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Here is our first example of a primary source Greek passage from the
Gospel of John 1:1-5. It contains all the letters of the Greek alphabet
except μ, ξ, and ψ. Practice reading this passage aloud today in class and
throughout the week.
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν
ὁ λόγος.
οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.
πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν
ὃ γέγονεν.
ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων.
καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
As in English, the great majority of Greek sentences contain verbs
(the grammatical action of a sentence) as one of their most important
elements. The Greek has very complex yet exact system of expressing
such actions through what is called inflection. When a word undergoes
inflection, (coming from the Latin inflecto, meaning “I bend”) it means
that some component of a word is changed or “bent” from its simplest
form, giving the word a precise function. We will be learning how verbs
undergo inflection for the next two or three weeks. But before we begin
analyzing the changes themselves, we must firstly and most importanly
understand the general concept of inflection.
Both Greek and English use inflection, but Greek in specific is a
very highly inflected language. Inflection refers to the changes that
words undergo according to their grammatical function in a sentence.
Greek contains many uninflected words, but most do undergo inflection.
These words – verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and even the
definite article “the” – can all take on different forms which specify
things like gender, number, and case. These grammatical terms will all
be explained in later lessons, but for now we will focus solely on Greek
verbs and their inflections.
I’m so glad you asked! A verb is a word that either: (1) makes a
statement about a subject, (He is Irish) or (2) transfers an action from a
subject to an object (She loves Irish boys). Each of the above examples
is a clause or group of words forming a sense unit and containing one
finite verb. A finite verb is a verb that functions as the basic verbal
element of a clause. For instance, in English we can say “Jonny cried”
and make a coherent statement because “cried” is a finite form of the
verb “cry”. However, we cannot say “Jonny crying” (as a complete
sentence) and still be coherent because “crying” is a non-finite form of
the verb “cry”.
Finite verbs in Greek contain two basic parts: (1) the stem of the
verb which is the “dictionary definition” of the word’s meaning, and (2)
one or more affixes which specify the grammatical function of the verb
in its sentence. An affix that is added to the beginning of a word is called
a prefix, one that is added in the middle of a word is an infix, and one
that is tagged on to the end of a word is a suffix. An example of these
two basic parts in an English verb would be the verb “break”. “Break-”
is the present tense stem, and if we add a third person singular suffix (“s”) to this stem to indicate who is doing the verb, we get “breaks”.
Likewise, when we want to indicate a past tense form, the stem becomes
“brok-”, and the affix can be either “-e” or “en” giving us either “broke”
or “broken”, each of which conveys a different sense to us.
Many people attempting to learn Greek become unnecessarily
overwhelmed by the complexity of the Greek verb system in comparison
with that of English. Lets look at an example of a common English verb
and its various inflections in the present tense:
I make
we make
you make
y’all make
he makes
they make
We notice first that English utilizes the personal pronoun to
indicate person and number (who and how many is doing the action).
The form of the verb “make” undergoes only one inflection which
occurs only in the 3rd person singular form where the affix “-s” is added
onto the end of the stem “make-”. But what English does in only one of
these six forms other languages can accomplish in all six of the same
present tense forms by means of inflection! Lets examine the Spanish
verb hacer (to make) and see the differences:
(yo) hago
(nosotros) hacemos
(tú) haces
(vosotros) hacéis
(ella) hace
(ellas) hacen
The personal pronouns above are in parenthesis because in
Spanish, you don’t even have to use them to indicate who is doing the
action because both the person and number are contained within the
verb forms themselves! To say “I am making…”, a Spanish speaker
would merely need to say “Hago…”. German uses a combination of
both the pronoun and the verb ending to get the idea across, as in the
verb haben, “to have”:
ich habe
wir haben
du hast
ihr habt
er hat
sie haben
Just like in English, the German personal pronoun is not optional
when using the inflected verb. But notice that unlike English, a majority
of the German verb forms are different from one another. The Greek
language, however, is more like Spanish in this sense, because a
different verb form is used to indicate both person and number. This is
done by adding person-number suffixes to the verb stem. This verb stem
is called the lexical morpheme since it conveys the lexical meaning of
the word (i.e., the meaning found in the dictionary).
Thus the Greek word for “I have”, ἔχω is composed of both the
lexical morpheme ἔχ- (meaning “have”) and the person-number suffix
-ω (meaning “I”). Adding the different suffixes of the present tense onto
the stem, we get the following forms:
ἔχω (I have)
ἔχομεν (we have)
ἔχεις (you have)
ἔχει (he/she/it has)
ἔχουσι (they have)
(y’all have)
These suffixes are used in many other verbs that we will encounter.
When the same pattern of suffixes is used by several words, that pattern
is called a paradigm (from the Greek word for pattern or model:
Sadly, there will be no written homework for this week’s lesson. 
But you will be expected to be able to give a brief definition or example
of the terms we learned today like: verb, clause, affix, suffix, prefix,
stem, personal pronoun. But most importantly, try as best you can to
understand the concept of inflection itself by re-reading today’s lesson,
watching the video online, or doing some of your own searching online.
Also, please feel free also to email me with any questions or
suggestions for online resources and I’ll be sure to respond as quickly as
I can: [email protected]