Re: pronoun/antecedent agreement

From: Edgar M. Krentz (
Date: Thu Jun 06 1996 - 16:42:21 EDT

>On Thu, 6 Jun 1996 wrote:
>> > ...the subject of a finite
>> > verb is in the nominative case WHEN THERE IS AN EXPLICIT SUBJECT.
>> Why is the only true when we have an explicit subject? Why not with an
>> elliptical subject?
>Because a word can only be marked for case if it is there. If the subject
>is not explicit, there is nothing there to have case. Subject is an
>obligatory element of English clauses (as a general rule; the exceptions
>are irrelevant to my point here), but not in Greek. The verb morphology
>in Greek indicates something about the subject HAD THERE BEEN ONE,
>however, by indicating person and number. This information allows us to
>supply a subject in English translation, which English demands since we
>cannot normally have independent finite clauses without subjects. We must
>resist moving from what English requires to statements about what Greek
>does--many Greek clauses do not have explicit subjects, and the verb
>ending is NOT the subject; it indicates some of the information provided
>by an English pronoun, but that does not make it a pronoun.

I have followd this long thread with interest, frustration, sometimes
amusement, and even admiration. I finally want to add a cople of comments
to all that has been said [none of which I archived for myself].

1. English grammar and grammatical categories sometimes inhibit the
understanding of the syntax of another language. A sentence in ancient
Greek is something that makes a complete, independent statement. The verb
hUEI is a complete sentence: "He is raining." It contains an explicit
1.1 An ancient Greek might add a nominative noun, in this case ZEUS to it.
Strictly speaking, the noun "Zeus" is not the subject of the Greek
sentence, but stands in apposition to the subject already contained in the
verb. The nominative [naming case] makes clear just which "he, she, or it"
is raining.
2. Pronouns are therefore not necessary in a Greek sentence if a nominative
noun is not present. Pronouns add emphasis or precision, e.g. AUTOS or
hOUTOS when used as the "subject."
3. It is possible for a partative genitive (genitive of the whole) to
appear to be the subject of the sentence. For example, the English sentence
"One of the men spoke" in Greek could be TWN ANDRWN ELEGEN (without the
addition of TIS of some other Greek nominative case)--just as a partitive
genitive can serve as the object of a verb of sense perception.
4. An imperative verb is a complete sentence. It requires no noun to be
supplied in Greek because the suffix indicates who is to do what is urged
or commanded.
5. Similarly, a sentence can consist of a noun and predicate adjective,
e.g. hO ANER AGATHOS. It is actually incorrect linguistically to say that
one must "supply" the word ESTIN--though I suspect all of us do that at
first in teaching elementary Greek.

I repeat, some of our difficulties arise from assuming that syntactical
structures of English must be present in Greek. Just as it is wrong to
assume that the word of order of English is somehow or other naturally
correct and other languages should conform to it.

This may just muddy the waters of this discussion a bit more! ;-) Not that
that is my intention. So, *tolle, lege*--to recall Augustine's experience.
But you may be sure this is not in any way some form of divine directive or
inspired speech.


Edgar M. Krentz Tel: 312-256-0752
Professor of New Testament FAX: 312-256-0782
1100 East 55th Street Home:312-947-8105
Chicago, IL 60615

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