The New Testament manuscripts had no punctuation originally. Not only that, the words ran together without spacing. Punctuation and spacing were added much later.
Obviously this creates great debate among scholars. Consider the difference between these two silly sentences: “Let’s eat, Grandma.” / “Let’s eat Grandma!” Punctuation matters.
Even if you’re using an interlinear Bible, it’s helpful to understand the basic punctuation mark and accents.
Biblical Greek has 4 main punctuation marks plus an apostrophe & accents
|Mark||Looks like English||Greek Meaning|
|abc.||period above the line||semicolon|
|abc;||semicolon||question mark; The form of a question is not |
necessarily different than a statement. Context is the clue.
|abc‘||apostrophe||iIndicates a final vowel as dropped|
This is called elision.
|accents||(see below)||Almost every Greek word has an accent.|
Placed over a vowel, it shows which syllable is stressed.
Scholars believe the accents indicated pitch or showing how the voice either rose or fell on a syllable.
- acute ( ´ ) – shows the pitch increased on the accented syllable.
- grave ( ` ) – shows the the voice dropped on the accented syllable.
- circumflex ( ῀ ) – shows the voice rose and then dropped on the accented syllable.
Basic rules for accents:
- The acute ( ´ ) can occur on any of the last 3 syllables.
- The circumflex ( ῀ ) can occur on only one of the last 2 syllables.
- The circumflex ( ῀ ) will always be over a long vowel.
- When the last syllable of a word is normally accented with acute and the the word is not followed by a punctuation mark, the acute becomes grave ( ` ). Typically this happens when the word is at the end of a sentence or clause.
- Consistent accent: Accents on nouns tend to stay on the same syllable.
- Recessive accent: Accents on verbs tend to migrate as far as they can toward the beginning of the verb.
Greek words which start with a vowel, diphthong or the letter ρ (rho) must have a breathing mark. Greek has two breathing marks:
- rough breathing mark ( ῾ ) – indicates that the first sound will have an initial “h” sound.
- smooth breathing mark ( ᾿ ) – indicates that this initial “h” sound is absent.
There are a few words that are identical except for the accent marks. For example, ἕν (hén) means one while ἐν (en) means in. τίς means who? and τις means someone.
Greek words divide into syllables in the same basic manner as English words.
- There is one vowel (or dipthong) per syllable. (A dipthong is 2 vowels that produce one sound.)
- A single consonant by itself goes with the following vowel.
- If the consonant is the last letter of the word, it goes with the preceding vowel.
- Two consecutive vowels that do not form a dipthong are divided.
- A consonant cluster (two or more consonants in a row) that cannot be pronounced is divided and the first consonant goes with the preceding vowel.
- A consonant cluster that can be pronounced together goes with the following vowel.
- Double consonants (2 of the same consonant in a row) are divided.
- Compound words are divided where the two words join.
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