Lesson ': To Be; Pronouns

To Be

ei~)mi is one of the few really irregular verbs in Greek; it is not a typical -μι verb. It does not describe an action (a verb if often carelessly defined as a word expressing an action), but a state, or link between two notions. Of course, it cannot have a middle or passive voice, but expresses all the moods. It has only present, imperfect and future tenses. In the figure, the complete present tense is shown, but we will only need the third person, so that alone is given in the other tenses. It has smooth breathing throughout. Accents and breathing distinguish it from words that are spelled the same. The present and imperative forms are found in most propositions; the other forms are rarer.

All forms of the present, except for the second person singular, are enclitic. This means that they are pronounced as part of the preceding word, and usually carry no accent themselves. If the preceding word is accented on the penult, they do have an accent on the ultima, as shown in the Figure. In some cases, the preceding word adds a second accent on its ultima. The rules for all this are simple, but you do not need to know them, only recognize that the accent may differ.

There is a present active participle, which in English is the single word "being". In Greek, it has 24 forms, for the four cases, three genders, and two numbers. It will be worthwhile to remember the participle, because all present and future active participles have the same endings!. Note that the feminine has υ, while the masculine and neuter have ν.


As mentioned in Lesson 2, a pronoun is a noun that simply points out without identifying. "He" is a male person that is the subject of the verb, but just who "he" is, is not further specified. The speaker could have some male person in mind, or it could be a general class of male persons. Similarly, "who" refers to a person, generally one that has just been pointed out, as in "give it to the man whois over there." It would be cumbersome to say, "give it to the man, the man over there." We would also say, "give it to the man whom you see," if we knew English grammar. The pronoun takes its case from its use in its clause ("whom you see"). This is rudimentary in English, but very important in Greek. The word "he" is a personal pronoun, while "who, whom" is a relative pronoun. There are also several additional types of pronouns. Let's review the most frequently-met pronouns here.

Greek once used pronouns for "he, she, it, they" as Latin and English do, but they were displaced by the more emphatic au)to/j, "same" or "self." As an adjective, the word means just this, but in the oblique cases it can be used alone as a pronoun. It is not used as a pronoun in the nominative (generally, either no pronoun, or the definite article alone, is used in this case). a/)lloj, "other" is declined the same way, and is very useful.

The relative pronoun, in the box at the left, has obvious resemblances to the definite article, except that τ never appears, and it usually carries an accent to distinguish it from the article. Note that ο is neuter, and οs is masculine, however.

The interrogative (with accent) or indefinite (without accent) pronoun is very often encountered. For example, τι' means "what?" or "which?", but simple τι says "some" or "something". These "τ" words are the equivalents of the Latin "q" words and the English "w" words. Should you see the relative pronoun immediately followed by the indefinite, as in o/(stis, the meaning here is "whoever." "Whatever" is 'o/( ti, with a space, to avoid confusion with 'o/(ti, "because."

If you take the definite article, and append δε, you get the demonstrative pronoun o/(de, "this," or "this that follows." "This triangle" is expressed to/de to\ tri/gwnon. In this adjectival use, the demonstrative pronoun takes the predicative position. Note that the δε follows the inflection, and the accent stays with the article part. The genitive and dative all have circumflexes, the other forms acutes. The more common word for "this," or "this which is to come," is o/(utos, which is the definite article again, with tou- prefixed if the vowel in the article is a o-sound, and with tau- otherwise. The masculine and feminine nominatives, shown in the box on the left, lose the initial τ, and it is replaced by rough breathing. The masculine singular also has an added σ. The accent is on the first syllable. Neuter nominative and accusative have circumflexes in singular and plural, as does the masculine accusative singular. The rest of the accents are acute. Perhaps the most common form seen is tau~ta, "these things." Remember that it takes a singular verb.

The word for "that" is e)kei~noj, which is declined like outos, and has the same accents. All three of these words may be used as emphatic personal pronouns (he, she, it, they), including in the nominative.

As an exercise, write out all 12 cases of o/(de, o~(utoj and e)kei~noj, using the above information. Start by writing down the cases of the definite article for the first two words. The definite article is the key to recognizing a great number of words. There are several important examples in this lesson.

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created November 2000
Last revised 14 December 2000