Greek language

Distinctive Characteristics

Both the nouns and verbs of Ancient Greek were highly inflected. Verbs had active, middle, and passive voices; indicative, subjunctive, optative, and imperative moods; singular, dual, and plural numbers; and many tenses. Nouns had three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and five cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative). Unlike Latin, Greek had a word for the definite article. Three accent marks are used in Greek, the acute (´), the grave (`), and the circumflex (ˆ). In Ancient Greek they denoted a pitch accent related to the length of vowels, but in Modern Greek they serve as a stress accent. The symbol for a rough breathing over an initial vowel represented the h sound in Ancient Greek, while the symbol for a smooth breathing over an initial vowel made clear the absence of aspiration. Though still retained today, the breathing marks no longer indicate pronunciation. In punctuation, the semicolon (;) stands for the question mark, and a raised dot denotes the semicolon and colon.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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