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Greek Accents

Greek Accents

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All About Ancient Greek Accents∗

Paul Jungwirth February 6, 2007

Basic Rules
Accents in Ancient Greek seem tough to learn, and many teachers just skip over them. But with a little effort up front, you can learn the rules, and then as you see them applied to every word you read, they will quickly become second nature. Just think through the rules a few times and watch how they work out when applied to verbs and nouns. You might want to decline a few nouns yourself and write down the full conjugation of a verb or two. You should be comfortable with the basic rules before you study enclitics. Then get comfortable with enclitics before you go on to the strange exceptions. There are three types of accent: acute (ˆ), grave (€), and circumflex ().1 But they are easier to learn if we forget about the grave accent at first. A grave accent is just an acute accent that has been flipped around by the word’s place in a sentence. When a word appears alone, it never has a grave accent. So first we’ll learn how to accents words that stand alone, considering only acute and circumflex, and then we’ll learn when you should flip acutes into graves due to sentence position. Accent position is controlled by which syllables are long or short. The meaning of “long” and “short” is not as in English. A long alpha is pronounced just like a short alpha. But the ancient Greeks actually took longer
Many examples are taken from Hanson & Quinn. In Greek, these are called oxia, varia, and perispomeni. But in modern Greek, what looks like oxia is actually called tonos (literally “accent”), because it represents all three.
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An eta is basically a long epsilon. depending on the type of word.to say a long alpha. Recessive means that the accent tries to get as far left as possible. you should first consider what the accent wants. and an omega is basically a long omicron (o-mega and o-micron). There are rules that limit where you can put accents. 2 2 . the accent wants to stay on the first. but we write them here to teach which vowels are long. 3 No one actually writes macrons above long vowels. the accent wants to stay on the second syllable. The accent may need to compromise. it comes as early in the word as it can. All diphthongs are long. used by modern classics scholars. Persistent means that the accent has a place it likes. In yuq . The nouns yuq  (soul) and n¨soc (island) are both persistent. Accents are recessive on verbs and persistent on everything else (most important. and others are always one or the other:3 short long a a  e h i  i o u u  w diphthongs (almost always) The letters that are always long or always short form pairs. and it wants to stay there. Accents behave in two different ways.2 Some vowels can be either long or short. Whenever you write an accent. If an alpha has a iota subscript (ø). but not with verbs. If necessary. except for some limited circumstances which I’ll note.  £  ? Recessive Verbs Persistent Nounish Things Nouns Pronouns Articles Adjectives Participles So recessive and persistent tell you want an accent wants. does change the sound of a vowel to indicate whether it is long or short. you know it’s long. but in n¨soc. nouns and adjectives). but accents don’t always get what they want. it will change from acute to Erasmian pronunciation. and then apply the rules to see where it’s allowed. This means that with nouns you must memorize the accent’s preferred position. they stretched it out. but this is an artificial style not used by Greeks. They can be recessive or persistent.

the accent must be circumflex. This is the first place to look when you have a verb. If we write neither. Note however. There is a rule for each syllable. We could write that rule like this: -a-´-u (except for -a-¯-˘) p pu ˜-˘ -a-¯ u p So if an accent wants to fall on the penult. and “u” for ultima. The third-to-last syllable is called the antepenult. we give special names to these three syllables. The very last syllable is called the ultima. like -a-¯-u. Therefore. If the pattern is anything else. the accent has to go somewhere else.circumflex (or vice versa) to keep its spot. If we write a macron. The second-to-last syllable is called the penult. the accent can stay. it indicates that the p vowel could be long or short. telling you when an accent is allowed. Possibilities Accents can only appear on the last three syllables of a word. but if it’s long. it indicates a long vowel. The penult can always take an accent. and it can only take an acute when the ultima is short. If that won’t help. Otherwise it is acute. The antepenult can never take a circumflex. because verbs are recessive. let’s consider the ultima. because 3 . Finally. but it has a rule about which accent is allowed. the accent must be acute. If we write a breve. “p” for penult. If the ultima is long. First let’s consider the antepenult. p it indicates a short vowel: -a-˘-u. Are they long-short? Then the accent is circumflex. then the accent will grudgingly move to another syllable. consider the last two syllables. An accent can always fall here if it wants to. They never appear sooner than that. Now let’s talk about penults. So we could write that rule like this: -´-p-˘ a u As long as the ultima is short. If the word’s pattern is -a-¯-¯ pu (“long-short”). So we can represent a word like this: -a-p-u There the “a” stands for antepenult. that verbs will never accent the ultima. the accent has to move to the penult.

An accent can be acute no matter what. acutes can always fall on the ultima. An acute accent can fall on any of the three syllables: ultima. The rules for accent type are not very restrictive. Circumflex accents are more restricted.being recessive. regardless of syllable lengths. Finally. Think about the rules for that syllable to see if the accent can stay there. But it can only reach the antepenult if the ultima is short: -´-p-˘. penult. They can pu fall on the ultima as long as it is long. they will always want to go farther back. They can fall on the penult as long as the combination is not -¯-˘. Whenever you place an accent. If the word is -¯-˘. Does it need to change its type? Must it move? antepenult Šn-´-p-˘ a u ˜ never -a-p-u penult ultima jrwpoc -a-´-u (except for -a-¯-˘) -a-p-´ p pu u ˜ ˜ -a-¯-˘ pu -a-p-¯ u We could rephrase these rules in terms of accent type. It’s just another way of approaching accents: First let’s talk about acute accents. Only nouns accent the ultima. They can never fall on the antepenult. it will force a u the accent back to the penult: -a-´-¯. So one consequence of these rules is that circumflexes only appear on long vowels. You only need to think about this if it’s helpful to you. or antepenult. If the ultima is long. Acutes are less restricted when it pu comes to the penult and ultima. you should first decide which syllable it wants. We could diagram these basic rules like this: -´-p-˘ a u -a-´-u (except for -a-¯-˘) p pu -a-p-´ u ˜-˘ -a-¯ u p ˜ -a-p-¯ u 4 . an accent on the penult must pu pu be circumflex. It can be circumflex only if the ultima is long: -a-p-´ u ˜ -a-p-¯ u So those are the rules for where accents are allowed. and they can only fall on the penult if the word is -¯-˘.

Suppose your word wants an ultima acute accent. but dhloÔmhn and dhloÔmeja. jÔw (sacrifice) has an imperative form of jÜe. Nouns All other words have persistent accents. because the accent can always go farther back. so the accent recedes all the way back to the antepenult. like the subjunctive didÀ. Position the accent as if the syllables were not contracting. Instead. adjectives. whose declensions tend to move their accents around. it goes to the penult. This is the simplest case. we get âpaÐdeusa. These rules explain some forms of the -mi verbs. They also help to recall the variant optative endings like lujeØmen. Take the verb paideÔw. we must put them into practice. the accent would recede all the way to the antepenult. because an acute accent can appear on the ultima in all circumstances. articles. Verbs Verbs have recessive accent. Note that this won’t happen in indicative forms like the imperfect. You might think a circumflex could appear on the penult. the accent can only go back to the penult. The ultima is short. But the ultima is long. The only exceptions are very short verbs. accent the antepenult. just look at the last syllable. The only complication is when 5 . Look at the five rules and convince yourself that this is true. In the case of verbs. the accent wants to go all the way back to the antepenult if it can. You never see an accent on the ultima. If it’s long. And if the ultima were long. but that would require a long ultima. This gives d lÀ and dhloÜmen. the accent is circumflex unless the rules prohibit it. And you never see a circumflex (except for very short verbs: see below). to accent a verb. so this is forbidden. Being recessive. first on verbs and then on nouns. There are special rules for accenting contracted verbs. This gives timˆ-eic and poiè-ousin. and pronouns.These rules are the heart of Greek accentuation. But if we change the tense to aorist. like yuq . But to really learn them. Once you know the position. these are really the only two possibilities. If it’s short. So except for these very short cases. This matters most with nounish words like nouns. because then the accent can go all the way back to the past augment: êjue. and it becomes a circumflex due to the -¯-˘ pu pattern. For instance. accent the penult. Since there is no antepenult.

the accent will change as the ending changes. Therefore ‚delfìc becomes ‚delfoÜ and yuq  becomes yuq¬. Nom. If the penult is short. Acc. as in q¸rac. Second. limited to first-declension nouns only. Nounish words are complicated by some special rules. Gen. P. Hence. Whenever these forms are accented on the last syllable. Acc. Dat. First. These words’ plural genitive is always accented on the ultima. Gen. they are not ambiguous. But when the accent falls on the ultima. This last rule does not apply to feminine adjectives. Therefore you still have paideÔoi and paideÔsai. It is the only difference in accenting nouns versus adjectives.the accent is naturally circumflex. You have Šnjrwpoc but ‚njr¸pou. Neither does this rule apply to verbs. giving g¨c and g¨n. q¸ra becomes qwrÀn. But suppose your word wants a penult accent. no matter what. Such words are rare. like g¨. So even when the ultima is long. If the word wants an antepenult accent. Dat. If the penult is long. S. the endings -oi and -ai in third person plural forms count as short. nounish words have special rules for the genitive and dative forms (both singular and plural). again everything is simple. you still have lìgou. That gives qÀrai and Šnjrwpoi. This rule combines with another rule. because -˘-u can always take a penult p acute. as in ‚gorc versus ‚gorˆc. the accent becomes a circumflex. This accent will remain a cirumflex whenever possible. nor to third-declension nouns. it behaves much like a verb: its position is controlled by the ultima. Note that the dative endings -oic and -aic are not short. which use the -oi and -ai endings in the optative. but they do exist. as in dÀron. These rules are sufficient to explain the following declensions: Nom. lìgoc lìgou lìgú lìgon lìgoi lìgwn lìgoic lìgouc Šnjrwpoc ‚njr¸pou ‚njr¸pú Šnjrwpon Šnjrwpoi ‚njr¸pwn ‚njr¸poic ‚njr¸pouc ‚delfìc ‚delfoÜ ‚delfÄ ‚delfìn ‚delfoÐ ‚delfÀn ‚delfoØc ‚delfoÔc n¨soc n sou n sú n¨son n¨soi n swn n soic n souc ‚gorˆ ‚gorc ‚gor” ‚gorˆn ‚goraÐ ‚gorÀn ‚goraØc ‚gorˆc q¸ra q¸rac q¸rø q¸ran qÀrai qwrÀn q¸raic q¸rac This table reveals another notable thing: First-declension nouns are sometimes ambiguous between the singular genitive and plural accusative. as in lìgoc. This gives you d¸rou. 6 .

S. Dat. Acc. so this is not noticable. Nom. Dat. P. aÒx aÊgìc aÊgÐ aÚga aÚgec aÊgÀn aÊxÐ(n) aÚgac âlpÐc âlpÐdoc âlpÐdi âlpÐda âlpÐdec âlpÐdwn âlpÐsi(n) âlpÐdac qˆric qˆritoc qˆriti qˆrin qˆritec qarÐtwn qˆrisi(n) qˆritac sÀma s¸matoc s¸mati sÀma s¸mata swmˆtwn s¸masi(n) s¸mata Note that participles have persistent accent. Acc. the genitive and dative forms (singular and plural) are accented on the ultima. as in aÒx (goat). Gen. the genitive plural takes a circumflex. But usually the accent wants to fall on the stem. because they are adjectives. Gen. P. They obey the five regular accent rules. Gen. Nom. not recessive. except that the masculine and feminine nominatives have no accent at all: Nom. Acc. That yields words like this: Nom. å toÜ tÄ tìn oÉ tÀn toØc toÔc ™ t¨c t¬ t n aÉ tÀn taØc tˆc tì toÜ tÄ tì tˆ tÀn toØc tˆ Third-declension nouns don’t share all these special rules. Acc. Gen. S. It only matters for a few forms: 7 . When this happens (and not otherwise). plus one extra: when the nominative form is a single syllable. Dat. not verbs.Articles follow the same rules. Dat.

like å or oÉ. me. sou. pwc. eÊmÐ • the conjunction • the two-syllable present indicative actives forms of and fhmÐ. they can change the accent on that word. they change grave accents back to 8 . which are unaccented words pronounced closely with the next word.). ge. Enclitics include: • the indefinite pronoun/adjective • the personal pronouns • the indefinite adverbs • the particles tic. moi. An enclitic is a word that is pronounced as almost part of the preceding word. called enclitics. pojèn. like fÐle mou. Because enclitics are pronounced as part of the proceeding word. te. soi. mou.second aorist active -¸n -ìntoc -eÐc -èntoc -¸c -ìtoc -mènoc -oÜsa -oÔshc -eØsa -eÐshc -uØa -uÐac -mènh -ìn -ìntoc -èn -èntoc -ìc -ìtoc -mènon aorist passive perfect active perfect middle/passive Grave Accents and Enclitics When an acute accent appears on the ultima and is not followed by a pause. “>En ‚rq¬ âpoÐhsen å jeäc tän oÎranän kaÈ t˜n g¨n. make everything more complicated. se. although I’ve seen one or two texts that keep acutes even before commas. poi. pou. ti. First. These should not be confused with proclitics. kÔrie.) and periods (. toi. jewrÀ íti prof thc eÚ sÔ. So the accents would behave like so: “Lègei aÎtÄ ™ gun . potè. it becomes a grave accent. Therefore you would write.” And that’s all you need to know about grave accents! But certain words.” Standard practice is to keep acutes before colons (. -per.

only perÐ can. Those are the important cases to remember. If an enclitic follows a proclitic. perÐ. tÐ me di¸keic?” Usually enclitics do not accent themselves. katalÜon and katajeÐc. Thus. Otherwise. Enclitics following elided words also take accents: toÜt> âstÈ kakìn. This applies to forms with a past indicative augment.” it takes an accent on the penult: êsti sof¸tatìc tic ântaÜja or oÎk êstin ‚pofugeØn. Many infinitives are weird. And two-syllable enclitics that begin a sentence take an accent in the same way: tinàc màn lègousi. metˆ. And it applies to infinitives and participles. hence katalÜsai. So if you see a word ending in -¸c. Often.acute. can do this. But when êsti(n) begins a sentence with the meaning of “there is” or “it is possible. if the accent is as far forward as possible for that accent type. In prose. Hence: mhtrˆsi tisÐn and mhtèrwn tinÀn. when a verb has a prefix. Šdikˆ te kaÈ aÊsqrˆ and n¨sìc tic. But two-syllable enclitics take an accent when they follow a verb in the -a-´-u pattern. the enclitic adds a second acute accent to the word’s ultima. The accent goes on the ultima. In poetry. It applies to the perfect. This is to avoid p three unaccented syllables in a row. and Ípì. Two-syllable prepositions sometimes switch their accent to the first syllable when they follow their object. There are a variety of other cases that are more unusual and not necessary to memorize. blabeÐhc Šn. Second. For instance. Strange Stuff Adverbs accented on the ultima always have a circumflex: kakÀc but ‚xÐwc. parˆ. it’s probably a participle. the accent is unchanged. hence the aorist ‚p¨ljon but the imperative Špelje. ‚pì. ‚po-. each gets an accent on its ultima except the last: “SaoÌl SaoÔl. tinàc dà ‚koÔousin. Here are the rules: 9 .  gÔnai. the accent never recedes back onto the prefix. âpÐ. the proclitic gets an acute accent: EÒ ti klèyeiac. etc. Verbs have many special rules.). It is acute (or grave) on short vowels and circumflex on long. hence sun¨qa. toÔtwn pèri lègwmen. One rule applies to verbs with a prefix (pro-. If enclitics follow each other.

Two funny verbs are eÊmÐ and fhmÐ. the twosyllable forms are not recessive but enclitic. ®. etc. This gives sentences like eÎdaÐmonèc âste. circumflex on the penult. Always Always Always Always Always Always Always Always Always acute on the antepenult. circumflex or acute on the penult. f¬c. In the present indicative. acute on the penult. acute on the antepenult. acute on the penult. and fÀ. f¬. circumflex on the ultima. ®c.present active present middle/passive future active future middle future passive first aorist active first aorist middle second aorist active second aorist middle aorist passive perfect active perfect middle/passive lÔein lÔesjai lÔsein lÔsesjai luj sesjai lÜsai lÔsasjai baleØn balèsjai luj¨nai lelukènai lelÔsjai Always acute on the antepenult. 10 . acute on the penult. etc. acute on the antepenult. eÊmÐ and fhmÐ also take a circumflex in all forms of the subjunctive: Â.

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