Adjective – Noun Orderings

I figured it out today! A while back Lingamish and I were working on adjectives and their positions.

In a comment he wrote,

Sure, translate it any way you like, but what is the difference? What is triggering the different attributive forms? And why is ὁ ἀγαθός ὁ βασιλεὺς not possible?

And don’t tell me it’s stylistic. That’s cheating.

I have to say GGBB is most unsatisfactory talking about emphasis and “a sort of climax.” (306)

He’s wondering about the difference between the different attributive positions. All Wallace says is that one is more emphatic and another is less so. Its just an assertion – no evidence or reasoning why, which, if you think about it, is rather irritating.

But I figured out why.

The first attributive position is the more marked position.

ὁ ἀγαθὸς βασιλεύς

The second and third positions “ὁ βασιλεὺς ὁ ἀγαθός,” and “βασιλεὺς ὁ ἀγαθός” are less marked.

But why?

I figured it out. It hit me while diagramming Ephesians .

Simply put, as I understand it, when it comes to modifiers, Greek is a right branching language. What does that mean? Well English for possession is a left branding language. Thus we can have sentences like,

Bob’s uncle’s neighbor’s brother’s cousin’s aunt’s sister’s daughter’s college roommate quit school.


Greek on the other hand is typically a right branching language:


(The Lord God gave him the throne of his father David.)

That’s what makes the first attributive position in the Noun Phrase more marked. You can only put one modifier in that slot, while on the other side of the noun you can pile them on as much as you’d like – especially with the genitives.

Greek then seems to have a special slot for when a particular attribute of a noun requires emphasis – give me the blue coat, not the black one.

So, what do you think of this explanation? Does it make more sense than Wallace’s assertion? Don’t worry, you can say no, my self-esteem doesn’t depend on it.

Lastly, why “ὁ ἀγαθός ὁ βασιλεὺς” isn’t possible…I have no idea…

7 thoughts on “Adjective – Noun Orderings

Add yours

  1. This is cool. I also like trying to say the plural possessive of “princess” in English. Sounds like a tire with a leak.

    Seriously, it makes intuitive sense that Adj N is marked. The little Levinsohn on my shoulder is saying “moving anything to the left makes it prominent.” But I’m not sure I understood him correctly…

    BTW princesses’

  2. The trouble is this is only half an answer. It’s not clear that contrast (No, I meant the blue coat.) is what’s mainly in play. Over on Better Bibles (start here and work your way back) where we’re been talking about references to holy spirits, the spirit of holiness, and the Holy Spirit, I started checking the concordance of ἅγιος and there are plenty of instances of πνεῦμα ἅγιον (in various cases), τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον (mostly nominative and accusative), and a few instances of ἅγιον πνεῦμα (in various cases). I think you have to look at more than just the parsing to figure this out, and the nearer the examples are to one another, the more likely we’ll be able to say something more specific.

  3. It’s not clear that contrast (No, I meant the blue coat.) is what’s mainly in play.

    I’m sorry Rich, I wasn’t intending to suggest that contrast is whats intended. I just gave that as an example of emphasis or markedness in English. You’re completely right, its much more complicated than that.

    My point was simply that there is a semantic distinction to be made by the structure of the attributives, not to determine exactly what that semantic distinction was. I had no intention of getting any more specific than that.

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