Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

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Getting started on ancient Greek

4 Nominative and accusative

Greek indicates subjects and objects using word endings, rather like the system used by English pronouns. The nominative case, which you have met, marks the subject. The accusative case, introduced here for the first time, marks the object. The definite article also has a set of case endings – an important point you’ll return to soon.

ἵππος διώκει τὸν ἄνθρωπον

The horse chases the man

For horse and man to swap roles, the case endings must change.

τὸν ἵππον διώκει ἄνθρωπος

The man chases the horse

Unlike English, the word order does not determine the subject or object. In the above examples, ὁ ἵππος (the horse, nominative case) in any position will be the subject, τὸν ἄνθρωπον (the man, accusative case) in any position will be the object. Their position in relation to the verb, διώκει (he, she, or it chases) does not affect their meaning.

Activity 5 Test your learning – case endings

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Bearing in mind that subjects and objects in Greek are determined by word ending and not word order, select all the sentences in which the horse is chasing the man:

a. 

διώκει ὁ ἵππος τὸν ἄνθρωπον


b. 

τὸν ἵππον διώκει ὁ ἄνθρωπος


c. 

τὸν ἄνθρωπον διώκει ὁ ἵππος


d. 

τὸν ἵππον ὁ ἄνθρωπος διώκει


The correct answers are a and c.

Now, select the sentences in which the man is chasing the horse:

a. 

ὁ ἄνθρωπος διώκει τὸν ἵππον


b. 

διώκει τὸν ἄνθρωπον ὁ ἵππος


c. 

διώκει ὁ ἵππος τὸν ἄνθρωπον


d. 

ὁ ἄνθρωπος τὸν ἵππον διώκει


The correct answers are a and d.

Is there a difference in meaning between these two sentences?

  • ὁ ἵππος διώκει τὸν ἄνθρωπον
  • τὸν ἄνθρωπον διώκει ὁ ἵππος

Discussion

Both sentences are the equivalent of ‘the horse chases the man’. There is no difference of meaning. However, the order of words in the first sentence is, in fact, more typical of Greek. The second order might be chosen to place the emphasis on the man. Greek can exploit its flexible word order to direct attention to certain words or phrases, by placing them in non-standard positions.

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