The St. Eutychus Guide to First Year Greek – Part One

I threatened to do this a while ago. I’m testing the theory that blogging is my learning language. So trying to rewrite the chapters of our textbook, and lectures, in a way that makes sense to me. I plan to one day write a book “The Stupid Greek Rules that Exist Just to Confuse  Students”. It will make me millions.

If you’d like to join in the fun – how bout suggesting some rude memory hooks for my vocab. The ruder they are, the easier they are to remember.

Amalgamation in the Future Tense

This rule is one of the first hurdles thrown in for beginner Greek students. The future tense in Greek chucks an σ (s) in the middle of a word, after the stem (the stem of a verb stays the same in any form of that verb, an English equivalent is loved, loving, loves, (I) love – the stem is lov). The σ, called a future time morpheme, doesn’t play nice with some other letters. It’s a bit racialist. It won’t hang out with a π (p), β (b), φ (f or ph) – if you try to make them hang out they get in a twist and become a ψ (ps). The σ is pickier still. It also doesn’t like κ (k), γ (g), or χ(x). With these bad boys the σ becomes a ξ (xs). There are some letters the σ won’t even get tangled up with. They just disappear. These are the τ (t), δ (d), and θ (th).

There are 24 letters in the greek alphabet and the σ won’t play nice with nine of them. It also has its own “special” form when it falls at the end of a word (ς).

The person number suffix and the disappearing ν

There are two Greek letters that look like English letters but sound nothing like them (or three if you think ω looks like a w). The ν is actually an n, and the ρ is an r.

The future time morpheme isn’t the only thing you chuck on a stem. There’s also the person-number suffix. Each verb comes with a built in person. Just in case you’re too lazy to write a noun. So “λυω” which means “I release”, has a built in “I” – a first person number suffix (ω). This suffix changes depending on whether the verb is plural or singular, and whether it’s first, second, or third person. You also, for the purpose of pronunciation (probably) and confusing poor students (definitely), chuck a vowel on the stem before the suffix. I’ll put a / in these examples to demonstrate where the stem ends and the suffix begins.

So:

  • λυ/ω = first person, singular = I release
  • λυ/εις = second person, singular = you release
  • λυ/ει = third person, singular = he/she/it releases
  • λυ/ο/μεν = first person, plural = we release
  • λυ/ε/τε = second person, plural = you(se) release
  • λυ/ουσι(ν) = third person plural = they release

The ν on the end of the third person plural is a “movable ν” – it just disappears whenever it feels like it, or before any word that starts with a consonant. It’s like our indefinite article (“an” and “a”, though Greek does not have an indefinite article)

The built in noun works a little like this: νατηανοσ λυει translates “Nathan releases,” a sentence that just has the word λυει translates “he releases.” Or she, or it, depending on context. This becomes handy once you learn about nouns and their cases, because nouns can play different roles in a sentence and sometimes there’s a missing noun that you’ll find inside the verb (if the “nominative” case is missing).

Bonus basics

The way a verb functions can also be altered by the presence of a “negative” – in the indicative mood this will be either ου, ουκ (if the word comes before a word starting with a vowel), or ουχ (if the word comes before a vowel that has a rough breathing mark (a rough breathing mark makes a “h” sound so υπο with a rough breathing mark is pronounced “hupo”) so ουκ λυω is I do not release. ην is used in the non-indicative moods.
The question mark “;” changes the verb as well. So λυω; is “Do I release”…

Semantic Range

Greek words have a variety of meanings and can’t always be pinned down to a single English equivalent. It’s more helpful to think of them as describing concepts.

Vocab and Memory Hooks

  • αγω = (ago) I lead = Caesar was a leader from long αγω…
  • ακουω = (akou-o) I hear = This place as good ακουωstics
  • βαπτιζω = (Baptizo) I Baptise = speaks for itself…
  • βλεπω = (Blepo) I see = I see a βλεπω on the radar.
  • γραφω = (grapho) I write = I like to write in grids, like a γραφω
  • διδασκω = (didasko) I teach = Didactic
  • δοξαζω =  (doxazo) I glorify = Doxology
  • ετοιμαζω = (etoimazo) I prepare = When we have visitors I need to prepare by cleaning up m’ετοιμαζο (eh – toy – mess – oh). Or something.
  • εχω = (exo) I have = I have an εχωllent wife. If I make puns like this I may not any longer, then she’d be my εχο…
  • θεραπευω = (therapeu-o) I heal = Therapy
  • κηρυσσω = (Kerusso) I preach = Tom κηρυσσω preaches about Scientology.
  • λυω = (luo) I loose/release = Pilate released Barabbas in λυω Jesus
  • πειθω = (paytho*) I trust  = Never trust a Spaniard with a lisp, he will still your πειθωs.
  • πεμπω = (pempo) I send = Send him off with πεμπω and ceremony.
  • πιστευω =(pisteu-o) I believe = I would not believe it if you told me you πιστευω metres in the air.
  • σωζω = (sozo) I save = Pele shoots, but Jesus σωζω
  • ειμι = (amy*) I am = I’m me, I am.

ειμι and πειθω contain a dipthong – two vowels stuck together that make a single sound. The ει dipthong makes an “ay” sound. The other dipthongs make sounds like they do in English words, except for αυ (which makes an “ow” sound), the others make sound like the following: αι (aisle), οι (oil), υι (suite), , ευ (feud), and ου (soup)

1 thought on “The St. Eutychus Guide to First Year Greek – Part One”

  1. I dig the greek refresher Nath, cheers! But I have to disgree with one of your memory hooks… I think your comment that baptizo speaks for itself is only half right, because it’s kind of a problem that we only transliterate this word. Because of that transliteration, we’ve totally lost the original sense of the word which was a typical household word in the first century, instead of our translation of that word being a household word today we use the super-ecclesiastical “baptise” which doesn’t have an everyday usage at all.

    The word itself means to dip in, place into, or join into. People used to baptise garments in dye for instance. So while dunking someone in water is a legitimate ceremony, it’s ultimately just a symbol of that person’s being joined into the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the bit that’s more often missed is the placing into God’s family. Ultimately the dunking is an expression from the church that a new believer is “one of us” now, welcomed and joined into Jesus’ church.

    I wonder if we used a real word to translate baptizo instead of the transliteration whether we would avoid much of the debate that goes on around the issue of “baptism” in the church…

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