A Guide to Greek Accents

I. Basic Terminology

  1. There are three accent marks in Greek: acute (´), circumflex (῀), and grave (`).

  2. The last three syllables of a Greek word are called: ultima, penult, and antepenult.
  3. A syllable is either long or short, depending on the vowel in the syllable.

  4. A word with three or more syllables is polysyllabic; a disyllabic word has two syllables; and a word with only one syllable is monosyllabic.

  5. You might also encounter these terms:

II. The Accent Rules

  1. Only the last three syllables of a Greek word may be accented.
    (This is also known as The Antepenult Rule: A Greek accent cannot fall further from the end of the word than the antepenult.)

  2. The acute may fall on all three syllables, the circumflex may fall on ultima and penult, and the grave may fall on ultima only.
    (aka The Maximum Accent Sustention Rule: The acute can sustain three syllables, the circumflex can sustain two syllables, and the grave can sustain only one syllable.)

  3. The Circumflex Rule: The circumflex can stand over long syllables only, while both the acute and grave can stand over either a long or a short syllable.

  4. The Grave Rule: When a word has the acute on the ultima, the acute becomes grave when the word is followed by another word (i.e., when it is not the last word of a clause or sentence). Think of the grave accent as a substitute for the final acute. Ex. θεός is the lexical form, but θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1).
    This rule does not apply if that next word is an enclitic (see below) or the interrogative pronoun τίς.

  5. The Ultima Rule: Depending on whether the ultima is long or short,

    (a) If the ultima is short, any one of the last three syllables can receive an accent. If the accent falls on the antepenult, it must be acute (rule #1). If the accent falls on the penult, it must be circumflex if the penult is long, and acute if short. If the accent falls on the ultima, it is acute or grave (rule #4).

    (b) If the ultima is long, only the last two syllables can receive an accent. If the accent falls on the penult, it must be acute. If the accent falls on the ultima, it can be any accent.


    If Antepenult is accented If Penult is accented If Ultima is accented
    If Ultima is short κύριος If Penult is long
    If Penult is short
    θεὸς ἦ ὁ λόγος.
    If Ultima is long No Accent Possible
    (cf. κυρίου)
    γραφὴ λέγει.

  6. The Noun Accent Rule: Noun accents are persistent -- the accents try to stay on the same syllable as the lexical form.
    Example: see Paradigm of λόγος.

    Additional rules regarding noun accents:

  7. The Verb Accent Rule: Verb accents are recessive -- the accents try to move away from the ultima as far as possible.
    Example: see PAI paradigm of λύω. Note that for the singular forms (λύω, λύεις, λύει), the accent is on the penult, but for the plural forms (λύομεν, λύετε, λύουσι), the accent recedes back to the antepenult.

    Additional rules regarding verb accents:

III. Accents Regarding Contraction, Crasis and Elision

  1. If either of the syllables to be contracted had an accent, the contracted syllable has an accent:

  2. In crasis, the first word (as less important) loses its accent, e.g., κἀγω (= καί + ἐγώ).

  3. In elision, oxytone prepositions and conjunctions lose their accent, e.g., δι' ἐμοῦ (Jn 14:6).

IV. Accents Regarding Enclitics and Proclitics

Normally, each Greek word has one accent mark. However, there are certain words that lose their accent. If a word loses its accent to the preceding word (i.e., it is pronounced as part of the preceding word), it is an enclitic. If a word loses its accent to the following word, it is a proclitic.

Some common enclitics:

Some common prolitics:

Proclitics give rise to no special rules of accent; they simply have no accent and produce no changes in the accenting of preceding or following words. The enclitics give rise to the following rules:

A. The word before the enclitic:

  1. It does not change an acute to grave on the ultima. Ex. πατήρ μου (Jn 6:32, not πατὴρ μου).
  2. If it has an acute on the antepenult, or a cicumflex on the penult, it takes an additional acute on the ultima. Ex. αἷμά μου (Jn 6:55); ὀνόματί μου (Jn 14:13).
  3. If it is itself a proclitic or an enclitic, it has an acute on the ultima. Ex. σάρξ μού ἐστιν (Jn 6:51).
B. The enclitic:
  1. It retains its accent if it begins or ends a clause. Ex. ἔστιν γεγραμμένον (Jn 6:45).
  2. If the preceding word has an acute on the penult, a dissyllabic enclitic retains its accent (to avoid three successive unaccented syllables). Ex. ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν (Jn 5:27). But a monosyllabic enclitic loses its accent. Ex. παρέρα μου (Jn 8:19).

V. Putting It All Together

Note: The Accent Rules do not predict accents, only what accent may be used if a syllable is accented.

The rules above do not tell us whether the accent is λόγος or λογός. So we must start with the lexical form.
“The lexical form provides two crucial pieces of information you must know to desribe the accent of any other form of the same word: (1) the particular type of accent (acute or circumflex), and (2) the starting position (antepenult, penult, ultima) of that accent.” (Stevens, p.19)

Accent Determination Procedure:
Step 1. What is the lexical form?
Step 2. Is the word a noun or verb?
Step 3. Is the ultima long or short?
Step 4. Is there other special consideration?


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