Lesson 7: Nouns/The First Declension


130. For purely formal reasons the Greek system of nouns is divided into three categories. The major division is between vowel and consonant stems, i.e. between stems ending in a vowel and consonant respectively. A stem is what remains when the inflectional suffix is removed, e.g. ἀρχῆ-ς: ἀρχῆ- stem, -ς‚ inflectional ending. The first and second declensions are made up of vowel stems; the third declension is the consonant declension. While the vowel stems appear to behave with greater regularity, the consonant declension is just as consistent, except that one has to reckon with certain phonetic changes occasioned by attaching inflectional endings to stems ending in a consonant.

1300. The article serves as the model for both the first and second declensions.

I. First Declension: stems in -α, -ᾶ, -η, -ας, -ης

131.1 Nouns of the first declension are predominantly feminine (indicated by ἡ), with some masculines (indicated by ὁ). There are no neuters (τό).

131.2 The inflectional pattern of these nouns will, of course, follow the feminine of the article: ἡ, τῆς, τῇ, τήν; αἱ, τῶν, ταῖς, τάς.

131.3 There are two minor variations which prompt the division of the first declension into three types of declension pattern. The first has to do with the final vowel of the stem, i.e. whether it is α or η, and whether it appears consistently or not. For purposes of identification in a written text the student may ignore the α/η shift (think of η as another form of α) and concentrate on the endings, which are consistent. The second variation concerns a few masculines of this declension which have nom. and gen. sing, endings borrowed from the second declension. These variations never concern the plural.

132. The three major declension patterns are:

132.1 Consistent α or η in singular (I.1)

  ἡμέρα, -ας, day   φωνή, -ῆς, ἡ, sound, voice
      S      P       S      P
N       ἡμέρα ἡμέραι   φωνή φωναί
G       ἡμέρας ἡμερῶν   φωνῆς φωνῶν
D       ἡμέρᾳ ἡμέραις   φωνῇ φωναῖς
A       ἡμέραν ἡμέρας   φωνήν φωνάς

132.2 α/ν shift in singular (α in nom. and acc., η in gen. and dat.) (1.2) δόξα, -ης, ἡ glory

N        δόξα δόξαι
G       δόξης δοξῶν
D       δόξ δόξαις
A       δόξαν δόξας

Note: The variation concerns only the singular, and occasions no difficulty for identification.

132.3 Masculines in -ας, -ης, genitive -ου (1.3)

  μεσσίας, -ου, ὁ, messiah (christ)   προφήτης, -ου, ὁ, prophet
       S      P         S       P
N       μεσσίας μεσσίαι   προφήτης προφῆται
G       μεσσίου μεσσιῶν   προφήτου προφητῶν
D       μεσσίᾳ μεσσίαις   προφήτῃ προφήταις
A       μεσσίαν μεσσίας   προφήτην προφήτας

1320. Mnemonic hints:

1320.1 Nouns of the first declension follow the feminine article except for 1) the interchange of α/η in the singular of a few nouns, and 2) the nom. and gen. singular of the masculines (-ας/-ης and -ου).

1320.2 The nom. sing, (-ς) and gen. sing, (-ου) of the masculines are borrowed from the second declension (cf. The article): the gen. -ου became necessary to distinguish gen. from nom. once -ς had been added to the nom. (i.e. the pattern would have been -ας, -ας). -ς and -ου have the additional virtue of indicating that these nouns, which belong to a predominantly feminine declension, are masculine.

1320.3 Masculines in -ας/-ης‚, -ου have α or η, respectively, throughout the singular (excluding the genitive, of course), i.e. nouns of this class are not subject to the α/η shift in the middle cases. However, nouns in -της (e.g. προφήτης, -ου, ὁ) have a vocative sing, in -ᾰ: προφῆτα (§205.3).

1320.4 In feminine nouns with consistent a in the singular, the gen. sing, and acc. plural are identical in form. In masculine nouns with α in the singular, the nom. sing, and acc. plural are identical in form.

1321. Additional notes:

1321.1 Regarding the α/η shift in the singular, the following rules are helpful (necessary only to inflect nouns of this type; identification is not complicated by the shift): 1) -η in the nom. sing., keep -η throughout the singular; 2) -α in the nom. sing., keep -α throughout the singular after ε, ι, ρ, elsewhere shift to -η in gen. and dat. (a few nouns in -ρα make the shift, however, e.g. μάχαιρα, -ης, ἡ sword).

1321.2 The accent of all nouns is persistent, i.e. remains on the same syllable throughout if the rules governing accent permit (in verbs the accent is recessive, i.e. falls back on the word as far as it can). The accent of nouns must be learned from a dictionary.

1321.3 The genitive plural of first declension nouns is always accented -ῶν (< -άων).

133.1 A third minor variation necessitates a fourth subdivision of the first declension. This variation, too, concerns only the nom. and gen. sing. (nom. sing, in -ας/-ης, gen. in -α/-η). Nouns of this category are infrequent (38 nouns of this type appear in the New Testament), consisting largely of proper names.

133.2 Masculines in -ας/-ης, gen. -α/-η (1.4)

  σατανᾶς, -ᾶ, ὁ Satan
N        σατανᾶς
G        σατανᾶ
D        σατανᾷ
A        σατανᾶν

133.3 The plural does not come into consideration. In this pattern -ς has been added to the nom. sing., and the -ς is accordingly dropped from the gen. sing. These nouns have α or η consistently in the singular.

134. Summary. If the variation between α/η is ignored, all nouns of the first declension follow the declension pattern of the feminine article, except the masculines (1.3 and 1.4) in nom. and gen. sing.: here is found -ας or -ης (both groups) in the nom., and -ου (1.3) or -α (1.4) in the gen. By learning the declension of the feminine article and the two (or three) variations thereon, one has learned the inflectional variations in all first declension nouns. This amounts to 1053 nouns in the New Testament vocabulary, or over a third of all inflected nouns found in the New Testament (see Appendix II).

1340. The catalogue of first declension nouns in Appendix II is organized in accordance with the three (four) groups given above. Of the 1053 first declension nouns appearing in the New Testament, the vast majority, 784, belong to group I.I (111 appear ten times or more). The second largest group is 1.3 (189, of which 17 appear ten times or more). 1.2 is represented by 42 nouns, and 1.4 by 38.

The catalogue may be used for reference when practicing noun identification.

1341. A catalogue of first declension nouns appearing in John 8:12-59 follows. Nouns belonging to 1.4 are not represented in this passage. The nouns are listed in the order of their appearance. Those marked with an asterisk (*) appear in the New Testament more than 100 times. This catalogue may also be used as a vocabulary list.

I.1. Consistent α or η in the singular

  σκοτία, -ας, ἡ darkness, gloom
* ζωή, -ῆς, ἡ life
  μαρτυρία, -ας, ἡ testimony [cf. martyr]
* ὧρα, -ας, ἡ time of day, hour [cf. horoscope]
* ἁμαρτία, -ας, ἡ sin
  ἀρχή, -ῆς, ἡ beginning; ruler, authority [cf. archaic]
* ἀλήθεια, -ας, ἡ truth
* οἰκία, -ας, ἡ house; household
* πορνεία, -ας, ἡ prostitution, unchastity
* λαλιά, -ᾶς, ἡ speech, speaking
* ἐπιθυμία, -ας, ἡ desire
* ἡμέρα, -ας, ἡ day [cf. ephemeral: ἐφ’ (for) ἡμέραν day)]

I.2 α/η shift in singular

* δόξα, -ης, ἡ glory [cf. doxology]

I.3 Masculines in -ας/-ης, gen. -ου

* μαθητής, -οῦ, ἡ disciple
  ψεύστης, -ου, ὁ liar
  Σαμαρίτης, -ου, ὁ Samaritan
* προφήτης, -ου, ὁ prophet [prophet]