Pronoun Problems [Greek]


I think I can safely say after a semester of Greek and working through translating 1 John that pronouns are one of the more difficult aspects of the language. But then we have only barely started verbs and have not covered participles yet.

Bugs: Would you like to shoot me now or wait till you get home?

Daffy: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!

Bugs: … he doesn’t have to shoot you now …

Daffy: He does so have to shoot me now!

As Daffy learned the hard way, getting your pronouns mixed up can really mess you up. Although, after wrestling with Greek for while, like Daffy we students might just want to yell “shoot me now”.

So what is a pronoun? It is a noun that refers back to another noun or noun phrase. The noun/noun phrase that the pronoun refers to is called the antecedent. In Greek the pronoun, when acting as a pronoun, matches the antecedent in number, person, and gender. The pronoun does not typically match the case of the antecedent since that is determined by the function of the pronoun in the sentence. However if the pronoun is functioning as an adjective then they will match the case of antecedent as well.

Something we (non-grammar types anyway) don’t think much about is the various types of pronouns and how they are used differently.

  • personal
  • demonstrative
  • reflexive
  • relative
  • interrogative
  • indefinite

This post will capture the basics regarding pronouns using examples from 1 John. Here is verse 1:5 in the Greek.

Καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία ἣν ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς φῶς ἐστιν καὶ σκοτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδεμία.

As we approach translation we start by looking for the verbs. Our first one is ἔστιν. Next we look for the subject which in this case is αὕτη – a nominative, singular, feminine pronoun.

But what is αὕτη? Is it a 3rd person personal pronoun, which would be translated “she”? Or is it a demonstrative pronoun, which would be translated “this”? Here the only way to tell is the breather and accent mark over the upsilon. Since we have a rough breather and accent mark we know that we are dealing with the demonstrative pronoun.

The next section of the text we encounter is ἡ ἀγγελία. Here we have to wrestle with the ἡ. What is that? It is nominative, singular, feminine but is it the definite article (the) or a relative pronoun? Here the difference is even more subtle. They both have rough breathers so it is the accent mark (or lack of it) that determines what it is. In this case we are dealing with the definite article.

So we can translate Καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία as “And this is the message”. But lets look at these pronouns in more detail.

demonstrative pronouns

The demonstrative pronoun is used to refer to a particular noun, noun phrase, or even a larger proposition. There are two such pronouns in English and in Greek  “this” (plural: these) and “that” (plural: those).

A simple  example of the demonstrative pronoun:
τοῦτο εστιν μεγας – this is great

As we have already seen, in 1 John 1:5, αὕτη is the demonstrative pronoun. Here it is referring to the content of the message (the larger proposition) mentioned at the end of the verse (God is light and in Him is no darkness at all).

However the demonstrative pronoun can also function as an adjective. Take for example 1 John 3:3 here:

καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἔχων τὴν ἐλπίδα ταύτην ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ

When the pronoun (ταύτην) is functioning as an adjective it is in the predicate position (so it will not have the definite article). Here it is modifying the noun (τὴν ἐλπίδα) which has the definite article. Notice that the pronoun and noun match as both are in the accusative, singular, feminine. The phrase, highlighted in blue, can be translated as “this hope”.

The demonstrative pronoun has a range of flexibility as it can also function as a personal pronoun as it does here in 1 John 3:7:

καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν – just as he is righteous

Here the pronoun (highlighted in blue) is subject of the verb (ἐστιν) and can be translated “he” instead of “that”.

singular
masc fem nuet
οὕτος αὕτη τοῦτο
τοῦτου ταῦτης τοῦτου
τοῦτῳ ταῦτῃ τοῦτῳ
τοῦτον ταῦτην τοῦτο
plural
masc fem nuet
οὕτοι αὕται ταῦτα
τοῦτων τοῦτων τοῦτων
τοῦτοις ταῦταις τοῦτοις
τοῦτους ταῦτας ταῦτα

The Greek word for “that” is ἐκεῖνος, ἐκεῖνη, ἐκεῖνο and it follows the (2-1-2) pattern, with the exception of the nominative and accusative singular neuter where the nu is dropped.

relative pronoun

The relative clause modifies a noun and is introduced by a relative pronoun. The relative pronoun is often translated as who, which, that, and whose.

In 1 John 1:5, the pronoun (ἣν) must be recognized as starting the relative clause which is highlighted in blue.

Καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία ἣν ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ – And this is the message, which we have heard from him

The relative pronoun (ἣν) is in the accusative singular feminine and refers to the noun “the message” (ἡ ἀγγελία) because they match in number and gender. The noun “the message” is in the nominative singular feminine.

singular
masc fem nuet
ὅς
οὕ ἥς οὕ
ὅν ἥν
plural
masc fem nuet
οἵ αἵ
ὥν ὥν ὥν
οἵς αἵς οἵς
οὕς ἅς

personal pronoun

The personal pronoun replaces a noun that refers to a person. The personal pronoun can be in the first person (I/we), second person (you), and the third person (he, she, it/they).

In 1 John 1:5, the word (αὐτοῦ) is the third person personal pronoun (highlighted in blue). It is in the genitive case because of the preposition (ἀπ᾽ ).

Καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία ἣν ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ – And this is the message, which we have heard from him

Often the use of the personal pronoun can be used to show emphasis as in 1 John 1:7. Because the verb supplies the subject (he) the pronoun (αὐτός) is not needed and is added to provide emphasis.

ὡς αὐτός ἐστιν ἐν τῷ φωτί, – as he himself is in the light

Like the demonstrative pronoun, the personal pronoun can also function as an adjective. In the predicate position, the personal pronoun is translated as a reflexive pronoun. I did not come across an example in 1 John, but there was one in 3 John 1:12

καὶ ὑπὸ αὐτῆς τῆς ἀληθείας – and by the truth itself

In this example the pronoun (αὐτῆς) and the noun (τῆς ἀληθείας) match as both are in the genitive, singular, feminine and the pronoun is in the predicate position.

For the first and second person there is no gender.

singular
first second
ἐγω συ
μου σου
μοι σοι
με σε
plural
first second
ἡμεις ὑμεις
ἡμων ὑμων
ἡμιν ὑμιν
ἡμας ὑμας

The third person pronoun does have gender.

singular
masc fem nuet
αὐτος αὐτη αὐτο
αὐτου αὐτης αὐτου
αὐτᾥ αὐτᾕ αὐτᾥ
αὐτον αὐτην αὐτο
plural
masc fem nuet
αὐτοι αὐται αὐτα
αὐτων αὐτων αὐτων
αὐτοις αὐταις αὐτοις
αὐτους αὐτας αὐτα

Putting all this together has helped me work through pronouns. I hope that you find this helpful as well.

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