Re: Lexicons and Principal parts (Long)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed May 13 1998 - 10:25:21 EDT

<x-rich>At 9:58 PM -0400 5/12/98, Chuck Tripp wrote:



>I have been following with some interest the discussion on the value

>lists. I have sort have been working on greek for some three years
now on

>my own. I too have the same problem with the vocabularies. I can go

>through a whole stack of cards and get almost all of them. Yet when I

>a text, often even though most of the words should be familiar to me,

>have to really concentrate on what the sentence means.


>What I have done here lately, is look to analyse a sentence as far as
I can

>without looking at references to the point of forming hypotheses as to

>a word means based on how it is used in the sentence. Often, this

>into a notebook. Then I start looking at lexicons and my references.

>have found these sessions to be great learning experiences.


>I noticed some discussions as to good lexicons. I have a lexicon by

>Thayer. Any opinions of it compared to others? Also, I was thinking

>tackling some classical greek texts, any suggestions for a general

>as opposed to one which focuses on the N.T.

There is no substitute for Liddell-Scott-Jones with the latest addendum
by Glare. That's the unabridged; the older LSJ is on-line at the
Perseus website and you can even configure your browser to read it in
Greek. As it seems relevant to the current discussion of learning
vocabulary, I'm going to re-post here something I originally wrote and
sent to list in January 1996; the key point is STUDYING
lexicon-entries; I'm convinced that this and reading vast amounts is
the only ultimately useful method of acquiring vocabulary. Here's the
older piece:


From: "Carl W. Conrad" <<>

Date: Tue, 30 Jan 1996 08:13:25 -0600

Subject: using lexicons and learning Greek

Please forgive the patronizing tone of this. I have been tutoring a few
students in NT Greek recently and meditating much over the attitudes
that foster success in learning it and that inhibit success in learning
it. For what it's worth, I'd just like to offer the following thoughts,
most of which are probably obvious to many list readers.

Many on this list are accomplished scholars in the GNT, but many are
also in the process of learning the Greek of the NT, and in a deeper
sense, I'd say we are all in the process of learning the Greek of the
NT. So I want to offer some thoughts on means and ends in learning the
Greek of the NT with regard to texts and lexicons that I hope may be
helpful, particularly when one considers the number of hours that are
spent puzzling through texts that begrudge you their meanings and
poring over lexicon entries that seem to be pages long and
(superficially) as meaningless as the sequence of names in a telephone

A student of the New Testament can readily come to hate an unabridged
Greek lexicon. She or he is endeavoring to learn Greek with the primary
if not in fact sole purpose of reading the GNT. In itself that is a
reasonable and laudable objective, but it has to be understood and
actualized in a much broader context for the obvious reason that the
Greek language really wasn't created for the purpose of writing the GNT
(however much one wants to praise (or blame) God for choosing to have
the NT written in Greek). One has to see that the NT is one complex of
documents written in a language used by people over a very broad
geographical area for every purpose for which one uses any language.
Consequently, although one may aim ultimately at reading of the NT with
one's acquired facility in Koine Greek, one must learn the language and
make learning the language--for the time being--one's primary
objective. What this means is that any text--be it from the NT, from
the LXX, from an Apostolic Father, or from a papyrus letter--any text
that you undertake to read must be seen not as an end in itself but as
a means to learn some more Greek. So one isn't aiming at working out an
acceptable English equivalent of that text; rather you're aiming at
understanding the Greek of that text and increasing one's knowledge of
Greek through that text. The lexicon is one's friend, and the fuller
the lexicon entry on a noun, verb, or whatnot, the greater the
opportunity one has to expand his or her knowledge of Greek. If one
views it as a hindrance, as a mass of verbiage to scan in order to find
the one workable gloss that matches the phrasing of your text passage,
then one won't learn anything from it and is likely to miss most of
what he or she could have learned from consulting the lexicon on that
word. One needs to labor "lovingly" (I use the word deliberately) over
the array of structured meanings and relationships between meanings
suggested in a lexicon entry and one should seek to ascertain the logic
and psychological probabilities accounting for the ramifications of
meanings from the primary to secondary and tertiary levels. A word,
after all, is not, however much similarity it may have to a
mathematical sign, is not a mathematical sign, but a page or a chapter
in the history of human experience, loaded with metaphorical leaps and
powerful emotional overtones and undertones. Words have personalities
that need to be learned, as best one can learn them, and just as it is
hard, perhaps impossible to know fully (EPIGNWNAI?) the spouse one has
lived with for decades, so it is impossible to acquire any sense of a
word whose lexicon entry one scans superficially in order to find a
meaning that "fits" the context of what one's reading.

May I suggest, therefore, that language learning be treated as an end
in itself while one is in the process of learning it. The passage that
one is reading and the lexicon that one consults are means to that end
and should be exploited toward that end. The translation of the passage
is at best a by-product of learning; much to be preferred is an
understanding of how the passage conveys its thoughts and feelings
through the linguistic medium it employs; it is to be viewed and
grasped as an expression of a Greek-thinking person and one should
endeavor to make it a means to assist one to become a Greek-thinking
person onself. Ultimately this may be helpful when one endeavors to
read and interpret the inspired texts transmitted to us by the
Greek-thinking persons who put into writing our New Testament.


>Also, I noticed a discussion of "principal parts". In three greek

>I've used so far, one used the notion of "principal parts" to expain

>the verbs work. The other two attempt predict what the verbs will

>like starting with the stem. I personally find the principal parts
thing a

>little heavy on the memorization. Any thoughts on the value of one

>over another?

Mounce calls them something else, I don't recall, but he does retain
them. You don't need to know the principal parts for regular verbs--and
most verbs really are regular, even if they are deficient (lack forms)
in some tenses or voices. But there are about 60+ verbs (perhaps fewer
for Koiné; that's my figure for Attic) that one really needs to know in
order to recognize TENSE STEMS for the present, future, aorist
active/middle, perfect active, perfect middle/passive, and aorist
reflexive/passive. Yes, it's a lot of memorization, but the effort is
worthwhile. Memorize them, but memorize them in such a way that you can
instantly break apart a form like EPRACQHN and see how it is a form of
PRATTW, or ETEQHN and see how it is a form of TIQHMI. The most
difficult of all is perhaps hIHMI, which has forms in which the only
discernible remnant of the root is -H- or -E-; this difficulty is
somewhat alleviated in Koiné, however, by the fact that the thematic
form AFIW is replacing and for the most part has replaced the older
athematic AFIHMI--but this is a pretty important verb, associated as it
is with the "remission" of sins.

Most teachers of grammar really do try to simplify the learning of
Greek as much as possible, but beyond a certain point simplification
becomes increasingly omission of what is essential. So do the drudge
work, learn the Greek the hard way like anyone who ever really learned
Greek other than as a native language has had to do. It still PAYS to
do so.

Carl W. Conrad

Department of Classics, Washington University

Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243



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