The Classification of Words and Other Elements

010.1 The classification of words and other elements must be based on structural, i.e. grammatical, features. Meaning-based classification is not very helpful for two reasons: a) definitions of parts of speech based on meaning tend to be ambiguous; b) such definitions do not conform to the grammatical features of a language (Gleason: 115ff.; Fries: 65-86, 87f., 202ff.). If classification is derived from structure, however, there are two sets of criteria which may be used, and these do not always coincide: 1) One set of criteria may be derived from the words themselves, i.e. from morphological criteria; 2) Another may be derived from the ways a word may be used in a sentence. The ideal would be to achieve a classification that would integrate these two sets as fully as possible.

010.2 Classification by definition may not be feasible in any case. It is difficult to achieve definitions that account for all the phenomena. One may circumvent definition by making use of a set of characteristics that circumscribes a category or class of words (the method of C. C. Fries). In the case of extremely small classes, like negatives, personal pronouns, and the like, one may classify by listing all, or nearly all, the examples. In the case of large classes, one may classify by comparison, i.e. by inquiring, presumably of someone with native response, whether a certain item belongs to one class or another. Native users of a language undoubtedly learn to classify words in just this way. Such a method would only approximate the requirements of a grammar, but it may well have considerable pedagogical value (Gleason: 118ff.).

011.1 Words and other elements in Greek have been customarily classified in relation to traditional "parts of speech," e.g. noun, adjective, verb, etc. One of the respects in which this grammar remains conventional is in its use of "parts of speech." The road to a purely descriptive analysis of the "parts of speech" in Greek appears to be long. Yet some preliminary steps can be taken in that direction. While conventional terminology is retained, some significant modifications have been introduced. It is therefore necessary to state at the outset what is meant by "parts of speech," to indicate how the labels are used in this grammar. It is also necessary to stipulate that there are points at which strict usage breaks down; this failure poses problems for the theoretician, but it does not constitute a major impediment for the beginner, nor, for that matter, for the first stages of descriptive analysis.

011.2 The "parts of speech" as employed in this grammar are based in the first instance on purely morphological considerations. The basic groups are distinguished by means of criteria relative to an inflectional system. This procedure yields three fundamental divisions:

  1. Words belonging to the nominal system
  2. Words belonging to the verbal system
  3. Words fixed in form, i.e. uninflected

The breakdown of these larger categories has proceeded, moreover, along morphological lines, insofar as possible. Certain inflectional patterns are readily isolable within the first and second categories, while other subgroups are more or less arbitrary. In division III, it will be necessary to invoke other than morphological criteria. As a consequence, "parts of speech" refer first of all to morphological distinctions, and secondly to grammatical distinctions. It will be necessary finally to integrate these two sets of data (§010.1).

Where, for example, the term "noun" is used, it is to be understood as denoting a word that belongs to a particular inflectional system, in this case the nominal system. "Adjectives" and "pronouns" also belong to the nominal system, but they can be distinguished from each other and from nouns on purely morphological grounds. That is not to say that each is distinguishable in a given sentence on this basis; distinctions depend upon referring specific items to the inflectional system as a whole.

"Parts of speech" are particularly useful, as a consequence, in helping the student to come to terms with the morphological aspects of the language. This aspect constitutes a serious hurdle for most beginners. Once the inflectional systems and patterns have been grasped, it is then possible to employ "parts of speech" in grammatical descriptions. For example, to say that a "noun" characteristically appears as the head term in word clusters occurring as the "subject" in sentences, is to say that a word belonging to a certain inflectional system and pattern commonly occurs as the head term in such clusters. It is not to say that "nouns" are normally "subjects," or that "nouns" are the names of persons, places, or things.

011.3 Even so, the lines among these major divisions and among the subdivisions are by no means entirely clear. There is a certain amount of duplication and many areas of gray. It will be helpful, consequently, to set out the categories and define them as closely as possible, while maintaining a certain reservation with respect to their precision.

I. Words Belonging to the Nominal System

012.1Nouns. Formally, nouns have one gender (though they may be used in more than one gender, or fluctuate in gender), and are inflected for four cases, and normally two numbers (singular and plural). A noun is a word that belongs to one of three declensions presented in §§130-203. Unfortunately, there is a group of so-called nouns that are only partially declined or indeclinable (consisting largely of foreign proper names taken into Greek). Here we fall back, in part, on the traditional definition of a noun: these words are taken to be nouns because they are "like" Greek nouns, i.e. they name something. But they are "like" nouns in a more important respect: they occur in those structures in which nouns appear.

012.2Pronouns. While pronouns also belong to the nominal system, they are restricted in person and/or number and/or gender and/or case. As a consequence, they manifest declension patterns that are comparable to those of adjectives, only restricted (§§256-2580).

012.3Adjectives. Adjectives differ formally from nouns in that they are inflected for three genders (masculine and feminine may be identical in form) rather than one. This makes it possible for the relation of adjective as "modifier" to any noun as head term to be signaled by agreement in gender, number and case. In other respects adjectives follow the inflectional patterns of nouns (§§220-2451).

012.4Pronominal adjectives. Pronominal adjectives are declined like adjectives, but appear exclusively or also in structures in which adjectives do not appear. Since this group belongs morphologically with adjectives, its isolation depends entirely on syntactical criteria (§§259-274).

II. Words Belonging to the Verbal System

013.1Verbs. Finite verbs are formally distinguished by personal endings. They are also marked by morphological variables that specify tense, mood, voice. They have tense and voice in common with infinitives and participles, but not mood and personal endings, which the latter lack. Verbs follow the inflectional patterns treated in §§300-496.

013.2Infinitives. The infinitive is a "verbal noun" in a fixed case, yet it exhibits "tense" (§§0309ff.) and voice like finite verbs (§§464-4662).

013.3Participles. The participle is a "verbal adjective." It is declined like an adjective, yet it also manifests the morphological markers of "tense" (§§0309ff.) and voice like finite verbs (§§246-250; 0467-469). Though participles must be considered under both the nominal and the verbal systems, for convenience they are listed here only under the verbal system.

013.4The assumption here, as in the case of the nominal system, is that words belonging to these groups can be identified formally, on morphological grounds, without recourse to function in the sentence or lexical meaning. The sole exception thus far is pronominal adjectives (§012.4), which belong formally to the category of adjectives.

III. Words Fixed in Form (Uninflected)

014.1 Words fixed in form are sometimes collected together under the general rubric of "adverbs" or "particles." Distinctions cannot easily be made on a formal basis. Yet there are some natural groups which can be isolated on the basis of form in combination with the structures in which they characteristically appear.

014.2Adverbs. The adverb is characterized by a fixed case form (often obscured) and/or certain suffixes (also fixed in form). Some adverbs are also subject to comparison (positive, comparative, superlative), in which case they are not, strictly speaking, uninflected. The adverb is further distinguishable from the preposition (to which it is closely related) in that the adverb does not "govern a case."

014.3Prepositions. The preposition is an adverb which has come to "govern a case," i.e. it is used with a case that is thought to depend upon the preposition. Prepositions are conventionally divided into "proper" and "improper" prepositions, depending upon whether or not they can also be joined with a verb to form a compound word. The proper preposition can be so employed, the "improper" preposition cannot.

014.4Particles. The remaining words fixed in form may be termed particles for want of a better term. Particles include negatives, sequence words (conjunctions, sentence connectors, subordinators), modalizers and nuance words.

014.5 It is obvious that the breakdown of division III depends more on grammatical than on morphological criteria. Subdivisions will therefore require justification in the syntax (Part III).