RE: What is a Greek Sentence?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Jun 04 1997 - 12:38:07 EDT

At 4:39 AM -0400 6/4/97, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>Micheal Palmer Wrote:
> A sentence
>which contains only one clause may also be elliptical if the same
>condition is met.

>I am not sure what *elliptical* means here? Is it the same as thing as being
>self referencing or recursive? I don't think this is what it means.

I think what Micheal means, Clayton, by "elliptical"is that understood
elements may be left unexpressed, as often happens, for instance, when the
subject or verb or a qualifying prepositional phrase is omitted from a DE
clause because it was clearly stated in the MEN clause and is understood as
implied here also. I guess that's what you mean by "self-referencing."
We've a curious phenomenon here: some of us (I should speak for myself
only, I guess, have trouble understanding your structural linguistic
terminology, with which I am not very familiar, while you are not familiar
with some of this traditional terminology that we've used in standard
instruction in Greek grammar for years. Somehow we've got to get your wing
of the Tower of Babel and our wing connected! ;-)

>My personal hunch before asking this question was that the concept
>*sentence* is not
>strictly a category of syntax in NT Greek. That to look for a *sentence*
>in terms of Greek
>syntax alone is going to be difficult. My hunch was that a Greek clause
>may be definable in
>terms of syntax alone but identifying a Greek sentence requires semantic
>information as
>well as syntactical information. Or perhaps this saying too much for even
>for clauses?
>Perhaps a clause cannot be defined strictly in terms of syntax.
>What do you thing about this?

This gives me an opportunity to piggyback onto my earlier response, which I
don't think you had yet seen, Clayton, when you wrote this response to

(1) Bearded Bill (politely off-list but quite correctly) warned me against
ever saying "the Greek word for 'x' is 'y.' This because I had said that
the Greek word for 'sentence' was 'PERIODOS.' Actually I think Aristotle
uses the word once or twice in his Rhetoric for "well-rounded sentence,"
but I don't think it's ever the regular word for 'sentence' in the Greek
grammarians. Nevertheless it's the idea that governed Cicero's
understanding of proper rhetorical construction of a sentence. Which leads
to the second main point I would suggest here:

(2) I think, Clayton, that you've hit precisely upon a significant factor
regarding your question: identifying a Greek sentence may not be a matter
strictly of syntax nor strictly of semantics, unless you define rhetorical
style as a distinct semantic element. I really think that a Greek sentence
in the simplest sense may be the simple conjunction of a subject and a
predicate, whether those elements be substantive and verb, as

        AGAPAi hO QEOS

or substantive and predicate word, as

        AGAPH hO QEOS

where even the copulative ESTI(N) is unnecessary.

But if, as I argued in my earlier post, the real unit of Greek discourse is
the PARAGRAPH, not the SENTENCE (in our modern English sense), then the
sentence should be defined in terms of Rhetoric rather than of syntax or
semantics. And IMHO this is what makes it much more difficult to determine
sentence-boundaries in those NT writers who have not learned their Greek in
an institution where standard rhetorical usage was part of the teaching of

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243

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