Accenting Greek Verbs

If you have studied the basic rules of Greek accents but are having a bit of trouble putting them to use, the information below may be of help with regard to how these rules work in the verbal system. What follows is probably not fundamentally different than what your book or teacher have said, but it may be put in a new way and that might help you absorb it a little better. You'll also have a chance to check your newfound knowledge at the bottom of the page--provided that you have the Macromedia Flash plugin installed for your browser.

Recessive Accent

Most Greek verb forms have recessive accent, which means that the accent will fall as far away from the end of the word as possible. More specifically, almost all of the finite forms of a verb will show this type of accent. A finite form is one that can be described as having person and number--in other words, all of the forms of the indicative, imperative, subjunctive and optative moods will have recessive accent. By contrast infinitives and participles have accentual patterns that must be memorized. There are a few verbs that have imperatives without recessive accents, but it's not worth worrying about at this stage. Likewise, there are some details about situations that limit how far back the accent can recede, but these are also nothing to worry about at the moment.

Recessive Accent Applied

There are only three situations to worry about right now:

1) If the word's ultima is short, the accent will recede to the antepenult and it will always be an acute accent.

2) If the word's ultima is short, but there is no antepenult (i.e. if the word is only two syllables long), the accent will fall back only to the penult. In that case, if the penult has a long vowel (or diphthong) in it, the accent will be a circumflex; if the penult's vowel is short, the accent will be an acute.

3) If the word's ultima is long, the accent can only recede to the penult. The accent will always be an acute.

Everything, then, depends on the quantity of the last syllable and so it is absolutely vital to memorize the quantity of any alpha, iota or upsilon in a verb ending. Also remember that most words ending in the -ai and -oi diphthongs have short ultimas (so long as no other letters follow them, so -aiV, for instance, wouldn't be short). The big exceptions are optative forms, where those two diphthongs do not make the ultima short, but the odds are that if you need this tutorial, you're not likely to be worrying about the optative at the moment! (So ignore me!)

The situations outlined above are the logical consequences of the basic rules of accentuation with which you should already be familiar. To recap the relevant ones: only an acute can stand on the antepenult and only when the ultima is short; a circumflex can only stand on a long vowel; an accented long penult must carry a circumflex before a short ultima; an accented long penult cannot carry a circumflex before a long ultima.


Let's take a look at all of this in action! If you mouse over each of the words, the location of the accent will be revealed. If you click on the word, the accent will appear. Long alphas, iotas, and upsilons have been marked with macrons. Do not worry if you don't recognize the verbs or the forms they are in. If you can count syllables and know how to tell if they're long or short, you'll be fine. This most definitely isn't rocket science!

Scenario 1: Short ultima, acute on the antepenult.

Scenario 2: Short utima, but no antepenult!

Scenario 3: Long ultima, accent can only recede to penult.

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