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Hellenistic Greek © 2009, 2015, 2020
Lesson 5: Masculine and Neuter Adjectives
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The Lesson at a Glance


In this lesson you will learn to identify a large number of the adjective forms found in the New Testament and other Hellenistic Greek literature.


You will learn to identify and translate into English attributive uses of an adjective. In the sentence “That large house is expensive,” the adjective “large” is used attributively, but the adjective "expensive" is not.


You will learn to identify and translate into English predicate uses of an adjective. In the sentence “That large house is expensive,” the adjective “expensive” is used as a predicate.


As in English, Greek adjectives can sometimes be used in the same way as nouns. We call this the substantive function. In the sentence, "Blue is a beautiful color," the word "blue" is an adjective, but it functions as a noun; it is a substantive adjective.


You will learn to recognize some quantifiers—specialized words that refer to quantities, like "none," "all," and "many" in English.

Grammatical Discussion

What is an Adjective?

Adjectives are describing words like “big” and “blue” in the following sentence:

The big blue house belongs to the judge.

These words are used to modify a noun (such as “house” in the example sentence).

Unlike Greek nouns, adjectives have variable gender. A single adjective may have masculine, feminine, and neuter forms. An adjective uses masculine endings if it modifies a masculine noun, feminine endings if it modifies a feminine noun, and neuter endings if it modifies a neuter noun.

Adjective Forms

You already know the masculine and neuter endings for the adjectives presented in this lesson. They are the same as the endings for second declension nouns. (The feminine forms will be presented later.) Study the masculine and neuter forms of the adjective κακός (bad):

Masculine and Neuter Adjective Forms

Case Name
























The case, gender, and number of adjectives are context sensitive. That is, they conform to the case, gender, and number of the noun that the adjective modifies. (In this sense, their case, gender, and number function like those of the article.) In our example sentence, all of the words in the phrase, "The big blue house" would have the same case, gender, and number in Greek (nominative masculine singular).

The big blue house belongs to the judge.

For example, in the phrase, ὁ ἀγαθός ἄρτος (the good bread), the adjective ἀγαθός is nominative, masculine, singular because the noun ἄρτος is nominative, masculine, singular. The article (ὁ) also appears in its nominative masculine singular form for the same reason.

Exercise 1: Agreement

Take a moment now to try to find the correct adjective form to go in the blank for each phrase below. Pay attention to the form of the article when you see it. It will give you a strong hint about which adjective form is correct.

After choosing an answer for the first blank, you can check your answer using the Check button, or simply move on the the next question by clicking the right arrow at the bottom right of the exercise.

Word Order and Grammatical Function

The agreement of Greek adjectives with their head nouns makes it easy to determine which noun an adjective modifies. Still, variation in the word order may imply variation in the function of the adjective.

We will examine three common functions that adjectives serve in many languages, then look at how those functions are represented in Ancient Greek.

Attributive Function

In Greek, just like in English, French, Spanish, and countless other languages, the adjective may serve an attributive function, attributing a quality to its head noun.

The following English adjectives serve and attributive function in the sentences below.

In each of these sentences the adjective appears just before the noun it describes. That's how English handles attributive adjectives.

Now contrast the following Greek examples:

  1. πιστὸς δούλος (Matthew 24:45)
    the faithful servant
  2. ὁ ἰατρός ὁ ἀγαπητός (Colossians 4:14)
    the beloved physician

The order of the adjective in relation to the noun it modifies does not help us in Greek. Instead, the article if present, is a great indicator of attributive function. In both examples an article immediately precedes the adjective. Whenever there is an article in the construction at all, one must immediately precede the adjective if the adjective is to function attributively. If no article is present in the construction at all, however, the adjective may still function attributively.

  1. δένδρον ἀγαθόν [τὸ δένδρον = tree]
    a good tree (Matthew 7:18)

Exercise 2: Attributive Adjectives

Read each Greek phrase. Look at the English phrases below it, and choose the one you think most faithfully represents the mean of the Greek phrase.

Predicate Function

Greek adjectives may also serve a predicate function. This usage parallels an English construction with a form of the verb “be,” as in, “John is tall,” where is tall serves as the predicate of John (It makes an assertion about John).

In order for a Greek adjective to serve such a predicate function, the article must not immediately precede the adjective. If an article is present in the construction, it must precede the noun and not the adjective. An adjective used as a predicate is not immediately preceded by the article.

  1. πιστὸς ὁ θεός (1 Corinthians 1:9)
    God is faithful
  2. ὁ. . . νόμος ἅγιος (Romans 7:12)
    The. . . law is holy

The predicate construction is translated into English using both an adjective and a form of the verb “be” (is) in both 4 and 5. This is the way you will need to translate predicate adjectives until you have become comfortable enough with them to explore other options.

If there is no article at all in the phrase, only the larger context determines whether the adjective is attributive or predicate.

Exercise 3: Predicate Adjectives

Read each Greek phrase. Look at the English phrases below it, and choose the one that best represents the meaning of the Greek phrase.

Exercise 4: Distinguishing Attributive and Predicate Adjectives

Now it's time to try distinguishing between attributive and predicate adjectives.

Exceptions to the Attributive - Predicate Rule

As with many "rules" of usage in language, this one has obvious exceptions. Sometimes, though the pattern implies predicate, the context demands an attributive sense, for example.

  1. τοῖς δὲ Συρακοσίοις νεανίσκοις (Calirhoe 4.3.12)
    and for the young Syracusans

The context of this phrase in Chariton's Calirhoe prohibits a predicate reading ("the Syracusans are young"), yet that is exactly the pattern we see. As with all generalizations about language, you will occasionally find an intractable exception. This is normal. Context must always have the last word!

Substantive Function

The Greek adjective may also function as a substantive (like a noun). In this case the adjective is used without a head noun. Often, but not always, it is accompanied by the article.

The gender of the adjective matches the gender of the person or object to which it refers, as you can see in the example from Matthew 13:43 below. When the adjective refers to a person or persons, it may be necessary to add a word or words such as "one" or "people" or "those who" in the translation.

οἱ δίκαιοι (Matthew 13:43)
The righteous [people]
[Those who are] righteous

The neuter singular form is normally used when the adjective refers to an abstract concept rather than a person or physical object. Notice the example from Matthew 7:6 below.

τὸ ἅγιον (Matthew 7:6)
the holy
that which is holy
whatever is holy

When it refers to multiple instances of that concept in general, it can be neuter plural.

τὰ σαρκικά (1 Corinthians 9:11)
material things

Exercise 5: Substantive Adjectives

Read each Greek adjective phrase. Choose the English phrase that you think best represents its meaning.

Click here to practice distinguishing between masculine and neuter substantive adjectives.


Quantifiers are specialized words that refer to quantities. A few examples of quantifiers in English are "none," "all," "whole," "entire," "every," and "some." These words typically look like adjectives, and are similar to adjectives in many ways, but have a few special features that adjectives do not share. The rules for interpreting attributive and predicate constructions outlined above, for example, do not apply to quantifiers. Some quantifiers appear only in the predicate pattern, yet their meaning is more closely related to an attributive adjective. Note that there is no form of the verb "be" in the translations of the phrases below.

ὅλον τὸν κόσμον (Mark 14:9)
the whole world (NOT "The world is whole")

τὸν κόσμον ὅλον (Matthew 16:26)
the whole world (NOT "The world is whole")

Other quantifiers may appear in either the predicate or attributive pattern, but the meaning difference between the two is not the same as with adjectives.

μόνος ὁ θεός (Luke 5:21) [Predicate word order]
only God (NOT "God is alone")
God alone

ὁ πατὴρ μόνος (Matthew 24:36) [Predicate word order]
only the father (NOT "The father is alone")
the father alone

τοῦ μόνοῦ θεοῦ (John 5:44) [Attributive word order]
of the only God

Exercise 6: Practice with Quantifiers

Look at each picture, then try to read the Greek phrase below it. Choose the English phrase that most closely matches the Greek.

Vocabulary and reading exercises for this lesson are contained in Lesson 5b.