Re: The article for abstract nouns

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Mon Jan 05 1998 - 20:33:19 EST

At 07:47 PM 1/5/98 EST, Paul S. Dixon wrote:
>Well, you certainly get no argument here. But, hardly anybody
>I know of these days is arguing that QEOS in Jn 1:1c is definite.
>Colwell and others subsequently did argue that, but their
>argumentation was logically fallacious. Most NT scholars today
>seem to be taking QEOS in 1:1c qualitatively, and rightly so. The
>anarthrous precopulative predicate nominative in John is almost
>always qualitative.
Paul, you are certainly better informed on this than I am - after all, you
wrote a thesis which has been quoted in Wallace's popular intermediate
grammar, and seems to have influenced the treatment in Mounce's popular
elementary grammar. In fact, I think it is fair to say that your thesis has
been very influential in pushing the qualitative interpretation in these
kinds of constructions.

I don't think that I agree that "hardly anybody" would argue that John 1:1c
is definite these days; in private email, I have found that several
scholars I respect on this list seem to think that it is quite likely
definite, but that this can not be proved on grammatical grounds. This also
seems to be the position of Robertson and Smyth, two old grammars whose
judgement I respect.

For now, I've decided to leave "qualitative" out of my online grammar.
Fortunately, it is just a bunch of web pages, which I can change at any
time. I need to know more before I can do that. Astute readers will note
that I have also left myself some wiggle room in some of the explanations ;->

I'm somewhat agnostic about the question. My internal systematic grammar
still does not have a category for "qualitative", and the linguists I've
asked do not use it as a technical term or know how to test for it. Is the
term "qualitative" ever used for anything other than anarthrous
precopulative nominative predicate nouns? Does this exist as a usage for
nouns in other languages? The term "definite" does exist in the linguistics
literature, and there is discussion of how to test for it. Do classical
Greek scholars talk about "qualitative" uses of anarthrous precopulative
nominative predicate nouns? (I do not know the answer to that last
question.) I guess the question I am asking is this: is this a grammatical
category that came to be because of John 1:1c?

There do seem to be a number of constructions of this form that could
plausibly be interpreted as qualitative; this is especially true in the
gospel of John, where most of these constructions could plausibly be
interpreted as qualitative. However, some other instances of the same
construction seem to be definite. This implies to me that it may not be the
construction itself, but the sense of what is being said in some of these
constructions, that seems to promote a qualitative interpretation.


Jonathan Robie

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