Learning prepositions

Grammar questions which are not related to any specific text.

Learning prepositions

Postby Scott Hughey » August 4th, 2013, 7:01 pm

Should I memorize the cases of prepositions as a beginner or is it enough to tell from context?

Example, can I determine if δια means through or because of based on the sentence without memorizing through is the genitive use and because of is the accusative?
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Re: Learning prepositions

Postby Jonathan Robie » August 4th, 2013, 10:07 pm

Scott Hughey wrote:Should I memorize the cases of prepositions as a beginner or is it enough to tell from context?

Example, can I determine if δια means through or because of based on the sentence without memorizing through is the genitive use and because of is the accusative?


I would recommend that you learn the cases of prepositions - not so much via rote memorization, but by grasping the meaning of the case and the sense of the preposition when used with that case.

There's gray area, and I imagine others can help me say what I'm trying to better than I'm doing, but δια+genitive, ἀπό, ἐκ, πρό, there is a related range of meaning. Think of "through" as "into, then out of", and the relationship between δια+genitive, ἀπό, and ἐκ becomes clear. κατά+genitive is similar.

δια+accusative isn't as easy to relate to other prepositions, though. Maybe someone else has a good mnemonic for this.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Learning prepositions

Postby Stephen Hughes » August 5th, 2013, 3:07 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:I would recommend that you learn the cases of prepositions - not so much via rote memorization, but by grasping the meaning of the case and the sense of the preposition when used with that case.

You will find two schools of thought on this.

Some people like Jonathan suggest you learn the meaning of the cases and that adding a preposition "modifies" the case meaning. Others say that prepositions have individual meanings that sort of "replace" the case meaning - and the case just shows you which of the "replacement meanings" you should use.

The difference is conceptually like the geocentric and heliocentric world view. Either way you look at, the movement is still the same and the Greek grammar doesn't change, only the way you theorise it.

In most cases context will guide you, but that is like driving a car with your hands off the steering wheel and hoping that the civil engineers made sufficient gradient on the curves to turn vehicles by themselves.
Stephen Hughes
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Re: Learning prepositions

Postby Stephen Carlson » August 5th, 2013, 6:12 am

For some prepositions, especially μετά and διά, the context is often unhelpful for distinguishing their senses. For others, maybe κατά, the context is more helpful. But I'd say that the sooner one learns these little function words the better. They really need to be known by heart, but whether that's through rote memorization is up to you and your learning style. The upshot is that you have to know them almost instinctually. Getting the function words in place will help create the framework for learning the content words by reading them in context. It's awfully hard to go the other direction.
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Re: Learning prepositions

Postby Barry Hofstetter » August 5th, 2013, 6:40 am

Scott, simply memorize the glosses supplied with whatever beginning text you might be using. Yes, since certain prepositions take multiple cases, memorize the difference in meaning with each case. Then be aware, as you have already been advised, that the actual usage in context of a given preposition might not be what you expect from the meaning(s) you initially learned. Those glosses are simply a rough equivalency to help you get started. Prepositions in any language tend to be somewhat fluid in usage, and lend themselves to a variety of idiomatic expressions. Greek is no exception. :shock:
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Re: Learning prepositions

Postby Scott Hughey » August 5th, 2013, 12:52 pm

Very helpful everyone. Looks like I'll be learning the cases. :shock:
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Re: Learning prepositions

Postby Stephen Hughes » August 5th, 2013, 2:08 pm

Scott Hughey wrote:Looks like I'll be learning the cases.

They are not so difficult as they might first appear when you flip through a textbook. You probably won't be aiming to memorise them to reproduce them, just to be able to recognise which one is which.

Notice that there are two functions going on in the cases; lengthening and addition. Lengthening sometimes marks the singular and addition mostly marks cases. And a final -ς might mark the plural as it does in English.

Perhaps the easiest to see that in might be the dative of the ones that you will be looking at early on. Just say the noun forms sort of have a lot of ο's in it (the Greek letter omicron). The dative is the addition of an ι (the Greek letter iota). In the singular the ο (the Greek letter omicron) is lengthened to ω (the Greek letter omega) and the ι (the Greek letter iota) slips underneath. The resulting ending is ῳ. In the plural, there is no lengthening of the ο (the Greek letter omicron), there is the addition of the ι (the Greek letter iota) and there is also a ς (the Greek letter sigma as it is written at the end of words) which is fairly much like the s (the English letter s) which marks the plural. The resulting ending is οις.
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Re: Learning prepositions

Postby Shirley Rollinson » August 6th, 2013, 9:23 pm

Scott Hughey wrote:Very helpful everyone. Looks like I'll be learning the cases. :shock:

I find it easier to learn a short idiomatic phrase, such as μετα ταυτα, δια τουτο, ἑως οὑ, κατα Mαρκαν, κτλ., which one meets fairly frequently when reading the GNT, and from which one can work out the case used.
Also remember, in common with some other IE languages - "motion towards" = Accusative, "motion away from" = Genitive, and "at rest" = Dative (standing in for Locative)
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