How is the genitive used in Ancient Greek?

  • Google+ icon
  • LinkedIn icon

 In broad terms the genitive ‘limits the meaning of substantives, adjectives, and adverbs, less commonly that of verbs’ (Smyth §1289); historically speaking it has absorbed some functions of the lost ablative case and so often denotes separation, where we then find the ideas of comparison, cause, and source. This is also where we find ‘absolute’ syntax in the genitive absolute since such clauses are felt to be ‘free from’ (< ab + solvo) the main syntax of the sentence (see Smyth §2075 on the origin of the construction). But the genitive can also denote part, quality, material, measure, value, ‘time within which’, etc., all relationships that English might normally express with ‘of’ (which is connected to ἀπό and ab).


Theser are the types of genitives that are found in Greek:


 The genitive of separation is normally found with a preposition (e.g. ἀπό or ἐκ) or prepositional prefix in Classical Greek, but it can be found with other words that imply separation,

 The genitive of comparison can be used in lieu of a comparative clause introduced by the conjunction ἤ than. Note that if the conjunction ἤ is used then the two words being compared will be in the same case. Naturally comparative forms very frequently introduce a genitive of comparison,


 Some simple partitive genitives (note that superlatives are common with this genitive) i.e. the best of the men or one of the children.


The genitive of time (within which) denotes a space of time within which some action takes place, e.g. νυκτὸς μέσης ἦλθον: I came in the middle of the night


The possessive genitive is self-explanatory


With the terms subjective genitive and objective genitive we distinguish between a genitive as the active agent (= ‘subject’) and the recipient (= ‘object’) of the action implied. Where ambiguity arises there is room to recognise such as a stylistic feature.


In keeping with many of these uses the genitive follows many adjectives (e.g. αἴτιος, ἄξιος, μεστός and πλήρης) and verbs

Aiden M. GCSE Classical Greek tutor, A Level Classical Greek tutor, G...

About the author

is an online A Level Classical Greek tutor with MyTutor studying at Cambridge University

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist.

95% of our customers rate us

Browse tutors

We use cookies to improve your site experience. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss