Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Getting started on ancient Greek

3 Noun endings in English

A small number of English words carry traces of a grammatical system in which subjects and objects are marked not by their position in the sentence but by a change of word ending, or even of the entire shape of the word.

He likes her.

As usual in English, the word before the verb (‘likes’) is the subject (‘he’) and the word after is the object (‘her’). But in this instance, reversing the meaning of the sentence requires more than swapping the positions of ‘he’ and ‘her’. The words must also change their shape:

He likes her —> she likes him.

These changes are characteristic of the English personal pronouns: ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘we’ and ‘they’. The shape of the word is related to the role that it plays in the sentence. ‘He’ and ‘she’ are sometimes referred to as ‘subject pronouns’, ‘her’ and ‘him’ as ‘object pronouns’. ‘Who’ and ‘whom’ also work in the same way.

Activity 3 Swapping subject and object

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

What changes would need to take place in these sentences to convert the subject into an object and object into subject?

  1. I like her.
  2. We like them.
  3. She likes you.

Discussion

In English the pronouns would swap positions and, in most cases, change their shape.

  1. I like her —> she likes me.
  2. We like them —> they like us.
  3. She likes you —> you like her.

Note that in some instances, such as ‘you’ (and ‘it’), the same shape is used to indicate both subjects and objects.

Activity 4 Flexible word order

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

The use of word shape enables languages to adopt a flexible rather than a fixed word order. This is more frequent in Greek, but also possible in English, as the following extract from the New Testament demonstrates:

These things write I unto you

(1 John 2.1, King James Version)

1. What is the order of ‘These things write I’?

a. 

Subject Verb Object


b. 

Verb Subject Object


c. 

Object Verb Subject


The correct answer is c.

Discussion

The order is Object Verb Subject, i.e. the inverse of standard English word order.

2. Why, in this instance, can English invert the word order without creating confusion?

Discussion

‘I’ is the form of the pronoun used to indicate a subject. Using the form ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ makes it clear who is doing what to whom, overriding any expectations raised by the order of the words.

There are other factors at work too. Knowledge of the world tells us that it is people who write letters, not letters that write people. Grammar and meaning work together to make the sense clear.

3. Look at the original Greek words of 1 John. Why do you think this word order was chosen by the translators?

ταῦτα [these things] γράφω [write I] ὑμῖν [unto you]

Discussion

The English retains the word order of the Greek. The translators have preserved as much as possible of a text considered to be divinely inspired. The King James Version of 1611 drew from the sixteenth-century translation of William Tyndale, which adopted the same order: ‘these thynges write I unto you’.

GCG_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371