Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dr. Strangegrammar

Dr. Strangegrammar
(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Greek Participle)

There is perhaps no greater source of angst to the Greek Student than the seemingly elusive “participle”. With the introduction of the Participle there comes much wailing and gnashing of teeth, students trembling with fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. But as for you, dear reader, when you see a participle, lift up your heads, for the wonders of the Greek language is upon you.

The Greek Participle is not scary – in fact, it really is your friend. You just need to know what a Participle is in English, how to recognize one in Greek, and then how it is used in Greek. So, let’s look at things very briefly.

1 – The Participle in English.

We will make this super, super simple. A participle is what you have anytime you see this: Verb + “ing”. There. Simple as that. “Running”, “Crying”, “Fishing” – these are all participles – and what a participle does is it takes a verb and changes it into a “noun” – into an idea or concept. Consider.

“Joe runs. Joe likes running.” The participle lets us discuss this “idea” that comes along with the verb run. You can also use these verbal ideas to set up complex sentences – for example: “While running, Joe saw a duck.” The main point of the sentence is the highly important viewing of a duck, but now we can know in what context Joe saw this duck. (Or even look at the previous sentence – “viewing” is a participle!)

Now, one can go on and on about all the various types of participles that we have in English – but let’s keep it simple. Verb + ing

2 – The Participle in Greek.

The Participle in Greek is the exact same thing that it is in English – it is a verb plus an ending that let’s you know what sort of noun (ah, those lovely declensions). In Greek it is Verb + Noun Ending. Simple as that. If it’s 3rd Declension – it’s active (hitting). If it’s 1st or 2nd Declension (i.e. the typical adjective endings), it’s passive (being hit). Oh, and if you didn’t notice, the basic 3rd Declension endings, if you don’t stick them to a noun, is the participle for is – “being”.

So, this makes identifying a participle in Greek easy – whenever you see a verb with a 3rd declension ending stuck too it, it’s a participle. “But,” you say, “They have 8 different participle paradiagms, each with 24 different words, that’s 192 possibilities, one for every hour of the week with 2 on Sunday! Surely I will fail!” No, you won’t, and here’s why.

Remember, Greek verbs have changes to the stem that let you know how they are functioning. The same thing happens with the verbal part of a Greek Participle – so once you see the ending, figure out what tense the verb. Here are the seven main participle tenses and how you can identify their stems.

Present Active - Base stem + 3rd Declension
Present Passive – Base stem + men + 1st or 2nd Declension
Aorist Active - Base stem + sa + 3rd Declension or 2nd Aorist stem + 3rd Declension
Aorist Middle - Base stem + sam + 1st or 2nd Declension
2nd Aorist Middle 2nd Aorist stem + men + 1st or 2nd Declension
Aorist Passive Base stem + the + something that looks a lot like the 3rd Declension.
Perfect Active Reduplication + Stem + k + 3rd Declension
Perfect Mid/Pass Reduplication + Stem + men + 1st or 2nd.

So, what does all this mean? Simple. If you see 3rd Declension endings, it’s active. If you see “men” and either 1st or 2nd, it’s passive. If you see an Aorist looking verb, it’s aorist. If you see reduplication, it’s perfect. There – if you have this down, you can recognize any participle.

3 – Translating the Greek Participle.

How then does one translate participles from Greek to English? At this point, you will probably have terrors thinking of different lists of how to translate – different terms for how you do this or that. Don’t worry about that. Simply do this – translate the Greek word as the verb + ing. That will give you a very broken sounding English translation – then simply make that expression sound nicer in English.

To go more complex, think about things this way. If the participle is aorist, it denotes something that “has” happened – just bear that there will be generally some cause and effect, some “as… then” sort of thought movement. If the participle is perfect, it means it is something that “had”. Other than that, they work just like the nouns – matching up.

A quick note, just because it’s neat. If the participle is genitive, it can denote “when” or “while” – because genitive denotes that something comes out of or from – and that’s all that its doing there.

4 – That’s it.

Seriously. That’s it. Now, sure, as you read, you’ll get used to the ways in which participles are used. You might even remember the spiffy titles we have given to these uses – but basically its just this simple. Don’t let the jargon or the preponderance of paradigms freak you out – it’s just a verb + noun ending leading to something that works like an English verb + ing. Nothing more, nothing less.

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