Nouns and Declensions

Nouns in Greek are declined (have their endings changed) based on: 

  • case (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative), 
  • number (singular or plural), and 
  • gender (masculine, feminine, neuter).

The case of a noun indicates the function of the noun in the sentence. In addition to just listing the name of a particular noun, the case of each noun tells us what that noun is doing in that sentence.  There are five different cases:

    1. The nominative case indicates (a) the subject of a transitive phrase, as well as (b) the predicate nominative (the object of a linking verb (or copulative verb), such as is or to be).  While the verb in a sentence does the action in that sentence, the noun tells us who or what precipitated that action. 

      Examples: In the sentence “The dog bit the man”, “dog” would be in the nominative case (subject of the phrase with a transitive verb). However, in the sentence “The man is a soldier”, both “man” and “soldier” are in the nominative case (copulative verb).

 

    1. The genitive case is used to indicate (a) source or origin (this function is also sometimes called the ablative case), or (b) kind or (c) possession. It is also often used (d) for an object of a preposition. It is frequently translated as “of …”.

      Example: In the phrase “The man’s wife”, or equivalently, “the wife of the man”, man would be in the genitive case.

 

    1. The dative case denotes an (a) indirect object (translated as “to …” or “for …”); (b) means or agency, especially impersonal means (translated as “by …”); or (c) a location. It is also frequently used (d) as an object of a preposition, and often, a preposition can take a noun in either the genitive or dative case with different meanings.

      Examples: In the sentence “We gave a bone to our dog”, “dog” would be in the dative case; “dog” is the recipient (indirect object) of our giving.

      But as an example of means or agency, in the sentence “By grace, you have been saved”, grace would be in the dative case; it is the means or agency by which we are saved.

 

    1. The accusative case denotes a direct object.

      Example: In the sentence, “We gave a bone to our dog “, “bone” would be in the accusative case.

      Because word order in Greek can vary, case becomes the primary means of identifying the function of a noun in a sentence, e.g., the subject as opposed to the direct object. In English, “The car hit the truck” and “The truck hit the car” mean two very different things. Word order is the key. Not so in Greek. Both word orders could mean exactly the same thing. Then how do we know which is the subject and which is the direct object? In other words, how do we know who hit whom? The case endings are the key! The subject is the word in the nominative case and the direct object is the word in the accusative case.

 

  1. The vocative case is the case used when a noun identifies a person that is being addressed directly. A vocative expression is an expression of direct address by which the identity of the party spoken to is set forth expressly within a sentence.

    Examples: “Brian, you are in heap big trouble”!  In this example, “Brian” would be in the vocative case.In the sentence “I don’t know, John”, John is a vocative expression that indicates the party being addressed.  But in the sentence, “I don’t know John”, John is the direct object of the verb “know” and would be in the accusative case.  In English we tell the difference between these expressions by means of punctuation (the comma), but in Greek we can tell which expression is which by means of case endings.

 

 

In Greek, nouns fall under three different patterns for case endings, called declensions.

    • The first declension contains nouns whose stems end in α or η. They are mostly feminine nouns.  Examples:
      ζωή, -ῆς, ἡ
      ἀγάπη, -ῆς, ἠ
      ἐκκλησία, -ας, ἡ
      ἀλήθεια, -ας, ἡ
      δόξα, -ης, ἡ
      ἁμαρτία, -ας, ἡ
      γραφή, -ῆς, ἡ
      ἀδικία, -ας, ἡ
      γῆ, γῆς, ἡ
      ἡμέρα, -ας, ἡ
      ἀδελφή, -ῆς, ἡ

 

    • The second declension contains nouns whose stems end in ο. They are mostly masculine or neuter.  Examples:
      Ιησοῦς, -οῦ, ὁ
      Χριστός, -οῦ, ὁ
      θεός, -οῦ, ὁ
      υἱός, -οῦ , ὁ
      λόγος, -ου, ὁ
      ἄγγελος, -ου, ὁ
      ἀπόστολος, -οῦ , ὁ
      ἄνθρωπος, -ου, ὁ

 

  • The third declension contains all other nouns (mostly, nouns whose stems end in a consonant). There are broad patterns in third declension endings, but there are many more special cases than for first and second declension nouns.  Examples:
    ἰχθύς, -ῠ́ος, ὁ
    πνεῦμα, -ατος, τό
    σωτήρ, -ῆρος, ὁ
    πίστις, πίστεως, ἡ
    χάρις, χάριτος, ἡ
    δύναμις, δυνάμεως, ἡ
    σάρξ, σαρκός, ἡ
    πατήρ, πατρός, ὁ
    ὄνομα, ὀνόματος, τό
    σῶμα, -ματος, τό
    βασιλεύς, βασιλέως, ὁ
    πόλις, -εως, ἡ
    θέλημα, -ματος, τό
    ἔθνος, ἔθνους, τό

 

We will study each of these declensions in more detail in the next few lessons.