What you can do about it
— Greg's program for YOU to Learn Greek
On Your Own
Your must do two things at the same time — memorize
tables of endings and internalize the meaning of the endings so
you don't need the tables. How? Plan on two or three
passes through the material. Start with a basic skill set.
Basic skill set
Gently inductive, non-stressful introduction:
Reading simple Greek sentences in Dobson
Article -- learn 24 ways to say "the"
Nouns -- learn the basic
Verbs: Learn the active
voice and passive voice endings for the—and common—tenses.
Imperfect ( past )
Aorist ( past )
Participles — the Greek version
of "-ing" and "-ed" words. The Greeks
loved participles so much the passed them out free in sentences
you won't understand unless you master them yourself. Only
you're not ready. Won't be ready untill you really realy
understand the third declension. Which you don't yet. Skip
participles in pass 1, or just glance at them..
Plan on two or three passes through the material.
Drill drill drill sentences.
a practical matter you won't be able to read ancient Greek
without a formal knowledge of Greek grammar. You are going
to need to puzzle out whether this verb is aorist or pluperfect
and that noun genitive or accusative. Sorry. That's the
way Greeks minds worked.
The important thing is to understand, the thing Learn Greek
books aren't good at pointing out, is that Greek grammar
has several levels of structure. The books and teachers
focus on the lower levels. Ending rules, and exceptions
to the rules, and exceptions to exceptions.
You must do two things on your own.
1) Understand that there is a big structure
-- a structure to verbs in general, a structure to nouns
in general -- and fit each new table into that structure.
Find and understand the connections between each table and
the bigger structure.
2) Understand that exceptions to exceptions to exceptions
is a convenient way to stuff everything into a book, but
it's a terrible way to stuff everything into your brain.
There's too much to learn with one pass.
Simple solution. Make several passes. Self learners set
their own schedule, so they have a big advantage here.
say, learn the standard -o verb endings in all the tenses.
Drill and practice. Get that down. Then go back and do it
again, this time picking up the -a and -e and u- contract
verbs. Then go a third time and pick up the odd ball stuff.
Menos, idzos, like that.
learn all 24 forms of "the" absolutely cold. Write
them up and down. Write them sideways. Write them in different
Learn the basic patterns for the three declensions absolutely
perfectly. That means all of type 1 and 2, and the main
pattern type 3. Do not, at first, worry your pretty head
about the type 3 sub-patterns. Drill drill drill on the
basics. Write them up and down. Write them side to side.
Know them before you move on. If you don't know the basic
declensions, participles, say, are impossible. If you do,
participles are drop dead easy. Ditto adjectives. Etc.
this formal stuff is useless on it's own. Your brain treats
table entries as table entries, not as thoughts. To recognize
Greek words as thoughts your brain needs repetition in context.
Greek sentences. Lots of them.
The traditional way to do this is, as I said, to sit at
a desk with a dictionary and a grammar and to puzzle out
sections of Xenophon or Paul clause by impenetrable clause.
This works. Eventually. But it is slow and frustrating as
The better way is to read short, simple Greek sentences,
and lots of them. Repetition in context. My own opinion
is, it's better to read sentences that come with English
translations. That way you maximize repetitions. Perfect.
Since some books, even best sellers, have essentially no
Greek practice sentences at all, and many others have no
translations, this is is harder to do than you'd think.
Ready? Here's Greg's
program, step by step.
Learn by doing introduction.
This should take many weeks.
New Testament Greek by John Dobson
Tip: a very cheap used 2d edition
is just as good as the full priced 3d edition.
Dobson's idea was for you to learn Greek by reading / translating/
understanding very simple Greek sentences. I say. He says.
Jesus says. We say. Hundreds of cleverly constructed
short Greek sentences make this a natural, fun, fast
paced, and rewarding way to get started.
BAD: There are
not enough sentences, or enough context for you
to "get" the many nuances of the language. And grammar
tables are so de-emphasized you won't notice them. You'll end
up half way up the mount ain.
Starting at chapter 20, the grammatical organization
goes all to hell.
tables on your own. Figure out what tables go with each
section. Translate the sentences. Drill the table. Re-translate
the sentences. Memorize the table. Re-translate the sentences,
matching the endings you're using with the table you just learned.
You're not using the sentences to help you with
the table, you're not using the table to help you with the sentences.
You're mushing the meaning of the endings and the tables of the
endings all together in your brain. That's a good thing.
Do chapters 1 - 19 first, then move on to Mounce.
When you are done with step 1,
make a first pass through Mounce.
Suck it up and memorize
the basic forms. This should take a few months.
of Biblical Greek Grammar
by William Mounce
Mounce is famous and popular because it clearly explains all the
basic grammatical essentials and none of the other stuff.
GOOD: Like tables? We got
tables! Get ready to memorize. The good news: this doesn't take
brains, it just takes persistence.
BAD: Be aware of Mounce's
two great flaws
1. It is full of minute detail, empty of big picture
Mounce is like a jigsaw puzzle where you memorize each tiny little
word ending piece, and how it fits with the piece right next to
it, but you never step back and look at the whole picture. But
getting the big picture is the point of doing the puzzle. I myself
am not smart enough to learn Greek this way.
2. The Gap. Mounce has no brain-training
Greek sentences at all. Do not be surprised if after
several months memorizing Mounce tables you pick up a simple Greek
text and can't understand one sentence. Mounce does sell
a couple workbooks. They're jump-in-the-deep-end "translation"
stuff that I found frustrating and unuseful. You're going to have
to look elsewhere to fill in the gap.
SOLUTION: A: Don't use Mounce
at all. If you've got another book that lays out the forms concisely,
B: If you do use Mounce, don't use it to learn Greek. Use it
to learn the basic forms. The point at this stage is not to memorize
every grammatical rule and every table. The point is to make
JACT's Reading Greek a bit easier by learning the most basic forms.
Skip everything that is not basic. Learn just
1. The Indicative verbs, i.e. the word endings
for the principal parts: present, future, imperfect, aorist, etc.
Do do contract verb forms. Glance at but do not memorize
subjunctive, optative, imperative verb forms.
2. The very basic nouns, types 1, 2, and the
basic type 3s. Mounce goes on and on and on about subtype 3nouns.
Do not fall into this trap.
3.Glance at adjectives, personal pronouns, adverbs, etc. Do
not memorize them.
4. Avoid participles in Mounce. You'll spend days memorizing
the stupid layout of participles here. In JACT the same subject
takes about 20 minutes.
1b Reorganize the verbs in standard order. Standard
practice is to organize—and think about— verbs by
"principal parts. " Present, Future, Past (aorist),
Perfect 1, Perfect 2, Aorist passive. Mounce fails to stick to
this order, instead he often orders verb tenses by ending
pattern(!) rather than by meaning. This is highly confusing
to not-very-smart people like me. Solution: realize that the principal
parts ordering is standard because it is also logical; reorganize
your verb study around the standard order.
1c. Here's a key table Mounce leaves out. It's
the master verb ending chart on page
184. Mounce's table gives the verb-stem endings, but fails
to show you which moods/tenses go with each box. Big,
confusing, time-wasting omission. The table here lists the type
of verb that goes in each box. The patterns are pretty obvious,
once you save and print this table (which is squashed down to
fit on this page, but will print big and readable. ) The pink
numbers are the principal part numbers, the red letters are the
tense formative letters, and the columns on the right are the
section and page numbers in my edition of Mounce.
Once you see them in this table, the patterns are incredibly
obvious, and understanding them will let you recognize each of
those 230 verb forms quickly and easily.
After at least one pass through Mounce,
move on to:
Start learning Greek.
Now you know roughly how verbs and nouns work, and now your brain
has some idea how Greek sentences work. And it only took a few
months! Good. Now you're ready to start learning Greek. With JACT.
This will take many many months.
Joint Association of Classical Teachers series
of college texts intended to teach Attic (=Athenian) Greek
#1 Reading Greek Text and Vocabulary
#2 Reading Greek Grammar and Exercises
#3 An Independent Study Guide
to Reading Greek
Until 2008 the JACT Reading Greek series was OK,
but not great. In '08 they came out with the second edition, and
Wow! is it wonderful. There are lots
and lots and lots of simple Greek stories to read, with
tons of repetition. "Yes captain, I will go. You will go.
The rhapsode will also go. " Different endings for each person.
Over and over. Very very useful.
Meticulously charted journey through the larger
structure of ancient Greek grammar. Very nice.
Too advanced to be a first and only Learn Greek book. Excellent
Very useful as your second pass through the material. I'd suggest
this rather than a second pass through Mounce.
To use any one book you must buy all three books in the set—about
$100. Worth the money at twice the price.
a college textbook of Attic (=Athenian) Greek. Each chapter
begins with a one or two page reading in ancient Greek.
These are simple, repetitious and highly instructive.
Unlike Mounce, but like JACT, Athenaze teaches Greek
a little bit at a time. A little verb, a little participle, a
little noun in each chapter. Because I myself need to fit each
new idea into the big picture, I find this confusing. If you don't,
you might try Athenaze all by itself. At any rate, once you've
memorized the Mounce tables, you can breeze through Athenaze,
or even just through it's simple readings. Very very useful.
Translations are in the separate answer book. But
the readings are so easy, you probably won't need translations.
Answers to exercises are in the Teacher's Handbook -- which unfortunately
never got printed in the second edition. That makes Athenaze much
less useful than JACT.
I suggest JACT as your second pass, Athenaze as
your third pass.
BTW, even if you're learning Greek just to read
the NT, you'll still find Athenaze and JACT useful for filling
in the Gap. Yes you will have to learn some non-NT vocabulary.
So what? Also, people blather about Attic and Koine Greek being
different. They are. But not so much as you've been lead to believe.
Interlinear New Testaments
have the Greek of the NT on one line, and the English translation
of each Greek word on the line right below it.
Just cover up the English, and read away. Even if
your main interest is Attic Greek, the practice you'll get will
be highly instructive.
Greek Prose Composition
& Keys , by
North & Hilliard'
A hundred years ago ancient Greek was a standard
part of English schoolboy education. Not only did the wee lads
read Greek, they also had to write Greek. That's where you come
in. The 100+ year old Greek Composition textbooks are out of copyright
and available free on the internet. They're a
handy source of free simple Greek sentences (the keys)
with English translations (the exercises in the composition books).
When you are done with step 3,
move on to:
little birdie, fly!
Loeb Classical Library
The Loeb Classical Library publishes more than five hundred titles
in ancient Greek. At Thermopylae, when the certainly
soon to die Dieneces the Spartan was told the
Persian army was so vast that, shooting together, their arrows
blotted out the sun, he laughed, "Good, then
we will advance to battle in the shade. " With
the Loeb books you will reach back two or two and a half thousand
years and hear and understand and feel the words and thoughts
of brave, cowardly, truthful, duplicitous, greedy, loving, hating,
living breathing mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, just as
they spoke them to themselves. Absolutely fucking amazing.
The books have the Greek text on the left page
and the accompanying English translation on the right
page. Read the Greek all on your own; if you run into
trouble, there's quick, easy help on the facing page.
There are enough fun, delightful, fascinating, moving books here
to keep you busy for the rest of your life. The standard beginners
book is Xenophon's swashbuckling Anabasis.
If you're interested in Greek in NT times, try Plutarch
and Lucian, the Apostolic Fathers,or
the Selected Papyri-useses.
Unless you know for sure it is what you want, you should avoid
the temptation to start with the very old Greek of Homer,
Hesiod, and Pindar, etc. That
way lies madness.