High-Level Overview of NT Greek Grammar
This page is for those who are anxious to begin reading New Testament verses in Greek and don't want to wait until you've read the recommended sections of the Introductory Textbook. Here you will find a brief summary of the grammatical concepts you need to understand before beginning.
Grammar is the structure of a language; how words convey meaning when combined. Most native speakers don’t study grammar when they learn the language. Instead, they internalize its grammar as they go. Learning a foreign language is different and studying grammar helps tremendously, especially when you aren’t in an immersive environment.
FluentGreek provides grammatical helps on both the VerseDeck and Greek New Testament pages. The catch is you have to know how to interpret those helps.
For example, you click on a pronoun and see this:
Great. The word is a dative pronoun. What’s a dative?
This page gives a quick summary of the main grammatical elements you will encounter. Before you begin, it is a good idea to read this overview of English grammar. Once you have read this introduction to Greek grammar, you should begin reviewing whichever introductory textbook you chose. You can skim at first and reread more thoroughly as needed.
*Some people are language people; some people are more drawn to numbers. Both types can learn Biblical Greek. If you are uncomfortable with, or flat-out dislike, grammar, don’t let that stop you. Feel free to take a more pragmatic approach. Instead of trying to memorize all the types of syntax, skim the material and then refer to the grammar as needed to understand the Greek sentence you are reading. This will make the study of grammar practical and will give you live examples of the material with English helps.
Nouns refer to a person, place, thing, or idea, and a substantive is any word that functions as a noun.
Any of these five types of words can function as a noun (sorted by frequency):
- The Article
These words have, at least, case, gender, and number. Participles are verbal nouns and won't appear in the initial verses you review.
Case indicates the role the substantive plays in the sentence. Greek substantives have five cases. Nominative and accusative are the most frequent, vocative the least.
- Subject of the verb – “Jesus is Lord.” “Paul preached the gospel.” “The crowd became hungry.”
- Predicate – the predicate of a sentence says something about the subject. Predicate nouns are typically in the Accusative case. However, with certain linking verbs, the nominative can appear in the predicate. “Jesus is Lord.” “The crowd became hungry.”
- Apposition – two nominative words next to each other in a sentence that refer to the same person or thing, as in, "John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ." John, the, and Baptist are all in the nominative case.
- This case is complex, but at the start, use of and realize its meaning can have various nuances, which you will learn through extensive reading and later grammatical study - “The love of God compels us.” "I am a servant of the Lord."
- Indirect Object (to) – “Jim hit the ball to Matt.”
- Space or time in which something occurs (at, on) – “Jill goes to the store on Tuesday.”
- Instrument (by) – “Jim went to New York by train.” Both New York and train would be in the dative case.
- Direct object of the verb – “Paul preached the gospel.” “James ate the sandwich.”
- Direct address (typically parsed with an ε at the end of the noun or with the same form as nominative) – “Brian! How are you?”
Pronouns use actual gender but otherwise masculine, feminine, and neuter are grammatical designations, unlike English where gender tends to match biological gender fairly closely. The gender of a word doesn’t necessarily mean that person, place, thing or idea is actually male, female, or otherwise.
Greek words with case endings can be either singular or plural.
Prepositions show relationships, such as time, location, direction, duration, etc., between a substantive and something else. Some examples (the prepositional phrases are italicized):
- I drove into town.
- A frog sat on a log.
- I played with Tim.
- They believed because of the miracles.
In Greek, the substantive in the preposition phrase will always follow the preposition and be in either the genitive, dative, or accusative case. Many Greek prepositions have different meanings based on the case of the substantive. For example, μετά means “with” when followed by a genitive substantive but μετά means “after” when followed by an accusative substantive. These can be tricky to keep straight at the beginning, but you’ll get used to this with practice.
Adjectives modify substantives, whether nouns, pronouns, or otherwise--they give us more information about them, e.g. “The righteous boy was kind.” “The boy is righteous.” “The wicked boy stole often.”
Adjectives can also function as nouns, i.e. "The righteous are bold."
How Adjectives Relate to Nouns
Greek adjectives agree with the substantive they modify in number, gender, and case. It's important to keep this in mind so you are clear which word is being modified.
When the article is present, we can tell whether the adjective is best translated as "the [adj] noun" or "the noun is [adj]." This is done by noting the location of the article relative to the noun and adjective.
"the [adj] noun" - the righteous boy
- article + noun + article + adjective
- article + adjective + noun
- noun + article + adjective
"the noun is [adj]" - the boy is righteous
- article + noun + adjective
- adjective + article + noun
This is simpler than it looks. Remember that "the [adj] noun" construction requires the article to be in front of the adjective and that grouping be directly before or after the noun. If it isn't, the best translation is "the noun is [adj]."
If there is no article in the phrase, the best translation must be determined from the context.
When there is no substantive related to the adjective, the adjective is being used substantively, e.g. "the righteous."
Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or clauses. They express relation of time, place, manner, degree, etc.
- Time - "Come here now." "Easter is next Sunday."
- Place - "The store is near the mall." "The heavens are above."
- Manner - "She sang beautifully."
A verb is a word that expresses action, state of being, or occurrence.
Examples – "Jesus is Lord." "James studies Greek." "Midas became wealthy."
To understand Greek verbs there are a few grammatical concepts you need to learn – tense, mood, and voice. Level 1 of FluentGreek contains only present [tense] active [voice] indicative [mood] verbs so this section will focus on them.
Tense of a verb primarily indicates the kind of action or state, known as aspect. Secondarily, it can also include time when combined with the indicative mood.
The action of present tense verbs is viewed as in progress or from inside the event. Textbooks often use the example of a parade. Present tense is equivalent to someone watching the parade go by or participating in the parade. Other tenses are equivalent to viewing the parade as a whole from the outside or as a completed action.
Don't lean too heavily on the names of tenses. Though most present tense verbs are in the present, occasionally they refer to the past, future, or no time at all. Present is just what the tense is called.
The verb mood indicates the manner in which something is said.
Indicative verbs express reality or fact as opposed to a wish, possibility, or command – “Jim laughs.” “Jesus is Lord.” “Jane studies Greek.” “Apples are a fruit.”
The verb voice indicates the relationship between the subject and the action.
Types of Voice
- Active - Subject of the verb performs the action – “Jim hit the ball.”
- Passive - Subject of the receives the action of the verb– “Jim was hit by the ball.”
- Middle - Subject of the verb participates in the action of the verb in some way
- Deponent verbs - these are frequently active voice verbs with middle or passive forms that are used because the active form isn't available