Re: Do prepositions govern or merely clarify case functions in Koine Greek?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Sep 09 1999 - 09:44:15 EDT

I know that Micheal Palmer has had something to say on this before. I'm not
sure that my perspective is adequately based on sufficient evidence for
distinct usage in classical Attic Greek and the various levels of Koine
Greek (and I think we probably should think in terms of various levels of
Koine rather than of a universal standard battery of usages). For what it's
worth (and no more), I think it would be wrong to give an either/or answer
to this; I think that there are instances where prepositions do in fact
clarify case-meanings and others where they simply govern a case. Much as
one might like to think of Koine Greek as a stable, reasonably uniform
language, I think it's a language very much in flux--with some speakers and
writers following older usage and standards, others following newer usages
and "standards" that haven't yet become universal.

At 8:43 AM -0500 9/9/99, Jay Adkins wrote:
>Dear B-Greekers,
>Can someone please clarify for me the issue of rather or not prepositions
>govern or merely clarify case functions in Koine Greek? Dana & Mantey,
>plus Porter seem to support the idea "that a preposition is governed by its
>case, in some way helping the case to manifest its meaning and to perform
>more precisely its various functions." (Porter 140) On the other hand,
>Wallace, after quoting Dana & Mantey saying in part, "It is incorrect... to
>say that prepositions govern cases...", This statement is generally
>accurate for classical Greek, but not Koine. Some cases uses in the
>classical period were quite subtle. As the language progressed in the
>Koine period, such subtleties were replaced with more explicit
>statements.... the prepositional phrase does not always communicate more
>explicitly what a naked case could communicate; sometimes it communicates
>something other than what a simple case would normally communicate. In
>this respect it is legitimate to speak of prepositions as governing nouns."
>(Page 360). I would like add what Wallace does not quote from Dana &
>Mantey, "Neither is the opposite true, that cases govern prepositions."
>(Page 97, section 101).

I'm not sure I'd want to say that; doesn't EIS uniformly govern an accusative?

>Wallace also says, "When a dative follows a preposition, you should not
>attempt to identify the genitives function by case usage alone. Rather,

I read this several times, became more confused, finally checked out
Wallace and found that it should be: "When a dative follows a preposition,
you should not attempt to identify the DATIVE'S function by case usage
alone. ..." It's a typo that makes the sentence cited unintelligible.

>consult either BAGD for the specific usage of that case with that
>preposition. Although many of the case uses overlap with the uses of the
>preposition + the dative (especially with EN + the dative), the parallels
>are not exact. Furthermore, where there is overlap of usage, there is
>usually not overlap of frequency of occurrence (e.g., although the naked
>dative as well as EN + the dative can express sphere, the frequency of such
>usage is much higher with EN + the dative). (Wallace - page 175.)

I think Wallace explains what he means by "naked dative expressing sphere"
on pages 153-4; I frankly have problems with his classification here, as I
think I would understand the examples he cites as instrumental datives. In
fact, "dative of sphere" doesn't strike me as a particularly meaningful or
useful category.

>In my limited brain, I am unable to see the difference of EN + the dative
>or the naked dative which expresses sphere. If prepositions govern cases,
>what is the effect specifically in the function of sphere? How is
>"something other than what a simple case would normally communicate" seen
>and just exactly what is this added information communicating? Please
>help this confused Little Greek.

My guess is that the question you're raising here, Jay, is one that it may
be difficult for grammarians to reach any simple consensus about, and I
think personally that datives are more complicated than the other cases
precisely because originally distinct uses (traditionally "true dative,"
"instrumental-sociative," and "locative") have come to be associated with a
single set of case-endings. The fact that EN can be used both with a
locative dative to indicate stationary position as well as with an
instrumental dative to express means is a fact that one must simply become
accustomed to--and unfortunatley, there are instances enough where the
usage is not nearly so clear-cut.

That's not much help, I fear, but I think I'd rather limit broad
generalizations about prepositions and case usage to a very small number
and talk more about instances one-by-one. I am particularly disturbed by
grammarians' tendency to multiply categories of case-usage in terms of as
many nuanced differences as they think they can discern. That's my 2c. And
I'm afraid there are going to be quite a few very different views on this

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

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