The Morphology of Biblical Greek: A Companion to Basics of Biblical Greek and The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament


The Morphology of Biblical Greek explains, in a way second-year Greek students can understand, how Greek words are formed. It shows that Greek word formation follows a limited set of rules. Once these rules are understood, it becomes clear that forms which once seemed to be irregular or an exception actually follow these morphological rules. The Morphology of Biblical Greek has five parts: 1.The rules that determine how Greek words change. 2. The rules of verb formation, from augment to personal ending. 3. ...

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The Morphology of Biblical Greek explains, in a way second-year Greek students can understand, how Greek words are formed. It shows that Greek word formation follows a limited set of rules. Once these rules are understood, it becomes clear that forms which once seemed to be irregular or an exception actually follow these morphological rules. The Morphology of Biblical Greek has five parts: 1.The rules that determine how Greek words change. 2. The rules of verb formation, from augment to personal ending. 3. Paradigms for every type of noun and adjective form, with all the words that belong in each category and any peculiarities of a given word. 4. All the verbs and principal parts, with verbs that follow the same rules grouped together. 5. An index of all words in the New Testament with their morphological category. The Morphology of Biblical Greek contains the most complete set of paradigms for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and pronouns available for New Testament Greek.

The purpose behind this book is to show that Greek is very regular in the way it forms words--if you know the rules. It explains why Greek words do what they do, in a way that second-year Greek students can understand. Can be used with the author's Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310226369
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 12/1/1994
  • Pages: 388
  • Sales rank: 458,964
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

William D Mounce (Ph.D., Aberdeen University) lives as a writer in Washougal, Washington. He is the President of Biblical, a non-profit organization offering world-class educational resources for discipleship in the local church. See www.Bill for more information. Formerly he was a preaching pastor, and prior to that a professor of New Testament and director of the Greek Program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestselling Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other resources. He was the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and is serving on the NIV translation committee. See www.Bill for more information.

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The Morphology of Biblical Greek

A Companion to Basics of Biblical Greek and The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament
By William D. Mounce


Copyright © 1994 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-22636-8

Chapter One

§7.11 Synizesis. ([sigma][upsilon][nu][iota][eta][sigma][iota][zeta]) In poetry, when two vowels or a vowel and a diphthong occur in successive syllables, the two vowels/diphthong can be pronounced as one sound while still written as two (Smyth §60-61).

Introduction to Consonantal Change (§10)

In "Introduction to Vocalic Changes" (§1), we said that the written form of the word was the result of how the language was spoken. Vowels are changed because the Greeks did not like certain combinations of sounds or some such reason. The same holds true for changes in consonants. Certain consonantal sounds do not naturally follow other consonantal sounds, and therefore usually the first consonant is modified so the combination of the two is easier to pronounce.

There are, of course, many other reasons why consonants change. For example, there used to be two additional letters in the Greek alphabet, [iota] (consonantal iota) and F (digamma). At some time prior to Koine Greek, both these letters dropped out of use, but the fact that they used to be part of the language will affect some words' forms. For example, i was added to the verbal base of some verbs in order to form their present tense stem: *[beta][alpha][lambda] + [iota]. But when [lambda] and [iota] occur side by side, they would modify and form geminate [lambda] ([beta][alpha] [lambda] [lambda][omega]). What this means is that in the tenses other than the present, we only have to account for one [lambda] (such as in the aorist [epsilon] [beta][alpha][lambda]ov) because the [iota] was used only in the present.

The whole field of consonantal phonetics may be a bit frightening at first because it will be new to most. But like many things, the fear is mostly because it is new and not because it is difficult. As was the case with vowels, consonantal changes are pretty much common sense, and we have tried to write the rules so that you can understand any one of them without having to understand everything about phonetics. We would strongly encourage you to make use of the charts. The explanations use the technical language, and eventually you will understand the terminology. But the key is the charts. Just follow the arrows and all should make sense.

As was the case with vowels, the changes we will be discussing are for the most part theoretical. For example, the theoretical form [sigma][upsilon][nu][lambda][alpha][mu][beta][alpha][nu][omega] never existed. When the compound was originally created, the [nu] on [sigma][mu][nu] was changed to a [lambda], resulting in [sigma][upsilon][lambda][lambda][alpha][mu][beta][alpha][nu][omega] because the Greek tongue did not want to say the [nu][lambda], combination. So we say, "When a [nu] is immediately followed by a [lambda], the [nu] assimilates to a [lambda]."

Or we talk about the root *[theta][epsilon]. To form the present stem it reduplicates the initial consonant and separates the two with an [iota], lengthens the stem vowel to a [eta], and uses the alternate personal ending [mu][iota]: [theta][epsilon] * [theta][iota][theta][epsilon] * [theta][iota][theta][eta] * [theta][iota][theta][eta][mu][iota]. But the Greeks did not like to pronounce two consecutive syllables beginning with an "aspirate," a sound made by a continual passage of air between the roof of the mouth and the tongue that is pressed upwards, such as a theta. Therefore, the [theta] is "deaspirated" to its corresponding deaspirated stop, which is is [tau]: [theta][iota][theta][eta][mu][iota] * [tau][iota][theta][mu][iota].

Two final examples will suffice. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] looses the il in the genitive and develops a [delta] before the [rho]: [alpha][nu][eta][rho] * [alpha][nu][rho][sigma][rho][zeta]. Why a S and not some other consonant, or why develop any consonant at all? Say the word "[alpha][nu][rho]" outloud, and be sure to form the p sound on the end of your tongue like you do in English, and not in the back of your throat as you would in the German. Say it several times outloud, quickly if necessary. If you still cannot hear it, trill the [delta] sound a little like you would in Spanish. What do you hear? You hear a S sound, don't you, automatically being said before the [rho]. Why? That is just the way an English-speaking mouth forms its letters. When the [eta] drops out, it is unnatural to pronounce [nu][rho]. What our tongues almost expect is to find a [delta] sound before the [rho]. When it is not there, the tongue does it anyway. So we say that an "epenthetic" [delta] is inserted between the [nu] and [rho] (§18.3).

[lambda][alpha][mu][beta][alpha][nu][omega] is always a good illustration. The root is *[lambda][alpha][beta]. It is in a class of verbs that adds [alpha][nu] to the verbal root to form the present stem: [lambda][alpha][beta] * [lambda][alpha][beta][alpha][nu] + [omega]. But a subclass of this division inserts a [nu] before the [beta]: [lambda][alpha][beta][alpha][nu][omega] * [lambda][alpha][nu][beta][alpha][nu][omega]. Now pronounce this word. Can you feel how the tongue goes from being pressed to the top of the mouth with the mouth open when it says the [nu], to the tongue dropping down a bit and the mouth closing to say the [beta]? Instead of making the [nu] sound so distinct, try pronouncing it, but while you are doing so start to close your lips in preparation for the [beta] sound. In fact, start to make the [beta] sound before you are done with the [nu] sound. What are you saying? The [nu] has become a [mu]. But this is a totally natural movement. You are saying "[nu][nu][nu][nu]" but the mouth is getting ready to say "[beta]." As the mouth closes and the tongue drops in preparation for the [beta], it affects the pronunciation of the [nu] such that it become a [mu]: [lambda][alpha][nu][beta][alpha][nu][omega] * [lambda][alpha][mu][beta][alpha][nu][omega].

Here is what these examples are trying to show. All the changes that we will be discussing came about for very common sense reasons. That is the beauty of language. Their form is controlled by their use, and if the word is hard to pronounce, it is modified. There are other reasons for consonantal modification, but this is one of the most obvious.

Our challenge is this. As you study the rules below, say the words you are reading in their various stages. Listen to yourself and see if you can hear why the changes are made. After some practice, you should be able almost to guess what is going to happen.

Greek is not an irregular language. It is tremendously regular; the trick is to develop an ear for how the Greeks liked to speak and for which sounds they found difficult to pronounce. Then realize that all those "irregularities" that you may have been forced to memorize in Beginning Greek class are really not irregular but perfectly regular.

Classification of Consonants (§11)

§11.1 Whereas vowels are the basic sounds of a language, consonants are the interruption and restriction of those sounds (LaSor §10.41). Consonants are formed through a combination of three factors:

1. whether or not the vocal cords are used;

2. to what extent the flow of air is restricted;

3. what part of the mouth is used.

§11.2 No consonant is formed by just one of these factors, but by a combination usually of all three. For every consonant the vocal cords either are or are not used, the air flow is to some degree restricted, and a certain part of the mouth is used (although the latter factor only comes into real consideration on the six stops and three aspirates). For example, [beta] uses the vocal cords, the air flow is completely stopped, and the lips are closed. [beta] is therefore a voiced consonant, a stop, and a labial.

§11.3 As is usually the case with grammarians, every one seems to use a different set of terms. We have adopted the terminology that we feel best describes what is actually happening in the pronunciation of the consonant, and the terminology that is linguistically correct. For more discussion see LaSor (§12) and Smyth (§15-21).

First scheme: Use of vocal cords

§11.4 We have classified consonants according to the three different factors described in §11.1. The first scheme distinguishes between consonants that use the vocal cords and those that do not. To understand the difference, put your finger tips against your voice box, pronounce [beta], and then pronounce [theta]. The vibration of the voice box while the [beta] is said shows that the voice is being used. But during the [theta] there is no vibration because the voice box is not being used. This is the difference between a voiced and a voiceless consonant.

§11.5 Voiceless. The voice is not used in the pronunciation of the consonant (also called "unvoiced," "smooth," "surd," "silent").

[theta], [kappa], [xi], [pi], [sigma], [tau], [phi], [chi], [psi], [rho]

§11.6 Voiced. The voice is used in the pronunciation of the consonant (also called "middle," or "sonant," which means "having sound"). (All vowels are voiced sounds.)

[beta], [gamma], [delta], [zeta], [lambda], [mu], [nu], [rho] (except [rho]), [iota], F, [gamma]-nasal

§11.7 Smyth arranges the consonants "according to the increasing degree of noise" (§15c), beginning with the vowels, then nasals, semivowels, liquids, sibilants, stops, and double consonants.

Second scheme: Part of the Mouth

§11.8 The second scheme classifies consonants according to what part of the mouth is used to form the consonants. Labials, velars, and dentals are called "stops" (cf. §12.1; MH 108-112).

§11.9 Labial. The lips are used to pronounce the consonant.

[pi] voiceless labial

[beta] voiced labial

[theta] labial aspirate

[mu] labial nasal (also called "labio-nasal"). BAGD refers to [mu] primarily as a nasal.

[psi] labial affricate. MBG refers to [psi] primarily as a double consonant.

F labial fricative

§11.9a The term "lingual" refers to those consonants requiring the tongue in their pronunciation: [lambda] [rho] [mu]. MBG does not use this term.

§11.10 Velar. The soft palate is used to pronounce the consonant. "Velar" is the adjective form of the noun "velum," which is another name for the soft palate. The soft palate is the soft area right in back of the hard part of the roof of the mouth. In the pronunciation of these consonants, the back of the tongue comes up against this area of the roof of the mouth and the air flows over the top of the tongue. Some grammarians use the term "palatal" instead of "velar."

[kappa] voiceless velar

[gamma] voiced velar

[chi] velar aspirate

[xi] velar affricate. MBG refers to [xi] as a double consonant.

§11.11 Dental. The teeth are used to pronounce the consonant. This is the way the description is normally given, although it is not actually correct. The tongue does not actually touch the teeth. (If it does you need braces.) Rather, the tongue clicks against the alveolar ridge, which is right behind the teeth, hence some use the term "alveolar." Say a "t" sound and feel where the tongue touches (also called "linguals").


Excerpted from The Morphology of Biblical Greek by William D. Mounce Copyright © 1994 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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