Re: Adjective-noun word order

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Nov 28 1998 - 10:16:36 EST

At 3:10 AM -0600 11/28/98, Paul Zellmer wrote:
>Here's a very basic question that is causing me a bit of pause. Is
>there a subtle difference between the adjective-noun word order and
>the noun-adjective word order. I realize both are common and
>acceptable, but does one put a slightly different slant on the
>Take, for example, the first part of James 1:14, the part that is EI
>DE ZHLON PIKRON EXETE. Does the fact that ZHLON, which is the noun,
>precedes PIKRON, the adjective, give the term any slight difference
>in meaning than if PIKRON preceded ZHLON? In some languages, it
>does. For example, in the Ibanag language of the Philippines, the
>adjective-noun word order generally results in the phrase being
>treated as a whole unit. It is the "unmarked" word order. On the
>other hand, a noun-adjective word order is marked, putting the focus
>(for this language, anyway) on the noun.
>My question probably stems from the fact that word order is so
>important in English, but I haven't really gotten a good feel for
>the Greek. It would not surprise me if there were a bit of
>difference of meaning in word order even in that language with its
>much looser structure.

I'll respond to this with what is unquestionably an instantaneous "gut"
feeling, one that may be right, but which deserves to be treated with
suspicion. Statistical study might well disprove it or give it more

I personally think that what you say of Ibanag is just as true of Greek:
that the word-order with adjective preceding the noun is "unmarked,"
whereas the adjective is more emphatic in a "marked" position, i.e. when it
follows the noun. Nevertheless, I also suspect that the difference may in
very many instances be, however real, nevertheless rather negligible as
something important to convey in translation into another language. If I
had to convey the difference, I think I'd do it something like this in

        AGAQOS ANHR: "a good man"
        ANHR AGAQOS: "a man who is good"

A bit different and probably much more obvious is the emphasis conveyed by
separation and intermediate position of a verb or article, so that one has
a predicate adjective: AGAQOS hO ANHR or AGAQOS ESTIN hO ANHR or KALOUS
POIOUMEN TOUS LOGOUS. These adjectives are always quite emphatic, I'm sure.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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