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”.

masc fem nuet
οὕτος αὕτη τοῦτο
τοῦτου ταῦτης τοῦτου
τοῦτῳ ταῦτῃ τοῦτῳ
τοῦτον ταῦτην τοῦτο
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.

masc fem nuet
οὕ ἥς οὕ
ὅν ἥν
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.

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

The third person pronoun does have gender.

masc fem nuet
αὐτος αὐτη αὐτο
αὐτου αὐτης αὐτου
αὐτᾥ αὐτᾕ αὐτᾥ
αὐτον αὐτην αὐτο
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.

Third Declension Nouns [Greek]

When I was first introduced to the third declension I thought I had entered Spartan boot camp. I had just started to grasp the definite article and case endings for nouns (1 and 2 declension) and it seemed like everything I had learned was turned upside down. After working with them for a few weeks they no longer seem so terrible, though still a bit weird.

The Greek declension rules are: [1]

  • stems ending in α or η are first declension
  • stems ending in ο are second declension
  • stems ending in consonants are third declension

The first and second declension case endings follow the definite article with very few exceptions. The third declension however has a different set of case endings.

masculine (2) feminine (1) neuter (2) masculine (3) feminine (3) neuter (3)
nominative singular ς ν ς ς
genitive singular υ ς υ ος ος ος
dative singular ι ι ι ι ι ι
accusative singular ν ν ν α α
masculine (2) feminine (1) neuter (2) masculine (3) feminine (3) neuter (3)
nominative plural ι ι α ες ες α
genitive plural ων ων ων ων ων ων
dative plural ις ις ις σι σι σι
accusative plural υς ς α ας ας α

The declension system is a modern way of organizing case endings. It was not something first century Greek students would have used to learn the language.

It is only since the seventeenth century A.D. that modern grammarians distinguish for convenience three declensions in Greek. The older grammars had ten or more. […] Evidently therefore the ancient Greeks did not have the benefit of our modern theories and rules, but inflected the substantives according to principles not now known to us. The various dialects exercised great freedom also and exhibited independent development at many points, not to mention the changes in time in each dialect. The threefold division is purely a convenience, […] [2]

The third declension nouns use the same definite article as the first and second declension nouns. Therefore the feminine third declension noun in the accusative singular would be:

τnv ἐλπιδα

Like all nouns, the entry in the lexicon for a third declension noun is listed using the nominative singular form. The entry also provides the same information (as shown below for the word hope):

ἐλπισ the Greek word in its nominative singular form.
-ιδος the genitive singular ending.
the nominative singular definite article.

The definite article ἡ, let’s us know that the gender of this noun is feminine.

For the third declension nouns we derive the stem by dropping the letters ος off the genitive case ending:


It is usually difficult to determine the stem from the nominative case ending since the consonant often changes with the sigma case ending as it does here (the delta drops off per the square of stops).

ἐλπιd + ς = ἐλπις

Using the information from the lexicon we can decline the word as a 3rd declension feminine noun as follows:

nominative singular ἐλπιd + ς = ἐλπις
genitive singular ἐλπιd + ος = ἐλπιδος
dative singular ἐλπιd + ι = ἐλπιδι
accusative singular ἐλπιd + α = ἐλπιδα
nominative plural ἐλπιd + ες = ἐλπιδες
genitive plural ἐλπιd + ων = ἐλπιδων
dative plural ἐλπιd + σι = ἐλπισι
accusative plural ἐλπιd + ας = ἐλπιδας

Our professor has stressed the importance of memorizing the full lexical entry of each noun so that we are able to determine the stem, gender, and declension. And that still seems like an exercise straight out of Sparta.

[1] Noun rules and case endings are based on Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek 2nd edition
[2] Robertson, Grammar of the Greek NT 3rd Edition page 247

Looking it up [Greek Lexicons]

Struggling to learn the vocabulary seems like facing the invading Persian army at Thermopylae and I often have the same attitude as the Spartan solider in the video – ‘I don’t think I want too, what exactly are our chances here’. But I haven’t given up even if it is a daunting task. The tools we have to do battle with are as Greek students are not shields and cloaks, but the lexicon – an alphabetical listing of the words with their meanings. If you are thinking to yourself that this sounds a lot like a dictionary then you would be right and that is essentially what it is. The word lexicon actually comes from the Greek word – λεξικος – which means “of or for words”.

There are multiple Greek Lexicons that are available for use. This post from Biblical Studies and Technical tools lists several including the three most common:

  • A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BDAG] – a very popular and comprehensive lexicon used in seminaries focusing on ancient Greek words used in Christian literature.
  • Liddell, Scott, & Jones [LSJ] – a comprehensive lexicon containing entries for ancient Greek words covering a larger range of time period (1200 BC – 600 AD)  and a larger range of literature types than just Christian literature. It is available on line at Perseus Digital Library.
  • Louw-Nida – a lexicon focused on the NT Greek. Its grouping of Greek words allows the reader to find synonyms for words similar to a thesaurus.

What is interesting is that the entries for Greek words in these lexicons are not what we might expect if we were to compare that to looking up an English word in an English dictionary.

For example the word “compassion” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary online is listed as:

compassion – noun

sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it

However when we look up an equivalent word in a Greek Lexicon (like BDAG) the entry is listed as:

σπλάγχνον, -ου, τό

1) the inward parts of the body

2) the seat of emotions, heart

3) the feeling itself of love, affection

We will quickly notice that the entry does not list the part of speech. We have to figure out that this is a noun. It also does not tell us the declension of the noun. At least not explicitly, we have to be able to figure that out too. Knowing the declension of the noun is an important part of understanding how to parse the word when it appears in a sentence.

As a side note we also see that this word in Greek can take on a much more diverse set of meanings than its English counterpart. The context is going to drive the meaning in any particular text. For example Acts 1:18 uses the word with the first meaning (guts), Philemon 1:7 uses the word with the second meaning (heart), while Philippians 2:1 uses the word with the third meaning (mercy, compassion).

Lexical Entry for a Noun
This entry in the lexicon is for a noun and it provides numerous pieces of information besides the English meaning(s):

σπλάγχνον the Greek word in its nominative singular form.
-ου the genitive singular ending.
τό the nominative singular definite article.

It is important to understand that Greek words in lexicons are listed in the nominative singular form not their stem. That means we have to learn our vocabulary words in that case form.

The definite article τό, let’s us know (if we have memorized the definite articles) that the gender of this noun is neuter.

Reviewing the nominative and genitive case endings provided in the lexical entry we can derive the stem by dropping the letters after the last vowel giving us:


The stem ends in an omicron so this is a 2nd declension noun.

Using the information from the lexicon we can decline the word as a 2nd declension neuter noun as follows:

nominative singular σπλάγχνον
genitive singular σπλάγχνου
dative singular σπλάγχνῳ
accusative singular σπλάγχνον
nominative plural σπλάγχνα
genitive plural σπλάγχνων
dative plural σπλάγχνοις
accusative plural σπλάγχνα

We may also recognize that this is a second declension noun based on the endings ον and ου being the neuter case endings for the nominative and genitive singular forms.

Lexical Entry for an Adjective
An entry for a Greek adjective – say for the word “bad” would be listed as:

κακός, -ή, όν

The entry is still listed in the nominative singular form of the word. However since an adjective must agree with the noun it describes in case, number, and gender the entry in the lexicon has a different form. The entry provides the following information instead of the definite article or the genitive singular:

κακός the masculine nominative singular form.
the feminine nominative singular form.
-όν the neuter nominative singular form.

Adjectives are inflected the same way as the noun.

Lexical Entry for a Preposition or Conjunction
An entry for a Greek preposition also has a different form. Since the preposition in Greek is not inflected it has a simple entry, similar to an entry for an English word in a dictionary. It looks like this:

1) with genitive: with
2) with accusative: after

The meaning of the preposition will vary based on the case ending of the noun it is associated with.

Other words that have a simple lexical entry are conjunctions. An example is “and”:


Hopefully this post will help understand the Greek vocabulary that appears in the lexicon. This was a concept I found confusing as I struggle to memorize Greek vocabulary and work with the words in translation exercises.