Bookmark and Share

Hellenistic Greek © 2008, 2020
Lesson 28: Participles
Suggest an improvement to this lesson.

Lesson at a Glance


You will learn what a participle is, and begin learning how they were used in Ancient Greek.

The verb εἰμί

Learning the participle forms for εἰμί will teach you the pattern needed for forming the participles of all other verbs.

What is a participle?

A participle is formed from a verb but is used in many ways like an adjective or noun. Here are some examples of verb forms used as adjectives in English:

  • How do you like my new running shoes?
  • I also bought a new swim suit.

Here are some examples of English verb forms used as nouns:

  • Running is fun.
  • I love cooking.

Greek participles may be used in both of these ways, but they may also be used to describe the setting in which something happens. The Greek equivalent of the following English sentences might use a participle.

  • While Jessica ate breakfast, she talked with her brother.
  • After cooking the meal, Dad called us all to the table.

The first part of each of these sentences (“While Jessica ate breakfast”, “After cooking the meal”) could be expressed with a participle in Ancient Greek.

The English Participle of "to be"

While the vast majority of verbs in English can be used in this way, one verb has a much more specialized set of uses: the verb to be. Consider the following sentences:

  • Dentistry is a stressful job.
  • Being a dentist is a stressful job.

How are the two sentences different?

Obviously, the phrase "being a dentist" replaces the noun "dentistry," but how does that impact the meaning? In the second sentence a verbal element is added. We are no longer talking only about the profession, "dentistry." We are now talking about the ongoing experience of being in that profession. This is one of the roles of the participle of "be": to add a verbal sense, a progressive aspectual sense, to a phrase. Notice that the sentence contains no focus at all on the beginning or ending of being a dentist, but only on the process or experience. This is progressive aspect.

In English, traditional grammarians have called this -ing form (being) the "present" participle to distinguish it from the "past" participle been, although being can clearly be used to talk about things that are not in the present, and been can be used to talk about things that continue in the present.

  • Kyle was being a pain yesterday.
  • Kyle has been my friend for years.

In both English and Greek, participles do not communicate time directly. Other elements in the sentence contribute that information.

Usage of Ancient Greek Participles

As with the English participle of "be", the Ancient Greek participle of εἰμί had specialized uses that set it apart from other verbs. We should not assume, though, that "be" and εἰμί are equivalent. They are not.

Substantival Usage

The participle of εἰμί is sometimes used as a noun, often with the article (ὁ, ἡ, τό). In the example below the participial phrase, ὁ ὤν serves as the subject of the verb (ἐστιν), just as a noun phrase could.

ὁ μὴ ὢν μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ κατ᾿ ἐμοῦ ἐστιν (Matthew 12:30)
Whoever is not with me is against me.
The one who is not with me is against me.
The person who is not with me is against me.

We do not have a direct grammatical equivalent for this in English, though we can clearly express the relevant idea using the indefine pronoun "whoever" or a phrase like "the one who" or "the person who". In Greek it's simply ὁ ὤν, the article with a participle.

Adjectival Usage

The participle of εἰμί could be used like an adjective to modify a noun. To represent this usage in English, we often need to use a relative clause with who, which, or that.

Εἰσῆλθεν δὲ σατανᾶς εἰς Ἰούδαν ... ὄντα ἐκ τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ τῶν δώδεκα (Luke 22:3)
And satan entered into Judas ... who was one of the twelve.

Here the participial clause ὄντα ἐκ τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ τῶν δώδεκα (being one of the twelve) modifies the noun (name) Ἰούδαν. The participle ὄντα is accusative masculine singular, just like the name Ἰούδαν. When the participle is used adjetivally, it always agrees in case, gender, and number with the noun it modifies.

Observe the same participle form (ὄντα) in Luke 23:7.

ἀνέπεμψεν αὐτὸν πρὸς Ἡρῴδην, ὄντα καὶ αὐτὸν ἐν Ἱεροσολύμοις (Luke 23:7)
He [Pilate] sent him [Jesus] to Herod, him also being in Jerusalem
He sent him to Herod, since Herod was also in Jerusalem

Here again, the form of the participle matches the noun it modifies (Ἡρῴδην) in case, gender, and number.

Adverbial Usage

Quite often, the participle was used to give the context for the action expressed by the main verb in a sentence.

ἐχθροὶ ὄντες κατηλλάγημεν τῷ θεῷ (Romans 5:10)
Being enemies, we were reconciled to God
While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God

If the implied subject of the participle is the same as the subject of the verb it is modifying (as it is here), the participle will match the case, gender, and number of the subject of that verb. The particple ὄντες is nominative masculine plural, matching the subject of κατηλλάγημεν (we were reconciled).

Genitive Absolute

When the participle is used adverbially, but its implied subject is not the same as the subject of the main verb, the entire participial clause is given the genitive case.

ὀψίας ἤδη οὔσης τῆς ὥρας, ἐξῆλθεν εἰς Βηθανίαν μετὰ τῶν δώδεκα. (Mark 11:11)
The hour already being late, he went out to Bethany with his disciples.
Since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with his disciples.

The participial clause (ὀψίας ἤδη οὔσης τῆς ὥρας, the hour being late already) gives the rationale for Jesus' action. In this way it modifies the entire main clause. But the subject of the participial clause is not Jesus, so every word in the participial clause that can be marked for case, is given the genitive case. This is known traditionally as a Genitive Absolute.

Formation of the Active Participle of εἰμί

All Greek participles share some characteristics with verbs (tense/aspect and voice), and other characteristics with adjectives (case and context-sensitive gender).

As you saw in lesson 16, in the indicative mood εἰμί has present and forms (unaugmented) and imperfect forms (augmented). It does not have aorist forms. Just as εἰμί has no aorist indicative forms, it also has no aorist participle forms. The forms shown below are the present participle of εἰμί.

Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative ὤν οὖσα ὂν
Genitive ὄντος οὔσης ὄντος
Dative ὄντι οὔσ ὄντι
Accusative ὄντα οὖσαν ὄν
Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative ὄντες οὖσαι ὄντα
Genitive ὄντων οὐσῶν ὄντων
Dative οὖσιν οὖσαις οὖσιν
Accusative ὄντας οὖσας ὄντα

Notice that the masculine and neuter forms use third declension endings, but the feminine forms use σ plus first declension endings.

Stem of the Participle of εἰμί

Notice also that the stem seems to be οντ- in the masculine and neuter forms, but ου- in the femine forms. This is not what is actually going on! The stem is οντ- throughout, but spelling changes caused by σ explain what you are seeing. Notice that the stem of the dative plural, even for the masculine and neuter forms, is spelled ου- because the ending begins with σ.

In Hellenistic Greek you cannot find the spelling τσ in any word. Wherever that combination would seem inevitable, the τ is discarded. A very similar rule applies to νσ. Wherever that combination would appear, usually the ν is discarded, but in a few instances, it is the σ that disappears. When the ν is discarded, the stem vowel ο is lengthened to ου. But when the σ is omitted, the vowel does not change. (See, for example the neuter nominative and accusative singular, ον).

The masculine nominative singular form (ὤν) is the only one that does not fit this explanation. The stem vowel lengthens to ω even though the σ was discarded instead of the ν. This makes it clearly distint from the neuter form.


Take a minute now to look at some of the words used in the examples above. Do not try to memorize them yet. Simply read over the list and consider what each word means.


ἀναπέμπω, _____, ἀνέπεμψα, _____, _____, _____

1. send; send back; remit
2. send (someone) up (to a higher authority)


ἀριθμός, -οῦ, ὁ

1. number (cardinal number)
2. total, sum




Note: δώδεκα is indeclinable. That is, it always has the same form, regardless of the gender and case of the noun it modifies.

Reading and Translation

  1. [παιδίσκος, -η, -ον is a diminuative form of παῖς, child, servant.]

    μία τῶν παιδισκῶν

  2. Can you tell the gender of the servant? If so, how?

  3. μία τῶν παιδισκῶν

  4. ἔρχεται μία τῶν παιδισκῶν τοῦ ἀρχιερέως

  5. [κάτω = down; ἡ αὐλή, -ῆς = courtyard]

    Καὶ ὄντος τοῦ Πέτρου κάτω ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ ...

  6. Καὶ ὄντος τοῦ Πέτρου κάτω ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ ἔρχεται μία τῶν παιδισκῶν τοῦ ἀρχιερέως

  7. [ἐκτείνω = I stretch (something) out]

    ἐξετείνατε τὰς χεῖρας

  8. Where did "your" come from in the translation above?

  9. ἐξετείνατε τὰς χεῖρας ἐπ᾿ ἐμέ

  10. οὐκ ἐξετείνατε τὰς χεῖρας ἐπ᾿ ἐμέ

  11. 11. ὄντος μου μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν

  12. [καθ᾿ ἡμέραν = day by day, day after day, etc.]

    καθ᾿ ἡμέραν ὄντος μου μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ ...

  13. καθ᾿ ἡμέραν ὄντος μου μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ οὐκ ἐξετείνατε τὰς χεῖρας ἐπ᾿ ἐμέ

  14. In the example above, both the participle (ὄντος) and the pronoun (μου) have their genitive case form. Can you tell why?