Re: Greek Word Order

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Fri Mar 07 1997 - 07:22:57 EST

A few weeks back there was a lively discussion in progress on the list,
about Greek word order. It had reached the point of raising the issue as to
the difference made to word order by whether some part of a sentence was
"marked" or not, that is, the use of a changed word order to show emphasis.
Comments were being addressed to, What then is the "unmarked order", to
which such changes are being made?

Then the discussion died out without, it seemed to me, reaching any
signicant conclusions.

I have been approaching the question of word order from another direction,
that of how to teach beginning students something in this field which will
help them get a handle on a Greek sentence. When I look at the actual order
which words follow in a typical Greek sentence, leaving aside for the moment
whether they are "marked" or "unmarked", I reach a different conclusion from
that of those of you who have contributed so far to this thread.

I find that there are four major "building blocks" in the construction of a
Greek clause or sentence: Conjunction, Direct Object or Complement, Verb,
and Subject, and that this is the order in which they typically occur. (Some
Greek Grammars describe as a "predicative nominative" what I have called
here the "complement".)

In fine tuning this: (a) if the conjunction is one of those which cannot
come first in a clause or sentence, then it comes in second, third, or (very
occasionally) fourth position; (b) if the direct object, complement, or
subject is a pronoun rather than a noun, it may very well not occur in the
order stated above, but can be found almost anywhere; (c) if the subject is
a noun which has already occurred in the previous clause, then (especially
in John) it is more likely to be found towards the beginning of the
sentence; (d) numerous sentences exist which have three or even only two of
these four "building blocks" - but generally what does occur in the sentence
will be found in this order.

These building blocks are not solid, but rather are like boxes into which we
put all the words which belong together, i.e. (to use the technical term),
which "collocate". Thus the article and an adjective goes with its noun; a
genitive pronoun is taken in the same box as the noun to which it refers
(and which, apart from factors of emphasis, it normally follows). A negative
is taken with the verb it negates.

The first rule of translation, then, is to identify these "building blocks"
in a Greek sentence, and rearrange them into the right order for English:
Conjunction, subject, verb, direct object or complement. Even if in a
particular Greek sentence they are not found in the order given above, you
should locate and identify them first, and use them as the framework of your
English sentence.

Then, pick up the "extras" in the Greek sentence, such as adverbs, indirect
object, prepositional phrases, etc., which will be found in the "cracks"
between the main building blocks, and insert these now into the framework of
your English sentence. Initially, try them in the same position (as far as
possible) that they occupy in the Greek sentence. Be ready to shift them,
though, to another "crack" between the building blocks of your English
sentence, which may then read better. You do not, however, normally "jump" a
unit over a piece of major punctuation when constructing your English
sentence. (Yes, I know that the punctuation was added by later editors, but
it is for the most part a pretty reliable guide as to the units of a Greek
sentence which should be translated separately.)

Many Greek students find it difficult to handle the difference between Greek
word order and English. Pragmatically, I find this approach works very well.
I contend that, while this word order in Greek is very far from being an
iron-clad rule, as numerous exceptions exist, nonetheless when a sentence in
Greek is not following the same order as does an English sentence, this word
order is sufficiently common that a beginning student should check it out
next and see whether in fact it does not open up the right approach to
understanding the clause or sentence being examined.

Try it and see!

Ward Powers

Rev Dr B. Ward Powers			Email:
10 Grosvenor Crescent			International Tel: +61-2-9799-7501
SUMMER HILL  NSW  2130			Australian Tel:     (02) 9799-7501

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