Vasile Stancu

New Testament Greek for Beginners

(Based on the book with the same title by Gresham Machen, The MacMillan Company, 1923)


Attributive and Predicate Use of Adjectives

68. Adjectives are used in two distinct ways: (1) attributively, (2) predicatively.

In the phrase the good word, the adjective good is an attributive adjective; it tells what word we are mentioning. We are not mentioning all words or any word, but only the good word.

In the sentence, the word is good, the adjeotive good is a predicate adjective; with the verb is it makes an assertion about the subject, the word.

69. In Greek, the distinction between the attributive and the predicate adjective is of vastly more importance than in English; indeed, as will be observed later, some of the most important and charaeteristic parts of Greek grammar are based upon this distinction.

70. The good word can be expressed in two common ways in Greek—either by ὁ ἀγαθός λόγος or by ὁ λόγος ὁ ἀγαθός. It will be observed that what is characteristic about this attributive position of the Greek adjective is that the adjective comes immediately after the article. The formner of the two alternatives, ὁ ἀγαθός λόγος, is just like English; it has the order (1) article, (2) attributive adjective, (3) noun, and is a literal translation of the good word. The latter of the two alternatives, ὁ λόγος ὁ ἀγαθός, means literally the word — namely the good one. But it is of course vastly commoner than this cumbersome usage is in English, and like ὁ ἀγαθός λόγος should be translated simply the good word.

71. The word is good can be expressed in two ways in Greek—either by ὁ λόγος ἀγαθός or by ἀγαθός ὁ λόγος (the simple copula, meaning is, can be omitted). What is characteristic about this predicate position of the adjective in Greek is that the adjective does not come immediately after the article.

72. The matter can be summarized as follows (audio):

Attributive Position of the Adjective

ὁ ἀγαθὸς λόγοςthe good word
ὁ λόγος ὁ ἀγαθός

Predicate Position of the Adjective

ὁ λόγος ἀγαθόςthe word is good
ἀγαθὸς ὁ λόγος

73. The student should fix this distinction in his mind by thoughtful reading aloud of the above and similar phrases, until ἀγαθός ὁ λόγος, for example, comes to mean to him, even without conscious translation, good (is) the word, and comes to be dissociated entirely from the idea the good word. If this advice be heeded, a solid foundation will have been laid for the mastery of a large part of Greek syntax.

74. It should be observed that the distinction between the attributive and the predicate position of the adjective can be made in Greek only when the noun has the article. ἀγαθός λόγος or λόγος ἀγαθός (the noun here not having the article) may mean either a good word (attributive) or a word is good (predicate).