Greek – Semester 2, Week 1

Participles.

I’m often asked why I’m learning Greek: after all, there are dozens – maybe even hundreds of English translations – why not stick to one of them instead of going to all this trouble? This week provided a bit of insight into where it can be useful.

A participle is a bit of a tricky thing – a lot of people struggle with them in the years after they learn them the first time. It’s a verbal adjective – when you use a verb to further describe something that’s happening.

The cow jumped over the moon while she was moo-ing.

In this sentence, jumped would be the main (finite) verb of the sentence, and while she was moo-ing would be the participle. In Greek, though, that whole idea would just be a single word – you can express which noun, the aspect (ongoing or one-off), the tense… all in a single word.

As if that wasn’t enough meaning to pack into a single word, these can be used as nouns. This means that you can have a single word in greek that means “the cows that were continually moo-ing”.

Not all that important in this (rather obscure) example, but when you’re trying to work out what is being said, it’s a whole extra layer of meaning that you can look at. Maybe your translator didn’t think that the continual moo-ing was important, or maybe they over-emphasised the moo-ing, when the word didn’t actually make it important.

Granted, this is trivial when you’re dealing with livestock, but when you’re trying to work out things about God, it will probably reward the extra investigation in meaning.

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