Lesson 44: Function Words/Subordinators


640. The subject of subordinators and subordination cannot be taken up without going beyond the simple sentence and thus raising all the grammatical questions involved in subordination. These questions are too complex to be presented and digested in brief compass. Nevertheless, one cannot read any Greek text for very long without meeting some form of subordination. It is therefore necessary to broach the subject generally and to introduce certain exceedingly common forms of subordination at the gross level of grammar. Subordinators like ἵνα, ὅτι, ὅς play too vital and too pervasive a role in Greek to be ignored beyond the most elementary stage.

641. Language without subordination would be dreary reading indeed. We might take as an example,

You seek to kill me. I have spoken the truth to you.
Ι heard the truth from God.

To produce a less staccato style, the second sentence can quite easily be subordinated to the first, and the third to the second, as in Jn 8:40:

νῦν δὲ ζητεῖτέ με ἀποκτεῖναι,
ἄνθρωπον ὅς τὴν ἀλήθειαν ὑμῖν λελάληκα
ἣν ἤκουσα παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ
Jn 8:40
But now you seek to kill me,
a man who has spoken the truth to you
which I heard from God

The means by which subordination is accomplished in these instances are the two relative pronouns ὅς and ἥν.

As another example, the two sentences

No one arrested him. His hour had not yet come.

can be joined, the second subordinated to the first, as in Jn 8:20.

(2) καὶ οὐδείς ἐπίασεν αὐτόν,
ὅτι οὔπω ἐληλύθει ἡ ὥρα αὐτοῦ
Jn 8:20
And no one arrested him,
because his hour had not yet come

In this instance ὅτι is the means by which the second sentence is subordinated to the first.

Subordination is one means of lending variety to language and thus rendering style more interesting. The two examples given above are taken from a text not particularly rich in stylistic variation, but they represent common forms that appear over and over again in texts of any length. Subordination, like other aspects of structure, are repetitious when isolated. It is the infinite possibility of combination that gives language its potential for variety.

642. Subordinators are the means by which one sentence is inserted into or subordinated to another. The sentence

(1) τὴν ἀλήθειαν ὑμῖν λελάληκα
ἥν ἤκουσα παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ

may be thought of as deriving from two simple sentences:

(1a) τὴν ἀλήθειαν ὑμῖν λελάληκα
(1b) τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἤκουσα παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ

What these sentences have in common is the direct object τὴν ἀλήθειαν. The second may be transformed into a subordinate relative clause by replacing the direct object with a relative pronoun in the appropriate (accusative) case:

τὴν ἀλήθειαν -> ἥν

This form of subordination is one of two broad types involving subordinators, namely that form in which the subordinator has a grammatical function of its own in the subordinated or inserted sentence. ἥν functions in this instance as the direct object of ἤκουσα. All relative pronouns (listed in §§270ff.) are subordinators of this type.

The second broad type of subordination involves subordinators that merely connect, i.e. that do not have a grammatical function of their own in the clause. Example (2) is of this second type: ὅτι can be bracketed out, leaving a complete sentence:

καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐπίασεν αὐτόν, ὅτι οὔπω ἐληλύθει ἡ ὥρα αὐτοῦ

There is also a form of subordination that does not require a subordinator at all:

(3) εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοὶς Ἐγὼ ὑπάγω Jn 8:21
Then he said to them, "I go away."

ἐγὼ ὑπάγω is a quoted sentence inserted into the larger structure as an object clause (a clause that is the object of the verb εἶπεν), but without benefit of a subordinator.

These, then, are the three general categories of subordination.

643.1 Subordinated sentences or subordinate clauses, as they are traditionally called, may modify a constituent element in a sentence, e.g.

(4) καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία ἥν ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ' αὐτοῦ 1 Jn 1:5
And this is the message that we heard from him

In (4) the relative clause introduced by ἥν modifies the predicate nominative of an S-II, ἡ ἀγγελία. As another example, in (5) the relative clause introduced by α modifies the direct object, ταῦτα τὰ σημεῖα, in an S-III:

(5) οὐδείς γὰρ δύναται ταῦτα τὰ σημεῖα ποιεῖν
ἃ σὺ ποιεῖς
Jn 3:2
For no one can do these signs that you do

In (4) and (5) the relative subordinator has an antecedent in the main clause to which it refers: message <- which; signs <- that. For this reason the relative subordinate clause is said to modify that antecedent.

643.2 In Greek it is not necessary that a relative subordinator have an expressed antecedent. In cases where an antecedent is not expressed, the relative clause may itself serve as the constituent element in the sentence (rather than modify one). For example, a relative clause may appear as subject:

(6) καὶ ὃς οὐ λαμβάνει τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ
καὶ ἀκολουθεῖ ὀπίσω μου
οὐκ ἔστιν μου ἄξιος
Mt 10:38
And [he] who does not take his cross and follow
me is not worthy of me

The relative clause introduced by ὅς is the subject of the main verb ἔστιν. English usage requires that an antecedent be supplied where it is missing in Greek (he in the translation).

Similarly a relative clause may serve as the direct object:

(7) ἀπαγγείλατε Ἰωάννῃ ἃ ἀκούετε καὶ βλέπετε Mt 11:4
Tell John what you hear and see

Or, if we reproduce the relative pronoun in English, we must supply the antecedent:

Tell John the things [that] you hear and see

In English the relative that may be omitted but not the antecedent.

643.3 In addition to modifying constituent elements in sentences or serving as constituent elements, subordinate clauses may sustain a more or less loose relation to the main clause as a whole. In this relation subordinate clauses generally function as adverbials.

(8) καὶ ἐὰν κρίνω δὲ ἐγώ
ἡ κρίσις ἡ ἐμὴ ἀληθινή ἐστιν
Jn 8:16
let even if I do judge,
my judgment is true
(9) ὅτε οὖν ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν
ἐδέξαντο αὐτὸν οἱ Γαλιλαῖοι
Jn 4:45
So when he came to Galilee,
the Galileans welcomed him

The subordinate clauses in (8) and (9) are introduced by καὶ ἐάν even if, and ὅτε when, respectively. Subordinate adverbial clauses of this type exhibit a wide range and great variety.

644. The grammar of subordinate clauses may be ordered in a variety of ways. Some traditional grammars divide subordinate clauses into three groups: (1) those which function as a constituent element in the larger sentence (called nominal or substantive clause); (2) those which modify a nominal element in the larger sentence (adjective clause); and (3) those which function as an adverbial (adverbial clause). This three-fold division was the basis of the discussion in §643. Other grammars treat the internal structure of the subordinate clause, i.e. whether and how its internal structure (mood, tense, word order, etc.) is affected by subordination and/or subordinator (cf. §642). Still other grammars employ subordinating words as the index to subordinate clauses.

Some grammars combine or mix the categories, with a certain amount of confusion as the result.

An exhaustive treatment of subordinate clauses would, of course, require a full treatment of all aspects of the subordinate clause. For the purposes of this grammar, however, it is sufficient to concentrate on certain aspects. These aspects are arranged in the order of ascending complexity:

644.1 Subordinate clauses will be treated, first of all, from the standpoint of the syntax of some very common subordinators, in relation to the role the subordinate clauses introduced by them play in the larger sentence (subordinators as function words).

644.2 The internal structure of the subordinate clause will be examined in relation to other analogous constructions not qualifying as subordinate clauses (transformations).