Attic Greek is ripe with particles, sentence adverbs and conjunctions, many fluctuating between the two uses. The conjuctions are divisible into coordinating (further into adversative and connective) and subordinating. The adverbial uses are usually emotional or logical. Furthermore, they are either prepositive, preceeding their modified colon, postpositive (some enclitic, leaning accentually on the preceding word), following the first or second word of a colon, or, in rare cases, free radicals (a.k.a Mobiles), freely shifting sentence placement.

A few examples (I'm sure I'll forget some):

  • και, kai: connective conjunction, resumptive adverb, "and"; theoretically the adverbial use is the original. Most often prepositive.
  • αλλα, alla: adversative conjunction, resumptive adverb."but". Most often prepositive. Usually follows a negative clause or sentence.
  • μεν, men: resumptive or progressive adverb, untranslatable in most cases. Often paired with:
  • δε, de: connective or adversative conjunction used with sentences instead of individual phrases, often progressive. Often paired with men, to give the meaning "Men X, de Y", "On the one hand X, on the other hand Y".
  • αρα, ara: marking a consequent thought. progressive. Also, a confirmative.
  • γε, ge: Either intensive or restrictive, "indeed", "at least". Once, a professor told me that it is best translated by raising one eyebrow.
  • γαρ, gar: confirmatory adverb and causative conjunction. Often used after a question as a confirmatory adverb.
  • δη, de (long e, eta): postpositive, marks an immediate thought or present statement, often obvious or naturally progressing.
  • η, e (long e, eta): adversative conjunction (disjunction). paired "e X, e Y", "Either X, or Y".
  • η, e (long e, eta, circumflex): asseverative. "In truth, verily".
  • νυν, nun: "now", either with a causal or progressive sense, often inferential; rarely temporal.
  • μην, men (long e, eta): asseverative, emphasizing a whole statement or single word.
  • ουν, oun: postpositive, confirmatory or inferential
  • τε, te: correlative conjunction; enclitic
With that brief survey of function, how about a few notes on form? Particles are among the few sentence elements in classical Greek where word order makes a lick of difference. The problem is in exceptions to a law called Wackernagel's Law, stating simply that postpositives are always the second word in a sentence. The exceptions rest on three cases:

  1. That second can refer to a third or fourth, especially when first word is followed by a particle cluster, such that a postpositive normally in second takes third place in following another postpositive.
  2. Wackernagel's "word" can refer to an element. A mobile is defined as a syntactic unit, and thus can consist, e.g. of a noun and its governing preposition. A phrase Εν τοισι μεν... is thus not technically an exception to the rule, since Εν τοισι forms a syntactic unit, or single mobile.
  3. The "sentence" can be a clause, phrase, or other logical syntactic division. Thus, a postpositive governs a particular sentence domain, and takes its position based on the word order of the domain and not the sentence. (n.b. while often coinciding, the particular domain is not the equivalent of a colon).
In general, what this means is that in addition to shading the meaning of individual sentence or cola, the particle serves as a boundary marker, both isolating its colon and defining its relationship to its neighbours.

Why, you may ask, do I bother noding this? Well, first of all, it's the sort of useless knowledge which seems to flock to E2 like frat boys to roofies. Secondly, these little words are the core of ancient Greek; translations take great pains and many words to capture in English what these little bastards do, and without them much of Greek would be meaningless. Thirdly, there is great joy there: A little story:

There is currently a professor working on the shades of meaning of the particle 'men', its history and development as well as its use in rhetoric. he was once asked, "Why only men? Why not consider cases of ''?", to which his reply: "Well, one wouldn't want to lose focus...". Once you've realized how much happiness you can take from a particle, Greek starts being...blissful. If you're into that sort of thing, that is.

The following are the best resources currently available on the subject:

  • Smyth, Herbert Weir. Greek Grammar. (Cambridge 1985). The standard Greek grammar in English for colleges.
  • Denniston, J.D. The Greek Particles. (London 1991). Written with great love and care, an infinite source of citations for individual uses.
  • Dik, Helma. Word Order in Ancient Greek. (Amsterdam 1995). Though focused on Herodotus, has long since replaced Kenneth Dover's work on word order (who, mind, freely these days admits that she is correct).

changelog, 23 February 2001: it seems foolish to add corrections in the footnotes and leave mistakes in the above node, but I will add a few changes I have made here. I just added the Greek characters, thanks to my rediscovery of this node.

Also, what was once proclitic in the first paragraph is now prepositive; the former was poorly chosen, as Anacreon kindly reminded me, as I meant sentence position, not any accentual characteristic. Enclitic particles are ge, te, toi, and per, not all of which are noded above (though, for completeness, I may add them later); as such, they are also naturally postpositive, requiring a a preceding word to lean on. Further information properly belongs here.

Also, I have added the bit about word order and Wackernagel's Law; Anacreon's call on the initial drunken node led me to the references cited, which goaded me to add their own tidbits of relevant wisdom.

Mistakes, as always, remain my own, and I welcome corrections.

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