Lesson ι': Adjectives and Comparisons

To compare two magnitudes, we use the relations equal and unequal, greater than or less than. Obviously, this will be found often in Euclid. In English, we say large, larger and largest, and these three forms are called the positive, comparative and superlative. The process of forming them is called comparison. Greek regularly does much the same thing, using standard suffixes just as in English. As luck would have it, the adjectives we need the most do not follow the standard pattern, as good, better, best does not in English. Words for long and short, great and small, are shown in the box,and are worth knowing. You have no doubt met English words derived from them. "Long" compares regularly, but the others are all irregular. The word for "short" also has a regular comparison, but the one given here is actually the general rule for adjectives similarly ending in υs. The declension for adjectives ending in ων is also shown. This is actually a fairly common declension, for nouns as well as adjectives, and you should be able to recognize its forms. Incidentally, your attention is drawn to the fact that a stem ending in ρ causes η to revert to α in the feminine singular, as it does in the words for "small" and "long". Note that makro/j does not mean "big", but "long". You may find e)la/ttwn spelled e)la/sswn instead. The first spelling is Attic, the second Ionic, and both are commonly found, not only in this word, but in other similar words.

We say in English, A is greater than B. Greek can do this too, using the word for than shown in the box. Then, A and B are usually in the same case, always if they go with the same verb. In most cases, however, Greek has an easier way, the use of the genitive. It is as if we said A is greater of B in English, but we can't do this. In Greek, we can, and say to\ A mei/zon e/)sti tou~ B, casting B into the genitive. This is another one of the Latin ablative uses that has been reassigned to the genitive in Greek. Remember that when we say "equal" we use the dative: to\ A i/)son e/)sti tw~| B.

The word for "big" or "great" is worth knowing, and it is shown in the box. The endings are quite regular, those of the o- and α-declensions, excepting only the masculine singular nominative. but the stem changes unexpectedly. This box is also a paradigm for the regular adjective of three endings, which takes these same endings with a stem that remains unchanged. Note that the feminine plural genitive does not accent the ω here, but does so for other adjectives. There are participles whose masculine singular nominatives end in -αs, but they do not decline like this. Also, note the accents in these examples, and how they behave on the different forms. The astronomer Ptolemy's great work was h) megi/sth sunta/xij, "The Greatest Bringing-Together", which became "Almagest" in Arabic (El-Megist).

While we are at it, it is convenient to show the much-used adjective meaning "much" or "many". This declension is not a paradigm for adjectives ending in -υs in general, which is given elsewhere. In the singular, it means "much" or "many a", and in the plural, "many'. There is a Greek proverb, ou polla\ a)lla\ polu/, which you can now understand. It is clear what the term "hoi polloi" means: "the many". This was actually not the Greek word for the vulgar mob, as it is in English, but meant the "majority." The mob was called the plh/qoj (compare "plethora").

By how much one thing is more or less than another is usually expressed by an adjective of quantity in the neuter dative singular. Two useful examples are shown in the box.

When we want to say "to each other" or "of each other" the reciprocal pronoun, shown in the box, is very handy. It is, naturally, only plural, and has no nominative. In the genitive, there is one form for all genders. In the dative, there is one form for masculine and neuter, and one for feminine. In the accusative, there are different forms for each gender. This is a very useful word, and will be encountered often.

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Last revised 16 June 2002