Re: Fw: Sentence structure or construction!

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Thu Oct 23 1997 - 23:05:27 EDT

At 17:42 97/10/23 -0400, Rev Craig Harmon wrote:

>Brother Ward.
>In a message dated 10/20/97 7:31:59 AM, you wrote:
>>This thus gives the basic structure of a Greek clause as Conjunction,
>>Object, Verb, Subject. Each of these should be thought of, not as words,
>>but as "empty building boxes" in a particular position in the sentence
>>structure, boxes which in any given clause or sentence may or may not have
>>anything in them. Thus the subject in a particular clause may not be an
>>external subject (i.e., a separate word from the verb) but an internal
>>subject (that is, the pronoun subject at the end of the verb).
>I like your concept of building boxes which may or may not be filled. Your
>assertion, however, that the basic structure of a Greek clause is (ignoring
>the Conjunction for reasons which I'll explain below) Object, Verb, Subject
>has sent me into the text looking at clauses. This has not been my experience
>with the GNT.
>NOTE: In the following analyses I have ignored the various Conjunctions. This
>is *not* because I think that Conjunctions are of little importance, they are
>of great importance; rather, I have ignored them because I believe they are
>consistently used as Ward has represented them. My main concern here, and the
>sole purpose in my study, is to determine the order of the *other*
>constituent parts (Object, Verb, Subject) within Greek clauses.

[SNIP of Craig's detailed results]

>Clearly, because of the limited sample (1 chapter out of one book of the
>N.T.) these results can hardly be said to be conclusive. On the other hand,
>to have found *no* instance of an independent clause with the building block
>order of Object, Verb, Subject certainly makes me wonder if the conclusion
>Ward drew concerning Greek clauses (quoted at the beginning of this post)
>doesn't need to be amended somewhat. Or, at least, that a distinction needs
>to be made where *independent* clauses are concerned.
>I intend to do more research in other books. If there is any interest, I will
>periodically report my findings to the group.
>Rev. Craig R. Harmon>

Brother Craig, and fellow b-greekers.

Two general observations, first:

1. May I draw attention to my previous comments on this thread to the
effect that word order in the Greek strikes me as extremely complex, and
finding an all-embracing explanation for it is difficult. I would not
intend that my previous post be thought to be a "last word" on the problem.
As I sought to indicate in my post, my first concern was lest the thread
terminate with the proposal from Craig that basic Greek word order was
pretty well the same as English word order. That simply was not my
experience of the GNT. There is OTHER word order in the GNT, and I shared
something of my own experience in trying to come to terms with it.

2. I take my hat off to Craig for the careful and thoughtful work he has
commenced on word order. I do not know of any other detailed study of this
kind being undertaken. Craig, I hope that time and circumstances will allow
you to continue with it, and I look forward to your sharing your results
with us. It is a useful scholarly undertaking.

Now an explanation. Craig is going about his task in a systematic and
methodical way. I have come to the issue along a different route. Perhaps
the route taken will influence the destination reached? We will see, when
the evidence is all in. What happens with me is that every semester the
members of my Intermediate Greek class choose the parts of the GNT they
would like the class to read during the following semester. So we range
pretty broadly over all the kinds of writing that the GNT offers, usually
going through sections of three, four or even five different books within a
semester. I am very much aware of the problems which members of the group
from time to time have in getting a hold on the question of Greek word
order. In the group, we are so conscious so often that it simply is NOT
anything like English word order. And I have a constant awareness of how
very often we encounter the subject AFTER its verb and also how often, when
the verb has an object, this turns up IN FRONT OF the verb. Now I have not
attempted any sort of tabulation of statistics for this: I am just
recording my experience in an ongoing hands-on situation. So I tell my
students to look for a noun subject after the verb, and watch for an object
in front of the verb.

This order is not by any means always the case. Not at all. But it occurs
sufficiently often to make it helpful for my students to have it drawn to
their attention. However, if you refer to the guidelines I gave in my post,
these guidelines also tell students to check for a subject in front of the
verb, and that maybe the object is after the verb. So following these
guidelines will pick up the subject and object wherever they turn up in a
Greek sentence. What I am definitely trying to do in putting forward these
guidelines is to rid students of the assumption that you just take the
words in a Greek sentence as if their word order was the same as in
English: because it very decidedly is not.

There is scope for a lot more light to be thrown upon the issue of Greek
word order, particularly whether we can detect any kind of explanation for
why it varies so much. (I mentioned two contributing factors in my previous
post - emphasis and connectivity - but there is a great deal more to be
said in accounting for what we see.) Craig's work may be of valuable
assistance in the pursuit of this goal.

I reaffirm three things I said previously:

1. A noun subject is often found after its verb, and an object in front of
its verb (how frequently this occurs is subject to verification on the
basis of objective data, when such becomes available).

2. The basic structure of a Greek sentence consists of Conjunction,
Object/Complement, Verb, and Subject (wheresoever these may happen to be
located), and it is important for a student to be able to identify these
and rearrange them as necessary to produce the English order of
Conjunction, Subject, Verb, Direct Object/Complement, Indirect Object.
(Some further modification of the English order may then be desirable in
particular circumstances, to make it more idiomatic, but first of all
getting it into this order is a very helpful starting point for arriving at
a final translation.)

3. These grammatical units are the basic building blocks of a sentence, and
can helpfully be thought of as building boxes which may be empty or may
contain certain grammatical structures (as I set out previously); when
these "building boxes" have been identified in the Greek, rearranged into
English order as necessary, and translated, then whatever is still left in
the Greek sentence can now be brought over into the English sentence and
inserted "in the cracks" between the building boxes, taking account
initially of where that material is found in the Greek sentence, and then
where English idiom would put it in your translation.

I look forward to seeing the fruits of further work on the vexed question
of Greek word order; but I doubt that anything yet to come to light will
call in question what I have said in these three points.


Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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