Re: What is a Greek Sentence?

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Wed Jun 04 1997 - 01:00:54 EDT

At 10:33 AM +0000 6/3/97, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>Can anyone provide a rigorous definition of a Koine Greek sentence
>exclusively in terms
>of syntax? I am specifically looking for a definition that contrasts a
>sentence to a clause
>in terms of syntax.
>Assume that you are reading a long span of text without punctuation, and
>you are looking
>for discourse markers at the sentence and clause level. What syntactical
>indicators mark
>a Greek sentence and how is it distinguished from a Greek clause?

This is a question which is not easily answered. Even for linguists, a
precise definition of the sentence (in any language) is elusive. For the
purposes you state, however, something along the following lines might be

Part One:
A hellenistic Greek sentence is a set of interrelated clauses. This set may
have only one member, or many. One or more of the member clauses may be
eliptical if the discourse context provides the necessary constituents to
complete them. A sentence which contains only one clause may also be
eliptical if the same condition is met.

Part Two:
"Interrelated" in Part One must be understood in a tightly constrained way.
The clauses must be interconnected either 1) by the use of complementizers
(such as OTI) or conjunctions (such as KAI, DE, and hINA), or 2) by some of
the member clauses taking a non-finite form (infinitives or participles) as
modifiers of, or constituents of another clause. Of course, both of these
strategies may be used in the same sentence. (Given the regular use of
asyndeton in the NT, you might also want to allow for a null conjunction,
allowing adjoining clauses with strong thematic overlap to constitute a
single sentence even if no complementizer, conjunction, or non-finite verb
form is present. This position is somewhat debateable, though. Why not just
call these 'closely related sentences' rather than trying to make them
asyndetic clauses of the same sentence?)

Well, this is a rough-and-ready definition which will almost certainly
prove inadequate in some texts, but it works for the vast majority.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

Visit the Greek Language and Linguistics Gateway at

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:18 EDT