A friend asked me a Greek based question this week which prompted me to do some revision.

Adjectives can function in three ways:

  1. attributive – when an adjective gives an attribute to its noun. E.g. the big dog, or the small cat.
  2. predicative – when an adjective functions like a predicate/verb. E.g. the dog is big.
  3. substantive – when an adjective functions like a noun. E.g. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

I’m thankful for my Greek teacher for repeatedly drilling into us that word order in Greek is not as free as many people often think. This is particlarly true for attributive adjectives. There are three attributive positions which have fixed word orders. If an adjective is attributive, then it must follow one of these patterns.

  1. article – adjective – noun. τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν (Matt 4:5)
  2. article – noun – article – adjective. τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς (1 John 1:1)
    1. technically, a non-articular form of this position also exists, which is just noun – adjective.
  3. noun – article – adjective. στολὴν τὴν πρώτην (Luke 15:22)

This is useful to know especially for participles which can act as either adjectives (i.e. modifying a noun) or adverbs (i.e. modifying a verb). How do you determine whether a participle is adjectival or adverbial? See if it fits into one of the three attributive positions. If it doesn’t, then it’s not an adjective.

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