefore ordinarily be
>nominative) has been attracted to the dative, in order to agree with
>its antecedent. The effect of this sentence on my grammatical
>sensibilities is similar to the effect on my ears of fingernails
>dragged across a chalkboard.
>I've checked Goodwin's Classical grammar, and he says nothing about
>attraction from the nominative, and I've seen no suggestion of such a
>phenomenon in either NT grammars or the NT itself. As I've always
>understood attraction, both direct and indirect, it can happen only
>when both cases involved are oblique (i.e., not nominative or
>vocative). Can anyone cite an actual instance of attraction involving
>both an oblique and a non-oblique case?

Stephen Carlson has already responded (and, I may add, with his usual
exhaustive and precise detailed citation of chapter and verse--which is to
say, perhaps in the language of attorneys engaged in the _crosstalk_ of
lengthy Auseinandersetzung, irrefutably but probably not without rebuttal)
to the question above raised regarding Goodwin's failure to deal with
atraction from the nominative. I just wanted to cite in this regard one of
the sentences from the list which Carlton Winbery gave us early in this
discussion of hWN in Acts 1:1 where the relative pronoun DOES appear to be
"attracted" into the case of the antecedent, even though it should, within
its own clause, properly be a nominative:


Although it might (conceivably, at least) be argued that hWN in the
subordinate clause here serves the function of object of POIHSAI (it will
certainly have to be understood as elliptically serving that function
anyway), surely this hWN must serve in the first place as the subject of

I might add that, if Luke, whom many consider to be the best prose stylist
among NT writers of Greek, was following a standard of usage exemplified as
early as four centuries previous by the historian Thucydides, that
scintilla of evidence might add a tiny bit of weight to the theory that
Luke in the proem of his gospel was also following a standard of
historiographical practice conforming pretty much to that of Thucydides and
his successors. Of course, I readily grant that there will be those who,
not content that this argument is irrefutable, will proceed to rebut it. My
thanks to Stephen Carlson for his indefatigable research in the archives of
Greek grammar.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR